Observations on Oz

A few weeks ago I returned from a week in Australia, an opportunity that unexpectedly popped up and which I was fortunate enough to be able to take advantage of; a friend of mine who grew up there was going home for five weeks and he suggested I come down and hang out with him for one of those weeks. Seven days with a native in a country most people only dream about visiting while they are having summer and I am enduring record cold temperatures in the great northeast? Yes, please. My shiny new passport which remained un-inked after being in my desk drawer for nearly three years was about to take a trip half way around the globe for its maiden voyage; go big or go home I told myself and planning the trip became a delicious obsession.

I was going to be responsible for lodging while I was there and leveraged Airbnb for the whole trip which turned out to be a fantastic choice. No impersonal hotel concierges and sterile rooms for this girl; I got to meet the people whose space I was renting and the three different bookings were all delightful and different in their own way. It’s hard to beat a cottage in Katoomba, a waterfront retreat on Kilaben Bay or an eighth story penthouse apartment with a stunning view of Manly Beach; all were fantastic in their own way and as far as I am concerned it is the only way to travel. It is a wonderful way to interact with locals and I will never forget the people I met as a result of using private homes as lodging and it’s a blog post all its own.

Seventeen hours from Dallas-Fort Worth to Sydney was not for the faint of heart but I was prepared for it by my well traveled daughter who had already made the trip and exhorted me to hydrate and wear elastic stockings and her advice was fantastic as usual. I booked my flight with the marvelous Qantas airline which miracle of all miracles seems to really care about its passengers and discovered a pillow, blanket, headphones and sleep mask in my seat. Somehow I lucked out with having a free row on my trip to Sydney allowing me to lay down and get some sleep; I arrived Down Under feeling pretty good and Sean was there to meet me.

What an amazing country! I was completely enchanted by the laid-back attitude, fantastic climate and approach to life. Touring the countryside with a native gave me a wonderful view of a country whose minimum wage is 17.70 an hour (roughly 14 dollars American as of this writing) and a population unencumbered by concerns about health care or getting shot on the street which seems to be an American obsession Australians just cannot comprehend   Aussies also get five weeks of vacation per year because the government feels that downtime is a human necessity; this sensible approach is how life should be and the vibe was tangible…I left part of myself in that place which was both wild and civilised and if they didn’t reject visa applications of anyone over fifty I would have applied. Life in Oz makes sense.

Sean was a splendid tour guide and had some great things planned. We did a wildlife park whose main focus was conservation and solving the problems of animals facing human intrusion; I saw so many animals I would never see otherwise and petting a koala, a kangaroo and a baby Tasmanian devil are life changing experiences and I learned a tremendous amount about native Australian species along the way. I saw the Three Sisters rock formation with a bonus thunderstorm at night over the Jamison valley, some great wineries and many absolutely amazing and colorful birds which made sounds I have never heard; being awakened in the morning by a kookaburra fracas is a magical thing. We swam ay Manly Beach, strolled The Corso and watched the pelicans get fed at The Entrance in New South Wales. In spite of its beauty this is a country that can kill you though, and the sight of a huntsman spider on my first night in Katoomba was sobering; I would have had difficulty covering the teenager that descended from a tree near my cottage with my whole hand. The place in Kilaben Bay had a deadly funnel-web spider living in a void in the masonry next to the door, but treated in a circumspect manner it was never a problem.

Sydney was an amazing city with the iconic opera house sitting like a jewel in Sydney Harbor the brilliant sun reflecting off the million or so glazed ceramic tiles covering what is an architectural masterpiece; I stood in front of that wonder in the dazzling sunshine and could not stop staring at it. The Royal Botanical Gardens with its long walkway along Sydney Harbor had many amazing plants I had seen only in pictures or in greenhouses. You have to love a place where jasmine grows wild and gardenias are a shrub as common as yews. Public transportation was fantastic and purchasing an Opal card gives you access to all forms of public transportation including the ferry which we used a great deal between Manly and Sidney; getting around was fairly easy and things were well marked and logical with clean public toilets available everywhere. New York City could learn a thing or two from Sydney.

It was fascinating to be in a country where I was the one with the accent and immediately identifiable as an American. Given the horrendous political climate back home it was difficult not to feel a sense of embarrassment when people asked about what was going on in my country but everyone was polite; somehow they understood that Trump supporters generally don’t have passports and that I was likely from the other camp.  The prevailing question was always. “Okay, he got elected…but it’s been a year. Why haven’t you gotten rid of that wanker?” It was a question for which I had no answer but it led to many fascinating conversations from people not only from Australia but New Zealand, South Africa and the UK; it was heartwarming to know that people all over the globe recognized that our democracy is in jeopardy and were sympathetic to our plight.  It was a mind expanding experience as all travel is but the luxury of visiting a continent where people spoke my language and resonated with my sensibilities made the perfect first foray into serious travel; I am forever grateful to Sean for sharing part of this unique and wonderful country with me and it has whet my appetite for more far away experiences.  After all, once you do Oz everything else is a piece of cake.



Return to Normalcy…Sort Of

The last steri-strip fell off my knee yesterday just in time for my return to work for half days today, and after I got home I realized how grateful I was to be able to start slowly. I was tired! I wasn’t even that productive with all my colleagues coming over to welcome me back, but there was plenty to catch up on. My office is easy to navigate without a cane and people were astonished that I was no longer limping. It’s still amazing to me, too.

The knee is still waking me up at least once in the night with its restlessness contributing to my tiredness during the day, but it’s getting better. The goal now is to get it to bend enough to return to spin class; it still will not allow me to complete a revolution on the bike…but I’m close. My walking is getting straighter and my endurance is getting good enough to get some things accomplished. That’s huge for someone who has found the slow recovery frustrating.

Fitness Joy

I ran my first 5K today.

Never in a million years did I ever think I would subject myself to the rigors of a 5K road race, especially at the tender age of 50. People who ran 5K’s, in my mind, were part of a mystical subculture of humanity who was probably a little masochistic and not quite sane. Little did I know that some day I would actually want to be one of those people.

This perception changed when my gym buddy Maryann started doing 5K’s in spite of the fact that she is in her fifties and has had a hip replacement. Maryann is my redheaded neighbor who has been through three gyms with me and is quite possibly the most faithful fitness buddy a girl could ever have.  We generally go at the same times every day (early), she isn’t grumpy in the morning and she rarely bags out on me with lame excuses for not going to the gym.

Maryann really began to run at the encouragement of Crystal Joy Brown, our personal trainer and friend who is an amazing person in her own right having once weighed in at 400 lbs. Now a charismatic personal trainer and fitness instructor, she formed an informal group of people who were interested in beginning to run and sharing their personal fitness journeys; she called the group Joy Fitness.  The “Joy Ladies” as we call ourselves are regulars in Crystal’s classes and rely on her for fitness advice, moral support and an endless supply of encouragement. Because of this, Maryann began to sign up for races and had logged dozens of them before I finally had to find out what all the excitement was about.

Not being much of a runner I had originally planned to powerwalk the 5K, but at the last minute I decided to run as much as the race as I could and if I enjoyed it I would make it a regular thing trying to beat the time of the previous race. I love having a nice little personal challenge to nurture!  My daily workouts at the gym actually prepared me aerobically much more than I had anticipated and my legs got tired long before I got winded. In the end, 44 minutes was a pretty good first time for an old broad.

I’m ready to do another.

The Twenty Year Plan

It occurred to me the other day that I am at that stage of my (extended) college career where it feels as if graduation is just never going to happen.  If I didn’t screw up the calculations I have seven classes to go, which seems like an awful lot considering how long I have been at it.  At a recent family gathering my sister-in-law asked how my classes were going and my brother who overheard us said,  “Are you still in school”?  What are you on, the twenty year plan”?

It’s probably the feeling all adult students who get a degree one or two classes at a time get at some point, but Sage recently made an announcement that made things oh-so-much better. They announced that they were discontinuing the Networking and Systems Administration degree program!  In response to a panicked email from me, they assured me that I would be given a reasonable amount of time to complete my degree, but wouldn’t elaborate on what they considered a reasonable amount of time. Friends and colleagues who have endured the Sage “advisement” debacle have been wishing me luck.

The problem with this little nugget of information is that most colleges require you to get (read: buy) at least thirty credits before issuing you a diploma.  I understand why they do this, but I have only 21 credits to go which means it would end up costing quite a bit extra to change schools.  And almost no one has a four year degree similar to mine for working adults; taking a leave of absence to complete my degree is not really in the cards.

Since “proceed until apprehended” is pretty much my motto these days, I decided to take two classes this summer; one is at Sage and another is at Empire State. It has definitely put a serious damper on summer activities (not to mention my blogging), but it makes me feel that I am at least doing something about this degree problem instead of just fretting about it.  And in the fall you can be pretty sure I will be doubling up on the dreaded coursework to get through these last few classes…even if it takes me twenty years to do it.

My Favorite Time of the Year

Spring is here in the great northeast and while many of my gardening friends are grumbling about all the mud, I’m just happy to see the snow disappear and the days get longer.  If there is a little mud involved, so be it.

I’m one of those weirdos for whom anticipation is something of a drug, so you can just imagine how heady I find early spring.  Every day is a new discovery of swollen buds, things popping out of the ground that I had completely forgotten about, and the delicious planning of a redesign.  Finally, all those damned gardening catalogs that have been teasing me since the day after Christmas can be seriously perused.

The down side of this is that I’m suddenly impatient with anything that keeps me indoors…like homework, housework or rain.  Like an addict, I plan and scheme to maximize my time outdoors; after a long winter it just seems impossible to get enough fresh air and sunshine.  And of course I’m constantly reminding myself that it’s a finite season and that I must savor every moment.

I’m going outside now.

Rolling with the Changes

I officially started my new job this week and it has been an interesting adaptation in a number of ways; one of the biggest changes is working 9-5 as opposed to 7-3.  When I applied for the job I knew that I was going to have to pull that shift, but it seemed like a small price to pay for working close to home with people who are pretty much as nerdy as I am.

Thinking that I was going to just hate my new hours, I decided to pack in as much useful activity as I could from the hours of 5 to 9; this has proven an excellent time to do homework and go to the gym.  Focusing on homework  with a freshly rested set of brain cells is somehow more productive, and the gym is awesome at 6:00 am being sparsely populated at that hour.  As an added bonus, there is practically no traffic so I can get there in about twelve minutes.

On the work side of things it’s a bit of an adjustment as well, but nothing insurmountable.  Almost all server access is done via VPN and RSA token, so switching back and forth between local connectivity and vpn connectivity has resulted in some “duh” moments.  There are dozens of servers, so figuring out who does what is interesting and of course my biggest problem is that I want to know everything yesterday; being patient with myself has never been my strong suit.

In spite of all this change I think this will be a good environment for me, and I’m looking forward to learning all I can.  Bring it on!

Out of the Loop

One of the things that drives me crazy about myself (and probably my friends) is the fact that I have no idea what is going on with regard to movies or television shows either current or past.  Colleagues of mine are constantly talking about the latest episode of “Lost” or “The Office” and one of them will invariably turn to me and say, “Remember that episode where …” and I know I’m done.  Not being a television watcher puts me at a definite disadvantage when it comes to a lot of conversations.

Ken is amazed by this.  He grew up in a troubled household where gluing oneself to the television was the only means of escape, so he assumes that all childhoods were spent this way.  He has seen vast quantities of cartoons, movies, sit-coms, game shows…you name it.  He loves to spring tv trivia on me just to get me going, or he will say, ” Remember so and so from the whatsis show”?

The reason for my apparent lack of television  knowledge is that as a young person we didn’t have a television until I was around 5, and even then we were not allowed to watch it much.  Life on the farm meant there really wasn’t much time for such foolishness with all the chores,  so our exposure to television was minimal.    I watched more television in my 20’s and 30’s but becoming a college student put the brakes on that; there’s nothing like homework to put a serious dent in your tv time.  Now most television is almost painful for me to watch and I find it vastly preferable to read or surf the net.

Movies are another knowledge area I’m weak on probably due to the fact that going to a movie is a mini-commitment to sitting still for around two hours.  I have to really want to see a movie to do that; it’s also annoying that it’s too dark to knit in your average movie theatre.  My movie buff friends are all rolling their eyes right now and thinking, “come on!”, but it’s true; if I have to sit still for a long period of time, my hands need to be doing something.

The good news about all of this is that while I may not have any idea what’s going on in Hollywood, I do read Time Magazine from cover to cover every week and am a faithful listener of NPR.  This does make me a bit of an information snob, but it’s a lot more interesting than hearing who Lindsey Lohan is hooking up with.  Whoever she is.

The Demise of the 4.0

I got my first B.

It has taken me a couple of weeks to process the fact that I am no longer a straight A student, but there it was in all its electronic glory when I checked my final  grade on the Sage website.  My hopes for a 4.0 have been dashed by a Java programming class.

There is a bit of a battle going on inside of me about this.  My rational and pragmatic self is reminding me how tough the class was and how many hours I put into the assignments and reading; I never missed a class, took copious notes and probably drove my instructor nuts with questions.  Surely I deserved an A for effort if nothing else.

My irrational perfectionist self feels like a loser who only got a B because the instructor felt bad about giving me a C, and I should be damned grateful for a B because I stink at programming.  This is the same self who wonders if all the programmer jokes I have made over the years have come back to bite me like some sort of weird kharmic debt, and who questions the sanity of going  to college at the ancient age of 47.

I was feeling really twisted up by all of this inner turmoil and shared my B with a couple of friends using my best sad face.  To my surprise, most people’s reactions were along the lines of  “so what?”.  The overwhelming majority said they would have been thrilled to get a B, and that I should relax; clearly I was making way too much out of this.  A colleague of mine who is now a doctoral candidate even told me he was lucky to get C’s as an undergrad!

After living with the idea of no longer being an A student I have decided that I might as well come to terms with it and learn to embrace my B Student status; it’s difficult, but I realized that the emotional overhead just isn’t worth it.  At the end of the day the journey counts a whole lot more than the destination.

iSCSI Woes

Warning…technical language ahead!

One of my summer projects was a new server for one of my elementary buildings, with an iSCSI SAN to go along with it.  I started using iSCSI technology last year and just love it; it’s handy to be able to add space to a volume on the fly and the cost is substantially cheaper than fiber channel. The volumes that you create can be formatted any way you like, so it’s compatible with any file system; we are a Novell shop, so NSS is our standard.

The server setup was fairly straightforward after I discovered that Netware 6.5 SP6 was not going to fly with our new Dell hardware; the 6.5 SP7 overlay disk worked fine, however.  A little side rant here…Dell does not make enterprise quality servers.  Their pricing is good, but you get what you pay for; give me an IBM or HP any day.

With the server setup complete I added the volumes for staff and students, then migrated the home directories to it and rewrote the login scripts; everyone was happy and joyous.  Three days after the server was installed I got an NSS popup notification on my workstation announcing that one of the volumes had dismounted.  A quick look at the console confirmed this, so I issued the command to restart the iSCSI session and the volume mounted.  Weird. I opened the management console for the SAN and things looked okay with the exception of the occasional flicker of “failed” next to an iSCSI session.  That was bothersome, so it was time to hit the knowledgebase.

Every reference to iSCSI suggests that solid comms are in order; because of the way the protocol is designed there is little tolerance for duplex mismatches, flaky switches and bad cabling.  Our core switch is a big Cisco 6509 which is fairly new and a check of the ports did not turn up any duplex issues; the cables were new as well. After checking the most obvious things I began to compare this new setup with the SAN that had been happily humming along in my data center for over a year.  The Broadcom drivers that had been installed were out of date, so I upgraded them along with the latest winsock files from Novell.  A couple of days later the server dumped another volume.

I was starting to get really worried, because school was starting in a few weeks and people get annoyed when they are suddenly disconnected from their files.  A call to the SAN vendor was an exercise in futility because while the unit is Novell YES certified, Novell support is tough to get from most vendors.  That’s a rant for another day.  After another comparison of my known good server and SAN combination I noticed that the iSCSI drivers on the Novell server were old!  The latest version out was 1.06 and my brand new server set up with the latest service pack was at 1.03; how in the world did the old drivers manage to make it into the latest software download from Novell?

After digging around a bit, I found an iSCSI update on the Novell site and downloaded it. Part way through the install it quit with a message about only being written for Netware 6.5SP6, so it was apparent that I was not going to be able to use the scripted install routine.  After weighing my options and getting a good backup, I decided to replace all the files on my server with the files in the update package by hand which is definitely not for the faint of heart.  That meant unloading the iSCSI sessions, renaming all 19 of the files and replacing them with the new ones, then restarting the sessions. There was a moment of alarm when I realized that I needed to edit the newer ion.ncf file, but once that was done the volumes mounted properly and have been solid for several days.

I realized with some amusement that you would never get away with doing something like that in a Microsoft operating system; swapping files around by hand in Windows usually leaves you with a paperweight.  Netware can be a nuisance, but its modular nature makes it easier to deal with in some ways.

Let the school year begin!