2014-04-25

About Lasso

Meet Lasso.


She's a corn snake. A very very young corn snake.

The lady at the pet store said that it was a "fancy corn snake" and charged me an extra 20 dollars. I don't know about how fancy Lasso is on the scale from "not at all fancy" to "highly fancypants," but what I know for a fact is that she's totally adorable.

We've had her for just over six weeks now, and she's already grown from 10 grams to almost 12.

I've always liked reptiles, and in retrospect I wonder why I didn't get a pet snake sooner. Well, in any case, now that I did, I'm totally in love.

The surprising bit to find out was just how gentle and shy the snakes are.

I guess if you hatch from an egg and are so small that anything can hurt you, and then you're expected to fend for yourself in the wild, it makes sense to be a scaredy-cat. But even as they grow, corn snakes remain quite reclusive.

In general it looks like the vast majority, and maybe all snakes prefer flight to confrontation unless they're hunting. Wonder why people are so afraid of them?

Anyways, Lasso spends most of the time hiding.


During the day she sleeps, and in the evening she comes out and "hunts" around her enclosure if she's hungry.

She's rarely hungry. We feed her every 5th day, if she's been hunting for a day already. If she's been sleeping on day 4, we let her work up some appetite until she's hungry enough to get active. Once she's eaten, she disappears into one of her hiding places for three days or so.

We feed her little frozen mice. Thawed, of course, and even warmed up to body temperature, to make the food more enticing to the snake.

That's another thing about them: they're not always going to feed readily, even if they've been hungry for a while, but at least corn snakes are among the least picky eaters.


We set her up with a nice glass tank, and a warming pad on one side, so she can thermoregulate.

When you think about it, nature did a great job optimizing snakes. The design is akin to a race car: if it's not essential, they don't have it.

Say, why would you waste energy and maintain your own body temperature when you can go and warm yourself on a rock, or hide out in a cool spot if you're too toasty?

Snakes live on a completely different time than we mammals do. To them, it would probably appear quite tedious to find food and water several times a day, constantly on the move, we have complex systems in place to keep our body temperatures within the very narrow operating range, and we have all these confusing limbs.

I imagine Lasso is feeling somewhat superior to us with her slow zen-like pace.

2014-04-24

About Windows OS

Last time I owned or used a Windows machine for any serious amount of time was in 2003. I spent some time as a full-time Linux user, both on desktop and laptop, and bought a used Mac laptop for home use in 2007, and a new one in 2009.

Today, I have successfully converted my home machine to run Windows OS.


I know. I am kind of perplexed myself. But honey, let me explain.

I've always believed in using open source software and supporting F(L)OSS projects. Stuff like that is what any community manager's dreams are made of. Mac OS has always felt like a poor compromise, but it had some Linux roots, and I could use the command line to get stuff working if something broke, and it wasn't Windows. Which was quite relevant back in the day when your choices basically were Windows, Linux, or Mac if you wanted to use a computer.

Today, most of my non-work computing needs are served by my Android mobile devices. I have a Nexus 5 and a Nexus 7, and a Nexus 10, and between them, they get me about 80 percent there. The only times I need an actual computer (like a laptop or a workstation) is when I need to input a bunch of text, do graphics editing, manage my music collection, or when I need to process orders from my racing numbers business.

With the limited use cases, comes higher pickiness about the tools. I can deal with slow when it's on a mobile device on a poor network. When my laptop slowed down to molasses speed following the Mavericks upgrade, I couldn't tolerate it. Something had to change.

Naturally, my first instinct was to install Fedora on the almost five-year-old MacBook Pro. Given the old hardware, I anticipated no real difficulties getting it to work, and hoped to get a couple more years out of the aging box.

My adventure lasted just a touch over four months and went about like this:
  1. Install Fedora 20, discover that the ideologically-pure distro has no support for my WiFi card (among other things)
  2. Spend an hour tethered to a wall with an Ethernet cable, find and install packages to run WiFi card
  3. Relocate back to comfy couch, realize the following things don't work right:
    1. graphics card (fuzzy screen, Steam games don't run)
    2. keyboard backlight (set to max, no way to reduce)
    3. screen backlight (set to max, no way to reduce)
    4. sound (microphone disabled each time after suspend)
    5. battery (system sees the percent charge, but suspends due to "critically low battery" at 80 percent anyway)
  4. Find and install Nvidia drivers, computer fails to boot into graphics mode. Rage-quit.
  5. Research why this is happening to me using my Nexus devices, boot into init3, remove conflicting Bumblebee packages, remove Nvidia packages, reinstall fresh from command line
  6. Enjoy brief victory
  7. Since I mostly do this after work, it's dark outside, and the screen set to maximum brightness starts bugging my eyes quickly. I try to find solutions for more than three weeks, while staring into a blinding whiteness of the screen.
  8. Stumble on solution to the screen brightness control after three weeks of running various Google searches and following links and leads from friends.
  9. Enjoy brief victory.
  10. Realize that keyboard backlight control still doesn't work.
  11. Get into the habit of keeping the "Sound" preferences window open somewhere at all times, so as to re-enable the microphone immediately after resuming after suspend. I use my laptop to answer Google Voice phone calls, so it can be challenging to have a conversation if you mic doesn't work.
  12. Strategically position power supplies around the house and only use laptop when connected to power. Get into habit of never using the laptop from battery power for more than 5 minutes.
  13. Realize that music management software won't work
    1. Banshee crashes self (and sometimes whole system) when I plug in my phone to sync music
    2. Rhythmbox doesn't crash consistently and throws an error for every single song synced via USB -- which is a lot of errors to acknowledge when you sync 600 songs.
  14. Endure ridicule from J. for putting up with all this. Somehow hold on to Linux love for another two months.
  15. Run one of the many system and software upgrades that Fedora provides, system will hang trying to boot into graphics
  16. One of later updates fixes that issue.
  17. Enjoy brief victory.
  18. Very next update kills WiFi drivers.
  19. Spend hours sitting on the floor tethered to the wall with an Ethernet cable trying to fix this. Fail.
  20. Wait for the next update for 3+ weeks. It doesn't come.
  21. Manually run yum update which fails to complete with no error.
  22. Rerun yum update and now  it says it needs to clean up. Run cleanup and attempt to update again, now it throws an error and says that any number of things could be causing it. Doesn't offer guesses as to what is wrong or how I could troubleshoot.
  23. All the while, sitting on the floor next to an Ethernet jack because WiFi doesn't work.
  24. Lose patience and install Windows 7. Have it up and running with native hardware drivers within one day. 
    1. Battery, WiFi, suspend/resume, screen and keyboard brightness, graphics card, all work, and...
    2. I can sync my playlists to my phone via WiFi again using a combination of iTunes and iSyncr.
  25. Sigh.
 So there you have it.

My logic is, if you have to compromise and use a proprietary operating system, might as well have one that works, which for given hardware neither Mavericks nor Fedora 20 could do. After my idealism has been tested for four months, I'm finding out that I'm a pragmatist after all.

2014-04-02

About my Grandfather

Alexey Mikhailovich Shtanko 
2-Apr-1928 – 18-Mar-2012
Алексей Михайлович Штанько

My grandfather would have turned 86 today.

He was a doctor, and a dapper gent. He had a bum leg and walked with a cane.



That was back when people wore top hats non-ironically. And everybody smoked much more.

He was born in a village in Kazakhstan into a large Ukrainian family and was the first in his family to get a higher education. He started out as a nurse practitioner, because the local medical school did not offer an M.D.

So he worked in a small town while preparing for the entry exams to the university. That's when he met my grandmother. They married and had a daughter, my mother, shortly after.



Grandfather was accepted into the medical school, and they had to move to the city, where they had to live in a shared apartment with other families, because that's how it used to be in the Soviet Union in the 1950s.

When he graduated, he was offered a position in the town of Kustanay in northern Kazakhstan, and the small family moved again.

He was put in charge of organizing the town's first emergency medical service, and rode in the ambulance when someone dialed "03" – the Soviet emergency phone number for the ambulance. Their ambulance was t-boned at an intersection, and he broke both his legs in the accident. They didn't have seat belt laws and cars weren't yet all they could be safety-wise, so when they had a crash, it pretty much always hurt.


He had a car. First a Zaporozhetz, and then a VAZ 2101, which you can see in the picture. This was the first car I ever rode in. He had it modified with a lever, so that he could press the clutch in with his left arm, because of his injury.


In that car, he took the family to the forest to pick mushrooms and berries, or to the river to fish. He taught me how to make my own fishing rod out of a long branch, and I caught my first fish with it.


When I was born, he quit smoking cold, and never picked up a cigarette again.

He would read books aloud to me, over and over, and never get bored. He'd play every kind of pretend game I'd invent as a kid. He was the trusty Watson to my Holmes, and I was First Officer Lom to his Captain Vrungel. We solved puzzles together and he'd listen to my made-up stories as long as I kept on telling them.


He loved me very much, and I loved him back.

I miss him.


Danica Patrick autographed my helmet

Wheee.


That's all.