We have a new driver in the family

Jill got her drivers license!

That night we went out to Robinson’s Ale House in Red Bank to celebrate.  MJ and Thea were able to join us.  We all piled into either Jill’s car or MJ’s.  It was weird that neither Cathy or I was driving.

We bought a VW Passat for Jill to  drive on a regular basis.  All of our cars are on the larger size, a Nissan Pathfinder and a Chevy Silverado, and it was not fair for her to have to learn on the bigger cars. But she did it.

While we were at the restaurant, Jill asked if she could drive home alone.  It would be the first time she as in a car all by herself with no one overseeing.  Cathy looked at me with her “Oh my….??” look.  Before Cathy could object, I said yes.

Jill was giddy with excitement and left the restaurant ahead of us.

As we were walking down the street, I looked up to see the Passat coming up the street.  I pointed to the car and said to everyone “Here comes Jill”.  We stood there in silence as we watched her drive off, heading home.  MJ turned to me and said “That has to be the most terrifying site”.  I said to him, “Not really, the most terrifying site was watching you drive off  for the first time. Second time around is not so bad.”  MJ clearly did not see the humor in that statement.

 

Stromboli Night

Mom decided to break in her new kitchen with Stromboli night!

This was a truly unbelievable event in our household.

In the old kitchen layout only 1, maybe 2 people could work in the space at a time.  There was very limited counter space and no matter how careful, you were always bumping into the other person.  With the new kitchen layout we had 5 people all doing something!

On top of that, Mom allowed the kids to throw flour all over the granite counter-tops so we could roll out the dough for our Stromboli’s.  Each of us made up our own personalized Stromboli with whatever we wanted as a filler.

Through it all Mom kept a smile on her face.  Flour was all over the counter-tops, some of the flour and fixings spilled on to the floor, the sink was full of dishes.  Yet she smiled.

 

Seriously, I was starting to think the pod people replaced my wife!

At the end, the Stromboli’s came out perfect!

#@$%!!

One of my boxes got hacked.  Ugh.  Fortunately it was a jump server that had no data.

I have 2 servers exposed to the Internet, a jump server and a reverse proxy.  The reverse proxy provides access to the web applications that I run.  The jump server I use for SSH access into my network from remote locations.

They never got full root access to the box, they didn’t modify the firewall configs and no additional processes were spawned.  What they did do was mess up the logging facility.

After rebuilding the box from scratch I’ve made authentication to be public key only.  I’m thinking of implementing a port knocking feature so that the pot does show up on a port scan.

Bored Engineering Students

So what do 2 bored engineering students do to fill up their time on summer break?

They build 2 motorized bicycles.

In May MJ and Greg bought 2 Schwin bicycles and modified them to fit a 50cc 2-stroke engine onto the frame.  I was thankful to see that they bought new bicycles for this little project and not modify their existing bikes.

They spent about 4 hours on each bike installing the engine, sprocket, gas tank and controls.  The rear wheel sprocket and engine sprocket were a bit of a pain to line up.  They also had to fiddle with the brake controls so the clutch control worked.

 

The engines need to be pop started by pedalling the bikes and slowly releasing the clutch.   After assembling the bikes, it took another 2 hours to tune the carbs and get everything working smoothly.

The bikes will run at 25mph with a 75 mile range.

It’s pretty cool to watch the bikes go.

MJ’s Eagle Scout Project

MJ completed his Eagle Scout project this past weekend. His project was to rebuild 250 feet of fence at the Lincroft Little League field. The old fence had a single horizontal rail and a top rail made of 2×4. Kids were constantly climbing under or over the fence.  People would get splinters from the old wood.  Plus there were several 4×4 posts that needed to be replaced.
With the rebuild, MJ designed three horizontal rails plus a top rail made of Trex, as you can see in the photo.  The project took two days and involved 155 man hours of labor.  Scouts and friends did most of the labor.

A special thank you to David Seibel for sponsoring the project with the Lincroft Little League and working with MJ through the project.

Unemployment Statistics & Lies

One of the running discussions I have with my friend Mark is about the unemployment numbers and why they don’t reflect what we see with other friends and co-workers. We both know of quite a few people who have stopped looking for work or who have taken part-time jobs to make ends meet. Both of these groups of people are not counted in the unemployment number, however the effect of thier actions does reflect on the actual health of the economy. This running conversation has been going on for years.

This past weekend I read an article on unemployment. The article referenced the U-6 measurement. Whoa. What’s that? So today I did some googleing to find out more on the U-6 measurement.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics actually tracks 6 measures of unemployment. Three of those measure jumped out at me and literally made me think “Here’s the real story….”. The three measures that painted the picture are the U-1, U-3 and U-6.

The average unemployment figure (U-3) for 2011 was 8.9%.  5.3% of the umemployed people could expect to remain unemployed for 4 months or longer (U-1).  And in 2011 15.9% of the US workforce was effected by unemployment is some manner (U-6). Yes. Antidotally, this is what I believe the average American is experiencing in the labor market.

What are these measures:

  • U-1 -> Unemployed for 15 weeks or longer
  • U-2 -> Job loser and person who completed temporary job
  • U-3 -> This is the traditional unemployment figure
  • U-4 -> Unemployed plus discouraged workers who are no longer lookin
  • U-5 -> U-4 plus marginally attached worker
  • U-6 -> U-5 plus underemployed workers

Go to the BLS web site to read the definitions yourself.

Why does the U-1, U-3 annd U-6 measures really tell the story?

U-3 is what’s reported in the news everyday. It is the baseline off of which you can ccompare the other two measurements.

There are quite a few guys I know who have been unemployed for months. Thier unemployment has run out. The U-1 measure speaks to these people who have been out for a long time.

There are also a lot of people who have taken jobs outside of thier field or are part-time. These people are technically working, but are underemployed. There are also people who have given up looking for work. In a healthy economy they would be changing jobs or at the very least actively looking for work.

The unemployment averages for 2011:

U-1 U-3 U-6
US 5.3% 8.9% 15.9%
NJ 6.2% 9.4% 16.0%
NY 5.0% 8.1% 14.3%

 The current unemployment figures for March 2012:

U-1 U-3 U-6
4.6% 8.2% 14.5%

It has been awhile since I could honestly say that something our government is doing has impressed me. I am impressed with the statistics the US Bureau of Labor is providing. These statistics actually parallel what myself and friends perceive to be occuring in the job market.

I’ve moved to Mocha Host

I’ve finally decided to take the plunge and host my blog elsewhere.  No longer is it on a server in my basement.  I’ve moved the site to a virtual server at Mocha Hosting. The cost alone of running the server 7×24 is about $100 per month in electric.  Where as at Mocha I’m getting a virtual Linux box with unlimited disk space and unlimited bandwidth for $4 per month.

With the move, I also had to change my domain name.  The .ws top level domain sites are a real pain to transfer.  There are alot of articles telling people that the  TLD .ws stands for “website” however it really is for the country Somoa.  As such, the registry for the .ws domains is not consistently managed.  For the my new domain, I’ve registered “thepetersen.us” domain name.  I’ll have the petersens.ws domain until June 2011.

Droid Performance

Now that I’ve been using the Droid for a week, an update is in order.  My love affair with this device is still strong as ever.  I’ve got my contacts fully organized, loaded a few GB’s worth of music and found a few apps that are really great.

I have found that using the “glass” keyboard is just as easy as using the slide out keyboard.  In fact it is easier to some degree to use the touch screen keyboard for some of the applications.  The touch screen keyboard is readily able to determine which letter I wanted, even with my big fingers covering multiple letters.

I’ve been some what surprised by the battery life.  Especially after hearing about the iPhone 3G’s dismal battery performance.  If I use the Droid as a mini-PC, entering contact data, heavily browsing the web, loading and running a lot of different applications, the battery lasts me about a 24-hour day.  The screen depletes the battery faster than anything else that I do.  In a typical day where I use the phone for about an hour, the music player for 3 hours and perform a few searches with the browser, the battery life would last me about 2 days before needing a recharge.

I found the easiest way to load music onto the device is to plug it into the USB port and mount the device as a drive on my PC.  The SD card is fully accessible as a mounted device.  The one snafu I found is that earlier versions of the Droid had thier music directory on the root of the SD card.  The current verision expects the music directory to be in the \DCIM directory.  The snafu is not with the Droid device itself, but with all the personal websites that exist that provide directions.  Once I had the correct directory it was an easy process to drag-n-drop the music files.  The music application itself takes a few minutes to index the first time you run the application after every time new music is loaded.  I noticed when music is added I have to be patient and give the software a minute or two before I look for the new titles.

The one application that is a must load for everyone is aptly titled “Where”.  This app allows you to search for just about anything based on where you’re currently located.  It will pull up news, weather and even gas prices in proximity to you.  I’m heading to Chicago tomorrow and am looking forward to a real world opportunity to try out the application.

The one draw back to the device is the quality of the speaker during cell phone usage.  The speaker is on par with the everyday cell phone, but is no where near the quality you get with the bluetooth headset.  In hands free mode the speaker is serviceable.  But overall quality is worse than when used as a traditional phone brought up to your ear.  99% of the time I use a bluetooth headset, so this isn’t really an issue for me.

Overall, I’m very happy with my purchase.

The Droid

220px-Motorola-milestone-wikipediaAfter 5 years using a LG flip cell phone, I’ve upgrade to the Droid.  The LG phone has been great and has done well by me, but it was really way overdue to upgrade to the 21st century.

Here’s my review of the phone on the first real day of usage.

Activating the phone you need a Gmail account.  At first I was scratching my head to understand why a Gmail account is needed just to activate the phone.  After a second the light bulb went on, hey this is using Android, the Google OS. So it just makes sense that Google would want to drive usage back to their applications.  The reason they gave at the store is the Gmail account unlocks some features.  Outside of being able to view the email in my new Gmail account, I haven’t found anything that really ties back to Google.

The touch screen took about an hour to get comfortable with the feel and how much pressure to use.  It is fun to use the flick feature to quickly scroll through lists.  (Its the simple things that I like!)

The keypad is totally flat.  Like the touch screen is takes some time to get used to the feel.  I’ve been on the phone for a few hours and it’s getting more comfortable to type.  I’ve heard from a few women that their nails give them trouble with the keypad.

Interestingly the desktop does not utilize the motion sensor to detect the phone’s orientation.  If the keyboard is closed, the desktop will display long ways.  When the keyboard is open, then the desktop will display sideways, like what is shown in the picture.  Within applications, the motion sensor works and the application will display accordingly to the orientation of the phone regardless if the keyboard is open or not.

Configuring my Comcast email addresses were a snap.  I entered the email address and password.  The phone figured out all the server and port settings.  By default the phone will ring every time an email arrives to notify you.  Through the night we would hear the phone ring out the default metallic sounding “Droid”.  First thing this morning I reconfigured the phone to vibrate for inbound emails.

Configuring the Facebook application was interesting.  After I configured the application and logged in, I was able to select whether or not I wanted to sync my local contacts with my friends in Facebook.  I choose to sync and only show the contacts who had phone numbers.  Its quick and easy to change the display to show all my friends in the contacts.  Now if only I can get my Facebook friends to add their phone numbers to their profiles.  It would eliminate the need for me to add phone numbers.

I set up the bluetooth headset to work with both the Droid and my company’s Blackberry.  Fortunately the headset was new enough to allow pairing with two devices.  The Droid plays nice with the Blackberry over which device has the link.  When making a call on the Droid it takes over the link to the headset for the duration of the call.  The headset is relinquished back to the Blackberry after the call is done.  If I have a call on the blackberry with the headset in use and a call comes in from the Droid, the Droid doesn’t interfere with the existing connection.

Over the course of this weekend, I’ll finish setting up my contacts and entering phone numbers.  I purposely didn’t want to port my contacts over from my old phone.  There are a lot of numbers that are no longer valid and the organization of the contacts needs to be redone.  I’m more than happy to enter the numbers manually and start fresh.

Call quality of the phone is good.  I notice a very slight hollow echo, but it is not annoying at all.  I haven’t had enough calls from different locations to determine if it is due to the phone or the connection I’m getting. Comparing the quality to my old cell phone, the Droid is way above that phone.  The call quality is comparable to the Blackberry.  You can mark certain contacts to be part of your favorites list by highlighting the “star” for that contact.  If you have a large contact list, this is a must use feature.  The phone app also tracks your frequently called numbers making callbacks a snap.

Battery life is another feature that I will be keeping a close eye on over the next few days.  I have heard from a few people that they easily get a full day plus on a single charge.  If the phone is not being heavily used, the charge can last an entire weekend.  This is a lot better than the 6 hours of battery life you get with heavy usage on the iPhone.

I’m very happy to have waited in replacing the old phone.  The Android operating system is going to give Apple a run for it’s money.  The one feature I have yet to test is the music playback.   Also I will be looking into the Droid Apps to see what is interesting.

Now We’re Talking Squid!!

Victory is mine!!!

I’ve been running the Squid proxy server in the house for the past two+ years. In our house if you want to get to the Internet, you have to point your browser to the Squid proxy. Otherwise, no dice on the Internet access. I set this up so that I could keep a liberal policy on computer usage in our house while at the same time keeping an eye on the kids. On top of Squid I’ve been using MySAR for the reporting and it has been doing a very nice job, although the MySAR interface is getting old.

For the Blog, I had the router forward all the port 80 inbound web traffic to the web server. As long as I could run everything off a common Apache server, this setup worked just fine. For this blog I’ve been running  WordPress. I’ve been very happy with WordPress so far.

Lately I’ve been help my good friend, Dave, with some web site work. Eventually the websites will be hosted at a still undetermined hosting provider. But for now I needed to bring them up on my home server. At first I just needed to resolve the domains to the single Apache server. No problem. The home network can easily handle this.

Then things got a little more complicated, I also needed to bring up a wiki. For the wiki I wanted to stay with Confluence. I like the Confluence wiki. Its easy to setup and maintain. Even in large installations it is quick and runs on minimal hardware.

We wanted to have the primary domain, www.agsaurora.com resolve to the Apache web server. But we wanted wiki.agsaurora.com to resolve to the Confluence server. Home routers, while they provide a lot of functionality that 98% of the people don’t even know exists, they can’t perform layer 7 content switching. Initially to get the wiki up and running I had the home router forward port 8080 to the server running Confluence. If you typed www or wiki.agsaurora.com:8080, it would redirect to the wiki. Problem with that is the URL’s are ugly. Who wants to see “:8080” in the URL. Second issue was that any sub-domain under “*.agsaurora.com:8080” would resolve to the wiki. Not clean and not elegant.

I looked on ebay for something that could provide the functionality that I needed, but the hardware was way to expensive. So I started to look for an Open Source software solution. The load balancing software solutions were complicated to setup and maintain. I was looking for a simple solution. Then I rediscovered Squid! The reverse proxy acceleration was exactly what we were looking for. All the traffic would be forwarded to the Squid server and I had to only open the single port 80 to the Internet. Squid would then proxy the requests to the correct backend server:port. This setup gave me an added bonus! It gave me positive control over the sub-domains and where they landed. It was relatively easy to get wiki.agsaurora.com to resolve to the Confluence server on port 8080 and all the other web traffic, like www.agsaurora.com or download.agsaurora.com, to resolve on the Apache web server on port 80.

Here is the snipet of the Squid Config that performs the magic:

# Squid normally listens to port 3128
http_port 80 accel vhost

acl myhost dstdomain .petersens.ws
acl myhost dstdomain .agsaurora.net .agsaurora.com
acl mywiki dstdomain wiki.agsaurora.net wiki.agsaurora.com

#setup cache peers for accelration
cache_peer 10.10.1.4 parent 80 0 no-query originserver name=xenweb login=PROXYPASS
cache_peer 10.10.1.5 parent 8080 0 no-query originserver name=xenshare

cache_peer_access xenweb deny mywiki
cache_peer_access xenweb allow myhost
cache_peer_access xenshare allow mywiki
always_direct deny myhost
always_direct deny mywiki

Eleven lines of configuration. It took the better part of three hours to get this config just right so that I can still use the Squid proxy to capture all the Internet bound traffic while at the same time perform the reverse proxy acceleration. The cache_peer and cache_peer_access lines setup the reverse proxy. The two last lines, always_direct, allows all the internally generated traffic to pass through the proxy to the outside world. I double checked the MySAR application after setting everything up and it was still processing all the logs just fine! So I can still monitor what the kids are up to on the Internet!!! VICTORY!!!