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Shelter in Place

A month ago, we lived in a world of over-abundance that was easy to take for granted. I grew up on the poor side, but we always had enough, and as a white, millennial, American my life has been free from the pain of true scarcity. If you were a typical middle-class family, you had no problem getting everything you needed. Things got even easier with the availability of 2-day shipping from major retailers. Not only can I have anything I want, it can be delivered to my doorstep in two days! As a new parent, the ability to get a subscription to diapers, wipes, and everything I needed for my child without leaving the house or thinking much about it was great.

That all changed in March.

On March 5th the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Alameda county, where we live, but we were in Pasadena for a work conference. As I mentioned in the conclusion to my last post, in hindsight, attending that conference was probably not the most prudent thing to do, but on March 4th when we left, we were both still cleared to attend and I honestly didn’t realize how serious it was going to get in the US.

We returned home on March 8th. Gatherings over 1000 people were banned, leading to a slew of conference and event cancellations, though major league sporting events were still going on. Traffic had started dying down in the bay area with companies starting to suggest people work from home, including the company I work for on March 11th. On March 11th we also started seeing major sporting events finally starting to cease. On March 12th, our au pair, Adam, and I went to the grocery store to do the biggest grocery store run of my adult life. At this point the toilet paper shortage had already taken hold, and jokes about it abounded, but we had a decent supply so the absence didn’t phase me. Surely things would calm down, and when we needed more in a couple months, it would be available? But generally things were still pretty chill and normal, our dryer had recently been repaired, we got a new dishwasher installed that week, Adam went out for his first haircut, and we browsed a furniture store with a plan to buy a couch for the family room. I had also just hired a yard maintenance service to start dealing with the yard that had gotten out of hand as we strove to survive the first year of parenthood.


Big grocery run!

So, at this point, my daily life hadn’t changed much. Our au pair from Brazil lives with us, and I was fully WFH with all of my planned visits to the office put on hold, but she and I were otherwise on our normal work schedules. MJ’s office had started offering WFH options, but as an executive, he was going in, along with the rest of the skeleton staff.

It wasn’t until that weekend that it was clear things would get serious. On Monday, March 15th, the number of cases in our county had jumped to 18, and they announced that on Tuesday, March 16th, the shelter in place order would go into effect for six bay area counties through April 7th. We became the first area in the United States to enact such a strict lock-down of the population. My conservative relatives were still posting memes on Facebook about the threat being overblown and nothing to worry about, it wouldn’t be until the end of the week that they started taking it seriously. That yard maintenance service I hired was in the non-essential category and cancelled their service. The weather was rainy that week, so our ability to take Adam out for walks was curbed anyway. Our house was fully stocked with food, so my runs out for groceries were limited anyway. MJ working from home was a change, but doing take-out for dinners was pretty normal for us. On March 19th the shelter in place order was issued for all of California.

On March 23rd the first virus-related death was reported in our county. On the 26th, we were supposed to fly to Philadelphia to visit for two weeks, but shelter in place restrictions also restricted travel, and by then the virus had spread there anyway, so a visit would keep us cooped up in the townhouse, unable to visit family anyway. By Saturday, March 28th, that number would be six, and 240 confirmed cases. This second week is where things really got real for me. Every upcoming event I was supposed to speak at was cancelled, leaving me to scramble to make virtual-focused plans for the next several months at work. I had a mild panic attack one afternoon when I went out to pick up lunch for the family. It all hit me really hard. Walking downtown to see what was once a vibrant collection of small businesses, now shuttered, was devastating and I started worrying about how they would recover. I bought a few gift cards online for my favorites, in hopes that they can weather this storm and return to us when it’s over. Making things worse, the symptoms of a panic attack for me are similar to that of the virus (pain in the chest, dry cough, shortness of breath). For hours, the anxiety and fear that I was sick fed each other in a vicious cycle, but thankfully I was fine the next day.


Our local comic shop, with a sign outside explaining their closure, like all other non-essential shops downtown

I had to go to the grocery store, alone, and got my first glimpse of empty shelves and picked over produce. The lines were long, even in the middle of a weekday. I couldn’t find any yogurt for Adam, but he still had some at home. Along with all paper products and cleaners that had been out of stock for weeks, dishwasher detergent was nowhere to be seen, a fact I was sure to pass along to my friends and family who hadn’t started to see shortages yet – you do more dishes when you’re all at home! Parks and beaches started to close, since people were looking for an outdoor place to go, but then overwhelmed those areas, causing traffic for locals and making it impossible for people to stay physically distant. We started reducing the distance and frequency with which we took Adam for walks, mostly staying in our neighborhood.


Walk around the neighborhood

This past week, week three, is when the new normal of shelter in place really took hold. Our every-other-week housecleaning service was cancelled. More states were issuing shelter in place orders. Big stores started limiting the number of people who could enter at one time. At my local grocery stores, signs and stickers on the floor explained the physical distancing protocols and barriers were erected between cashiers and customers. Package deliveries slowed to a crawl and online retailers started running out of inventory, which means even things I was accustom to being delivered, like the diapers, were no longer available and required a trip to the store (or several, to find the right ones!). I started cooking at home more, which I don’t particularly enjoy and I’m not very good at. Still, I did manage to successfully make corn muffins from a mix and they even came out of the pan intact! The muffins were accompanied by crock pot beef stew. I made tacos one night, and MJ took the lead on hot dog and sausages night.


Crock pot beef stew

I used my Instant Pot for the first time to make chicken piccata, which came out pretty good, but it was a lot of work, and I’m not convinced the Instant Pot helped considerably in this case, since half the cooking was using the Saute function. I’ll have to try some more recipes.


Instant Pot chicken piccata

It was this week when the shelter in place order was extended by almost a month, to May 3rd. The stories coming out of New York City from doctors and nurses began piling up, and the severity of all of this was terrifying. On Friday the CDC issued a recommendation that everyone wear cloth masks when going out to protect others in case you are infected. We have some disposable face masks we bought last year when Adam was an infant to use when one of us was ill but still needed to be on limited diaper duty. But we don’t have many, so I placed an order on Etsy for some reusable cotton masks, and with a week+ delivery date for those, on Saturday morning I attempted to buy the supplies to make my own, but elastic is sold out everywhere. There are designs with elastic replacements now, but that starts going down a rabbit hole. And before you, dear reader, try to offer up advice and solutions for masks, I will assure you that you’re missing the point. A month ago, I wouldn’t have believed we’d be having this conversation. That’s the point. That’s what is so jarring.

It’s not all bad though. I recount the above so I remember the timeline, and how quickly this all happened. So I am reminded to give myself grace on the days when I’m scared or struggling.

So far we’re all healthy in our household. The handful of cases among friends and acquaintances haven’t been life-threatening. Adam loves having us all at home all the time. At just 15 months old, he has no idea why his life has changed, but it’s mostly been great for him! And his happiness is infectious. He’s started standing recently, so we expect he’ll start walking while we’re all home to see it. We have plenty of food, and can still go out for take-out at a number of places, even as their dining rooms remain closed. Both MJ and I are able to work from home while our au pair watches Adam during the day. And while this definitely isn’t the cultural exchange our au pair was hoping for, we’ve been playing board games together after dinner most nights to keep us all entertained and connected, and she’s staying connected to her friends and family online, we’re hopeful that she’ll ride this out with us. We haven’t had a lot more time on our hands to explore a grand new hobby or watch much TV, as keeping up with additional chores has kept me busy, but we have had some time to work on a few projects at home, like finishing some baby-proofing in Adam’s room and the family room.

The transition for digital for a lot of things has actually been helpful to us as new parents, too. With our synagogue moving to online Friday night Shabbat services, we were able to attend for the first time since we had Adam. My friends in Philadelphia hosted their first virtual Philadelphia Linux Users Group, so Adam and I got to “attend” a meeting from afar.


We have a nice setup in the family room to watch live streams, like PLUG! (the colors are fine, taking pictures of TVs is not optimal)

Adam dressed up in his GitLab onesie for the PLUG meeting

Perhaps best of all, we’re cautiously optimistic that shelter in place seems to be working for the bay area. We were an early hot spot, still have a large number of cases (as of yesterday, my county had 566 cases and 12 deaths), and have been warned that the worst is yet to come, but it hasn’t grown quite as quickly as was feared. It’s given the hospitals here the essential time to prepare, time that other areas where it spread faster didn’t have.


Our local Chabot Theater, telling us to take care of each other

As we approach week four, our family is preparing for Passover. That a plague played a starring role in the Passover story is not lost on us. We’ll be picking up our Seder supplies and meal for from a Jewish deli in San Francisco on Wednesday, but finding other supplies to take us through our chametz-free week of Passover has been harder than in years past. Thankfully, MJ ventured out to a shop in Oakland we hadn’t tried yet, and successfully found everything we needed.

With the new shelter in place order lasting through May 3rd, we have four more weeks to go. Stay safe and healthy everyone.

SCALE 18x

On March 4th the world looked a lot different than it does today. I had a work trip to Singapore canceled due to COVID-19 concerns about travel to Asia, and the first US domestic cases had started popping up. A few conferences were starting to cancel, go virtual, or postpone, but it wasn’t the landslide that we would see in the subsequent days. We had guidance to avoid handshakes, and sanitation stations were being set up at the events still being held to help stem the spread. It was with this in mind that we boarded our flight to Pasadena to attend what I now know would be my last conference for several months: SCALE 18x!

I say “we” because this was one of the few conferences that both MJ and I frequently attend for work, so we packed up little Adam and invited our au pair join us for the trip down to beautiful Pasadena for one of my favorite conferences of the year.

I’ll start off by saying that I’m really grateful that SCALE is welcoming to kids at their event. Registration is free for kids with a registered adult, they have an entire SCALE Kids track, and during Game Night there’s a family hour. Now, Adam is too young for much of this, but by welcoming children with such focused content it sets a tone for the event that made me excited to bring him along. Even if his participation largely consisted of riding in his stroller through the expo hall. He also sported a series of open source onesies, one for each day: Debian, Kubernetes, GitLab, and Ubuntu.

As for me, my goal for the conference was helping chair the Containers and Virtualization track, with speaker logistics and introductions, and to give a talk of my own.

The week leading up to the event was a bit of a whirlwind. With virus fears increasing, several speakers abruptly had to cancel their travel plans and we were left scrambling to fill our agenda. Thankfully, we had a large queue of submissions, so it was a matter of cross-referencing those with folks who were still planning on attending, and asking them if they’d be able to present after all. Much of the heavy-lifting there was handled by the humble leader of our track, Josh Berkus, including salvaging our day of tutorials on Thursday with a new Kubernetes tutorial put on by members of the Kubernetes community who were already planning on attending.

With a revived containers and virtualization track, it was a real pleasure to meet all the speakers before I introduced them. The projector in our room caused us grief all weekend, but the staff did their best to help out and get talks going with work-around fixes as they could. Between sessions I dutifully wiped down the microphones with disinfecting wipes, which hadn’t become a scarce commodity yet! I won’t pick favorites in the talks, but I will say that I was delighted to welcome Vicky Tanya Seno to the event, who is a computer science professor at the nearby Santa Monica College who also encouraged her students to attend, and gave them extra credit for it! As someone who has seen a real benefit to my career by attending conferences, it was great to see her encourage her students like that. Honorable mention to Rob Richardson as well, who really came through for us and did three talks for the track.

There was also a Kubernetes community dinner on Friday night, that I was grateful to be invited to. Some shuffling was required there as well, as the original host wasn’t able to attend due to an unrelated illness. Josh saved the day there, too.

My talk was We put Kubernetes on a Mainframe! (slides) where I gave an updated version of the talk I gave back in November at KubeCon in San Diego. It was fun to prepare for this talk, I was able to sync up with the folks from OpenSUSE, and add the latest details about OpenShift support, which landed back in February. The talk was well-received, and giving it on Friday morning gave me the opportunity to schmooze with like-minded attendees for the rest of the weekend.

I enjoyed the keynotes this year. The first was from Paul Vixie, of DNS fame. It was definitely an opinionated keynote about what DNS should and should not be used for, to which I left having pretty mixed feelings about the whole thing, but grateful for his descriptions of the competing standards. He also shared Everything Is Broken by Quinn Norton and recommended that everyone read it. I think it’s overview for most of us working in the industry, indeed, the more I’ve learned about infrastructure and security, the more shocked I am that any of it works (the history and ultimate mechanics of DNS were particularly mind-blowing for me).

The keynote on Sunday had to be conducted virtually due to the speakers being unable to travel. Logistically, it actually went very well, so kudos to the event staff for pulling it off. The topic was “From Prison to Python” and featured Sha Stepter and Jessica McKellar talking about opportunities for folks who have time to spend learning programming while incarcerated, and a pathway for them to find success in the job market upon release. It also gave us an sobering glimpse into the prison system that’s so easy for many of us to simply ignore. Their call to consider folks with convictions on their record for employment, backed up by statistics showing extremely low recidivism rate for people with stable jobs, was an inspirational message and I do hope that more companies start considering it.

The last talk of the conference that I attended was by Vagrant Cascadian on Reproducible Builds. I’ve been following the project since seeing Chris Lamb give a presentation about it at LCA a few years ago. Attending that talk was also a sure-fire way to find a nice chunk of the Debian attendees who came to SCALE, since the project arose out of some of the work that the Debian project was doing. It was nice to chat with my fellow Debian-ites and to get an update on how the project was doing. Plus, I learned they have a nice, new logo! I got a sticker.

Huge thanks to all the organizers who made the event possible. I know some difficult decisions had to be made and even more work was put on their shoulders as a result. And I’m still glad we went, even if in hindsight it wasn’t the most prudent thing to do. It was still a great event and I treasured the time I was able to sync up with several people who I probably won’t be seeing much in person these next few months.

More photos from the event here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pleia2/albums/72157713662183732

Bright Light City

Adam had certainly been racking up the airline mileage points in his first year, but all of our trips had either been to family events in Florida, visits to Philadelphia, or work trips. Our first actual family vacation came to fruition on February 19th when we flew to Las Vegas for a four day vacation. I disconnected from work entirely, powering off my phone and sticking it in a drawer before we left home.

It’s still a challenge traveling with a little one. Luggage-wise he had an entire suitcase devoted to his clothes, toys, food, bottles, changing pad, diapers, and everything else a 13 month old needs. We also assembled a bed kit consisting of a couple Port-A-Walls and a Pack ‘n Play, all packed into a Humes & Berg Drum Seeker Tilt-N-Pull Hardware Bag. This was the first time using this collection of things to block off an area of our hotel room for him, and it worked out quite well. The Port-A-Walls are just thin synthetic fabric, so it does nothing for sound, and only a little for light, but they do block out motion, so he doesn’t get bothered or distracted when we walk around the room, which is especially key when putting him down for a nap. Plus, he had his stroller bag. That’s three full-size suitcase equivalents just for him! As you can imagine, packing also takes a bit longer than it used to when it was just the two of us.

We stayed in the Aria Sky Suites. If I’m honest, we probably won’t bother with it again. The room was beautiful, and the airport transport, lounge, and special pool were nice, but the perks they advertised as “personalized” really weren’t. They made a lot of mistakes, and for the most part I’ve gotten better service from standard hotel front desk staff than their alleged “personal concierge.” I don’t regret going there at all, it was just a little disappointing compared to the hype and list price (which we didn’t pay, but who does? It’s Las Vegas! Comps!).

Introducing little Adam to Las Vegas was a joy. At 13 months old, the lights and sounds of the casino were a delight for him. Outside, he watched the crowds of people and cars with great interest.

During one walk, I took him to see the amazing fountains at the Bellagio, though his attention was thoroughly elsewhere: watching the people watching the fountains.

Because of how delighted he was with walks, we did a lot of them during our visit. Up and down the strip, on a bus to go the mall where they had a Build-A-Bear Workshop, taking trams from the Aria to Mandalay Bay. In the course of traveling the strip with a stroller, we got to navigate around to find all the elevators, no small feat.

Feeding Adam while on the go also presents particular challenges. He’s old enough to only be drinking milk when he wakes up and goes to bed, so most of his nourishment comes from food. We packed Gerber snacks and ravioli, which left two meals per day to find elsewhere. One morning the two of us went to breakfast, during which he ate a bunch of my avocado toast and I was left to eat most of his fruit and yogurt. The buffet at Aria was great for us, allowing him to sample a bunch of different foods on a leisurely timeline. Easy access to bananas throughout our trip was good too, they are his go-to fruit!

Activity-wise, we each got time to go out and do things. As part of our family during her stay in the United States, our au pair joined us for this vacation and she met up with a friend who flew in to spend the weekend together. She was able to watch Adam while MJ and I went out on our big Date Night where we enjoyed a stunning French meal at Guy Savoy. We went with the tasting menu and I added the wine pairing.

Our evening continued by stepping outside of Caesars Palace to see Absinthe.

The weather during our visit was on the cool side, but on Friday it warmed up enough to make our way down to the pool. We spent the day as a family lounging in Gazebo we rented (which got us food delivery by the pool), eating snacks, playing, and sometimes even going into the heated pool.

As MJ and I swapped off the evening duty of staying in the room with the sleeping baby, one night I went downstairs to Bardot Brasserie. Another French restaurant, I went for the escargo in puff pastries, and their lobster and steak entree was delicious. For dessert, I had a trio that I had to mostly take back to my room to enjoy later. Too much food! I also spent one morning making my way out to the Erotic Heritage Museum, which got good reviews for actual interesting historical content, but is not much to look at from the outside, and even the entrance made me questioning whether I really wanted to visit. It was worth it though, several of the exhibits were quite in-depth and many of them were fascinating. Obviously not a museum for the more prudish among us, but I enjoyed it.

As a whole, we had a lot of fun, but the trip was not particularly relaxing. Vacationing with a little one takes a lot of energy! Still, I absolutely cherished Adam’s wide-eyed looks of astonishment as we saw new and impressive sights everywhere we went. I wouldn’t classify Las Vegas as a family destination, but at this age, he really enjoyed being whisked around everywhere and trying new things.

More photos from our visit are here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pleia2/albums/72157713662176597

When things were normal

I’m writing this on March 21st, day five of the Shelter in Place order from Alameda County, where we live. I’ll write more about what brought us here later, but for now I want to catch up on what life was like before that!

My last general update about life covered our visit back east for the holidays. Upon my return from that trip, I flew to Australia for a conference, so things didn’t quite return to normal until I came home on January 18th. It was also then that we started on the next challenge of our parenting journey: Switching to solid foods.


Adam checks out the menu at our local Thai place, he got rice and prawns

Feeding has been a significant source of stress for me, starting out with my exclusively pumping journey and now simply learning what you’re supposed to be feeding a one year old to keep him happy and healthy. We’ve had to employ some strategies to get him to eat more vegetables and more generally, feeding a new human food presents new challenges when going out to eat and traveling, in contrast with just making sure we bring along a bottle of milk. On the one hand, I no longer need to pump (hooray!) but on the other, we always have to be thinking about his next meal, packing food for him when we travel, and making sure we dine at places that have appropriate options for him. This all may seem obvious, but it’s not trivial! We’re managing though, and he has his next doctor appointment in a couple weeks where they’ll check his weight and probably confirm that he’s doing fine.

The other thing I had to deal with upon my return home in January was a leaky dishwasher. It turns out that it had been leaking for some time, and had leaked through the floor into the garage. The first step to handling this was fixing the leak and ordering a new dishwasher. Then we had to get a water damage company in to check for mold and dry everything out. They cut a hole in the ceiling of the garage, treated the mold, and that began nearly a week of having a noisy dehumidifier and heater in our already cramped kitchen. I did not enjoy this process and was thankful when it was over. In the beginning of March the new dishwasher finally came in and was installed. Turns out the old one was over 15 years old, so it was probably time to replace it anyway.

We’ve gotten a lot of baby-proofing done. At the townhouse in Philadelphia the outlets are the newer kind that resist tampering, but we aren’t so lucky here, and have taken to putting covers on the ones he has access to. We also put up a couple Retract-A-Gate baby gates so he can stay confined to the large family room we have upstairs, with only a small corner reserved for the plans and a lamp that we secured with the remaining gate pieces we had from when we baby-proofed the townhouse.

Adam and I continued going on local adventures. He seems to enjoy taking BART, so one evening we took it one stop over to Target. A few weeks ago we took it to the mall in Pleasanton. I’ve spent some time hanging art in his room too. I realize that decorating the nursery is something people typically do before the child is born, but I never managed to make time for it then. Plus, this way I’ve been able to buy specific prints of art I really like and have actually enjoyed the process rather than feeling like I’m on a deadline. I completed the decorating by putting up pair of colorful maps for children, one featuring the United States, and the other of the world.

I’ve started having a little more time to myself now that Adam has turned one. His schedule is pretty reliable, and though there still are a lot more chores than before, I’ve made specific effort to carve out time. In addition to rebuilding my desktop recently, I also finally got around to resurrecting our backups and media servers, one of which had a completely failed RAID array and needed to be recreated. Over 500GB of backups are now being reliably made of everything, including the server this blog runs on and had previously only been backed up to my desktop. I also recently put together my Raspberry Pi 4, and I just finished debugging why the graphical display is so dim on my GPD Pocket running Debian (I had thought it was not booting up, but then I noticed it was just really dim!).

Reading still hasn’t returned to my pre-parenthood rate, mostly due to my time on weekends being spent playing with Adam instead of reading, but I do still manage to get some time in most nights before bed, and I take half hour here and there during my work week to read work-related books. I also got back into using an RSS reader. This was driven by my terrible habit of using my phone too much, and I realized that if I was going to spend so much time on it, I should at least give myself some good content to read rather than refreshing social media feeds. It also made me set up feeds for work, which has helped my tremendously in my goal to make sure I’m staying on top of mainframe news and podcasts.

In early February I came down with a brutal sinus infection, and while on antibiotics and making a slow recovery, a long weekend of windy and rainy weather swept through, taking out part of the fence in our back yard. We’ve known about the vulnerability of the fence for some time and have sketched out plans to replace it, but now the situation is a bit more dire. Without the fence back there, Caligula can’t enjoy play time in the back yard without supervision, so I’ve been taking time to go outside with him and make sure he doesn’t run off. Last week I was able to take some time to at least pick up the fence and put the wood in a pile, during which I realized just how bad the fence was, parts of it just broke to pieces as I pulled it apart.

We spent several days in Las Vegas at the end of February and then we were off to the Southern California Linux Expo in Pasadena, both of which I’ll write about soon. On March 10th I took Adam out for his first haircut, which I’m glad I did because his hair was getting a bit long, and we’re not certain when salons and barber shops will be open again.

Which leads me to mention that everything related to COVID-19 has hit us. It’s caused me to cancel work and family trips coming up, which is pretty disappointing, but we’re well-situated to work from home and so far we’re doing fine. I could, and probably should, write a whole post soon about how it’s changing things for us – starting with all of us being home all the time! We’re running the dishwasher a lot.

Highlights of LCA 2020 in Gold Coast

I already wrote about the tourist stuff I did while in Brisbane and Gold Coast, but the actual reason for my trip to Australia was to present at Linux.conf.au (LCA).

One of the things that is particularly remarkable about LCA is the length of the conference. Most conferences I go to top out at three days, with one or two tutorial or community days thrown in for particularly invested community members. With LCA you have two days of mini-confs, but the quality of those events is just as high as the main conference. If I’m flying to the other side of the world, you bet I’ll attend those days too, and submit talks to a mini-conf. Add in travel time and a weekend of tourist stuff before the event so I can adjust to the time zone a little before giving my talks, and we’re talking about a 10 day trip. This has always thrown a wrench in my normal work, but this year it was definitely worse. With more considerable family obligations to come home to and an important launch at work on the horizon (which was thankfully pushed, but I didn’t know until I got home!), it’s taken me some time to catch up and finally sit down to write about the event.

I spent Monday morning in the Sysadmin Miniconf, as I typically do. We heard talks covering the latest from OpenZFS and Samba, a cultural look at DevOps, and a fascinating talk from Craig Miskell about why we all should probably stop running our cron jobs on the hour (random is better!) and his journey to debug failures at GitLab related to the practice.

Then I had to get into the right head space for my talk, which included enjoying some Indian food for lunch with some of my LCA buddies. My sysadmin mini-conf talk was on “Why Linux Systems Administrators Should Care About the Mainframe,” (slides, video) which started out as a lightning talk, but was expanded to a 25 minute talk by the time I arrived! I had to add some last minute content to account for that, but I think the talk went well. It was nice to have a talk so early in the week, too. It put me in touch with other IBM Z folks at the conference very quickly, and others who were using mainframes and were surprised to see mainframe content at the conference. For me, it was nice to sync up with some Australians, since most of the data I had for my talks was still US-centric, and I was weaker than I had planned on being about mainframe usage in Asia/Pacific. Plus, it was reassuring to know there were folks in the audience who were truly invested in the technology and interested to be there. I think my favorite comment though came from a fellow who only attended my talk because it was in the sysadmin mini-conf room, and admitted “I thought it would be boring, but it wasn’t!” High praise, right there!


Thanks to Rob Thomas (@xrobau) for taking a photo during my talk! (source)

On Tuesday the morning kicked off with a women in open technology breakfast. I’m quite shy at these “working breakfast” type events, but I was able to find my voice and chime in a bit, and I’m glad I went. The keynote that morning was probably my favorite of the conference, hearing from Dr. Sean Brady who spoke to the dangers of expertise. Through a series of stories and priming techniques, he demonstrated the glaring blind spots that our expertise can get us into, and pulled it back into engineering, both in the architectural sense and as broader technologists.

Other highlights included Wednesday when I went to a really fun talk by Keith Packard on Snek. He detailed his work teaching young students programming, and ended up developing a Python-compatible language called Snek to aid in his goals. Drawing from languages like Logo (turtle!), he wanted to make the experience simple and exciting, but still actually useful for students. It was also interesting to hear him talk some about the cultural side of teaching children programming, and that a non-competitive environment tends to work best (Hackathons need not apply). Finally, he announced a crowdsourcing campaign of SnekBoard, “an open-hardware python microcontroller for LEGO®”. Naturally, I backed it.

My second talk of the event was also on Wednesday, “Linux in the Cloud, on Prem, or… on a Mainframe?linux.conf.au (slides, video). I had to borrow some material from this talk to flesh out my talk on Monday, but this talk had a different focus, more about the open source technologies that have enabled the modern mainframe running Linux to have a place at the table alongside other Linux-based offerings, both in the cloud and on premises. Unfortunately my talk was at the same time as the OpenPOWER talk by the great Hugh Blemings, but Andrew Donnellan from the Power side came over to see my talk, and Hugh brought the rest of his Power crew over to my room to say hello once our talks were completed. With my friend Matthew Treinish of IBM Quantum there too, we got a fun picture covering IBM Systems: Power, Q, and Z!

Thursday included a talk from Robert Collins on why making broad assumptions about technology you don’t care for (like NTFS on Windows) does you, your project, and your community a disservice. He documented how he able to make the installation of Rust using Rustup considerably faster by throwing away assumptions that others had made and spending time doing a bunch of low-level debugging. Plus, it was an entertaining story. I also heard from Bradley M. Kuhn and Karen Sandler in a talk I admit I didn’t expect: one where they talked about the inherent privilege in being able to craft your life around being fully open source. We have gotten to a point in the open source movement where there’s a “holier than thou” attitude around just how open source you can be, and while it can be an interesting hobby for die-hard enthusiasts, at the end of the day not everyone is able to do it. When the proprietary app on the only phone you can afford saves you money on groceries and every dollar matters, you’re going to use that app. The talk sought to reign in this kind of attitude and be kinder to each other, and I was really happy to see it come from representatives of the Software Freedom Conservancy, which people in our communities tend to respect in this area.

On Friday I got to hear from my buddy Matt actually talk about quantum computers in his talk on quantum compilers. Being at IBM, I probably have more exposure to them than the average person, but my grasp on how they work is basic, at best. The talk was a fascinating glimpse into probabilities and optimizations that needed to be made for quantum compilers to come out with accurate results. It’s still brain-bending stuff, but at least I understand a little bit more now.

The conference concluded with a series of fun lightning talks, one of which had the location of the next LCA embedded in it, Canberra! I’ve never been to the Capital before, and as LCA remains one of my favorite conferences, I hope I can make it next year.

More photos from the conference here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pleia2/albums/72157712791312518. And the LCA YouTube account has a playlist that includes keynotes and talks, here: https://www.youtube.com/user/linuxconfau2019/playlists.

Flowery new desktop: Version 2

Back in February 2010 I moved to San Francisco and didn’t bring my desktop with me. Instead, I bought the parts to assemble a new desktop. It had one of the first generation Intel i7s, 8GB of RAM, and I got the most beautiful flowery case decorated with Swarovski crystals. I wrote all the details in this blog post: Flowery new desktop.

The machine was reasonably future-proofed. Over the years I swapped out everything except the motherboard and CPU (including the CPU fan after some overheating incidents a couple years ago), but the motherboard maxed out at 16G of RAM and it was starting to get annoying. Plus, the machine would randomly shut off. The latter could have been many things, especially since I had that overheating problem, and I could have just started debugging by swapping out parts, starting with the power supply, which was the cheapest component, with the highest likelihood of being the culprit. The memory situation was insurmountable though. My desktop is the centerpiece of my permanent home office here, and I needed it to be more powerful than it was.

It was time to build a new machine!

I was oddly daunted by this task. I was a teenager when I had my dad drive me around town to buy computer parts and I assembled my first machine, so it’s not like I lacked experience. It had been 10 years since I assembled a desktop, but in the intervening time built servers for work, so it’s also not like I was completely out of practice. I think I’ve just been in a bit of a funk project-wise because I have so little time now that I have a baby at home. Plus, building a new desktop can be one of those projects that gets away from you if you let it, and I was really anxious about parts not working together, power issues, hooking things up wrong, you name it. And then not being able to make time to fix it in a timely manner.

Thankfully, I had an easier time than that, but my road was not without bumps.

At the end of January I ordered all my parts, and when they arrived I noticed my first mistake: My case can only fit a micro ATX motherboard. I knew this. The computer sits right next to me all day, every day, and it’s very obvious that it’s not even a mid-tower. Thankfully, I figured this out before I opened it and was able to immediately RMA it and pick out a new motherboard. While perusing my micro ATX options, I did momentarily pause to consider that I should just get a new case, but my case is beautiful and I didn’t want to give it up. I finally settled on a board I’d be happy with and placed my order.

On Tuesday night this week I finally had all my parts and after putting Adam to bed I ignored all the chores I am supposed to do after he goes to bed and instead got working on my assembly project. It went fine! I did discover that my DVD-RW is IDE, so I’d need to replace that, and I did get momentarily stumped while moving the CPU heatsink and fan over (it has a bracket on the back of the motherboard that it screws into), but the only real problem I had was that a capacitor fell off my graphics card while I was moving it. I was pretty sure it would be fine without it, but then it got me wondering if the capacitor was already loose and that had been causing my shutoff problems. I booted my system and happily had it running for several hours the next morning. I posted a whole big thread on Twitter about how great it was that my new computer was built without any problems.

Then it shut off.

Oh no!

So, graphics card or power supply? I immediately ordered both, with the plan to replace the graphics card first, because I’d need to anyway (the plan is to resolder the capacitor back onto the old one, but I needed a graphics card now and I don’t currently have soldering tools). I installed the new DVD-RW and the graphics card yesterday. Alas, after an over night, and then several hours of daytime up time, my machine shut down again. It was the power supply. So I replaced that this morning before work, and it seems to be holding steady now. It should, the only things that are old in there are the pair of SATA harddrives, the case fan, and the CPU heatsink and fan!

So, what did I end up buying? Here we go:

  • Intel Core i7-9700KF Coffee Lake 8-Core 3.6 GHz (4.9 GHz Turbo) LGA 1151 (300 Series) 95W BX80684I79700KF Desktop Processor
  • ASRock Z390M Pro4 LGA 1151 (300 Series) Intel Z390 SATA 6Gb/s Micro ATX Intel Motherboard
  • OLOy 32GB (2 x 16GB) 288-Pin DDR4 SDRAM DDR4 3200 (PC4 25600) Desktop Memory Model MD4U163216CGDA
  • VisionTek Radeon 5450 2GB DDR3 (DVI-I, HDMI, VGA) Graphics Card

The processor was the big expense here, at $369.99 it was almost half the budget of this project, which ultimately ended up costing me $773.01 once I got the unexpected graphics card, power supply, and DVD-RW. I’m really happy with the project cost though, I wouldn’t have been able to buy an assembled machine for that much, plus it wouldn’t have been nearly as fun!

I really haven’t had time for any of my own projects in over a year. My job is incredibly satisfying for scratching my need for technical geekiness, but it’s not the same as having a project of my own. Next I should probably resurrect the degraded array in our media server, though I really would rather play with my new Raspberry Pi 4.

Tourist in Brisbane and Gold Coast

On January 8th I hopped on a plane for my first international trip since giving birth to Adam, I was on my way to Australia! The trip was to meet with some of my Australian colleagues and present at Linux.conf.au, but I added a weekend of padding at the beginning of the trip so I could adjust somewhat to the time zone and take in some local sights.

I arrived later than anticipated on Friday due to a cancelled flight. In retrospect, I was grateful that I was able to at least arrive on the right day, another colleague of mine wasn’t so lucky and found himself put on a flight that wouldn’t get him in until Saturday. I thought I’d be tired upon my arrival, but the jet lag was doing its work and I managed to have enough time to drop my bags off at my hotel and make my way over to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary to catch the tail end of their opening hours and pet some critters!

I kind of joke that I want to pet a new animal each time I visit Australia. It was easy at first, finding a place where you can pet kangaroos and koalas is pretty straight-forward. Then it starts getting harder. You can’t pet Tasmanian devils, so on my trip to Tasmania I managed to pet a baby wombat instead. I didn’t get to pet any new critters while I was in Sydney a couple years ago, but this time I really wanted to pet something new. The dingo petting tours were sold out for the day, but while walking around the free-range feeding area I spotted a couple emus, with children petting them! The emu was not on my list of things I wanted to pet, they’re huge and I’m generally afraid of birds. Still, I had a goal, and bravely walked up to the critter and quickly petted it before making a hasty retreat!

More photos from my adventure here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pleia2/albums/72157712791286013

On Saturday I met up with my friend Steve from Sydney, who was also staying in Brisbane over the weekend prior to the conference. We didn’t have super solid plans for the day, but there are a couple sights to see in the city, so we just started walking. We passed by City Hall and learned about the historic clock tour and picked up tickets for later in the day and did a quick loop around the small museum they have there at City Hall. We walked past the hilariously poetic casino housed in the historic treasury building. Then it was over a bridge to have lunch at a Saccharomyces Beer Cafe before making our way to the Queensland Museum where we got to see some dinosaurs, and a stuffed cassowary that was kept far from the other animals (even dangerous when they’re dead? hah!).

I think the highlight of my day was the clock tour tour. It wasn’t long or extensive in any way, but it was a fun surprise. The whole thing takes about 12 minutes, during which they take you up in a beautiful, historic elevator (lift) up to the 12th floor to walk around and see the sights from what was once the highest point in the city. From there they stop for a minute on the 11th floor where the clocks actually live, but you aren’t permitted to get out due to fears of damaging the clock equipment. Still, it was interesting to see, and learn about.

Sunday was travel to Gold Coast day! I say “travel” but it was an easy train ride down there, plus a cab for the final few miles to my hotel. There I went to visit the beach (it is Gold Coast, after all!) and met up with people for food. I didn’t end up swimming at the beach at all, which I’m a little disappointed about, but with this being my first big trip away from my new family, I put a high value on sleep, and a sandy beach visit just didn’t make the cut.

Some more photos from my walks around Brisbane and Gold Coast here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pleia2/albums/72157712789955952

The conference itself was as spectacular as ever, and I’ll write about that later. But I wasn’t done with touristing. Steve and I met up at 3:30AM one morning for a group shuttle that would take a whole basket-full of tourists up in a hot air balloon! It was an experience that had been on my list for some time, but it’s common for them to want to lift off at extremely early times, so I could never make it happen. This was the perfect opportunity. By 5:30AM we were up in a balloon for a beautiful ride over the hills and farms inland from Gold Coast.

The timing of the tour meant that the only bit of the conference we missed were the keynotes, which was a trade-off I was willing to make. Five-day conferences are pretty intense, especially when I’m on the hook for giving two talks.

Hot air balloons are interesting things. The only real control the pilot has is to go up and down, aside from that the whole adventure is dependent on the wind. As a result, every ride is different and you never really know where you’ll end up. The company who runs the tours has agreements with many of the local farmers to land in their fields, under certain conditions, and the farmers are compensated for this. It’s a nice system. We landed on the far end of a field full of cows! When the ride concluded, we had the option of helping them pack away the hot air balloon, which was actually a lot of fun.

We were then shuttled off to a local winery for a champagne breakfast, in keeping with an international tradition of having champagne at the conclusion of a hot air balloon ride. I also took the opportunity while there to do an 8AM wine tasting, and for some reason they had alpacas! So I got to visit those too, and walked along a stream where they have wild platypuses, but I didn’t see any. There were some ducks though.

Check out more photos from the day (including the alpacas!) here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pleia2/albums/72157712789962642

Australia is one of my favorite places in the world, so I’m glad I was able to do a bit of tourist stuff the weekend before the conference. Bonus that it helped me adjust to jet lag quickly, so I was at the top of my game for my first talk on Monday.

Our upcoming Webinar on Security with Ubuntu and IBM Z

My first interaction with the Ubuntu community was in March of 2005 when I put Ubuntu on an old Dell laptop and signed up for the Ubuntu Forums. This was just a few years into my tech career and I was mostly a Linux hobbyist, with a handful of junior systems administrator jobs on the side to do things like racking servers and installing Debian (with CDs!). Many of you with me on this journey have seen my role grow in the Ubuntu community with Debian packaging, local involvement with events and non-profits, participation in the Ubuntu Developer Summits, membership in the Ubuntu Community Council, and work on several Ubuntu books, from technical consultation to becoming an author on The Official Ubuntu Book.

These days I’ve taken my 15+ years of Linux Systems Administration and open source experience down a slightly different path: Working on Linux on the mainframe (IBM Z). The mainframe wasn’t on my radar a year ago, but as I got familiar with the technical aspects, the modernization efforts to incorporate DevOps principles, and the burgeoning open source efforts, I became fascinated with the platform.

As a result, I joined IBM last year to share my discoveries with the broader systems administration and developer communities. Ubuntu itself got on board with this mainframe journey with official support for the architecture (s390x) in Ubuntu 16.04, and today there’s a whole blog that gets into the technical details of features specific to Ubuntu on the mainframe: Ubuntu on Big Iron

I’m excited to share that I’ll be joining the author of the Ubuntu on Big Iron blog, Frank Heimes, live on February 6th for a webinar titled How to protect your data, applications, cryptography and OS – 100% of the time. I’ll be doing an introduction to the IBM Z architecture (including cool hardware pictures!) and general security topics around Linux on Z and LinuxONE.

I’ll then hand the reins over to Frank to get into the details of the work Canonical has done to take advantage of hardware cryptography functions and secure everything from network ports to the software itself with automatic security updates.

What I find most interesting about all of this work is how much open source is woven in. You’re not using proprietary tooling on the Linux level for things like encryption. As you’ll see from the webinar, on a low level Linux on Z uses dm-crypt and in-kernel crypto algorithms. At the user level, TLS/SSL is all implemented with OpenSSL and libcrypto. Even the libica crypto library is open source.

You can sign up for the webinar here, and you’ll have the option to watch it live or on-demand replays: How to protect your data, applications, cryptography and OS – 100% of the time and read the blog post from the Ubuntu blog here. We’re aiming to make this technical and fun, so I hope you’ll join us!

Adam’s three first birthdays

In some ways, Adam’s first birthday snuck up on me. As challenging as this first year with a child has been, it’s difficult to comprehend that it actually has been a full year and his first birthday was on the horizon. Due to the timing of his birth (January 6th), we realized before our end of year Philadelphia trip that we’d need to do some birthday prep for his party in California before we left. I ordered all the party goodies, including jungle-themed plates, napkins, and tablecloth. Claudia knows a woman who makes invitations, so she took the lead in getting those made, and they came out beautifully!

Once we arrived in Philadelphia it became apparent that there were family and friends in Philadelphia who wanted to see him for his birthday, so we ended up planning a birthday with them too.

But before planned birthdays, on New Years’ Day we went to New Jersey to visit MJ’s family out there and were surprised by a little party for him, complete with a present, birthday cupcake, and cookies!

His birthday party on Saturday, January 4th, was a larger affair. Family, friends, and neighbors dropped by during the hour we had designated for the party. We asked people not to bring gifts (we won’t make a habit of it, because I know how awful that is for kids born during that time of year, but he’s still just a baby, and already so many new toys!), but we did have a cake, Finding Nemo themed because of his fascination with turtles. After cake, a bunch of us went out to lunch at a nearby Italian place, marking a lovely conclusion to our visit in Philadelphia.

Our flight home was on Saturday night and Adam slept through most of it, as planned. We still got in quite late though, so getting up early to head to the grocery store to pick up the cake and balloons, and set up for guests came swiftly. Thankfully, Claudia helped out a lot with all of this too. Plus she made brigadeiros to enjoy during the party!

We had a few people over, including three babies under one who Claudia and Adam knew from around the area. It was the first big “play date” we’d had at our house, and I’m grateful to Claudia for arranging it and introducing us to Adam’s friends. Our neighbor dropped by as well, and after the two hour window concluded, one of Claudia’s friends helped us clean up. Given how tired I was from travel, and from the whole weekend, it was really great to have others there.

And did I mention the flavor of the cake? It was a pretty standard marble cake with white frosting, but it had a layer of bananas! It was a hit with both Adam and the adults. The party itself was fun too, meeting new people and getting to celebrate this milestone.

Happy first birthday, Adam! We don’t plan on making a habit of hosting multiple birthday parties, but I’m glad we did it for his first.

First Hanukkah and New Years back east

As has become tradition, we spent the last two weeks of the year in Philadelphia celebrating Hanukkah and New Years with family and friends. This was the first year for Adam though! MJ and I never did Hanukkah gifts, but things are different now with little Adam, and during our visit over Thanksgiving and in the weeks before the holiday, we went shopping for toys and books.

And then I piled them inside the tracks of the O-scale train I keep in Philadelphia to make it a Hanukkah train.

The train is set up on the card table we keep in our home office downstairs. It was just before setting it up that I discovered that the square table expands out into a large rectangular one. While we were in town we also made our first visit to the local model train shop and picked up a model of Independence Hall, as well as a little diner and some cows and sheep.

I won’t have any kind of permanent setup there for the train, but it is fun to buy some easy-to-put-away buildings and scenery. I also was a little sad that I bought pre-assembled buildings instead of one of the kits that I could put together and paint myself, but I have to be realistic about the amount of time I have for hobbies these days.

But Hanukkah! It’s always been an enjoyable holiday with the candles and all, but having a little one who gets to open presents during each night of the holiday adds a whole new dimension to how much fun it is. One evening the family came over with gifts, others we spent just the three or four of us, but each night Adam got at least one new gift that we helped him unwrap.

The visit also saw my first and second viewing of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. I loved it. My first viewing was by myself on the Friday we arrived in Philly, which was opening day. I’ve seen all the modern era (1999-present) Star Wars movies on opening day, so it was kind of a big deal that I complete the set, even if that meant seeing it after coming off an overnight, cross-country flight and juggling Adam care for the afternoon, and as a result not having MJ there with me. Later in the visit we snuck out for a date night together while grandparents were on babysitting duty to watch it.

On New Years’ Eve we made our way over to MJ’s father’s house to enjoy an evening of Georgian food and family time. Adam got to meet Carmen, a large German Shepherd who was incredibly sweet with him, even if he calls her a cat (any fluffy animals are currently “kee” for “kitty”) and is still a bit grabby with animals.

The weather throughout our visit was on the warm side for winter in Philadelphia, so we took the opportunity to take Adam down to the Philadelphia Zoo to see the LumiNature light exhibit one evening. We were all still bundled up, but it was a really fun walk around the zoo and Adam seemed to enjoy it until the end when he got bored with sitting in his stroller and I ended up carrying him back to the car.

We also were able to celebrate Adam’s birthday while we were in town, which I’ll write about a bit later. Suffice to say, he had a lot of attention for his first birthday, which was celebrated across three states with various members our of family, friends, and neighbors.

I was working pretty extensively while we were there, only taking off from work a couple days during the visit. I took two weeks off for the Jewish High Holidays back in October, so the major religious holidays for us were already behind us. Most of my colleagues took time off though, which meant I had two weeks that were meeting-free and I had the flexibility to catch up on training, writing, and more, all of which had been sidelined during the busy conference time in October in November. I like my job, but having this much time to work on whatever I wanted was a real treat, and meant the work was actually peaceful and relaxing.

MJ took several days off late in our stay to work on the house. He was able to make progress on the biggest home improvement project we have going on, but most noticeable for the rest of us was getting a giant play pen put together for Adam in the living room. Now that he’s crawling everywhere, we needed to do something baby-proofing-wise and figured keeping him in a large, gated area would be the best bet. Even as big as it is, he’s not super keen on being in it alone, and gets annoyed if there are too many people on the outside while he’s “trapped” inside, but it is full of toys and he’s got more than enough room. And let’s be honest, there’s almost always someone in there playing with him.


Play pen almost complete! By the end of the visit, MJ had secured a couple more pieces of fence and completed the missing bit along the wall

In all, it was a great visit and our trip back to California on January 4th was uneventful.