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Sunshine and Video Conferences

This is the post I had intended to write when the other one popped out. I was just going to write a quick aside about the cultural side and our frustration over the situation, and it turned into a whole thing! Let’s get back on track by talking about our day to day life during shelter in place, shall we?

It’s hard to believe it’s been over a month since I wrote my Shelter in Place entry. The passage of time seemed to speed up in April, after March felt so long. I think it’s because of how much changed in March. In the beginning of the month everything was normal, we were even still traveling! News came quickly as the closures piled up. April, and now into May, we’ve had a lot of sameness. The shelter in place orders haven’t changed here in the bay area in two months. Thankfully MJ and I are still able to work normal schedules from home during the week, as our au pair cares for little Adam. The weekends are home-bound, but we have little home improvement projects here and there. We eat at home, work at home, sleep at home. We go out just to pick up food and groceries, or to essential doctor visits.

Pretty much all events I was planning to attend this year have been canceled or moved virtual. This meant that instead of celebrating Passover with our congregation in San Francisco like we’ve done these past few years, we did our first one at our own home! We picked up a Seder kit from Wise Sons in San Francisco, complete with brisket and other side dishes, and got out MJ’s vintage seder plate. We did it a little early in the evening so Adam could enjoy the festivities with us.

For the second night, we joined a community Seder over Zoom with some of MJ’s friends and acquaintances. Done at the proper time, Adam joined us for the beginning and then we enjoyed this much longer Seder and meal late into the evening. I’m glad that virtual Seders were approved as a form of celebration this year, in spite of the situation, it was really meaningful to participate with people from across the country.

With in-person events being canceled at work, I’ve had to get more creative with my job. I’m participating in a lot of events that have gone virtual, but I realized that “taking a photo of the speaker” doesn’t really translate well into virtual events, so I’ve had to figure out alternative ways to share my experience. At a recent Open Mainframe Project event I brought my own audience, so each photo of my speaker featured a different crew of critters. It was silly, but it was fun and memorable. And especially for the speakers, my hope is that it helped with the interactive feel of the event, something I know very well having done a few presentations myself now while staring into the webcam and hoping people were listening on the other end.

On April 15th we got to the “MJ needs a haircut” part of shelter in place. With some electric clippers in hand, we headed out to the back yard and I did my worst. Or best. Either way, it actually turned out fine! Though I suspect we’ll have at least one more at home haircut to complete before this is all over.

We’ve continued playing games in the evenings, most recently adding Exploding Kittens and Blackjack to our pile of games. We’ve migrated from our dining room table to the actual card table that we have downstairs in the living room. Being home all the time means we seem to be using almost the entire house every day, which is nice.

Through all of this I also realized it’s easy to get very sedentary, especially these past few weeks as I’ve battled a sinus infection. So I’ve started taking walks every day that the weather allows, and with it being spring in northern California, that is most days! Other days I commit to time on the treadmill. It’s already making an improvement to my evening mood.

The sinus infection has been an unfortunate turn of events. It started in mid-April, and I just finished a round of antibiotics this past Thursday. Timing was not great. The sinus infection gave me a terrible cough and sore throat during the worst of it, which I’d have to declare when I went to see my doctor for an unrelated matter. I knew they wouldn’t let me in with these symptoms, so I was sent to a COVID-19 drive-up testing facility in Fremont to get tested. The test is not as bad as it looks, but when you have a raging sinus infection that is already making your sinuses hurt, it ends up being an incredibly unpleasant experience. The swab was taken at noon on Friday, and I had the results back by 9AM Saturday morning. So I was all clear for my appointment on Monday!

I haven’t been the only one not feeling well, Caligula has been losing weight and sleeping a lot. He’s been in and out of the vet, and we’ve done over a dozen tests to see what’s wrong and he’s now on some medication and we switched from dry to wet food after his eating nearly ceased. At sixteen years old, we know he’s only got so much time left, but we want to do everything we can to make sure his frailness and increased fondness for sleeping is not due to some kind of preventable disease. So far we haven’t found anything, so we’re just doing our best to make sure he’s happy and fed.

Finally, we’ve been trying to carve out some time to work on a few projects at home. The family room is in pretty decent shape, we moved the chair from Adam’s bedroom into there, so adults have a place to sit while Adam plays. Most of the room is devoted to his toys. The last big thing in that room is getting the flat screen TV in a safer position. It’s OK for his age now, but at some point soon we’ll have a tipping risk, so it either needs to be secured to the table it’s on, or mounted on the wall.

We’re also making major progress on getting the bedroom closet doors installed! We did my office first, completed the master bedroom last weekend, and hope to do the other bedroom this weekend. The nursery will have to wait, as those closet doors are behind the door to the room, and the door to the room would currently collide with them. My hope this weekend is that we can get the hardware installed on the doors too, so we can open the doors without having to reach to the top of them! They do look good so far, which I’m grateful for, it’s been an expensive, long project.

Our county is preparing to slowly start opening more businesses for curbside pickup. I’m happy about this change, as I know small businesses are suffering with the closure, and I hope they’ll be able to staff their shops and get enough business to keep going. We’ll definitely be cautiously patronizing all of the ones we can. I mean, I haven’t gotten new comic books in two months! It’s a small step, but does get us on the path. As I mentioned in that last post, I don’t feel safe in the path we’re on to reopening, but we’ve built a society where we can’t actually stay cooped up forever, and the tests we need to have in place simply haven’t materialized. Hoping for the best, and we’ll continue to be careful.

The Growing Frustration of Shelter in Place

As we hit the two month mark for Shelter in Place here in the Bay Area, I figured it was a good time to reflect. I’ll jump right in and say that there’s been tremendous failure at almost every level. As a generally positive person, this is quite a statement for me. If there’s anything positive I take from all this, it is how many people are good and want to do the right thing. We see protesters and unmasked crowds on the news, but most people I interact with when I’m out are being good and thoughtful citizens. It’s also fascinating to see how small businesses have been adapting, from their own, creative DIY protections for employees and customers, to pivots, with some restaurants not only doing take-out, but offering “grocery packages” and meal kits for cooking at home. One nearby restaurant even had toilet paper in their grocery package!

Leadership from the government? A disaster. The federal government failed us completely. Even as a small government fan, pandemic response is the kind of thing they actually should be doing. Instead, they left it up to the states, in spite of us all being in the same pool. State leadership has constantly contradicted the federal government, each other, and themselves. Local leadership in many places has been even worse.

And most sadly on a personal level, partisan politics has become woven into every step of this. Reasonable precautions to keep each other safe being turned into a political position. Wearing a mask in public and hand washing should never have become political. There is nothing new or factually controversial about these precautions against the spread of viruses. It’s science. And it’s our health, our lives.

But even I’m getting frustrated. I was happy to comply with the Shelter In Place orders while we figured out what to do. The number one priority had to be immediately slowing the spread so that our hospitals would not become overwhelmed. Here in northern California we succeeded, but now what? Criteria for re-opening has been slow to come and unclear. It’s often focused on what will happen with each phase rather than what actually needs to happen or change before we get to each phase. As the weeks go on, there’s pressure for even what we have for re-opening criteria to be relaxed or outright ignored so we can re-open more quickly.

But the evidence shows this virus has a long incubation period and a high rate of asymptomatic cases. Without widely available active infection testing and antibody testing, we have no idea who is sick, who has recovered, and who has yet to be exposed. Without this information, the only thing we’ve bought over these two months of financial hardship and sacrifice is time for hospitals to prepare. That’s an important step, but a lot of people are still going to get sick and die when we re-open. We’re going to be right back where we were two months ago, but with more room in the hospitals. Is that all we can really hope for at this stage? After all that? No wonder people are upset.

My family will still comply with restrictions and exercise caution even long after the worst has passed, but we’re also privileged enough that this whole thing has been a big inconvenience rather than a real hardship. We can effectively work from home, we have not suffered income loss, our childcare needs are met, and we haven’t been hit by the worst of the shortages. But most of my life was spent living paycheck to paycheck, so I have tremendous empathy for those who are facing financial ruin in the face of this crisis, and now have to contemplate putting themselves and their family at risk to go back to work too soon. It breaks my heart, and there’s little we can do. We follow health guidelines, shop and eat local, and have adjusted our charitable giving to match the current needs, but it doesn’t feel like enough.

Hindsight is 20/20, but while the specifics of this pandemic and virus are new, we’ve understood how viruses generally spread for a long time. That the federal government is scrambling to figure out a response, and every state seems to be on their own coming up with a plan, is ridiculous. Pandemics happen, it was inevitable, why were we so poorly prepared? The answer does get political, and that in itself is a problem. This should have been a time when we came together to fight this tiny enemy killing our species, and instead it’s been a fear-fueled, political mess. If we had just been presented with a clear plan to fight this from the beginning so we knew what to expect and the criteria for moving forward, we’d all be in a much better place. People are smarter than either side of the political spectrum would like to believe right now. Fear and uncertainty are what’s tearing us apart and providing a fertile breeding ground for conspiracy theories and misplaced anger.

Ubuntu 20.04 LTS… on Big Iron!

Today we saw the release of Ubuntu 20.04 LTS!

Alongside the fanfare of a new server and desktop release for AMD64, and my own beloved Xubuntu, this new version walks in the path of 16.04 and 18.04 to be the third LTS to support the s390x mainframe architecture for IBM Z.

If you have been following my adventures over the past year, you’ll know that I’m just shy of my one year anniversary at IBM, where I’ve been working on the IBM Z team to spread the word among open source communities about the mainframe. The epic hardware on these machines was definitely one of the hooks for me, but the big one was the amount of open source tooling that was being developed for them. The ability to run Linux on them sealed the deal. I wrote last week about some new hardware, and mentioned then that Ubuntu 20.04 supports the new Secure Execution technology for virtual machines.

So, what else is new for Ubuntu 20.04? At the top of my list would be improved support for the new IBM z15 hardware, released back in September. A number of changes made it into the 19.10 release, but 20.04 builds further upon this, especially around support for the compression and encryption features of the z15. Additionally, Subiquity is now the default installer for Ubuntu Server for s390x, which you can read more about here: A first glimpse at subiquity, the new server installer, now also on s390x.

This is just a taste of what is in store for users of Ubuntu on the mainframe. The list of major changes, along with the Launchpad bug/feature report numbers that tracked development throughout this cycle can be found over on the Ubuntu on the Big Iron blog in a post by Frank Heimes: A new Ubuntu LTS is available: Focal Fossa aka 20.04.

Finally, that fossa stuffed toy is mighty cute, right? You can have one too! With a donation to the World Wildlife Fund to “Adopt a Fossa.” Just keep it away from your lemur toys.

Ubuntu and the new IBM LinuxONE III LT2

Back in September I wrote about Ubuntu on the new LinuxONE III. For the release of this new mainframe, there were balloons, and cake, and we had a great time celebrating. With Shelter in Place orders spreading throughout the US, we don’t have cake this time, but we do have a new hardware release!

The IBM LinuxONE III LT2 follows in the footsteps of the initial release, with support for the great PCIe cards that the LT1 has, but aimed at the mid-range market. Most notably, that means it only comes in a single frame version (versus the option of up to four frames for the LT1), the processor cores run at 4.5ghz, instead of 5.2ghz, and they are all air-cooled.

I wrote more about the hardware here: Inside the new IBM z15 T02 and LinuxONE III LT2.

What’s particularly notable here is that there’s an Ubuntu LTS release coming out next week. So, in addition to all the LinuxONE III features that Ubuntu 19.10 has for the LinuxONE, this new release will also have support for a new Trusted Execution Environment (TEE) for IBM Z, Secure Execution. If you’re interested in Secure Execution specifically, I wrote about that, too: Technical Overview of Secure Execution for Linux on IBM Z. For those who are curious adaptions in the kernel, qemu, and s390-tools were made for Ubuntu 20.04 to support Secure Execution on both LinuxONE III models, and Linux running on the IBM z15 and the new z15 T02.

I’m looking forward to the Ubuntu 20.04 LTS release next week and all the latest goodies that brings to the s390x mainframe platform. I’ll be doing an overview blog post next week, but keep an eye on the Ubuntu on Big Iron blog for an in-depth update of all the work that has gone into this LTS release.

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.


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.