Parenthood: First Birthday

I realized when I posted earlier this week that it was the first blog post I had made in over two years. So much has changed in that time: I went from working in tech support to working in Systems Administration. I went from constant customer interaction to occasional customer interaction, I went from guy who has been at the company more than half the staff to guy who only has about 5 people ahead of him in terms of seniority, and a couple of them aren’t on anything close to related career paths. It’s weird.

And I became a parent.

This time last year, we were in Labor and Delivery, going through hour 24 or so of labor. The nurses were struggling to get reliable readings on their monitors, and so it would be another 8 hours before we got a good nurse who was determined to get the child out of my wife, and another 16 hours before that effort would succeed.

Today we celebrated that with a party. As all good first birthday parties are, it was at least as much for us older people as it was for the guest of honor. My wife went to great efforts to plan and prepare a simple affair with a mostly-gnome-but-generally-woodland themed affair with mushroom-decorated cupcakes and gnome decorations along with animal tablecloths. We ate under a tree and generally enjoyed each other’s company.

Here’s a small array of photos from the event, enjoy!

Trains from Broadway


Last night I happened upon a large number of old train documents that have been added to Google Books recently. I haven’t scanned for more recent dates, I just looked at 1906 and found three trains in each direction served the small town of Broadway, VA. That’s six a day, and four of those went to or came from Washington DC!

What’s more interesting is that I know where all of those locations are. And that the trip took upwards of five hours! Five! Today, we drive most of that in two hours, maybe three if you skip the interstates!

For more old train timetables, for anyone who is interested in the history or other parts of the country in that era, here is some more information on how to find the books in Google’s archives:

Western North Carolina, in Northern Virginia

I could have sworn I had posted about this, but apparently not. About a month ago I learned of a model railroad club based out of the old railroad depot in Vienna, Virginia. Sited along the path that once was the Washington and Old Dominion Railroad, the depot is in use today as the home of the Northern Virginia Model Railroad club.

The club has existed since the late 40s. It has occupied the Vienna depot for the last 35 years or so. The club models the Western North Carolina Railroad, which was a real line in North Carolina between Spencer and Asheville. In fact, while the club models the mid 50s, the prototype is still in service today, as part of the Norfolk Southern network.

The layout itself is quite large, with hundreds, if not thousands of feet of track. All the track that is visible is hand-laid, with rails spiked on hand-made ties. The only places where flex-track was used is in tunnels and particularly the helices where it is harder to get to. It operates on Digitrax DCC, and signals are being installed. They largely operate as Automatic Block signals, but I understand full CTC is on the way.

It’s quite impressive to see, and if you’re in the area when they are holding their regular open-house events (next one is May 25th and 26th for the Viva Vienna festival, other dates can be found at it’s worthy of a few minutes at least to watch things happening and listen to the talks about how and why things are.

As it relates to me more personally, last night I was read in as a probationary member. Despite attending meetings for the last few weeks, I just missed the meeting in April so I had to wait until the May business meeting. It’s fun so far, and I’m enjoying meeting the various members (including, I believe, one of the NS train crew in the area who I hear about often from other railfans) and learning the rules and regulations of the layout. I also participated in my first scenery auction event, where old pieces of no-longer-required scenery are put up for a silent auction. I picked up a small schack for 50c, and an Atlas 9″ turntable ($20-30 value) and motor drive (another 20-30) for $10 together! I was excited!

I still need to acquire and install my first set of DCC decoders. Money is tight this month, but I’m confident it can be done before too long! Even just one!

iptables issues again

Well, it’s been another fun evening battling with iptables.

The goal is simple: allow access for specific things across the router, and drop/reject everything else.


Client connecting from specific IP must be able to connect on port 80 and be redirected to the transparent proxy on the same machine (done, tested, working)

Client connecting from same specific IP must be able to connect out on ports 25, 53(udp), 110, 143, 443, etc, unhindered (with space to reject more specifically later)

Reject/drop everything else from that IP.

Allow anything else traversing the system (or beginning/ending there) to be handled separately.

Seems easy enough, but it seems I can make one happen but not the other. But tomorrow is another day.

Retiring Bed Parts

You may recall that back in December 2010 Crash broke our bed. As a result, I built a new one to replace it.

This week one of Kelly’s friends gave us her old box spring that was no longer needed and after sleeping on it a couple of nights we’ve decided it was time to properly retire my one.

So now it’s in our second bedroom, waiting for a project to use the lumber for. Or something.

Expanding Upward and Other Train Things

According to NOAA, it’s 87 degrees outside. It’s 82 inside. Dear apartment complex, please decide to enable A/C some time soon. Thanks.

It’s been a good week, so far. Back to work on the new shift tonight (7pm to 3am, Wednesdays through Sundays), but progress has been made on various model related things this week.

Over the last few days I’ve been doing some research on a set of freight cars I have, and from what I can tell they are offset quad hoppers that were a real freight car – mildly surprising given my models of them were made by the likes of Tyco.

HoppersTo be specific, I’m referring to the brightly colored open hoppers often used for coal or ballast on a model railroad made by companies to include Bachmann, AHM, Tyco and possibly others. They seem to be most closely matching to a 70 ton ARA hopper that was used by several railroads on the eastern side of the United States starting from the 20s and 30s and stayed in production in a few forms through the early 60s. I’ve found several photographs of them painted for B&O, Reading and one or two others, but not much more. I’ve also seen several model maker’s sites referring to Norfolk and Western and the Southern Railway having some (and operating them through at least the early 80s, which fits my loose era of the 80s and 90s on NS) but I am yet to see any photos of them at all. If I can find some, I can consider repainting them into more realistic colors and possibly add to my fleet of Southern hoppers.

Also on the N scale front I finally started building out the hills (expanding upward!) using paper and glue. They’re just now taking shape and perhaps next week I’ll be able to start laying plaster and making them solid.

Building a Railroad Empire

A few months ago I started planning a coffee table model railroad. I even picked up some cherry wood from some friends to start building with, I just never got around to planning or designing the table itself. Instead I picked up a 2ftx4ft piece of MDF from the local hardware store and glued some cork and track to it, before it sat behind the piano for the next year or more.

However, after I started commuting to Herndon, I took a trip to Ikea after work one day and found the LACK table. I was already aware of the LACK line, as it comes up occasionally when talking about computer hardware – their small side tables are JUST right for mounting 19″ rackmount equipment in, and their smaller coffee table can be used similarly for full length servers.

Then I saw their larger coffee table – after some humming and pondering and measuring I determined that it was about 2 inches too short length-wise to fit my 2×4, so I took a tape measure to it and found I could take off about an inch at each end and make it fit. So I did. I also made a trip to the local Home Depot here in Reston and found a nicely warped piece of plywood that I cut a strip from and placed end-to-end as a divider (and then cut a portal for the track and train to run through). Last night I mounted it in the center and pushed it back under the table where it’s sitting and running quite happily as I type.

I also picked up a pair of tunnel portals and some other scenic effects for one side – it’ll be a country scene with the track weaving through a wooded area. The other side will require a little more planning – the idea is a night-time scene through a small town or city. TBD. I’m excited to play with lights on streets and in buildings, etc.[Photo: Kelly]


It Boggles My Mind..

I saw a post on Reddit earlier comparing a computer hard drive from the seventies with one from more recently. Whenever I see these, I always think of the old 5MB drive IBM built in the 50s. It gives me great respect for the 32/64GB MicroSD cards that we have today for a comparative few dollars and are about the size of my thumbnail.

So I decided to do some math.

A 5MB drive at $10k per MB works out at $50,000.

I can buy a 4TB drive on Newegg for $300.

That’s 800 times more storage, for less than 1% (0.6% to be more accurate) of the cost in just over 50 years. And I can carry several of them at once.

In fact, now I’m curious. Let’s do this from a few angles.

Compared by mass:

According to Western Digital, their 4TB drive weighs 1.72lb. According to Wikipedia, the IBM RAMAC 350 weighed in at 2,140lb. So the RAMAC weighed the same as just over 1244 4TB drives. So in the same mass as the RAMAC (ignoring dimensions for this exercise), you could store nearly 5PB (4976TB?) of data, at a cost of $373,200, although I suspect that you’d get a volume discount if you bought that many drives.

Compared by price:

Back to the same numbers as earlier, the old drive cost around $50,000. At $300 per drive, I could buy approximately 166 drives for a total of over 660TB of storage. That means per dollar, our cost of storage has improved to somewhere in the ratio of 132800000:1, if my math is even close to right..

Compared by physical size:

According to Wikipedia again, the 350 was 60″×68″×29″. The 4TB drive is (rounding down to 1 SF) 1″x5.8″x4″ So let’s pick a direction and go with it. What do you know, 29 divides evenly by 5.8, so there are 5 in that direction. 68 divides by 4 to the order of 17 times, and 60 divides by 1 for a result of 60. So 60x5x17=5100. 5100 drives in the same physical volume of space. Forgetting our need for cabling, that would give us storage of over 20PB of data. Having cost $1.5 million.

Purpose for these numbers? None whatsoever. I was just curious to compare more than just the obvious size differences. Maybe I’ll get bored enough and calculate the same for MicroSD cards. I’ll leave you to ponder the numbers while praying I find something better to do with my time!

A copy of the C library was found in an unexpected directory

Sorry guys, tech related post.

I had an issue on one of my OpenVZ VMs for a long time that I just never bothered to fix. Today I logged in and took a whirl at fixing it, turns out it was really simple.

I run Debian, and a dist-upgrade on this server would consistently fail to upgrade libc6 with the above error, complaining about libc6 being exactly where it was supposed to be. I found the solution on ServerFault, with thanks to user “holms”

Here is the fix:

cd /lib/x86_64-linux-gnu
mv /root
LD_PRELOAD=/root/ bash
apt-get -f dist-upgrade

Once this is done, no further problems should be experienced!

How it works:

Apt/dpkg was failing because it was finding the files in a place it didn’t like them, but simply removing them breaks things. By moving them to /root and then using a variable to tell bash where to find them, things worked while the upgrade happened and the upgrade was happy not seeing the files in /lib/x86_64-linux-gnu. Which also makes me happy!