5640 Reasons to Not use Windows

Well, it’s finally happened.  The last native Microsoft Windows machine at Chaos Central went down in flames this morning, to be reborn this evening as a Xubuntu machine.  Now, the demise of the system was not directly due to some minor mistake on behalf of Microsoft, but more to the general architecture that makes it necessary to constantly run virus and spyware checks on their systems.

The ultimate culprit here was the venerable ClamWin anti-virus software.  A recent virus signature update had an ambiguity in it that resulted in a number of false positives.  5640 of them on this particular system, to be exact, including, unfortunately, the ClamWin.EXE file itself, all of which got whisked away to the quarantine folder without any way to restore them and fix the links.

I had been using this system of late as the XenCenter control station for our Citrix XenServer, and–since it was there–as a VNC client for all of the virtual machines running on the XenServer.  And, of course, to run Firefox and other multi-media apps to get the audio on multimedia files, since the virtual machines have no audio connections.  I had Ubuntu 10.04 installed as Wubi on the machine, but Ubuntu’s X11 drivers were having some stability issues with the wide-screen monitor, so it seemed convenient to just boot to Windows.

The nerve center of Chaos Central, the old IBM NetVista as XenCenter and VNC client, just before the big Clam-ity that took out Windows once and for all.

Now that it is dead and gone, we still have the issue of running the few native Windows applications we have that won’t run under Wine:  XenCenter, Quicken 2010, TurboTax, and the Machine Quilters Business Manager immediately come to mind, but I’m sure there are a few others.  Oh, yes, I do need to run Internet Explorer to test new Cascading Style Sheet designs for my web clients.  So, we have properly-licensed copies of Windows XP OEM running under Oracle’s VirtualBox at Realizations Fabric Arts downstairs, and, fortunately, I had cloned the XenCenter desktop as a virtual instance itself, so the data and programs on it were not lost nor do they need restored.  From this exercise, I found it is necessary to have a separate XenCenter installation, which can be on another virtual machine, just not one on the same server you are trying to control.  Using the free version of Citrix XenServer, there are a few tools that are disabled, one of which is the ability to detach the console on a Windows machine.  Fortunately, one can share the Windows desktop remotely to a specific VNC client, so it is possible, by jumping through a few hoops, to get at the Windows desktop on a Citrix virtual machine.  Fortunately, we got to the virtual machines and upgraded the ClamWinAV packages to eliminate the problem before the bug trashed those systems, too.

So, why Xubuntu, other than just to try something different?  I first tried Fedora13, but it had some installation issues with the old Windows XP box (an IBM NetVista box we got as an off-lease refurb machine about five years ago).  It has lots of RAM, but still an old Celeron CPU.  Linux used to be very backward-compatible with older hardware, but some of the bleeding-edge distros, especially Fedora, have dumped drivers used on only a few “name brand” systems that are mostly in landfills by now. The install failure mode was a bit odd, but it wasn’t worth looking into, as there are lots of distros to choose from, and one or more of them usually works in these cases.  Xubuntu is a bit more light-weight than the regular Ubuntu edition, but has the multi-media support we need as the only audio-capable machine in-house. The machine also has only a CD reader and a primitive BIOS, so installing from a DVD or DVD image writ to memory stick was not an option, which eliminated most of the other Linux distros.  I like FreeBSD, and have used it for servers and routers, but it is a bit too labor-intensive to bring up as a graphical workstation to meet my timeframe on getting a desktop workstation back up quickly.

Concurrently with the Windows fatal meltdown, our Ubuntu laptop that is my main road warrior machine had a minor meltdown.  I had dismantled the compviz environment recently to work around some issues with VNC password windows not getting the focus, and one of the current updates shuffled dependencies around, such that the system went into a sort of zombie mode, with the windows jammed up under the top of the screen, minus their frames (no way to minimize or move the windows) and very sluggish behavior, due to one of the compviz components chewing up most of the CPU cycles in vain waiting for the missing pieces to answer back.  Restoring the deleted packages fixed that, but may have brought back the VNC login problem.  No doubt Vinagre does not have this problem, but we’re dealing with remote machines running VNC sessions on CentOS and SuSE piped through X11 tunneling under SSH, so we’ll just have to deal with it.  At least, with Linux, you can usually troubleshoot and fix things, where Windows woes turn into a reinstallation and rebuild from scratch situation.

And that’s just a typical day at Chaos Central.  Most of the day, we were off to Olympia, where we got in a bit of ‘Net time on the Ubuntu Netbook while getting an oil change on the vehicle we’re taking on road trip next week.

Veteran’s Day

On this Veteran’s Day 2010, we take some time off to reflect on our military heritage and those who have served their country. In my famly, military service has been a duty, but not a calling. Nevertheless, a number of us have served, some voluntarily, and some when asked.

Distant records are sketchy, but I do know that some of my ancestors, Huguenot refugees who came from France in the 17th century to seek freedom from religious persecution, settled in New Jersey, then fled to Canada to escape the troubles once more during the American Revolution, so saw no military service. Two generations later, the Larues, my great-great grandparents Samual and Jane, returned to the States, sometime in the mid-19th century, and raised my great-grandfather, Criness Larue, who saw service in the Union Army in the Civil War and was wounded.

criness larue, 1879
Criness Larue, Civil War veteran, at his wedding in 1879

One of my other great-great grandfathers, Dennis Tanner, saw military service in the 5th New York heavy artillery, and did not survive the experience, falling at the battle of Harpers Ferry. His daughter, Lucy, married Criness Larue in 1879, his first, her second. Lucy and Criness’ daughter, Lettie, was my paternal grandmother.

Dennis Tanner, 5th NY heavy artillery, 1861-1864, killed at Harpers Ferry, WV 10 December 1864

On my mother’s side of the family, the Pietz and Reis families emigrated from Prussia in the 1870s to escape the rampant militarism and universal conscription practiced by the newly-independent German Empire following the Franco-Prussian War. They settled in northern Minnesota, where my maternal grandmother Ella was courted by one William Strube, who did not meet approval by great-grandmother Pietz (Reis). Laura Pietz pressured her daughter to marry a more well-to-do Norwegian farmer. William, unlucky in love, enlisted in the Army during World War I. On his return after the war, he married the now-widowed Ella, whose first husband, Grant, my biological grandfather, had perished in the 1918 influenza epidemic.  William adopted Ella’s three children and, together, William and Ella had two more children, both of whom served in World War II.

William Strube, U.S. Army, 1918

Both my parents grew up fatherless, as my mother Hilda’s stepfather William succumbed to a kidney ailment in 1924, and my paternal grandparents had divorced in 1926. My father, Don, attended Dunwoody Institute (now Dunwoody College of Technology), earning a boiler license, electrician’s license, and becoming a member of the Refrigeration Service Engineer’s Society. In 1943, shortly after I was born, he was drafted into the U.S. Navy and soon found himself in a Construction Battalion in a forward supply base in the Phillippines, where he maintained the cold-storage refrigeration equipment for the duration of the war. Other than a few air raids on the field, he did not see combat.

Don’s youngest brother, Harry, served in the U.S. Army in England. Hilda’s siblings, William Strube’s natural children, brother Norman and sister Agnes, both served in the U.S. Army, Agnes as a nurse in France after the Normady invasion. Norman married Josephine, an Army nurse from Chicago. Aunt Jo recently took an honor flight to Washington, DC, with other World War II veterans, to visit the war memorial.  She was interviewed about her war experiences for a public television special about the trip.

Don, Milt, and Harry Parkins, 1941. Harry joined the National Guard after the war, retiring with the rank of Major.
Hilda, Larye, and Don Parkins, 1944 (U.S. Navy)
Cathy (Strube) Buxengard with her mother's WWII uniform displayed on a mannekin at a 2009 military ball

The Korean “Police Action” was between generations in our family. But, I was of draft age soon after the Berlin Wall was built. That and the threat of Castro’s Communist regime in Cuba escalated the Cold War and the struggle against the advance of Communism. When President Johnson and Secretary of Defense McNamara sent regular troops into South Vietnam, I was conscripted. I had just graduated from college, and was working for Univac Defense Sytems Division when my educational deferment expired. The draft board refused to grant an occupational deferment, especially since I was due to soon be deployed to Europe to install a Fleet Operations Control Center and draft-age men were already fleeing the country to avoid the draft.

I spent two years in the U.S. Army, the last year as a Physical Sciences Reseach Assistant, actually working as a Radio Frequency Interference Analyst, regulating radio spectrum usage at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico. This was primarily an electrical engineering job, for which the Army had no training programs, but assigned personnel qualified by civilian training or experience. The assignment came just in time to rescind orders that would have sent me to the jungles of ‘Nam. An alert personnel clerk at Fort Gordon, Georgia culled many college graduates from the infantry ranks and placed them in such jobs.

H. Gale Hungate, Area Frequency Coordinator, WSMR, hands a Certificate of Appreciation to Specialist 4th Class L. Parkins on completion of his tour of duty. 1967

The Vietnam War dragged on for another five years, during which it was best not to mention having served, nor for a long time after the unpopular war was over. I went back to the military-industrial complex and continued my career as a Cold War mercenary for another 30 years.  I was involved in developing major naval combat systems, both tactical and strategic, and occasionally went to sea as a civilian technical consultant, a non-combatant, necessary to the crafting of complex systems, but reviled as a war profiteer, even though many of my uniformed collegues earned as much or more.  The difference being that, as a civilian, I would not be required to stand in harm’s way should the occasion arise, though I did once, during the Viet Nam conflict, carry identification to be used in the event of capture by opposing forces.  My status as a veteran did not stand in good stead in the company of active duty personnel, nor in the community at large.  This much we have lost in pursuing unpopular wars.  Only in Native American society today are warriors, past and present, revered, respected, and honored.

In due time, the next generation after me grew to manhood in relatively peaceful times. The oldest boy, stepson Matt Bock, joined the Army Reserve between his junior and senior years in high school and, after a year of deciding he wasn’t ready for college, went active duty. He was in Germany as a communications specialist when the Berlin Wall, erected a generation before, fell, and remained there through the First Gulf War, then called Desert Storm, that evicted Iraqi forces from the disputed independent state of Kuwait.

Matt’s brother, Mark, secured an ROTC scholarship to enable him to attend private university, and, after graduation, accepted a 4-year commission in the U.S. Army Tank Corps, spending most of his tour of duty in Colorado, with a brief deployment to Saudi Arabia during the uneasy peace between Desert Storm and Enduring Freedom, the ill-conceived Iraqi regime change that has, along with the drawn-out Afghani campaign, the longest war in American history.

So far, these 21st-century conflicts have endured without conscription, placing an awful burden on the diminished volunteer services, but leaving the next generation of our family, the fifth since fleeing Prussian conscription in the 19th century, and sixth since the casualty of the War Between the States, with a choice. Of the two girls and one boy currently of military age, and two more boys in high school, none have indicated a desire to serve.

We are proud to have served, and proud of those who served before us and who now serve in the defense of their country and common ideals. But, mindful of the sacrifices of those who did not return and those who, shattered in mind and body, cannot be made whole, we would rather that none of our future descendents need make the choice to go to war nor have that choice made for them.

Chaos Central version 2.0

As we start our second year in residence at Chaos Central, it is only fitting that we roll out version 2.0.  For most of the past year, we have run our respective businesses out of a three-generation household, sharing the house with our son and his family after our daughter-in-law, a local government professional, took a new job 20 miles away–and 80 miles from their former home.  Our son, a civil engineer who telecommutes part of the time to his job midway between the old and new locations, took over the main office; our two grandsons, ages 7 and 2, took over most of the living room and a substantial chunk of the longarm quilting studio, which became a Lego design studio.  Of course, the extra family filled two of the remaining bedrooms (leaving a guest room for the other grandparents); the kitchen ran in a three-section duty roster cycle, with separate meals prepared for children (unseasoned past and meat), parents (high-protein macrobiotics and spicy meals), and grandparents (vegetarian); and, the butler’s pantry/laundry/espresso bar ran pretty much continuously.

We arrived back from a business trip  to Montana at the end of October to an almost-empty house, our first night back home coinciding with the children’s first night in their new home, after a long search and even longer building cycle.  We celebrated by helping the grandsons assemble their beds and shuffle furniture the next morning while their parents retrieved more belongings from storage, then returned to Chaos Central to transform it into the fiber arts and software studio we had imagined.

First, without tubs of toys, the front room transformed into a welcoming reception area, which still needs a few lamps and occasional tables to round out the space.  The dining room got more spacious with the removal of two leaves from the table.

The reception area, with "adult" furniture, sans toy boxes and TV

We had started reclaiming the office earlier, anticipating the imminent move with the installation of our new XenServer. Since our return, the Unix Curmudgeon’s trusty Ubuntu Linux laptop has been set up on the conference table, with dual monitors. The XenServer console, a Windows XP machine (our one and only concession to the Redmond Menace), is essentially reduced to a VNC terminal for the many Linux/BSD images residing on the virtualization host.

The office reverts to a software development center
Getting ready access to the bookshelves and laser printers is great.

Of course, the real transformation is in the Nice Person’s fiber and fabric arts studio, now that she is rid of the Unix Curmudgeon’s temporary office mess in the midst of her looms. In fact, the fiber business has expanded to four rooms: the longarm quilting studio, the weaving/sewing room and office/library, a spinning and weaving room, and beading and weaving space in one of the guest rooms.

The quilting studio, now with cutting/ironing station replacing the grandchildren's Lego studio.
The weaving/sewing studio, with fabric stash and Oregon floor loom
The office/library area, with yarn stash and 8-harness table loom replacing the Unix Curmudgeon's former temporary office; the fabric arts office area is to the right.
The spinning/weaving studio, with Gilmore floor loom. This is also the "Music Room" and overflow guest space with inflatable mattress.
The 4-harness table loom in the "Bicycle Room" guest bedroom
A view of the "Bicycle Room" guest quarters. The quilt is a blooming 9-patch in Kaffe Fassett fabrics.
The original guest room, on the first floor, with a Thimbleberries sampler and the "cat quilt."
Of course, the downstairs guest room is known as the "Sewing Room," for the 1888 Domestic treadle machine.

So it goes. We’ve recovered our house and are transforming our workspaces for productivity. The lesson is this: family life and business don’t always mix well. Working from home when home consists of an active family life with small children is, by necessity, a stop-gap measure that involves some sacrifices. Prior to last year, we had been empty-nesters for over 15 years, and sharing space with college students is a lot different than sharing space with toddlers and grade-schoolers.

But, at the same time as we are setting up dedicated studio space, we are finding ourselves more mobile: the laptop computer is still the key to the software and systems consulting business; and the portable table-top looms, compact spinning wheel, sewing machine carry cases, and project portfolio boxes are essential to the fiber and fabric business.  Even without full-time multi-generational occupation, Chaos Central, true to its name, remains a flurry of seemingly disjointed, divergent activities on many fronts.