4th of July Recap


The inaugural fire in the new fire pit – great success!

Our plans for the 4th were surprisingly low key this year,   after our initial plans fell through.   We decided that with the cool, clear, evening it would be a great opportunity to have the inaugural fire in the new fire pit and light of a few fireworks we had bought.  This, of course, after enjoying some cocktails and a decidedly “American” dinner of cheeseburgers on the grill.

The fire was great,  though most of the fireworks were…. less than we had hoped for.  Thankfully – about halfway through the pack of fireworks our new neighbors down at the other end of the cul-de-sac came and told us they were about to fire off about $1500 in fireworks (the big stuff) and we were invited to come down to watch.

We quickly grabbed some chairs and beverages and headed down to join a whole bunch of neighbors who came out to watch the show.

And what a show it was!     Leaning back in my chair quite comfortably as round after round of fireworks went streaking into the sky,  loudly bursting above us in all their colorful glory,  it was impossible not to smile and giggle and clap and be filled with a sense of belonging and happiness.   And community.

The old rusty metal fire pit served one final purpose:  a place to set off our puny fireworks.

The old rusty metal fire pit served one final purpose: a place to set off our puny fireworks.

I may not always get along with my neighbors… but it is nice that every once in a while we can come together as a community and enjoy something so simple as the birthday of our nation.   It’s nice that we can put aside differences and celebrate our freedom.  And play with explosives.

Those same neighbors invited us to a house party they’re having later this month.   Not sure if we’ll go – but it was nice that they invited us.

Next year we’re going to see if they want to work together and have a block party for the 4th – with grilled food,  swimming in various pools (possibly), music and – of course – a repeat of that fantastic fireworks show.    It was pretty spectacular.



Elite: Dangerous

Elite-DangerousEvery once in a while I come across a game that I just can’t help but get excited about.   It’s a rarity these days, mainly because I haven’t been paying close attention to many games outside the flight sim world. In fact, the last time I really got excited about a non-flight sim game was Star Wars: The Old Republic, because who doesn’t want to go around the galaxy fighting with lightsabers?

A few days ago I had someone mention offhand that they were spending a lot of time playing the beta of Elite: Dangerous, which I had never heard of.  Upon looking it up I was blown away by the ambitious nature of the project, and how completely and utterly cool it is.

First – let me start by mentioning that this is the latest in a series of games that started many, many years ago (I think someone said something like 20 years).  I’m a bit surprised that I never knew about these games as they sound cool, and evidently had quite a following.   The fact remains, however, that I have no knowledge of those games,  so this is my first introduction to the Elite universe.

The game itself has you as the commander of your own spaceship, dropped into a massive universe with a goal of making money and working your way up the ranks to ultimately be considered one of the elite.  The universe is open-ended, giving you the freedom to pursue whatever course of action you want.   You can be a trader,  transporting goods from one part of the galaxy to another – fighting off greedy and vicious pirates out to steal your cargo – or you could turn pirate yourself and attempt to steal from others.  Perhaps you’d rather be an assassin or bounty hunter, taking on contracts to make ends meet.  Your options are many,  and there is no set way to play the game.

07_HydroponicThe thing that blew me away was the massive scale of what is being built.   The game allegedly will boast over 100 billion star systems that you could potentially visit,  each of which could have upwards of 100 objects orbiting the stars such as planets, space stations, etc.  Through the use of procedural creation they’ve been able to create a massive galaxy (that’s roughly the size of our own, mind you) that you’re able to explore however you want.   That’s pretty damn cool.

Cooler still – what you do in the game will have an impact on the larger galaxy.   Since it has multiplayer capabilities (persistent, but not massively multiplayer),  human players will have the ability of impacting events in the game through their actions.    Supporting a given faction in a dispute may result in the downfall of the opposite faction – causing a rise in prices of certain commodities you need.   Or supporting an uprising against a government in a particular system that results in the downfall of that government may result in increased pirate activity,  impacting vital trade routes.  There are a ton of possibilities.

I’ve had the opportunity to play the beta and am not disappointed.  It’s loads of fun, and it’s not even complete yet.



From the cockpit of a combat flight sim

I’ve been a “gamer” for a long time.  Unlike most of my friends who claim that moniker,  I rarely play games on the gaming console systems – so I suppose I should be more specific and say I’ve been a “pc gamer” for a long time.   As a kid growing up I spent inordinate amounts of time playing games on the computer – and I loved every minute of it. I happened to also learn a lot about computers in the process (convincing my parents that our family PC needed upgrades as often as I could – no easy task!),  and I’m thankful my parents recognized that despite the time spent playing games it was a valuable endeavor for me to be learning how these systems work – something I eventually evolved into a career in tech.  Even some of the, shall we say, legally questionable activities lent themselves eventually to my career.  Thanks Mom and Dad!

But I digress.    Back to gaming!  One of my favorite types of “game” to play was – and still is – the flight simulators.   Specifically, combat flight simulators.   Even more specifically – the flight sims that are considered “study sims” in a given airframe.   These games are considered by many to not really be games in the true sense – but rather to be simulations that attempt to re-create the actual flight model, avionics, and weapons systems of the target airframe.     Read More

Pond Adventures

I’ve got a small fish pond, complete with waterfall,  in my back yard that my parents put in when they owned the place.  It’s honestly one of my favorite features of the back yard – but also one of my greatest sources of frustration.  From the first day of having it turned on it lost water at an alarming rate.

Trial and error over the past few years led to me learning quite a bit about the pond,  and culminated a few weeks ago when I finally solved the water loss issue by partially rebuilding the waterfall basin.

What I’ve learned is that the pond is missing some items that would make it easier to maintain, and healthier for the fish – specifically a bio-filter system (it traps large biological debris long enough for beneficial bacteria to break it down), which would help provide clear water and remove wastes, returning nutrients that the water plants consume.

Sometime soon I’m planning on investigating how to retrofit the pond to use a bio-filter system.  They’re relatively maintenance free (once you’ve got them operating) as you’re not supposed to really clean them.

Due to the ridiculous winter, we lost the fish that had been in the pond.  I was sad to see this happen as it was always fun to go out and feed the fish in the evening.  I remedied this yesterday by picking up four new fish to start re-stocking.  I’m hoping soon to see more frogs return this summer as well.   I’m happy to have found a local aquarium shop that has a lot of expertise on ponds as well.  Most of the advice local landscaping companies have provided I’ve found to be incredibly wrong – and these guys seem to know their stuff.




Moving hosting companies

After my experiment with Heroku and Cloudfront it became very clear that there were better options for hosting a website than what I was using.  I could dramatically improve performance, and uptime, without adding significant additional cost.

But while I was able to successfully deploy a test to Heroku and Cloudfront and got wildly improved performance,  running a blog on Heroku would add significant overhead to running the site.    In fact, it made keeping the software up to date impossible – which created security issues.  Clearly I could not use Heroku for this long term.

I opted to move to a web host that’s dedicated to the blog software I use,  and is designed to be performant with caching and a CDN built into the service.  It’s designed to be performant,  meaning less time spent trying to make my site that way.

Since I needed a lot of control over my DNS during the move, I opted to use Route53 from Amazon for DNS – which is fairly low cost given my low volumes.

But what to do about email.   I’ve been hosting email for any member of my family who wanted an account (any of you who don’t have one and would like an @whelans.net account, let me know) – and I know my dad uses it heavily.  For that, I opted to go the route of using Google’s Gmail via my old Google Apps account.   While not free, it does offer a significant improvement in performance over the fairly crappy email services I’d been providing before.  It also allows for utilizing Google Drive for sharing of files amongst family (something my dad and I will take advantage of, as we share files regularly).

Instead of looking for one host to support all services I’ve found that going with different providers appears to be the better solution.