#FIGHT FINISHED

Washington Nationals, 2019 World Series Champions

What a Cinderella story! The 2019 baseball season began with a terrible slump by the Washington Nationals, landing them 12 games below .500 (19-31) on May 22. For many, the loss of Bryce Harper to the Phillies was a herald for the team’s fortune. The press was calling for manager Davey Martinez’s head, and predictions were dire for the season.

But something happened. Martinez was not fired, the front office fully supported the team, continuing to shape the bullpen and utility players, and almost magically, the Nats began their climb out of fourth place (only the Miami Marlins had a worse record).

Scrabbling and scraping, the team adopted the slogan, “Stay In The Fight.” Martinez’s public comments always reverberated the phrase, “1-0” (Today we are going for a 1-0 record). And stay in the fight they did. Utility outfielder Gerardo Parra was released by the San Francisco Giants, and the Nats signed him on. During a frustrating slump at bat, on June 19, Parra asked the stadium PA system to play a new “walk-up song:” Baby Shark. Getting two hits that day, the song became a rallying cry for the team and fans alike, generating “shark moves” by both during games. Some fans started wearing shark-themed attire to games.

From May 24, 2019 on, the Nats had the best record in baseball. They never reached first place in their division (National League East), but managed to nab a wild card slot. On October 1, the wild card game against the Milwaukee Brewers was played, and the Nats came from behind, scoring three runs in the 8th inning, winning 4-3 to advance to the divisional playoffs.

A five game series against the heavily-favored Los Angeles Dodgers, who were heavily favored to take it all, having had a regular season record of 106-56. The only team with a better record was the American League Houston Astros. When the dust had settled, the Nats had once again taken a 3-2 series, overcoming a 0-3 deficit and winning the finale by a Grand Slam home run in the 10th inning, shocking the baseball world!

Then came the League Championship series. This, a seven game series, was a new experience for the Nationals, who had never reached this level of competition before. Nevertheless, it didn’t seem to daunt them, as they swept the St. Louis Cardinals in four games! The league championship belonged to the Nationals!

There was only one series left to play: The World Series! Matched up against the Houston Astros, the Nats were considered severe underdogs. No one apparently told the Nats, as they continued to STAY IN THE FIGHT. Much history was made during this seven games series, perhaps the most striking is that the road team won every game! The Nationals played in Houston the first two games, and walked away 2-0. But Houston went ahead by winning all three games in Washington. Back to Houston, where the improbably happened: The Nats won both. And again, they came from behind in Game 7 to win it all.

My father was never a warm, caring father figure to me. He was a driven, Type-A man, who worked to succeed and provide for his family. Thus, my fondest memories of him were the times we spent going to Griffith Stadium in D.C. to watch the Washington Senators play. We would also sit on a darkened porch at night, listening to games on transistor radio. It was something we both shared. Maybe it’s a reason I played Little League Baseball (second base) and won the only championship I’ve been in. So, dad, you never got to see a Washington baseball team win the World Series. But I have.

I hope wherever you are Dad, I hope you’re smiling.

Any Questions?

FIGHT FINISHED!

MacDown Markdown

As the fabled Yogi Berra was reported to have said, “It’s like déjà vu all over again!”

Some twenty-five years ago, I started a web site (this one, but in raw HTML) to learn the emerging technologies that would power the Worldwide Web. Now, it seems I’m returning to those roots, on behalf of my employer.

The short story is that my employer, after dragging feet and pushing back, have realized that there is a need to provide online training for the products we create. To date, our training is on a published schedule, and either occurs in a physical training facility, or online. This does not work well in a world economy, where time zones differ, languages vary, and schedules don’t always align. A year and a half ago, I presented a basic proposal on moving to a self-paced modular training curriculum that would allow trainees to proceed at their own pace, on their own time.

Sometimes things just come together.

A week ago, during a routine call with the folks at MicroTek, the company we use for facilities-based training, I learned that one of their offerings was “self-paced training.” This is the exact phrase used by one of our VPs who struggles to provide training to his customers on the other side of the planet. As a result, we set up a call and saw a presentation, and all the pieces began to click. The solution presented not only addressed a number of shortcomings we have in our training, but also was a money-saver! Who couldn’t like that?

Key to this training is Markdown. Simply put, Markdown is a text-to-HTML tool. HTML itself isn’t so difficult, but it has evolved, and now includes Cascading Style Sheets, inline-code, server-side-includes, and more. Getting all the pieces of an HTML project in place is now as complex as writing other software code. Markdown allows a web designer to write plain English text, adding some basic syntax rules, and the HTML is generated as output.

What even better, is that there are a number of Markdown editors available that show you the output as you type! I’ve tried a number of (miserable) Windows products, but there’s a marvelous open source Mac project called MacDown.

MacDown logo

In less than half a day, I “converted” three PowerPoint slides into HTML documents, and created a few fresh ones from scratch. It’s that easy to do!

MicroTek’s implementation adds some features (“extensions”) that make for things like pages, alerts, interactive questions, knowledge boxes, and more. Coupled with user tracking, this gives full visibility into how trainees interact with the program, whether they answer questions correctly, and so on.

I’ve now run some numbers and when I’ve mentioned this to others (including the EVP), there’s a lot of interest. I’m going to formalize another proposal, including costs, time to implement, resource usage, and more. I admit, I’m pretty charged up about this!

And I’m back learning (or re-learning) web technologies!

#Natitude

I’m changing pace for a brief while.

My favorite sports were those I played when I was younger: baseball and tennis. Little League baseball was the only sport where I was on a championship-winning team; I nearly won a championship playing tennis, but came oh, so short…

Baseball

Living in the Washington, D. C. area (when we weren’t in between overseas assignments), my father used to take me to Griffith Stadium to watch the Washington Senators play. We’d also sit out on the screened-in porch in the dark to games on transistor radio.

The Senators were never a good team. I still remember the saying: “Washington – first in war, first in peace, last in the American League!” But they were my team, and I recall some of the players’ names: Harmon Killebrew, Eddie Brinkman, Camilo Pascual, Eddie Yost, Roy Sievers, and more. Sadly, the Senators left town in 1961 and became the Minnesota Twins.

They weren’t done, yet. From 1961-1971, another Washington Senators team played in town, but they were no better, and ultimately left to become the Texas Rangers. There was no Major League Baseball in the nation’s capital for the next 34 years!

The Montreal Expos moved to Washington in 2005, where they were renamed the Washington Nationals. They played in the National League, not the AL. But they were initially as bad as the former Washington teams had been. They did not post a winning season for the first seven years.

But something happened.

The new ownership of the team was determined to build a strong franchise. Through smart hiring and player drafts, the team became a contender, winning division titles in 2012, 2014, 2016 and 2017, but losing in the division series each time. In 2019, as unlikely as it seems — especially since the team got off to a 19-31 start — the Nats, as is their nickname, won the Wild Card, the Division Series, the League Championship, and are now poised, for the first time in franchise history, to play in the World Series!

My love of baseball has been re-ignited, and the success of the current Washington team boggles my mind. I feel almost as if I’m experiencing a dream. And I don’t want anyone to wake me!

HomeGEEK Update

I have now completed (or mostly completed) the update and modifications to two new/refurbished Macintoshes. During the process I made several key decisions.

The first is that I’m going to make the 11″ MacBook Air my primary travel computer. Yes, I like it that much! I made it a Mac-Linux dual-boot and added the nifty rEFInd boot manager to make the startup choice a piece of cake. The diminutive laptop is capable of running macOS Catalina (10.15) when it ships, so I’m current with the technology. I chose MX Linux as the other OS because it’s a clean, well-crafted Linux, based on Debian, and it has a terrific support ecosphere, too. On top of that, I purchased a perfect laptop carry case for it from eBags, an Everki Advance iPad/Tablet/Ultrabook 11.6″ Laptop Bag!

The older MacBook has also been converted to a dual Mac-MX Linux machine, with a disk partition available for yet another OS, should I choose to add one. I was first going to keep it running Snow Leopard (Mac OS X 10.6.8) because of the add-ons included by the vendor, Operator Headgap Systems, but then I realized I could use it to replace a similarly-aged MacBook Pro whose CD drive and trackpad have gone the way of the Dodo. So, I laboriously labored to upgrade it — through necessary stages — to High Sierra (macOS 10.13). This required purchasing Carbon Copy Cloner to create a bootable copy of the Snow Leopard volume — just in case. I bumped up the RAM to 8GB (it will support 16GB — maybe later…) and added rEFInd, and with some tweaking and preference setting, I should be good to go.

Now it was time to look at my home networking. I’m not unhappy with my setup, but I feel I’m not getting the value for my money. I have a number of devices on my network, including security cameras, a smart thermostat, smart TVs, and computers. To make it all work, I’ve added Powerline Adapters (PLA) and a wi-fi extender. But wi-fi is limited to 300Mbps, and I’m paying for gigabit Internet, so I figured going cabled was the answer.

Network DIagram

I purchased two additional PLAs (Zyxel PLA5456, to be precise) and added them. They use the electric cabling of the house instead of Ethernet.

Supposedly, one can get megabit speeds in the right circumstances. Sadly, that’s not been my experience so far. The best I’ve seen has been just slightly faster than my wi-fi, and the worst is… well, the worst. I still have some tweaking to do.

It’s been a fun (for me!) exercise. My next project: Adjust the truss rod on my Taylor acoustic guitar. I’m more nervous about tweaking a guitar’s settings than I am a computer!

Dual Boots

If you thought this post was going to be about hiking or outdoor sports, prepare to be disappointed!

I have recently renewed interest in some of the older computers I have lying around. Over the years I have accumulated computers that, for one reason or another, have reached the end of their usable life. Or so they say. Specifically, I have an Asus eeePC 900A – a “netbook” as they were popularly known then – and a 2004 Apple iBook G4, commonly referred to as an “iceBook” because of its white polycarbonate case. Both computers are diminutive by today’s standard: the Asus has an 8.9-inch screen and tiny keyboard, and the Mac has a 12-inch screen. The Asus is powered by an Intel Atom processor, and the Mac by a PowerPC (hence the G4 appellation).

More than anything, the processor is what is the limiting factor. The Atom is slow by today’s standards, and the PowerPC chip has been abandoned. A few years ago, I updated both of them by installing new operating systems – A fresh, lightweight Linux on the eeePC, and I turned the iBook into a dual-boot computer by partitioning the hard drive and installing Ubuntu Linux on the second partition.

But the Asus suffers from battery exhaustion, and replacement batteries are nearly impossible to find. The Mac is really a dead end, as neither Apple nor the Linux community offer modern OSes for the PowerPC chip. If all I wanted to do is play, I’d be set. But, I’m a geek…

Looking to the refurbished computer market, I found a small company named Operator Headgap that specialized in refurbishing and selling old Apple computers and peripherals. After conversing via email with the owner, I finally decided to purchase a late 2009 MacBook 13″ “unibody” (white polycarbonate) laptop. For under $300, it seemed it would make a great “project” computer for turning into a dual-boot Mac-Linux machine like my old iBook.

At the same time, I found a refurbished 11.6″ Macbook Air, circa 2014. My “working” MacBook Air is a 13-inch model from 2012, and it’s been nothing short of fabulous. I’m typing this on it!

I’m waiting for delivery on the MacBook, but I have received the MacBook Air, and have already made it a dual-boot computer. I updated it to macOS 10.14.6 (Mojave), partitioned its hard drive into roughly a 60-40% split, installed the rEFInd boot manager, and installed the popular MX Linux 18.3. Everything works well, and now it’s time to “personalize” it.

When the other Mac arrives, I’ll do something similar. I kind of like having the ability to travel around with a sub-compact notebook computer that, with two OSes, can seemingly handle anything I can throw at it.

A final note: I’d like to give a nod of appreciation to the sites EveryMac and LowEndMac. Both of these provide in-depth data on the entire line of Apple computers since the very first Mac, introduced in 1984! They are indispensable sites for researching older Macs. I’d also like to mention Other World Computing (OWC), a division of MacSales, for providing not only upgrade parts, but quality instructions for the do-it-yourself hobbyist.

What Is It That Attracts SPAMMERS?

Everyone receives unwanted email, commonly referred to as SPAM. This site is no exception. However, I find it interesting that one spammer, originating (supposedly) from IP address 176.108.5.170 seems to get through my site’s plug-in, only to arrive at my administrative panel, where I promptly tag and bag the miscreant, who never gets published.

So, why is a single post of mine used as this person’s target, and why does my filtering software – my gatekeeper, so to speak – not capture him/her/it like it does 99.9% of the rest of the spam? I’ll probably never know. But I do find it curious…

An update, as I knew I would: this particular spammer isn’t too bright, and as a result, IP address 176.108.5.170 is now blacklisted. I won’t even have to trash these messages, as the site will do it for me. Ain’t technology wonderful? 😀

The Year of Living. And Dying.

It occurred to me recently that 2019 was the year I started to die.

Now I need to explain that somewhat morose comment.

Throughout my life I’ve been blessed with extraordinary health. Oh, I’ve had the broken bone or two, and some residual effects from them, but I’ve never had an illness or internal problem. For 67 years, I’ve been invulnerable. Oh, I know no one lives forever, but I never considered dying.

Contrast that with my daughter, who’s had allergies and a variety of health issues, even resulting in the removal of her gall bladder. Her mother also, had thyroid problems and other odds-and-ends health problems through the years. But not me.

Until this year, that is.

In late January, spurred on by a comment made by my dental hygienist, I visited a doctor for a checkup and was given the bad new: My Hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) was through the roof and my cholesterol was way high . HbA1c is a measure of glucose adhering to blood cells. A reading of 6.5 or higher denotes a diagnosis of diabetes. Mine was twice that: 13.0!

So now I had Type-2 – sometimes known as adult-onset – Diabetes. I knew little about the disease, and what I learned was twofold: #1 – It’s a “catchall” disease, causing a myriad of problems – neuropathy, kidney failure, heart attack, even cancer. #2 – It’s self-inflicted.

Well, okay, #2 is my take on it. In essence, I believe its cause is poor diet and lack of exercise. Put another way, as Dr. Jason Fung states (I’m paraphrasing), “Diabetes is a sugar disease. The cure is to stop putting sugar in, and to burn the sugar that’s there.”

Six months after my diagnosis, my HbA1c is down to 5.6, which is just a hair above being non-diabetic. I’m sure some of the credit goes to the medications given me, but I want off of them, and I’ve been altering my lifestyle. I’m eating whole foods, avoiding sugars and processed foods, and I’m running again. I lost 20 pounds (which was not in my plan, and which I didn’t want to lose. But now I’m kind of happy that I have).

But here’s the truth: Once diagnosed as a diabetic, you never stop being diabetic. It’s like being an alcoholic: You can stop drinking and live a happy, productive life, but you’re still an alcoholic. If you drink again, all bets are off. I will have to read labels, watch my diet and get plenty of exercise for the rest of my days. At least as long as I’m able.

And that’s not a bad thing.

Waltzes, Wurstl, and Wien

It seems that no sooner had I returned from my trip to Alaska then I turned right around and made plans for my next trip. That’s the way it goes with inveterate travelers, I guess.

When I returned to work, I had some busy times. So much so, that I wanted to find out how much vacation time I had coming to me. I’ve been with my current employer for nearly eight years, and a benefit I get is more vacation time once past the five year mark. I asked the woman in HR for my paid time off (PTO) time and she sent me a spreadsheet.

The way I read this is that at the beginning of the year I had a little over three weeks vacation time coming to me (based on a 40 hour work week). By the time I returned from Alaska, I had accrued more and burned 64, resulting in — a little over three weeks coming to me at the time of this writing (July 30). In effect, I burned down four hours since the beginning of the year. Yes, I know this is a creative way of looking at it, but since I can’t accrue more than 240 hours, It’s a bit of a wash.

So, I decided to start looking for other destinations. Lo, and behold! The good folks at Road Scholar had a trip to the city of my childhood, Vienna, Austria. Called a “City Walk: Exploring Vienna’s Neighborhoods,” I was touched with a sense of wistfulness. I also felt that Road Scholar was the best choice to go and learn things I never knew about a place I lived in for five years (albeit when I was a mere child – 18 months to 5 years of age). I have since visited several times, but each time was more of a “passing through” than an investigation.

This time, I’ll spend eight days and seven nights in the company of a native guide, learning about the history, the culture, the food and the natives of this central European country.

Late September and early October will be my travel days. That should be absolutely perfect weather for such a trip, not yet wintery cold, and mostly past the summer heat.

I’m looking forward to it!

Oh, when I return, I should have approximately three weeks of vacation time coming to me!

I Dunno. Alaska.

Starting out with a silly pun (“I don’t know, I’ll ask her”) is probably not the best form to use when writing an online blog, but hey, it’s my blog, and I’ll write the way I like!

Which is a less-than-clever way to introduce my latest missive: My vacation trip to Alaska.

I’m not sure how I came across the cruise deal, or what prompted me to look into it in the first place, but since Alaska was the only state I have never visited, I was interested for that reason if nothing else.

So, on March 29, I booked a stateroom, made flight reservations, and sat back and watched the days on the calendar pass.

I could make this post a lot longer, but I won’t go into the travel issues, so on June 12 I stepped aboard the MS Coral Princess, one of the Princess Cruise Lines ships. My first pleasant surprise was the stateroom. I think my package awarded me an automatic upgrade, so I found myself in a mini-suite, complete with separate seating area, large porthole/window and two TVs!

Caribe Deck (10) Forward 201

For the next week, the ship cruised the “inside passage” making ports of call at Ketchikan, Juneau and Skagway, followed by leisurely rounds of Glacier Bay and College Fjord, finally arriving at Whittier, Alaska. Along the way I visited Creek Street in Ketchikan, the Mendenhall Glacier near Juneau, rode the White Pass & Yukon Route railroad in Skagway (coupled with a bus trip to the Yukon Territory for lunch and photo ops) and roamed the decks as the ship navigated the glacial waters.

Smith (left) and Harvard (right) Glaciers in College Fjord

All in all, it was a very enjoyable trip. The food was great (and I gave myself permission to “cheat” — but still avoided sugary foods, breads, and the worst of the dietary “bombs”), the service was great, friendly and prompt, the weather was terrific (given it was Alaska, so a jacket was handy) and the scenery delightful.

Oddly enough, and I don’t mean this in a negative way, now that I’ve been to Alaska, I have no desire to return. It’s a big world, and there are other places I’d like to see!

Strike Three. Arghhhhh!!!

The God of the Universe apparently doesn’t want me to have a new mp3 player.

I rarely get upset about things, but this is one of those times when I’ve just about reached my limit.  

I’ve been around long enough to see technology replace technology.  Remember floppy disks? From 5-14″ to 3-1/2″ to CDs to DVDs and now to “cloud.”

As the late Paul Harvey used to say, “Not all that we call progress truly is.”

When I first started running a few decades ago, I liked to listen to music while outside, giving me some relief and distraction from the sometimes-boring miles I was putting down.  Believe it or not, I started with a Sony Walkman, a cassette player, strapped around my waist in a neoprene holder, earbud cable poking out of the back. When the cassette gave way to CD-ROM, I tried those, but the bouncing of the running movement made it impossible to track music smoothly. Then came mp3s.

Technically, mp3 is a shortened form of MPEG-3, the Motion Picture Experts Group standard (3) for coding digital audio (see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MP3 ). It has become the ubiquitous format for audio files. Pretty much everywhere (there are other formats, but they aren’t the subject of this post). A whole new industry took off, with pocket-sized devices designed to store and play audio files. “Mp3 players” they were called.

Fast-forward (you can read my previous post if you want more background on my experience). The state of mp3 players is nothing short of an unmitigated disaster, in my opinion.

I am about to return the third — yes, third — mp3 player I bought to replace an iPod that finally gave up the ghost. All three were manufactured by different vendors (although they’re Chinese, so maybe not). This last one, a SanDisk Clip Sport Plus, I thought was going to be the winner. Each device I’ve bought has cost a bit more. The SanDisk tipped the scales at $50. And I didn’t buy it through Amazon. 16GB of storage, Bluetooth, and FM radio. All of the features I wanted in a portable music player. And I’ve been quite satisfied with other SanDisk products I’ve bought!

For the third time, I waited for delivery, then removed it from its shipping container, plugged it in to charge it, and then plugged it into my computer.

Nothing.

Well, even though the box and SanDisk’s web site claim it’s compatible with macOS X 10.3 and higher, I’m always a bit skeptical. However, I have two Macs, and neither would see the device, I decided to take it to work and plug it into a Windows PC.

That’s when it all went south. No device recognized there, either. Sigh.

I’ve sent an email to SanDisk and to Adorama, where I purchased it. SanDisk says they will “get back to me,” and Adorama says they’ll contact me regarding a return. This is where Amazon shines — they’ll take an item back without question. Yes, it’s going back.

And this is really the last time I’m trying this. I have an iPhone, I have an Apple Watch, and I have several iPod Shuffles. Neither the watch nor the Shuffles will hold 16GB, but I’m just going to have to play “swap the files” when I want to update the music on them.

I’m so disappointed in the state of manufacturing these days. I think the time of carrying a portable music player are going the way of the Dodo.