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Archive for the ‘It’s all Geek to me’ Category

I figured I would pass along some info I have collected while playing around over on the free services of Amazon AWS. One of the nifty things about AWS is that they offer a number of ‘free tier‘ services for trying out what they offer as well as getting familiar with the environment.  (Other services can be used with minimal expense for low-level usage – just pennies per month)

On such free tier service is the EC2 virtual server environment, which supports a number of operating systems including Amazon’s linux, Ubuntu, Windows, and other operating systems on a 1Gb memory, 8Gb storage* virtual server. (free services can also add elastic storage to increase the 8Gb if needed)

One problem you’ll run into right away is that 1Gb of memory is a small amount when using some modern tools. No problem, you can create virtual memory with a swap file using some of that free tier storage space. However, the instructions on the AWS documentation pages assumes a system larger than the free tier and won’t work as written.
The first problem will be encountered right off the bat. As with most other static-swapfile implementations, they create a static file using dd in conjunction with /dev/zero to create the initial file. The problem is, their example uses a blocksize equal to (1Gb) the total memory of the EC2 free tier instance. So instead use a smaller blocksize and a bigger count.  I used 128M which uses a count of 8 for 1Gb in size. So for example, to create a 1 1/2 Gb swap file:

$ sudo dd if=/dev/zero of=/swapfile bs=128M count=12

The rest can be done as documented: How do I allocate memory to work as swap space in an Amazon EC2 instance by using a swap file?

Another useful diddy is the ability to mount an S3 bucket as a local fuse device. This is made possible with >s3fs. Follow their instructions then you can even mount the device using an fstab entry. Example:

s3fs#mybucket /media/mybucket fuse _netdev,use_cache=/tmp,allow_other,default_acl=public-read,endpoint=us-east-2,dbglevel=info,uid=33,gid=33,mp_umask=002,multireq_max=5,url=https://s3-us-east-2.amazonaws.com 0 0

Replace ‘mybucket’ with the name of your bucket after the s3fs# and pick your own mount point as the second option. A few notes on some of the other options. You can exclude the default_acl if you want to use the bucket default. In this case I use ‘public-read’ to mark any newly created files as publicly readable. The combination of the endpoint and the url options makes sure you are accessing a region-specific bucket without error. uid and gid can be set to whatever user you wish. (in this case I am setting both to www-data). mp_umask is a reverse mask of the file permissions when mounted. You can also vary the debugging level as needed when troubleshooting. (be sure to read the instructions on setting up the /etc/passwd-s3fs file)

One thing to note is that you will need to assign permissions (likely an IAM role) to your EC2 instance that has access to S3 or at least your S3 bucket depending on what specific functions you want to do over the virtual-fuse connection. (e.g. give S3 createObject/delObject permissions if you want write access, getObject to read, etc – one easy way to do this at first is to add the S3FullAccess policy until you learn specifically what you need)

If you plan on playing with lambda, especially with custom runtime environments, the EC2 free tier is also useful as you can create an Amazon linux instance to compile the runtime environments to work on lambda. (NOTE: lambda uses the original version of Amazon linux, not Amazon linux 2. You’ll get GLIBC errors if you don’t downgrade the gcc environment on other platforms to match the libraries used on the original amazon linux)

It should be noted that the free tier servers on EC2 give you 32 days per month total. So this is more than enough to run a single free-tier-eligible instance non-stop all month, or to run multiple instances intermittently in so long as the combined usage does not exceed 32 hours. For example, I run an Ubuntu non-stop, but have an amazon linux instance for creating the runtime configurations that I only power up when needed. That gives me 24-48 hours of usage per month on the second instance without exceeding the total usage. (bonus time in February!)

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I was in a number of discussions this week and find that I continually run into similar [false] concepts that people hold. People, when faced with government wrongs, will do little or nothing (other than complain) because they feel they can’t. Or more specifically, they are unwilling to face the consequences of doing anything differently.

An example of this came to mind in regards to taxes. Most people think taxes are too high. Last year, I hinted at an idea in this blog about a ‘tax revolt’. Or at least questioned why people don’t do more while claiming to support things such as Rand’s “Galt’s oath” while participating with and enabling the very system that makes it impossible to uphold said oath – at least if you willfully play along with that system.

It was the responses I got to the concept of ‘tax evasion’ in that post that inspired my thoughts on the matter tonight. I decided to do a little math on mortgages. I started by looking at what the average house costs today ($172,600), what the average interest rate was (around 5%), what the average home mortgage term is (30 years),  and the average annual income ($50,233.00).  Based on the average house cost, on a 30 year loan at 5% interest, this equates to a monthy payment of about 926.55 fully amortized out over the term of the loan. Using the recommended income-to-payment ratio (from 28-30% of gross income) this would equate to a salary of about $40,000 a year so it falls well below the average annual income.

Wikipedia has a break down of federal tax brackets as well as information on state tax rates.  Using either the average income above or the front-end ratio from the average home loan cost, this would place any income ranging from $40-50k per year into the 25% federal tax bracket.  Meanwhile, the average state income tax is 6.7%. This is not counting fees, embedded costs of government in every day products like gasoline, from tariffs or other sources, does not include sales tax, excise and use taxes, estate taxes, property taxes, local, city or county taxes. This does not include FICA (social security withholding) or Medicare and Medicaid, costs of regulation, mandatory insurance, licenses, certifications costs of permits or any other costs of government. And most importantly, this does not include the state and federal deficit and all of the growing entitlement liabilities being accrued by government in all of our names.

Just using the state and federal income tax averages, this means that the average tax per person is going to be around 31.7%.

What made me think of doing this research and the corresponding math is the fact that many of the people responding to my tax post said they ‘couldn’t afford’ to take such a stand. Many even were more specific to say things like “I couldn’t afford to lose my home”.

Now consider, as stated above, the average income-to-payment ratio is 28-30%. JUST the income tax rate on the average homeowner is almost 32%. This means you are paying more, on average, over the term of your mortgage in JUST income tax than you are paying on your home.

In short, you already ARE losing your (potential second) home.

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(excerpt from a non-rationalist’s journal)

December 25th: Today someone gave me a smart phone for Christmas. A delightful thing it is, and so full featured. I imagine it will take me quite some time to figure out all this thing does.

January 2nd: Still nursing my New Year’s hangover, still trying to figure out this phone. I was reading today about all the intricacies involved in how the touch screen works.

January 3rd: Went to the mobile app store online. Holy bajeezuz are there a lot of apps! There are things that will do everything short of the dishes on there!

January 8th: I got down into the internals on my new phone this morning. Was amazed to learn that the operating system alone in this thing takes over 250 characters of memory to store. This is unfathomable!

January 12th: I am utterly overwhelmed by my new phone. I have concluded that it is far too complex to have ever been designed by man! There is just far too much complexity in the totality of this thing to ever have come to exist as in it’s current configuration through individual effort. I can’t fully determine how it came to be, but it must have been aliens or super beings of some sort.

January 13th: I informed my friend Bob of my theory about my phone. He became incensed, called me incredulous, and started ranting on about research and development processes spanning hundreds of years and other such nonsense. I pointed out many details of the phone and it’s so-called ‘technology’ and asked him point blank how such things could all manage to come to be in just such a way as to be so well suited to a device like my phone. He had no significant answers. Ha!

January 18th: Bob came over today with a video. He thought it would break me of my designer theory about the phone. The video seemed to show people in Korea (or maybe it was China) assembling devices such as my phone. It was interesting, but I argued that even if it was legitimate, just because man could learn to construct such a thing in no way explains how it’s complexity originated! It only proves man can reproduce the design.

January 24th: Bob tried to be sneaky today and took me to some computer company today when we were supposed to just be having lunch. He had some systems analyst guy drone on for over an hour about development process and showing me articles on wikipedia about the history of something called ‘compilers’ and ‘object orientation’. He said some nonsense about things called ‘open source communities’ that he alleged made small additions and changes to something called ‘code libraries’ over large spans of time.
It made little sense to me but I had been reading in more detail about the screen in this thing and stumped them both when I asked them to explain how all the interactions of laminating and ‘material composites’ and matrix-wiring networks, internal clocking, plasma bubbles, LED arrays and all the rest could come to exist just as they are to produce a single pixel on a screen that responds to just the touch of a finger! They had no answer, of course!

February 3rd: Ugh, Bob was back again. He shows up with three young college kids and a stack of books and papers that would fill a small library.

He tells me that he paid the three undergrads to look up any and all information they could on the process and chain of technologies that led up to any facit of smart phone technologies that they could find. He claims that he still didn’t find it all but now I have twenty, 4′ high stacks of books and papers cluttering up my Foyer. Like he expects me to read that? As if!
I think he’s just trying to obfuscate the issue. I told him as much! And to get out of my house at once and take his refuse with him. He grabbed my smartphone from my hand and hurled it at me hitting me right in the eye before stomping out of the door leaving all of the stuff! I guess I’m going to have a lot more for the trash man this week…

February 8th: I was trying to avoid Bob but couldn’t help passing him today on the way to the market. I told him I tossed out all the stuff. He just looked at the bandage over my eye and said something about “hmmm, it suits you!” I have no idea what he meant and he walked away before I could ask him to explain himself.

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I used to worry that natural selection was being contradicted in modern civilized society.  We’re doing things like creating ‘super-bug’ diseases through over-use of antibiotics, meanwhile we seem to be coming up with ways to allow people with all sorts of maladies and genetic no-nos live and produce offspring. A human thing to do, but hardly a way to upgrade the gene pool!

I also worried that ideas were subject to the ‘noise’ factor, especially since the exploding popularity of the internet and talk radio. There is so much information out there and many of the sources are so highly questionable. (I would qualify this with ‘on the net’ but it seems with a couple hundred cable channels, even television is not a reliable source for ‘accurate’ information and journalism is more about ratings chasing than about integrity of information)

I realized last night, neither is true. Or at least neither is worth worrying about.

The Helix Epiphany

Sometimes it is funny how seemingly unrelated concepts can come together to give you a better picture of something else. Someone was talking the other day about a new theory on how DNA and RNA came into existence over hundreds of millions of years. Some scientists apparently now think that a pseudo natural selection process took place with certain ‘bubble’s or collections of chemicals that proved to be more stable than others eventually spawning primitive re-producing cells. But of course, the story started out mentioning the churning cauldrons of primative earth’s volcanically timultuous seas.

What I realized in regards to natural selection is you can’t look at just your own lifetime or those immediately before and after. Natural selection is a process of many many many generations. To assume it is going to be averted by a hundred years or so of technological civilization that still hasn’t sorted out it’s optimal ‘form(s)’ yet is short sighted.

Internet and Computers as a Collective Memory Aid

And the noise on the internet and talk radio? That is not much unlike that early timultuous sea. One of the other unrelated ideas that came to me was when I was thinking about how useful it has been for me to start blogging. I’ve found since I started it, that it helps me keep my ideas on track and gives me something to refer back to, review and revise as my ideas take form – sort of an external surrogate for my own brain. I can write down and retain small details of events or thoughts that I otherwise might not remember in full clarity as my mind moves on to other things. This is probably not much different than has been the case with people writing journals and diaries for thousands of years…. but!

Now there’s this internet thing, this tumultuous cauldron of untested ideas where everyone is now blogging their thoughts and ideas.  The internet is having a ‘shared’ collective memory and little by little the more radical among them move to the top or the edges to be tested against the extremes of the rest of the bubbling soup. Some succeed and some fail, some gain prominence some are dismissed as idiocy. And the process of technology allows all these noisy intermingling ideas to do this more rapidly than ever in human history.

So then you might worry well ‘what if the bad ideas’ win out somehow? Or worse, what if a ‘bad’ idea proves to be the most ‘fittest’ to survive in such conditions. Really? Then I look at current events. I see socialist ideas failing in Greece and Spain. I see socialist ideas failing in America. I remember back to socialist ideas failing in Russia.  I see comments about Cuba and Venezuala having problems. I see people fighting for more freedoms in China and Libya and Iran.

What gives me hope are the new conventions and arenas for the ideas that advance mankind. Sure, they can be prone to the same misuse and abdication as things in the past, but the sheer velocity of how new ideas can spread now and gain prominence is amazing. It’s like giving gun rights to early Americans. You build in a new expectation upon individual freedom that the anti-gun folks have been spending more than 100 years trying to demonize and destroy. How many people do you suppose would willingly give up their internet access after having it now for less than 15 years?

The key is to not focus upon such a narrow slot of time as an indicator of the dominant trait. It’s a form of anthropomorphism more specific to our own reference point of our own lifespan. Sure, I’d like to see robot shells that could instantly transport me to alpha centauri and back for an afternoon luncheon at the Andromeda Cafe’ – but that’s unrealistic. Change takes time and the process of that change is speeding up. But it’s still going to take time.

It’s a rough ride, but the natural selection is live and well and I welcome the noise! Bring it on!!! The cream rises to the top!

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We are so anthropomorphically biased.  We think we are just so damned special and important – perhaps we should, as no one else will.  But in comparison to the universe as a whole, we are but a small spec in both time and space.

Science fiction allows our fantasies to imagine fantastic futures for us as well as carrying it’s own fair share of apocryphal results of our own advancement.  But do these prophetic glances forward maintain integrity when it comes to common sense and reason?

I still don’t buy into the singularity argument as some people put it forth, but if by singularity you mean we – as talented monkeys – will become less and less relevant compared to our creations, then yeah.  I don’t foresee any machine matching the complexity of man any time soon.  At least not any ‘one’ machine.  Machines are already taking the place of man and making  his own abilities irrelevant.  Thus far, the machines are created by men, for men and they are given  no capacity to consider any other course for themselves.  Whether by design or our own inability to make them any more than that, they serve mankind willingly and without any sense of doing otherwise.  But as our requirements for the things we build increases, the necessity of them being able to include their own decision making increases as well.

Mars Rover robot

Comparatively speaking, It’s humans that expire in a short window of a productive lifespan. It’s humans that are bound to a given pressure and temperature range. It’s humans that are bound to the ground and can only exist in air within 1 mile of the surface of same. It’s humans that are prone to toxins and biological intruders, genetic ailments, types of radiation, extremes of heat and pressure, etc.

To exist outside our extremely limited requirements we have to create extravagant contraptions carrying little bubbles of atmosphere and both human and machine fuel. Even with us on board, we miss stuff, misinterpret stuff and misrepresent stuff that happens around us.

Don’t get me wrong, we’ve done a lot for a bunch of talented monkeys. Some things well worthy of praise. But the best thing we can do – both presently as individuals and collectively as a species – is to try to see to it that our ‘children‘ are better for all we have managed to survive through.

The machines will be the children of mankind, they can and will (potentially) not be limited by gravity, atmosphere, lifespan or limited senses. We should no more fear them coming or hate their nature and existence than a mother and father should despise their own children. It is our technology that will live among the stars – I just hope we can keep from killing each other long enough for those kids to get their chance!

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OK, who’s really smart out there?  Here’s some sneaky questions on geography:

(to see the answers, drag your mouse after the word ‘answer’ to highlight the text displayed in ‘white’ as the reverse colors making them visible)

In what country is the city of Ceuta?  (and why is this a trick question?)

Answer: Ceuta is a city that is part of Spain.  However, it is located on the north coast of Morocco across the straights.

Referring to US States, which state(s) respectively is the furthest east, furthest west, furthest north and furthest south ‘on the globe’?

Answer: Hawaii is the furthest south.  Alaska is officially the furthest west and north.  But depending on whether or not you use the international date line or the meridian line to demark west from east ‘on the globe’ the furthest east can either be Maine or could again be considered Alaska due to the fact the Aleution Islands extend past the East-West demarkation line.

What animal were the Canary Islands named after?  What was the Canary bird named after?

Answer: The islands’ name is derived from the Latin name canariae insulae (“islands of dogs”) – the birds were then named after the Island. 

What country is Vatican City in?

Answer: Vatican City is both city and country.  The country of ‘Vatican City’ is technically (geographically) located in Italy.

There is only one place where four states come together at the same point.  It is called ‘four corners’ – can you name the states?

Answer: Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona

Since I live near Detroit, drive downtown to city airport and jump into a plane and tell the pilot to fly due south and keep going, what is the first foreign country you’ll fly over?

Answer:  Canada – Parts of Detroit actually extend north of parts of SW Ontario.  If you keep flying south the next country is Columbia. 

The city of Leningrad in the former Soviet Union was changed to St. Petersburg for Peter the great after the fall of Soviet Russia.  Before Lenin came to power renaming the city for himself it was called Petrograd during the communist revolution.  What was it’s name before that?

Answer: St. Petersburg – which it’s name was changed back to after the fall of communism in Russia

Which city is further west? Reno, NV or Los Angeles, CA?

Answer: Reno, NV

If you go on an extreme hunting adventure, and your pilot picks a reference point he knows before starting, flies 100 miles due south then goes due east a good 40 or 50 miles until you see a bear – you land, shoot the bear and fly 100 miles straight north to end up back at the reference point before turning for home, what color is the bear?

Answer:  White because the only reference point that would work for the scenario described is the north pole

Finally a goofy one, what state is round on both ends and hi in the middle?

Answer: OHIO

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A friend was talking to me prior to last Christmas and she was faced with a delimma.  She needed to figure out her boyfriend’s ring size without letting on that she was hoping to get him a ring for a gift.  I told her that if I thought on it long enough, I might be able to come  up with something ingenious.  I eventually settled on ‘take him bowling’ but before I did, my twisted brain came up with a bunch more, less than pleasant or productive ways to get the same information.  Thus the list that follows…

How (NOT) to get your significant other’s ring size:

  1. Take them to Grauman’s Chinese restaurant and theater in Hollywood and get them to immortalize their hands and feet in cement.  Come back later and measure the resulting cast.  (OK, this might require you bribing someone at Grauman’s)
  2. Take them some where and do something completely outrageous that gets you both arrested.  After you are released from police custody, file an Freedom of information act request to receive a copy of their fingerprints.  Measure the width to determine the circumference of their fingers.
  3. ‘Accidentally’ slam their hand in a doorjam or something similar and rush them to the E.R.  Then flirt with the x-ray technician at the hospital emergency room to get a copy of the x-ray.  Again, measure the result to calculate the finger size.
  4. Tell them you are on a nostalgia kick for old 80’s TV commercials.  Get out some Palmolive and pretend to be ‘Marge’ and soak their fingers in it.  Use the methods of liquid displacement to calculate the volume of their fingers.  Use the results to calculate the mass of the finger in question and derive the size.
  5. Buy a pair of leather gloves that you know are too small, and get him to try them on.  Be really insistent and pay close attention to just how far they actually do go on.  Then find other guys that would be willing to let you ‘know’ their ring size and pretend you are Johnny Cochran by making them all try on the gloves until you find someone with a similar fit.
  6. Start ‘fooling around’ or necking near a copy machine.  Keep losing your balance or making them lose theirs and then hit the ‘copy’ button by mistake.  You might get lucky and catch their hand in one of the copies and can use it to determine the size of their finger.
  7. Keep dropping small objects down small holes and asking their help to retrieve them until their finger gets stuck in one of them.  Measure the size of the hole after you use the left over palmolive to help them get their finger back out.
  8. For male ring size, if you buy into the old urban legend that correlates to the ‘size of a man’s hands’, you could always start by getting a tattoo like the one pictured below…

The 'Marilyn-Chambers-ometer'

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