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Andrew Pollock


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Saturday, 31 December 2005

2005: The year in review

2005 is the first year I've blogged from start to finish, so it is interesting to go through and reflect on what has happened. It's certainly been an eventful year.

Executive summary: got engaged, got married, got a job with Google, moved to the US. Did a whole lot of other mainly geeky things in between.

  • Moved from living in an old rundown share house in Ainslie to a townhouse in Watson, without the flat mate
  • Started getting my teeth into work at my new job
  • Took Sarah to the ER with chest pains, after having had them on and off over Christmas
  • Proposed to Sarah
  • My blog got syndicated on Planet Linux Australia
  • Wrote my blog post about mitigating SSH brute force attacks using Netfilter's recent module. Still get a lot of search traffic from that today
  • Went camping at Jervis Bay, managed to hit a kangaroo on the way, had a rather traumatic time trying to euthanize it
  • Decided to continue studying at Uni part-time in conjunction with full-time work (masochistic, huh?)
  • Made changelogs.debian.net a whole lot spankier
  • Had a moderately unsuccessful time turning an old laptop with a dead hard drive into a diskless server with an NFS root filesystem. (I really must get around to trying again doing ATA over Ethernet)
  • Bought a QFE card, after much vying on EBay, which is still sitting in a drawer unused
  • Discovered how to make my laptop suspend
  • Completed a Saint John Ambulance Senior First Aid course
  • linux.conf.au happened, and I helped make it happen
  • Interesting side-effect of the above was that I got asked to apply for a job at Google
  • I had fun with a cylinder of surplus helium
  • Sarah is advised to discontinue triathlons because of a possible heart condition
  • My oldest friends separate, and it looks like they're going to get divorced
  • Sarah had her car broken into in the driveway and her purse was stolen
  • I get into a panic about passing Uni and really knuckle down
  • I discover a little too late that I've missed marking my ten thousandth day since birth
  • I organised a dinner meeting of Canberra Perl Mongers, which is a largely dormant group
  • We got a new cat
  • I hit two years as a Debian developer
  • I joined the Linux Australia sysadmin team
  • We decide to bring forward our wedding from April 2006 to July 2005, "just in case" the Google thing comes off
  • caesar, the box I use as my gateway blew up and got replaced with something gruntier
  • I got into discussions with University House about doing a wireless LAN setup for them for their guests
  • Started work on a box for Linux Australia that would host a few User Mode Linux instances for various things
  • My old Rover crew turned 20
  • We discovered the Tea Centre, and the wonders of different varieties of leaf tea
  • I scraped through first semester at Uni
  • I decided to upgrade daedalus and ordered a new box
  • Michael and I went to the US for face to face interviews with Google
  • Started semester 2 at Uni
  • Started migrating services to the new daedalus
  • Sarah and I were married
  • Google makes me a job offer
  • I ordered myself a new laptop
  • My car tyres got slashed while I was at Uni
  • Uni all got a bit much, and I decided to drop out
  • I got a 1 gig USB key
  • I had some fun with LVM snapshotting
  • Video card in my desktop blew up
  • I return to working in the office, and have a crack at catching the bus because of heinous petrol prices
  • I built Linux Australia's content mirroring box
  • The cat vomits one time too many and gets a new diet
  • We went and saw the Warehouse Circus' most excellent BAM! production
  • I ascended Mount Tennant with Rick
  • Sarah and I went and checked out the Tumut 3 power station
  • Sarah got her wisdom teeth out
  • I had some more fun with LVM and data migration
  • I had even more fun with LVM snapshots
  • We finally got our visas for the US
  • I quit my job
  • We bought a new dining table
  • We bought an iPaq and a bluetooth GPS and some navigation software
  • We bought a new digital camera
  • Canberra Perl Mongers had another dinner meeting
  • I finished up at Cybertrust
  • I went to the US
  • Sarah went to Singapore for a holiday with some of her relatives
  • I started at Google
  • Sarah arrived in the US from Singapore
  • We found somewhere more permanent to live
  • We bought new mountain bikes
  • All our stuff arrived from Australia

[10:39] [life] [permalink]

Thursday, 29 December 2005

Second stack

I had another cleat-related incident on the way home tonight. I thought I'd unclicked my left foot when I came to cross the road, but apparently hadn't, and I'd already rocked towards the left and was well and truly leaning that way before it became evident that my leg was still anchored to the pedal.

I fell pretty heavily on my left wrist, and it made a nasty crunching sound. Doesn't appear to be broken though, just sprained I guess.

On inspection of my left shoe when I made it home, it would seem that one of the bolts that holds the cleat to the shoe has come loose and disappeared. So when I turned my foot sideways, the cleat rotated on the other bolt, and didn't release properly, whereas I thought it had released by virtue of the fact that my foot moved sideways.

Just as well it's forecast to rain tomorrow. Don't feel much like riding at the moment.

[23:21] [life/mtb] [permalink]

Tuesday, 27 December 2005

Back online

Our DSL modem finally arrived today. Well, it kind of involved accosting the UPS guy in an adjacent street whilst walking back home from 7-Eleven acquiring ice cream, but hey, we got the thing in the end.

I went with Sonic on advice from guys from work, and I have to say I've been totally impressed with their customer service to date. Today I got an email from them because I'd reached my activation date, but they hadn't seen any ADSL traffic from me yet, and they just wanted to check that everything was okay.

We had a free dialup account for use while we waited for the ADSL to be provisioned (and the delay was with receiving the modem over the holiday season, not the ADSL provisioning itself). Also, their account management website allows an impressive amount of self-control over aspects such as spam filtering and firewalling. I'm a very satisfied customer so far.

[22:25] [life] [permalink]

Sunday, 25 December 2005

First Christmas abroad

(I love the term "abroad". It sounds so English.)

Well that happened. We had Michael and another Andrew from work who started two weeks before us and his wife come over for what Michael was calling "linner" (the inverse of "brunch"). Sarah cooked up an absolute storm. We had roast turkey, roast potato, pumpkin and sweet potato, steamed broccoli, cauliflower and asparagus, and Yorkshire puddings. We had so many types of gravy we completely forgot about the cranberry sauce.

Michael managed to track down a plum pudding (this country seems obsessed with pumpkin pie) and we had something approximating custard (something else this country doesn't seem to do) with it.

A very good feast was had by all, and six hours later we were done. Back to unpacking boxes.

Brought to you by some kind neighbour's open access point.

[20:39] [life] [permalink]

Thursday, 22 December 2005

Fun Christmas present

Our sea freight is being delivered on Christmas Eve. No prize for guessing what we're going to be doing on Christmas Day...

[16:19] [life] [permalink]

Google Reader saves my sanity

I've been relying on just Planet for reading blogs. I mainly read just Planet Debian and Linux Linux Australia, with a shortlist of other friends' blogs that used to be read via my own Planet instance, which is currently in a shipping container somewhere.

This of course sucks in two ways: if you don't keep up, articles fall off the bottom and are gone forever, and you have to mentally keep track of what you've already read.

So the next choice is a feed-reader like Liferea, but this then sucks in different ways: it's tied to the computer you run it on, and posts that have been previously read often seem to come back as new. I get this every time I refresh Planet Linux Australia. Drives me mad.

So what I really want is a way of being able to centrally store what I've read, regardless of where I am, and what computer I'm using. Enter Google Reader.

It has a nice clean interface, it's Ajaxed up the wazoo, and Just Workstm. My only (minor) beefs are that it doesn't seem to allow you to mark posts as read or unread, and that it always wants to have the current article second from the top in the list. Other than that, the UI is very clean and simple (and even uses vi keys). Added bonus is that if any other user is already subscribed to the feed, you get all the historical articles for free, which in the case of the Planets, goes back a lot further than the feed currently provides.

Ideally I'd like something like this, that I can run on my own server, because I like keeping everything in the family. In the meantime, this is a suitable alternative. Getting all the back-articles is a bonus well worth it.

Full disclosure: I work for Google, but that's what's making me look for a more efficient method to read blogs.

[11:10] [tech] [permalink]

The Chronicles of Narnia

Last night, Sarah and I went to see The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

I quite enjoyed it. It's been years since I've seen either the animated version (I think I've seen that at least twice, and I can't believe it was from 1979, that makes me feel so old) or the BBC TV mini-series (I think I saw that once), or read the books, so I couldn't remember the story very well at all, so it was great having a two hour long memory jog. It seemed very faithful to my memory of the original story.

Acting-wise, I thought the actors that played Edmund and Lucy did a particularly good job. I was initially a bit down on the choice of making Queen Jadice/The White Witch so young, but that turned out pretty good nonetheless. The voice of Aslan was a good pick.

My main beef was that the violence was too sanitised. I feel strange saying that, but up until the big battle scene, they went out of their way to make it all pretty tame and bloodless. There were also a couple of scenes that were very obviously shot in front of a blue or green screen. This movie had the potential to be Lord of the Rings material, but I think it fell down a bit, only on a few small things. The Lord of the Rings was as violent as it needed to be, without going into Day of the Dead territory, for example.

Very good, but not great. I hope they do the rest of the books though. Oh, and I really think all these people who are trying to draw all these Biblical connections are really reaching.

[10:55] [life] [permalink]

Wednesday, 21 December 2005

On mobility

Andrew Reid is now truly mobile.

I achieved something approaching mobility Zen, where I could use my Sony Ericsson T630's GPRS connection via Bluetooth from my PowerBook and my iPaq.

And then I left the country.

Bit of a bugger that.

[12:48] [life] [permalink]

On orthokeratology

Rob Thomson writes that he's going to give ortho-k a shot.

I used it for a number of years, and recommend it to anyone who wants to try it as an alternative to laser surgery. My experience of it was that there was a bit of trial-and-error getting the parameters for the contact lenses right, but after that, it was all good. The feeling of independence was enormous. I took up outdoor rock climbing. The ophthalmologist said that for some people they could get away with sleeping in them for one night in three, but I found I needed to sleep with them in every night to get good results.

Towards the end, I started to become dissatisfied with my vision quality, and I'd moved to Canberra, and so was seeing a different optometrist to the one in Brisbane (who incidentally seemed to be a bit of a pioneer in the field). I couldn't decide whether to get a new set of lenses made with the same parameters as the old ones, or go through the expense and trial-and-error nature of getting refitted again. Then one of my lenses broke at the 2004 linux.conf.au so I went back to wearing spectacles for a while.

I was going through my phase of wanting to get into the Queensland Police, so I decided to get laser surgery, discovering later that day that they won't accept candidates until 12 months afterwards in case their eyeballs spontaneously vaporise or something.

In summary, I can recommend ortho-k as a non-invasive alternative to laser surgery, but its downsides are pretty much those of wearing contact lenses. Camping was one thing that was a bit trickier and more inconvenient. Having really goopy eyes in the morning was another.

[12:44] [opinion] [permalink]

Tuesday, 20 December 2005

Riding to work

Got the new mountain bike last night. Very exciting. Also got clipless pedals, and shoes with cleats.

This morning, Michael and I rode in. It took about 30 minutes, and I only stacked it (because of the cleats) once. Michael's gory details here. Another 19 rides in, and they'll give me a free permanent locker.

Have I mentioned I'm loving life lately?

[09:39] [life] [permalink]

Saturday, 17 December 2005

Four weeks

I've still been extremely busy. Unlike my last fairly incoherent brain dump, this time I've been keeping notes on the things I wanted to write about, so hopefully I won't forget things.

Here we go...

Squirrels are absolutely everywhere. They're very fast and very cute. They're kind of like possums, except diurnal. They run up trees with ease, and leap from tree to tree. It's quite cool to watch them. The damn things don't stand still long enough to be photographed (properly), and they don't let you get too close without scampering up a tree or running off. I'm told they're the number one carrier of rabies, so I shouldn't be trying to get too close anyway.
Sales tax
Definitely one of the more annoying aspects of consumer life is the fact that prices quoted are not inclusive of sales tax. This means you always need to part with more cash than you expect. Furthermore, there are some places (some fast-food outlets) that do quote the prices inclusive of tax, so it's really hard to know what you're in for.
Speed limits
I find speed limit signs to be either infrequent or harder to notice, or a combination of both. They're just a black text on white background sign. I'm used to them having the red circle. That said, no one seems to drive at the speed limit anyway.
Canberra's a very white town compared to say Sydney, but I reckon at least the San Jose area of California blows the socks off what I've seen of Sydney for multiculturalism. You really notice it over here. I've been at the mall in Milpitas, and you can play "spot the white European" (a variation of "spot the Caucasian").
Different responses to thankyou
I think the fairly standard response to saying thanks that I'm used to is "You're welcome". Over here, you get "mm hmm" a lot, which is just strange.
Fractions vs decimal
They love their fractions. Petrol gets quoted at 2219/10, which took me a while to realise was 221.9 cents per gallon
Alcoholic beverage labelling
Australia has the concept of a "standard drink". I remember as a kid the advertising campaign "rethink your third drink" (or for women, "rethink your second drink"). The idea being that men could drink two standard drinks in the first hour, and then one standard drink every hour after that, and be at 0.05% blood alcohol, which is the legal limit for Australia. And every bottled alcoholic drink is labelled with how many standard drinks it is. An average beer is about 1.2 standard drinks for example. No such labelling over here. You get the percentage of alcohol per volume, and that is it, which makes self-regulating very difficult. The limit is apparently 0.08%, but I don't think I want to be driving around on the wrong side of the road at that level (or any level really).
Christmas vs "Holidays"
Everyone and every piece of advertising goes on about the "Holidays". Retail people are always wishing us "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas". I think this is because there's a large chunk of people who don't necessarily celebrate Christmas.
I haven't really come across tipping in everyday life as much as I'd expected, but when I think about it a bit, I'm at work most of the time, so that's probably why. The general rule seems to be to tip "double the tax", so for a bill at a restaurant, or where you get personal service, such as a haircut, you tip. But you don't tip at McDonald's, nor Subway (where I would have expected you would).

That's about all my current observations on living over here.

Tomorrow we get our townhouse in Central Park. Our air-freight was finally delivered today. (What was supposed to take about 8 days took 4 weeks). Not sure when we can expect our sea freight at this stage.

We bought a couple of mountain bikes last weekend, and if the weather is okay tomorrow, we'll pick them up and ride them home. We've found a really nice off road (as in not shared with cars) bike path, which runs close to home all the way to work. I'm really keen to roller blade to work if it's feasible, and also to cycle in.

I'm a bit disappointed to discover after we've been accepted for the place that we're right on top of a toxic waste dump (or something like that). If I grow a second head, you'll know why.

The other piece of exciting news is that the bank sent me a debit card, when they'd previously told me they wouldn't until I had a Social Security number (still no sign if that yet). This thing (the debit card) is freaking weird. It's Mastercard branded, and in some places you use it like you'd use a debit card for EFTPOS back home. You swipe, enter your PIN and that's it. In other cases, you swipe and sign a bit of paper like a credit card transaction. In either case, money is sucked out of our checking account.

The scary thing is that no one seems to check signatures in this country, and a lot of places will accept credit card payments electronically (like petrol stations where you just swipe the card at the bowser and enter the ZIP code of your billing address and that's it). Oh, and I can use this thing like a credit card for Internet purchases. What bothers me is that the level of authentication is so low, but it's sucking actual money out of our checking account, so with all the credit card fraud around, it's relatively trivial to draw actual money out of a bank account, as opposed to using someone's credit. That said, I just got the card today, and since then, it's made shopping so much easier. It's amazing how many places won't accept a foreign credit card, and I was a big user of EFTPOS back home, and this ability to use a debit card like a credit card means I can essentially continue in that habit. I wasn't looking forward to carrying lots of cash or having to use cheques.

[23:43] [life/americania] [permalink]

I hate being too busy

There's been some sort of release of Demi, and I haven't had anything to do with it, other than request a Subversion repository for the Alioth project...


[07:26] [debian] [permalink]

Sunday, 11 December 2005

You know you're working in a fantasy land when...

You say to your wife "Bleh. I won't need any money this week. The only thing I'd need money for is tipping the masseuse if I get around to booking a free massage".

[17:42] [work] [permalink]

Friday, 09 December 2005

Three weeks

I've been so busy, I haven't had time to blog. Rather than putting it off any longer, I'll just dump what I can remember.

Last Wednesday, Sarah arrived after her holiday in Singapore, and from all accounts, had a great time. Photos as well.

Sticking with the whirlwind theme, the next day, we had a "building warming" party at work for the new building we'd moved into the week before Michael and I started. The next night we had the work Christmas party, which blew the socks off any work Christmas party I'd ever been to before, and then on Saturday night we went to a party in San Francisco that we'd been invited to.

On a life in general front, I'm still waiting for a Social Security number. The lack of one makes life a bit difficult for a lot of things. It also turns out that Sarah's work permit will take about 90 days to approve, so she's going to be a lady of leisure for the next few months.

I've finally been issued with a work mobile phone (or "cell phone" as they call them), and so can stop roaming and paying through the nose for the privilege.

We've found somewhere to live. We take possession of a 2 bedroom townhouse (split-level) in a complex in Mountain View that is 3 miles from work on the 18th. The rent is $1725 a month, which is a bit better than we were expecting. The complex we're renting in does have shared laundries, which we'd not too keen on before getting over here, but they're quite modern and secure, and there's a laundry block close to our townhouse, so hopefully it won't be too bad. The whole place had been renovated about 5 years ago, so it's all in good condition. We could have rented a 3 bedroom apartment (single level) in the same complex for about $125 a month more, but we're trying to actually make some money while we're over here...

Driving on the other side of the road becomes fairly "normal" after about a week of doing it regularly. Sarah's adapted fine. Lane placement is the hardest thing, because your body's used to being in a certain spot on the road, and it's all different sitting on the other side of the car.

We've managed to open a rudimentary bank account, even with my lack of Social Security number. Unfortunately I can't get paid until I have an SSN. Upside of that is that if it doesn't happen until next year, I presumably won't have to worry about income tax for this US financial year. Downside is kind of obvious...

By far one of the stranger things of everyday life here is the lighting situation in the average residence. Lamps are all the rage, to the point that light switches don't exist in some rooms (notably bedrooms). Take where we're currently living for example. There's a light switch at the bottom of the stairs, there's one at the top. There's a bank of four in the living room, two of which control lights in the kitchen, and one the hallway. The last one controls a lamp in the corner of the living room, which is connected to a power socket (or power point as we'd call it).

The bedroom with the attached bathroom (en suite) has two bedside lamps, and that is the sole source of light. The bathroom attached has light switches, and the walk-in robe has a light switch. It's so weird. So walking into a darkened bedroom involves walking all the way in, and fumbling around with a lamp. It's often easier to turn on the light in the wardrobe so you can see what you're doing first. I can't think of any reason for it, except tradition. It's not like they're avoiding wiring the walls or the ceiling, because it's done partially already. The bedroom has a ceiling fan, but where in Australia, there'd be a knob on the wall near the light switch to control it, it has a little chain you yank on. To add to the strangeness, there are two switches on the wall, one of which seems to allow you to turn off the ceiling fan if it's already been switched on by pulling the chain.

The townhouse we're renting has a similar lamp dependency, so we're going to be making a trip to Ikea for some lamps it would seem.

That's about everything I can recollect right now... Oh, I should point out that I'm really loving it over here.

[21:55] [life/americania] [permalink]