Guardians of the Galaxy

I really enjoyed watching Guardians of the Galaxy this past weekend. What follows is not a review, per se, but more my thoughts on what made this movie entertaining for me. It includes spoilers, so if you have not seen the movie yet and want to avoid seeing a spoiler, stop reading now.

Spoiler Alert Warning Symbol

Spoiler Alert Warning

The first thing that comes to mind are the 80′s references. The movie makes good use of a collection of 70′s and 80′s music to set the mood, help define the character of Peter Quill and break the dramatic tension. Quill’s precious cassette tape Walkman is delightfully retro, forms a critical link to his mother and somehow fits right in. Having lived through that era and knowing the music made the movie connect with me. How he manages to have a pair of those foam-covered head phones with the foam still intact after all these years is beyond me.

The second thing is the connections to the rest of the Marvell universe. Sure, there’s the usual Stan Lee cameo. But we also see Thanos, tying us back to the scene at the end of the credits for “The Avengers”. And perhaps more importantly, the infinity stones are introduced, complete with a visual cue suggesting the glowing blue cube from the Captain American and Avengers university is an infinity stone itself. I like the way Marvell is making is harder to miss any of their movies by sprinkling links to the greater Marvell universe in them. Cleaver marketing guys.

Third, there’s the scene at the end of the credits with Howard to Duck. Wow! Howard the Duck was the first Marvell comic character to be turned into a feature film and it also almost drove it’s producer, George Lucas, into bankruptcy. And it’s an awful movie. Don’t watch it. Unless you like to laugh at b-grade Sci Fi.

Finally, the movie seemed to have this really nice balance of seriousness and humor. Not too dark, not too goofy. In short, fun. Just what a summer movie should be.

Computable – iPython for the iPad

Now there’s a full featured iPython implementation for the iPad called Computable. It includes NumPy, SciPy, matplotlib and Pandas. It supports the creation of iPython notebooks that you can then share. This is a handy tool when a typical scientific calculator or spreadsheet just won’t cut it. Recommended.
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NB: Sadly, due to Apple’s restrictions on apps and executable code (including scripts) the app is not able to download or sync iPython notebooks. I understand and agree with the restriction from a security standpoint, but it does limit the usefulness of a tool like Computable.

World Championship Hoop Dance

Hoop Dancer (from Heard Museum)

Powwows.com has an article on the 24th annual world championship hoop dance competition, recently held at the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Arizona. The videos are amazing.

Back in the late ’70s and early ’80s when I was part of an Explorer Troop that focused on native american dance, one of the things I did was hoop dance. I learned how from a couple old books and a couple of dozen stills and diagrams. It would have been wonderful to have had videos to help me figure out the foot work and transitions

Internet with Frickin’ Lasers

MetroNet’s second commercial installation in the Lafayette area (or so the installer guys said) is in my basement. It’s very fast, especially to the Purdue campus. If you get MetroNet’s service in West Lafayette, you can add a symmetric 100 Mb/s service to campus to your connection for $10. Four router hops to systems on campus. Very nice.

You can find a good technical introduction to the fiber technology MetroNet is deploying in this presentation to the Greater Lafayette Information Technical Society from 2011.

Network termination board

Network Termination Board in my basement

The picture is of my network termination board next to the equipment rack in the basement. The MetroNet optical network terminal (ONT) is the big grey box in the middle of the picture. The little grey box to the upper right is the old DSL termination box which was retired when I moved to Comcast. The dark grey, almost black box above the ONT is the Comcast cable modem. Once the fiber gets buried in the yard, I’ll retire the Comcast connection.

So pretty…

One of my long term projects moves forward… New (to me) bustles. Slowly pulling together the missing pieces of a new fancy dance outfit. Now I really need to work on my beaded harness set and a couple of large, beaded rosettes…

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Replacing a harddisk in a Mac Mini Server

Behind the scenes, my household network services are provided by a pair of Apple Mac Mini Servers, one for internal services (DNS, DHCP, file sharing, backups) and one for external services (DNS, mail, web hosting, ownCloud). I also have an older Mac Mini attached to my home theatre. I like the Mac Mini’s a lot. They are inexpensive as servers go, draw little power, and are quiet, cheap and reliable.

Apple Mac Mini Server

Apple Mac Mini Server

Sadly, the internal server’s boot disk died a couple of weeks ago. It failed slowly over a couple of hours and thankfully did not corrupt the server’s time machine based backups on its way out. I have prepared for this eventuality by keeping a cold spare  in the form of an older Mac Mini that sits on the shelf, ready to be put into service if one of the active Mac Minis has a problem. So, after an attempt to resuscitate the dying hard disk, I gave up on it and restored the most recent backup of the server onto the cold spare.

The restore process is pretty simple. First, I choose to boot the cold spare from a USB key that I had prepared with a bootable installation image of OS X Mavericks. I used the included script that’s buried in the Maverick install image to create the bootable USB key. The directions for using it can be found from Apple or with a bit more detail from MacWorld. You will need to have either saved, or downloaded the current Mavericks installer before you follow those instructions.

Once the USB key and cold spare are ready to boot, I booted with the “option” key held down and picked the prepared USB key from the list of available boot devices. When restoring a server with more than one disk, you need to do a little bit of extra work to restore the second disk before you start the restoration of the boot disk as detailed in this Apple Knowledge Base article. After restoration, the cold spare booted up without problems. I corrected it’s network settings (it has a USB ethernet connection, long story for another post…), checked that services were running, “inherited” the current time machine backups and my internal services were back in operation.

Next up, I ordered up an SSD to replace the failed disk. SSDs have come a long way in terms of reliability and are well worth the added expense given the marked speed improvement they offer. I chose a Samsung 750GB EVO 840 drive based on the recommendation of the good folks at Mac Mini Colo. I bought the drive from OWC and followed their installation video. The install is indeed “challenging” and took me about 90 minutes.

Mac Mini Disassembled

My Mac Mini disassembled

A word of warning, I ended up doing the disk installation twice due to pulling the wrong drive the first time. If you can, before you remove the dead disk, look at the system with disk utility which will indicate which drive bay (upper or lower) a disk is located in. That would have saved me some time.

The server with the SSD has been running for a few days now without problem and I plan to swap it back into production service, using the same time machine restoration process, this weekend.