Blogging (and micro-blogging) Hiatus

I have been on a bit of a lapse in the blogging, twitter, 12 seconds and other social network arenas.  Robert Scoble once posted The Corporate Weblog Manifesto.  Rule #13 states

If your life is in turmoil and/or you’re unhappy, don’t write.

He gives a brief, non-specific example of the potential effects.  My family has been going through some rough times lately that I will not get into in this forum, but suffice it to say that the stress level has been high and, though I have wanted to share my thoughts on several things of late, I did not want to fall victim to subconscious changes to my writing affecting the quality.

After almost 2 months, we are coming to terms with the changes in our lives at home and, while things are still far from what most people consider normal, we are at least coping.

I have to admit that not blogging during the break was somewhat of a relief but now I must deal with the consequences of my blog’s loss of relevance, but more importantly, it’s time to get back into something I enjoy, writing!

Is Science Fiction finally coming through?

For years science fiction authors have written about fantastic technologies that will make our lives easier, more fun, and generally better in many ways and ever since we have been wistfully dreaming of those times.

Now it seems that there are a lot of things new announcements and products that fulfill some of those visions.  Here are some of the cool items you may not have heard about.

Video on Demand Evolution

Cable companies have had limited video on demand for quite a while now, and more recently companies like Joost, Netflix and Hulu have began bringing us a whiter variety of programming available to watch what when want to when we want to watch it.  The networks are getting the hint by making some of their shows available as well; however until now most of these choice required you to sit in front of your computer unless you were among the small percentage of folks that have some sort of media center integrated with your audio-video system.

We have seen set-top appliances that allow us to stream this content to our sets, but that is still yet another piece of equipment to have in your living room, something many wives simply do not like.

image Recently some television makes have announced their sets will support streaming with no other device, and they will do it over Wi-Fi.  LG announced 2 of their lines will support NetFlix, CinemaNow and YouTube, while Vizio unveiled models that not only stream NetFlix, Blockbuster, Amazon and Yahoo!, but it will also support images from Flickr, streaming music from Pandora and Rhapsody and more.  Not to be left behind, Sony announced the ability to stream from Yahoo!, Amazon, YouTube, Slacker(sm) and more..  I would also be remiss to mention that the XBox360 got streaming movies from Netflix last year, and with applications like PlayOn Media Server you can get your Netflix, YouTube, Hulu, ESPN and CBS on the XBox, Playstation 3 and soon the Wii.  All we need now is to replace the actual screen with a hologram ala The Minority Report and we will have arrived!

Mobility and More

Of course everyone knows about the iPhone.  What you may not have heard of are the new generations coming with the Android operating system, with the T-Mobile G1 being the first to market.  BlackBerry and Palm have also provided significant updates to their operating system given us many choice for little computers walking around in our hands with functionality from GPS navigation to price comparisons via scanned bar codes.  Oh, and they still let us talk to people too!

This revolution in mobility is beginning to make its way into other devices.  Android has been spotted as the underlying OS for new desktop phones and with its easy to use interface it makes it perfect for other embedded devices.  Can you imaging having a microwave or oven that you can set up to come on at certain times more easily, or a refrigerator that will let you know you are running low on milk via SMS before you come home?


The newest Microsoft Sync is pruported to read your text messages as they come in, and even recognize your voice commands for not only calling, but for interacting with the navigation system and all of your music as well.

Oh, and since you asked (I know you were going to!) the flying car is making progress.  There are still a lot of issues from logistics to infrastructure and more, but it looks like there are some very smart folks working towards making the ultimate sci-fi dream a reality.

There’s far too many other gadgets to go into without turning this post into the size if War and Peace, but be assured that it is an exciting time in technology!

Wherein Joel learns the bad points of turning an appliance upside down…

Ok, so by the very title you have probably already realized that my blunder should have been obvious, but it was not.  More about the flames in a minute, first a bit of history.

We moved into our new home 2 weeks ago.  It was a move that was a long time coming.  A new (2 year old) 3000 square foot house located in a nice neighborhood with just about every amenity we could ask for save a hot tub.  What a great event!

Other than the fact that we had to move of course.

I have never liked moving.  I am horrible at it.  Sure, I can lift things, put them down, all of that.  The area of suckage for me comes from the organizational aspect.  I pack horribly and have a hard time deciding what to do next, all of which leads to exhaustion and frustration.  None of that has bearing on this story other than to illustrate my frame of mind at the time of the incident in question.

Now, dear reader, I am not attempting to excuse my lack of foresight.  Indeed I take responsibility, the decision was ultimately mine.

In the new house, all of the bedrooms are upstairs and most of the living areas, save the loft / family room, are downstairs.  In a stroke of brilliance, the laundry room was placed upstairs to cut down on the up and down trips for the unending stream of dirty clothes created by 2 adults and 2 children.  The only real issue turned out to be getting the appliances upstairs to the laundry room.

The stairway is beautifully designed with a 90 degree turn about 1/3 of the way up.  Most of the day we had struggled with this corner while hauling dressers, king and queen mattresses, a couch, a desk and other large furnishings.  Finally we came to the big boys.  The washer and dryer.

After getting the washer to the corner, we quickly realized that making the turn would be nigh impossible.  We had 2 of us on the bottom pushing it up and one on the top directing the ascent.  There was not room on the tiny landing at the corner to set it upright and get back in behind it.  We contemplated rolling it on its top, then laying up the remaining stairway and then rolling it back upright at the top of the stairs.

To our surprise, it worked!  We managed to manhandle the beast the rest of the way into the laundry room and collapse for a respite.  As we recuperated we discussed the dryer.  Its weight was a fair amount less than the washer, but the bulk was still the problem so we agreed (again, my decision ultimately) to employ the same technique that had worked so wonderfully on it’s mate.

As expected, we did get it upstairs with considerably less effort.  Yay for us!  Sure, there was some odd noises in side as we tipped it, things falling that had likely been inside pockets of washed clothing, that sort of thing.  The point was, it was upstairs and it worked!

About two weeks later as I was arriving home from work, my lovely wife and son where rotating some laundry for me.  As the duty usually falls in my lap, I was most appreciative of their efforts.  I was still on the main floor hanging up my coat and such when there was a lout *POP* from upstairs, the sound of panic and shuffling feet.

As I ascended to the top level, I could hear the voices of my wife and son. Words like “It’s on fire” and “There was a spark” drifted to my ears prompting me to dash the rest of the way.  Fortunately the fire had died out almost as quickly as it had started, and the drier power was no longer on thanks to the circuit breaker.  My son had the level-headedness to pull the vent off of the wall as well to prevent fire from going into the house vent, good job son!

It turns out that the upside-down trip had dislodges some coins that may have been inside the dryer for years, possibly.  Some of the coins became stuck on the top during the turning.  At some point, one of the coins dislodged and fell into a circuit, causing a short with a spark that ignited some lint inside the beast.

In the end, we were lucky.  Nobody was injured and no serious damage was done.  After having a repairman look at the dryer to clean it out and confirm it was working properly everything went back to normal.  The only damage was a slight ding to the bank account and some damage to my pride, but that was minimal and will quickly heal.

The lesson was well learnt and I will never again attempt to “roll” something like that.  A better lesson may even have been to hire somebody to do it, and indeed had we more notice about the move, we would have done so.  I also realize the value of having service done to the twin beasties and will put that on our annual to do schedule.

If you’ve read this far into my lengthy recount, you must truly be bored!  i hope I entertained and possibly enlightened a little.  Until next time, fair reader!


Lawn chair balloonist Kent Couch’s chair found!

Kent_Couch_Cluster_Balloon It has been ten months since I reported about a local business owner and cluster balloon enthusiast Kent Couch took his ride from Bend across Oregon.  After a little more than 10 months, someone finally found his lawn chair and video camera!

Congratulations to Kent!  I know that the longer the lawn chair and video camera stayed missing, the less likely that it would ever be found and reported.  I’m sure he’s quite happy about it since the camera contained the documentary of his flight from the perspective of the rider.

Time to try out Windows Live Writer

I had the notice this morning that there was an upgrade to Windows Live Messenger available so I decided to perform the update.  During the process I had the opportunity to install Windows Live Writer.  I’ve seen several other blogger’s talk about it; however, I’ve never felt the need to try it out.  This morning, it was just to easy to say “yes”.

This is my first post to my WordPress blog.  Initial impression is that it looks very nice and intuitive.  I will give it a try for a while and report back what I think about it in the end.

One thing I noticed that I do like is the ability to save a draft online rather than local.  With that functionality I can easily finish editing it somewhere else if I happen to be sans laptop.  Very nice!

I have also noticed that there is a portable version.  Hmm….that has potential!

Will we see the next world-changing technolgy this month?

As I read Microsoft researchers make me cry « Scobleizer — Tech geek blogger this morning I got chills.  Robert Scoble talks a lot about new tech, some of which is great, some not so much.   He is always passionate about it.

This post about an upcoming unveiling from Microsoft makes me think that there’s something big coming to the way we live.  When Robert talks about past technology moments saying “It’s even rarer that I see software that I know will change the world my sons live in” referring to “The first time I saw an Apple II,” “Netscape running the WWW” and others as a preface for this current secret, I get excited.

“While watching the demo I realized the way I look at the world was about to change. While listening to Wong I noticed a tear running down my face.”

According to Robert, the cover comes off around February 27th.  I will be waiting anxiously!

How to allow WordPress to upload images on an SELinux enabled server

I recently had to put up a blog running the WordPress system. There are a lot of things I like about WordPress and in general the difficulty in getting the site up and running was low.

The problem came about when an image was needed on the site. The software gave me the infamous “Is its parent directory writable by the server” message. After confirming the permissions where correct I began to dig deeper. It turned out that SELinux was causing an access denied message.

After much research on the matter, I learned a few things. First, most people simply turn off (example, example, example) SELinux. That was not an option for me. I want the extra contextual security provided. Second, it was not a WordPress problem, or even an SELinux problem. In reality, it’s simply a configuration setting put in place to make unauthorized uploads less likely.

It turns out that the security policy will only allow the httpd service to upload to the /tmp directory. Examination of that directory shows that the context includes tmp_t. That is the ticket that got things working for me. Here’s my solution to this issue:

  1. Change directory to the wp-content directory of the WordPress software.
  2. Made the uploads folder manually.
    mkdir uploads
  3. Changed the owner of uploads to the appropriate user that apache runs as (as root).
    chown httpuser:httpuser uploads
  4. Changed permissions to allow the apache user to write to the directory (as root).
    chmod 755 uploads
  5. Changed the SE context of the directory to allow httpd to upload file (as root).
    chcon -t tmp_t uploads

That did it. Not terribly difficult, but there is not a lot of concise documentation to be found when looking for this problem. It is very possible that there is a better way to accomplish these results, and if you know that it is please let me know! I can say that my configuration is working today and, at least so far, everything seems to be working fine and as secure as it can be.

The final output of ls -Z for the uploads directory should look something like this:

drwxr-xr-x httpd httpd root:object_r:tmp_t uploads