Ice storm warning for Montreal today

My day was already a bit unusual because I planned to file some paperwork at a government office downtown this morning, then go to the office later. The weather was bad:

More than 45,000 homes in Montreal area without power Tuesday night

I had trouble on the sidewalk immediately outside my apartment building in NDG, a working-class suburb near downtown. I decided to stick with my plan, and took the bus to the metro, then the metro downtown. The streets downtown were cleared perfectly, and the sidewalks were also clear and well-salted, I could not have asked for better maintenance.

The city streets felt empty, as on a statutory holiday, perhaps because the schools were all closed for the day due to the predicted ice.

After my appointment, I took the metro and bus to work in Saint-Laurent, in an ugly but lucrative industrial park near the airport. The main road, Cote de Liesse, was cleared, as one would expect for a major expressway near the airport, with dozens of hotels offering shuttle buses to the airport, and a gazillion truck loading bays. The sidewalks, however, simply did not exist — they were filled with the snow blown by the machine that cleared the road. Between walking on the road (scary – cars going fast) and crunching through the snowbank, it was still better than the icy sheets covering the sidewalks of NDG this morning.

Star Trek Discovery: the show without US fans?

I just got back from a Star Trek cruise (this year’s second sailing, January 11-17). On the cruise, I heard 2 mentions of the Orville (“a friend of mine is writing for that show, Brannon Braga brought her onboard,” plus another reference that made Orville sound like a TNG class reunion, at least on the show-runner side.) However, in terms of Discovery, it was strange: none of the Star Trek alumni (writers, etc.) seemed to be involved (“Of course we wish for the best for that show.”)

Star Trek: Discovery is aired on CBS All access, an Internet service that works on things like Apple TV and Roku. Star Trek: Discovery is also shown on Space in Canada, and is shown on Netflix outside of Canada and the US.

What I discovered was that hardly any of the Americans on the ship had seen it, or that the sample episodes shown on board were their first exposure aside from the first episode as aired on CBS.

I would have expected this gap to be filled by piracy, and of course that is not a subject for polite company, but it would seem that instead of driving CBS streaming subscriptions or illegal pirate downloads or tube site views, that US fans, Star Trek fans, have simply not watched the show. There did not seem to be any anxiety about it, either: “Oh, it’ll be on Netflix in a year or two.”

There is an old saying that it is better to be despised than ignored. Star Trek: Discovery has its pluses and minuses, but it is not even being dissed for its downsides: it is simply ignored, as though it does not exist.

I wonder if CBS is aware of this dynamic. I suspect that CBS tried to duplicate the Voyager-on-UPN strategy, and to train their people to get ready for cord-cutting and “over-the-top” streaming services. Unfortunately, I think their strategy might have been 5 years too soon. The cost, I suspect, is the cultural relevance of Star Trek: Discovery itself.

Let’s talk about wifi on cruise ships

On my most recent cruise on Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL), I chose to buy the unlimited wifi package for US$180. The alternative was 250 minutes for US$125 plus a US$3.95 “activation fee,” which meant that I was looking at an additional US$51 to go unlimited wifi.

My last experience with satellite maritime wifi was during a Holland America cruise in 2014, where the biggest package I could buy was US$100 for 250 minutes. That wifi was slow and spotty, and stopped working for days at a time.

The wifi on Norwegian is excellent — at least by ship wifi standards. Only one device permitted at a time, but the system worked well. I used bluetooth on my phone to share the Internet with my brother’s phone when he was near me. Coverage aboard the ship was uniformly good — transmitters everywhere.

On the last day and a half, while we were at sea heading back to Miami, the wifi was almost unusable. That being said, I was satisfied with my wifi purchase overall over the course of the week.

On land, I had a personal roaming plan for the days in Miami. For Honduras and Mexico, I was able to use Rogers Roam Like Home on my work-issued phone (my boss asked me to stay available and use the roaming).

 

The big text post about the Star Trek cruise 2018

Pictures

For reference, here are my blog posts regarding my first post with pictures, and a link in my blog to my brother’s blog post with pictures and text. My brother’s narrative is so complete I have chosen to simply copy and paste his text here, attributed to him by being in italics.

The beforetime

Our planning began in late 2016, where a whimsical discussion about a web ad for a “Star Trek cruise” in early 2017 turned into a dare, and an attempt to register. We waited 2 days too long, and missed our chance. In retrospect, that was a good thing, it allowed us the luxury of a year to plan for one of the 2018 sailings.

Booking

When the 2 Star Trek cruise sailings for January 2018 were announced in 2017, my brother and I did not wait very long, I think we booked the same day or next day that we became aware. We were able to book 2 single inside (no port hole/window) staterooms on the second sailing January 11-17 out of Miami to Honduras, Belize, and Mexico then back to Miami. As it turned out, the promoters had difficulty filling the second ship, and offered discounts. To mollify us, we got a US$50 discount on our bills, and something else, swag or a minor event of some kind.

Air from YUL to MIA and hotel on Miami Beach 2 nights before cruise

We had the luxury of booking far in advance. We got a good price (C$580 return Montreal YUL – Miami MIA) on air, and allowing for winter weather on the East coast near the Atlantic, decided to book rooms on Miami Beach at the Four Points by Sheraton US$200/night, so we would arrive on January 9, 2 days before our cruise was to depart January 11.

Ubers

We took lots of Ubers in Miami – about US$180 worth during 2 days at beginning and 1 day at end of trip, and worth every penny – fast, easy, cheap. Between Google Maps and Uber, it is easy to hit the ground anywhere and find a good local craft beer.

As travelers, my brother Don and I had 5 objectives:

  • Maximize participation in Comiccon setting and events on boat, especially by attending second-tier events like script read-throughs and small skits throughout the day, especially during the days at sea.
  • Maximize premium experiences on ship ie try to eat in main dining room on ship every night, try to attend main show in theater each night. We ate in the main dining room and the main café, not the specialty restaurants. We did order wine and drinks from time to time.
  • Visit each port, and go on on at least one excursion, which we did.
  • Sign up for paid extra activities on the ship. We signed up for a ship kitchen and environmental systems tour, a Klingon pub crawl between 3 bars on board, led in song by Gowron himself, and a wine tasting led by Damar, who on earth poses as a super-relaxed rich guy from Northern California who now grows wine with his wife but was a Cardassian on Star Trek.
  • Find a way to salvage the last day in Miami – after disembarking the ship with our luggage, without a hotel, no locker system at the port, and a flight in the early evening.

Tuesday 9

My brother and I decided to book rooms on Miami Beach at the Four Points by Sheraton US$200/night, so we would arrive on January 9, 2 days before our cruise was to depart January 11. We got to see Miami Beach, eat at the outside bar and grill of the Fontainebleau (it’s in a James Bond movie called Goldfinger). About 2 days after we had booked our hotel, the promoters announced a US$200 rate for the airport Hilton in Miami. We chose to stick with our original plans in case there would be too much competition to get from the airport hotel to the seaport at the same time the morning of the cruise.

Lynwood, craft beer

We took an Uber to the Lynwood to eat and drink at a craft beer hall called the Butcher Shop. The meal was simple – Bratwurst on a pretzel bun with fries. Nice takes on ambers and American ale, I did not try darker Belgian styles or whit beers.

Wednesday 10

Bay of Pigs Museum, Little Havana, craft beer

We visited the regimental museum of the veterans of the Bay of Pigs, then paid a visit the Union Beer Store in Little Havana. In between we walked through the real Little Havana, with its stores and shops.

Thursday 11

Seaport

On January 11, we took an Uber to the seaport, and we were lucky to have Googled in advance that we wanted to be at Terminal D. We got off very close to the processing center, which was like a cross between a hotel checkin desk asking for photo ID like passport and issuing a ship ID card, and a private sector TSA with mags, wands, and xray of bags. Bag attendants in port took care of luggage, but hustled for tips – just like Vegas, have a stack of one and five dollar bills on hand.

We got on the ship by 1200, but staterooms were only ready around 1300. We had a drink, but declined a $20 ceramic Tiki mug as an upsell on the drink. As seasoned cruise ships travelers (ie one short cruise from Vancouver to Alaska in 2014) we were both already comfortable with cruise ship life.

My brother and I made a friend while sitting in the dining room, listening to safety drill information. Our friend Tracy joined us for dinner in the dining most nights of the cruise.

The single inside staterooms (US$2200 for 6 nights cruise) were small but well-designed, and each complete with all of the facilities of a good hotel room, including bathroom, minibar, a small table, a double bed (or perhaps 2 single beds pushed together) and a good TV. Nice design, art, and mirrors, easy to forget no windows to the outside world. I was content in a small stateroom by myself for the sleeping time between after late show snack and breakfast in cafe. However, if I had to share a stateroom with a second person, even in the context of a relationship, I would opt for a bigger place with windows and a balcony and more personal space per person.

Italics in this post identify text copied directly from my brother’s blog post on the subject. Don’s blog post is so complete it made more sense to reproduce portions of it whole within the timeline below.

The first evening’s show

  • Michael Dorn introduced Levar Burton, who read a children’s book he’d written, as well as an essay he’d written.
  • Later when he introduced René Auberjonois and Nana Visitor, one of Michael Dorn’s quotes was “you’d still be clapping even if I were reading from the phone book” — a comment I found fascinating, and which followed me and the shows I saw all week long, since so many of the shows were NOT Star Trek related at all beyond the actors starring in them, but were still rather entertaining.
  • René Auberjonois and Nana Visitor reading various humourous quotes and a scene from DS9.

Friday 12

  • Photo op with George Takei (basically, 15 seconds with Mr. Takei)
  • Star Trek’s Script Secrets Revealed with Lolita Fatjo.  Interesting points:  Star Trek The Next Generation had an open invitation for the public to submit scripts, virtually unique in the TV world.  And, at 10AM, people were ordering noisy-to-make margeritas.
  • Scopes Monkey Trial with John de Lancie, Ethan Phillips, and Robert Picardo.  As I recall, Mrs. de Lancie, René Auberjonois and Jeffrey Combs participated as well, and three people from the passengers, one of whom one who was a dead ringer for Col. Sanders of chicken fame, who also dressed the part.  The show was a dramatic reading / stage play based on the Scopes Monkey Trial in 1925 in Tennessee.
  • T-shirt party with DJ Needles:  Basically, a pool party on the pool deck offering free punch and carbonated barley water (oops, I think they called it Budweiser and Coors Light) to all those wearing the cruise T-shirt.
  • [snip]
  • Interstellar Improv: An episodic overdub with Denise Crosby and Friends (René Auberjonois and Robert Picardo) — a really dumb show with the three of them ad-libbing dumb comments to a silent viewing of “And the Children Shall Lead,” including some shady comments about Captain Kirk.  (Ahem, NOT along the lines of “Spock is better!”)

Saturday 13

Roatan, Honduras

  • Roatan, Honduras (suffice it to say that beyond the small and minimal but adequate tourist zone, we turned back within minutes, disappointed in the overly ferocious solicitation by the locals);
  • A Visit to Original Trek with Gates McFadden and Jonathan Frakes (and Picardo, Philipps, Auberjonois, de Lancie, Mrs. de Lancie).  Reading the script to “The Trouble with the Tribbles” — Hilarious!  And, having had a good amount of time on my hands, I had showed up about 50 minutes early to get a good seat.  Good call, it was an overflow crowd!
  • Gow-Rom:  A skit and then Q&A with Gowron (Robert O’Reilly) and Rom (Max Grodenchik) — in full costume and makeup, and during the first part, in character!
  • In Search of Lost Time:  Brent Spiner performing Broadway hits.  As it turns out, despite having know about “Ol’ Yellow Eyes is Back”, I learned that Brent Spiner is actually a decent singer!

Sunday 14

  • Harvest Caye, Belize, a private island owned by NCL best described as Gilligan’s Island run by Mr. Howell for tourists (yes, I am aware of “The Castaways” Resort);
  • Star Trek Squares, with George Takei as the centre square, and a Gorn with (intentionally) unintelligible speech.

Monday 15

  • Costa Maya, Mexico, with a large tourist zone.
  • Notes on the visit to the Mayan ruins:  The guide was excellent, and at least trilingual (she spoke French with me, to my pleasant surprise).  I learned that in a very flat area, not only were the ruins all built by volunteer labour (trying to get more “points” to get to the Mayan equivalent of Heaven), but also a low mountain!
  • Star Trek Online presents Gameshow Night:  The Liar’s Club with Jeffrey Combs, Phil Plait and Robb Pearlmann
  • Evening with George Takei:  George Takei spent an hour recounting his experiences in a WWII Japanese-American internment camp as a child, his path to becoming an actor, and as a civil rights activist both surrounding the Japanese-American internment camps as well as LGBT rights.

Tuesday 16

  • Behind the Scenes Tour:  A two hour walking tour of the ship in areas such as waste disposal, laundry, galley, and other areas, where passengers normally don’t get to see anything.
  • Klingon Pub Crawl:  A pub crawl to three of the ship’s bars led by Chancellor Gowron (Robert O’Reilly) in full costume and makeup.  As a part of his act, Gowron told two great dumb jokes, feigning a lack of understanding of the humour:
    • Two cannibals are eating supper.  One says, “I don’t care for my mother-in-law.”  The other responds, “Try the potatoes”.
    • Two cannibals are dining on a clown.  One says, “Does this taste funny to you?”
  • (Second half of) The “Women’s” View with Mrs. de Lancie, Nana Visitor, Denise Crosby, Lolita Fatjo
  • Oh My!  With George Takei, hosted by Brad Takei — Q&A with George Takei
  • Wine Tasting with Casey Biggs:  As it turns out, Casey Biggs, who played Damar on DS9, owns a vineyard in California, and is involved in making his wine!
  • The Real Life Search for Planet Vulcan, a short presentation on Mercury’s orbit, which at times fooled historic astronomers into claiming to have found another planet in close orbit to the Sun.
  • “BFF” with Robert Picardo and Jordan Bennet.  A show starting off with the Star Trek theme lyrics sung, and a cute set of jokes, stories and slides, but which ultimately featured a ho-hum performance by Robert Picardo and Jordan Bennet with a string of recognizable songs that (armchair critic here) could have been sung better, and which had little if any discernable link to each other, the show overall, Picardo and Bennet, and obviously Star Trek in general, and which left me scratching my head as to why they were included beyond a desire to fill up a one hour time slot.

Wednesday 17

My dear friend Dale happened to be in Miami for a conference and graciously let us keep our luggage in his hotel room, then gave us a tour of the funky side of Miami Beach and Lincoln Road.

We then took an Uber to the airport and flew home.

 

 

A WordPress tip: enabling links under Categories

In theory, if you tag posts in your blog by category, those category titles should be offered as links that show a search list of matching posts, on the blog’s main page, in a section labeled “Categories.”

It turns out that, in order for this to actually work, you must first enter values under Settings | Optional | “Category base” and “Tag base” as below. Note I chose to use the value “categories” rather than the suggested value “topic” for both fields. Entering values in these fields will result in the links under Categories displaying a correct listing of the posts in each category:

Inline image 1

New VPS: remember the swap file

Recently, I activated a very small VPS: 512MB RAM, 20GB SSD drive space. It ran WordPress well under Fedora 27. However, I encountered a problem with DNF refusing to update, exiting with a kernel panic on the executable.

Turns out that a virtual server image with minimal OS config can be born without a swap file. I found this link to be useful (note that for this subsystem Fedora 27 is close enough to CentOS 7, which itself is Fedora 19):

https://www.digitalocean.com/community/tutorials/how-to-add-swap-on-centos-7

 

Star Trek cruise 2018: the pictures

A detailed post will follow with some of my thoughts about the cruise, an adventure just concluded with my brother starting in Miami, a ship full of Star Trek celebrities and fans, ports of call in Honduras, Belize, and Mexico, and stuff that happened in a comiccon setting during days at sea. Also, my brother and I met a new friend, Tracy — a fellow fan and person with whom we shared our table in the dining room on the ship.

For now, I offer a link to a gallery of trip photos:

http://www.gordonbuchan.com/pics/startrekcruise2018

Note the controls at the bottom for navigation and slide show, and that you can touch left and right on the image to move, well, left and right.

 

Self-sufficiency in web hosting: over the years

Although my experience with web hosting servers goes back two decades, I have recently stopped hosting content for others, and no longer maintain DNS or email server infrastructure.

Given the trends of consolidation and cloud, what are the best practices to manage a digital footprint at the beginning of 2018? There are 4 fundamentals: domain registrar, dns server, email server, and web server. For bonus points, a test server.

Here is what I did, which is a strategy that would be suitable for a small business or personal presence on the Internet, or for a startup up to 10 or 20 people.

Domain registrar

I purchased the domain on which this is hosted from godaddy.com

DNS server

GoDaddy offers a terrific DNS control panel built-in — I encourage people to use it rather than giving up control of their DNS to a hosting ISP.

email server

A colleague continues to maintain an email server, and has been gracious enough to host my email. I would suggest outsourcing your email to a boutique ISP like integrationm.com, or a service like Gmail for Business.

web server

What works for me:

I leased a small Virtual Private Server (VPS) from Digital Ocean running Fedora Linux, and have configured it to host a few websites, including my personal blog using WordPress, and some vacation photos. Some people might want a server with cPanel in order to manage the server.

What you should consider as a hosted option:

Get a WordPress blog from a boutique ISP like integrationm.com or wordpress.com, or if you need a builder and commerce capabilities, squarespace.com to host the www.domain.com and domain.com for your site. Do not give the ISP control of your DNS, just ask them for the IP address and point to the hosts using your DNS control panel.

Test server

I have a test server at home, a Vista-class 64 bit dual core with 4GB RAM and a small SSD for the operating system, and a few big usb external drives formatted with ext4 and ntfs partions, running Fedora 27. I can supplement the limited resources of a very small VPS package by mounting, over the WAN, the file system on my home test server. Some of this can of course be done as a network mount like xfs or smb (windows style) over a VPN link. However, an even cleaner yet still secure approach is sshfs remote file system mount, which I predict will make many VPN setups redundant or greatly simplified in the future.

We may live in the age of the cloud but there is still room for individual expression and self-sufficiency. It’s never too late to reformat a piece of junk as a home test server.

 

New domain, VPS, blog, and test server

This blog is my way of posting relatively uncontroversial information, like technical articles about Linux, or vacation photos. There have been times where a Google search helped me find a blog article written by somebody in 2012 that helped me fix a technical problem. I hope to pay it forward by creating similar articles myself.

Although I work as a system administrator, I have only recently renovated my personal digital presence, with a domain, a Virtual Private Server (VPS), and now this blog. I plan to follow my brother’s example in terms of blog posting, except that I plan to keep the blog hosted on the VPS rather than on bare metal running at home.

My test server at home can run of course run Linux/Apache/MySQL/MariaDB/PHP (LAMP) sites, but it is mostly a home media server and VPN server. In the next few days I will be posting about my test server and recent experiments with OpenVPN on my home network — making home resources available remotely via a VPN client, or acting as a network gateway to other computers on the network. There have been many howtos, some excellent but out of date. I will share my adaptation of another person’s suggested procedure, along with corrections and additions.

If you stick around for a few weeks, you might even see pictures of Star Trek stuff.