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2017-07-19 08:13 pm
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Hurley on the ACA

Kameron Hurley has written an excellent piece on the current ACA mess, probably best considered as a companion to her essay on suviving without healthcare, which contains the following sobering conversation:

If we save the ACA I keep my "in case I'm laid off/fired" healthcare safety net. If we save ACA I could be a full-time writer someday. If we don’t save ACA and I lose my job for any reason, I’ll probably die. Meds are $1500 a month to keep me alive (not counting premiums).

When I went to pick up my latest round of meds and the pharmacy tech asked if I knew the bill ($500) I said "Oh yes. But I’ll die without them. So they kind of have me over a barrel."

And she said, "I guess I would die, then. That’s more than I make in a week."

Makes you realise why socialised medical schemes like the NHS are worth fighting for; why they're as popular as they are once they're implemented; and just what we've got to lose if they disappear...

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2017-07-16 10:45 pm
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Another quiz victory

Another victory for our team at in the Puerto Lounge quiz. Normally, I'm quite happy to let other people answer the questions and only chip in when no-one else has an idea (or when they're wrong!) This week there were a couple of obscure rounds, so I went ahead and crushed them — in some cases, I was able to write down the answer before the end of the question. Sadly, this rather did for my usual pretense of being a monkey of moderate intelligence — because if TV has taught us anything, it is that super-intelligent monkeys, with or without their electronium hats, inspire nothing but bad feeling! At one point, A said, "I don't know about the rest of you, but he's making me feel deeply inadequate..." And B, who I don't know terribly well said, "So, what do you do? Apart from being a professional quiz hustler..."
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2017-07-15 11:40 am
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Seventy-seventh parkrun

A change to the course this week, following last week's kerfuffle, to take us down through the flood channel and back up before joining the main path, avoiding the worst of the narrowed section in the process. Having started a long way back, I put in a very slow first kilometre, a modest second one, and three very fast ones to finish, pulling back enough time to finish in 20:46. Not bad given that I stood around for a good 15 seconds after the whistle went, waiting for people to start moving. Rather than waiting around at the finish, I ran to the climbing centre, got myself scanned, ran back to the finish and then headed off along the footpath on the eastern side of the canal, and round to bridge over the river. On the other side, I met up with D, who was marshalling, around the same time as the tail runner was coming through. I helped to pick up the signs and we walked back to the start — the other volunteers thought it was pretty funny that I'd finished the 5K and then run the course again — where I got the inside story on the course alteration.
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2017-07-14 08:56 pm
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Chamonix Lead World Cup

I've been watching the lead climbing from Chamonix over the last couple of days — like everyone, I was a bit thrown by the mid-week schedule — and the results have been interesting. The general feeling seems to be that the qualifier routes were a bit odd, with lots of people falling at the same point. Some very strong climbers failed to make it through in the men's competition — I really feel for Sebastian Hallenke, who was distraught after slipping off a very chalky sloper fairly low down — and in the women's comp, only Janja Gambret topped the route. The men's final started slightly oddly, with the first climber out topping the route, followed by three more tops, with the competitors differentiated on time — I think they were drawn on count back to previous rounds. Likewise the women's route saw three tops, with Anak Verhoeven saying that she felt the route wasn't really hard enough to challenge the athletes — which, given her amazing performance in the European Championships, isn't much of a surprise...
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2017-07-10 09:09 pm

The Geek Feminist Revolution

Today's featured book is Kameron Hurley's engaging essay collection The Geek Feminist Revolution. Originally a series of articles and blog posts, a number of which have taken on a life of their own, the collection draws them together and puts them alongside other pieces which address similar issues. The tone is impassioned and polemical, rather than dry, closely argued philosophy, Hurley focuses on the person and political, challenging the reader to examine their own preconceptions and privileges.

The book starts with an excellent overview of the nature of writing and eviscerates some of the most common myths — such as the notion that talent is a sufficient condition for success; hell, in some cases, it doesn't even seem to be a necessary one! The second part delves into culture — mostly geek culture — and skilfully takes it apart, often from a feminist perspective, to show its inbuilt assumptions and biases. Hurley's essay on the first series of True Detective, focusing not on the supernatural but on what makes the lead characters monsters, is particularly good — and particularly disturbing, given that much of the perspective comes from first hand experience.

The last two sections of the book deal with the wider world — the justifiably famous and deeply horrifying The Horror Novel You’ll Never Have to Live: Surviving Without Health Insurance should be required reading for politicians of every stripe. The final section, which focuses on revolution and change picks apart moments in history and, although the ideas may not be original — the notion that default views are not apolitical reminds me of, I think, Felix Holt where being a Tory is considered to be apolitical! — they're expressed with clarity and an enjoyable sense of brio.

If the collection has a weakness, it is that all the pieces were originally written as standalone articles. Thus they include slightly more throat-clearing than usual, with Hurley setting out various facts that we've just read about in the previous essay. But that's a minor quibble with a easy solution: simple spread out the essays rather than reading them in one sitting, or dip into them out of order.

(As an aside, I particularly like the llama on the cover which, amusingly, appears to be a slightly modified version of the one the cover Schwartz and Christiansen's Learning Perl. My copy, now 20+ years old, notes that this particular llama comes from a 19th century engraving in the Dover Pictorial Archive, perhaps explaining how it came feature on both covers)
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2017-07-09 10:30 pm
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Wiktory at the Puerto Lounge

For the second week in a row, we have managed to win the Sunday night quiz at the Puerto Lounge. We performed well through out, greatly helped by the presence of two team members who knew a lot about tennis.

But what really clinched it was the final round, which featured two sets of four questions which link together to give answers to the fifth and tenth questions which count for six points each. Yesterday, we managed to get both sets of links, dropping only question in the second set. In general, I enjoy these sorts of connected rounds — last week there was a one where each question formed a chain, with the tail of the answer to the previous question starting the next — because they're very like crosswords, where you can work out the answers even if you're not sure what they mean.

I'm not sure we're going to compete next week — some of the other team members are doing a triathlon — but I'm sure we'll be back in the not too distant future...
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2017-07-08 11:00 am
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Seventy-sixth parkrun

Pleasantly gentle run this morning coming in 25th and in 20:18 — not bad, considering the heat. But with the warm weather and with the path still narrowed due to the on-going flood defence work, there have been more problems than usual with contention on the shared pathway.

The section around the start is particularly problematic. Not do a large group of people start at the same time, but they funnel through a narrow section between two temporary chainlink barriers which connects the canal path to the start of the divided bike-and-pedestrian path that runs along the edge of the flood channel. The path is supposedly temporary, although it's been there for almost a year, and consequently it's made of packed but uneven unmetalled aggregate, giving it a worryingly undercertain feel under foot and tire.

Even at the best of times, the rights of way across the path are unclear — although D says it explicitly isn't part of the cycle path. It's always hard to navigate, with pedestrians walking on either side as if it were completely pedestrianised, some cyclists sticking to the left as though they were on the road, and others sticking to the side that matches the cycle part of the divided path that runs along the channel.

Usually people — both runners and cyclists — slow down and make their intentions clear when they approach, making collision avoidance easier. But every so often, as just after the start of this morning's parkrun, you get a someone — in this case a cyclist riding in north-west against the general flow — who just bowls on through.

You'd think common sense, along with the notions of self-preservation and of decency towards one's fellow path users, would suggest giving way but obviously not in some cases. And as for the person who, a few weeks ago, was trying to ride a motor scooter along a later section of what is clearly marked as a pedestrian path, the less said the better!

Granted it's annoying to have to give way to other people, but it's one of the most fundamental aspects of living a civilised existence that you cannot always do exactly what you want, when you want, and damn the consequences. As Robert Nozick says somewhere: your right to swing your fist ends where it intersects with my face.
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2017-07-07 08:00 pm
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Janáček's Glagolitic Mass

A little while ago, I heard the Slava from Leoš Janáček's Glagolitic Mass on R3 Breakfast and was utterly smitten. I think it was a combination of the dazzling solo singing and dazzling last bars of the section where the shouts of amen! from the chorus alternate with great outbursts sounds from the orchestral brass and the organ that really got me.

It turned out that the recording I liked so much was from Norway: Ed Gardner and the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra. The quartet of soloists were every bit as top notch — Sara Jacubiak, Susan Bickley, Stuart Skelton, and Gábor Bretz — with Thomas Trotter adding sparkle via the obligato organ part. (The sound blend is superb despite, or maybe even because, the orchestra and choir were recorded in Grieghallen while Trotter was recorded separately in Bergen Cathedral)

The couplings on the recording are also well worth having: Adagio for orchestra; and the choral pieces Zdrávas Maria and Otče náš. All in all, a delightful discovery; although not, I'm sure, for my neighbours...
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2017-07-06 09:49 pm

A Talent for Murder

Seamlessly blending fact and fiction, Andrew Wilson's A Talent for Murder takes Agatha Christie's notorious disappearance in December 1926 and turns it into something rather more sinister.

Struggling with The Mystery of Blue Train and with her marriage to Archie in trouble, Agatha Christie finds herself targeted by a particularly unpleasant and intelligent blackmailer. The man, a keen fan of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, uses the threat of publicity to force Agatha to engineer her own disappearance. He has her drive to Newlands Corner, where he forces her to abandon her car, before arranging for her to travel to Harrogate. Here he plans to have Agatha use her cunning writer's mind to come up with a foolproof way to murder his estranged wife.

Meanwhile, back in Surrey, the disappearance of Agatha Christie has caught the attention of the local police, with Superintendent William Kenward, the Deputy Chief Constable, taking charge of the search. From the first, Kenward comes across as an old school copper sadly out of his depth. He devotes increasing amounts of time and effort to having the surroundings of Newlands Corner and the Silent Pool search, taking the edge off his doubts with nips from the bottle of scotch he keeps in his bottom draw.

Rather more successful is Una Crowe, daughter of the diplomate Sir Eyre Crowe, who takes it into her head to use the Christie Mystery to build a journalistic reputation for herself. Aided somewhat by her great friend John Davison, who is something spooking in the Foreign Office, Crowe throws herself into events, taking to Archie Christie, Nancy Neele, Superintendent Kenward, anyone who has the slightest inking of the case. Unfortunately, her persistance starts to pay off, putting her in terrible danger when she starts to close in on the puppetmaster.

A Talent for Murder pulls off the neat trick of taking a set of lightly sketched historical events and building a full-on psychological mystery out of them.

Wilson's fictional Agatha is an engaging lead, whose detailed knowledge of poisons and ability to plot are highly prized by her blackmailer; as notes on a couple of occasions: there's something slightly odd about someone who seems so outwardly normal but whose mind can imagine one involved murder after another. Una Crowe also comes across well; an ingenious young woman, finally coming out of the depression that has captured her following the death of her father, with a tendency to sail to close to the wind. Her friendship with Davison — Una drops plenty of hints that Davison is gay in an era when it was illegal — is nicely done, with Wilson resisting the temptation to make Davison the Spy a deus ex machina.

Enjoyable stuff and best still, the book ends with an extract from the next novel in the series which presumably follows Agatha Christie as she travels to Las Palmas in January 1927...
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2017-07-05 06:50 pm

River of Teeth

A fun one, in the form of Sarah Gailey's River of Teeth. Gailey takes a quirk of history — a tight vote on whether to introduce hippopotami to the Mississippi River — and turns it the other way, imagining an alternate version of Louisiana — complete with a large man-made lake called the Harriet — were breeding hippos for meat is quite the thing. But even the best plans have flaws and now the Harriet is bung full of dangerous feral megafauna, making it well past time the government hired a group of outlaws and assassins and hoppers to deal with the problem once and for all. And if the solution comes with a solid side-order of revenge, so much the better.

Winslow Remmington Houndstooth can't believe his luck when the government hires him to carry out an operation to clear the Harriet. Along with the money, comes a list of people to hire for the caper: Regina Archambault, con-artiste extraordinaire, and her albino hippo Rosa; Hero Shackleby, a retired explosives expert willing to take on one last job, and Abigail, their Standard Grey; the deadly Adelia Reyes, the best headhunter in the country, and Zahra and Stacia, her pair of hops; and last and least, Cal Hotchkiss, fast with his pistols but prone to cheating at cards, and his Betsy, his Tuscan Brown.

Houndstooth's plan is simple. The crew are to travel up river and through the Gate into the Harriet, using their federal papers to get them past the guards. Once in the lake, they'll use a carefully tailored chain of explosives laid out by Hero to herd the feral hops towards the Gate, which they'll have opened, allowing the ferals through into the gulf and thus fulfilling their contract in on simple operation. Trouble is, practically everything about the caper goes wrong from the get-go, and Houndstooth and his people find themselves far too close to the villain of the piece.

If River of Teeth sounds a bit like a Western with hippos instead of horses, that ain't too far from the truth. The cast is to die for, with both the humans and the hippos feeling like well-rounded and complicated characters, while the setting is well-imagined and vivid, with a wonderful sense of detail — if you overlook the craziness of people riding through swamps on hippos!
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2017-07-04 09:11 pm

The Big Four

Something quick and easy in the shape of The Big Four by Agatha Christie. Essentially a set of linked short stories set in the late 1920s, the overarching narrative follows Poirot and Hastings as they pit their wits and strength against the titular group of international criminal masterminds. Of the group, the member most often encountered is the fourth; nicknamed the destroyer, he is a ruthless assassin with a chameleon-like ability to take almost any role without risk of detection.

The early stories involve Poirot and Hastings trying to ferret out information about the different members of the group. Although they sometime fall into the traps set for them by the gang, each time Poirot emerges with more information about the people behind the Big Four. Eventually the group start to take more serious measures, culminating in a bombing which appears to leave Poirot dead. (It's not much of a spoiler to say that he isn't dead: after all, Christie carried on publishing books about him well into the 1960s and 70s) Finally, with Hastings help, Poirot — and his brother Achille — start to tighten the noose around the Big Four.

The episodes are more like a spy thriller than a detective story, with Poirot taking an uncharacteristically active role in events. Perhaps this explains why he makes quite so many errors of judgement! Hastings is as dimly charming as ever. When the duo turn up a briefing note the Big Four have prepared about them, Hastings completely fails to see their accuracy: despite having just fallen into a trap baited with a pretty young woman with red hair, he claims to Poirot that there isn't the slightest bit of truth in set of documents which detail precisely this weakness!

Entertaining, if undemanding, stuff...
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2017-07-02 10:45 am

Final Girls

Another modest sized piece of dark fiction from Seanan McGuire, this time writing as her alter-ego Mira Grant. Final Girls follows science journalist Esther Hoffman as she takes a close look at Dr Jennifer Webb's clinic which claims to be able to cure all types of trauma. Hoffman has a reputation as a sceptic and debunker of pseudo-science, but this is precisely why Dr Webb is so interested in converting her: if she can publicly convert someone as critical as Esther, she can convince the rest of the world.

The opening section of the story makes light work of the scene setting. After being treated to a classic horror scenario, a pair of siblings fleeing from a halloween monster, we drop back into reality and make our first acquaintance with both Hoffman and Webb. Dr Webb is polished and convincing, although Hoffman is wise enough to recognise that she's clearly been coached. Meeting the sisters who underwent the horror story simulation and recognising that their relationship has changed fundamentally, Hoffman agrees to try out the therapy system for herself.

Suddenly Esther finds herself 13 years old again and attending a new school after her father moved them from California to Massachusetts following her mother's death. Esther is worried that she doesn't know anyone, but she immediately meets one of her neighbours, a girl called Jennifer, and two strike up an immediate and friendship. Time jumps along and the pair are 16 and inseparable friends, making their own way through life, standing together against the bullies of the school's in-crowd. So far, so in keeping with the scenario that Dr Jennifer Webb has devised to help generate a bond between herself and Esther Hoffman.

But this being Mira Grant, the story twists and events suddenly rush out of control, careering off into something much darker than the original scenario. Given that the VR system is intended to tap into the users' subconscious, drawing on their dream states in a way that can be guided by the technicians and therapists monitoring the session, and given that Webb's core idea is that patients benefit most from horror story survival narratives, it's pretty obvious that things aren't exactly going to go well for the duo currently caught up in a shared nightmare.

Despite its relative brevity, Final Girls is an extremely successful, focused piece of horror fiction which features a couple of nice turns which put events on a new path. The lead characters are extremely well done and although Jennifer Webb has more than a touch of mad scientist about her, it's implied that it is more a consequence of her extreme drive than any active desire to cause harm, and maybe the shared therapy session is exactly what she needs. Esther, though damaged by what happened to her father, is clear-sighted enough to understand how it affects her and to use it to drive her highly successful career, despite seeing herself as the only layperson on her publication.

The minor characters are very much sketches but this is something that Grant is clearly aware of, given that Esther notices — but is encouraged by the drugs to disregard — much the same thing during her VR session, with none of her other classmates seeming to burn as brightly as Jennifer and herself. Even the motivations of the ultimate antagonist remain hazy, but this actually feels like a strength: the story isn't about them and allowing them to remain hidden allows the reader to ascribe their own motivations, making them as villainous or venal as they choose to believe.

Also intriguing is the way the story juxtaposes the notion of recovered memory with Dr Webb's more scientific method of reprogramming. In Esther's early encounter with the Nappe sisters, she identifies what she thinks are deep-seated flashes of doubt in the sister's expressions; because, however much they've chosen to change themselves, there's no denying they are no longer, post-therapy, the people they were before, regardless of whether the change has been for better or worse. And the fact that the sisters have gone through such a radical chance underscores Esther's concern that the system could be used for full-on brainwashing; something underscored by Dr Webb's extremely ethically dubious decision to use her treatment system to make Esther like her — a decision that is somewhat tempered by the doctor's own presence in the VR system, her acknowledgement that the influence is only going to be slight, and the fact that it will be mutual, with both participants being changed by it.

In summary, then, Final Girls is a dark delight: a clever central conceit, a pair of excellent lead characters, and a strong setting underpinned by some intriguing ideas. Excellent stuff.
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2017-07-01 12:02 pm
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Seventy-fifth parkrun

Good, solid run this morning, finishing 14 out of 294 in a slightly frustrating time of 20:01. On the home straight, heading into the wind, I paced with a couple of other guys and while I thought I could probably accelerate a bit, I wasn't sure what they wanted to do and didn't want to get in the way. When the path widened, I moved out and back to give them room to get by and really speed up if they wanted to; but they both indicated that they were fine with things as they were, so I crammed on a bit of speed and caught up the person in front. When we finished I shook hands with them and the person who'd been behind me said, "Thanks for opening to door to let me pass, but when I knocked on it, nobody was there to answer it!"

I obviously hadn't given it my all because I was able to run down to the climbing centre, get myself scanned, and then run on to D&P's place round the corner for tea. Just before setting out, I'd had a couple of texts from D to say that she'd found a stray dog — not quite stray, because it had tags, but it'd obviously been living round the side of one of her neighbour's houses for a little while — and was waiting for the dog warden, and wasn't sure whether she was going to make it. I promised to drop in afterwards and, when I didn't see her at the start, I decided that she'd probably been tired up with dog stuff.

Sure enough, the warden had found a gap in his schedule that precisely matched parkrun and had come round to pick up the missing dog. At the time, neither of them had been able to get through to the number on the tag but when I was there, the person called D back and she passed the message on to the dog warden. Hopefully that means that by now the pooch has been reunited with her owner...
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2017-06-30 07:15 pm

Down Among the Sticks and Bones

I was always going to love Seanan McGuire's Down Among the Sticks and Bones; what I didn't realise was quite how spectacularly good it was going and quite how much I was going to love it. Sharing a continuity with Every Heart a Doorway, which really ought to be read first, McGuire's latest has a very, very different tone, channelling the spirit of every horror movie and gothic novel into a pitch-perfect but deeply subversive take on the genre.

When Chester and Serena Wolcott decide to have children, they know in advance exactly how their offspring are going to turn out: practically perfect in every way. So determined are they that the force their poor little twins, Jacqueline and Jillian — never to be referred to as Jack and Jill — into neat little straightjackets: Jacqueline is put in over-the-top dresses and admonished to keep herself clean, the better to impress Serena's friends; while Jillian is converted into a tomboy, all short hair and soccer practice, to help Chester win kudos with colleagues in his law firm.

Events take a turn when the girls discover stairs in a case of dressing-up things left behind by Chester's mother — the woman who babysat the two girls for the first years of their lives before being unceremoniously booted out by Chester, and who has now become a mere ghost of a memory of happiness to the twins. After talking each other into an adventure, the pair descend the stairs, finally finding themselves facing a door with an inscription carved above it: Be Sure. Despite being anything but sure, the two open the door and step through, only for it to vanish behind them.

Finding themselves in the brooding, menacing world of the Moors, they find a walled village where the local lord takes them in. After mentioning something about giving them sanctuary for three days — Jacqueline is astute enough to spot the tactic premise — the Master invites the twins to dinner where Jillian makes an apparently fateful choice of main course. Of such terrible, casual choices are the trajectories of lives forever altered in the world of the gothic and the girls find themselves parted: Jacqueline choosing to go and work with Dr Bleak, with Jillian remaining at the right hand of the Master.

The rest of the story follows the two twins as they grow up, one in a vampire's castle and the other in a mad scientist's laboratory, switching their outward roles, with Jack putting her dresses aside for men's clothes and heavy gloves and resurrections while Jill becomes a creature of swirly dresses and chokers and blood lettings.

The tone is, as already mentioned, absolutely spot-on — not all that surprising given Seanan McGuire's seemly boundless talents and vast knowledge of faery stories and gothic horror — combining a pinch of The Nightmare Before Christmas with a smidgen of The Corpse Bride and a whole host of imagination to produce something truly wonderful. The story is self-aware enough that Dr Bleak knows that he is only the hero because, as second villain to the Master, he is not a ravening monster.

Jack and Jill — and Jacqueline and Jillian — are beautifully drawn characters, damaged by their early life experiences at the hands of their appalling, emotionally abusive parents, who, when given the chance at freedom, seize it with both hands, even when their notions of freedom involve entail doing unspeakable things to corpses or joining the undead. It's also fascinating to the see the way the two, when freed from the expectations of their parents, more or less completely switch their gender presentation, but in way that never loses the true core elements of each of their personalities.

I've rather raved about Down Among the Sticks and Bones, but it really is that good. It's every bit as good as Every Heart a Doorway and that just won the 2017 Locus Award for best novella.

Although I'd imagine it'd work as a standalone story, it's probably best to read Every Heart first for an introduction to the characters — and to get familiar with the territory and to enjoy every slight slip the twins make in the first book when talking about their time in the Moors — and then wolf down the very different second story immediately after.
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2017-06-27 08:25 pm
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First steps with Nagios XI

An unexpectly productive day after one of my colleagues finished provisioning the new Nagios XI server and passed it over for configuration. After investigating the bulk import feature, I decided it would probably make more sense to recreate the hosts, groups, and services using the database.

Fortunately, thanks to the way the systems — with the exception of the Lustre appliance, which we didn't configure — were templated, it was a relatively simple task get everything defined and within a couple of hours, I had all the TDS monitoring up and running. Which, because the systems are almost indentical, means that all I need to do to duplicate the monitoring on the production systems is to duplicate the host entries. And while the are a lot of production nodes, it shouldn't be too formidable: we can either use the new ability to clone systems or possibly even create a custom wizard to set them up.

The process of mirroring the definitions over from the Lustre appliances — they run Icinga v1 under the covers — is likely to require more effort, but at the same time, it's also less urgent because the storage is already being monitored and because it requires me to re-write the code used to push alerts on to the XI server.
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2017-06-25 07:46 pm
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Bouldering from Mumbai

Having chanced to way up early this morning, I caught the livestream of qualification round of the bouldering world cup from Mumbai. The round was fascinating — it was good to see Katja Kadic doing well and to see Alexey Rubtsov making it through to finals. Shauna Coxey didn't look greatly troubled, picking up the overall competition win partway through — with Janja Gambret not competing, she only needed to finish 9th to clinch it — with Chon Jongwon looking very strong in the men's competition.

With the finals on at a reasonable time, I decided to watch the stream while defrosting the fridge — a task that has needed doing for quite some time. The results were spot on, with good separation between the clinmbers and the definitive result going right down to the wire in the best possible way — I've really warmed to the four minutes flat format — it makes the finish more exciting; it keeps everything to time; and it allows the setters to create problems with a moves that might have been used as rests in the old five plus format.
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2017-06-24 12:18 pm
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Seventy-fourth parkrun

With the others away this week — either on-call or at Glastonbury — and with E taking it easy after picking up a minor shoulder tweak, it was down to me to run solo. Happy, I bumped into FG at the briefing and we got talking about times and conditions and I said I was sure he'd make his target time of 20 minutes. As we made it to the start, I got talking to MB who was pacing 30 minutes, and didn't really worry too much about getting to the front.

Despite being cooler than last week, the humidity felt much higher and conditions weren't exactly ideal for a super-fast time, so I started gently and sped up towards the middle. As I hit the last klick, I started to catch up with F and we pulled each other along and I finished in 20:23 after confusing the total distance field on my watch with my current pace and suddenly cranking up the speed. Still finished 19th out of a field of 235 — much smaller than last week — and managed to get to the Quay quickly enough that I was only the second person to get my barcode scanned.
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2017-06-18 10:28 pm
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First barbeque of 2017

Making the most of the hot weather with a lovely Sunday evening barbeque. The dogs were a bit hyper — Blitzen became completely obsessed with a giant bag of giant marshmallows! — but there were no disasters and they didn't manage to swipe anyone's food.

With Glastonbury close on the horizon — D&P had just driven back from setting up their stuff ahead of the start of the event — we got to discussing festivals and, much to my relief, a couple of the others announced that they weren't really into them either. Someone said that they didn't like not having somewhere quiet to go and recover from grumpiness, hanger, hangover, whatever, and that festivals had all the downsides of camping with all the downsides of being somewhere really busy and noisy.

A said that she'd signed up for a deal a while ago where you could do up to six festivals for Oxfam over a summer and had put her name down for both Glastonbury and Reading. But what had seemed like a good idea before her first festival didn't seem quite so attractive afterwards and even while she was still at Glasto, she decided she wasn't a festival person and bought her way out of going to Reading!

I was tempted to ask whether the Proms or Glyndebourne fell within the meaning of the act. They both call themselves festivals, so surely they must be in...
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2017-06-17 12:01 pm
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Seventy-third parkrun

Back to Exeter this week for a warm morning run at Riverside. Having recovered from last week L was there without his canine running buddy, and, as a particularly pleasant surprise, P was there for his first run in a few months.

Despite having planned to start slow, my first kilometre came out quicker than expected and I decided, based on last week's evidence from Killerton that my normal pace is quite a long way off my fastest, to push on at more or less the same speed and to see where it got me. Rather to my surprise, it saw me finish in 19:42, enough to put me 11th out of a field of 301 people, and, when I checked my splits, I found my final kilometer had come it at around a 3:46 pace.

Despite being reasonably sure I'd done well, I didn't say much to the others except to confirm where I'd come — nobody likes a boaster! — and we adjourned round the corner for tea. Dash was very pleased to see me, especially since I'd missed her last week, and within seconds of me sitting down on the floor, she climbed all over me and generally asserted her claim of ownership. After a pleasant slice of morning, L's car parking expired and I got a lift home — carrying a punnet of home-grown raspberries! — obviating the need for my least favourite bit of parkrun: the uphill run back home.
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2017-06-10 07:30 pm
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Seventy-second parkrun

With D away on a pre-wedding event this morning, I hatched a plan to meet up with E and run at Killerton. And because dogs are allowed there, L decided to being Kira along for a spot of exercise. Once there, we discovered that JF was the week's run director — I subsequently discovered it was his first time and he said it was pretty stressful but got easier once everything was in motion — and lurked around at the start waiting for the off.

I didn't get going particularly cleanly: I forgot to start my watch and had to pause to unlock it before setting it off, so I decided to run the first kilometre or so with E. Once I started to feel warmed up, I began to crank the pace and started overtaking people. Unfortunately, the paths made it hard to pass people without being a total jerk about it, so I kept on varying my pace until we got to the lane at the mid-point, where I really accelerated.

I finished in a very slow 21:41 (my watch, which excluded the time I'd spent fussing about at the start, told me I'd finished in a bit over 21 minutes) but when I reviewed my lap times afterwards, I discovered that my pace over the back part of the course had been extremely fast indeed, which explains how I was able to claw quite so much time back and why I was still overtaking people right up to the finish.

Talking to L after the finish, I gathered that he'd had a tough time and his running partner hadn't been on her best behaviour. And as if to illustrate the point, she somehow managed to tear the attachment point off her harness and dash off towards another dog. L got her back under control very quickly — and the other dog-owner was very nice about it — but he decided he was too frazzled to stay.

E and I set ourselves up at one of the tables in the stable courtyard and settled down for tea. We were joined by a couple who were looking after a lovely little rescue terrier — they said she was some sort of staffie cross — for the weekend and had taken her round parkrun. They said they'd seen Kira — L said something about her growling at a terrier — but they too were very nice about the problems of having a rescue dog, especially when it's as large as a huskie.

Afterwards, we took a spin around the plant section of the NT shop to allow E to check out the dahlias — she was mainly interested in the various purple-shaded bishop cultivars, which she reckoned would suit her current planting scheme. With the weather still slightly overcast and uncertain, we called it a morning and headed home.