Long Time No See

Hello, world. It’s been a while, well over two years, since I last posted. No one missed me I’m sure. Quite a lot has changed in my life since that time. I’m still at Rackspace and still live in San Antonio. Since the last post the most major change in my life has been my “conversion” to the Eastern Orthodox Church. I’ll likely spend more posts on that later, but that’s not the major reason I’ve returned to posting.

My friend and I have embarked on trying out something new — changing the way we eat, and we decided to blog on our experiences with this pretty radical change. Back in the late spring/early summer, I saw an interview between the creator of something called “Soylent” (apparently purposefully named to invoke memories of Charlton Heston screaming, “soylent green is people!”). I won’t go long into what exactly it is, but do check out their website for more info: Soylent.

There are a few reasons I’m doing this. The biggest reason is that as a single guy living alone, it is like a part time job trying to make sure I shop, cook, and eat healthy — a part time job that I despise. It’s also surprisingly expensive. I imagine if you have a family and a well-stocked kitchen the costs scale better, but as a single person, it was almost working out to be more economical (when considering both money and time together, especially) to just get takeout all the time.  That leads into the next reason: my health and relationship to food has suffered over the last two years. I get blood tests through work a couple times a year and things like cholesterol, blood pressure, etc. are all starting to get to unhealthy levels. Additionally, of all the traditional “deadly sins”, gluttony is the one I am guilty of the most. I’m hoping that soylent will help me reset my relationship with food while also getting the nutrition I need from food.

So, that’s what’s up right now. My experiences will be forthcoming. Until next time!

One Year Later

I was doing some maintenance on my hosted stuff and realized it’s been just over one year exactly since I last updated. Much has happened in this last year, a lot of it just in the last few months.

The biggest thing that has happened is that I got a job at Rackspace in San Antonio, Texas. Not that I didn’t like my job at InMotion Hosting, I learned a lot there. I just had to get out of Virginia and really get started with my life. I had been trying to go back home to El Paso for a long time, but there just are no jobs there, at least no jobs that would pay enough for me to live on my own. I wanted my own place, I got tired of living with family and I’ve done the whole roommate thing. There was nothing that paid enough to continue living in Virginia Beach, for sure (not that I tried all that hard to look, I really hate that place).

From working at InMotion, I had heard of Rackspace. I had some customers move there because we at InMotion just didn’t have a setup that offered what they needed. Granted, they could have set it up themselves using a combination of our dedicated and VPS hosting, but they would have had to do it themselves and IMH just doesn’t have the flexibility of Rackspace Cloud offerings, especially the whole “hybrid” Rackconnect thing. The InMotion management also was doing some kind of “Advanced Hosting Support” initiative just before I left, and I remember hearing something about how they were doing it in order to compete better with the likes of Rackspace. So I just had to check out this Rackspace thing.

I found the Racker Talent site (http://www.rackertalent.com) and checked it out. It looked extremely enticing, and they were looking for Linux admins, so I submitted my resume. No lie, the very next day, I got an email back from one of the HR recruiters asking me about a good time for a phone screening. Within a week, I had a Rackspace-paid plane ticket to San Antonio and an in-person interview with my new managers here. It all happened blazingly fast, but I am so glad it did. I am loving San Antonio and being back in Texas. Sure, El Paso is at least an eight-hour drive away, but that’s better than 36 hours, and there’s nothing better than being back in the Lone Star State where I was born and raised. Working at Rackspace is not perfect (I challenge you to show me a workplace that is), but it’s a few light years ahead of InMotion technologically speaking. I’m learning a lot every day that I spend there, and loving every minute of it. I have awesome coworkers now that all my training and orientation stuff is out of the way I can finally get to know them.

The only downside is that I have absolutely no connections in San Antonio, so everything and everyone is brand new, but my fellow Rackers are all proving to be welcoming and helpful in the move and adjustment. There’s even a new Byzantine Catholic mission here that meets at UTSA — St. Anastasia the Great Martyr Byzantine Catholic Community — so I don’t have to miss out on our Divine Liturgy. If only we met every Sunday, but hey, it’s better than nothing. At least San Antonio has that over El Paso for me :-p

Well, now that I have all my stuff finally moved over to Rackspace Cloud Servers, all is good and we’ll see what the next year will bring.


A continuación

It’s been a long time since I’ve updated. Too much going on, and the blog is an afterthought, that’s all. Well, work is going fine. I decided to get away from the whole supervision thing and move back into a technical role. I’ll be starting my new system administrator position in a few weeks. It will still be 3rd shift, so I’ll still be off the rest of normal humanity’s time schedule. I’m pretty used to it, though. I’m excited about the role too as I’m not a great supervisor. Some aspects of supervising I admit I’m probably good at, but I don’t really like it, and I fail at other aspects. So, back to a technical role for me, and I like the idea. It will likely be at least a small pay cut, but different none of the supervision headaches. I’ll be responsible for me and my own production, that’s something of a relief.

On the technical side of things, I finally got the courage to root my T-Mobile MyTouch 3G yesterday. I replaced the stock OS with Cyanogenmod after seeing a presentation on it from a Linux geek’s podcast. It intrigued me. He made wild claims that it would improve the phone’s performance and battery life. I usually take such claims with a grain of salt, especially from the stereotypical Linux geek crowd. I love Linux and use it on my own computers as my desktop system of choice (lately I’m on Gentoo and loving it even more), but I think some of them go too far in bashing Windows/Mac/anything pre-installed on any device. I had to check it out though, especially after last month when I upgraded my phone’s OS with T-Mobile’s recommended Froyo update. That thing nearly turned into a paperweight. It became very slow just running even the basic stock apps like messaging. My contacts got all screwed up, I lost some and others were duplicated or “triplicated.” It was a mess. Even the screen lock function stopped working right. Some apps, like the venerable Opera Mini, would just crash in the middle of simple browsing. So, I figured, why not? I’ve had the phone a year now anyway. Yesterday after work, I got a new SD card to make into a “goldcard” to use for rooting the phone. After some frustration and lots of googling, I finally got it. Apparently, all of the older rooting exploits for my phone were patched up and made obsolete by the official update from T-Mobile that I applied about a month ago (the one that ruined my whole Android experience), so I had to dig pretty deep to find something that would root it now. Plenty of geniuses out there who have done it, though, and their instructions worked. I won’t link to them here because although they know what they’re talking about, I think they assume too much, and the average user would end up destroying their phone or giving up altogether. Though now that I’ve done it once, if you have a T-Mobile MyTouch 3G, I’ll be glad to help you out especially if you have the latest official update because I know your pain.

Anyway, Cyanogenmod truly saved my phone. It’s faster and far more responsive than it ever was even before T-Mobile’s update. Did I say fast? It blows me away now. You’d think I had a pentium processor in that thing. And the battery life is truly longer, no lie there. I left the wifi on all night and the thing is still going. With the stock OS, it would be dead by now. It’s also far more configurable and fun than the official OS. I highly recommend it for whatever smartphone you happen to have. You’ll actually enjoy the Android platform again.

Messing around with my phone is not all I’ve been doing since I last posted, though. I’ve picked up the piano again, and this time decided to throw on guitar as well. I don’t practice as much as I’d like, for sure, but I do get practice in throughout the week, and I think I’m even improving somewhat. It’s definitely a nice way to relax after work. I moved my piano into my bedroom a few weeks ago, and that has definitely helped me with practicing more. I’ve also been getting outdoors more. I got a beach cruiser from Target and have started riding it most days after work. I’ve discovered all kinds of things I never knew about the neighborhood. There are little (I mean little, seriously) cemeteries scattered throughout the neighborhood, obviously there from before the neighborhood was a suburban area full of ranch houses and apartments. There are also tiny city parks all around, too. Apparently there’s a little river somewhere between all these houses and these parks pop up at various spots in between and behind the houses to meet with it. Pretty neat. The last few days, though have been getting oppressively hot and humid, I’m not sure I’ll be able to keep up the morning rides throughout the summer. I might try changing to evening ones before work.

Out of the blue yesterday, one of my Chinese “aunts” called me up. Monday was apparently the Dragon Boat Festival (I hadn’t noticed, shame on me), and she’s making 粽子– “zongzi” the food that’s traditionally eaten for this festival. 粽子are “balls” of sticky rice with filling of meat, vegetables, eggs, etc. wrapped in bamboo leaves and steamed. So, so good. Monday morning after work I’ll be going over to her house to eat. I haven’t seen her in about a year and a half, so it will be good to catch up as well.

In the last bit of news, I’ve been “pre-selected” for jury duty in my hometown of El Paso. I haven’t been summoned yet, which is frustrating. I’d rather get summoned to go and get it over with. Now it’s like this thing hanging over my head that’s bound to pop up at the most inopportune moment and with little notice *sigh*.

A friend of mine that I met back in my time at ODU has a bunch of kittens. I’m really getting tempted to get one when they’re six weeks old. I miss my previous companion cat of 18 years. Not sure yet, though, if I’m really ready for another one. There are other things going on that might preclude my getting a new cat. It’s ok, I have about two to six months to consider it more thoroughly.

Well, that’s about all for now if you’re even reading this far! Until next time.

La Vida Sigue Igual

Yes, I’m shamelessly copying the title of a song by Julio Iglesias for this post :-D. It’s such a good song, and if you haven’t heard it, check it out here. If you don’t know Spanish, have Google translate the lyrics for you. I only wish people still made music like that today.

Anyway, I was promoted to 3rd shift supervisor where I work, and man, I inherited a mess. I’m trying to turn things around and improve operations on 3rd shift, and it’s a big job! Lucky for me, I have a good group of very smart and talented individuals under my “command,” only they are unmotivated and have gone long under-appreciated. I’m trying to turn all that around, and early signs are positive. They seem to be caring at least a little more and willing to learn more and do their jobs better. I’m pretty satisfied with their overall reaction to my taking over as supervisor; I just hope I’m not pushing too hard and burning anyone out (including myself).

I have been putting in 10+ hours a day at work analyzing things and organizing my “plan of attack” for 3rd shift operations. The last two weeks, I didn’t even take a real day off; I went in every night for at least a little while. There is so much to do…but at least my superiors and co-supervisors from the other shifts are very helpful and encouraging. It’s good to finally work at a place where the management is level-headed, realistic, and actually cares about doing a good job — in my experience, that’s rare. Even last night, I took off officially, but that just means I didn’t actually GO to work. Upon awaking at around one in the morning, I got on the computer and of course couldn’t help but to look at the workload from home…it wasn’t bad, though, and I ended up just staying at home and doing my thing.

I just hope my technical geek-side doesn’t stagnate now that my roles have changed at work, though I already see it happening. It’s ok, in this company, I’ve come to learn that they are very flexible, and with the desire, I could get back into a more technical position fairly quickly should I desire to. That might happen after I clean up and “optimize” the operations on 3rd shift, though. I want to do a good job and get things where they need to be there first…one step at a time.

Wish me luck, and off I go

Life is Good

I think it’s been more than a month since I last posted, and it has been a good month. I’m on a “high” today for LOTS of reasons…maybe I’ll get to some of them in this post.

As far as my personal life is concerned, the last month has been a month of tremendous transition. I’ve had to learn to live without my cat after 18 years. I was promoted at work, and may be promoted again in the next few days — “keep your eyes crossed” as one of my coworkers is fond of saying. My parish, after 20 years of only having a Saturday-evening vigil Liturgy started trying out  a real Sunday-morning Liturgy (as small as this may sound to outsiders, it is VERY big news and a very important change in our liturgical life). I’ve learned to appreciate the people in my life better and have rekindled some old relationships that have slid onto the back burner in my haste to reinvent myself professionally and get back on my feet financially after the whole phase as a business owner. For example, several weeks ago I had an awesome Southwestern dinner with some good friends from college. I visited the Vocation Director of the Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Phoenix to have a period of serious discussion and prayer concerning my future. For the first time in a long time, I went to a friend’s house and made real tacos, Mexican rice, and beans, and shared one of the best times with friends I’ve had since I was in college. I went out bowling (imagine that!) with a couple of friends and had another excellent time. Just yesterday, I went up to Richmond to see my oldest Virginia friend whom I haven’t seen in too long a time. We shared an awesome authentic Chinese dinner of beef tendons in chili sauce, pepper-salt crab, 香肠 (“xiang chang” — a salty-sweet Chinese sausage), 空心菜 (“kong xin cai” — a crispy, hollow, leafy vegetable that is my favorite of green Chinese vegetables), and 三杯大肠 (“san bei da chang” — “three cup pork large intestine”). During dinner, we wondered about and researched the Chinese origins of the English phrase “long time no see,” and discovered that several other phrases common in English actually come from the Chinese Pidgin English of the 19th century. After that most excellent of dinners, we went and saw the new movie The Social Network , a movie about Mark Zuckerberg and the beginnings of Facebook — a movie I highly recommend. I passed my 27th birthday with no fanfare. In short, the last month of September, I have kind of been rediscovering how to live and laugh, enjoy the company of friends, and be optimistic about life in general (something with which my naturally pessimistic self usually has trouble).

Besides the notable personal/spiritual/social transitions mentioned above, I have also experienced other rather shocking changes, especially in the family-life and technological realms. My brother and his wife and kids bought a house and moved out. Okay, so it’s about four houses down from my parents’ house (where I live now), but it has brought a lot more quiet and stability to my life and calm in the house (Hispanic mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law have a legendary propensity towards disharmony, and I have had to witness much of that over the last six months, to my distress). I got tired of Cox and their inability to keep a stable Internet connection for me at home and switched to Verizon’s FiOS High Speed Internet service. I am extremely content with that transition — who would have known that such a stable and consistently high-speed Internet connection was possible these days? I told my father that I was tired of Cox’s games and that I would pay for the new Internet service. When we got it, he decided to switch from Cox’s cable TV to Dish Network satellite TV.

To top it all off, the Linux Mint distribution came out with a Debian-based edition. Having wavered between Debian, Fedora, Ubuntu, and Linux Mint main distro, I have been dying for something that has the superb robustness and efficiency of Debian with the up-to-date packages of Ubuntu and the elegance and multimedia desktop-readiness of Linux Mint. In Linux Mint’s Debian Edition, I have found it, finally. I have my favorite distribution (Debian) with the pre-configured ease of having Sun’s Java, Adobe’s Flash and Reader, and other “necessary” desktop packages that Debian doesn’t enable by default, AND it’s constantly upgraded with the latest versions of the software making up the base distribution, like Ubuntu and Fedora, only BETTER. Seriously, installing the Linux Mint Debian Edition (LMDE) was the best thing I ever did for all my computers. There were only two things I had to do to it to make it something that’s perfect for my desktop needs: 1) install Opera and 2) install Chinese fonts and input method. That’s far less than I would have to do with a Windows or Mac system, and definitely MUCH LESS than I’d have to do with any other Linux distribution. The absolute BEST thing about my new LMDE setup is that the international keyboard layout (for typing in Spanish with accents and tilde-over-‘n’) and Chinese input method actually work across all desktop applications (including Opera and Pidgin, which have been troublesome to say the least with all other Linux distros) without arcane hacks and workarounds. LMDE has achieved what Linux distros have always wanted: the “ease” of use and elegance of Windows/MacOS with the freedom of Linux. All this combined with Verizon FiOS High Speed Internet and Dish Network TV…I’m in my own personal technological Heaven — that sounds a little Protestant ;-).

There are a few reasons that Dish Network has me excited.  1) It’s technically involved. There’s the satellite dimension, but I also discovered that they integrate our broadband Internet connection for programming information, and run it through the electric lines of the house and a dual tuning box that has a UHF remote…the techno-geek in me salivates. 2) It comes with two CCTV (China Central TV) channels — CCTV-9 (English) and CCTV-E (Español) AND EWTN. It informs and energizes my inner Chinese, Hispanic, and Catholic selves, all at once! You’d have to know me and come into my “world” to understand what this means, but I assure you, it’s thrilling. That combined with the American Indian Myths and Legends book I’m reading through, life couldn’t be better.

Blog Spam

Just a short post today, nothing much interesting going on right now.

I’ve noticed an increasing amount of “spam” comments on my blog and it’s quite hilarious in its transparency, but the spammers deserve credit for some creativity. Luckily, Akismet (the anti-spam plugin that I use and has yet to fail me) has caught them all.  They seem to use key words that are in a certain post and somehow semi-tailor their spam message to it. The most interesting I’ve received lately are the spam comments that because of one of my posts where I ask anyone who has any trouble with any of the blog functions (i.e., submitting comments, subscribing to the feed, etc.) to alert me to that. I’m getting “comments” that say something to the effect of “Your RSS feed isn’t working, please fix it,” and even this: “Your comment fields are not working in Chrome, please fix it.” After the first one, I thought it was serious, so I went to test it; nothing wrong. Looking closer at the “comment” that Akismet thankfully caught, the URL of the “user” was some link to an Indian-based porn site. Nice one, thanks Akismet. All the other ones in the same vein have been similarly linked to some kind of marketing or porn-based schemes. Kind of funny when you think of it. One question, though: If my comment fields are not working, how are all of you spammers submitting comments?

The other most interesting example of blog spam came a few days ago. My workplace (InMotion Hosting) has an “affiliates” program where if you advertise for us on your blog or some such thing and people click on the link you have, you get money from us. I don’t know all the details as that’s not my department, but that’s pretty much how it works. Well, one of the spam comments was an attempt by an “affiliate” to post a comment on my blog saying how much he was interested in using our Web hosting services. The user’s URL was a blog review (positive, at least) of my company with an affiliate’s link. Now that I think about it, I should have saved that “comment” and shown it to the marketing team. It would seem to me that doing those kinds of things may be against the rules for an “affiliate”…well, if I see another one, I will save it, so be warned spamming “affiliates”.

For anyone who is legitimately having issues with my RSS feed or commenting, you can email me at “webmaster” at “jclong” dot “net” — you should be intelligent enough to figure that out, and if not, stay away from computers, you have no business playing around with these things.

If your pleas to that email address go unheard, I’m sorry, but unless you pay me for tech support, go somewhere else. As always, I highly recommend you use Opera; it’s what I use and I have no issues whatsoever with the blog or most any other website. Plus, the RSS feeds I subscribe to come right into my browser window (Opera has a built-in RSS feed and email client). Do yourself a favor and use it.

Farewell, Serena

My Cat

Just over three weeks ago I mentioned taking my 18-year-old cat, Serena to the vet, worried they would tell me that it was her time. They didn’t, and for 15 days I gave her an antibiotic that was supposed to get rid of the infection. Well, it did get rid of the infection, but she never recovered. I guess she was just too old, the infection took out her kidneys and on Thursday morning while I was at work, my mother took her to the vet again. This time, they told me there was nothing to be done. I scheduled her “dormition” for Thursday night at 5:30 and left work an hour early at 4 to spend her last hour with her. I gave her one last serving of tuna, which she went crazy over, and lied on my bed to give her one last petting session on my chest, which was a daily ritual she started so many years ago I can’t remember when. I took her to the vet and we just stared at each other until she left, the moment I knew came when her pupils dilated to nearly the entire size of her beautiful green eyes despite the bright lights in the vet’s office.

She was an indoor cat and spent the vast majority of her life in my bedroom, wherever that happened to be. I got her when I was 9 years old (I’m 27 now), and the only time I didn’t have her with me was my freshman and sophomore years at ODU when I lived in the dorms and then in an apartment in Ghent (Norfolk) with a roommate who was extremely allergic to cats. She had a sister that I also got at the age of 9, but her sister disappeared on my 17th birthday and never returned. She probably snuck out of the house when my father went to work that morning. Serena’s sister, Tabitha, was the more adventurous one, and also my favorite because she was the one who wanted my attention every day; Serena was far more reserved and just hid all day. However, about 6 months after the disappearance of her sister, Serena started taking on her sister’s characteristics, and we became very close. I know, it might sound strange that you become close to a cat, but it happened. I still find it hard to come home and go into my empty bedroom. There’s no more lying in bed petting my cat to sleep. No more picking up religious icons and statues that always managed to end up on the floor. No more torn up blinds or curtains. No more hairball surprises in my shoes. No more half-bodied crickets or roaches left for me as gifts. No more learning ingenious computer keyboard shortcuts. No more fighting to try to read a textbook or novel. No more Serena.

I haven’t yet taken the litter box and food and water bowl out of my room, nor the scratching post from which she loved to look out the window.  I’ll get to it, but until then, I’ll properly mourn the passing of my special cat of 18 years. The pictures above and below were taken on my phone in that hour before her death, right after her petting and last serving of tuna. I took them on my phone and tried my best to edit them in GIMP. The quality is not good, but they’re the only ones I have.

She was aptly named, “Serena,” a word that in Spanish evokes that calm of a moist desert evening after a daytime thunderstorm. Farewell, Serena. I’ll never forget our 18 years and how you made it feel like home wherever I was. Go find your sister and smack her for me.

My Cat

Dormition (a.k.a. “Assumption”) of the Theotokos

Dormition Icon
The Dormition of the All-Holy Theotokos

Finally! My favorite Feast of the whole year is here! This is a slightly different one for me too. It’s the first year that I actually followed the traditional Dormition Fast of the Byzantine Rite. I have not had any meat or alcohol since August 1st and have severely cut back on other luxuries. I took it almost like another Lent (though only a third as long). It actually did wonders for my mood, my spiritual state, and my appreciation of this Feast. While it has been my favorite since I became a Byzantine, I can say without a doubt that it is my absolute favorite and probably will be for the rest of my life.

One reason (not a good one, but it’s one nonetheless) is that it’s a relatively ignored Feast. Outside of Catholic/Orthodox circles, it’s unknown. Unlike Christmas and Easter which the secular and Protestant worlds acknowledge at least a little bit (they appear on otherwise non-religious calendars). Even among modern American Catholics, it’s usually an ignored Feast despite its status as a Holy Day of Obligation for Catholics.

It takes on so much greater significance for us Byzantines, however. It marks the ending of our liturgical year which starts on September 1st.  It is fitting that this Feast wraps up the year, and that the Nativity of the Theotokos (September 8th), begins it.

During the Dormition Fast that I finally practiced this year, I realized that this Feast really concludes the commemoration of our salvation and everything we’ve celebrated over the past year. All the major Christological Feasts (the Nativity, Pascha, etc.) are all summed up today. Their ultimate application is revealed today. What was promised and foretold in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ is proven today. What happens to the Mother of God at the Dormition is the foreshadowing of what is to happen to us as long as we follow her example.

The realization of this fact has heightened my appreciation and love of this Feast and cemented its position as my favorite.

O Theotokos, in giving birth you preserved virginity; and in your falling asleep you did not forsake the world. You are the Mother of Life and have been transferred to life, and through your prayers you deliver our souls from death.

The grave and death did not detain the Theotokos. She intercedes without rest and is our unfailing hope of protection; for he who dwelt in the womb of the Ever-Virgin transferred to life the Mother of Life.

From the Ambon Prayer for the Feast:

O Christ our God, You transferred Your incorrupt Mother from life to death to the fullness of life. Though she
was buried in a grave of corruption, beyond our understanding You lifted her on high and gathered Your
apostles from everywhere to be at her side. By her prayers, ransom all of us who celebrate the feast of her
Dormition from all deadly thoughts and deeds and free us from spiritual corruption. Save us from the death of
despair, and keep us from disbelief or any memory of bad faith. Put to sleep all tyranny and treachery against
governments following the pure way. Put to death the audacity of barbarous people and humble all who rise to
scoff at Your teachings.
Make all of us worthy of eternal life, for You want all men to be saved, and to You belongs glory together with
Your eternal Father, and Your all-holy, good and life-creating Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages.

Happy Dormition!