Shows on the Star Trek: The Cruise II, a.k.a. Paging The Squire of Gothos

During the Star Trek: The Cruise II, I was often wondering about licensing issues related to everything that was going on around me. Besides amusing me, there was a particular reason: Early during the cruise, Michael Dorn (Worf) made an uncanny quip while introducing Nana Visitor and René Auberjonois for their show: “You would be still be clapping even if I were reading from the phone book!”

From that comment on, I was frequently commenting to myself what later gelled in my mind into “Phone Book Recitals”. As such, I was often wondering about licensing issues and the economic choices which were made during the organization of the cruise regarding each and every show, event, and detail on the ship.

For instance:

  • The on-board PA system alternated between sound effects and music from mostly, as I perceived it, The Original Series, and pop music from the 1980’s. I noted several repetitions of tracks from the “Invisible Touch” album by Genesis, making me assume that the ship was rotating through the same play list of music. Part of me wondered how much of this latter part was targeting the likely demographics of the passengers, as in those of us old enough to both have enjoyed such music in our youth, and be able to reasonably comfortably afford being on the cruise, and how much of the 80’s music was being played due to a favourable music licensing deal. Despite this, I rather enjoyed both the sound effects and the music.
  • On the in-house television in the cabins, there were two channels which carried Star Trek; by the end of the cruise, I’d noticed that there were three. I typically would watch bits over three episodes of Star Trek a day when waking up or going to bed. On one channel, the second Abramsverse movie, Star Trek Into Darkness, appeared to be in almost constant rotation. On the other, there appeared to be a preponderance of DS9, with just enough Enterprise for me to notice. I only starting seeing some TNG near the end of the cruise. So: Are Star Trek into Darkness and DS9 lagging behind on broadcasting rights royalty income?
  • Near the concièrge desk, there were a number of video screens, apparently with constant and perpetual loops of the TOS episodes Charlie X, Shore Leave, and The Naked Time; another appeared to always have Star Trek: The Motion Picture playing. What was it about these episodes and this movie? Is it the same broadcasting rights royalty income conspiracy theory I mention above? Or just that the DVDs or BlueRays or digital copies got stuck in a perpetual playback loop?

Then there were the live shows and events I attended, almost all of which I otherwise found thoroughly enjoyable. Several of the shows had nothing to do with Star Trek, other than the fact that the performers happened to have been, well, the actors who portrayed Captain Sulu, Lt.Cmdr. Laforge, Odo, Major Kira, Q, The Doctor, and so on.

Given the several shows I saw, virtually all starring one or more Star Trek actors and / or personalities, while I was clapping at the end and otherwise (usually) thoroughly entertained, I was often scratching my head as to what the show I had just seen had to do with Star Trek, and (usually) expecting that I would have been equally entertained had the performers been any other performers, be they known stars, or career cruise ship entertainers.

Don’t get me wrong: With one exception, all were thoroughly enjoyable, perhaps more so because of who were performing. (I’ll even grant the one exception the courtesy of having been interesting in its own right, albeit beyond what I would have chosen had I known what it really would have been about beforehand.) However, despite rather enjoying the cruise and the shows I attended, I felt like I was giving a number of the shows and the performers a bit of leeway, while wondering where the “Star Trek” part was. Often enough, I was wondering how much a given show or activity was being presented because it passed muster based on the promoter’s entertainment committee’s (and I’m pretty sure the cruise line’s committee’s) “entertainment index” (though ignoring for Star Trek content), and how many licensing issues arose regarding more Star Trek specific shows, be it more Star Trek script readings (or readings of scripts that didn’t make it to screen), dramatic adaptations of fan generated stories, or more exposés on the inner workings of Star Trek.

For instance, John de Lancie and Robert Picardo (as well as other Star Trek personalities) performed a reading of a dramatization of the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial (The State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes) as well as individually in other shows having nothing to do with Star Trek. Robert Picardo also performed his current show called “BFF” with Jordan Bennett, (apparently) known for starring in Les Misérables on Broadway; except for a song opening at the beginning in which the Star Trek theme song is performed, it appeared to have nothing to do with Star Trek. Had the cruise been themed for the Stargate franchise, both John de Lancie and Robert Picardo, who also were secondary characters in that franchise, could have performed almost all of the same shows I saw them perform on the Star Trek cruise, and there would be little difference.

Yes, these actors have virtually all had acting careers before and after Star Trek. I imagine that at least a modest ability to competently sing and dance is a somewhat more common skill amongst actors than the general population, while generally, their portrayals on Star Trek usually had nothing to do with song and dance.  Yes, they do have lives outside of Star Trek. And yes, I don’t only watch Star Trek on TV, or only watch TV all day long; yes, I have other interests beyond Star Trek that have nothing to do with spaceships or TV. I understand that thirteen, sixteen, nineteen, twenty-three or forty-eight years after the end of the respective shows in which the actors appeared, they have gone on to other performing activities and interests, and in many cases actually have current shows – take Robert Picardo’s current “BFF” show, which I thought was remarkable for rating very close to zero on a scale of one to ten in Trekkie-ness.

But … I went to, I paid for, a Star Trek themed cruise. I did get part of it: Star Trek actors and personalities, and a number of Star Trek themed window dressings on the ship. And yes, of course, I got a great cruise!

Yet, from my perspective, the cruise felt like a cruise that happened to have an (almost merely nominal) Star Trek theme. I found it hard to immerse myself in Star Trek.

Yes, I got to see Star Trek stars. Yes, there was a good amount of gawking at “cool t-shirt” or “great klingon costume” comments (at least three of my Star Trek themed t-shirts drew attention from others).

However, I did not happen upon any impromptu “heated” discussions about anything Star Trek. The type I might have in mind would be the likes of ethical discussions over the Dominion War, which episodes were the best (or worst), or whether or not they should have actually killed Kirk onscreen (which I think was a mistake, both in and of itself, as well as how they did it; that he wasn’t with Bones and Spock at the time isn’t the point.) Admittedly, I do recall, more as an afterthought, having one brief conversation with someone: “Which starship would you see yourself on?” I replied that I’d liked to be on Enterprise-D, but if I were really lucky, I might end up being one of Janeway”s lost sheep (a reference to an episode in which she takes a personal interest in three under-performing crew members.) And to be fair, I was often running from one show to the next such that I had little time to sit back and seek out these kinds of bar conversations.

Basically, I felt that at the core of the cruise, there wasn’t actually enough Star Trek. It was like Trelane in the “Squire of Gothos”: So many of the trappings, but not quite enough of the actual substance.

Do you think that instead of reading the Scopes Monkey Trial, they could have read through another Star Trek script?

Could Robert Picardo have sung “My Darling Clementine” and the Doctor’s fantasy version of “La donna è mobile” in his show?

Do you think that Viacom or CBS or whoever deals with the licensing could have made the shows more Star Trek like?

Star Trek Cruise 2018

For the past year, I have been looking forward to a cruise from which I have just returned.

Being a long time Trekkie (please don’t start talking about Trekker vs. Trekkie, I find the argument as silly as Trekkie is purported to be pejorative) and now, well let’s say able, my brother and I bought berths on the NCL Jade for this year’s second sailing in the Star Trek Cruise.  We had a great time!

Here are my pictures.

UPDATE January 21, 22:45:

Ports of call included:

  • 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);
  • Harvest Cay, Belize, a private island owned by NCL best described (positively so!) as Gilligan’s Island run by Mr. Howell for tourists (yes, I am aware of “The Castaways” Resort);
  • Costa Maya, Mexico, where I hope that the haggling over the price of a “Mexican” blanket in the large tourist zone, both of which I expect are about as authentic as the deed to a bridge in Brooklyn — but both of which I liked anyway — made me a little less of a mark than anyone who may have paid the original price I was quoted (assuming anyone else was labelled to be one of a given number of “marks of the day”, and outside of which I got to go out to see genuine Mayan ruins!

Actors on the ship:

On the cruise, we got to see many Star Trek stars, of course all of them anywhere from 15  to 50 years older than when they were first on TV.  On the first day, we managed to get a seat around the pool with a poor view onto the temporary stage where the stars were introduced, but we had front-row seats to the open air green room where the stars waited to go onto the stage!

In my personal view, the “hard workers” amongst  the actors were:  René Auberjonois (Odo), Robert Picardo (The Doctor), Ethan Phillips (Neelix), Robert O’Reilly (Gowron), John de Lancie (Q), and Jeffrey Combs (Weyoun, Shran, Liquidator Brunt, and others).

And to a somewhat lesser degree:  Max Grodenchik (Rom), Denise Crosby (Tasha Yar and the Romulan Commander), and Nana Visitor (Major Kira).  (I learned that the correct pronunciation is “Nuh-naw”, emphasis on “-naw”, not “Nay-na” with emphasis on “Nay”).

The “Invisible Cast Members” whom I don’t recall seeing at all after the first day’s introduction of the actors:

  • Karl Urban (McCoy from Abramsverse) — who apparently possibly became ill, as well as apparently developed contractual conflicts after the first day, requiring him to leave the ship prematurely, and all of which I knew about early on, although not from official sources, at least not those to which I was paying attention;
  • Vaughn Armstrong (Admiral Forrest, and apparently 11 various other Star Trek characters over various series).  After a bit of research into the daily schedules, I learned that he:
    • hosted a celebrity bingo earlier in the week during my dinner seating;
    • appeared often in the “Rat Pack” musical group who played late at night, after I usually went to bed;
    • hosted Gorn’s Gong Show, when I was at another show with George Takei,
    • hosted a karaoke night the last night of the cruise, to which I tried to convince myself to go, but ultimately didn’t bother doing.

Which leaves Jonathan Frakes (I saw him in two shows), George Takei (who was actually all over), Michael Dorn (whom I only saw introduce a show once, but whom I bumped into one evening), Connor Trineer (whom I saw in the Star Trek Squares game, and who apparently hosted a Karaoke night as well as the Gorn Gong Show with Vaughn Armstrong, see above), Brent Spiner (who was the star of one shows that I saw), and Gates McFadden (who was in one show I saw but who did do at least one session teaching tap dancing basics).

Here is a review of the various shows I saw, and other activities in which I participated:

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.

Day 2:

  • 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, amongst 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 Tenessee.
  • 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.
  • A Visit to the Galley:  Cooking Demo with Nana Visitor — Three recipes easy to prepare in advance party items:  A crab meat dish, kiwi and tequila in watermelon cups, and a third dish I have forgotten.  Apparently, Nana Visitor once was a co-owner of a catering business in New Mexico.  During the presentation, Nana Visitor played the comedian, and the ship’s executive chef played the straight man.
  • 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!”)

Day 3:  Roatan, Honduras (see ports of call)


  • A Visit to Original Trek with Gates McFadden and Jonathan Frakes (and Picardo, Philipps, Auberjonois, de Lancie, Mrs. di 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 known about “Ol’ Yellow Eyes is Back”, I learned that Brent Spiner is actually a decent singer!

Day 4:  Harvest Cay, Belize (see ports of call)

  • “High Lord Cuckoo Face, 3 Little Klingons & O’Reilly Too” — a very deceptive title which, lacking any further explanation or context, unless one already was familiar with the reference, ultimately only relayed that the presentation would be given by Robert O’Reilly and have a vague reference Chancellor Gowron.  In fact, the talk was indeed given by Mr. O’Reilly, firstly explaining that the three little Klingons referred to his three triplet sons, who at a certain point in their childhood decided that “Chancellor Gowron” was a silly name for their father’s character, and that it should be “High Lord Cuckoo Face”.  After which, Mr. O’Reilly recounted poetry, and personal vignettes from his childhood.  I mentioned the deceptive nature of the title in conversation, and a cynic responded to me sardonically that it might well have been better titled “Poignant stories from Robert O’Reilly’s Life Experiences”.  Overall, it actually would have been a better and more accurate title, and in the process not have set me up to expect a hilarious slapstick routine.
  • Star Trek Squares, with George Takei as the centre square, and a Gorn with (intentionally) unintelligible speech.  The Gorn was definitely the hit of the show.

Day 5:  Costa Maya, Mexico (see ports of call)

  • 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.

Day 6:

  • 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.

On ship television:

  • In the midship bar, there was an area displaying various props (and / or reproductions, no matter) from the various shows.  There were TV screens showing TOS episodes.  Specifically, every time I passed by, Charlie X, The Naked Time, and at least one more which I never bothered to identify, as well as Star Trek: The Motion Picture, were playing.
  • In the staterooms, where I perhaps watched the equivalent of about an episode and a half over perhaps three episodes per day (ie bed time or waking up in the morning):
    • On one of the two Star Trek channels, I noticed a preponderance of DS9 episodes, then a far second of Enterprise episodes, and then even fewer TNG episodes.  No TOS or Voyager episodes that I saw.
    • On the second Star Trek channel, Star Trek Beyond appeared to me to be in almost exclusive rotation until about the second to last day.

To be fair, of course I didn’t sit in my room 24/7 keeping track of the episodes being aired, but I would have expected to see a far more balanced airing of episodes over the week.


Firstly, we had decided not to bother spending the premium going to the premium restaurants on board — this trip was admittedly rather expensive, even though we could afford it.

We had also discussed going to the Irish pub, such as for a late night snack (since it was pretty much the only 24/7 option besides room service), but we never did go.

Which leaves the buffet area, and the dining room.

The buffet area was large enough, and rather long — and, finding empty tables normally involved a walk.

The breakfast menu seemed to be roughly the same daily.  My only observation was that the scrambled eggs were undercooked and slimy some mornings (no doubt a way of countering the hotplates on which they were being kept).

Lunch menus varied somewhat daily along with standard foods like burgers, hot dogs, pizzas, and the like.

The supper menu also varied somewhat daily, and had some nice though typical items.

Dining room:

The menu changed daily, save five or six items which were repeated.  Additionally, there was a special menu to the effect of “From Neelix’s kitchen”, with a special of the day.

The food was definitely better-than-most calibre (only to distinguish it from that food with price tags to make the afore-mentioned Mr. Howell shiver.)

My disappointing choices in the dining room?

  • Not having ordered the moussaka on the first day, which the wait staff claimed was not available a few days later.  It looked and smelled great, but I was concerned about which of the many varieties of moussaka I expected I might be disappointed in.
  • The cheese plate for dessert one day; a bit too frou-frou for my tastes.
  • The steak-frites I chose one day; rather pedestrian, instead of the lamb shank I should have ordered.

Geek factor:

Obviously, there were a lot of Star Trek related shirts — I had a different Star Trek T-shirt for every day.  And, there were a lot of Star Trek uniforms from the various series — some home made, mostly excellent while none of the expected worst costumes ever, and a number of obviously purchased from professional suppliers.

To my mild disappointment, I never happened upon impromptu hardcore discussions about anything Star Trek.  I figured that they would be hard to avoid.  Of course, Star Trek was being discussed.  However, no obvious friendly debates over which series was the best, or who was the best or worst captain, which ship was the nicest or sleekest or fastest, or the relative merits of holodeck training vs. traditional field training in real environments, or shuttlecraft vs. transporters ….

Updated recipes

I have been adding my personal recipes to since the beginning of December, 2017.

It has been a sort of starting from fresh to create my personal cookbook, a project I started, I think, long before 2011.  (I remember discussing the cookbook with someone somewhere around 2012, and it couldn’t have been before 2011.)

Several years ago, I’d put together a personal cookbook, but at a certain point during its construction, somehow the main file either got corrupted, or I had several copies which I didn’t manage properly (and presumably, in this scenario, began overwriting previously entered recipes with newer versions of other versions.)  However it all happened, I became disillusioned and lost interest on a practical level to reconstruct it all, despite a certain allure it had.

Back in December, I decided to start from scratch, doing a rather 90’s thing — or perhaps even an 80’s, or 70’s, or 60’s thing — I used a basic text editor and started retyping each recipe, sometimes using what I did still have as a reference, and in at least four cases, just reusing the recipe as I’d entered it back a few years ago, with the remnants of the original cookbook file.

In the case of some of recipes I’ve been typing in, I’ve actually been able to tune the text based on recent memory of just having made the items in the last couple of weeks (as in, as I was making the item in question, going over to my computer to make adjustments), or up to a couple of months ago.

I started posting pdf’s on my website.  And, I’ve been using a “post early, post often” approach to each recipe, as in, check recipes, fine tune them, repost the update, and, fine tune them again, adding sections like “equipment” as I’d start to be using that in other recipes, and so on.  I even have been recalling a lightning talk I rather liked at a linux conference I attended in 2011 which, ironically, used baking and recipes as a way to demonstrate the need to developers the importance of clear, concise, and complete instructions and documentation in order to encourage others to join their software projects.

And, fun fun fun, today I took advantage of another day of holidays, er, waiting for the garage to call me back and say that my car, in for servicing, was ready:  I went through all my recently-typed recipes and did some basic editing.  Lists and sentences / semi-sentences were capitalized.  Lists received dash points.  Instructions which hadn’t already been fleshed out, were fleshed out.  Sentences with multiple steps were broken up into discrete instruction lists.  A number received sections “do this part, then while that cooks, do this part”, etc.  (And then, transferring the updates to my webserver, to my laptop as a backup, and to my backup server which is also my webserver.)

Obviously, the likes of “cooking sausages” isn’t there, even though apparently when I make them for a Santa’s Breakfast, they are highly rated beyond the fact that I’m the only volunteer who actually relishes in making 200+ sausages at home in advance.  And, that having the sausages pre-cooked so that they only need to be reheated in the oven is quite convenient when you’re serving 100+ people.

Eventually, if you look at the eggplant, first meatball, cheese biscuit and zucchini dish recipes, I may update them in the style of the newly retyped recipes as above, while converting the texts of the newly retyped recipes to that format (the original format for my “personal cookbook”), and take photos.

Finally!  My recipes are now documented, accessible, shared, sharable, and, if I ever get around to it, ready for transfer into a “cookbook”.

New World Community Grid Node

I started volunteering some of my extra computers’ idle time for the World Community Grid in December, 2013.  Unfortunately, the machine in question, a used computer I’d bought about five years earlier and, after having been used as a desktop for a few years, had been converted to being a server under CentOS, died from a “thermal event” nine months later.  It had completed 713 results and earned 419,591 points.

In 2016, I found a P4 3.4GHz machine, installed CentOS 7 on it, and then the BOINC infrastructure.  I assigned it to the World Community Grid and 100% of its capacity to the project.  From when it began in September, 2016 to today, it has completed 4,540 results, and earned 2,568,590 points.

In 2017, I finally converted my old netbook (32 bit atom processor) to CentOS 6 and did the same thing.  From when it began in April until today, it has completed 261 results, and earned 133,073 points.  (What a difference in capacity that 3.4GHz 64 bit has as compared to 1.6GHz 32 bit!)

Over the past few months, I have been collecting up a number of old machines which have come my way, including some IBM ThinkCentres from the Windows Vista era.  So far, my brother and I haven’t been able to get them running properly, and we will probably end up using them for spare parts.

In the meantime, we acquired two more computers.  My brother wanted / needed a replacement computer for his aging media server, an old reclaimed IBM ThinkCentre I’d gotten for him a few years ago.  I, in the meantime, wanted to add another node to the World Community Grid (of course, working at 100% of capacity.)

I chose CentOS 7 for this build, like I did for my other nodes, for what I consider to be the obvious reason that I want to pretty much forget about the computers and just relish in the numbers on the World Community Grid website — I don’t want to be re-installing every year!

The install went well enough, although it was long enough process for the base install, as compared to my laptop and desktop.  I will rule out the comparison to my laptop since the SSD and physical drive don’t compare at all.  As for the desktop and node, I’ll chalk up the difference mainly to processor speed and general architectures:  A 2015-era four core i5 running at 3.4GHZ vs a 2010 era Pentium dual-core E6500 running at 2.93GHz (no HyperThreading).

What was really long after that was the yum update after the initial install — about 650 packages!  In the process of the updates, I tried a few things like web surfing, and the gnome desktop became unstable; I ended up with a flashing text screen.  I finally rebooted, and tried to downgrade to an older kernel in GRUB, to no avail.  I tried the rescue kernel, no avail.  Under both situations, I couldn’t pull up a terminal with Alt-Ctrl-F2.  A quick check under a Fedora live environment was a waste of time, since I didn’t really know how to diagnose things; however, I was able to mount the CentOS drive.

There was some flirting with the idea of installing Fedora 27, but I don’t want the re-installation mill on this machine (or any of my other volunteer computing nodes) every year — although, seeing my brother upgrade from Fedora 25 to 27 through the GUI go as smoothly as a routine DNF upgrade is making me wonder if the point is moot.  (Note that CentOS 7, based on Fedora 19, is still using YUM, while Fedora has been using DNF since version 22.)

Finally, I restarted the install of CentOS, this time doing a minimal text install.  Things were a touch faster.  Then I did a yum update, with only about half as many packages to update.  After that, I installed the Gnome Desktop on the machine. (Here’s my archive.)

I continued with the installation of the Fedora EPEL repository (as root “wget”, then “rpm -ivh epel-release-latest-7.noarch.rpm”).  Installing the BOINC infrastructure was easy:  As root “yum install boinc*”.

I launched the BOINC manager from one of the pull down menus, and, to my surprise, it actually worked out of the box, unlike previous installations.  Someone must have updated the packages. 🙂  I added the World Community Grid website information, and my account and password.

Voilà!  At 12:00 UTC the next morning, my machine had already submitted FIVE results, and earned 2,429 points!  And, at 00:00 UTC as I’m completing this post, a total of EIGHT results, and 4,638 points!

Upgrades to Fedora 27 — what a breeze!

Over the past two weeks, I have upgraded two computers to Fedora 27 (from Fedora 25, having skipped Fedora 26 and enjoyed roughly a year’s worth of Fedora goodness).

The two computers are:

  • Dell desktop (main system):  Intel® Core™ i5-4460 CPU @ 3.20GHz — no Hyperthreading, 1 TB 7200 HD, 8gigs memory; screen upgraded separately to an Acer widescreen, and old screen relegated to a “new to me” computer setup as a node on the World Community Grid.
  • Acer laptop (secondary system): Intel® Core™ i7-5500U CPU @ 2.40GHz (Hyperthreaded), now 500gig SSD HD, 8 gigs memory.

Two of the equipment upgrades are the screen on the desktop, which is now a used Acer widescreen, and the laptop’s 5200RPM 1TB drive was upgraded to a 500gig SSD.  The laptop went from interminably slow to incredibly fast!  The comment from my brother:  “SSD’s are one of the few things that actually lives up to the hype.”  In my experience — under linux, anyway.  Under a corporate controlled windows box?  Well I’d say that my work computer, with an SSD, needs the SSD speed just not to be unusable!

The upgrades were incredibly easy this time, and fast, the new SSD installed on the laptop probably being the big factor.  In fact, I was able to do the basic install in about 15 minutes, and the rest of my list (made for Fedora 23, but the basic list is still valid) was easy to complete while on a business trip in the motel room during off hours.  In fact, one of the things that took a couple of days to realize:  Fedora has had difficulty with the UEFI on this machine in the past — it would install, and then not work, and I’d have to reinstall under legacy BIOS.  Note that I have a BIOS password, so perhaps in the past I just figured out how to make it persistent.  As for restoring the data, once home, I managed to easily copy all my data files from my desktop overnight.

As for the desktop, having just gone through the process a couple of days earlier with my laptop, I was able to easily update, and then re-transfer my data from the laptop overnight, as well as update my data backup on my home server.

The “big” thing this time?  The hardware upgrades.  The almost un-noticeable thing this time?  The installs, which were incredibly easy, quick, routine, and almost easily forgotten.  Sheesh, I’ve lost track of how many installs I’ve done over the years … updated

Since about lat 2016, my website had problems with uptime:  It was mostly down.  In the spring of 2017, it was finally up and I did a bit of restoration work.  And then … it was down again for a few months.  (And, due to the circumstances of this downtime, my restoration work was lost.)

Finally, I transferred my website to an existing home server, and it is now living out of a computer which I believe may be as old as 2003, living under CentOS 7.x series, in my bedroom.  Having fixed a faulty telephone line (squirrels!) the line is now “not noisy” and the internet is back properly.

Main work has been:

Katadyn Pocket Water Filter Capacity — Update II

In 2016, I wrote about my estimate of my Katadyn Pocket Filter’s real life capacity.

I had reached an estimated 1,500 litres of filtered water over four winter seasons of using the filter at the cottage during the off-season when our water system is turned off. I had further guessed — hoped, really — that I might get as much as another 1,500 litres, spread over two to four more seasons, and as such it might take as long as until the year 2020 to know when the filter cartridge would need to be replaced.

I was overly hopeful. In January of 2017, I was up at the cottage for a week, doing a lot of cooking and needing a good amount of filtered water.  I tested the filter unit against the gauge supplied with the filter, and since the gauge passed over the filter unit, “it was time” to change it.

The winning total (as of January, 2017):  1650 litres. Or, about 3.3% of the oft-touted capacity of 50,000 litres.

As of September, 2017, I have not replaced the filter yet, and am at approximately 1750 litres, or about 3.5%.

This makes me wonder, yet again, what Katadyn knows about the “in the wild” capacity of its filters.  As in, how come I have only gotten 3.5% of the rated capacity of the filter before it has worn out.

And it makes me wonder why, in my perhaps modest efforts to find out how much water people actually filter with their units, just about everyone (including myself, admittedly, shortly after I bought the unit) talks about 50,000 litres, but few talk about “well I only filtered this much before I had to replace it”, or the like.

There are reviews I found on the website there from people whose posts are meant to imply that they’ve gotten a lot of use out of their filter.  I saw one that said that over 25 years, the person was on their third replacement, and claimed to have filtered over 250,000 litres! (or over 62,500 litres per filter!)

A comment I came across said “I bought mine in 1988 and I have yet to change the filter”.  I can imagine that over 29 years one might have used it quite a number of times; but what, every weekend for groups varying from two to five people? Once or twice a year when they take their children hiking one afternoon around the cottage or campsite that they rented for a few days during the summer holidays, and the rest of the time they’re on a water system? Or “I’m an avid hiker who goes out hiking every weekend I can, and I bring my Scout Troop hiking all the time and they are constantly asking me to filter water for them”?

Yes, I have seen some reviews that are “a bit more detailed” than that, such as “well after 15 years I replaced it, having filtered thousands of litres of water” … which still begs the question: Thousands of litres of water … that sounds vaguely less than 50,000; 7,000 litres is “thousands of litres”, as are 4,500 litres, and 25,000 litres. So did you keep a log of roughly how much you filtered? Trip diaries such that you could guestimate or have a basis on which to assume that each trip you used it, you typically filtered a given amount a day and you were gone a given number of days, and at least have a ballpark idea of how much water was filtered?

And here’s one that I found mildly useful:  “I used it travelling for 18 months through India, and used it instead of buying bottled water all the time” … but that doesn’t really tell me how much water they filtered.  But, it allows for some hypothetical arithmetic.  Let’s say there were two people producing let’s say three litres per day per person for 18 months — 548 days, give or take — that’s 3,288 litres, or almost 6.6% of the rated capacity of 50,000 litres.  At four litres per person per day, that’s 4,384 litres, or almost 8.8%.  At five litres per person per day, that’s 5,480 litres, or almost 11.0%.  Now that’s a lot of drinking water, both per person, and just a lot of water to filter in a given day while travelling.  After that, I have to ask what they were using the water for!  Were they filtering enough water to wash their clothing and showering or bathing?  If so, given how much time it takes in reality to filter a few hundred litres a day with the unit, were they spending *all* of their time filtering water and not actually taking advantage of their trip in India?!?  And, of course, it should be noted that they *didn’t* mention that they bought the unit expressly for this trip, or never used it again before or after.

I am obviously getting worked up: Were I to have filtered 25,000 litres (50% capacity) or more, over a decade or two, I might not be as upset, and would likely chalk it up to the expected variation in the field due to “real world circumstances”. However, losing more than 96% of the rated capacity is frustrating to the point of unacceptable, to say the least.

The only consolation?

In January, 2017, after having passed the plastic gauge over the filter unit and having learned that it was at the end of its designed lifespan, I went to a Mountain Equipment Coop (MEC) to buy a new filter unit, not really sure whether I wanted to go through with the expensive purchase; the replacement filter units cost $235, compared to $435 for a new complete unit.

The last unit on the rack — which is the unit I therefore bought — looked like a returned unit. (Later when I got home, I was able to open it and learn that everything was there: A new filter unit, a new spigot hose, new o-rings, a new scrubby pad or two, a new bag for the spigot hose, a new tube of lubricant, and whatever else was supposed to be there.)

The list price: $235.00

The price that rang up at the till: $63.00

Discount: 73.2%

I did a double take, and without thinking I said, “That isn’t the correct price.” I of course should have kept my mouth shut, but no matter:  Québec’s consumer protection laws were on my side. Were the price at the register to be higher than the advertised price, the customer would pay the advertised price, less a $10 indemnity (with a few exceptions as well as a few other pricing rules applying as per the case); if the price at the register were to be lower than the advertised price, then the customer would pay the lower price, regardless of the difference between the two prices.

Nonetheless, we went through the motions of verifying the price on the MEC website, and indeed confirmed that the list price was $235.  However, either the clerks were savvy and well trained, knowing the law in this case, or they were naïvely trusting of the price scanner / computer / register, and insisted that the $63 price that rang up on the machine was the price to be paid.

You can be sure that the next day, I made a point of going back to the same MEC to see if they’d restocked the shelf with that item, in order to hopefully take advantage of another massive discount. Sadly, they had not. And, I expect that the store knew that the item I bought was the last unit in the store, and that (I presume that) it was a returned and restocked item, hence (presumably) the discounted price. Perhaps this doesn’t explain just how deep the discount was, but it nonetheless explains some of it. A few months later, I was at another location of the MEC and I looked at the section with water filters; they had replacement cartridges, in factory sealed boxes of course, and the price at the rack was $235, as expected. I did not dare ask for a price check. 🙂

So the experience was not a complete loss, to the point of it almost having a mildly pleasant dénouement, but the deep discount on the replacement unit still does not make up for the remaining 23.5%-ish of capacity I had expected but did not receive, and continue to not expect to receive, out of the original filter. Which, incidentally, as of September 2017, nine months later, has not yet been replaced; like one of the pub patrons in the following joke, I want to squeeze as much capacity as I can out of the filter before I finally replace it.

The promised joke:

Three people are in a pub, each ordering a drink of their preference. Unfortunately, each drink comes with a fly in the glass.

One returns the drink and requests a replacement, without a fly of course.

Another removes the fly from his drink, and proceeds to drink it.

The third grabs the fly from the drink and calls out “Spit out every last drop, you little scoundrel!”

Katadyn water filter capacity — update

This is an update to my post from 2013 on the Katadyn Pocket Water Filter.

In 2012, I bought a Katadyn Pocket water filter principally for use at the cottage during the off-season when our water system is turned off, plus a small handful of personal interest reasons like being a trained water techie, having been involved in Scouting, camping and hiking a long time ago (but no longer), having been involved in geocaching which can involve some hiking in the woods, filtering water from snow or ice for my homebrewing (mostly just to be able to have a story to tell about the “specialness” of the water), and generally to use for my amusement while hiking around at the cottage during my holidays and other times.

About two thirds of the way down the above post, I asked “So, does the filter work? And do I get the runs any more?” to which I answered with an obvious tone, “Of course, and of course not.” Those answers are as true today as they were back in 2013.

I use the filter principally up at the cottage during the off-season, about mid-October to mid-May (during the winter, when the water at the cottage is turned off due to freezing weather), for my water needs for drinking, cooking, hand washing, and dish washing (normally, just the rinsing part at the end.) Obviously, as long as the water isn’t grungy, a lot of water doesn’t need to be filtered to begin with, like for soaking dishes before cleaning them, or as long as it’s fairly clear, for washing my hair and taking a sponge bath.

Every year, I keep a register of the amount of water I filter, as a function of the five litre plastic jug to receive the filtered water, which I always fill up to the brim. I’ve checked the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 registers (I can’t seem to locate the previous two), and I respectively had filled the container 67 and 72 times. That adds up to roughly 695 litres of water. There is going to be some variance in this number, since I when I fill up my container for brewing water, I skip using my 5 litre container and fill the brewing water container directly.

Assuming that during the previous two winters (2012-2013 and 2013-2014), I’d used it similarly, let’s say that I’ve filtered about 1,400 litres. Add to that the very occasional use during the intervening summers, let’s say a good 100 litres, and I’m up to about 1,500 litres.

Here’s the clincher, though: The ceramic filter is visibly wearing down after four seasons of use, and I’m certain I won’t get 50,000 litres out of it.

Normally when I use the filter to filter melted snow or lake water, I have to clean the filter typically after about 12 or 13 litres, because it’s becoming too difficult to filter water at that point due to the ceramic filter clogging up. On general principle, barring the exact number of litres, this is normal and has always been to be expected.

However, recently I noticed something I find curious: During my most recent usage, I was filtering water from the artesian well, which is a good 60 feet deep. I was filtering this water since while the water system had been turned on, I hadn’t yet bleached the well after the winter to clean out the well as well as the house’s pipes. The curious part: I was able to get to 20 litres and beyond without any increase in difficulty in operating the filter, and were I not to have been too curious and opened up the filter for a preventative cleaning, I would have been able to filter an ample amount more.

The well, being a good 60 feet deep, is therefore supplying water that has been very nicely filtered by typically 60 vertical feet of gravel and sand. Further, since I’m assuming that the aquifer is at least somewhat dynamic, I assume that one day the water I’ve drawn from the well could have been rain water or lake water from a few days previous that trickled through the 60 feet of gravel and sand on my property, while another day the water may be runoff having traveled through I don’t know how many hundreds or thousands of lateral feet of sand and gravel from the hills behind my cottage. As such, the water is presumably — and I assure you, actually is — sparkling clear.

This is as compared to when I filter lake water or melted snow, the latter of which, may I remind you, is not quite so pristine as you may think, even when excluding the yellow variety; it is relatively chock full of dust particles that fell with the snow or became nuclei as part of the condensing and / or crystallization process. At this point I assume that at least some of the dust particles may be coming from the various chimneys at the cottages surrounding mine, including the chimney from my own cottage.

Which leads to the notion of this post regarding the filter’s capacity.

The filter is rated as having a capacity of “up to 50,000 litres”. When I bought the unit, I did recognize this to be codespeak for “Depending on the source water quality, the capacity may and will be reduced in real life.” Unfortunately, as it seems in my experience so far, possibly by a very significant margin.

However, I am wondering exactly when I’ll be needing to replace the filter. Yes, I have the little gauge to measure the filter thickness, and I use it occasionally. The question *is*not* “How will I know when to change the filter?” The question is “*When* will the ‘when’ be.” Let me explain.

I’d guess I’ve worn down at least half of the working thickness of the filter in the past four years of use over roughly 1,500 litres, especially if my vague memories of where the gauge the unit comes with was at when the filter was new are correct as compared to where it is now, and just visually guestimating the wear against where it obviously used to be when it was new.

And here’s the conspiracy theory:

I bet that the 50,000 litre estimate that they give is based on using either laboratory grade distilled water, or perhaps treated tap water intended to be potable.

I know that everyone’s source water will be different, and generally using it while traveling to areas where the tap water is clear but not quite potable is as legitimate a use for the water filter as filtering swamp water while out hiking.

(As a side opinion: Regarding dubious water systems while traveling, depending on where you go, unfortunately outside of the westernized world — and even within it in some cases — the tap water may not be quite potable at least from a microbiological point of view as one might expect or hope it to be. The water system can be dubious at best due to antiquated pipes, or the production plant is old and breaking down, or the employees are severely underpaid, or there aren’t enough of them to do the work well. And that’s just the areas which have a distribution system, and that isn’t delivering water that’s smelly or cloudy or outright foul.)

But I’m wondering just how long my filter unit will actually last. For the moment, I’m betting on another two to four cottage seasons, or “up to” another 1500 litres, the way I’m using it. That’s still far beyond other filters where the unit has a nominal capacity of a few hundred litres, and the filter unit itself is disposable and needs to be replaced the way a razor blade in a razor has to be, or ink cartridges in a “wow this printer isn’t expensive at all!”. Ultimately *a* *part* of what makes the other filters, razors with disposable blades, or ink jet printers so deceptively inexpensive is that the manufacturers make their money in selling you spare parts and refills.

I know that the kind of water I filter and of course its quality are far beyond Katadyn’s control. I know that if I’m filtering snow where a good amount of the particles to remove are composed of fine mineral dusts, there will be a sandpaper effect when I’m cleaning the filter, versus filtering stream water where the solids to be removed are more likely to be decaying organic matter in the form of fish poop and dead leaves, which will be easier to clean off the filter when the time comes. I know that the filter is designed such that when it is being cleaned, the process is meant to be ablative. But I’m wondering how much of my perceptions are, well, perceptions and not real life, how much of my use represents an edge case, how much my of cleaning is a bit too vigorous, and so on.

And I wonder just how much Katadyn knows that the 50,000 litre mark is about as close to an imaginary number as it can get. (Or conversely just how delusional I am. 🙂 ) I’d love to see their internal graphs on the real life capacity of their filters. I’d love to see the range that their customers get out of their filters.

So Katadyn: Here’s my estimate, for my filter — about 3,000 litres, given the kinds of water sources I’m using (cottage country snow, some lake water, and a small sundry other sources like streams when I’m hiking, etc..) At the rate I’m going, I expect that it may take as long as until 2020 to find out, though. 🙂

Any and all Katadyn Pocket Filter users are invited to leave your estimate — I hope at least somewhat evidence based — here, or send me an email malak at the site malak dot ca

Fedora Linux spotted on 60 Minutes

Just watching 60 Minutes on CBS this evening, and the piece is on “hackers and cell phones”, air date 17 April 2016.

At one point, the reporter is calling, from Berlin, a person to whom she’d sent a cell phone. You see them switch to the hackers being interviewed for the piece, and their computer screen. On it, a command line shell with a bunch of code and output were displayed, and, whaddya know, in the upper left hand corner, there was a Fedora Linux logo. Offhand, because of the positioning of the logo, I’m guessing that they use XFCE.


ADTE Colloque 2016

Today I attended the ADTE Colloque 2016: The annual conference in Montreal (home for me) for a Quebec association with goals to promote free software in education.

Overall, the conference and its logistics were reasonably well organized; as far as the implementation of the event went, it seemed to go hitch free. Rooms that were appropriately sized were available, enough chairs were in place, there were no problems with the sign in, the microphones worked, the lunches arrived, and so on.

My interest was to see Richard Stallman, who was the keynote speaker.

Before he started his speech, I got to see his laptop almost closeup: He has a GNU sticker on it, an FSF sticker on it, and a small Trisquel sticker on it. I managed to ask him what the model was; an IBM Thinkpad X60, reconditioned, slightly upgraded, and marketed by a company called Gluglug.

Given that the conference was in French, Mr. Stallman presented what was no doubt his standard speech on free software, in French. (Let’s clear this up now: I’m a native English speaker, but Montreal is a predominantly French-speaking city; as such, since I live in Montreal, *of*course* I speak and understand French fluently.) Although I knew in advance that his French was competent enough to make his presentation in French, I was pleasantly surprised and very impressed that technically it was better than moderate in calibre, and that he could maintain it for over two hours with barely two or three requests to provide the French equivalent of a word or expression. And despite a fairly thick non-native speaker accent, it was almost surprisingly easy to follow.

His speech, although it appeared to be one of his standard speeches, went on too long in my view; 2.5 hours had been allotted for the presentation and questions, and I thought he could have accomplished the same thing in about 100 minutes, including questions.

I found that there were three downsides to his presentation:

– The “Church of Emacs” routine was off-topic or at least beyond the scope of the conference. Given what amounted to be a public audience, it was out of place. A cute parlour routine or pub talk in its own right, but out of place there.
– His comments about not having children were completely out of place, however legitimate they may be in their own right, and at best were poorly presented.
– Mr. Stallman apparently is losing his hearing, and asks people to speak a little more slowly, and clearly enunciate all their words. This is understandable, especially when those asking questions are not speaking his mother tongue; further, Quebec French and accents can be difficult even for native French speakers not accustomed to them. At one point, someone who forgot to speak extra clear and a bit more slowly elicited his ire as he either lost his temper, or whined like a child, repeating admittedly for the umpteenth time for the person to speak clearly and more slowly.

As for the rest of the conference:

The overall conference had a few quirks. The iPads at the registration desks were funny and out of place, given the topic of the conference. The glaring and blatant use of a Microsoft Windows computer on the overhead projector was a weird oversight to the point of being shocking, regardless of the fact that for all intents and purposes it ended up only being used to display the wifi network and password, and one minor demonstration during a roundtable discussion. This was addressed in the first question period by an irate participant who venomously commented on it and expressed his feeling of being insulted, to the applause of roughly at least a third if not half the participants.

For me, the first round table, before Mr. Stallman’s speech, left something to be desired. I thought that they could have been better organized instead of being just “I’m Tom Smith and this is what I do. Oh, and this is what I know about free software.”

The second round table, after Mr. Stallman’s presentation, was a bit meatier and not quite as disappointing as the first. There was an IT person who was trying to slowly provide Free Software by placing it in their pool of software available to staff at his institution, alongside other software. Another panelist provided a good and enlightening response to a question, to the order of “Try explaining *that* to a powerful teachers’ union!”

My brother said the comments then as well as elsewhere in the day felt like we were still in 2006 instead of 2016 given their nature, such as:
– “Well GNU/Linux is hard to install” (I found it easy to install in 2008, and installing other software and fixing settings is something one does on any platform);
– “LibreOffice isn’t fully compatible with MS Word” (that’s a very nuanced conversation that strictly speaking is technically correct, but mostly trivially, IMO);
– “I’m accustomed to program X”;
– “I didn’t know that you could do that using free software”.

The lunch included in the admission fee was fine albeit a bit too frou-frou for my tastes, and totally inedible for my brother’s admittedly very narrow tastes. I would have hoped that there might have been more than three or four tables in the trade show part of the conference, which was held in the large lunch room area, but that’s neither here nor there.

The two afternoon sessions I attended were on the subject of “Accessing the Moodle Community”, and the ProjectLibre software.

The first presentation on the Moodle Community seemed a bit off and probably confusing to most of the participants, being a bit obscure and technical. However, once I re-read the title in the day’s schedule, I realized that it *was* on topic (both for the conference, and, on topic for his presentation.) Disappointingly, the presenter was delayed by a good fifteen minutes, for technical reasons: He could not use his computer for his presentation, given that for some reason he was unable to plug it into the projector. He then tried to present his slides prepared in LibreOffice with a computer using MS Powerpoint, which did not like his slides. He finally had to install LibreOffice on the supplied computer which was effectively permanently connected to the projector, or the setup otherwise effectively precluded the use of his own computer. He should have been prepared with the slides saved in PDF format, but to his credit he had placed the presentation online so that he could access it easily, in addition to having brought it on his computer.

The second presentation was a bit better as it at least was a demo of free software that can be used by educators / schools / etc. to either to manage their projects, what kind of software can be taught in schools, etc.

However, I thought that the two individual presenters I saw had two failings beyond what I mentioned earlier about the Moodle presenter:

– They only had about half an hour each; they could have done with at least another 15 minutes each. Each went over their allotted time; in any case, they should have timed things better in their presentations given that they knew of their time limitations, or should have known, given the announcements online and in the printed schedules liberally distributed during the conference.
– They should have been coached in advance with “ok, present what you want the way you want, *BUT*, please spend the first up to five minutes answering these five questions, such as a brief description of what the software / project / topic is, what its use could mean to the participants, etc. etc. etc.” In addition, I thought that each unfortunately were unprepared for people asking questions and making comments during the presentations, which could have been handled with “Could you wait until I finish my presentation, at which point I’d love to take your questions and feedback.”

Overall, however, I did love participating in the conference.

Update 27 April 2016:

Here is the link to the ADTE’s conference recap page (in French) (and here’s my archive)

In it are links to YouTube videos of Mr. Stallman’s presentation as well as a number of links to speakers’ quick resumé of what they spoke about to even sometimes slides of their presentations, again normally in French.