Ruminations on the Digital Realm

Jan Stedehouder

Archive for the tag “Life”

Throwing away years of Windows

It’s spring time. Nothing new there, but spring seems to be associated with cleaning. My wife wants to redo the bed room: walls, woodwork, floor and some new closets.  And -as most married men will know- when your wife wants something like this, it is better to get over with it. On the other hand, it is fun to spend time together and at the end of the day the bed room is a nicer place.

Getting in the spring cleaning mood I decided to take on our study room and fix that one as well. For the statistics: it is three by four meters with 30 meters of bookshelves on three walls, we have two desks in there and four computers, three of which are mine (not counting the laptop). All those cables! Twee meters of shelves were filled with zip folders packed with dozens upon dozens of CD’s and DVD’s gathered over the last six or seven years. I had bought some nice DJ boxes to compress the whole thing.

It was fascinating to see my IT history passing through my hands, remembering again why I stored a particular CD or why I bought a specific magazine. Some magazines don’t even exist anymore. CD’s and DVD’s that accompanied the magazines were great in a time when the internet was only 56K6 away on dial up. I loved the UK magazines because they had real software, not just trial or demo version, but versions you could deploy and use for as long as you liked.

But after a while those magazines and their disks disappeared from the folders. I got broad band and discovered free and open source software. Plenty of stuff to play around with. I found the disks I used to write my first articles, back in 2002/2003. Besides that, Linux found it’s way in my collection. First Suse 7.2 and then Red Hat 7.3. I can’t even recount how many ISO files I downloaded from LinuxISO. The site doesn’t even seem to exist anymore, but it was a great resource in a time that bittorrent still had to be invented.

From then on the collection branched in various directions. BeOS, BSD, Solaris, Netware. I sucked it all in. That must have been the time the book collection exploded as well. Some distributions still exist, others are gone, but I do remember the growth of Linux in the last few years.

And there they were, the CD’s and DVD’s with tons and tons of Windows based software. Program’s for document management. But no longer needed. Accounting, likewise, no longer needed. Flow charters, long ago replaced. Security software for Windows, no longer valid or even up to the tasks required. I cherish the memories because those disks also represent part of my growth in knowledge and skills. But in the time of spring cleaning I had to ask myself if I would ever use those disks again? Some even dated back to the Windows 98 days, so the answer was no.

With a few exceptions 90% of the disks went into the trashcan. Which -now that I think of it- represents the balance between my current use of Linux  (based software) versus Windows (based software) quite well.

Tags: Linux, Windows


A Fine Day

Nothing is as satisfying as a spiritual day. I made good progress on the talk I have to keep in the last weekend of January 2007. Talks are always great projects. You can dig into a single team and spend about 20 to 25 hours about it, going over scriptures, doing research and molding all the pieces in one consistent theme. I benefit greatly from it and it helps me to focus even sharper on the spiritual aspects of life.

This afternoon we had our bible study group. I have been responsible for this since early October. Most of the attendees are older than I am. Way older. The group is meant for the elderly in our congregation and the average age is around 70. With 39 I am almost the youngest. However age is not important and nobody seems to care that I could be their grandson. On the contrary, it is a lively and enthusiastic group with an almost naieve openness. Before I was given the responsibilty attendance was around 8 to 10, but the last couple of weeks we had 17 in attendance. It’s a great group with a lot of experience and personal wisdom, honest in their worship and still looking for ways to improve their relationship with God. I feel blessed with this responsibility.

Yes, I like these spiritual days. Too bad we sometimes have to work for a living.

The River and The Salmon

While life has been moving in the right direction for a long series of months I always kept in mind that things would turn again. It always does and will continue to do so for a time to come. One motivational speaker said that you can expect four serious crises each year and -while I don’t completely agree with the number- my own life experience seems to prove the statement true.

The last couple of weeks have been rocky with no clear end in sight. First, my dad had a cardiac arrest at the age of 61 and what followed where three and a half weeks of travelling up and down to the hospital, motivating and encouraging him, my stepmother and myself, dealing with emotional and physical stress while at the same time contuining with the daily affairs of life. He is okay now and the process of rebuilding his life and confidence has begun. I am glad it all turned out that way. However, the whole time period brought me to the brink of another burnout, the fourth one, and it takes a lot of energy and effort to avert that from happening. Thirdly there is the issue with the book we are writing. There is a strong possibility that the current project will be halted. The best case scenario hints at a delay (meaning a serious re-write of the chapters somewhere next year), the worst case would be a complete cancellation. Due to the inability of the publisher to make amenable agreements with one of the authors we might loose him and his long-time experience in Ubuntu as well.

When things start to move in the negative direction I become more introspective, tapping the source of inner strength and conviction. I start thinking about my life plan which was carefully designed and is in the middle of execution. What are my goals? Why did I choose those goals? Does the current crisis change any of those? Since the life plan and it’s goals are firmly rooted in scriptural principles this kind of introspection also brings me closer to the spiritual man. This time it brought me to the scripture “keep on searching and you will find, keep on knocking and it will be opened to you, keep on asking and you will receive”. Keep on…. Life and the pursuit of it’s goals is a process. Getting the results is not a one time effort or a one shot affair. Keep on…

The image that came to mind was that of water. Left to it’s own water follows the laws of nature and will take the path of least resistance. Water always runs down a mountain, never the way up. And don’t we say that life is an uphill battle. But when the water runs down, how do we ever get up. The answer was and is simple. Be like a salmon. The salmon is driven by a strong inner instinct to move to the spawning grounds, where new life will be brought into existence. Rapids, rocks, bears and waterfalls.. the salmon doesn’t care about any of them. On the contrary, it results into one of the strongest images in nature. The salmon jumping out of the water, ignoring the claws of the bears in order to reach the next level of it’s journey. The salmon doesn’t follow the current. It fights it, goes against it. Not all salmons reach their destination, only the strongest, the most determined and the ones who were not caught by the bears and fishermen. And yet, what a journey they make.

From there it was a small step to another motivational speaker who discussed the value of goals in life. The goals themselves are unimportant. They are merely the tools for the life you lead in order to pursue them. Pursuing the goals change the person you are into what you want to become. And when the goals are achieved, like the salmon when it reaches the spawning grounds, it brings new life into existence. Now it time to stop introspecting and continue swimming. Blasted rocks.;-)

Back to work

After three creative weeks, interspersed with an emotional rollercoaster, it is time to go back to the mundane. The office is calling and with it, the office politics, tight deadlines, disorganized departments and interorganizational rivalries. And to think I am merely working at a small non-profit organization dedicated to social care projects. In some respects it is not much different from profit organizations. Why? Well, I can only voice my opinion, but for most of my colleagues the workplace is all there is, the one place where they need to find value in life. For me it is way less important than that. I don’t think my job comes in the top five of priorities. Still I made a career that way. Maybe less steep than it would have been under other circumstances, but I really enjoy my life away from work. If only it would pay better. 😉

A good day

Tonight was a good visit to my dad in the hospital. Only a week ago we had to worry whether he would make it through the first 24 hours. Today he was chatting already with some dear old friends, laughing, enjoying himself. He is almost free to roam about, but his heart monitor keeps him on the same floor.
It looks like the worst is over, but one thing is still nagging in the back of my mind: it came out of nowhere last week and they still don’t know where the heart attack came from. I am glad he is in the hospital for the next few days. That way he is close to assistance should anything happen. For now, let’s be happy about the improvement.

A night in the hospital

A sad start for this day. We were called at three in the morning. My dad had his second heart attaque, while on a day out with his colleagues. He collapsed and was rushed to the hospital. They keep him sedated and cooled for the coming 24 hours. There is not much else to do but wait.

The path of righteousness

ln the path of righteousness there is life, and the journey in its pathway means no death. (Proverbs 12:28)

The path of righteousness. There one thing I do not doubt: there is a path of righteousness, a way of life guided and directed by divine principles. My boss is trying to grasp why some people can have such a public religious life. Public and yet exclusive since it stems from a firm inner conviction of being on the path of righteousness. He prefers to believe that all paths are part of mankinds development to understand the divine. Where one viewpoint is not necessarily better than the other. It’s an enlightened viewpoint, but one that can not be harmonized with the Bible. The saying that all roads lead to Rome is not scriptural. The Bible does speak about the narrow road to life, the path of righteousness. Not plural, not wide. But it was an interesting conversation nonetheless.


Do you ever have the feeling that you crammed too much in one day? I do, today. The planning was fine, but in the end too many urgent appointments krept in to ruin it all. Well, just two more weeks before my personal writing month. 😉

Whenever times appear to overwhelm me, I turn inside and upward. Even if only for a moment it is good to refocus, stabilize and see what are the more important things. Almost like a gyroscope, my faith is always pointing in the right direction, no matter how unstable the environs. I prefer the analogy of the gyroscope over that of the anchor. The anchor holds fast, where the gyroscope move freely around in relation to what is around, but is in fact the only stable element. Stability not by being static, but by dynamically adjusting itself at all times.


How do you measure progress? Or the level of your skills? In the last five years I spend quite some time learning all kinds of IT related skills. I consider myself an autodidact, someone who wants to learn on his own without certifying that knowledge and those skills. I learn for the fun of it, well knowing I will never measure up to the real specialists.
For example, I can not code in PHP, but I understand enough of it to read PHP-based pages and modify some of the code. I just pick up the skills I need and move forward when a new challenge presents itself. Like this week.
The organization I work for introduced a new client registration system this year and it is unbearably slow. The CRS is based on MySQL which is accessed through a client program. The hardware is okay, the network speed is fine, the server load is minimal and yet it takes 20 seconds for a form to load.
The support call to the company who installed the CRS only returned some bogus arguments like a weekly restart of the MySQL server to clear the cache and the suggestion to migrate to a Citrix based solution. At the same time they didn’t do anything with the suggestion to check whether the MySQL install was optimized for our server (a well-documented issue). Oh, they were willing to send a team to upgrade MySQL onsite and check the optimization… for a price. It couldn’t be the problem, but they were willing to cheque.. sorry, to check it out.
Fortunately we have an external team for our sysadmin tasks and we decided to setup a linux based MySQL server with a copy of the database. Yesterday a copy of the database was made and what did we find out? It was empty. The forms were there, the tables were there, but the tables were empty. No data. Or, to be more exact: the data is not stored in the database. We still have to find out where the data is, but it does explain the abysmal speed.
For me it was a small milestone. Apparently I learned enough to cut through the crap and set up a digging process. And it made me wonder: how many more small organizations with hardly any IT knowledge are screwed in this way?

Boys and their toys: my own Porsche

Two days ago I sat behind my wife’s computer, only to be disgusted by her mouse within seconds. She still had an ancient piece of hardware. Personally I use a marble trackball to prevent serious RSI problems. No my wife needed a decent mouse as well and off I went to the Media Market. The mouse was easy: a 1600 dpi laser mouse for 20 euro. But then I noticed the store was packed with bargains. Hence, I went home with a LaCie Porsche design 250 Gb external harddrive as well. This expanded my current 200 Gb to an interesting 450.
The drive was formatted NTFS so I was curious how Ubuntu would handle it. Without so much as a hickup. The disk was mounted automatically with full rights. The speed is incredible. I hardly notice a difference with the internal drives.
Did I need the extra 250 Gb? Nope! I can’t even use the drive for an alternative OS, since my box doesn’t support USB boot. I will use it for backup purposes, but to be honest… it’s just a toy 😉

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