The Case for Optimism

These days it’s trendy to be pessimistic. Every time we sign into Facebook our friends (or moms) are telling us about how crime is up, incomes are down, morality is on the way out, Zika virus is about to infect us all, and if that doesn’t kill us, Islamic Terrorism definitely will.

These are the stories we tell ourselves every day. They shape our outlook, often hanging a dark cloud over our lives.

The problem is these stories aren’t true.

We live in the safest world humankind has ever seen. Violent crimes in the US are half of what they were just 30 years ago. World crime is down an astonishing amount.

If you’re in your 30s right now and live in the US, you likely earn twice as much money in real dollars as your parents did when you were born.

Life expectancy in the US is up nearly 10 years from what it was 50 years ago, and continuing to rise.

What’s even more amazing than how life has improved in the US is how vastly improved living conditions are across the world.

Since 1980, extreme poverty has fallen across the globe, from 44% to 9.6%. To put that into perspective, in 1980 2 Billion Humans lived in extreme poverty. Today, 687 million do.

That’s 1.5 Billion people who are no longer living in extreme poverty, in just 30 years time. It’s not just possible, but very likely that extreme poverty will be eradicated in our lifetimes.

Then, consider maternal and infant mortality. It’s fallen so much in the last 300 years that the graph looks broken. Pregnancy and childbirth were very recently terrifying and extremely dangerous. Today, they’re safe and routine.

For the vast majority of people on Earth, life isn’t just a little better than it was 30, 50, and 100 years ago, it’s fantastically better.

This immense cup Common Grace that God has poured out on the world is one from which we should drink deeply, and with delight. “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!”, said the Psalmist.

This alone should be enough to make an optimist of all of us, but for Christians it gets better; oh so much better!

Sweeter and infinitely more satisfying than his Common Grace is the Saving Grace poured out for us through Christ. Our Greatest Need has been met; our souls have been saved. We have a feast before us such that we will never hunger or thirst again!

How then, can we be pessimistic?

Certainly the world is not perfect. We don’t live in the New Earth. But the stories we tell ourselves are important, and every day we have the choice to tell ourselves stories of optimism or stories of pessimism. As Christians, our lives are characters in the One True Story, and it’s a happy ending for us all, where everything sad comes undone in the end.

Don’t give in. When someone offers you a half-empty glass of fear, uncertainty, and doubt, set it aside. Pick up the golden goblet of Grace from the table in front of you, drink it deeply, and laugh. Let the warmth fill you from the inside out. This is a wine that will make the heart of man glad today, tomorrow, and forever.

A Nice Little Place

Good afternoon! I'm glad you could make it. Today I'd like to show you a special place. It's a sort of a refuge for the weary; a natural charger of human batteries. I like to go there when the demands of life are closing in, but it's a fine place to visit on any occasion.

It's right that way, just down the path.

Close the door behind you, if you don't mind — thanks.

Now, if you'll just follow me, it's not too far.

Do you see those ferns over there, off to the right? The really dark green ones, I mean. Lush, aren't they? And I've been told this is the only place in the world they still grow naturally. They'll grow as high as your head by the end of the Summer. When I was younger I'd wander through there for hours. Sometimes, after a rain, I'd lie on the damp ground and watch the clouds float by all afternoon.

Watch your head there, the branches hang quite low to the path.

I've always found the woods here fascinating — not far to go now, just over that next rise — there are myriad species. White Ash next to Brown Ponderosa, Elm, and all sorts of wild fruit bearers. But my favorite are these Oaks. The way they spread out their arms it feels like they're holding up the whole of the forest canopy. And on a day like today, with the sun just so, it's as if they have their fingers spread to let the light dance on the floor with the breeze.

That sound? Which one? Ah! You're hearing the Robins. They do seem rather delighted today, don't they? They're probably sharing stories of all the worms they've gorged themselves on after yesterday's rains. Who can blame them?

Now be careful here. The moss on these rocks can be rather slippery. You can use that tree there to steady yourself as you descend. Once we get to the bottom there, the path goes to the right; we've almost arrived. Oh, look, a little garter snake over there in the leaves. You missed it? I'm sorry. Rather dashing fellow, had bright yellow stripes on dow his back.

There. That wasn't so bad, was it? The path is a bit firmer here. Our destination is just ahead, through those trees. Watch your head again, the branches are even lower than they seem at first.

Just follow me through here. It almost looks like a magic portal, doesn't it? I'm not certain it isn't.

Well, what do you think?

Magnificent, isn't it? I don't think I've ever been to a place that felt so much like a room in the forest, the way the trees come together around the edges here, yet the middle remains so open.

See the rock there to the left, that juts out just above the creek? It's the perfect place to take off your shoes and chill your feet on a hot Summer day. The creek is cool year round. And if it's warm enough you might try wading in just there, to the right. See those purple daisies on the bank? A few steps out there's a small depression in the creek bed, perfect when you need a soak.

I don't know if fishing is one of your interests, but you can imagine that this is a good spot. There's never much of anything large in the creek here; it's a bit too shallow for that. But the occasional trout or minnow can be found. If your hands are quick enough I dare say you could pluck them right out of the water, it's clear enough.

There's really nothing you can't do out here. I've brought some paints and a canvas in the past; saw a fox that day, if you can believe it. I couldn't count the words I've written out here. It's just such a good place to sit and think.

Well, anyway, I should probably be going now; life is calling me back. Though, I might stay long enough for a quick dip of the toes.

Oh, if you have time you absolutely must have a look at the rocks on the opposite bank there. I've never seen so many colors of lichen all in one spot. And if you've any interest in coming back with a special someone, you might want to have a look at the hollow behind those vines, between the trees across the creek, just to the left of that White Ash.

Anyway, let me know what you see, won't you? I love to hear about the wildlife, and it seems every time I'm here there's a new botanical discovery in waiting.

No, no need to follow me back. Stay as long as you'd like. Hear the sounds, smell the smells, see all there is to see. Be sure to take a sip, it's like nothing you've had before. Maybe have a nap on the rock there; it's softer than it looks.

Don't worry, the path back is an easy one, you won't miss it.

And if I've gone before you arrive, please leave me a note. I'd love to hear what you found.

Losing A Friend

When a human dies we have certain rituals we perform. Mine might be different from yours, but they’re probably similar. We mourn, we reminisce, we sell old things, or donate them. We consider the acute causes, the ways we hope to avoid them ourselves. And then we erect memorials; physical objects to remind us of the dearly departed.

Most often we humans have a specific ritual where we do these things together. Whether we realize it or not while living, most of us touch enough other lives that when we fade out of this life it doesn’t go unnoticed.

A similar thing often happens when a pet dies. It may only include the immediate household of the now-gone companion, and maybe a few of the friends of the members of that house, but it’s still there: the mourning, the reminiscing, the donations. It’s an event. We mark it as such, sometimes even with very physical memorials.

But not all death is mourned equally. Not all friends get a funeral.


For the last five years I’ve spent nearly every day with my friend. Each morning, after getting ready for the day, I pour my cup of coffee and head out to my office, where I’m greeted by my friend. Sometimes he’s been on my mind all night. Sometimes I’d rather not think about him at all, frankly. Like any other friendship, it has its rocky moments.

This friendship has many unique qualities, but one of them is that I’m responsible to make sure my friend gets fed. And he works to make sure I get fed, in turn.

We work together all day, each day. And it’s not just the two of us. There have been many who have helped to feed my friend, and received the benefit in return. Most recently among them is my brother.

While it’s been my responsibility to keep him fed for years now, it hasn’t always been easy. Last year we went through a few months with basically nothing at all to eat. But, we made it through that, and the Summer and Fall were full, and happy. We even took some of the extra food we had and stored it away in the cellar. It kept us well-fed through the winter. Last year was a good Christmas.

Then, at the beginning of this year, my friend got sick. He’d been sick before, so we knew he’d make it through it. But, as the weeks turned into months we started to doubt. The food from the cellar was gone now, and the best I could find for him were a few meager rations (joyfully received, but insufficient for the task). He needed more, but no matter how hard we tried we just couldn’t find anything for him.

In March the shadow started to shade my friend. Like the scattered edge of a storm it was soft at first, darkening throughout the month.

In April there was no denying it. The shadow was here, and it wasn’t leaving alone. All through the process my friend never complained. He never threw an eye of disappointment my way. He just kept doing what he could, every day. From a cup of coffee in the morning to a cold beer in the evening, we saw each other every day until the end.

April 29 was our last day together.


We don’t hold funerals for businesses, and maybe we shouldn’t. But when you spend half a decade or more working on something you love, pouring your life into it, weaving it into your life day by day, you can’t rip it off like a band aid. It’s not stuck on you, it’s woven into you.

I can’t help but feel like I failed my friend. Failed to take proper care of him. I could have done more, or something different, right? We all know death is inevitable. But this death, in this way?

There will be reminiscing, and probably even selling of old things. We’ll probably all stand around from time to time, remembering the good ol’ days, but also wondering about how it could have been different.

There won’t be a memorial service. No one will get up at the microphone and talk about a life well lived, or sing a melancholy song about how short life can be.

But, I would like a sort of grave stone. A physical reminder of where all those days went. Something to be able to look at and know this really happened.

Then, in the morning, I can grab that cup of coffee, sit down, look, and remember.

Rest in peace, old friend. I won’t forget you.

Thunderbirds

Monitoring an APC UPS with a Raspberry Pi

If you're looking to monitor an APC USP (many of the latest models have a USB port for monitoring) this is the best walk-through I've found:

http://www.anites.com/2013/09/monitoring-ups.html

Thanks to Kenneth Burgener for his great write up.

Being able to query the UPS or perform actions based on Power Off/Power On state is fantastic.

$ apcaccess 
CABLE    : USB Cable
DRIVER   : USB UPS Driver
UPSMODE  : Stand Alone
STARTTIME: 2016-03-09 09:10:19 -0700  
MODEL    : Back-UPS ES 550G 
STATUS   : ONLINE 
LINEV    : 122.0 Volts
LOADPCT  : 6.0 Percent
BCHARGE  : 100.0 Percent
TIMELEFT : 107.5 Minutes
MBATTCHG : 5 Percent
MINTIMEL : 3 Minutes
MAXTIME  : 0 Seconds
SENSE    : Medium
LOTRANS  : 92.0 Volts
HITRANS  : 139.0 Volts
ALARMDEL : 30 Seconds
BATTV    : 13.5 Volts
LASTXFER : Automatic or explicit self test
NUMXFERS : 2
XONBATT  : 2016-04-04 06:36:26 -0700  
TONBATT  : 0 Seconds
CUMONBATT: 16 Seconds
XOFFBATT : 2016-04-04 06:36:34 -0700  
LASTSTEST: 2016-04-04 06:36:26 -0700  
STATFLAG : 0x05000008
SERIALNO : 4B1414P00197  
BATTDATE : 2014-03-31
NOMINV   : 120 Volts
NOMBATTV : 12.0 Volts
END APC  : 2016-04-10 09:13:05 -0700

Graphing Data With SNMP and MRTG

Notes:

  • Had to install the extra MIBs with ``
  • Data is always in integer format. If you want decimals you have to use Factor
  • Watch your MaxBytes! If a value goes above that, MRGT will assume it was an error and either make it a 0 or not display it at all.
  • How to check an OID with SNMP: snmpget -v 2c localhost -c public .1.3.6.1.2.1.25.1.21
  • I put the entire flow of Updating MRTGs into a single script to avoid race conditions /usr/local/bin/update_values_and_run_mrtg
  • APCUPSD Getting Started: http://www.anites.com/2013/09/monitoring-ups.html
  • MRTG is writing to /www/mrgt on the Pi, but NGINX just points to that as the root.

Helpful Links:

Cox Gigablast Install

Around November 2015 I got a letter in the mail from Cox Communications, my ISP. “Gigablast is coming soon!” it said, along with a warning that service might be interrupted from time to time over the next few weeks as they install infrastructure.

Gigablast is Cox’s Fiber To The Home (FTTH) gigabit internet offering.

Needless to say, I was excited. I was already on their highest-tier plan (300Mbps down, 30Mbps up), but faster always seems better. Why? Because why not?

I was also very interested in the rollout because I wasn’t familiar with much of the technology of optical networks. This was a chance to observe up-close how it all works. And since a lot of the technology was going underground, there would be a limited window of opportunity to observe it, ever.

With that in mind I did my best to take photos, talk to workers, and document as much of the process as I could. I’ve documented the process here in roughly chronological order, and I’ve done my best to gather the details necessary to get a good grip on how the Cox Fiber network is physically setup in neighborhoods with Gigablast.

If you know details that I don’t, or have corrections, I’d love to know.

Step 1: Digging the holes for the POSs and Digging some trenches for new conduit.

The first sign of activity in the neighborhood was the digging of holes to install the POSs. A Passive Optical Splitter is the point in an optical network where the incoming “Main” fiber line is split up into a single line for each house.

Workers dig a hole for an POS
A utility box is prepared to be placed into the hole previous dug. The POS will sit on this utility box, fed by the Fiber in conduit beneath it.

Step 2: Pulling Conduit and Pulling Fiber to the Pedestals

While the POSs are being prepared, workers are pulling conduit through the existing coaxial conduit. Yes, that's right, they're pulling conduit through existing conduit. You can see the new, bright orange conduit being pulled within the existing gray conduit. Once that has been pulled, the fiber is pulled within the orange conduit. I presume this is because the stresses that the orange flexible conduit can endure far exceed what they are willing to put the fiber through.

New conduit (orange) being pulled near the existing coaxial amplifier, and the new utility box that the POS will be placed on.
Closeup view of new conduit (orange) near existing amplifier and the new POS container.
New conduit (orange) being pulled to the pedestal in front of a house. Once the new conduit is in place, fiber was pulled through the new (orange) conduit.
Inside of the underground utility box where the POS will be placed.

Step 3: Installation of the POS

Once the conduit is in place the POS is installed adopt the utility box that was placed in the ground. So far all of these are right next to existing amplifiers in the coaxial network. This seems like a logical way to structure the network, but by no means would it be mandatory.

Once the POS is installed, the fiber was pulled into the cabinet and terminated.

POS atop its utility box. Fiber is fed from beneath.
Closer view of Cox POS.

Step 4: Termination of the Fiber at the Pedestals

This was one of the most confusing parts to me before I watched the install take place. I couldn't figure out how the fibers were routed through the pedestals. Were there optical switches in each pedestal, linking the fibers to main network? Were there splices everywhere?

Turns out the answer is super simple.

The cable that's pulled from the POS is then looped through each pedestal, with about 12 or 15 feet of coiled slack left in each pedestal.

The trick is that this cable actually has 96 glass fibers in it, enough for 96 houses.

Example of multi-fiber cable.

Here's how they do this at each pedestal:

  1. Pull off the out layer(s) of insulation, exposing the "tubes". (Each "tube" contains 12 optical fibers, each in its own protective jacket).
  2. Pull off the out layer(s) of the tube(s) that need to be access at this pedestal.
  3. Now the individual fibers are visible, in their protective jackets.
  4. Cut the fibers that need to be terminated at this pedestal.
  5. Terminate the fibers with standard SC or LC (etc) style connectors and install in place in the pedestal.
  6. Carefully coil the cable back into its harness and close up the pedestal.

So the trick I failed to see is that, the fibers that are terminated at this pedestal remain in the cable bundle, they're just unusable beyond this point.

Here's a diagram representing this:

The path of the fibers in the main cable bundle, from pedestal to pedestal.

Step 5: Home Install

The Home install is very straighforward. There are only a few steps:

  1. Pull Fiber and a new piece of Coax from the Pedestal to the Home through the existing conduit.
  2. Terminate the Fiber inside the home and connect to an ONT, installed in the home.
  3. Terminate the Fiber at the pedestal and connect to incoming Fiber.
  4. Provision the ONT (Mine is an Alcatel-Lucent G-010G-A).
  5. Do a speed test.
Pulling new Fiber and RG-6 from the pedestal to my house.
This box, on the wall in my garage, splices the rigid fiber from the conduit (black) to the flexible cable that was run to the ONT in my house (beige).
Closeup of the flexible fiber.
Terminating the flexible fiber.
Terminating the flexible fiber.
The tool used to splice the connectors onto the ends of the fiber, a Swift F1.
Some of the many layers of a fiber optic cable.

Final Notes

  • A new piece of Coax was pulled at the same time. At least in my neighborhood TV isn't going to be on Fiber any time soon. The old Coax was used to do the pull of the new cables.
  • A box was installed in my garage were the rigid fiber from the conduit was spliced to much more flexible fiber that was then run to the ONT.
  • The ONT was required to be indoors. The garage was not sufficient.
  • I was able to keep using my existing router (TP-Link Archer C7). The techs recognized it and gave me no trouble leaving it in place.
  • The techs noted that Gigablast is not overclocked the way the rest of their internet products are. If you get 950Mbps, be happy. Don't expect over 1000. Also, good luck finding a switch or router that'll go over 1Gbps for any consumer price at this point, so you wouldn't notice anyway.
  • The connectors were spliced onto the ends of the fiber, the fiber wasn't hand-fed and terminated through the connectors.
  • The installation was 2 hours from the time the first tech showed up until I was back online.
  • The installation process was supposed to take multiple days (pull fiber one day, come back and install ONT another), but the tech offered to pull the fiber and do it all in one go. Of course I took him up on the offer.
One of the many speed tests I have run since the install. The max speed I've seen is about 960Mbps. I'm satisfied.

If you know details that I don’t, or have corrections, I’d love to know.

Corrections

  1. An earlier version of this article mistakenly referred to the POS as an OLT. The OLT exists in the CO or PoP, not in the neighborhood.
  2. An earlier version of this article mistakenly referred to the coax being pulled as "RG-8". It is, in fact, RG-6.
  3. An earlier version of this article referred to coaxial "Nodes". These are, in fact, Amplifiers.

Colorado River At Hoover Dam