Reverend Sam Franklin

This is the Reverend Sam Franklin. This guest book doesn’t have long left, and while the messages are heartfelt, there’s not a lot there. He went by “Uncle Tom” apparently.

I met him once last year, just before he passed away.

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while and have had the crumbs of it sitting in a draft since I met him. Last year I was at the mall in Christiansburg, VA with my kids. I had left them to their own ends for a while, grabbed a coffee and had sat down in a mildly comfortable chair in the middle of the mall. The seating made a small square with a couple of chairs on each side.

On one side an old man sat in a wheelchair. Opposite me another man sat. After a minute or two the old man spoke up, “If I was to ask one of these people here how old they thought I am, what do you think they would say?”

So, a couple of thoughts went through my head if I’m being entirely honest. Firstly, that I might be in for a crazy old man diatribe that I’d need to gently extricate myself from, and secondly that there was no way I was going to give a straight answer.

The man across from me smiled, but didn’t say much, umm-ing and ah-ing in a jokey kind of way. The old man insisted, “Go on, guess.” I hazarded a silly guess, “Fifty-five?” We bantered a bit more. I guessed a little closer, “Seventies?” I smiled, “You know, I’m not going to even try to get it right. It’s not very polite, is it?”

“I’m one hundred and four.”

Crikey…definitely crazy old man territory. There’s no way a man this articulate and seemingly healthy is that old, despite the wheelchair. We chatted some more and I don’t really remember why, but I moved over to sit next to him. I do remember that his fingers were thick, swollen and mottled with the years.

An hour and a half later, his middle-aged granddaughter and her husband (from Maryland?) came back to pick him up, and I was wiser. “You wouldn’t believe he’s one hundred and four, would you?!” they said. “Oh, I would” I replied.

I’ll admit to not understanding everything he told me. A Southwest Virginia accent, old age, and my own transatlantic origins made some things hard to grasp, but I still remember some of the stories he told me. I wish I remembered more, and I wish I’d written this last year when I intended, but I also hope that maybe one day someone will find this and he’ll be remembered. I’m sure I’ll get some of this wrong too.

In July 1916, the New River flooded. He would have been ten years old then. His family was living in Carroll County at the time, as best I can tell, right down by the river on the flood plain. It came at night. They barely had time to get him and his siblings out of bed, and to let the animals loose before the house was filled. The waters came well up to the second floor.

I wish I remember more, but I’m thinking that they found a friendly farmer and slept in a barn for a while after that.

The next year (1917), the river froze (here too), and the ice dammed up the river destroying bridges.

Some time after that they moved to Radford, VA, and I’d guess around then he started at the Radford pipe works which was owned by the Lynchburg Foundry (his obituary implies he worked in Lynchburg, but I don’t think he did). He worked in Radford for thirty-six years. At some point, perhaps during the war, he went to Tennessee to train to make aircraft parts, which should have enabled him to make a bit more money.

He took himself and his training to Atlanta after that, where I think he had some kind of supervisory role. He told me some tales of a crazy ex-con who he took a chance on. That was a bet that didn’t work out.

During all this time, he was a minister at various places, including a church in Ellett Valley, and they had ten kids. When we spoke his younger brother was still alive and living by himself. He had buried his son recently. I didn’t want to ask about his wife.

He did tell the tale of the time he saw one man shoot another six times. It was connected to his church, and he was the one who ended up taking the gun off the man who did the shooting. There was a court case of course. I seem to recall though that there was a sense that the shooting may have been justified and as a result the Reverend may have been careful with the truth when the time came.

…and that’s it. One hundred and four years. One and a half hours last year. It really cannot have been long before he passed away. It was a great conversation that meandered a fair bit, and was hard work sometimes, but so worth it. I couldn’t quite convey it to my kids when they came to find me, nor to my friends and colleagues.

He seemed a decent man who lived a decent life.

It was a pleasure to meet Sam. I’m glad I had that time to sit and listen to him. I’m glad he persisted in talking to me and shared some of his life with me. When my race is run, I hope someone takes the time to tell a tale or two about me. I hope there are some good tales to tell.

Batch Move Users to Organizations in Google Apps

Just a quick note. I write our own integration code for Google Apps in part because of our scale, and in part because I started integrating our systems before GADS (Google Apps Directory Sync) existed. The code mostly just works, so I don’t look at it very often, and I’m not a strong python coder.

Recently I need to move a fairly large number of users into an organization, but there’s no way to do this in the GUI as a batch job, so I needed to code it. I found the docs, but mostly I have to go through a lot of trial and error. Here’s the ultimate shape of the code I came up with, and an explanation. I’m just writing a quick utility script here so it’s nothing fancy:


#!/usr/bin/python

import gdata.apps.organization.client

# get a client and log in as an integration user
ouclient = gdata.apps.organization.client.OrganizationUnitProvisioningClient(domain='yourdomain.com')
ouclient.ClientLogin(email='adminuser@yourdomain.com', password='adminuserpassword', source ='apps')

# grab the customerId of the integration account - this is new
clientid = ouclient.RetrieveCustomerId()
customer_id = clientid.customer_id

# you need the customer id to do anything, I think. Read the provisioning docs.
# Objects that are camelCase in the XML, change to underscore in python
# I have never found that documented anywhere so I figure it is something you just know!

ouclient.move_users_to_org_unit(customer_id=customer_id, org_unit_path='nameorpathofOU', users_to_move=['username@yourdomain.com'])

#users_to_move is a list, up to 25 email addresses. See the docs on move_users_to_org_unit.

Virginia Tech Hokies Women’s Soccer

I tweeted about this the other day but I’d like to expand a little.

Last year I attended a game or two, but this year, I’ve been to several Hokie soccer games: at least one of the men’s team and several of the women’s. It has been a lot of fun. There’s a smallish crowd, which is enough to make it fun, but not the insane size of the football games. It’s free to get in and parking is easy.

I’m going to give the men’s team another chance since they didn’t really impress in the game I saw, but I am really enjoying watching the Women’s Soccer team. They are extremely skillful and have many of the qualities of a great team, but they are not quite converting their dominance into goals as much as I think they should.

I thought they were unlucky in North Carolina (let’s just say that I didn’t entirely agree with the refereeing) and that they dominated Boston College for much of the game. They do seem to be a bit vulnerable on set pieces.

Their ball movement, patience, discipline, possession, and general talent are all fantastic. They play a little like Swansea in that they’ll typically move the ball out from defense on the ground with calm, precise and well-controlled passing. Several times, I’ve seen their central defensive players turn the opposition inside out before making a simple release pass. They are very good at relieving pressure in that regard.

The team seems to be setting up in a 4-1-3-2 formation and their midfielders are impressive. The one caveat is that they feel unimaginative on offense in the final third. What I have seen to this point are through balls, long balls, and runs that tend to be vertical (straight up and down) with few overlaps from midfield and less diagonal movement. Several times I’ve seen midfielders creating space in advanced positions by fantastic passing and then it fizzles out, either in a wayward shot or a tackle.

I’m not sure of the underlying reason. It could be intentional positional discipline, but the last game I saw there was at least one occasion for a clear overlapping run by an outside midfielder and the player just stayed in place. The other part of the equation is the offensive players themselves who seem a little static or “one note”. If you aren’t faster than the defense and being quick is your thing, then your options close down. If being tall is your thing, then you need service from the wings.

My understanding of an attacker’s role (and I say this both as a fan, and primarily a defensive player myself), is that it is at least in part to make defenses constantly worry about where you are, to get on their blind side, to get into positions where they can’t see both you and the ball, and to make runs off and away from the ball to draw the defense into bad positions. That off-the-ball mischievousness and creativity is what I think I’m not seeing. I’m not sure of the solution from a tactical point of view, but the team feels only a fraction shy of being a truly great team. They could easily have beaten North Carolina and Boston in my opinion.

Either way, they play again this Sunday, and I’m planning on enjoying the game, whatever the result.

Ah, !@$# it!

I’m quite a fan of ufyh (warning: language NSFW), but less for the 20-10’s or the concerted effort to fix bits and pieces. I definitely see the utility of those and do something along those lines occasionally (those baking soda and vinegar volcanoes really work), but really I think it’s as much about a state of mind that says, “^@#% it! This thing isn’t as big a deal as my stupid brain is making it. Do it now!”

Cases in point:

  1. I’ve had a chip in my windshield (windscreen?) for month or so now. Every time I see it, it niggles me. I really need to do something about that. In a very stupid way, it was chipping away at my self-esteem every time I saw it. It was my car telling me that I’m too incompetent, too lazy to get around to fixing a stupid chip in a stupid screen, which could be a REALLY BIG DEAL if and when the windshield broke because I hadn’t got it fixed. It’s nuts. Brain’s are stupid that way. Today, I finally got to that point, and in a five minute phone call arranged for my insurance to get it fixed for free tomorrow in my driveway!
  2. Daughter #2 never puts her laundry away. She’s allergic to it, I think. As a last resort, I put her on a timer last week. It took her 3 minutes…well, 6 minutes to get it into her room and in the drawers. 6 stupid minutes. Staring at that %@#%ing pile of laundry had been eating away at me for weeks.
  3. I had a caulking gun sitting in my bathroom for a month or two. I needed to fix the caulk around the bathtub. Two bloody months reminding me of what I hadn’t done. When I finally was willing to say “@%#$ it! Let’s do it now!” it took me less than five minutes to lay a bead where it needed to go. You may well (and correctly) claim that I probably did a half-ass job, but it’s done, which is a heck of a lot better than “not done and mocking me.”

The thing is that this kind of thing happens all the damn time, but a slight shift in perspective can really help move things along. There’s a really annoying story about starfish stranded on a sea-shore. You know the one. I don’t think in those terms, but doing something, anything, begins to move things in the right direction. I pick up a couple of dust-bunnies from the floor. It’s nothing, but you know, there are now two fewer dust-bunnies. I put away the dishes. It’s nothing. It takes two, maybe three minutes, and makes hardly a lick of difference, but now I can actually do the dirty dishes and fill the dishwasher. These things seem like they count for nothing, but they actually move things forward, even if it’s only an inch at a time. It’s still an inch in the right direction and pretty soon you realize that you’ve cleared space both mentally and physically.

I’m not so damn special that it has to be right, and I have to look perfect. I should forgive myself and be willing to get it wrong, to screw up, to apologize, to fix, to move forward. The thing done is better than the thing not done. The email sent. The phone call made.

I’m not going to do the exact exercise that I should, but any exercise is better than no exercise. I’m not going to eat in the healthiest way possible, but I’ll add something to the mix, and that’s better than not.

So anyway, this post is a reminder to myself that sometimes you have to be willing to ignore that over-analytical brain and say “@#%& it! Do it now!”

Oh…and make your bed!

Triathlon

sotto voce: one of a series of long unfinished posts that I’m just throwing out there.

So, I completed my first (sprint) triathlon in June. A Roanoke Times news report is available for some while.

There are some pictures online, but I’m not going to link to them, mostly to spare you the sight of my astonishingly blanched farmer’s tan. I do have a picture of me in the bike-to-run transition, which is, I’m told, not bad.

Bearing in mind that this was immediately after falling and grazing my elbow quite badly, I’m doing okay.


It’s many months later, and post Lyme’s disease and appendicitis, I’m sure I’ve forgotten many of the little lessons I could have taken away from the experience. Let me think…

  1. have flip-flops to walk around in after dropping off your gear in the transition area, and a small bag for glasses(?) or other stuff that you can leave by the pool and pick up later after the race.
  2. the bike section is the longest section in terms of time, and as a result where there is room for the biggest improvement, i.e. a 10% improvement in a swim time would be less than a minute and would require a lot of training, 10% in the run about 3 minutes, but 10% bike improvement would be about 5 minutes.
  3. I don’t have my own fancy bike and if I want to keep doing this I’ll need to buy one 🙁
  4. The camber on the run was quite tough. I don’t know whether I suffered more due to the tick bite on my ankle (and swelling), or perhaps somewhat newish shoes, or just the length of the race, but my feet hurt for a while afterwards.
  5. I was in pretty reasonable shape at the end
  6. I think I’m in better shape now than I was then. My achilles is a bit sore these days, but fewer other things ache or hurt…well, except my knees sometimes.
  7. loosen both your pedal cages before getting to the end
  8. getting up early was a bit of a struggle
  9. those gel packs do seem to make a difference

Nothing else springs to mind, but it was fun, and I’m glad I did it. In general terms, doing multiple sports does seem to lessen the risk of injury and develop more balanced fitness. I’m still biking, running and swimming, although I’ve no concrete plans for another race, and I’ve added a little bit more strength work recently through some body weight exercise. I think that’s helping. I’m trying out tracking with Fitocracy too.

When exactly will the “War on Terror” be over?

When exactly will the War on Terror be over? You do wonder. It’s not really a question anyone ever asks. When will it be over and when it is, will our privacy and liberty be restored? Like the War on Drugs or the War on Poverty, it will never be over until it stops being a war at all. One way to “win” is to refuse to fight the same battle as your opponent. Win on your own terms, not theirs.

Not holding my breath on that. What a mess.

BBWorld 2011

sotto voce: one of a series of long unfinished posts that I’m just throwing out there.

I returned from Blackboard World 2011 on Saturday. It was a good conference. I went early for the Oscelot/Open Source Day, and DevCon. Both were excellent. OSD was a good easy start and a nice small event to get things going. Glad to see Mark O’Neill is still involved while having a critical role within Blackboard and he’s just a nice, smart guy. I also got a chance to get to know Wim and his team from K.U. Leuven, who are great guys and do interesting work. Getting to know them, the various ex-pats from the U.K. (Scots in England, and English in Scotland), and Jose from Monterrey.The Belgian and Monterrey schools are institutions of somewhat similar size and have faced many of the same challenges that we have, and found many of the same solutions. The guys from the U.K. are doing excellent technical work particularly with standards.

Anyway, a week in Las Vegas with lots of free alcohol. What could be better? Well, I’ve been sick for quite a while and it really dialed up this past week. I felt pretty awful and was taking ibuprofen every 4 hours or so. Without it, mind-bogglingly bad headaches started, shooting pains, muscle aches, etc. Very hard to sleep when your scalp(!) hurts to the touch and you are waking up every few hours. Friends with medical experience were quite worried. Anyway, the flight back was tough and I went straight to my regular clinic and a new doctor who very promptly diagnosed Lyme disease. There’s a test which will take a while to come back, but the diagnosis seems right and matches up with the “spider” bite that I had sustained just before I ran the triathlon a little over 3 weeks ago. Since I’d been taking ibuprofen for the swelling, I suspect it masked a lot of the initial symptoms. I’m finally on the right antibiotic and I hope, improving.

— picking up again after a long while —

So, I went on antibiotics for the Lyme disease which immediately started clearing up…and consequently developed Bell’s Palsy, which really freaked me out. Apparently it’s a relatively rare side effect of Lyme’s disease as the 7th facial nerve has been compressed. At one point, I was on an anti-inflammatory, anti-viral (just in case it wasn’t Lyme’s–the test takes a long time to come back), and antibiotic. This was as I was headed to England for an overdue vacation.

Anyway, back to the conference. Since I’d been feeling so bad, I kept putting off the work I needed to do on my presentation. In the end I dragged a co-worker into presenting a little bit, but I did the majority of it with very skinny slides. It turned out very well. The room was full to overflowing and I was asked to do a repeat session, which I ultimately decided to decline. The recording is/was online fwiw.

A long time since, what do I recall of the conference. Not much to be honest. It was a good conference, but the whole experience was colored by my illness. I hope this year it will be more fun.

…pulling the trigger on this one.

Soccer Commentary and Counter-Productive Takedowns

sotto voce: one of a series of long unfinished posts that I’m just throwing out there.

Good grief, an excellent soccer strategy site is asked to stop using photos of matches in his analysis. God forbid that enthusiasts get interested in all dimensions of the game! It’s a common theme for copyright holders to take actions directly contrary to their own long-term interests, but it springs from fundamental misunderstandings of the internet. See also: SOPA, ACTA, etc.