Frederick, MD

Megh, Joan, and Kelly
Megh, Joan, and Kelly

My sister-in-law, Kelly, earned her Masters in Environmental Education from Hood College in Frederick, MD.  Road trip!

Day 0:

We rolled into town on Friday morning, 1 AM.  (I would have stopped earlier and finished the drive in the morning but arrangements had been made.)  Delaware was the worst, as usual — expensive tolls and traffic problems, even at midnight.  I hate Delaware.

Day 1: Laying Low

After a late start, breakfast, and a quick dip in the motel pool, we visited Kelly at work – the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historic Park.

View across Antietam valley
Antietam Battlefields, MD

An excellent lunch in town at the Desert Rose Café, then a visit to Antietam (a quick hop skip and jump down the road).
I, unfortunately, took a nap in our car while the rest of the group did the self-driven tour in Joan’s car, but I did capture a great photo from the visitor’s center.

Day 2: Graduation Ceremony

We laid low in the morning, except for an egg and sausage casserole that Kelly made which couldn’t be beat.

Hood college has a beautiful campus. The ceremony was appropriately timed and the weather was beautiful.
Dinner was at a local brew pub, Barley and Hops. Their porter was delicious.

Day 3: Hiking and Gettysburg

Cunningham Falls State Park, MD
Cunningham Falls State Park, MD

We went to Cunningham Falls with a huge crew: Tim, Kelly and Damien; Joan; Jerry and Karol (Kelly’s parents);  Max, Manmeet, Uma, and Simon (cousins and their children).  Plus ourselves.

We split two ways and took two different trails – the easy and hard ways.  They meet at the falls (pictured).

Afterwards, since we were so close, we headed over to Gettysburg and walked to the “bloody wall” from the museum.  The kids kept going like troopers.


Adults sitting on a rock and being boring
The adults, doing adult things, at Cunningham Falls

Jury Duty

I was called for jury duty today. I’ve never served on a jury before and, stroke of luck, I still haven’t – the required number of jury seats were filled before my number was called. I’m still exempt from serving for another three years, though!

It’s a shame, really – after I saw the case I was actually looking forward to being on the jury (just a little).  It would have been a same day trial.  I’ve never seen a trial before, and I briefly considered staying and watching as a member of the community, but I was hungry and it was almost lunch time and I wanted to eat with Megh if I could (which I did).

I was surprised by the friendliness of the court staff.  One would think that stepping newbies through the system two or three days per week would make them tired of the same stupid routine, but everyone we (the prospective jurors) interacted with was friendly and courteous.  They behaved professionally  — even with the one guy who was apparently stoned for jury duty.  He was interviewed but ultimately not placed in the jury.

The Best Wedding Invitation in Ages

My second cousin, once removed (I think) is getting married.  I couldn’t be happier for the couple, but when I saw the invitation my jaw just about dropped.  I wish we could go – if the invitation is any guide, it’s going to be an excellent party.  With bacon!

I mean, just look at the excellent style!
I mean, just look at the excellent style!

Transferring Large Files

Linux has an impressive tool set, if you know how to use it.  The  philosophy of using simple tools that do one job (but do it well) with the ability to chain commands together using pipes creates a powerful system.

Everyone has to transfer large files across the network on occasion.  scp is an easy choice most of the time, but if you’re working with small or old machines the CPU will be a bottleneck due to encryption.

There are several alternatives to scp, if you don’t need encryption.  These aren’t safe on the open internet but should be acceptable on private networks.  TFTP and rsync come to mind, but they have their limitations.

  • tftp is generally limited to 4 gig files
  • rsync either requires setting up an rsync service, or piping through ssh

My new personal favorite is netcat-as-a-server.  It’s a little more complicated to set up than scp or ftp but wins for overall simplicity and speed of transfer.

netcat doesn’t provide much output, so we’ll put it together with pv (pipeviewer) to tattle on bytes read and written.

First, on the sending machine (the machine with the file), we’ll set up netcat to listen on port 4200, and pv will give us progress updates:
pv -pet really.big.file | nc -q 1 -l -p 4200

  • pv -p prints a progress bar, -e displays ETA, -t enables the elapsed time
  • nc -q 1 quits 1 second after EOF, -l 4200 listens on port 4200

Without the -q switch, the sender will have to be killed with control-c or similar.

On the receiver (the machine that wants the file) netcat will read all bytes until the sender disconnects:
nc 4200 | pv -b > really.big.file

  • nc will stream all bytes from, port 4200
  • -b turns on the byte counter

Once the file is done transferring, both sides will shut down.

STEM Night 2014

Our school system sponsored a ‘Family STEM Night’.  Being nerds, of course we went.  Two hours of playing with stuff!

20140501 owl pellet
Dissecting an owl pellet

The coolest table was all about dissecting owl pellets.  I helped Beta uncover a vole (we think it was a vole – it could have been a small rat, the jaws are pretty similar).

There were also tables with:

  • magnets and electricity, with little motors and big batteries you could play with
  • growing plants (with a seed and a cup of dirt)
  • making goo (not sure about the science aspect, and it was sponsored by Pfizer so it’s even more dubious, but it was fun)
  • making a levitating “train” with magnets and a fixed track
  • making structures using toothpicks and marshmallows
  • blowing up peeps and boiling cold water with a vacuum and a bell jar (my second favorite, I should have taken a pic)
  • robots, with a large mobile robot, a roomba, and a small r/c vehicle for the kids to try (with a video feed in the controller, woo!)
  • using strobe lights, with a stream of green-colored water dripping in time with the strobe (so the drips appeared to be stationary)
Strobe light on continuous liquid drips
Thanks to the strobe light, the picture documents what we saw – stationary drops of water

One dark spot: a table that was supposed to be about archaeology but it was muddled, including this dubious definition:

Archeological Dig

Next Generation Science Standard:

3-LS4-1. Use fossils to describe types of organisms and their environments that existed long ago and compare those to living organisms and their environments.  Recognize that most kinds of plants and animals that once lived on Earth are no longer found anywhere.

Archeological Dig Next Generation Science Standard: 3-LS4-1. Use fossils to describe types of organisms and their environments that existed long ago and compare those to living organisms and their environments.  Recognize that most kinds of plants and animals that once lived on Earth are no longer found anywhere.
Bad science at the STEM Fair. Can you see what’s wrong with this definition?

Well, the kids had fun and didn’t notice the mistakes.  Alpha and Beta both left talking about going into biology – which makes me happy.  And I guess the fair achieved it’s aims.

Oh, and there was a hovercraft.  It was not full of eels.