Title restored - so how did I spent my weekend, anyway?

05 May 2008

Unfortunately, I spent much of last Friday asleep, recovering after a routine filling went south and turned into an emergency root canal. I don't know what does it about the procedure, but it wipes me out completely - it might be the body reacting to having a part of it removed with what amounts to tiny drill bits, or it might be the knowledge of it. For all I know, it could be the aftereffects of multiple injections of local anesthetic that happens to contain epinephrine, which would logically bring about a fight-or-flight reaction as the syringe-loads naturally leaked into the bloodstream. I was up and around by later in the evening, however, and spent some quality time with Windbringer after the considerable amount of work done earlier in the week, which is why I hadn't been posting in the evenings.

Something that I had very little experience with up until now has been full disk encryption, which is the practice and attendant methods of encrypting the hard drive of a computer below the level of the file system (i.e., all data written to or read from the disk, including file system metadata used by the OS is encrypted). Because I work from my laptop more often than any other system these days, it seemed only logical that I should experiment on Windbringer to get a feel for how it works and what kind of effort goes into it. To that end, I spent a couple of days doing research, making notes, and working out well in advance what had to be done, and taking multiple backups of both data and systemware using rdiff-backup (which I highly recommend to anyone running Linux or a UNIX of some kind).

As a wise man once said, there are two kinds of people: Those that make backups, and those who have never had a hard drive fail.

Anyway, the longest part of the process was filling the empty space on the drive with garbage, per the instructions in the Gentoo wiki, so as to disguise where the disk partitions (and thus the data) end and where the slack space on the disk begins. Restoring from backup didn't take long at all, though USB v2.0 isn't nearly as fast as marketing makes it out to be. By far, the trickiest part was getting the initramfs made, which holds a very stripped down set of systemware to get the system booted to where the keys can be entered. What I wound up doing was creating the contents of said initramfs in the directory /usr/src/initramfs and configuring the kernel to build it automagically (did you know that probably-most-but-not-all v2.6 Linux kernels have a very tiny initramfs built into them? I didn't.) whenever the kernel is recompiled. Moreover, by copying the .config file and executing a make oldconfig whenever I upgrade Windbringer, the configuration changes are seamlessly pulled in to the new version. In short, by using what was already present, it wasn't terribly difficult at all. After compiling a couple of drivers in statically (meaning fewer things to debug, ultimately), everything was right as rain. I will say that there is a slight performance hit when software first starts up (maybe a quarter second or so, I haven't formally benchmarked it), but I'm willing to accept that because I don't run any servers from Windbringer; most of what I do is actually writing in some form or another. I dare say that it was far easier than I'd expected - the instructions pretty much worked right off the website, without any tweaking.

Because I'd slept most of the day, I wasn't able to get to sleep until quite late in the evening, which gave plenty of time for hacking around.

On Saturday afternoon after I pulled myself out of bed and ran a couple of errands (note to self: most banks in NOVA are closed by 1200 EST5EDT on Saturday) before heading out to the mall to spend the day hanging out with Trav from These City Streets. He's been spending time getting aquainted with Fedora Core on his HP laptop, and he's got most everything worked out and operational. One annoying thing about Fedora Core is that it doesn't seem to bother configuring wireless network interfaces to work with NetworkManager right out of the box. Sure, NetworkManager makes it very easy to configure networking and wireless in general, but FC has a ticky-box in the properties of each network interface it finds that says "Let NetworkManager configure this interface", or words to that effect, and at least some of the time that ticky-box isn't set. It's mildly annoying, and it might be a bug inn FC7. Then again, it might not; I'm not a habitual Fedora user so I can't say with any certainty. I can say that it's an easy fix - the 'properties' box is always your friend. We wound up drinking coffee and hacking around, and then running up to the food court at Tyson's Corner because Barnes and Noble doesn't have free wireless, but they do up by the movie theatre. They also happen to have a darth of power outlets at the food court, though... Saturday evening was a special treat for everyone: DJ Ian Fford from New York City was teamed up with Loss of Signal at Spellbound that night. What got my antenna up was the fact that Ian Fford was a name I'd come across in the past couple of months because he was the DJ at the wedding reception of Rogue and Jessica of the Cruxshadows.

The way I see it, if Rogue and Jessica had him spin at their reception, the man's worth dropping everything to listen to his sets. Boy, was I right...

I haven't danced as much as I did at Spellbound on Saturday night as I have in the past five years. Earlier in the week, Lyssa and I had put the word out, so our usual team of miscreants took to the streets and entered the club en masse, meeting up with Seele, who'd been kind enough to secure for us a booth at the back of the club (and who just finished relocating, incidentally). Loss of Signal was first up, and spun an excellent set of some older material that warmed us up for a long night on the former floor of Nation. You have to love a set that plays one of the lesser known remixes of Dragonfly.. you know the kind of remix I'm talking about. The one that comes on when you're walking back to your booth for a breather and do an about-face to go right back out.

By the bye, if you haven't picked up on it by now, Saturday night was unusually Cruxshadows-heavy on many levels.

As luck would have it, my brass watch fob practically disintegrated on the dance floor around the middle of LoS' set. My Hagia Sophia medallion went one way, the skeleton keys another, and the watch itself (!) yet another, though it was rescued by Jason before any harm could befall it. Seeing as how the universe was having just a good a time as the rest of us were, it happened to be right in the middle of Destroy Everything You Touch by Ladytron. John C. Lilly, thou art avenged... hell, I think It's paid everyone back now, for that matter. When Ian Fford took the booth, it's safe to say that Lyssa, Laurelinde, Jason, Seele, and I were out there for just about the entire evening. I'm not quite sure of how to put this, but Fford played a lot of what the current iteration of the DC gothic/industrial scene seems to go nuts for. Not just a couple of crowd favorites mixed in with newer or more eclectic stuff, but a great many crowd favorites with some really good new stuff mixed in. I like that every once in a while. He also has a sense of humor when he's on the job: I didn't think that he'd actually do it, but when I requested at track from Living In Neon by Spray (the hilariously satirical I Am Gothic), we cleared the booth and claimed the dancefloor for ourselves. We danced until our legs burned and our clothes were soaked with sweat -- at one point Lyssa helped me outside to get some fresh air. Note to self: Design more steampunk outfits that have suitable ventilation for prolonged summer dancing.

In contrast, the next day was amazingly low-key and restful. Laurelinde crashed on our couch again and we slept until eleven or noon the next day, I'm not sure which. We had a light breakfast and I spent much of the day reading or running earrands for the week to come - lifestyle maintenance, essentially, such as getting groceries. I did stop off to replace the flashlight on my keyring with a much smaller light, one that doesn't way as much as all of the keys combined. Later in the day, we dropped Laurelinde off at the Metro station and then headed for Tyson's Corner mall for dinner at TGI Friday's before hitting the movie theatre to see Iron Man on the silver screen, our first summer movie of the year.

Marvel's done it again. I was utterly blown away by this particular incarnation of a classic character. Robert Downey, Jr. plays Tony Stark in a convincing manner, and very true to the original character. Stark is, and let's be honest here, an asshole who is wrapped up in making money as one of the foremost arms dealers on the planet, disrespectful of most of the people he interacts with, and womanizingly misogynistic. Then he meets his match and finds out what it's like to be on the other end of his work, and this forces him to re-think not only the direction his life is going but he makes a conscious decision to change for the better. The overall plot of the movie was changed to bring it more in synch with the current day - rather than taking place in Vietnam and fighting the Communists, Stark is instead captured in Afghanistan, a change which I rather liked. After being cut down to size, rather than breaking or bending, Tony Stark instead grows and takes the next step in his personal evolution, first by changing his surroundings to free himself, and then by setting out to un-do some of the harm he's help bring about in the rest of the world. The early trials of the Iron Man armor were well done in that they very much reflected some of what goes on during the process of refining an inspired design. In short, all hell breaks loose a couple of times and of such things are funny stories at parties born.

Both the Iron Man armor-costume and the CG effects are top-notch, planned and executed by Industrial Light and Magic. They really outdid themselves this time... the CG is crisp and entirely believable, and the close-up greeble effects not only seem to fit together logically but are just as crisp as how the overall armor shots and FX come off. As someone who likes to take stuff apart and put it back together, I definitely had a stupid grin through those parts of the movie. Stan Lee, per usual, had a cameo appearance about halfway through the movie, and they don't call him Stan "The Man" for nothing.

Oh, and stay until the very end, past the closing credits. You'll get a surprise.