Category Archives: Uncategorized

Blog Anniversary

Last July 11th was the 15th anniversary of this blog. I meant to have a 15th anniversary post, but of course my posting was far behind my reading. It’s taken me this long to catch up. So here’s my belated anniversary post.

My first post was 15 years, 7 months, and 13 days ago; that was 5707 days ago. Since then I’ve posted 939 times; 913 of the posts have been book reviews. Of the book reviews, 476 have been for fiction and 437 for non-fiction.

On average, I’ve been reading a book every 6.25 days for the last decade and a half. That doesn’t include books I started but didn’t finish or books I just skimmed or dipped into.

I don’t consider any of this particularly remarkable, though I think I can claim the title of “oldest blog with the least readers”. What amazes me is all the other changes that have take place since I started blogging.

Fifteen years ago I was a software developer for a company that no longer exists. Now I’m retired. My wife and I had just passed our 25th anniversary. Now we’ve been married over 40 years. What surprises me most is that my immediate family back then consisted of me, my wife, and two sons. Now it’s the four of us plus two wonderful daughters-in-law and, as of this week, 8 amazing grandchildren. The oldest grandchild, at 6, is already reading at 2nd grade level, and I expect she’ll beat my stats. The other ones (well, except for the newest one, but give him time, he mostly sleeps right now) aren’t quite readers, but they are voracious consumers of books. And I just now realized that I haven’t blogged about the many kids books I’ve read over the last several years.

I’m tempted to figure out how many more books I can read given an average life expectancy. But retirement brings increased time for reading, so that estimate would not only be depressing, but probably inaccurate. I’ll update you if I’m still here in another 15 years.

Empty Posts Ahead

I give up, I’m too far behind, so I’m declaring book review bankruptcy. The next couple of dozen posts are going to be contentless. Why even bother? Despite the fact that virtually nobody reads this blog, it is very useful to me in keeping track of what I’ve read.

Cloudy Photos

I switched from Box to Microsoft OneDrive for photo transfer from the iPhones and iPads to my iMac. I gave up 10 GB (40 vs. 50) of free storage but OneDrive’s desktop client works better than the Box one. OneDrive is faster, uses fewer resources, and has no file-size limits.

Since I’m paying for Amazon Cloud Drive (for backup via Arq, $60/year) and it’s “unlimited” I’d rather use that but it’s not a Dropbox-like sync service; it’s more like a big external drive in the sky. Worse, the OS X client is limited to crude upload/download: it doesn’t present the storage as a file system.

After looking at several options, it looks like I’d have to get ExpanDrive to use Amazon Cloud Drive the way I’d like and even then my preferred sync app (CameraSync) doesn’t support it. The app that does support Amazon Cloud Drive, PhotoSync, is almost as good, though.

So it’s CameraSync and OneDrive for the time being.

American Monks Re-establish Benedictine Abbey — And Brew — In Italy

From Crux, “The Benedictines: They’ll be back“:

Religious life in Norcia was suppressed by Napoleon in 1810. The present community was founded in Rome in 1998 by the Rev. Cassian Folsom, with the help of then-Benedictine Abbot Primate Marcel Rooney. Folsom was originally a monk of St. Meinrad Archabbey in Indiana and was given permission to embark on this pioneering mission. In 2000, Folsom, with a group of young, mostly American men moved to Norcia.

And they brew beer:

In the birth place of Saint Benedict set in the beautifully preserved nature of the Umbrian landscape, the monks of Norcia brew this beer with the finest ingredients, following the ancient monastic tradition. We invite you to enjoy Birra Nursia in the company of friends and family, “Ut Laetificet Cor”, that the heart might be gladdened.

The monks in this brewery tour look like the hipster brewers at many of the craft breweries I’ve visited:

And finally, a more reflective look at the monks’ mission. I have got to visit this place.

Dumping Parallels For VirtualBox

When I bought my first Mac in 2011 I also bought a copy of Parallels. Like the better-known VMware Fusion, Parallels lets you run Linux or Windows virtual machines (VMs) as “guests” of the Mac’s OS X. I’d long used VMware on PCs to run Linux VMs as guests of Windows, and at work used both VMware’s enterprise products and Oracle’s VirtualBox.

My intention was to use a Windows VM for my very occasional uses of Word and Excel, for playing games, and for working from home via my employer’s Virtual Private Network (VPN) client. I also wanted to be able to run Linux VMs for fiddling about.

It proved to be an expensive plan. Between the cost of Parallels, a copy of Windows 7, and a copy of Microsoft Office, the cost approached $200. As the years went on it got more expensive. Parallels doesn’t believe in free upgrades. Every time a new version of OS X comes out they expect you to cough up about $50 for the program you’d originally purchased for around $80.

Parallels did the job – sort of – Windows ran acceptably and Linux rather better. But it really wasn’t suited for Windows gaming. For that I would have been better off running Windows under Apple’s Boot Camp, but that would have been less flexible and, obviously, required rebooting the Mac to switch operating systems.

Although Parallels VMs ran well enough, the Windows VMs in particular seemed to adversely affect the performance of OS X programs. In addition, booting a Parallels Windows VM was painfully slow. I suspect this is at least partially the fault of the OS X file system, which is by far the least elegant, most poorly performing component of an otherwise-excellent operating system. But given how much things improved when I switched to VirtualBox I also think the Parallels implementation of virtual disks and/or their virtual I/O hardware is at fault.

Meanwhile as the years passed VirtualBox got better and better. I set up an Xubuntu VM with VirtualBox and tried using a Linux VPN client and the excellent Remmina remote desktop client to access my Windows desktop at work. This proved to have far less impact on my system than the Windows VM running in Parallels.

The other advantages of VirtualBox were it’s more pleasing, workmanlike GUI, it’s cost (free), frequent updates, and, I have to admit, the fact that it was once part of a respected former employer of mine, the late, lamented Sun Microsystems.

Only one question remained before I could drag the Parallels app into my iMac’s trash: could I move my Parallels Windows VM to VirtualBox?

It’s another mark against Parallels that it doesn’t support the Open Virtualization Format (OVF). OVF is a standard that lets you easily export and import a package consisting of a VM’s virtual hardware description and disk image(s) from and to VirtualBox, VMware, and other virtualization platforms. So moving my Windows VM from Parallels was more work than it would have been to, say, move a VM from VMware to VirtualBox. Of course I could have just created a new VM in VirtualBox and installed Windows from scratch, but not only is that tedious and annoying, but I didn’t know if Microsoft’s licensing would allow me to install Windows on a new VM even though I only intended to run a single instance of the operating system.

The first step was to carefully note the Parallels’ VM configuration (number of virtual CPUs, memory, etc.). This is so I could manually create the “same” machine in VirtualBox. I particularly made sure to note the MAC address of the old VM’s virtual network adapter. The MAC address is apparently one of the things Microsoft’s licensing uses to identify a PC.

(Note that for the following steps the information on a blog post on the “Punch Card” blog proved invaluable. And I recommend reading it before attempting your own VM conversion.)

Then I copied the old VM’s disk image. Parallels disk image files end (at least sometimes – this might vary) in the extension .hds. In order for the VirtualBox VM to recognize the disk image, it had to be renamed to a file with the extension .hdd. My Parallels disk image was a “sparse” image, so I had to convert it to a “plain” image. I located the Parallels disk image tool buried deep the the Applications folder, and did the conversion:

prl_disk_tool convert --plain --hdd my_parallels_disk_image.hdd

Converting the file from sparse to plain doubled the size of the file, since now empty space on the virtual disk was occupying empty space on my real disk whereas before the empty space was just not there at all (this sounds almost like an discussionn from classical philosophy, but it’s how sparse disk images conserve real disk space). Naturally I wanted the savings of a sparse image, so, even though VirtualBox can read an .hdd file, I proceeded to convert it to a sparse Virtual Disk Image (VDI) file, which is the VirtualBox native file image format:

VBoxManage clonehd my_parallels_disk_image.hdd my_vitualbox_disk_image.vdi  --format VDI --variant Standard

Next I created my VM in VirtualBox without a disk image, moved the the converted disk image into the new VM’s directory, and modified the VM’s settings to connect the newly-moved disk image to the new VM’s virtual disk controller.

I’d like to say it all worked the first time: the Windows VM booted, and I happily dragged Parallels into the trash. But I had neglected something…

The old Parallels VM had used an Intel virtual network adapter: Intel hardware emulated in software. When I set up the new VirtualBox VM I specified a “paravitualized network adapter” (virtio-net), which is more efficient because instead of emulating hardware it relies more on the host system’s networking system. Even though I had given the new adapter the same MAC address as the old one, Windows decided that this was one change too many and told me that my installation was “out of tolerance” as judged by its licensing system. In addition, the network adapter wasn’t even visible to the Windows VM, leaving me with a Windows machine that couldn’t connect the the Internet.

I shut down the VM and changed the virtual network card’s type to match that of the old VM. When I rebooted everything came up just fine. In fact the VirtualBox Windows VM booted faster than the Parallels VM and seemed to have less impact on the host (OS X) performance.

I still wanted the benefits of a paravitualized adapter, so I hunted up open source Windows drivers. I was able to install them on the new Windows VM without any complaints from Windows.

My rarely used Windows VM is running just fine, Parallels is gone from my Mac, and when El Captan arrives I won’t have to shell out another $50.

Reader’s Diary Is Dead, Long Live Longhighway

In 2013 I posted this on Reader’s Diary:

Though my readership has probably never hit double digits, the blog is still a good way to keep track of what I’ve read (especially the genre fiction series that I have a weakness for) and continues to make me a more reflective reader.

That’s still true for this, the latest incarnation of my fourteen-year-old blog. I dropped the domain to save a few bucks and because I want to branch out a bit from the book reviews I’ve been doing. I’ve moved all to old blog’s posts here and will soon be adding more.

New Look for 2013

The old Reader’s Diary was so 2008. The new version is, hopefully, more pleasant to look at. The old “Kubrick” look is gone, the new look is based on the current default WordPress theme: “TwentyEleven”, which I tweaked it a little bit by creating a child theme.

The most noticeable customization is the use of the Google web font “Dancing Script” in the headline. I choose it based on Google’s recommended “pairings” for the default theme’s “Open Sans” font.

Aside from the improved appearance, the biggest benefit to the new layout is that the theme is “responsive” and looks as good on mobile devices as it does on the desktop.

Now to get to work on the pile of draft posts (no, I did not give up reading three months ago).