Monday, November 7, 2016

Book Review – Isaac’s Storm

Isaac's Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in HistoryIsaac's Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History by Erik Larson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Coming in hot after finishing Devil in the White City and Dead Wake, Isaac's Storm was the obvious choice for my next read, and it certainly didn't disappoint. Another book set in the late 1800's, Larson's writing allows you to "hear" the ocean in the background, steam ships rolling into port, and the hustle and bustle of every day life for families in a growing city.

Broken into 6 parts, the book set's the scene as to what Galveston is like and the main parties at play. It also informs you of how little was known about hurricane's at the time, and more importantly about this fledgling little thing called the "National Weather Service", which was trying to prove it's necessity in it's own right. As the book continues, you see the ominous signs of tragedy starting to occur, and even become weary at times to turn the pages as the events unfold.

The latter half of the book depict many events of when the flood waters hit, the choices families had to make to survive the onslaught, and the tragedy so many families faced when they awoke (were they lucky enough) to see their entire city in ruins.

Believe me when I say it, I held on to my family close after finishing this book this weekend, for Erik Larson to have the capacity to evoke such emotion is an incredible power, and in Isaac's storm, he is well on point. I can't recommend this book enough..

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Sunday, July 17, 2016

Book Review - Dead Wake

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the LusitaniaDead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm very late to the Erik Larson game - shame on me! This is my second book of his, and for a second time I'm most impressed by the description of the era when the events occurred. Dead Wake describes the sinking of the Lusitania, offering perspective from the ship passengers (offering accounts of survivors before and after the attack), U.S. policy and attitude towards WWI, British Intelligence, and Germany's U-20 Submarine (they're most "successful" submarine during WWI and that which performed the sinking itself).

Erik Larson masterfully combines the 4 main aforementioned parties into a cohesive text. Throughout the book you are offered insight into the joy of those traveling the Lusitania, knowing full well the impending doom that faces them. You are offered terror as you understand the purpose of the German U-Boats intended to terrorize shipping\traveling across the seas. You are offered political jeopardy as you witness Britain's "Room 40" secretly monitoring and cracking German transmissions, but unable to take action as to not tip their hand. You are offered heartache and intrigue at the highest level of political office as you are introduced to Woodrow Wilson's broken-hearted presidency following the death of his wife, amidst the greatest crisis his generation had been witness to.

The book reads like a chronological time bomb, knowing full well the fate of so many of the passengers but remains compelling nonetheless. Despite taking place over 100 years ago you can still smell the saltwater, picture the ship passengers dressed in period attire and hear their native accents as they "speak".

As interesting as this book was, the final chapter was truly masterful, putting it "over the top". Following the sinking of the ship, a final chapter is dedicated solely to the gravity of the action in the United States and the series of steps taken that would ultimately lead to our entrance to World War 1. It wasn't the sinking of the Lusitania that pulled us into war, it was the beginning of that decision, one that was entered into with heavy heart and great timidness.

This isn't a book about World War I, or Nazi Germany, or secret intelligence or U.S. policy - it's a combination of *all* of those items offering intense, vibrant description of that generation's "9/11" and how the world would forever change.

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Friday, May 20, 2016

Book Review: The Devil in the White City

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed AmericaThe Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Every Google, Bing, or Yahoo search of "best nonfiction" always returned at least one item from Erik Larson. More often than not, Devil in the White City seemed to be the recommended choice. After months of ignoring suggestions, I found myself taking a trip, and decided to pick it up for the flight. I had never been more happy to have airport delays.

Devil in the White City discusses 2 parallel events that occurred simultaneously in Chicago in the late 1800's. While they're completely unrelated, it's amazing that you can have 2 men with completely different motivations. Each chapter jumps between 2 individuals, one who is going through painstaking efforts to show the greatness of America by assembling the greatest minds to hold the Chicago Worlds Fair. The other is a calculating, sadistic doctor who prey's on the weak.

The story is very compelling, but the writing is what really made the book shine. Erik Larson has this amazing ability to transfer you to this time period. You can smell the garbage in the back alleyways, or the stagnant water, or feel the heat of the humid, summer days where the story takes place.

I'm done looking for my next few books for quite some time now. If the author's name doesn't end in Larson, I'm not reading it.

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Monday, March 28, 2016

Book Review: I Heard You Paint Houses

"I Heard You Paint Houses": Frank "The Irishman" Sheeran & Closing the Case on Jimmy Hoffa by Charles Brandt
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This wasn't the easiest book to get through because the writing was rather choppy. The stories themselves were pretty compelling (heck, it discusses mafia style behavior, the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa and assassination plots of the President of the United States, so that stuff can't help but be compelling). Frank Sheeran was the right hand to Jimmy Hoffa and Russell Buffalino during their hey-day, with unlimited power and resources at his disposal, Sheeran got his hands dirty on many occasions and provides some insight into the mob and the teamsters.

The problem with this book was the writing itself. A very large portion of the text is reading long quotes, almost like interviews were just transcribed onto text. In the end, it wasn't a book I found easy to pick up, but at the same time wasn't easy to put down. I took my time reading it because it didn't draw me every day, but as a native of Northeastern Pennsylvania, it was interesting to read about what type of power ran wild in the area.

There's some rumor's that Scorsese is adapting this to another Mafioso-style movie with De Niro, Pacino and Pesci, and I think the text would lend itself perfectly to that style, but the read itself was lacking.

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Saturday, February 13, 2016

Adventures in Brewin’–True Brew Belgian Ale

Hard to believe it was over 3 months ago since I made my first homebrew, but with the wintry weather outside and no good reason to brave the elements, I took advantage of an empty house, gathered up my gear, and decided to cook me up some True Brew Belgian Ale (fun fact, “Santa” brought this kit for me for Christmas but completely forgot about it, it wasn’t until I was cleaning up after the holidays that I came across an unopened 10 pound box from Amazon.. that’s truly a gift that keeps on givin!).

I started witht he usual tasks, gathered my C-Brite cleaner, measuring cups, airlocks, lids, thermometer and brew bucket, and sanitized the heck out of them.  Placing those items aside, I started a boil of 2.5 gallons of water. While the heat was rising, I first added in my 3 bags of Dyr Malt Extract that comes with the kit, stirring each one in to avoid clumping.  Once done, I took my bag of specialty grains and then soaked that as well.  Water just reached a boil when the bag was in there for 10 minutes, I left the bag in there another 10 minutes to make sure it had a decent time in there during the boil (neat trick: when you pull the grains out, keep the bag above the pot and let the runoff drain back into the wort to get any extra sugar’s, check out this vidfeo from some guy who likely forgot more about brewing beer than what I know -

I removed the pot from the heat and added my liqued malt extract, stirring it in to ensure it melted evenly, and then returned my brewpot back to direct heat.  At this time I also tossed in a few cleaned copper pennies, to help reduce boil overs.  Once I got back to a rolling boil, I added my bittering Northern Brewer hop pellets first (to boil in at 45 minutes total).  After 30 minutes, I added in the Styrian Golding Hops (for 15 minutes total), and 14 minutes after that, my Saaz hop pellets.  After 1-2 minutes I removed all hop pellets (I like to place my hop pellets in a grain bag so theyre easy to strain out).  At this point I turned off my heat and added the candied rock sugar to the wort, stirring extra vigorously to ensure nothing stuck to the bottom.

As I mentioned above, today was a good day to brew some beer, one reason being it was single digit temperatures outside.. perfect for cooling that wort!  I took my brew pot outside and put one bag of ice directly into the wort (a friend of mine said he does this to cool the wort all the time since the ice needs to be sterile when it’s made.  I wasn’t too sure, but he’s brewed much more than me, so what the hell!?).  At this time I also went and boiled 1 cup of water and waited for it to cool down to under 100 degrees. Around the time that cooling had completed, my wort was also around 100 degrees as well, I was able to bring that back inside, place into my brew bucket, and top if of to 5 gallons of water (the remaining water brought down the temperature to roughly 70 degrees.. just perfect!)  Once done I took my packet of dry yeast and re-hyrdrated it into my spare cup of water, waitied 15 minutes and pitched it into my bucker. By bed time, my bucket was just hanging out in my office doing a whole lot of nothin’, but by the following morning?  Well.. it’s burping like crazy, so much so that my airlock spilled some of it’s contents.

So, I’ll let this ferment for 1 to 2 weeks, then I’ll bottle, store, and count down the days until I uncap my first homemade belgian! Stay tuned, I’ll post some pictures for bottling day.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Why are you telling people you don’t know how to spell a username?

In a previous post I openly told the world that after 2+ days with a production issue, I found myself telling everyone “I mispelled the username.. my bad!”.  I told the story enough times my wife eventually said “Hey Dear, why are you telling people you don’t know how to spell a username”.  I laughed off the comment and proceeded to tell others as needed, but it did make me think a little.  Why did I not only decide to tell others, but also write a blog post about it.  I suppose I have 3 reasons…

The first reason is the simplest, I don’t live the most exciting life.  Finding out that I had a story to tell was just that, a story to tell.  I don’t mind self-deprecation, and I can see some authentic lesson’s learned ion the story as well, I mean.. the error messages clearly stated “Unknown Username or Bad Password”, what more did I really need to know? Self reflection isn’t a terrible thing, and sometimes you need to eat some humble pie.

The second reason for the post is that I believe in openness and honesty.  I have an ego, but I’m also not blind that we all do.  Ego’s aren’t bad, but big one’s are.  Telling the world “you wont believe what I did” is my way of saying “I’m human, but I promise to not do this again.” Mistakes happen, it’s not to blow off the fact that I screwed up and wasted some other peoples time, it’s to indicate that there’s been times in my life that other’s mispelled the username, or something similar.  Have patience, realize that mistakes happen.  It’s inconvenient, but also a great way to get a free beer time to time.  Those who act like they know everything often don’t, and are not fun to get along with.  Working with those who tend to say “oops, sorry” tend  to be the one’s who are also more than willing to help solve an issue rather than look like a rock star. 

The third reason is that apologies close  a loop.  Any philosophical argument can last a long time, sometimes ending with an “I agree to disagree”, leaving an open problem that isn’t resolved.  There’s something sacred when one says “sorry”.  It’s an opportunity to put to rest an issue.  It’s acknowledgement of a problem, ownership of the problem, and agreement on who did (or didn’t) do what. Telling other’s “sorry” admit’s fault and helps those wronged realize they were right and achieve a deserved satisfaction.  Take the baseball steroid scandal’s of the past several years.  Everybody thinks Barry Bonds is a jerk.  Is he?  Perhaps, but really what he hasn’t done is admit and apologize to something he most likely did.  That’s why everyone’s mad, the evidence is stacked against him but he still stands there with a smug look on his face.  Alex Rodriguez is just as polarizing, but he admitted to his “crime” and has been generally accepted.  They both guilty of similar offenses, but it’s lack of remorse that offends the public.

So please don’t read my last post as “I’m an idiot!” Please read it as “I did something stupid and learned from it, and needed a reminder that even the best of us make mistakes time to time.”

Monday, February 1, 2016

SSRS 2012 – 401 Unauthorized and “Unknown Username or Bad Password”

I’ve been developing software for (unlucky) 13 years now. I’m not doing anything bleeding edge, I’m not pushing boundaries or running beta software on production software, but I do write my fair share of code.

We recently ran into issues with our Production SSRS (SQL Server Reporting Services) instance and found out that our performance has some serious bottlenecks.  We decided it’s probably best to rebuild the server on some better hardware and performance tune SSRS prior to putting it live.

Along the way, I had to get my applications to connect to the server, to feed it report parameters and consume the rendered reports.  Once I started updating my software and tried testing I got an error. Looking at my error logs, the exception was 401 Unauthorized.  Nonsense! It’s the same username and password I’ve been using all along to log into the server!  More, and more, and more, and more digging, and eventually I see in the Windows Even Logs that the Security Audit shows a failed attempt, the error was “Unknown Username or Bad Password”.

Another day and a half we spent on the issue. Was the server setup for Kerberos? Do we need to specify the domain? Do we have to use NTLM? Should we use the IP address to connect rather than the fully qualified domain name?

You surely know where this is going by now.. correct?

Incase you don’t, I eventually retreated to looking at my application’s config file.  There, I specified the username and password, and sure enough I found the fatal flaw:

<add key="SSRS_Username" value="ReportingUser " />

Do you see it?  I stared that this for days!  Tonight, I finally noticed it.. the trailing space at the end of the username.  I updated my config setting to the correct value:

<add key="SSRS_Username" value="ReportingUser" />

Retested, and all worked as expected.

Moral of the story?  No matter how long you’ve been in this business, if the error says “unknown username or bad password”, check the username and the password…

Monday, January 18, 2016

Shangri La Diet (1 Week In)

I read Freakonomics about 2 years ago, in it it mentioned the Shangri La diet (, which spits in the face of all other diets (eat what you want, food is fuel.. the food you've been eating has just tricked your body into thinking otherwise). When I read about the diet, it stuck with me. I think it was something about it attacking why we eat, why our bodies need food, how the primitive part of us craves food when it thinks we need to eat. Something about it spoke to me.

I get headaches time to time, recently my wife prodded me to go to the doctor's, and after 100,000,000 requests I listened. During the checkup they checked my weight. Eeeesh.. my clothes were getting snug, but I was at 191 lbs. I've never been that high.

I got through the remainder of the year, and namely the holidays, but wanted to approach the new year with a new approach. I've tried the "its the new year, let's go to the gym!" thing, and failed miserably at it. I hated that the existing gym members would look at me, laugh knowing I was only there because the new year started, and in the not too distant future would only prove them right, eventually seceding to phrases like "Im tired", "It's too cold", "I have work to do", and my favorite "I'm comfortable with who I am!" My aforementioned headache's also cause some issues, if my heart starts beating a lot, it brings on a headache and puts me down for a day. So.. I don't mind running, but I don't know if I could do it consistently.

"New Year, New Me" Eric finally showed up at my doorstep last week. I purchased the Shangri La diet book and paged through it. 90% of it is pointless (ideas on how to work around diet issues and success stories), but the important stuff was in the other 10%. Namely, to find a "2 hour flavorless window" in which you drink some Extra Light Olive Oil. In short, it works like a natural appetite suppressant AND makes your body start using up the precious fat it's been storing up since.. well.. you were born.

I didn't know if it would work. I'm one week in (so admittedly, the "I'm happy with who I am" Eric could very well be lurking), but this diet is amazing. I'm the guy who inhales all the food on my plate, and inhales my wife's leftover's before I have a chance to think about it (back off ladies, I'm already married). Now, I'm eating more proportionally. It's currently 8:45 at night and I just finished a very small bowl of soup, namely because I knew I should eat. I don't feel like snacking, and I eat whatever I want. Really, it's no joke, if I want ice cream I could have it.. I just have no interest in it.. nor my wife's leftover french fries that are sitting right next to me as I write this.

I wanted to write a note to Seth Roberts who discovered this diet, but sadly he passed away about 2 years ago. Instead, I figured the best homage I could do is to tell the world that this diet is.. interesting. I feel better, less bloated, and my clothes are a little less snug already. So for any of my fellow IT compatriot's who hate feeling like wearing their suit is like skin on sausage, check out (or check on me in about 3 more weeks and see if I've given up hope ;).