1 Feb 2010

House Hunt Weekend

Submitted by Paul Brown

Holly posted the story about our plans to relocate to Omaha and how amazingly that worked out with my work to allow us to do it basically at our convenience. If you didn't read that before, you may want to visit her blog to catch up. This weekend, we took the next step toward moving to Omaha and flew out for the weekend to look at homes. It was a bit of a rush, but the trip was successful and we did in fact choose a house!

Holly and I went to the airport straight from work on Friday. Everything went well with the flight, and we arrived in Omaha a few minutes early with my uncle Ward waiting to meet us. The Sierts were very kind and allowed us to stay with them for the weekend rather than having to go to a hotel or rent a car or anything. That was very nice, and it was even nicer for us to get to visit with them. They had been in England last year when we got married, so this was their first opportunity to meet my beautiful bride face-to-face and for her to meet this very kind and fun family from my biological father's side.

On Saturday, our agent picked us up at about ten o'clock and we headed out for a full day of looking at houses. We had already thoroughly vetted the listings that our agent sent us, so all the homes that we visited were ones that we were looking forward to seeing. I think that we made it to thirteen houses between when we left in the morning and when we finished up just before five o'clock in the afternoon. It was neat to see all these houses and take note of what we liked or didn't like about each one. For the homes that were still occupied, it was interesting to observe little things that the owners had laying around and speculate about what types of activities they enjoy doing.

By the time we got back to the Sierts' house at the end of the afternoon, Holly and I were both worn out. We went through our notes and photos right away to sort out which houses we wanted to look at again on Sunday, but even with Holly's notes and my rather sparse photos, it was difficult to remember which house was which. Eventually, though, we did get them sorted out and selected out top three houses for a second viewing. I emailed the list off to our agent, who also added another house that we hadn't been able to get into on Saturday. Then we were done with house stuff and enjoyed the evening of talking with Ward and Linda—mostly listening to Ward's great stories—before going to bed.

On Sunday, our agent picked us up a little earlier and we started right in on looking at our favorite houses. Due to their location, we ended up seeing them in the reverse order of our original preference. The first one was a custom home with very nice finishing, wide stairway, great master suite, and a well-finished basement. The only drawback was the kitchen, which was quite small. The second house had a nice, big kitchen, but the master suite was small, with no bathtub (a priority for Holly) and limited storage space for our clothes. The third house was OK but didn't really exceed either of the first two in any significant way.

At that point we were left with a tough dilemma: Is it preferable to have the large master suite but have to be creative in how to get by with a small kitchen? Or would we be better off with the very comfortable kitchen and a little tighter bedroom? My view, which Holly ended up agreeing with, was that it would be better to have the more spacious kitchen, since we actually have to work there, than the more spacious bedroom, in which we mostly spend our time sleeping.

With that dilemma more or less settled, we went to the fourth house of the morning, the one that we had not had the chance to see on Saturday. Although Holly did not have high hopes for the house, as we went through, we like the house more and more. It had a nice, open floor plan, a large (though worn and dated) kitchen, real wood flooring in the kitchen and dining area, good living room, very nice master suite with a whirlpool bath and lots of closet space, and three good-sized additional bedrooms. The basement wasn't finished, but there was a lot of room down there if we ever did want to finish it. In short, it was the best of everything that we were looking for. I don't think it took long for Holly and I to decide that this was the house would be best for us!

Excited to have found such a great house in our price range, we went back to the real estate agent's office where we drew up the formal offer. The owners were out of town for the weekend, but we gave them until Monday evening to respond to our offer. For the amount of money involved, it was surprisingly easy to make up the offer. Initial a few pages, sign here and there, and BAM! it's ready to go!

After getting the offer done, we went back to Ward and Linda's place where we were expecting a visit from Mom and Dad and from Sarah and Kevin and the kids. They all arrived shortly, so we got to meet my newest nephew, Carter, and spend the afternoon telling the story and showing everyone the house that we had chosen. Assuming that we can come to an agreement on price and that nothing comes up in the inspection and appraisal process, we should be able to close on our house on March 8 and be moved to Omaha a week later. Yippee!

If you wish, you can go see some photos of the new place.

25 Jan 2010

The following is a quote from Walter Elmore, a recently deceased power systems protection engineer:

Edison was a brilliant inventor despite the fact that he had little formal education and lived in New Jersey. His first invention in 1877 was the phonograph which could soon be found in thousands of American homes where, as Dave Barry pointed out, it basically just sat until 1923 when the record was invented. But Edison's greatest achievement came in 1879 when he invented the electric company. Edison's design was a brilliant adaption of the simple electric circuit. The electric company sends electricity through a wire to a customer, then immediately gets the electricity back through another wire. Then (this is the brilliant part) sends it right back to the customer again.

This means that an electric company can sell the same batch of electricity thousands of times a day and never get caught, since very few customers take the time to examine their electricity very closely. In fact the last year in which any new electricity was generated was 1937. The electric Companies have been merely re-selling it ever since, which is why they have so much free time for studying rate increases.

(From his keynote address given in May 1997 To IEEE/PSRC Williamsburg, VA, as transcribed by PAC World Magazine.)

22 Jan 2010

[[Geek Alert]] On a new server now

Submitted by Paul Brown

Most of my friends and family who read my updates here will probably not be interested in this story, but for posterity and for the benefit of anyone who may stumble through and find this interesting, here goes.

Last Fall I saw on the user forums of my web hosting provider (Westhost) that the "virtual VPS" platform that they use was no longer going to be supported by the supplier, so they were going to migrate users away from that VPS platform and onto a new platform that would work fine for most users but that would take away remote login and low-level customization that the previous platform had included. Since I enjoy managing the server and only pay someone else to host for me so I have the flexibility to change internet providers without losing my website and email along the way, the loss of these features would be a substantial loss to me. I like working under the hood of the server in a similar way that a lot of guys like getting their hands greasy working on their cars.

I was happy to learn that Westhost had worked out a deal with a partner company, VPS.net, to provide minimal VPS service to Westhost clients at a discount that would make the service cost the same as Westhost service and to allow the balance of payments already made to Westhost to be applied to an account at VPS.net. After looking into the VPS.net option, I decided that this would be a great alternative for me, so I requested a trial account at VPS.net to see what it could do. They generously allowed me a month's free trial to test drive the service.

My VPS.net trial account was set up at the beginning of January, and over the last three weeks I have little by little gotten all my data transferred from the old server and installed and configured all the services that I wanted to run. I opted to install Debian on the new server since that is what I am running on my laptop and home server. I have never had to set up all the internet services on Debian, so I had to do a fair amount of Google searching to get everything up and going. I took fairly extensive notes throughout the migration process, so I hope that next time it will be much easier.

Finally, this week I got all the services working, including the Apache2 web server, email, procmail, spamassassin, imap, mailman, Roundcube, Drupal, Wordpress, and Gallery2. After doing some final checks yesterday and verifying that things looked like they were working, I decided that today would be the day to "throw the switch". Now at lunch time I updated my DNS record to point to the new server, and, if all went well, you are now being served my webpage from a shiny new VPS.net cloud server! Sometime next week I should know with some confidence whether the new setup with work and will be able to close my Westhost account and open a paid VPS.net account.

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