Womack Report

June 17, 2015


Filed under: General — Phillip Womack @ 10:32 pm

This is pretty exciting.

Working with my current employer, it has become clear that their network infrastructure needs some help.  Not unexpected, and I like a good challenge.  This promises to be one.

In the midst of plotting an upgrade path, it became clear that the only way forward was going to be through some new hardware, and a lot of experimentation.  The current server setup is just too close to capacity; there’s no room to do anything without putting current operations at risk.  Moreover, it’s mostly a Windows Server 2008 operation, and to do some of the things we want done the right way, we really need to be looking at Server 2012.

Which meant I needed to start pricing hardware for a proof-of-concept network datacenter.  And once you make that step, it really opens a lot of possibilities up for doing some amazing stuff.  Real, fault-tolerant file server clusters.  Automated virtual machine provisioning.  Hands-off provisioning of CRM software and email resources.

And more, it crystalized in my head that this was something I could develop and make into a real business.  I’ve long thought it would be fun to start up another company, after my days at Video Insight.  (Which is still going great, by the way.  That was and is an amazing company, and all the best to them!)  Never had quite the right inspiration.

But this feels like it.  Marketech is far from the only company whose IT needs have outgrown their IT management ability.  There are a lot of good companies who need a product that can pull all their IT stuff together in a way that’s easy for everyone to understand and manage, even people without my network and server administration background.

So, that’s the goal.  Build the perfect datacenter management suit for the small business.  Bring all this super-cool capability that already exists to the people who need it most, but are too busy making phone calls and running advertising campaigns to learn it.

I’ve got the ability to do it.  I’ve got the perfect test bed in Marketech; build the system and pitch it to the management, then watch it and refine it.  And, as of this afternoon, I’ve got a collection of second-hand Dell server to do my testing and experimentation on.  The last piece of the puzzle is my application for a Microsoft BizSpark account, which would be a huge help in getting access to development resources and the right software licenses for my test environments.

Well, the step after that is putting up a real Dataceratops.com web page.  The email server is already live, but the domain root redirects here, to my personal blog.  That’s probably tomorrow’s project.

April 17, 2015

Getting the dog to take her medicine

Filed under: General — Phillip Womack @ 8:49 am

So, the dog seems to be doing better now.  She’s back to her normal self as far as energy and playfulness.

The swelling on her jaw is gone.  There’s still a fair-sized mass of something on the left side of her head, under her ear, but it doesn’t seem to be causing distress.  I’m honestly not sure what’s going on there, or how long it’s been happening.

The mass that’s present isn’t really obvious when you look at her, although you can tell if you hold her head that she’s not symmetrical.  It feels like a slab of muscle, as far as density and elasticity and whatnot.  Doesn’t seem to be painful or sensitive when I’m handling her.

I’m about to just chalk it down to her having an overdeveloped cheek from sleeping on one side all the time, or asymmetrical chewing, or something.  There definitely WAS something unusual going on Sunday night, but I’m not sure what’s present now is a problem.

Anyhow, I’m still giving her the pills the vet prescribed.  Might as well go through the whole regimen.  Sara doesn’t really like taking these pills, I’ve discovered.  It hasn’t been a problem in the past; usually could just hand her the pill and she’d snarf it down, but she kept trying to spit this one out.  I tried a few more complicated solutions, like sticking in peanut butter, and she was just getting more recalcitrant.

However, I’ve solved the problem.

It turns out that Sara is not above taking bribes, and I am not too proud to bribe a dog.  And she’s strongly, strongly motivated by salmon jerky.

So, treat it like a training game.  Make her sit, give her a bit of jerky.  Make her eat a pill, give her a bit of jerky.  Make her lay down, give her a bit of jerky.  She figured out what to with the pill pretty fast when fish was on the line, and all her objections vanished.

April 13, 2015

Vet update: Inconclusive

Filed under: General — Phillip Womack @ 10:30 am

Got back from the vet.  Basically, they don’t know what’s wrong, but they eliminated a few things.

It’s not a tooth issue, which is good.  Doesn’t seem to be an ear infection, or anything of that nature.

The swollen lump is much bigger than I realized, and most of it is further back on the side of her head.  They stuck a needle into it, and it’s apparently a solid mass, not filled with fluid.  Didn’t appear to be infected.  She’s not running a fever.

There was a little bit of talk of it being a snake bite or something, but she was in my back yard all day yesterday, here in semi-suburban Houston, and it’s hard to see how she could have gotten into contact with a snake.  I suppose she could have picked a fight with a spider.

So, now we’re doing “supportive care”.  Which means they gave her a shot a Benadryl-like drug in case it was an allergic reaction, and a shot of an anti-inflammatory drug, to reduce swelling.  Then they send me home with some antibiotic pills and some steroid pills to give her.  Now, we observe.  They said to bring her back if she doesn’t show improvement by Wednesday.

She did seem to have perked up a bit by the end of the office visit.  That’s before any drugs were administered.  Hard to say whether that’s her feeling a little better, or just her responding to all the attention.

Part of me is a little annoyed, because every time I take her to this vet with a non-routine problem, the answer is some antibiotic pills or steroids and watch her for a few days.  I kind of wonder if this is a dog-owner placebo.  Look like you’re doing something, hope the dog heals on her own.  On the flip side, that’s probably the right answer.  They ruled out a couple of big things that would need to be handled, like a tooth issue.  After that, you either wait and see if it heals, or you roll out the doggie MRI machine.

It would just be nice if everybody had all the answers on tap instantly.  I bet being a vet, or a medical doctor, is frustrating.  If a computer has a problem, I can take it apart and fix it, but computers are simple.  It’s not really practical to take a dog apart and put it back together again.

Dog is sick.

Filed under: General — Phillip Womack @ 7:26 am

Sara is not doing well.

When she came in last night, she was having a hard time picking up her toys.  Took a good look at her, and one side of her jaw was all swollen up.  And she’s generally very subdued.  Not as active and playful as usual.

It’s always hard to tell what’s going on with labs, because they don’t complain about stuff.  At least, not little stuff like, you know, pain.  She’ll complain plenty about being outside in the yard when it’s dark out.

It’s looking a little worse this morning.  I’m taking her to the vet.  The actual doctors don’t arrive there until 9:00, so that’s when I’m planning to show up.  I’m worried that she’s got an abcessed tooth or something.

Not great timing for this, since I’ve got a job interview this afternoon, but not awful, either.  Shouldn’t be any trouble making the interview, it’s just the usual problem where everything happens all at once.  You do what needs to be done when it needs to be done, not when it’s convenient.

April 11, 2015

Chestnut trees

Filed under: General — Phillip Womack @ 2:06 pm

So, Dad looks to have bought four chestnut saplings for the farm at Crockett.

That’s going to be an interesting experiment.  Dr. Kroll, AKA Dr. Deer, would tell you that deer love chestnuts above pretty much all other food, and that it’s what they have spent most of history eating.  Up until the chestnut blight, the proportion of chestnut trees in North American forests was huge, and they were a major food source.

These are Dunstan chestnuts, which are a blight-resistant hybrid species.  If they can get established and start putting out nuts every year, they should be a huge draw for us.  Ideally, they’ll get established, and start spreading, and we’ll get a nice mix of chestnuts through our whole forested area, but that’s a multiple-decades sort of hope.

The trick is going to be getting them to thrive, and keeping the local animals from scraping them up or knocking them over.  Probably need to put a little fence around them for the first couple years, so that nobody tries to scratch his antlers on them.

April 7, 2015

Lawnmower repair

Filed under: General — Phillip Womack @ 11:10 am

Spring is in the air, which means it’s time to get the lawn under control before my homeowner’s association starts sending passive-aggressive letters.

Got halfway through the lawn and one of the rear wheel on my lawnmower broke.  This internal collar component cracked, and the bearings sandwiched between it and the actual wheel escaped.  Didn’t roll so well after that.

This was already a replacement wheel, the originals were plastic and gave up on me a few years ago. I thought the replacements I got, with metal wheels and bearing, would be sturdier.  Apparently not.

Went and got new wheels at Northern Tool.  These are back to plastic, but they seem pretty solid.  And fit a bit better than the metal ones did, which is a good thing.  We’ll see how long they last.  If they make it four years, that’s probably all I can ask.

I’m glad the wheel failures have been on the back wheels, not the front.  It’s a self-propelled mower, so changing the front wheels is much more complicated, and you can’t use generic parts from the hardware store.  I tried shopping around for them once, and even the manufacturer didn’t make it easy to get new drive wheels.  I’m sure there’s a way, but I’m not in a hurry to find out.

Still, I can’t complain.  Got the mower for free, used, and it’s probably fifteen years old now.  Still starts on the first pull.  Can’t beat that.  Keep changing the oil and the air filter, and a small engine will run forever.  I think the only other repair I’ve ever had to do was replacing the spark plug wire.

March 31, 2015

Orchid season again

Filed under: General — Phillip Womack @ 2:37 pm


Orchid blooming

Orchid blooming


My little orchid is blooming again.  I post this mainly to taunt the family member who gave it to me originally.  When my parents bought a new house, my mother lost her window box, and consequently had to get rid of a few plants.  Which she mostly did by pawning them off on me.  She received this particular orchid as a gift at some point.  It was blooming when she got it, but after those blooms fell off, it never bloomed again for her.  She had it for years.

In MY window box, it has bloomed roughly twice a year for the last seven years.  And always 4+ flowers at a time.  It’s in the running for best houseplant ever, because it’s incredibly easy to take care of.  I dump water on it every three weeks or so, and it just plugs right along.  The leaves are trying to escape the pot, but that seems to be normal orchid behavior.

March 30, 2015

Job Hunting

Filed under: General — Phillip Womack @ 4:32 pm

As of now, I am officially searching for employment.  Prior to this, I spend six years working for Door Pro Systems as their IT manager.  And a fine six years it was, too.  Good group of people there.  Leaving was not an easy choice, and if you ever need to buy doors, door frames, or hardware for a commercial building, give them a call.

Still, there’s a right time for everything to come to an end.

When I started with Door Pro in 2009, they were running off of obsolete Windows 2000 servers, Exchange 2000 email system, a totally inadequate and flaky backup system, and a generally creaky network infrastructure.  I don’t know all the details, but a little bit of armchair forensic history tells me that, once upon a time, someone did a very good job setting up their systems, and then they coasted on that setup for a decade, through a whole string of IT managers.

By the time I arrived, there was a lot that needed to be updated, but I don’t want to undersell that accomplishment.  Setting up rock-solid foundations for the company to spend a decade building atop is no small thing.  I wanted to make sure that I put the company’s technology on just as good a footing during my time there.

And, frankly, I think I did.  Moved to a virtualized server infrastructure, which gives a lot of options and flexibility.  Updated the domain itself to current standards, upgraded the email system to accommodate modern needs and technology changes, put in a new ERP system and new backup systems.  I don’t think the company should just coast for the next ten years on their current technology, and I hope they don’t, but I’m confident that they could.  And I’m proud of that.

And so, it’s time for a change.  Exit when you’re on top.  I liked Door Pro, I liked working there, but I had reached the limits of what I could achieve.  It was stable.  The routine tasks were automated.  The unusual events were rarer and rarer, because I worked hard to prepare for and prevent any serious problems I could foresee.  It was just not as interesting anymore.  It’s trite, but I like challenges, and I ran out of them at Door Pro.

So, now I’m looking for the next thing.  And, I think it’ll be good.  I’ve got momentum right now.  It’s important to keep moving forward, keep pushing, keep growing.  Door Pro was great, but I had no more room to grow there.

February 20, 2014

New welder, new project

Filed under: Art,General — Phillip Womack @ 2:26 pm

Been a long time between updates.  It’s always more fun building things than it is writing about building things.

Anyhow, starting a new project.  Last year, I build myself a coffee table.  It’s pretty nice.  Steel frame, granite top.  Cut the granite from a broken slab I got from a granite installer for cheap, rounded the edges on it and polished it up myself.  Welded the frame together with my stick welder.

DIY coffee table.

DIY coffee table.

Learned a lot in the process of building it.  And there are a million flaws with it, some really obvious and some less so, but I see them all.  Still, I’m proud of it.  It’s a nice thing, and I made it.

Now, however, I need some end tables to go with it.  And one thing I learned during the process of building the thing was that I enjoy welding enough to justify spending some money on better welding equipment.

The end tables are going to be built on the same model.  Welded, rectangular base, granite top.


To make this whole project easier, I have new tools.  (Making the project easier is a good justification, at least.  New tools are almost an end in themselves…)


First on the list, a new cutoff saw.  My parents gave my this for Christmas.  I’d previously purchased a cheap cutoff saw with a 6″ cutting wheel, which was in turn an upgrade from my initial metal-cutting technology of a hacksaw and a Dremel tool.

The 6″ saw was a huge improvement over doing things by hand, as you can imagine.  It was good for what it was.  However, those little 6″ cutting wheels wore out very quickly.  Working with 1″ square tubing, I could get maybe 5-6 cuts before the wheel would no longer go through the whole tube in one pass.  Plus, it was very light and a little wobbly, so my precision was less than I liked.  Enter the new hotness:

Steel cutting goodness

DeWalt abrasive cut-off saw

14″ DeWalt abrasive saw.  Much bigger wheel, which lasts for way, way more cuts.  And generally very heavy, solid construction.  I used a triangle to make sure the build-in jig and clamp were square, then set to cutting.  It just whipped right through all my cuts, easy as slicing bread.  Very pleased with the saw.

When discussing tools, it’s only fair to mention an old favorite, too:

Angle Grinder

This is a 4 1/2″ angle grinder I bought at Northern Tool and Equipment for $20, including a bunch of wheels and sanding pads.  It’s not flashy, it’s not brand-name.  But it’s been a solid work-horse.  When you’re not a very good welder, you do a lot of grinding and reworking.  This things had stood up to a LOT of grinding.


The crown jewel, however, is this beauty:



That’s a Miller 211 wire-feed welder.  Hook it up to a gas supply, add a spool gun, and rock and roll.  Some assembly required.  For a welder of my skill and needs, this is a pretty swank machine.  It’s multi-voltage, so I can run it off my dedicated 240v outlet, but I could also haul it somewhere else and run it off a standard house outlet in a pinch.  Maybe even a generator.  That lower your duty cycle, but to 20%, which is still a lot.  On 240, it’s 30%.  It’s also got a feature called “auto-set”, which basically means you dial in the thickness of steel you’re welding, and it adjusts the wire feed rate and voltage for you.  You can override that, but so far it works quite well on the automatic setting.

And what a difference it makes.

Setting it up initially took some time.  Most of that was on my head; I didn’t want damage anything by accident or carelessness, so I was very slow and cautious.  Plus, I forgot to buy a regulator for my gas cylinder, so I had to run out and get one.  I’d never set up a wire-feed welder before, so there was a lot of double- and triple-checking.  It would be very upsetting if I started a fire or sent a loose gas tank rocketing around my garage.  Especially since I would be in the garage when it happened.

So, when I was actually ready to weld, I had about an hour of daylight left to me.  Not enough time to get any real work done, so I just pulled out some leftover bits of steel from other projects and started welding them to each for practice.  And great googly-moogly, was this thing fast.  It was shocking.  Stick welding, you scratch the electrode to get an arc started, and then you do it again because you got too far from the work piece, and then you sort of creep along the joint you’re making, laying down metal and flux.  Then you let it cool.  Then you knock and grind the flux off, and look for problems, and start again.

With this wire feeder, you line up, pull the trigger, and ZAP!, you’re drawing a bead.  And drawing it is; you can move down the seam about as fast as coloring with a crayon.  It’s slick.  There’s no flux, so you can see the bead instantly, and no hammering, minimal grinding.  It’s night and day different.  I ended up switching over to my actual project and assembling a few of the joints after all, because it was just so fast and easy.

So, yes, the welder is excellent.  It has changed my welding for the better.  I’m still learning the ins and outs of it; getting that wire to go where you want it and keeping your distances correct with the welding gun is a very different skill than with a clamp and an electrode, but that’s just a matter of practice and time.

Thanks, Miller.  You make a good machine.


May 21, 2013

More welding

Filed under: General — Phillip Womack @ 9:38 am

So, my willpower gave out, and I had to go play with my new workbench.

Also, I’m barbecuing for Memorial Day, and having a whole pack of people over, so I really wanted to finish up that charcoal shelf for my smoker.

Went well.  Clamping bench was, indeed, super-handy.  Combined with a bunch of random pieces of angle iron I have around, holding everything in position while I welded was a snap.

The actual project turned out well.  Barely.  I reduced the dimensions of the charcoal shelf by an inch each direction, just to be sure it would fit, since last time I only gave myself half an inch of clearance, and the project grew.  This time, it wedged its way in, rubbing the sides of the smoke box.  I had to do a little shoving, but I got it in.  I have no explanation for how hard it’s been to fit this thing.  I actually measured the interior of the smoke box, I swear.  Several times.  Either I have forgotten how to read a tape measure, or that smoke box’s internal dimensions vary from top to bottom, or something.

New lesson:  Welding rusty and/or dirty metal is lousy.  I had some expanded metal I’ve been using for the grate.  I figured I would just attach it to my new frame, after a little cutting.  I’m lazy, so I didn’t knock off all the surface rust and ash.  Lots of sparks, and the whole process was a lot more tempermental.  And I’m still not really confident that most of those spot welds are any good.  Doesn’t matter much, because they aren’t structural and there’s a lot of them, but it’s a good lesson in why you shouldn’t do that.

Also, I’m having buyer’s remorse over my chop saw.  I got tired of cutting angle iron with a hacksaw and a dremel, so I bought a cheap abrasive cut-off saw from Northern Tool & Equipment.  Six inch blade, which is very small for this type of saw.  This saw.  I figured that, as little metalworking as I do, having kind of a mickey mouse saw wouldn’t hurt me.  And the price jump for a larger, more powerful saw is big.  I’m on a budget, here.

To be fair, the thing worked just fine.  Cut right through the 1″ by 1″ angle iron I was working with.  It was way easier and faster than doing it by hand or with a Dremel.  Just line up the piece, and cut away.  Has a built-in vice to hold your work, which was nothing special but perfectly functional.  I don’t trust the miter gauge on it, but, when can you ever trust a miter gauge?

However, that abrasive wheel wore down fast.  I made a total of eight cuts, and on the last two cuts the wheel wouldn’t get all the way through the piece I was cutting.  And buying more wheels is apparently going to be an ordeal.  Apparently, six inch chop saws are uncommon.  I’ve only found them on Northern Tool’s website, nowhere else.  Not even in stock at the local store.  Trying to decide right now if I should try and return the thing and upgrade.  Seems like dirty pool to return a tool after I’ve used it and worn out the blade, but I’d hate to be stuck with a white elephant of a tool.

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