PADI Open Water Dives – Day 2

We got up, loaded up our vehicles with all of our worldly goods, or at least the ones we brought with us, and headed out for breakfast. After refueling our bodies and vehicles, we went back to Balmorhea to finish off our final certification dives. The weather was already starting to turn, with yesterday’s spring-like conditions being quickly replaced by a return to winter.

The final dive in the PADI Open Water certification is a little more relaxed, in that I got to plan the dive and actually do some exploring instead of working around the skills reviews and tests. By the time we got in, the air temperature was at 58 and the wind had really kicked up. The water, held in the low 70s by the spring outflow, felt great and we quickly got below the surface.

We revisited some of the spring sources and explored more of the pool than we had before, did some underwater navigation, and really just enjoyed ourselves. I had some trouble with the navigation due to the compass being mounted in the gauge console and me not able to get it to a comfortable position. I’ll work on that when I put together my own gear. But overall, didn’t screw anything up badly, and my instructor passed me.

When we surfaced, the weather was turning decidedly nasty. The air temperature was down to 53, and it was starting to rain. The run for the lockers, in cold wetsuits, was pretty unpleasant, but it felt good to be in dry clothes. Gear was loaded in to vehicles as quickly as we could manage, log books were updated, paperwork was filled out, and we hit the road.

The drive back was anything but uneventful. By the time I hit Pecos, it was raining steadily and the temperatures were in the high 30s. After a quick stop in Odessa to get some lunch and top off the Jeep’s gas tank, I was back on the road. Before I’d gotten to Big Spring, it was below freezing and ice was starting to build up on the Jeep. The ground was still warm, so the roads, while wet, were still clear. Outside of Sweetwater, I had to stop to get gas and break ice off of my mirrors, wiper blades, and radio antennas. It was still raining and sleeting, with air temperatures in the high 20s, but the roads were staying wet instead of icing over, so I pushed on. My last gas stop was in Weatherford, by which time the temperatures had come up a little and were hovering right around freezing. The roads were still clear, and the rest of the drive was pretty uneventful, if a little slower than I would have liked. I pulled in to the driveway, unloaded the gear, and curled up with my sweetheart to watch the weather report.

PADI Open Water Dives – Day 1

I loaded all of the gear in to the Jeep and headed out to have some breakfast with a couple folks who were out to work on their Rescue Diver certification. After that we all headed over to Balmorhea State Park to get checked in and start in on the diving. Check-in went smoothly, the rates are reasonable, and the staff was friendly and helpful.

Unloading all of the gear was a good warmup exercise, and the weather was wonderful, with air temperatures in the mid-70s and rising. We had a little bit of a scheduling bobble, so I didn’t get in the water until after lunch, but it really wasn’t a big deal. We got started, worked through the skills in three separate twenty minute dives, and did some exploring while we were down there. I didn’t have any real issues, other than communication, but that’s something to work on. The PADI Open Water certification requires four open water dives, but PADI limits you to three dives, maximum, per day. So I’ve got one more to do tomorrow.

Balmorhea is a spring fed pool, and during part of our explorations, we got down to one of the places where the water is bubbling up from the ground. It was pretty amazing to see the sand dancing in place and feeling the current. I also got to see a couple catfish, which were pretty chill about the whole diver swimming around with them, and one crawfish who decidedly wasn’t and disappeared as soon as possible.

Balmorhea State Park

The pool at Balmorhea State Park

After finishing up the diving for the day, I loaded the Jeep up and headed back to the motel to unload, update my log book, and chill before heading out to dinner. While I was there, I called home and checked in. It was probably a good thing that I did, because Heather let me know that a pretty severe ice storm was going to hit tomorrow. Now in scramble mode, I talked to the inn keeper, who was completely understanding about canceling my reservation for Sunday night. After finishing that, it was back to packing the Jeep and getting everything else ready to go in the morning. The new plan is to get up, eat, get the last dive in, and hit the road for home as soon as possible.

Big Bend Brewing Company Tour

I decided to leave a little early so that I could get out to Big Bend Brewing Company, over in Alpine, for their tour and tasting. Big Bend Brewing Company is currently the most remote brewery in the U.S., but has ties to Austin, where Steve Anderson brewed for Live Oak. I actually got there in time for the tour, about fifteen minutes early in fact.

Big Bend Brewing Company

Big Bend Brewing Company

The crew livened up the standard brewery tour by doing the tasting while we were touring, as well as discussing more of the brewery technology and processes than is typical. Usually you get some variation on “these are the ingredients, this is the process, let’s drink beer!”. We talked about the equipment, their expansion plans, the difficulties of getting ingredients on short notice due to the remoteness of the brewery, as well as the mentoring that’s being done to help make the next generation of brewers.

The first beer we tried was their Tejas Lager, a German Pilsner style lager that was light, crisp, and with just enough malty sweetness to offset the delicate hopping. I’m not a huge pilsner fan, but this is one I could definitely put in the rotation.

From there, we sampled the Terlingua Gold, a golden ale. It was hoppier than the pilsner, as expected, but still in balance for the style. This is a style I’m going to have to brew at home, because it’s one I can serve to people not that familiar with craft beers. In fact, if you can get it, this is definitely a good introductory beer for helping people move away from the fizzy yellow stuff.

Next up was the Big Bend Hefeweizen, which was a delicious example of a hefe. There are a lot of esters in this, lots of clove especially, that make it a wonderful beer for a warm summer day. This would pair well with some green chile enchiladas, some fajitas, or even fish tacos. And it’d be another good introductory beer for people looking to branch out.

And then we got to taste a real treat, the Pasión Peppermint Porter, a variation of their No. 22 Porter that they brewed for the Valentines in Valentine party that Big Bend Brewing Company puts on in Valentine, TX. I haven’t been a huge spiced beer fan, but beers like this are changing my mind. The peppermint wasn’t overpowering, but was definitely there, and went well with the chocolate notes from the roasted malts.

By this point, the tour was done and we were still tasting the rest of their offerings, including the La Frontera IPA, a bold, well hopped example of the style. Weighing in at 5 IBUs, it’s on the low end of the hop bomb trend, but it’s a delicious IPA that deserves a purchase every so often.

The final beer in the tasting series was their Winter Warmer, another spiced, higher ABV, ale. It was a treat to get to try two of their seasonal offerings, and this one didn’t disappoint. It’s a riff on a doppelbock, with some orange peel and coriander for additional flavor. This would definitely be nice with a big slice of mincemeat pie on a cold winter evening.

At the end of the tasting, we had the opportunity to fill our pint glass with any of the beers they had on tap. Sadly, I had to pass on that because I still had to drive to Balmorhea, about fifty miles away, so I did a little shopping before heading back in to town to pick up six packs of each of their beers to bring home with me.

It’s definitely a haul, but if you’re out in west Texas, you really should stop in and visit Big Bend Brewing Company. Trust me, they’ll make it worth your time.

PADI Open Water Confined Water Dives

I drove down to the Kirby Creek Natatorium this morning to do my PADI Open Water certification’s confined water dives. We started out by doing the swimming test, 200m with no mask, fins, or snorkel. After that, we put our gear on and got our heads under water. Breathing under water was a very interesting experience, but I have to admit that I freaked out a little bit the first time. And the second. But, the third time was the charm. Thankfully my instructor was patient and understanding. After I got over that, we proceeded with working on the skills.

There are a variety of skills that you need to work through, including clearing your mask underwater, handling running out of air, recovering your regulator, swimming and diving with a snorkel, and hand signals for communication. I made it through all of them, though I’m going to have to practice using my snorkel a little more as I’m having trouble getting comfortable with it.

After finishing off with treading water for ten minutes, I packed up the gear and headed out to meet Heather for lunch. With the classroom and confined water sections done, all I’ve got left are the open water dives, which are going to happen next weekend, out at Balmorhea State Park.

Catching Blue Man Group At The Winspear

We took Reese to see Blue Man Group over at the Winspear Opera House today. It’s one of the last things we’re doing before he heads home, but it was definitely something we didn’t want to miss. We’ve seen them before, in Las Vegas, but this show was different. We all had a really good seats, and even Reese enjoyed the show. After the show, one of the Blue Men was out front letting people take pictures with him. So, of course, I made Reese got over so that I could take one of him.

Reese hanging out with a member of Blue Man Group

Reese hanging out with a member of Blue Man Group

Laphroaig Tasting At Sigel’s Elite

I had some on-site meetings today that got me most of the way to the Sigel’s Elite, which made getting across town for the Laphroaig tasting much easier. It was no trouble to find, and there was plenty of parking.

I got in a few minutes after it started, and started off with the Triple Wood. I’ve had this one before, and it’s one of my favorite expressions. It goes really well with sour or tart foods, such as berry cobblers. The peat is definitely there, as it should be in an Islay malt, but with the time in sherry casks, it’s got a nice balance to it.

After that one, I played catch-up and sampled the Select expression that they’d started with. This is their attempt at recreating a pre-Prohibition whisky. It’s pretty darned good, with a much more forward oak flavor than I was expecting. I think this would pair really well with a nice bison ribeye.

Next up was the 18 Year Old, another one of my favorites. Being an older whisky, it’s definitely more mellow than its younger siblings, especially the peat. But that allows the other flavor notes to really shine. I’m not sure what I’d pair this with, because it’s one to be savored. I think that good friends and possibly a good cigar are the perfect accompaniment for a wee dram of this whisky.

Once we had finished that one, we got to taste the 2014 Cairdeas. I guess Simon was feeling the Christmas spirit, because this was completely unexpected. I’ve got a bottle of it at the house, but I haven’t opened it yet. It was definitely interesting, with a pronounced sherry note, along with some yeasty flavors. I’m not a huge fan of sherry finishes, but this one is an exception. I’m thinking it’d go well with a crème brûlée or maybe some sweet crepes.

And finally, we got a real Christmas treat as Simon opened up a bottle of the 25 year old. This is Laphroaig’s oldest normally available bottling, and one I’ve been wanting to try for a long time. It’s just been a little too expensive to buy a bottle on a whim, so this was definitely a treat. What can I say, it was fantastic. The peat’s hiding in the background, but there’s a flavor explosion going on with everything else that’s been hiding or developing over time.

Once the tasting was done, I spent a few minutes chatting with Simon before picking up a few bottles of the Select, and getting one signed. All in all, a great way to spend an evening.

Beer Tasting At Grapevine Craft Brewery

Heather and I went down to Grapevine Craft Brewery to check them out and try some tasty brews. They’re still in their Farmer’s Branch location, but are expecting to be moved in to the Grapevine facility by April 2015. They do tastings on the first Saturday of the month, and this one happens to coincide with North Texas Beer Week, which meant that we got special pint glasses with our tickets. The tour is pretty standard for a craft brewery, with a discussion on how beer is made and what the equipment does. They jazzed it up a little with some trivia questions throughout the presentation. I happened to know the term for chilling beer to get the yeast to settle out: cold crashing. I shouted it out and won a gift certificate to Finley’s Barber Shop, who were there doing shaves for Movember.

The first beer I tried was Sir William’s English Brown Ale, which was the subject of some controversy earlier this year and has subsequently vindicated itself by winning a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival. It’s a really nice brown ale, light and fruity with a good malt finish and a gentle hopping. Plus I got to hold the actual gold medal, which was pretty cool.

My second and final beer was the Bourbon Wood Aged Nightwatch Oatmeal Stout. I’m pretty picky when it comes to oaked or barrel aged beers, especially bourbon barrel aged beers because most of them just taste too unbalanced to me. This was one of the exceptions, and a delicious exception it was. The oak and bourbon balanced nicely with the oatmeal stout flavors to create a delicious beer.

We spent some time enjoying the beers, talking to the staff and the guys from Finley’s, and nosing around the brewery. I picked up a shirt, and we got a couple koozies as freebies, plus our pint glasses. After that, we headed out to finish our Saturday errands.

Using A Proxy With Puppet’s pe_gem Module

So, I’ve defined a puppet_master role and profile to help manage some gems and other stuff that is needed there. Because the gems need to be installed in Puppet’s ruby environment as opposed to the system’s ruby environment, I installed the pe_gem module. It’s a simple module that adds a new provider, pe_gem, for the package type that replaces the gem command with the one in Puppet’s ruby.

In one of my environments, all of the nodes must access the Internet via a proxy. And that started this wacky adventure, complete with trips down multiple rabbit holes.

My first attempt was to set the environment variables. Works great from the command line, but when the agent runs, it fails. So, moving on, the documentation indicates that I could add the proxy command line arg via the package type’s install_options resource.

Yeah, not so much. The package never actually got that resource due to a bug in the pe_gem module. It turns out that it’s missing the feature definition. I fixed that locally, tested it, and then forked the module, checked in my fix, and created a pull request on Github. That sorta worked. It’ll install the gems, but the list command that Puppet does to check the version still fails because the install_options resource isn’t used for ‘gem list’ commands. At that point I set the ensure resources to ‘present’ and gave up for the night.

This morning I tried using a gemrc file to specify the proxy. Putting http_proxy in ~/.gemrc doesn’t work because Puppet unsets $HOME. Putting it in /etc/gemrc kind of works, but gem tries to do the list command without a proxy first. Not ideal, but I can live with that if I have to. Not satisfied with that though, I start crawling through Puppet’s ruby code and find the answer. Bingo! It’s not /etc, it’s /opt/puppet/etc. So I moved the gemrc over to /opt/puppet/etc, which appears to have solved everything.

PuppetConf 2014 – Day 5

I was pretty wiped out last night and slept in a little this morning, but I still got over to the conference in time to get some breakfast before heading in to this morning’s keynotes. The first speaker was Dan Spurling of Getty Images. He discussed how and why they’ve integrated puppet in to their environment, as well as some of his philosophy on development, operations, and getting everyone to play nice together. The second keynote was delivered by Alan Green of Sony Computer Entertainment America. He also talked about how they use Puppet, but he also discussed how they support the many internal groups and their extremely varied IT needs. After that, Luke came back on to do a Q&A session, which helped give us some more insight into what’s going on in the Puppet universe.

Once the keynotes were done, we headed out to our technical sessions. I started with an introduction to MCollective, which is an asynchronous, queue driven job management service that comes with Puppet. I’ve got some really good ideas on how this will be put to use on my customers’ systems. After that session was done it was time to go get some lunch. I had a little longer of a break, so I headed back to the hotel room to drop off some more exhibitor loot before returning to PuppetConf 2014 to grab some lunch and get ready for the afternoon sessions.

The first session of the afternoon was one that discussed OpenStack and how it can be managed with Puppet. It’s a pretty complex system, but there are modules out on the forge that make it pretty simple and painless to set up, configure, and run using Puppet. Next up was what was supposed to be a tour of Puppet subsystems but really turned in to an overview of part of the execution path of the Puppet agent and master code. It was interesting, but wasn’t really what I was hoping for. After that I headed over to catch a session about managing a multi-tier architecture using Puppet. It seemed like a good idea because we have a lot of that at our customers’ sites. And then there was the session put on by F5 Networks, covering their new REST API for managing their network gear. That is going to come in really useful, and considering you’ll be able to do just about everything you can do on the command line using REST calls, it’s going to rock! Our last session of the day covered Elasticsearch’s ELK platform, and was delivered by Jordan Sissel. This was a product stack that I didn’t know too much about before now, but after this presentation, I’m going to be spinning up a VM to try it out. It looks like it might be a good replacement for Splunk, with a bunch of extra functionality to boot.

It was a good way to close out the conference, and I made my way back to the hotel pretty brain fried from all of the information that has been crammed in to my head over the last 5 days. The conference was great, and I hope I get the opportunity to go to it again next year.

PuppetConf 2014 – Day 4

Even though yesterday was technically the first day of PuppetConf 2014, everything really got going today. We started off by going to the keynotes, which were definitely interesting. The first one was given by Luke Kanies, the founder of Puppet Labs. He talked about where they’ve been, what’s going on now, as well as a little about what’s coming up. After he was done, Gene Kim, author of The Phoenix Project, took the stage to talk about DevOps. I’ve had a low opinion of the DevOps methodology for a while, but after listening to him talk, I think I’m going to have to get his book and reevaluate my opinions. The third keynote was delivered by Kate Matsudaira, CEO of popforms. She went over some career management and improvement strategies.

After the keynotes, we walked around the main hall, checking out the vendors, before heading to our selected sessions. I started by checking out the demos that Puppet Labs were running, got to try out the new Node Classifier (it’s pretty amazing), and joined the Test Pilot program. After the lunch break, I started in on the sessions with one about scaling Puppet for large environments. My next session covered auditing and security related operations using Puppet, including being able to enforce basic security policies through classes.

After that session, I headed upstairs to do some last minute reviewing before taking my Puppet Professional certification exam. I can’t talk about specifics of the exam due to signing an NDA, but let me say that it was pretty challenging, making you think about the questions. I did pass it, and am now certified.

Taking the exam used up pretty much all of the rest of the afternoon, so by the time I was done and had met back up with my colleagues, it was time to head over to an off-site mixer sponsored by Puppet Labs. We all had a good time there, and got to spend some time talking to other conference attendees as well as Puppet Labs employees.

That pretty much wrapped up the day, and I headed back to the hotel to get some sleep to prepare for tomorrow.