Memorial Speech

Posted by daniel.j.gallagher on August 26, 2012
Yours Truly / No Comments

A quick update, without too much preface. I’ve been meaning to put this up for a while; it’s already on Facebook. My mom passed away late this July after almost two years fighting cancer (her second). It feels like there is so much to be said about this woman. I wish I could hand people a book (or three book set) and say “this is my mom.” I made a start when we talked about who would speak at her memorial service in Troy, and I was the only one who in the immediate family who wanted to. I spent one long evening on an initial draft, and ran it by Dad and Kate. Here’s the result:

If you’re listening, Mom, then, well done. Have a rest. You earned it. I worry that as a disembodied spirit, you might forget to rest, out of excitement that you aren’t held back by bodily fatigue.

I say this by way of introduction, because I know it was a long road by which Karen came to be prepared to lay down her life so gracefully. She was tireless in spirit. In life, as in a single day, she packed the hours with life, and love, and intention, always aware that the time marched on and that bedtime was ever nearing.

As kids, Kate and I felt the effects of this, but it wasn’t a philosophy that was drilled into us. It was just lived out before our eyes. Maybe you’ve heard of tiger moms–well, ours was a bear mom. Patient and generous, but relentlessly determined to clear a path for her children to succeed. Even if it meant bending the reality of the public school system like a metal toothpick.

When I grew older, and I learned more about mom’s history with cancer, I began to understand that relentlessness. She knew her time in our lives would be shorter than usual, and she must have resolved to burn that much brighter in the time she was given. Once we were grown, she would tell us that every additional day was a gift, not to be taken for granted.

Facing death can transform people in this way, but it can also break them. But Karen came from sturdy stock, to say the least. Her mother Sonya was another long-time survivor of cancer, who went on to do big things in her later years. From Sonya we learned the dao of casinos and ocean cruises, love of the arts, and an unsinkable attitude. Also: the power of a stern voice, a warm hug, and a ready supply of hard candies. Sonya delighted in raising and teaching children, and everyone she met became her children, even big burly men. It’s that inclusive, familial attitude for which Deiber women are so well remembered. And my mother took that and ran with it.

There may be cleverer mothers out there, or stronger. But Karen was certainly the doing-est, caring-est mother I know of. Of course, I am her son. So I thought it would be cool to include some remarks from others who have known her.

The first comes from mom’s friend since college, Anne March. When they sailed to Puerto Rico together, they were told by staff that no churches would be open for Saturday mass. Anne says Karen didn’t buy it. She ran all over town, asking shop workers and police officers where she could find [with hand gestures] “a church,” even though no one was speaking her language.

Denise Balfour says that it was understood Karen would take a phone call from a friend at 4 in the morning, and be over in 15 minutes, ready to help, with no questions asked. Not that people did this, it was just clear to everyone she was that kind of friend.

Not only friends, but also neighbors in need, were a matter of great concern. Her good works and volunteering efforts are innumerable. My sister recalls how the winter holidays were especially connected with service in our family. We would all serve Thanksgiving meals at Van Rensselaer Manor, sing carols at the doorsteps of Visiting Nurse Association patients, and on Christmas day we’d deliver meals-on-wheels packages from this very building. Even the family dogs volunteered from time to time, as therapy animals.

A hodgepodge of other superhuman attributes have been offered. Karen was “badass,” “simply lovely,” compassionate and intelligent. She used her broad medical knowledge to look after her friends, as a patient advocate and invaluable second opinion. She welcomed our friends and loved ones with an open mind and open arms, even when our hearts ran a bit to the unconventional. The family of family was family, period. Even toward the end, when standing and speaking were difficult, she wouldn’t let Kate’s boyfriend leave without first asking, “Did you have enough to eat?”

And Barb Ashcroft writes, “She had no missed opportunities.” I can attest to this. Even as her health failed, mom was the captain of her personal adventure. She took us on whale watches, rode a camel, kayaked the Hudson, went joyriding in her convertible, and dined at her favorite restaurants. She even put on waterproof waders and braved the notorious Charles river on a cramped little raft, to see Boston’s 4th of July fireworks from up close. Karen was adamant that her treatment should maximize the number of good days, and she filled those days.

And when the good days were over, she accepted it, and tried to help her family do the same. We circled the wagons, we put things in order, we kept her comfortable. She went to bed. And one day, she didn’t rise.

Now we’re at the hard part. The present day. Our family is pulling together and trying to make sense of this for ourselves. Some of you may be doing the same. All I can say is that my mother once shared a sublime observation while ushering us off a cruise ship in New York City harbor.

We had been at sea for a week or so, and that time in the lap of luxury had made us soft. So when it came time to pack our stuff, disembark, wait in lines, and be reminded of our comparatively dreary lives back home, we were all mopey. And she asked me to think back on our past road trips to Florida and the Carolinas.

Did we ever relish the prospect of going home? Not really. Some mournful feeling is natural after an exciting trip. But looking back, which did we remember more, the sad farewells or the glorious vacationing? The vacationing, of course. That was the stuff of memories. And we couldn’t have had the vacation without the humdrum life back home. So whichever place we were headed to, we were heading in the right direction.

One of mom’s favorite fortune cookies, affixed to the refrigerator back home, says, “You are heading in the right direction.”

I also did an acoustic cover of this, which was well received. I wish I’d been able to get Kate to play something though.

Recent Compromise

Posted by daniel.j.gallagher on June 20, 2012
Hack/mash/DIY, IT News, Yours Truly / No Comments

If you see anything fishy while viewing the blog, please let me know. Some kind of badware bot recently managed to inject files into my theme directory, and I haven’t been able to determine how it got in.

No sign of a database injection,  nor of widespread tampering on the backend of the site. Just raw fraudulent PHP source files that redirect the browser to various crapware domains. All of it was automatically traced and quarantined by Dreamhost, which made my job simpler. (And of course, I’ve rotated passwords and updated every scrap of the software that I manually version.)

Idle Ruminations: IPv4

Posted by daniel.j.gallagher on March 01, 2011
IT News, Ranting and Raving / No Comments

An offhand question raised by my roommate in response to this comic prompted me to reread the Wikipedia articles on IP versions 4 and 6.

Background for non computer nerds: the Internet has run out of addresses in its directory, which has existed in the current form since 1980 and was designed for a maximum of about 4 billion devices. Perhaps this was what Prince really meant last year when he said “the internet’s completely over.” In practical terms, it means a rush to finish transitioning every computer in the world to IP version 6, which has way, way more addresses.

The question was, is the outcome described in the comic accurate? Version 4 addresses have 32 bits, which as the 64-bit transition in personal computers demonstrated, is pretty big but not inexhaustibly big. Version 6 addresses have 128 bits. That doesn’t mean 4 times as many addresses, it means exponentially more addresses, 4 billion raised to the 4th power. Could there physically be that many machines, even if they were nanobots?

I had to do the math for myself to believe the answer. At first I thought Munroe’s calculation relied on the sizing of subnets (smaller groups of addresses used by networks and ISPs), but I was mistaken. The hypothetical planet-eating robots each measured a few cubic microns, i.e. about 3 times 10 to the -18 cubic meters (note the orders of magnitude hidden by the use of different units). IP version 6 has about 3 times 10 to the 38 addresses (converting from binary to decimal notation makes that 2 to the 128 seem less big), so when the machines ran out of addresses their total volume would be about 10 to the 20 meters which, according to Wikipedia, is only about 10% of the Earth.

Unrelatedly (and less pedantic), you can infer a number of things from the fact that the IETF approved a 4 billion-address scheme in 1980 and didn’t push forward with succession until the late 2000s. Mainly that they either weren’t terribly good at higher math, or hadn’t noticed how slowly standards adoption processes sometimes move. The world’s population was already over 4 billion in 1980, the first personal computers had recently hit the market a few years earlier, and while the first commercial Internet Service Provider was still years away, the dots were there to be connected.

To be fair, network engineers have handled infrastructure crises on this scale before, and no one is particularly worried now about the Internet collapsing. So maybe the risk of eventual obsolescence wasn’t that poorly weighed. You probably remember the Y2K scare, but you may not be aware that in 2008, a serious security flaw in the domain name system that powers the Web was patched in about 30 days by software vendors and network admins, working largely in secret.

Still, major version bumps in core network protocols aren’t guaranteed to run smoothly. If all network software could be swapped out so easily, not only would we not be dealing with the IP address problem at the last minute, we wouldn’t have anywhere near as much e-mail spam as we do today. And I probably wouldn’t be signing in to 4 or 5 or 6 different chat servers (all running different IM protocols) to talk to my friends.

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Posted by daniel.j.gallagher on February 09, 2011
Life Skills, Meta-Everything, Ranting and Raving / No Comments

I’ve been reading a lot of things recently involving the words “uncertainty” and “risk”.

For one thing, I’m a bit of a nerd about security, so I read Schneier on Security and to a lesser extent John Robb’s Global Guerillas. Schneier’s is a household name among network engineers and system administrators. Robb’s analysis sometimes fails to impress, due to his shallowness in some of the fields he brings together, but his broader derivations about 21st century war and security (as read in his book, Brave New War) are reasonable and at times novel and compelling. Both share my disdain for the security industrial complex, which they see as too incompetent and/or too politicized to provide effective solutions based on rational risk-analysis.

Understanding risk (or put another way, probability) lies at the heart of security, and of systems-level engineering, and at a deeper level is integral to all scientific discovery. And it is very difficult. I know fully well that in my day-to-day decision making, I make plenty of intuitive judgments that are systematically flawed in how they handle risk and reward. And in fact this has led me to want to study the art of rationality itself, which includes the foundational principles necessary for risk analysis as well as insight into how and why people get it wrong.

It’s disconcerting whenever you discover a source of uncertainty or unreliability lurking somewhere between your beliefs about the world and the truth of the world. I went through this in school when I realized all news sources must be treated with skepticism. I went through it again when I learned people’s reasoning from evidence is often wrong, even when they’re not trying to deceive. And let’s not forget that perception itself is fake, i.e. the brain fudges information to form complete experiences when in fact the direct neural input is full of gaps.

Regardless, the solution is not to give up, or to pretend these flaws don’t exist. As long as you have logic and creativity, you can see the different realities that might explain what your mind sees, and painstakingly collect the information that will distinguish truth from fiction. And if the answer turns out to be that your world is chaotic, with many equally likely future states (chaos is one of the things people can mean by “uncertainty”), then you can act on your lack of knowledge by designing for multiple contingencies.

I’d like to tell you that being an Aspie makes this easy to apply to life, and that being a logical-minded person it’s easy to overcome those built-in biases and deal with risk and uncertainty properly. I’d like to.

Actually, the way I deal with uncertainty is terrible. When it gets bad enough, I have a tendency to shut down. This is why I tend to seek stability, settle for what already works, and it’s at least part of why I have trouble forming and changing routines. Even though much of my day-to-day living is worked out on-the-fly with minimal planning or structure, I hate the feeling of my life being aimless or up in the air. Examples of this are changes in relationship status, jobs, or housing.

For the last year I have been dealing with more uncertainty than at any previous time. In this case “uncertainty” primarily means not chaos but compounded risk, and a new set of restrictions on my long-term strategy. I have increased my risk of dying young by something less than the (very low) odds of current treatments failing to keep my cancer at bay. Not a huge deal in and of itself. But I’ve also significantly increased uncertainties about what I can do in my life and my career, because to afford my treatment I must have health insurance at all times.

I need new strategies for a number of things right now, mostly to do with personal motivation and coping with emotional baggage, but decision making (including risk assessment) is bound to be in there somewhere. Because my bias against uncertainty is overwhelming, I need to learn what practices will make me feel safe and secure, as well as which actually do improve my situation. And I need to codify the values by which I plan to weigh decisions, now that I know life is going to be that much more complicated than I ever expected. A mission statement would not be out of place.

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Gallagher Vacation 2k10

Posted by daniel.j.gallagher on February 09, 2011
Photos, Yours Truly / No Comments

Author’s note: this post somehow got stuck in the intertubes (meaning, I forgot about it and never finished it) in late December.

Gallagher family vacation status: we came, we saw, we ate and we conquered.

Deckside toast, Kate and Dan

Seven days and nights touring the beautiful eastern Caribbean. Though we knew we’d be returning soon enough to our usual, non-pampered lifestyle and the worries we left behind at the port, we kept our heads in the game. Each in our own way, we found fun and relief in our surroundings, and took the time to tend to ourselves and each other.

My big sister and I for instance–we haven’t had so much quality time in years. We shared a cabin near the bottom of the ship, where the white churn of the waves along the starboard hull seemed only an arm’s length or two from the porthole. I’d been suffering from dry sensitive skin and pain in the arches of my feet. Kate was getting over mono and still physically exhausted. So on our days at sea, we availed ourselves of late breakfast, lounged on the pool deck, read our books and snacked. I spent a little more time exploring the ship and sunning myself; she, for obvious reasons, spent her afternoons napping.

The first thing to know about me and Kate is that we aren’t all that close historically, but we are very alike and we get along well. I gather siblings in their late 20s do not always have this property. Another thing to know is that our sense of humor is a little bent. Being nerdy and polyamorous is a recipe for irreverence. Around the same time I took the above picture, up on deck prior to the ship’s departure, a curious thing began to happen. We were singled out–a bit rudely–by ship’s staff, mainly by photographers who wanted to take shots of us together. Besides interrupting our conversation, this meant showing the guy my room card so he could tag the photo properly.

We quickly realized we were victims of a demographic statistic. With certain notable exceptions (such as the wait-staff), everyone on the ship assumed we were either just-engaged or just-married, and most thought the latter. The fact that Kate uses her ex-husband’s last name doesn’t indicate much of anything nowadays, clues in our behavior would be subtler, and positive bias means no one will think that far. Understanding how it conveniences others doesn’t make it less frustrating, of course.

At first we could only froth and speculate about how much of this hassle we were going to endure. Later it became the subject of a series of hypothetical pranks against staff, and general bemused and inappropriate commentary. After the first couple days at sea, the shutterbugs mostly stop biting anyway.

Apart from that fuss, we had a lot of fun times, a lot of time to get caught up on each other’s lives and commiserate about the downsides to ocean travel. Mainly that there was no free Internet service to be found anywhere, let alone data service to our Droids (cruise ships do provide Internet at pay-through-the-nose rates, but only via the computer lab). We were both missing our respective sweeties.

More than anything, it was just great to be around my family so much, sharing the beautiful settings and the memorable experiences. And the photos! There are some pretty excellent photos (which I’ll omit for now) of me and Kate at a treetop obstacle course in St. Maarten, as well as some decent formal and casual photos of us and of the whole family, mostly on-board. I’m still waiting for the close-up photos of me para-sailing, which was thrilling and serene and beautiful and basically everything else folks say it is.

There were also the serious times. Mom paid the ridiculous roaming rates to fight with doctors over the phone, when they pushed back the start date for her chemo treatment (Verizon says they have in-network island coverage, but it is a filthy filthy lie). She and I also had some frank discussion about cancer, and our strength as a family, and what should be done if she is incapacitated. I admire her ability to think with a clear level head under the circumstances.

As she told us at the outset, though, the primary objective of the trip was not let these thoughts hang around and prevent us from relaxing and regrouping as a family unit, and overall it was a big success. It gave me strength to last through to the end of the calendar year, and it’s helped me somewhat in keeping composure since then, while mom is at the winter house in Florida.

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