Darius McCaskey

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International Women’s Day

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Categories: International Women's Day

Straight, white, gender-conforming males are typically steered toward sports stars and action heroes as role-models, and while I appreciate Doug Flutie and Arnold Schwarzenegger, the truth is that in my life, women have had a greater influence than men. Therefore, I thought it might be appropriate to talk about some women I admire this International Women’s Day.

One woman I admire is Nicole Blackman. She is a poet and performance artist from New York City. I’m thankful she collaborated with KMFDM on the song “Dogma,” which is how I was exposed to Blackman. I tracked down her chapbook, Blood Sugar, and it changed my life. Poem after poem showed me this woman’s experience, and it made my heart ache for her, and for myself. I admire Nicole Blackman for living through pain and still having the courage to speak her truth to a cold, indifferent world. I try to emulate her honesty every day.

Dr. Mae Jemison is another woman I admire. It’s easy enough to be impressed by her profound intellect, but what I truly admire about Dr. Jemison is her determination and persistence. Whether it’s how she overcame prejudice in college or her dogged pursuit of the dream of space flight inspired by Nichelle Nichols, Mae Jemison is a woman who simply wouldn’t take no for an answer. Hell, she made Lieutenant in Starfleet before age 40; I haven’t even gotten a commission yet. I can only hope to some day go as boldly as she.

Closer to home, I admire Phyllis Gallisath and Sara Dorner. Both women have experienced things I cannot fathom and have overcome. They are both (in different yet complimentary ways) working to make the world a better place, and they’ve done more good in just the past year than I’ll probably do in a lifetime. Sara and Phyllis are fighters: warriors for justice and change. I’m proud to know both of you. You inspire me to do and be better.

Finally, while she’s not a woman yet, my daughter, Muirne, is well on her way to being one I admire, too. She is a million times more woke than I was at her age (or even twice or three times her age, let’s be honest.) She understands so much about how people, places, and things are interconnected, and has big ideas about how to make things better. Her imagination is without bounds. She is kind, compassionate, and curious. Muirne is the best thing that has ever happened to me.

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It’s Not OK to Punch Nazis… Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Alienating My Friends

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Categories: Essays, Philosophy, Politics, Rant, Writing

Let me begin with the understanding that some of you will brand me a sympathizer, or tell me to check my privilege, or think that I’ve revealed myself as a libtard beta cuck. You might say the vile, repugnant monsters you’re fighting only understand one language: the iron fist. You might say centuries of oppression and systemic violence justify a response in kind. Perhaps you believe yourself a part of the “Master Race” sent by God Almighty to rule the Earth over all non-Aryans. Perhaps you think back to that iconic comic book cover depicting Captain America punching Adolf Hitler in his goddamned mouth and think to yourself “If Cap’s punching Nazis, it’s probably the right thing to do.”

Perhaps I am a privileged, white-power-sympathizing, libtard beta: I’ve been guilty of far worse paradoxes in my life. I don’t intend to discuss the merits of modelling your life after comic book characters (besides which, Frank Castle is a far better role model than Steve Rogers) or the logical fallacies inherent in racism. I don’t have time to break out Writings On Civil Disobedience and Nonviolence to find a pithy quote from Tolstoy, or paraphrase Theodore Parker about the “long arc.”

I do, however, want to talk about morality: specifically, the morality of violence and advocating violence. Many of my friends are self-described liberals and progressives, and many of them have taken up the “Punch a Nazi” banner in the days after the violence in Charlottesville. I find this deeply troubling and problematic.

Friends, I want you to hear me out on this one. I understand your anger – your rage – at white supremacists and neo-fascists assaulting, maiming, and murdering counter-protesters. Your rage is justified. Calling for, condoning, or performing counter violence is not.

In what’s known as the Categorical Imperative or Formula of Universal Law, Immanuel Kant urged us to act only on those maxims which we can will to be universal law. That is to say, essentially, do unto others as you’d have them do unto you. Perhaps you see where I’m going with this…

When you call for, or perpetrate, violence against these alt-right, Sieg Heiling doucherockets, you are implicitly condoning the violence they wish to perpetrate against all people different from themselves. You are operating under the maxim “Assault other humans if their viewpoints differ from your own.” As it’s very unlikely you can will that maxim to be universal law without logical inconsistency resulting, it’s not ethically correct. Let’s look at a few examples:

  • If it’s morally acceptable to punch someone in the face for marching with the Third Reich’s flag, it’s morally acceptable to drop-kick a Pride marcher waving the Rainbow flag.
  • If Antifa is morally righteous macing Vanguard America, then surely VA is ethically correct in bashing people over the head with their weird, rolling-pin-emblem shields.
  • If it’s OK to throw Molotov cocktails at Klan members, it’s OK for them to tie a noose around a black man’s neck.

It’s a slippery slope, and one that plays right into the hands of these ignorant fucks. When you deny the Categorical Imperative of condemning all forms of violence, you give them the opportunity to engage in whataboutism. When you punch a neo-Nazi marching and saluting and chanting and waving the flag of the losers of World War II, you give them moral ammunition to use against true Americans who believe we’re all created equal.

When you engage them at a physical level, they win.

Make no mistake, however; I’m not suggesting we tolerate the vile vitriol these small, spiteful people spew. No, it should be condemned vociferously. I’m also not suggesting you engage in pacifism if one of these shitgibbons takes a swing at you (that’s a decision you should make for yourself). If you see a neo-Nazi, or a “white nationalist,” or a member of the “alt-right” assaulting someone else, I believe you’re morally obligated to give whatever aid you can (the maxim being “Protect your fellow humans from harm so long as you don’t unduly put your own life at risk.”)

Now, you might be saying to yourself, “That’s great, but these Nazi scumbags would do far worse to me in a heartbeat,” and you’re probably right. It’s quite probable that they lack a solid ethical foundation on which to act. Does that mean you should abandon yours? Further, these are neo-Nazis, and they’re a far cry from Hitler’s Germany. These twatwaffles can only dream of a world where they have an iota of the power and control of the Reich.

Or, perhaps, you believe – as the Bruces do – that Kant was a real pissant.

Maybe you don’t really think about ethics and morality much. You probably should. Demagogues and real fascists thrive on moral ambiguity and indifference. I’d urge you to seek out the work of Immanuel Kant and John Rawls. Here’s a good site to get you thinking.

Maybe you’re a Nihilist, or follow Natural Law Theory. If so, I probably haven’t swayed you. I’d like to hear your thoughts on the morality of violence.

 

P.S.: I’m aware I made a consistent theme of ad hominem attacks on the alt-right, white supremacist, neo-Nazi fuckholes whose tiring rhetoric from the losing side of several conflicts throughout history is the root cause of the problem I tackled. However, since the point of the essay is not to convince these people their actions are immoral, but instead to persuade those on the left not to stoop to their level, I’m pretty sure I’d get a passing grade from my old moral philosophy professor.

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Inspiration

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Categories: Bands & Music, Rush

Creative inspiration is a funny thing. One never knows what’s going to inspire them, or to what degree. As an example, when I worked in Naperville, Illinois – about an hour and a half drive from home each way – I used to pass a garbage dump and a wind farm. At least three poems were inspired by that long drive down I-39 and across I-88.

Every time I’ve seen Rush play live, the first thing I want to do the next day is pull my Aria Pro II bass guitar out of the gig bag it lives in and start playing. There’s no chance in Hell I’ll ever be as good a bassist as Geddy Lee, but his playing inspires me to become better.

When Shadows & Mirrors released their second record, Aria, earlier this year, I jumped on the preorder bandwagon. I’ve known Brian Diamond for over two decades, but to be perfectly honest, I hadn’t paid much attention to his first record. Still, I bought the (literal) record to support a friend, but then something happened.

I was inspired.

Now, I’m not going to try comparing Shadows & Mirrors to Rush. They’re two totally different things, and they inspire me in different ways, but I will say this: the effort Brian put into this album shows. Before the record was officially released, I had a chance to meet up with Brian, and his passion for music was obvious. He showed me his home studio, we talked about his songwriting tools and process, how he got his (fucking awesome) music videos made, and listened to some records (Thriller!) over a few beers.

After that meeting, having some sound advice from a guy who’s put out not one but two albums, I started seriously working toward a dream I’ve had since my first time performing: record a record. I’m using some different tools than Brian, and I expect what we produce will be wildly different, but I’m convinced within the next year, you’ll see my name in the liner notes of a new album.

workspace

My music workspace

Aria

My signed copy of Aria

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Blood Roses

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Categories: Bands & Music, Blog, Tags: , ,

Once upon a time, there was a teenage boy who loved a teenage girl, and the girl was in love with the boy. Like teenagers everywhere, they had no idea who they were or who they would become, but they thought they would find out together. They were right, and they were wrong.

However, the girl listened to a woman’s music, and that helped her find a part of herself. The woman wrote songs that spoke to the girl’s soul. The boy, like many boys in love with girls, started listening to the music the girl loved because it’s what one does. (It didn’t hurt any that the boy listened to a man’s music, and that man sang a song with the woman.)

A strange thing happened, however; the boy fell in love with the woman’s music, too – and maybe a bit with the woman herself. Her voice was bewitching: her talent undeniable. The woman possessed a seductive, dangerous charisma the boy couldn’t resist. She seemed like a modern-day Siren: her songs beautiful, yet damning.

Through the woman’s music, and what it meant to the girl, the boy learned more about the girl. He learned how she struggled to show him, and everyone else, the person behind the mask of polite society and parental expectations. He learned about her need to be more than just his girl.

Then he learned something about himself. He learned something about being silenced, being violated. He learned about being joyful in spite of these tragedies. He learned something about being one’s truest self, no matter how much the rest of the world might not understand.

The boy and girl saw the woman perform her music several times, and even got a chance to meet her by skipping school. (The boy felt no regret, and assumed at least one of his teachers would understand.) The boy couldn’t speak when face-to-face with the woman. She was as enchanting in person as she was on record. Thankfully, his handmade T-shirt spoke for him: “Real men listen to Tori Amos.”

While the boy and girl didn’t stay in love forever, happily ever after, the man the boy became is eternally grateful to the girl that one of the things she shared was the music.

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Shattered Gods: A Novel by Michael Diamond

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Categories: Writing, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

It is with great pleasure I share news of Shattered Gods, the second novel in the “Mythos Division” series by my good friend, Michael Diamond. Principal writing finished several months ago, and the book has progressed through the editing and rewriting process in the intervening time. Mike has signed off on the book, and is eagerly awaiting paperbacks from the printer, as am I. Shattered Gods represents the second writing/editing collaboration between Mike and me, and – without giving away any spoilers – I’d like to share my thoughts on the novel.

Shattered Gods picks up again with Julius Godom, protagonist of Origins of the Black Idol, several years after the terrible events in India portrayed in the first novel. Julius is now a member of the Mythos Division, partnered with the cantankerous Dr. Pierce. The Division dispatches the investigators to pre-WWII Germany on a mission to retrieve another mysterious artifact. Julius, however, wants another chance to right his past mistakes.

Sometimes we get exactly what we want, with disastrous consequences…

Shattered Gods is the continued evolution of Mike’s writing. As editor, I appreciate Mike’s dedication to growth as writer and author. Technically and artistically, Shattered Gods is a good book. Sentences are tight; descriptions are detailed without being too expository.

One of the things I like most about this second novel is that the environment, especially Munich, becomes as big a character as Julius or Pierce. Where and when the story happens matters, and Mike has taken the time to get the details right, without turning the book into an essay of post-WWI German life. He did his homework (a fact I can personally attest to, having seen the stack of non-fiction on his desk) and painted the pages with all the greys of that time in German history.

If you’ve a taste for tales of mystery, adventure, and intrigue with a dollop of Lovecraftian horror, I must recommend you pick up a copy of Shattered Gods. Print copies are available for pre-order from Mr. Diamond’s website; paperback and electronic editions will be available on the book’s official release day: 28 November. Mike will also be hosting a “Books & Beer” release party that day at 8:00 PM in Rockford, Illinois at the Olympic Tavern. If you’re in the area, please stop by to tip a pint in celebration with my good friend, author Michael Diamond.

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Automatic BIOS Firmware and Settings Updates

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Categories: Geek Stuff, Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

One of my big projects this summer at work has been to automatically update the BIOS firmware and settings on our roughly 250 (mostly Dell) workstations. I was finally able to develop a working solution using all free tools, and I’m sharing the results with the Internet in hope they are useful to someone else as well.

This document is designed to explain the process of setting up a Windows PE environment to be used for BIOS update purposes, creating custom automatic BIOS settings files, updating the bios.bat file for new computer types, and deploying BIOS updates based on your customizations.

Setting Up Working Tools

Before you can create your custom BIOS settings files and deploy them to workstations using Windows PE, you’ll need specialized tools available on your technician workstation.

Windows Automated Installation Kit

The WAIK contains components used for deploying Windows 7 systems, including Windows PE, which will be used to create a bootable environment for flashing BIOS updates and automatic BIOS settings files.

  1. Download the WAIK from Microsoft.
  2. Burn the downloaded ISO to disk using your preferred burning utility, or extract the contents to a folder.
  3. Insert the burned disc or launch StartCD.exe from the extracted folder.
  4. Click “Windows AIK Setup” in left navigation pane.
  5. When the setup wizard starts, click Next.
  6. Select the “I Agree” radio button to accept the license agreement, then click Next.
  7. Choose where you’d like to install the software to and who should be able to run it, then click Next, Next again, then Close.
  8. Exit the launcher program by clicking Exit in left navigation pane.

Dell Client Configuration Utility

To create automatic BIOS settings files to deploy to Dell target workstations, you’ll need the Dell Client Configuration Utility.

  1. Download the DCCU from Dell.
  2. Launch the installer by right-clicking and choosing “Run as administrator”
  3. Click Next.
  4. Accept the license agreement by selecting the radio button next to “I accept the license agreement” then click Next.
  5. Enter customization information, choose who may run the program, then click Next.
  6. Click Next, then Finish.
  7. The ASP.net AJAX 2.0 Extensions may install automatically once DCCU installation is finished, if they are not already present on your technician workstation.

BIOS.BAT

The workhorse of the automatic update process is a Windows batch file called bios.bat.

  1. Navigate to http://community.spiceworks.com/scripts/show_download/2669
  2. Click the Download button.
  3. Save the file as bios.bat.

(Optional) WinSCP or FileZilla

If you use FOG as your imaging solution, and you wish to add your BIOS update disc to the PXE boot menu, you’ll need an FTP program like WinSCP or FileZilla.

Gathering Data, Customizing Options, and Generating the BIOS Settings Update Executable

Gathering the data you need to create custom BIOS setting files is a two-part process. Note: for this section, you will need a sample machine of each type you wish to develop a custom setting file for. It’s recommended the sample machine have any installed antivirus software disabled.

Collecting the BIOS Inventory

In order to collect a BIOS inventory from a sample computer, follow the steps above for installing the Dell Client Configuration Utility. Once the DCCU is installed on the sample machine, the following process explains how to capture the BIOS inventory:

  1. Boot the sample computer into BIOS.
  2. Configure the BIOS according to your needs. This will become the baseline for your setting update file.
  3. Restart the sample computer.
  4. Log in with an administrator account.
  5. Launch the DCCU. (I have had the best luck with running the DCCU web interface in Internet Explorer 8 with Compatibility Mode on. Chrome and Firefox fail to render the page correctly for me. YMMV)
  6. Click the “Create BIOS Inventory Package” link.
  7. When the File Download – Security Warning pop-up box appears, choose “Run.”
  8. Once the BIOS inventory program has completed, a file called TaskResult.xml will be created on the desktop. You may wish to save this file in case you need to make adjustments to the settings update configuration later.

Customizing BIOS Settings and Generating the Update File

After gathering an inventory of the sample machine’s BIOS, you can now make any needed changes to the automatic BIOS settings update file. Follow these steps to complete the configuration:

  1. On the sample machine or your technician workstation, click the Browse button in the Dell Client Configuration Utility web page under the BIOS Settings heading.
  2. In the “Choose File to Upload” box, navigate to your previously-generated TaskResult.xml file, select it, then click Open.
  3. Once you’ve selected the TaskResult.xml file you need, click the “Import Selected BIOS Inventory” link in the DCCU.
  4. Now you can customize the available BIOS settings. Items in the list with check marks are available for configuration in the chosen BIOS. To leave a setting as it’s already configured on the target machine – such as a previously-entered asset tag – simply clear the check mark for that item. It will be omitted from the custom settings file. To reset a text field, leave the box checked, but remove all text (leave it blank).
  5. Once the BIOS settings are configured according to your specifications, scroll to the bottom of the Dell Client Configuration Utility page and select the “Create BIOS Settings Package” link.
  6. A File Download – Security Warning box will pop-up. Choose “Save,” then select a name and location to save the resulting executable to. To make updating the bios.bat file easier, I typically name the file machinemodelset.exe, as in 745set.exe.
  7. You can now use your custom BIOS settings executable to update target PCs.

Creating the BIOS Update Folder

In order for the automatic updating features of the disc to work, a specific directory structure must be observed:

  1. Create a directory called “BIOS” in the C: drive of your technician workstation.
  2. Place all BIOS setting customization executables created with the Dell Client Configuration Utility or files created by another manufacturer’s similar program in the BIOS directory just created.
  3. Place your customized bios.bat file in this directory.
  4. Create a subdirectory for each model computer to be updated and place the firmware update executable in this folder. (The FW update executable must be named with the BIOS version and nothing else.)

Building the BIOS Update Disc

The following sections detail creating the Windows PE build environment, customizing the environment, adding the necessary BIOS files, and committing the updated environment to a custom ISO file.

Creating the Windows PE Build Environment

Use the following steps to create your Windows PE environment:

  1. Click Start, then navigate to All Programs – Microsoft Windows AIK.
  2. Right-click on “Deployment Tools Command Prompt” and select “Run as administrator”
  3. Type copype.cmd x86 C:\winpe_x86 into the command prompt and hit Enter.
  4. Type copy C:\winpe_x86\winpe.wim C:\winpe_x86\ISO\sources\boot.wim into the command prompt and hit Enter.

Mounting and Customizing the Windows PE Environment

Follow the steps below to mount and customize the Windows PE environment:

  1. In the Deployment Tools Command Prompt, type dism /Mount-WIM /WimFile:C:\winpe_x86\ISO\sources\boot.wim /index:1 /MountDir:c:\winpe_x86\mount and press Enter.
  2. Add the Windows Management Instrumentation to the environment by typing dism /image:C:\winpe_x86\mount /Add-Package /PackagePath:”C:\Program Files\Windows AIK\Tools\PETools\x86\WinPE_FPs\winpe-wmi.cab” and pressing Enter, then running dism /image:C:\winpe_x86\mount /Add-Package /PackagePath:”C:\Program Files\Windows AIK\Tools\PETools\x86\WinPE_FPs\en-us\winpe-wmi_en-us.cab”
  3. Add HTA to the image by entering dism /image:C:\winpe_x86\mount /Add-Package /PackagePath:”C:\Program Files\Windows AIK\Tools\PETools\x86\WinPE_FPs\winpe-hta.cab” and dism /image:C:\winpe_x86\mount /Add-Package /PackagePath:”C:\Program Files\Windows AIK\Tools\PETools\x86\WinPE_FPs\en-us\winpe-hta_en-us.cab” in the Deployment Tools Command Prompt.
  4. Scripting support needs to be added to the Windows PE environment by typing dism /image:C:\winpe_x86\mount /Add-Package /PackagePath:”C:\Program Files\Windows AIK\Tools\PETools\x86\WinPE_FPs\winpe-scripting.cab” into the command prompt, then pressing Enter. You’ll also need to type dism /image:C:\winpe_x86\mount /Add-Package /PackagePath:”C:\Program Files\Windows AIK\Tools\PETools\x86\WinPE_FPs\en-us\winpe-scripting_en-us.cab” into the prompt.
  5. Add MDAC support to the environment by entering dism /image:C:\winpe_x86\mount /Add-Package /PackagePath:”C:\Program Files\Windows AIK\Tools\PETools\x86\WinPE_FPs\winpe-mdac.cab” and dism /image:C:\winpe_x86\mount /Add-Package /PackagePath:”C:\Program Files\Windows AIK\Tools\PETools\x86\WinPE_FPs\en-us\winpe-mdac_en-us.cab”
  6. Copy the contents of your BIOS update folder to the Windows PE environment by typing xcopy /e C:\BIOS C:\winpe_x86\mount\Windows\System32 into the command prompt and pressing Enter.
  7. Type notepad C:\winpe_x86\mount\Windows\System32\startnet.cmd into the command prompt and press Enter.
  8. Add “bios” to the second line of the file and save it.
  9. Exit Notepad.

Committing Changes to the Environment and Creating the Bootable ISO

In order to use the customized Windows PE environment, changes must be committed to the system and a bootable ISO created:

  1. In the Deployment Tools Command Prompt, type dism /unmount-wim /Mountdir:c:\winpe_x86\mount /commit and press Enter.
  2. Type oscdimg -n -bC:\winpe_x86\Etfsboot.com C:\winpe_x86\ISO C:\winpe_x86\BIOS.iso next, followed by Enter.
  3. Exit the Deployment Tools Command Prompt.
  4. Burn the resulting CD image file with your preferred disc burning software.

Updating the Environment and Rebuilding the BIOS Update Disc

It may be necessary to update the environment in order to add new machine types or include updated firmware files. The simplest way to update the disc is to make any needed modifications to your C:\BIOS folder (new bios.bat, new machine folders, etc. – Remember, only one firmware update executable can be in a given folder at a time.) then rebuild the environment using the steps above.

(Optional) Creating a BIOS Update USB Flash Drive

In lieu of a CD, which can take longer to load, you may wish to follow these steps after you’ve completed “Committing Changes to the Environment and Creating the Bootable ISO” above:

  1. Insert the target USB flash drive in your technician workstation.
  2. Open a Command Prompt as an administrator (or use the Deployment Tools Command Prompt).
  3. Type diskpart and hit Enter.
  4. Type list disk and hit Enter.
  5. Type select disk 1 and hit Enter. (This assumes your flash drive is disk 1. If not, substitute the correct value.)
  6. Type clean and hit Enter.
  7. Type create partition primary and hit Enter.
  8. Type select partition 1 and hit Enter.
  9. Type active and hit Enter.
  10. Type format quick fs=fat32 and hit Enter.
  11. Type assign and hit Enter.
  12. Type exit and hit Enter to exit diskpart.
  13. Type xcopy C:\winpe_x86\iso\*.* /e F:\ (assuming F: is the drive letter assigned to your flash drive) and hit Enter.
  14. Exit the Command Prompt.

(Optional) Adding the Update Disc Image to the FOG PXE Boot Menu

If you use FOG as your imaging solution, you may wish to make your BIOS update disc available in the PXE boot menu so you can load BIOS updates over the network. The steps below detail this process:

  1. Launch WinSCP (or your preferred FTP client) and connect to your FOG server.
  2. Once connected, navigate to /tftpboot/
  3. Copy memdisk to a temporary folder on your technician workstation.
  4. Navigate to /tftpboot/fog/
  5. Create a new directory called “bios” (without quotes).
  6. Upload the BIOS.iso file you created for your update disc and the copy of memdisk into this new folder.
  7. Navigate to /tftpboot/pxelinux.cfg/
  8. Copy the default file to a temporary folder on your technician workstation.
  9. Rename the default file on your FOG server to default.bak
  10. Open the copy of default on your workstation in your favorite text editor.
  11. Insert the following code where you would like the option to appear in the PXE boot menu (I prefer to place it at the end, just before the line PROMPT 0):

LABEL bios

kernel fog/bios/memdisk

append iso initrd=fog/bios/BIOS.iso raw

MENU LABEL BIOS Update

TEXT HELP

Utility to automatically update BIOS firmware

and settings.

ENDTEXT

  1. Save the default file, then upload the new version to /tftpboot/pxelinux.cfg/ on your FOG server.
  2. To update the utility, simply copy over the BIOS.iso file in /tftpboot/fog/bios/ with a newer version.

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Radio Silence

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Categories: Geek Stuff, Health, Writing

It’s been over a year since I wrote anything in this blog space, and it occurs to me that I should make an effort to write more. After all, how am I going to keep challenging my author friend, Michael Diamond, if I’m not challenging myself? (Mike’s first book, Origins of the Black Idol, is available at major online retailers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble; I was his editor.)

So, along with writing more, I’m going to focus this year on improving my health, my bass playing skills, and mastering VMware vSphere 5 to get VMware Certified Professional (Datacenter Virtualization) certified – more on that later. (I know it’s a bit late to make New Year’s resolutions, but I am a bit of a slacker, so you ought not be surprised this post comes at the end of February).

Stick with me throughout the year and you might learn something about yourself, your fellow humans, and the universe, or at least be mildly entertained at my folly along the way.

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New Poem: “In Winter”

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Categories: Poetry, Tags: , , , ,

In winter, our lives rearrange.

The light shifts

and we scratch away our mange.

In winter, our days shrink.

The light shifts

and we have nary a moment to think.

In winter, our pain expands.

The light shifts

and we struggle to meet demands.

In winter, our hope grows.

The light shifts

and we hear echoes of barbeques in the snows.

In winter, our hearts melt.

The light shifts

and we learn to love the hands we’re dealt.

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New Poem: “Veils”

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Categories: Poetry, Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Veils

Veils make the beautiful even more so

and the ugly beautiful

Obscuring flaws and highlighting perfection

 
The gentle slope of a nose

a mountain.

The rounded globe of a cheek

a hill.

The long, smooth line of a throat

a river.
 

The fog covers a field

in a thin, silken veil.

The budding plants peek out

like sultry, smoky eyes.

When the veil is drawn

the crop reveals its nurturing bounty.

 
Clouds cover the eyes of the sky

The sun and moon staring, unblinking

down on the Earth

Wispy, white lace obscuring, but not concealing,

the face of the heavens

 
The beautiful curve of the hills

matched by the smooth, blue face

of the sky

makes a Hellenic beauty

unmarred, unblemished by make-up

caked and piled high

 
So many plastic babes in our modern world

the face of the Earth is refreshing

to look upon, yet only through the veil

of mist and vapor

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Surrounded by Jackasses in America

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Categories: Essays, Family, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The prairie dog’s bark echoed across the plain – a plaintive cry for me to break the rules and hand over some of my popcorn. I resisted, glancing over at the sign: “DO NOT FEED THE ANIMALS!” Though my mother, stepfather, sister, and I were the only humans in sight, I could feel the park ranger’s phantom eyes upon me. I pictured Tonto on horseback, riding up to scold me – “Maize no good for prairie dog, Kemosabe.” – and snatching the errant kernel from my hand (or, perhaps, an unnamed Indian shedding a single tear over my proposed misdeed).

I crumpled the end of the bag closed and returned the popcorn to the back seat of the family car. A worn-out Pontiac, it had nevertheless ferried us from the gentle, green hills of northern Illinois, to the vast, scrabbly tableau of South Dakota, to this nameless drive-thru nature preserve in particular. Along the way, that car carried us over the Mississippi (which seemed less mighty with a giant concrete and steel bridge shrinking it to a five minute drive) and sailed sickening seas of soybeans in Iowa.

There we made a stop in Mitchell to see the Corn Palace, which is indeed made entirely of corn. (Curiously, there was no maze of maize in Mitchell, however.) There was heat, though; oh my goodness, the heat. I was amazed the Palace didn’t spontaneously pop. It smelled of cooked kernels. Not the left-too-long-in-the-microwave smell: this was the almost sweet scent of corn and oil in a pan on the stove from my childhood.

Outside there were hawkers of all kinds, with Corn Palace bumper stickers and Corn Palace T-shirts and Corn Palace corn cob stuffed animals and Corn Palace books and Corn Palace videocassettes (no Corn Palace DVDs, even though it was the mid-Nineties). I was glad to be rid of Mitchell and its thrice-damned Corn Palace. Nothing like rampant capitalism to shatter a perfectly good reminiscence.

The Crazy Horse monument in South Dakota was little better. Only the outline of the noble native was visible, with completion a decade or more away, yet still rocks blasted away from the face of the mountain were for sale. I shook my head and wondered what Crazy Horse would have thought about selling broken parts of the earth – never mind carving his image into his Mother’s body. Of course, we bought one.

The Crazy Horse rock sat in the back seat of our Pontiac, and I used it to hold down my half-empty popcorn bag. An arid breeze blew across the amber waves that day, and I was not about to explain how the animals came to be fed through my negligence and a gust. Tonto would not be scolding this Kemosabe today.

I started when what I assumed was the chief of the prairie dogs let out three sharp barks. “Son of a…” I said as I cracked my skull on the roof, but my mother’s peregrine ears caught me before I could complete my curse. “Language, son,” she said.

The prairie dog’s language became more insistent, as if he had understood and ignored my mom’s rebuke. His barks came faster, louder, commanding his tribe back to their holes not more than twenty feet from the road winding through the preserve. I pulled my now-aching head from the car to see what his bother was. Scanning the horizon, I saw no wolf or fox emerging from the wood for a snack, no buffalo stampede threatening the dog’s den or our dying Pontiac – in fact, I had not seen a buffalo at all in South Dakota, though I had eaten one the day before.

My mom (originally from Canton, S.D.) was advised by her cousin in Sioux Falls to try a local burger joint specializing in buffalo. Signs proclaimed buffalo an “All-American Meat.” Presumably, this was because the buffalo were, as another sign shouted, “Free Range,” not that I had any idea what that meant.

I understood after the first bite, however. That burger was the most exquisite mesquite-fire-cooked hunk of flesh I had ever experienced. No grease dripped down my chin, yet the patty was moist and tender; no preservatives taxed my liver, yet the meat tasted as fresh as new-fallen snow; no vegetables garnished my plate, yet every bite came with a whiff of grass and scrub.

The McDonald’s down the street had a sign indicating there had been “Millions and Millions Served” there. If this little burger joint had a similar sign, it likely would have proclaimed “Dozens and Dozens Served.” Still, I had no doubt even Crazy Horse would have called this burger a work of art.

Returning to my search of the source of the prairie dog’s stress, I turned my eyes to the painted sky. I scanned the expanse, so much bigger here than in Rockford, Illinois. The stratus and cumulonimbus seemed miles long, and their height threatened to scrape the Hubble. Still, even in the clouds of South Dakota, I saw no buffalo.

I saw the predator, though: the slow-circling falcon – or perhaps it was a hawk or an eagle (though not a bald eagle: those I had seen along the banks of the Mississippi as a child on my grandfather’s fishing boat). I pointed it out to my mother, who decided we should move on to a different part of the preserve. I was sure she wanted to give the raptor a sporting chance. I was also sure she wanted to avoid having to explain the “circle of life” to my younger sister if the bird’s hunt was successful.

We piled back into the Pontiac and continued our languid tour of the prairie. Wildflowers and brush surrounded us and concealed the vicious dance of the smaller animals of the plain. My mother and stepfather decided our time in the preserve, and in South Dakota, had come to an end. As we made our way toward the park exit, one last obstacle kept us in Sioux territory a bit longer.

A pack of burros wandered along the narrow road winding through the prairie. Content and confident, they were little concerned about the car casually cruising toward them. My stepfather blared the horn at them; their ears moved, but not their hooves. Soon they surrounded the car, poking their noses in, sniffing for a treat (which they’d no doubt received from other tourists, despite the signs admonishing such activities). My sister cried when one of the donkeys licked her face, and so desperate measures were called for.

I took up the popcorn bag from under Crazy Horse’s stone, pushed a donkey aside with the car door, and climbed out, despite my mother’s warning. I opened the bag and offered a few kernels in my outstretched palm to the donkey I’d shoved out of my way. It seemed the best way to make amends for treating him so rudely. Ears up, the donkey devoured the popcorn in an instant.

Soon, I was making amends for crimes I hadn’t committed. The rest of the pack caught the scent of maize, and moved in to get their share. Shortly, the burros pressed against me, their short hair bristling my legs and arms like brushes. I was surrounded by jackasses there on the plain, just as I had been amidst the soybeans in Iowa.

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