Life in the time of COVID-19

Life for a lot of people has changed pretty drastically over the past few weeks as the COVID-19 virus takes hold in the US. Several states have enacted “Stay home” emergency directives, while others like South Carolina are trusting its residents to maintain social distancing. Based on what I’ve seen on the news and the few times I’ve had to venture out to shop, that seems overly optimistic.

A few weeks ago, my wife had us start monitoring our body temperatures twice a day, which seemed like a good idea. Then a few days later work issued a mandatory requirement for all employees and students to start self-monitoring for COVID-19 symptoms. Monitoring for symptoms at least gives people a window of time to figure out where and when they might have been exposed. I’m lucky to have a wife who’s so proactive and stays on top of things like this.

On my end of things work has encouraged anybody who can work from home to do so. Although the majority of my work can’t be done from home, I took advantage of being able to work from home to get caught up on writing up reports that should have been done a few months ago, but got put on the back burner so that I could get caught up on the equipment testing. Now that I’m finally caught up on the reports, I can move on to start getting caught up on other things like the mandatory annual training modules and earning more continuing education credits (didn’t get many last year because of being so busy and I’m starting to run low).

After discussing the equipment testing situation with my colleagues at work, I also decided to temporarily suspend the regular equipment testing to reduce the chance of me transporting COVID-19 around work and also to reduce my risk of exposure. It will mean scrambling to get caught up later when things start getting back to normal (whenever that ends up being), but I felt it was a prudent thing to do.

With a reduced work workload and working more from home, I now have the opportunity to spend more time on my PhD work. With the majority of my Monte Carlo simulations completed, I’ve been going through the data and doing some analysis on it. Now I can spend more time doing that and start writing up my results. I have until September or October to cobble my thesis together, and that time will no doubt go more quickly than I want.

Song obsessions

Every now and then my brain gets fixated on a particular song at a level that goes way beyond ear worm. It gets embedded in there and my brain keeps stirring it up the way one might absent-mindedly fidget with a pen, or twiddle a lock of hair.

The latest one is Sound of Silence by Simon and Garfunkel, probably partly triggered by my post-DST tweet.

It’s been on a pretty much non-stop loop in my brain all week.

Fortunately it’s a song I don’t mind and it hasn’t driven me crazy yet.

While listening to the Simon and Garfunkel version on Youtube, I came across this pretty awesome cover version by the heavy metal group, Disturbed.

One possible reason my wife offers for the continued looping in my brain is that since Sound of Silence doesn’t really have a firm definite ending, my brain keeps replaying it trying to end it. Seems plausible.

At some point, probably in a few more days or so, the song will fade and my brain will find something else to fixate on. In the meantime, here’s another cover version by Pentatonix.

Dabbling with virtual machines

The software I’m using to do some of the Monte Carlo simulations (PCXMC) for my PhD research is Windows based (fortunately it runs without any issues under Wine) and single-threaded, which makes some of the larger simulation sets I’m doing extremely inefficient when running them on my computer. The PCXMC window would also pop up every 5 minutes or so when another simulation started up and interrupt whatever I was trying to do at the time. It was tolerable since the smaller sets only took a few hours to complete, but I decided I was going to need a better solution.

One solution I attempted was to try running multiple instances of PCXMC, but they ended up clobbering each other and was just ugly.

The next obvious solution was to run PCXMC in a virtual machine (VM). Until now, I haven’t had much need to learn much about creating and managing VMs but they seem like a perfect solution to the problem. I can spin up a few VMs to run PCXMC and have each of them run different parts of the larger simulation sets or different simulation sets.

Virtual Machine Manager , I’ve discovered, is a super handy utility that makes creating and keeping track of VMs super easy. It offers a nice intuitive GUI interface for creating and managing VMs. I can use a live ISO image of my choice to create a new VM with the amount of RAM, storage, and number of CPUs needed. Once I’ve got a VM set up and configured with everything it needs, it’s easy to clone however many copies of the VM that will reasonably fit into my hardware.

Virtual Machine Manger window
Virtual Machine Manager window

The first VM I created had 500 GB of storage, 8GB of RAM, and 2 CPUs. Created a few more with only 250 GB of storage, 8GB of RAM and 1 CPU. Put four of these to work on one of the larger simulation sets over the weekend. The first time I ran a version of the set, it took about 10 days to finish on my computer. With 4 VMs each running a different part of the simulation set, everything was finished in about 2.5 days. Sweet. I can peek in on each VM with a viewer application to see how each one is running, but otherwise they run quietly and hidden away on their own. No more PCXMC windows popping up on my desktop to interrupt me while I’m doing other things.

Quickly realized that these VMs were way more than was needed, and 4 VMs with 8 GB of RAM each didn’t leave my computer with much memory left for doing much else (it only has 24 GB RAM). Next task will be to create some VMs with one of the other lighter Fedora spins (LXQT maybe) and a smaller footprint (100 GB storage, 4 GB RAM) to run PCXMC with.

Front yard rocket launch watching

It’s not often people in South Carolina can see a rocket launch, but the Atlas V launch trajectory for Boeing’s uncrewed Starliner test took the rocket over the Atlantic ocean along the US East coast this morning making this launch visible to a lot of people.

Most launches from Cape Canaveral head east out into the Atlantic, so this one was a bit different and made for an exciting early morning show.

We were watching the live stream of the launch on the phone, so when the Atlas V lifted off, we started scanning the skies. We were looking towards the east-southeast when a couple minutes after the lift-off, I looked over to the south and saw the exhaust trail of the rocket.

It was a pretty impressive sight to see something streaking across the sky that quickly.

Boeing uncrewed Starliner launch
Boeing uncrewed Starliner launch

We followed the rocket along until after the Centaur stage separated (I think that’s what it was) and it faded into the glow of the rising sun.

Atlas V exhaust plume from the Boeing uncrewed Starliner launch
Atlas V exhaust plume from the Boeing uncrewed Starliner launch

Unfortunately, some issues with the Starliner’s orbit insertion left it in an unsuitable state for meeting up with the ISS, but it’s still in orbit and I’m sure they’ll spend the next couple days running all kinds of tests before its scheduled landing in New Mexico on Sunday.