Monthly Archives: June 2013

HS Day 27: Back to School

Short post tonight because I’m tired and it’s a bajillion degrees in my apartment right now which makes it hard to write. Plus I wrote a lot of technical/life posts over the past few days so hopefully that makes up for it?

Aaron messaged me last night and asked me to help him with an installation of a particle simulation program called VBFNLO. Problem being, it came as uncompiled C and FORTRAN77 source code, and he needed some help installing it over ssh. I did a write up of the process involved this morning and posted it here on my blog.

Walked to Jazzy’s for an early lunch, and spent some time working on a small python name generator for my dad. I’ve posted the code on GitHub: namegenerator.

Played cards with the guys again, which was fun. Afterward I walked to the Unopressive Non-Imperialist Bargain Bookstore to see if they sold D&D stuff (they sold comics so I assumed…). They didn’t. I took the R up to Union Square and shopped around at Barnes & Noble for a while, but they didn’t have anything either. So, I don’t have a campaign for tomorrow, yet. Talked with Greta for a while about wedding stuff. We might have a color scheme 🙂

Wedding Colors!

Wedding Colors!

Ate some sausage and eggs which I made back at the apartment. Sleep nao.

From Brooklyn which is really hot 🙁


Free Linux Servers

Every once in a while, I find myself needing to quickly run linux or one of its derivatives. Here are some resources I’ve gathered that allow quick setup of a disposable linux server:

1. VirtualBox

Runs on your own machine as a VM. Internet connectivity. You’ll need to download an ISO and install it. You do get a GUI though.

2. Bellard’s JSLinux

Linux VM written in Javascript (how’s that for a project?). Free, terminal only, no networking. Pretty much good for playing around with the linux shell in a really disposable way.

3. Instant Server

Easily my favorite – hit a button and fill out a captcha for 35 minutes of Ubuntu 13.04. Or, pay a small fee and get the server for up to a week. Great customer service and good speeds. Terminal only, internet connectivity.

4. SimpleShell

Linited to 15 minutes, and doesn’t seem to have internet connectivity, despite what the site says. Still, for a free linux command line, it’s fast and has a very fast setup time.

5. And many more

A google search for “free shell” provides many links, dmoz being  one of the more trustworthy (run by Mozilla).


From Manhattan,



Installing VBFNLO

My friend Aaron has an internship with CERN or something like it, and he’s using a tool called VBFNLO for… something with particles.

Anyway, he was concerned about being able to install VBFNLO, so he called and asked me for help. After a bit of searching, we found by using cat /etc/issue that he was running Scientific Linux. I’ll be demonstrating on an Instant Server running Ubuntu 13.04. Both should work.

Downloads and installation instructions for VBFNLO are available on the VBFNLO website.

First, we need to make sure that we have the proper compilers. Make sure that you have a C compiler such as GCC, and a FORTRAN77 compiler such as g77 or gfortran. You can do this by running which gcc, which g77, and which gfortran. As long as the gcc and one of (g77|gfortran) return a value (e.g. /usr/bin/gcc), you’re fine. If running those commands returns no text, you’ll need to install the proper compilers, or ensure that you have another compiler that will work with VBFNLO (Ubuntu: sudo apt get install gcc, sudo apt-get install gfortran)

EDIT: You will also need g++ and make – I think this was a major hang-up in my installation process. You can test for g++ and make by running which g++ and which make – if the commands don’t print anything, you’ll have to install them (Ubuntu: sudo apt-get install g++, sudo apt-get install make)

The next thing to do is to move to a directory where you want to install VBFNLO. I’ll be working in my home directory, indicated by a tilde (~), but on my machine is /home/ubuntu/.

The VBFNLO source is available for download at, so we’ll run wget to download the file to our current directory.

If you run ls, you should see a file called fetch.php?media=download:vbfnlo-2.6.3.tgz. Let’s rename this to something more useful. Run mv fetch.php?media=download:vbfnlo-2.6.3.tgz vbfnlo-2.6.3.tgz to have a more workable name. Remember that you can hit tab to autocomplete the fetch.php... part.

The .tgz extension means that this is a tarballed, gzipped file. So let’s untar and unzip! Run tar -xzvf vbfnlo-2.6.2.tgz to extract all that delicious science from it’s compressed form.

If you run ls now, you should see a directory called VBFNLO-2.6.3. You’ll want to cd VBFNLO-2.6.3 to get into it. (If it says something about not being a directory, you’ve probably messed up or had insufficient privileges in this directory. Try running the tar command with higher privileges, i.e. sudo, or in a folder where you have directory creation permissions).

The next thing you’ll want to do is run sh ./configure --prefix=[path], where you replace [path] with the path to where you’ll be installing VBFNLO. In my case, I will run sh ./configure --prefix=/home/ubuntu. (You can see a full list of configuration flags on the VBFNLO installation instructions page, but odds are you want a default install for now.)

Now that configure has run, run make inside the VBFNLO-2.6.3 directory. This may take some time to complete. Go get some coffee or something. On my Micro-ec2 instance it took well over an hour; hopefully you’re running this on something a bit more powerful. You will need to have write permissions in the working directory. If you’re on a sketchy connection, you may want to run make &, which will decouple the make command from your terminal and keep running even if you disconnect. You can check if it’s still running by executing top, and looking for the process f951.

The next command you’ll need to run is  sudo make install, which will actually create the executables for you to run. You’ll need to be a sudoer or root to run make install.

If there are no errors, you should have your executables sitting in the path you provided earlier, in the bin folder.

From Manhattan,


HS Day 26: A Full Day Off

Slept in, again. This time until around 3pm. I wasn’t even up super late – I went to bed around 2am, which normally means I can get up around 10 and be totally fine (that’s 8 hours!). I think I need a better alarm sound – the one I’m using currently is super soothing and probably puts me to sleep more than it wakes me up.

Chatted with Greta for a while about the memorial services for my grandmother – it’ll be in August, so no need to worry about it for now. I’m a little worried that Greta won’t be able to fly out here for a weekend since she won’t want to miss two weekends of work. I really want to just walk around Park Slope with her and look at all the cool little shops and gardens for a day. I should be able to visit her at the end of Hacker School, though.

Ate lunch at a Vietnamese place across the street from my apartment – very spicy but delicious sandwich and a honey-green tea bubble tea. Answered emails and derped around on the internet for a bit.

Planning on going to bed around 11pm, to make sure I get up at the right time tomorrow.

Another not-very interesting day, but hopefully tomorrow and this weekend will make up for it.

From Brooklyn,


HS Day 25: Half a Day Off

I received news this morning that my grandmother, Lila Rhen, had passed away around 5:30 a.m..

Hacker School was deserted this morning – a lot of people were at a Git tutorial somewhere else in the city, so morning meetings were skipped entirely. I spent a few hours chatting with Daniel from Lawrence, and writing a eulogy for my grandmother, which I posted on this blog. I spent a while working on my website,, adding the twitter and blog feeds to the front page.

I took the rest of the day off and went home – my Adventure Time Season 2 disks had arrived at the Amazon locker down the street, and I spent a few hours watching through those. Next, I went to the sandwich shop down the street and got their special for the day, a pork and asparagus sandwich. I ate it at the garden across the street from my apartment. There were fireflies for about 10 minutes!


Click here if the embedded video doesn’t work

Talked to Greta about wedding plans, played some StarCraft with Julian and Mike, then went to sleep.

Not the most exciting day.

From Brooklyn,



Lila Emma Maria Rhen

I have not yet attended a funeral. When my mother’s mother died, not only had she been in an advanced state of Parkinson’s disease for most of my life. I was in the middle of school, and since I wasn’t particularly close to her, I ended up not attending the funeral. I didn’t have many memories with her, mostly around Christmas when we would go and visit California, and she would sometimes speak, shakily, quietly. I’m not sad that I wasn’t able to attend her funeral, I’m sad that I wasn’t able to get to know her better while she was able-minded.

My father’s mother, Lila Rhen, was much closer to me. She lived with us in San Jose – which I have very few memories of, but I’ve heard the stories many times. Myself as a very young child, walking along with my grandmother, and all of the cats and dogs coming up to me so that I could pet them.

She lived with us again in Niwot, Colorado. Both of my parents were working, and Lila helped take care of my sister and me. My memories of the time are few and far between, but I do remember that she had the room right next to mine, always with candy, bad TV shows, and, perhaps most stereotypically, the kind-old-lady smell: pleasant and soft.

My most vivid memories of the time are watching some sort of crime show with her and being very scared; playing StarCraft: Brood War and running around the house while she laughed kindly at me and asked me how my game was going. I explained that my main base had been destroyed and I was mining minerals from the adjacent one. She probably had no idea what I was on about, but she smiled at me and let me run around the house some more. As someone who now works with electronic media every day, I’m glad that she was supportive of my childhood shenanigans.

She volunteered at my school for a while – she had always been a teacher, and I think she enjoyed working with the precocious kids at the private school I attended. Her work earlier in life had been working with the mentally and physically handicapped, no easy feat, especially in the unsure era of the ‘50s.

When she got much older, that is to say, for the past few years, she was restricted from living at high altitudes without supplemental oxygen, which she refused to do. So, off to Minnesota with her. It worked out well for everyone except her – there was a lot of family within flying or driving distance, but she couldn’t live alone due to her memory problems, and the assisted living places were not good for making friends.

The last two times I visited her were very different. The first time was for her 90th birthday. Lots of family, food, reminiscing. She was bright and active, wearing a birthday tiara and opening presents. I’ve never learned a lot about my family on either side, and so to spend an evening talking with aunts and uncles and learning about Lila – her family, her trials, her history – was fascinating. Her career and life amaze and inspire me.

The second time I visited her was in, essentially, hospice care. She could no longer speak, and her memory was nearly gone. I cried a lot that trip. The thing that I really venerated her for was her stories, and those had been taken by age and disease. Lila the storyteller had already passed on then, and I sat and held her hand and cried.

I told her my secrets. I told her that I was going to marry Greta – only one or two other people knew this at the time. I told her that it was her who had inspired my life’s path of teaching, learning, and writing. I read her a story I had written and been commended for. She couldn’t speak, but I know she understood me because when Greta and Kristen rejoined us, she laughed and smiled and said, “mustn’t tell sweetheart.”

Lila Emma Maria Rhen passed away at around 5:30 this morning, Central Time, surrounded by family and friends.

When someone passes away, it’s possible to step back for a moment and examine their entire life. More importantly, perhaps, it’s possible to see the brief mark they left on the universe – everyone leaves one. For a small slice of time, they were here to talk and interact and create stories of their own. Lila left a lot of things with us, and comparatively few of them are material. She taught and raised children who now have children of their own. She worked hard to serve a country during wartime. I’ll always associate Australia and Sweden with her stories and pictures of those places. She instilled in many of us a love of story, teaching, learning, and critical thinking.

Thank you, Grandma Lila. I love you.

From Manhattan,

–Erty Seidel

HS Day 24: Early to Rise

Woke up this morning at 6am, which was only three hours after I finally fell asleep around 3am. It’s not that I’m trying to stay up super late – I blame caffeine, boredom, and the bright light of my computer screen. I was up playing and watching StarCraft and sketching in my new sketchbook. I found a script on reddit and did a page of storyboards for it, just as an exercise. I have a lot of things to remember about anatomy especially – my human figures are particularly blocky and static after being away from pen & paper for so long.

I debated going back to sleep, and actually got back in bed for a while, but my body had decided that it was time to be awake. I took the R and N trains, arriving around 8:30 a.m.. Alex was the only other one there. Zach, the previous night, had mentioned to me on Facebook that my comics weren’t showing up correctly on, so I spent the morning re-building the comics display system for the site. Since I had already organized and tagged all of the comics, it was very simple to import the metadata (saved as .xml), and include the proper files, with whitelisting for security.

By the time 10:30 rolled around and it was time for morning meetings, I had finished that project entirely! I am pretty proud of that.

Worked on Node.js tag, pairing on and off with Carl. I’m down to the last bug or two before it’ll be done and I can put it online. If I can figure out how to run node somewhere – I know there were some AWS credits for HS students but I think I missed the sign-up for them. I’ll ask tomorrow.

Lunch was at Pret with Joy, Nabil, Willson, Javier, and a few others, talking about pandacodium, a 48-hour hackathon which I was interested in doing. I’m not entirely sure what the details are yet, but I guess that’s some of the excitement?

Worked on Node.js tag until 5, then went and got a Chipotle burrito, which seemed like a dumb idea (there’s food provided on Mondays and I totally forgot) but the food ended up being pizza, so it was probably good that I ate something healthier and more filling.

Took the train to Etsy with a crowd of Hacker Schoolers. Their office is in DUMBO (something like “Directly Under Manhattan and Brooklyn Underpasses”, which it really is – they are covered by the enormous bridges). They have really crafty offices – some shots:

Photo Booth!

Photo Booth!

These are their "Creative Labs", so they have a bunch of lab coats!

These are their “Creative Labs”, so they have a bunch of lab coats!

Big ol' wall of craft supplies!

Big ol’ wall of craft supplies!

Arriving at Etsy!

Arriving at Etsy!

There was beer and pizza. Truly the startup life. The talk was on robots and Clojure – mainly, controlling robots like roombas and quad copters using Clojure, which was pretty neat. It also introduced  (or rather, referenced the idea invented by the computer scientist John McCarthy) the idea of “beliefs and desires”, which is basically a fancy way of talking about states and transitions. Perhaps it’s more useful if one is thinking functionally. For example:

“I believe I am on the floor”
“I want to fly” (Engage rotors)
“I believe I am starting to fly”
“I want to hover” (Tune rotors to hover)

etc. It’s a neat idea, mainly philosophically.

Walked around DUMBO for a while trying to find a rather well-hidden train station, and eventually gave up and took the  to the F, which wasn’t the fastest way to get home, but it worked. Sat around and chatted with Levi, Imogen, and Imogen’s mom (“mum”) about british clothing for a while (apparently what we call underwear, they call “pants”).

Did some tech support for my grandfather and uncle, took a cool shower, now on my way to bed. I was really hoping to have my Node.js tag done today, but I think I’ll have to settle for the end of the week.

This weekend is MLG. I plan to consume SC2 starting Friday and not do much else.

From Brooklyn,


HS Day 23: Walking Around Brooklyn

Woke up around noon and walked down to the Staples, where I had a delivery waiting in an Amazon Locker. Locker is pretty sweet – you walk up, put in your code, and one of the many doors pops open to reveal your delivery. Very easy, and way more secure than having the delivery left on my apartment doorstep for days. I can imagine that it only really works in densely populated places like NYC. Boulder apparently doesn’t have any.

From there, I walked back to my apartment through a pretty small farmers market. Bought some mint tea since it was hot. Ended up buying some cloth and a comic book, Ghost World, at a thrift store, and some duct tape at a bargain shop. Taped the cloth over our apartment’s skylight to try to manage the heat a little more, and got a brilliant shot of sunset in NYC:

NYC Sunset!

NYC Sunset!

I grabbed that shot as a snapchat to send to my friends, so I didn’t really think about the composition or anything – hence the giant metal frame in the middle of the picture. I’m thinking of trying again in the next few days with a nicer camera.

Sat at Venti Cinque for a while (coffee shop), and watched the finals of HomeStory Cup (SC2).

Walked back to Staples and bought a sketchbook and some pens – I’m hoping to get back into sketching and comics, at least a bit. Right – Ghost World – I’ve been meaning to read it for a while, since it’s part of the canon of Graphic Novels, but I really think I’m not disillusioned enough to connect with any of the characters. So from a production standpoint it was well done, but I didn’t really identify with the story.

Played and mostly lost at some SC2, derped around on the internet.

Sleep time.

From Brooklyn,


HS Day 22: Natural History

Short post today, because I am lacking motivation for some reason.

My dad and I spent the afternoon today at the Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C.. We ate lunch at the museum, and wandered around the exhibits. Some highlights:

– Walked through a genome exhibit. At the end, they have you write down some of your physical traits on a map, which gives a number. My dad and I ended up pretty much opposite (which is more a feature of the way the maps were designed – one difference at the beginning sent you quite far away), whereas my dad ended up with the same exact number as another lady whom we had never met before at the table.

– Saw the Hope Diamond, which wasn’t nearly as cool as most of the other gems. The Hope Diamond is owned by the Smithsonian, which is owned by the Govt., which is the American People. So technically I own the Hope Diamond 😛

– Tried to visit a butterfly pavillion type thing, but there was a huge line. 🙁

– Found out that one of the rocks my dad has from Antarctica might be a meteorite.

We ended up parking in a parking garage which went at least four stories into the ground with a really steep, narrow, two-way ramp. Pretty scary.

Got dropped off at Union Station an hour early because we mixed up the time zones. Got a Jamba Juice and a really weird Minecraft T-Shirt that obviously wasn’t properly licensed.

The train was delayed by another train that was stopped next to it, and we had to wait an hour for them to transfer over all of the people who had been stuck on the other train.

Got home, played some SC2 with some people I met at the Team Liquid NY LAN earlier this month, and went to bed.

From Brooklyn,


HS Day 21: Washington D.C.

Thursday night I arrived in Washington D.C., at Union Station, around midnight. My dad met me at the terminal, and we drove from there to our hotel in Chantilly, VA. I’m still getting used to the idea of doing things in more than one state on a given day. The west is really big you guys.

Woke up the next morning and drove with my dad to the National Reconnaissance Office headquarters, basically the guys who build spy satellites. It was their “All-American Family Day” – kids running around among bouncy castles in front of large government buildings, surrounded by 10-foot fences with barbed wire. We went inside some of the buildings, and looked at old cold-war satellite footage, satellite parts, etc.

It was fascinating. I also very much enjoyed the chance to hang out with my dad. Lunch was $15 for overcooked burgers.

Three parts of the exhibits really stood out to me. First – I got to touch an actual Enigma machine. Like, one from WWII that had been used to encode messages.

The second was an exhibit on Satellite materials, with various golden alloys and molybdenum meshes, each with a tiny blue “declassified” sticker.

The third was a satellite picture of a concentration camp from the holocaust. Black and white; grainy. It was marked with tiny letters and arrows on the photograph, “gas chambers”, “prisoners en route to chamber”. I wanted to reach through time and space and help them.

We left the NRO and drove around the campus for a bit. My dad doesn’t work for the NRO – he works for a contractor to the government, but he was able to attend their picnic. I don’t have any pictures – they make you leave your phone at the door. I do have this brochure, though:

All-American Family Day at the NRO!

All-American Family Day at the NRO!

We went from there to the Air and Space Museum near Dulles Airport in D.C.. Wandered the floor for a while. Apparently I forgot to save all of the pictures properly, so, text only?

I have this one of a UNIVAC computer:




Old computers are cool. They had the Enola Gay at the museum. Not just any B-29, but the B-29. A piece of history there (albeit a controversial one). I sent a pic to a bunch of people, including Mike, who happens to be Japanese, and then wondered if that was appropriate. I hope I didn’t offend anyone.

The Discovery shuttle was there as well, which was super cool, especially seeing the ceramic heat tiles, all marked up from re-entering the atmosphere. I wanted to play some Kerbal Space Program or maybe Artemis.

Like I said, I forgot to save the pictures properly.

Oh, I have one picture of my dad in front of the Air and Space Museum!

My dad in front of the NASM

My dad in front of the NASM

We went up in that observation tower for a while or so and watched planes take off from Dulles.

My dad had to drop off a badge at the NRO building, so he dropped me off at Target, where I bought the first season of Adventure Time, a DVD-Burner/Blu-Ray Player, and the new album by The XX (it was on sale – cheaper than buying it online!). Stopped by the hotel for a quick rest, then

My dad at American Tap House

My dad at American Tap House

My dad got a cider and I got a wheat beer, but the server mixed them up when she delivered them, and I didn’t notice until my beer tasted really really weird. We chatted about my upcoming wedding (probably in about a year), and associated plans.

Then we went to see Now You See Me, which was not particularly deep, but enjoyable and certainly fun. Here’s me right afterward:


Hanging out in VA

Went home afterward and tried to watch Adventure Time with my dad, but ended up watching it on my own because the new Blu-Ray player wouldn’t cooperate for an hour.

I was going to rush and put the next day in here as well, but it deserves its own time, so I’ll catch that up tomorrow.

From Brooklyn,