The bullet that whizzed by.

yawlWell, a few days ago I mentioned a problem I had with ‘yawl’ involving a blown hard drive. Fun this wasn’t, and unfortunately I was so swamped with work, I didn’t really have a chance to work on the machine, so it sadly sat, turned off, while I wrestled with the vagaries of Java and EJB3.0.
With some slack time this weekend, I set about seeing what I could recover from the smoking ruin that was the 20gig drive in the machine. Booting the machine revealed only ‘Grub loading’ then ‘Error 17’. Many folks on the net have said this is a blown bootloader, usually happening after a failed upgrade. I know I hadn’t done any upgrade, this was something more serious.
But what to do about it? I couldn’t boot it, it was time to go for a repair CD. Fortunately, I had some experience using the Sys Rescue CD, an opensource toolset that fits on a CD (in fact it’ll fit on a flash drive), and contains most tools an admin will need to repair or maintain a system that has had Something Bad happen to it.
One burned CD later, I had the machine booted. cfdisk happily reported “You have a nice 20gig partition that’s empty! Want to install anything to it?” Not an auspicious start.
I could not mount the faulty partition, so really the only thing to do was to hand it over to fsck and mutter a few incantations.
fsck had a grand old time with the filesystem repair. First indications were good – it actually found the partition, and said there were files on it, though one of the two superblocks was completely missing (linux filesystems have a primary and a backup superblock – sort of the ‘master directory’ for the partition – for just this reason). Without the backup superblock, the entire filesystem would have been gone. Phew.
A good 20 minutes later, after much gnashing, queries about whether I wanted to fix the deallocated blocks and other fun filesystem issues, I had a mounted, readable filesystem. The SysrescueCD is a fully functional single user Linux environment, so I could mount, manipulate, and archive the newly repaired filesystem. I don’t trust it to run on its own – the damage touched just about every open file on the machine (including things like kernel modules), so I doubt the machine is stable. But, I could bring up the network interface and copy off my ~/docs/ directory – where I keep all my business documents. I had a backup of it, but it was quite old.
I feel a lot better now that I’ve gotten my important documents off the machine. The next step will be determining what to do with the box. I’ve already received a replacement 160gig drive I’ll be installing (nothing like an 8x space increase!), and I’d like to archive some ‘less critical, but still nice to have copies of’ files, but for now, I just barely ducked that bullet.
NB -interestingly, this is the only mildly catastrophic hard disk failure I’ve -ever- had. The only other recent failure I can think of was dropping poor hunter while at band practice. It twitched the drive, which I replaced. But I consider laptops to be ‘volatile’ environments, and everything was backed up – no loss. I suppose I should be knocking wood everywhere, but I prefer to think I’m careful enough and don’t do Stupid Things with my machines.
Or maybe this is pure hubris. I gotta go run my backups.

Comcast FTW!

I’m generally not a big booster of Large Horrific Corporations, but it sure feels somewhere along the line, The Man figured out that customers are happier, when they get good service. Monopolies are stronger when their customers aren’t grouchy all the time.
So it is with mixed feelings that I cast my blessings upon Comcast, who seems to have finally gotten the ‘support the client’ thing down pretty well.
The setting – I needed a cable tuner box. My MythTV project had hit a snag with the de-stabilization of deathstar. I wanted to be able to actually watch TV, but without a functional PVR, I was sort of hosed. Ah well, time to ask Comcast for a tuner.
With trepedation, I went to their website, was pleasantly surprised to note it was uncluttered and easy to navigate, moved to ‘contact us’, and found, huh! “Start a live chat with a service representative”. Okay, I really dislike talking to support on the phone, lets give it a try.
Sure enough, within a minute I was in a java-driven chat applet with a rep, who happily upgraded my cable service, and scheduled a time for the comcast guy to come out and install the new cable box.
But that’s not what I’m hear to talk to you about.
I’m hear to talk to you about two nights ago, when the cable stopped working. Got the guide, no picture. Time for another chat! As I’m describing the problem to the rep, he asks that I check the cabling. While I’m walking over to the TV, VOILA! Instant image and picture and sound. I hadn’t touched -anything-. It just came on.
*typetype* “Okay, did you do that?” rep: “Do what?” “The TV just came on, and I’m getting video and sound fine.” rep: “Ah, yes, I sent a reset signal to your cable box and told it to re-initialize.” “It worked.” “Great!”
Surreal, yet oddly satisfying. I have other issues with Comcast (for instance they have deliberately blocked the firewire port on the tuner box so MythTV cannot record digitally. Grr.) But for now, things seem to be working. Next step will be most likely upgrading the settop box to support 16:9 off the wire (at the moment it’s stretching things to 4:3). But that may wait a while.

And a fine good morning to you too.

Well there’s truly no great way to celebrate the post-consumerist-feeding-frenzy joy that is Boxing day than waking up and settling down to get some work done, and finding out that at some time during the night yawl seems to have blown it’s drive.
As things stand now, yawl is not my primary work machine (clipper is), so I’m not horribly inconvenienced. But I did have things archived on there I’d like to back up, and yawl was also the host to the external drive that is the backup for boomer, our big colocated server. But most importantly, yawl also acts as my music streamer from Radio Paradise. This, of course, ups the priority quite a bit.
Ah well, time to download a new System Rescue CD and see if I can at least copy some files off the drive.

A small advancement in photography

For the last year or so, I’ve been contemplating what my next stages in my pursuit of photographic excellence will look like. I’m not quite ready to take the route Terry was able to go, and Diana has been going for a while – I just can’t plunk down the $500-$1000 I’d need to get a decent DSLR rig, so I have to make do with what I have.
My primary camera is an Olympus C770, about as good a camera as you can get without going DSLR (well, it was when I bought it two years ago). I like the large lens area, optical 10x zoom, and expandability. I knew all along that one of the weaknesses in the small handheld cameras (and, in fact, with many DSLRs as well), is the built-in flash is too ‘hot’ for most low-light indoor photography. New flashSubjects come out over-exposed and washed out. I knew this was going to be an issue, and one of the things that attracted me to the C770 was the inclusion of a ‘hot shoe’ – a mount point for an external electronic flash.
I finally found a combination flash, cable, and bracket mount on eBay and picked up the whole shebang last week. I was a little cautious because it seemed quite the overkill arrangement for such a small camera, but I’d also seen the great shots that had been done with a bounceflash on my father in laws Nikon 990 a few years ago. He had also accessorized the (then) rather small-lensed and small-bodied camera with a bracket and flash, and came up with quite nice pictures with proper lighting.
After assembling the whole thing and testing it out, I cast about looking for for a subject. Zach was lounging about playing on the Gamecube… ahh, a stationary target. It was night time, so the light was low, though Zach was sitting under a set of fairly ‘hot’ halogen lights, but I was able to take a good set of comparison pictures:
Zach with internal flashZach with bounce flash
The left hand shot is using the internal flash built into the camera. It is ‘okay’, but suffers from the washed outtedness that derives from the small hot light source. The picture on the right is using the bounce flash against our white ceiling. There’s also a fairly good redeye system in the flash that I’m looking forward to experimenting with.
So far, I’m pretty happy with the results. The rig is a little bulky, but I’m fairly sure I can break it down into my camera bag. I’ll do more experimenting shortly. Onward!

In which our hero succumbs…

My Wish ListOh fine. I finally broke down and did it. I realized that I had a couple places where I was posting sort of “wishy” lists. Movies I was looking for, other toys. But, ya know, there’s a perfectly good site for managing wishlists for DVDs and books.
So, without further delay, I give you… my wishlist. Clicky on the graphic to view in all it’s geekiness. Do with it what you will.

All hail the FSM!

When I aquired clipper as my primary work machine, i needed to do something to really make it my own. I’d always wanted to do some sort of custom artwork on the cover of my laptops, usually to proclaim I’M NOT RUNNING WINDOWS. Well, that won’t work for this particular machine (it is, in fact, running windows), so I needed something else. The answer came to me in while getting a nice evolve plaque for the van. Why not something similar for the laptop?
So on went an FSM plaque, and I went on with my wanderings around coffee shops, customer sites, and the like. The problem? No one got it. I think the Flying Spaghetti Monster sect is just too obscure, too geek-centric for anyone outside the true elite of geekdom to get it.
Well, that is, until today.
Today I walked into Panera Bread and set up in my usual way. The place is pretty busy, it being around lunchtime, and I ended up taking one of the tall round tables. As I hauled out the laptop and parked my backpack in a chair, a passer-by went “Oo, the flying spaghetti monster! Cool!” I turned, expecting to find someone of the geek ilk, but it was in fact the middle aged nondescript woman and her friend who had just gotten up from said table. “Wow!”, said I “most people don’t recognize it.” “Oh sure, one of my kids just did a report on it.” “Well great!” and they wandered off.
I somewhat feel vindicated. Maybe the word is getting out.

All hail USB rechargers!

Gosh, the fellow who figured out that USB devices had enough oomph on the bus to recharge the plethora of mobile geek devices we carry around should get some sort of award. With these gadgets, I’ve lowered the number of small chargers and other hardware I need to haul around with me when travelling. Here’s a couple basics…
My bluetooth headphones have a small Mini-B style plug where the microphone normally plugs in. Pop out the mic, and plug in your Type-A to Mini-B cable in, and voila! It recharges! Conveniently, this cable is the same one I use to download images from my Olympus C770 camera, so there’s the first ‘combination of functions’ solution.
By far the most useful item is charge and sync cable for my Treo. First, it allows hot-syncing between the Treo and clipper. I’m forever losing sync cables and getting lost in the maze of wiring on my desk. This cable not only syncs, but it -retracts- into a the size of a keyfob. No tangling! It lives happily in my backpack pocket. That alone would be handy, but it also charges the Treo from the USB port. Yep, no more carrying another charger around, I just need this one cable. Hooray! As I type, the Treo is sitting on the desk next to me happily vampiring off some of clippers’ spare wattage.
What am I missing? Not a lot. I’d like a decent USB based charger for the battery in my camera, but that is probably not too likely, alas. As it is, I’ve been able to limit my power supply portage to just the laptop brick, which is fine by me. Besides, on cold nights, that brick makes a dandy foot warmer.

Slashdot promotes windows!


Originally uploaded by eidolon.

Ads are ads are ads. They generate revenue, they are the lifeblood of many websites. On most days, I can tolerate them.

But when a website I’ve been using for a decade, a site that is truly the core of much of the Linux community, for all its faults, supports an ad so blatantly sensationalistic, with no bylines, no disclaimers, and in fact nothing to say this IS in fact an ad, I find my bile rising.

This ad appeared on this mornings reload of It ran big bold headlines “LONDON STOCK EXCHANGE CHOOSES WINDOWS OVER LINUX FOR RELIABILITY!” and stopped at the frame shown here. The implication is “Windows is more reliable than Linux in server environments. You should run Windows Server 2003 if you want to succeed.”

This really isn’t the place to go into whether Windows or Linux is more appropriate in the data center – that’s been hashed, rehashed, and argued ad nauseum. What bothers me is seeing this sort of IN YOUR FACE advertising on a site that really is against all that this ad represents – the blind marching toward the All Savior of Microsoft, only they can run our data center! Only they can run stable servers!

Ads are ads, as I said. But Slashdot, shouldn’t this bother you, even a smidgen?

When the geekery works!

About 2 months ago, I picked up the Blueant X5 headphones, and had high hopes of them being my primary audio interface to my machines. Unfortunately the Treo fell down pretty hard as my primary music player, but I’ve managed to shift over to other sources, and today I had my first “okay, that worked really well” moment.
As most folks know, clipper is my primary platform now, and, despite it being saddled with WindowsXP, has been doing pretty well by me. One of it’s drawbacks was that it did not have a bluetooth adapter in it. I played around with a USB BT dongle, but was very frustrated with the support stack for it. I eventually picked up a card specifically for the Dell D620, and installed it. Ahh, much better – built in bluetooth and no dongle.
A little fiddling, a call or two to Blueant, and I had the headphones configured properly for basic stereo music listening. This has been very pleasant, as I can listen comfortably without dealing with cables or plugs or the like. The only drawback has been that the microphone arrangement has a very low sensitivity, so it hasn’t worked well using X-lite. Despite this, getting 8+ hours of listening time on a usb-charged battery really does go a long way to making them useable.
Today, I was sitting in a hotel lobby (a comfortable environment for me), doing my work on my laptop, availing myself of the free wireless, listening to music, when a call came in on my Treo. The X5 headphones happily switched into ‘handsfree’ mode, and trilled a little “You have a call” sound. I touched the button on the side of the headphones, and lo! I was talking to my wife. The call went along, and when we were done, I touched the button on the headphones again, and RadioParadise was once again in my ears. At no point did I touch my cell phone.
It’s nice when technology actually works. Now if I could have my laptop always streaming audio, and function for 8+ hours on a charge, and have ubiquitous network access, and NOT feel like I’m holding a small fusion reactor on my lap, all would be perfect!

Redhat geekery and, of course, swag!

Photo_120706_001Got to attend a Redhat presentation today on virtualization. They were pushing a lot of very interesting stuff, and while the marketing drivel was in fact kept to a minimum, they did pitch RHEL5 pretty hard, as well as their relationship with Intel.
Of course, the important stuff is the SWAG! Today’s haul was a 256meg stainless pen drive – all in all, one of the better bits I’ve seen at presentations. It’s stocked with all the presentation data, so that’s nice, and it’s sort of pretty.
I have to admit, part of the goal of this was successful with me. The stuff going on with Xen and RHEL is pretty impressive, including cluster management and ‘paravirtualization’ (basically environments that realize they’re virtualized, and can be managed easily via standard API’s). Moving forward on platform design for my clients and for my own hosting stuff, I’ll take RHEL into serious consideration (and not just because they said at the meeting here that RHEL5 will be Yum based, not up2date).
The drawback is that the Xen stuff doesn’t really support Windows as virtual guests. For that I’ll need to focus on VMware. (The other option is naturally Microsoft Virtual Whatever, which, in my experience, has been frighteningly unstable and buggy. I can’t boot my Kubuntu CD into it (installation locks up), and I’ve had serious keyboard issues even trying to configure the installer. I’ll hold off on a full rant against this until I’ve tried vmware, but at the moment, I’m unimpressed with Virtual PC.

A quick bracelet


Originally uploaded by eidolon.

Oddly enough, Zach is the one who asked for this. I just finished stocking up my chainmail box so i could start doing some more interesting work using aluminum rings, and using anodized rings for color. Zach asked if I could make him a quick bracelet, so I whipped this one up in about 20 minutes.

Working with aluminum (as opposed to the steel I normally use) is on the one hand refreshing. It’s much softer and lighter. On the other hand, it’s not particularly strong, so anything that takes tension will deform pretty easily. It’s okay for jewelry, but I’m not going to make armor with it.

After finishing this piece, I decided to post a picture of it, and thought “what the hey”, and posted pictures of all the other pieces I’ve done for people. They’re now up on Flickr in a full set.

Can lightning strike twice?

About 10 years ago, I started writing an application that would have a profound impact on my life. Keystone started out a simple problem tracker, grew into a mature product that was getting 3000+ downloads everytime I did an update (about once every 3 months), and was ultimately sold to a DotCom that basically killed it in its tracks. That sale let me have a few toys and was a high point of the dotcom bubble for me.
3 years ago I re-aquired the rights to the application from the failed dotcom, and set about upgrading the vastly outdated software. My user base had for the most part wandered away to other applications, but there was still interest and heck, it was my application, I wanted to do things with it.
But other projects were taking precedence, and Keystone languished.
On a recent trip down to DC, I had the opportunity to spend 7 uninterrupted hours on the train, each direction, with nothing but a laptop and a music library to keep me company. After trying to get my current projects working, I settled back into “well, maybe I’ll work on Keystone some more.”
In those 2 train rides, I did more upgrading, tinkering, and fixing in Keystone than I’ve done in the last 3 years. I revived the contact manager and fixed all the dependency problems. I continued the changes needed to bring a PHP application, written in 1995, up to 2006 standards. Keystone is over 12,000 lines of code – not a trivial application, but not so huge that it is an unassailable target.
The question is – why do this? Sure, part of it is ‘this is my baby, I want to see it succeed’, but in the back of my head, the question burbles… “Can lightning strike twice?” – can I make this a successful opensource application again?
I’m certainly not deluding myself into thinking “THIS WILL BE THE NEXT KILLER APP!” – that’s a foolish and unrealistic mindset. But can I bring it back to where people are using it, they like it, they contribute suggestions and fixes, and the application continues to grow?
I’d like to think I can. But the code still needs a lot of work, and there are some design decisions that will most likely require huge chunks of code being ripped out at the roots (database connection methodology has advanced SIGNIFICANTLY since 1995).
It’s a nice dream, I sort of miss my users. Maybe they’ll come back.

Lo I am converted

This weekend I’m down in DC doing registration services for an event – more detail on this later, but I have to gush a moment.
The hotel room here is your fairly standard ‘big chain’ accomodation, except for one minor touch.
The king-sized bed has a Tempurpedic mattress on it.
I’m so hooked. It’s the only mattress I’ve ever slept on where I could lie on my side comfortably, from head to toe. It gave enough in the hips to let me settle in, but supported everything else nicely. That, coupled with absolutely no motion from other occupants – I’m completely hooked.
If they weren’t so fripping expensive, I’d be, er, on top of one in an instant. As it is, I need to get into a place where dropping $800 on a king sized tempur-pedic mattress is a comfortable expenditure. Not to mention we just got up a new futon, so buying another mattress now really doesn’t make a ton of sense. Ah well.