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Thoughts From The Green Dragon

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What is your computing expectation? Dec. 20th, 2005 @ 12:45 pm
Every person reading this uses a computer.

But what do you expect from your computer?

Your expectation depends on what you are used to. I am a software developer and I also use my machine for the typical stuff (web, mail, etc.).

Five years ago I used Mac OS 9 in my daily life and I became used to the fact that my machine would crash often and I would have to stop whatever I was doing and reboot. It wasn't really the time it took the machine to reboot which was annoying, it was the interruption of my workflow. I fell into a pattern of closing applications like my mail client when i wasn't doing email just in case the machine would crash because of some development badness that I ran into. I started the day by rebooting the machine out of habit (probably from earlier versions of Mac OS which were less stable). I rarely put my machines to sleep because it was common to not come out of sleep cleanly. And, while I had multiple applications running at the same time, if I started some long copy over the network or a large archive task I tended to stop doing work in my other applications until the long operations were finished.

I carried some of these expectations and habits over when I switched to Mac OS X. But as time passed and it became clear that Mac OS X was very stable, my expectations and habits changed. I stopped quiting from my mail client and just left it running all the time. I never restarted my machine at the beginning of my day. I started using sleep on my laptop and just waking it whenever I wanted to work, working, and putting the machine to sleep. I never quit from my mail client or my IM client or my web browser. I even leave my development system running.

My expectations have changed. The crashes have gone from daily interruptions of my workflow to very rare interruptions. I open my computer and bring up my mail and IM clients and, at the same time, start doing updates from my source code control system. I don't have any fear that my machine will crash. I assume everything will just work, and 99% of the time it does. I can start a long network upload of a submission to a client, check my mail, switch to another project and begin a long compile and I never pause to worry about one of the operations failing.

Why am I telling you this? I am telling you this because I want you to think about your expectations during the course of the day. When you start a task or tasks on your machine, do you start them and just assume they will finish or do you pause and make sure they finish before moving on to the next task? When you try something new, does it work like you expect? Or, when you try anything new, do you expect it to fail because it won't work the way you expect?

Think about this as you work. If your expectations during the day are mostly that things won't work, or things won't finish unless you stop stressing the machine while they are happening, then I suggest that you think about what software on your machine is keeping your expectations from being positive. Once you identify the thing that is keeping your expectations negative, you should replace it so you can get on with your life.

Halloween Night Oct. 31st, 2005 @ 05:24 pm
I am sitting here looking at the 30 ft tube that my friend and I built to deliver candy from my porch to the sidewalk below. My stairs are treacherous even in the light and when it gets dark, it gets dangerous.

It has just gotten dark and I hear children...

The first group has come and gone and the tube mostly worked. A little bit of wiggling makes the candy go down...isn't that how the old song goes? A small wiggle of tubes helps the candy go down?

And now i hear the clattering of candy in kids baskets...

And another group of kids.

So far at least the kids have been walking. Too many kids get driven from house to house by their parents these days. Do we really think that kids are safer on halloween with all those extra cars out there?

Well, so much for that. A car stopped next door and then stopped here. Letting a group of kids out at each house. Do these kids not have legs?

I think we need more candy. I wonder how much of it I will be on the ground in the morning.

Some people came buy and the dad's grandmother used to live in our house about 40 or 50 years ago. He confirmed where the stairs to the attic used to be before someone replaced them with a spiral stair and put a shower surround in where the door to the stairs used to be. Kinda cool to live in a small town.

I need more light at the bottom of the tube. Next year.

Well. the candy is gone, but Anita bought backup candy. So now we're on the backup candy. Backup candy is the candy you buy because you will eat it on Nov 1st. I guess we'll have to buy replacement backup candy now.

But now the replacement candy has arrived. We didn't have to use any of the backup candy!

Mira just left with Mom. And I am not sure what kind of screaching animal I hear...

Big groups of kids now. Some see the tube. Some don't. Need more lights at the end next time.

Now there is a line of 10 or more cars on my street. Each car at least seems to have a bunch of kids in it...At least the headlights provide some much needed light on the dark street.

We have gone through 10 or more bags of candy too! We are even going to need replacement replacement candy for the backup candy.

And Mira and Anita have yet to return so maybe they collected something I can eat....yum....

And the sound travels pretty well through the tubes. Need to use that somehow next time...

And they just keep coming. Who knew this town had so many kids...but I guess Mira's school has 6 2nd grade classes so maybe there was a baby boom about 7 years ago...1998.....everyone was panicked about y2k so they had kids?

At 7:30 there is a lull. No cars. No kids. Is it over?

Nope. 20 minutes later and more kids and cars have arrived. Some say many house have "no more candy signs". We'll stick it out until the end. We have more....well, a little more, less as I eat more of it...

Judging the kids so far, scream is a very popular mask.

Well, now it is 8:01. Most of the candy is gone. It has been quiet since that last group, so it is time to turn off the flashing lights and end the evening.

Good night and have a happy halloween! Boo!

Experiments in Television Sep. 19th, 2005 @ 05:56 pm
I have had a C-Band satellite system for just over a decade now. The good thing about C-Band is that you can pick and choose the channels that you want. You are not stuck buying a preset package made by someone else.

The problem is that the installers who put my dish in did not put the dish where they were supposed to and trees have grown taller and now block the signal to several satellites. I should have dealt with it at the time, but we had just moved here and we were just happy to have TV.

So now I am faced with a dilemma. Should I have the big dish relocated? Should I get a small dish system? I have decided that I won't do cable. If I go with small dish I will go with DishTV and not DirecTV, but either of those systems is more than twice what I'd pay on C-Band for the same stuff.

I am also interested in PVR type stuff. I have a TiVo in a box which I got for free (BellSouth rewarded me for not paying them money, but that is another story), but since there is no easy way to make it work with C-Band I don't know if I'll keep it. DishTV and DirectTV both come with PVRs, but one of the things I am interested in is the idea of just telling it what show I like and having it just record it whenever it is on. It seems that only TiVo can do this and not the PVR from DishTV.

I plan to keep looking at MythTV and R5000-HD Hi-Definition PVR. At some point the price and features of the R5000 may make it something I have to have to record off of my C-band system.

I have resisted the small dish because of the long term contracts that come with the free hardware. I don't think it is a bad deal, I just think new and different ways to get TV are just about here and I don't know that I want to be locked into a multiyear contract to get the cool toys like the multiroom systems and multiple PVRs for free.

I tried a subscription to MovieFlix and it worked ok, but the content they have is all pretty old. My daughter likes the old cartoons. I thought it was cool that they had "A Boy and His Dog". But after a month or two I had seen the content that they had that I wanted to see.

I also looked into Akimbo and while that type of service is one of the places I see TV going, the up front cost has kept from trying it. There is some content there that I'd watch and the monthly fee seems right. If they had the daily show I'd have already signed up.

The latest experiment was to setup a G4 tower and connect it to my video projector. Once I get a bluetooth adapter there is some software I can get which will let me use a bluetooth cellphone as a remote and I can play content from the hard drive on the video projector. We tried this without the remote last night and it worked well except for having to go over to the machine to start the next episode. I think it might also be nice to set up the G4 with a server of some sort which makes it easy to upload content to it and control playback from my laptop.

Time for more experiments…

Ahoy There! Sep. 19th, 2005 @ 12:58 am
Arrrrrr…

I have gone digital Aug. 18th, 2005 @ 09:04 pm
I have made the jump to digital with my New Company. I have dumped my analog phone line and our office has no "regular" phone anymore. I have a VOIP number from Skype and we'll probably get numbers from them for others who work here at some point in the future.

I was in a conference call today with a client and one of the programmers working for me. The client is in CA and the programmer is in MO. We all dialed into the conference call number which was from some broadband phone company and probably not in an area code close to the client. I dialed in from my skype number and we all talked and it worked as well as any phone conference system I have used in the past.

Our fax number isn't real either. It is a fax to email gateway. They could not give us a local number so I chose one with an area code one off from my own....which is in some other state somewhere, but does it matter anymore?

Do area codes mean anything anymore? With VOIP becoming more and more popular, how do you know where you are calling? And should you care?

I still have an analog "regular" phone number at home, but that is only because I have DSL. You need a phone number to have DSL in this area. If not for that, I'd have a skype number at home too....or my wife would probably have her own and I'd just use the one I have for home and work.

Between cellphones and VOIP we have changed from a phone number for a "place" to a phone number for a "person".
Other entries
» Hidden Linux Treasure
I've spent much of the last week getting a new mail server up and running for a client with a much heavier load than my own server. This was the final push.

I started with the very popular instructions here and then had to figure out why those instructions didn't quite work right on my distro and hardware (as is usually the case in linux land).

Even tho it only took me 6 long days to make it all work for my own server, it took weeks to get everything up and running on the new server for the client. The linux distro was the same, but the hardware was different and it just seemed like nothing worked as advertised.

The last week was mostly tuning and tweaking and I found some interesting things that might help others setting up this kind of system.

The biggest optimization I found was to allow saslauthd to cache stuff so it didn't have to do a mysql query each time someone checked their mail. We now use the following flags when starting saslauthd:

FLAGS='-n0 -s 2048 -t 3600 -c'

The -n0 forces sasl to fork every time it invokes pam. This is important because there seems to be a memory leak somewhere in pam and if you don't do this your machine will run out of memory. My own server was having this problem every few months, but the load on my server is light. The load on the new server was making the memory run out in less than day.

The other options cause sasl to cache stuff and that has been significant in terms of performance.

The other thing about sasl is that there is an oddness to how it is started. Part of the problem we ran into was after rebooting the machine after putting new RAM in. Authentication was working sometimes before the reboot and we were pretty sure it was load related and possibly lack of memory related. So we put RAM in and rebooted and then no authentication was working.

It turns out that sasl is startd two different ways. One way (which I am pretty sure is what happens on startup) is:

/etc/init.d/saslauthd start

That is normal and in the above file is a place for the sasl FLAGS as well as the authentication mechanism (MECH) that should be used. But it turns out that while the system is running, something else launches saslauthd as well and it gets its params from:

/etc/sysconfig/saslauthd

That file also has a place for FLAGS and for MECH.

On our system they didn't match. So some of the saslauthd invokations were incorrect and would not authenticate people. After the reboot none of them were correct.

So make sure you change these settings in both of these places (or I suppose you could dig and try to figure out why this is happening, but once we got things working we didn't want to mess with them anymore).

The other treasure I found was when I was poking at the machine at 4am just to see how it was doing. I saw a process running called onlyservice and it was sucking up a lot of cpu time, but the machine didn't feel slow and was not rejecting any mail connections. I did some digging and found out that this was part of something called logwatch.

logwatch is pretty cool and it is on all my linux machines and I never even knew it was there. It scans the machine's logs and makes a report and emails it somewhere. The default (in /etc/log.d/logwatch.conf) is to send it to "root". That is probably why I never noticed that it was there before. I changed this to a real address and the next day I had a report. The report has all sorts of things in it: failed ssh attempts, rejected mail, etc.

logwatch seems like a useful thing to know about and now I do.

Now I can go back to programming. That is the fun stuff. Linux admin is not fun. But somone has to do it.
» Now Open For Business
Well, I have been open for business with my new company for a while now, but today I finally got my new web store done and working and bought a new SSL certificate for it! So if you want to help me celebrate: come and visit the store and look around.

Everything is still a bit rough, but I hope to smooth it out as time passes.

Now to finish the sad task of cleaning up the old company website.

Closure is good.
» WXRT & Windows
This was my favorite radio station when I lived in Chicago. Actually, It is still my favorite and one of the milestones along the drive from here back to Chicago is the point at which it can be tuned in. The music has always varied and the next song is usually one I like or one I haven't heard before and will like.

But they stream using AOL instead of using a standard. So I have not been able to hear the stream...

...until I realized that I have a Windows XP machine in my office because I port games and other software from Windows to Mac. So when the Windows machine was not being used for testing we could stream WXRT and listen too good music in the office.

This worked for a week. Before setting up the stream we had done a fresh install of Windows. A week later some update from Microsoft replaced the sound driver we had on there with a better one...well, better in the sense that it was probably newer. But worse in the sense that it would not work with our sound hardware. So we replaced the driver and that fixed everything!

Well, by "fix everything" I mean that we once again could play sounds, but the streaming program still didn't work. It didn't generate a sound driver error like it did the first time, it just said it was playing. I suppose it might have been streaming the data, but there was no sound to be heard.

So now it was time to go back and do some real work on real computers. Turning on the streaming radio should be a click. It should not take 30 minutes to figure out that we didn't have time to get it working.

Now...I saw "we" because I don't like to sit down in front of this machine at all so I always get someone else to setup the Windows machine. It adds stress to my life to try to do ANYTHING with a Windows machine.

Everyone says Microsoft copies everything from Apple. That may be so, but they really need to get better at copying someone else's work. When you cheat on a test in college it is best to sit next to the smartest guy in class, but it is kinda dumb to only copy part of each of his or her answers.
» I am back
Last October I decided I wanted to run my own blog site. I wanted to do this so I could have catagories. I would say I am back because livejournal now has tags, but that would be a lie. I am back because I got tired of trying to deal with referrer spam. First it was an annoyance and then it slagged my server.

Why can't people on the 'net behave like they do when they are face to face? You might hand someone a business card, but you don't walk up to people and slap bumper stickers all over them or all over their cars? Why do people on the 'net feel that they have the right to abuse others?

I have made an attempt at making my livejournal page pretty. I used a nice theme and layout someone else created and tweaked the colors a bit.

I plan to come back and post more soon. I also plan to move some of my older posts from my blog site to here.
» Blog Relocation
I wanted a blog with catagories and I wanted to experiment with installing my own blog scripts on my webserver, so my new blog is located here:

http://blogs.greendragon.com/index.php/gdc
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