System Failures

Why me?

Myself and at least one of my friends have been having lots of system problems of late, and I can’t figure out what it is. Is it the weather? Sun spots? My influence? Am I just scaring the bejeezus out of every computer I get near???

Basically over the weekend I had some system problems. My apologies to any friends of mine who suddenly received email from me at 11pm last night, I figured out part of my problem…

I have had two servers at home for some time; one Windows 2000 server and a Linux box. The Windows server was my original DNS server for my web site as well as an internal DNS server and DNS cache. It also acted as my file server and Windows domain controller. Anyway, a year ago I started migrating the file services to Linux. The reason for this was simply performance. While my Windows box was a nice fast CPU (1.4Ghz), had plenty of RAM and so forth, my PIII-800 based Linux box ran rings around it, and had the advantage of a hardware RAID5 (4x18Gb drives). So I migrated everything off with the exception of my MP3 file collection (all stuff I own on CD before you ask, and my own compositions and stuff from friends bands). I didn’t move that collection because it was simply larger than I wanted to put on the relatively small RAID5.

Over the weekend, the first sign of trouble was that suddenly web surfing was non-existent. I did all the usual troubleshooting steps like resetting my SQUID proxy, checking my internet connection and so forth. No dice. Finally after about 45 minutes I decided to crank up some music while I worked. Aha, my MP3 share was inaccessible. This isn’t that unusual; I have had crashes on that server before… so I went up to my study (I’d been troubleshooting over SSH from my laptop) and kicked the KVM over to the server. Completely black screen. No problem says I and I hold down the power button until the machine spools down. OK, turn it back on; fans spin up, hard drives spin up… hmm… black screen.

To make a long story slightly less long, after replacing components for an hour I finally decided the motherboard or the CPU were toast (or both).

Sooo, I pull one of the mirror set of hard drives and put it in my workstation. Cranks up fine, and I can recover my MP3′s. Phew! Unfortunately I have nowhere to put them! Finally decide that my rather full MythTV box will do the trick as a media server until I can work out a more permanent home. I recently upgraded the MythTV to a pair of 150Gb drives in a RAID1 (mirror), so it’s now redundant but filling up rapidly with recorded TV. I’m now going to have to start cleaning up that hard drive too.

Last night I finally figure out that my outgoing email hasn’t been flowing since the weekend. I start thinking through my structure and realize that when I implemented my email server I only had one DNS server (the one that was now down). I go sifting through the SMTP configuration. Lo and behold, it’s pointing to the old DNS server and nothing else. Quick reconfiguration at 11pm last night, a reset of the process and voila… my Internet connection slows to a crawl. Well, in this case that’s a good thing.

Meanwhile, my lovely significant other reports to me that her computer’s not working. I boot it up and find it infested with spyware and adware. I look at her, back at the screen and start working on cleaning up. Adware, Spybot and a couple of other tools were installed, but still stuff is crashing, applications aren’t coming up and I can barely move for all the popups.

Guess what? Another machine is toast! I spend two hours working on it last night (up to about 1am) including rebooting to Safe Mode a couple of times and running the adware/spyware removal tools. They all find stuff wrong, they all “fix” it, but on first normal boot all the spyware comes back and reinstalls itself!!!!

Lovely. So this evening I get to go home and reinstall Windows on her machine from scratch. I’d love to install Linux on it and just be done with it, but I’m not sure that’ll fly with all the kids software.

So this morning I’m a little tired and cranky; I went to work at 7am yesterday as normal, worked until 4:00, went to the gym then went to a Catholic school where I’m helping them get ready for the school year. Then I get to go home and do more PC troubleshooting. I tell you, this is getting pretty old!!! This is like the 4th day in a row I’ve not had a break from fixing computers!

Unfortunately a friend of mine ALSO had problems with one of his computers over the weekend. His situation is a little worse than mine; he’s lost 3 years worth of pictures of his kids (who are both under 5) in a hard drive failure. No backup of course. I’m working with him to try to assist in the data recovery, but so far it’s not looking so hot. Keep your fingers crossed for Bill!!!

Anyways, I have to run and get some REAL work done today. Toodle-pip…

Movie Stuff

Well, not much to write about really, but I figured I’d just jump in and start blithering about movies (which is a subject that’s been on my mind of late). First of all, just a quickie for all you out there; apparently the Doom movie might not suck as has been feared by me since I first heard about it. Now, I’ll take this article with a pinch of salt until I’ve at least seen the trailer. Even then, I’ve not seen “The Rock” in anything yet that I didn’t feel that he sucked in. He tries too hard to be Vin Diesel on screen, but has neither the looks nor personality to pull it off the way Vin does.

On another subject, I sat down yesterday and watched the recent movie version of I, Robot starring Will Smith and directed by Alex Proyas. Now, I’ll admit up-front to having a soft spot for anything by Proyas; he’s consistently hit his mark on anything he’s tried to create, and both Dark City and The Crow are absolutely two of my favorite movies of all time. So with that in mind, bear in mind my feelings about this movie may be tainted by this fact a little.

Anyway, while watching it in the movie theater in Chicago last year when it was released, I pretty much took my brain out of gear and just sat down to watch the movie as I do many Will Smith movies; as enjoyable entertainment. Now again I have to say that I think there’s very little that Will Smith has done that I don’t enjoy on some level, even as a guilty pleasure that I know I shouldn’t enjoy but just do (like the silly but underrated Wild Wild West). So, what happened last year? Well, I sat down in a theater with probably two hundred other people and just enjoyed what I consider to be a “sleeper hit” of 2004 in that it was pretty darned good, and just good entertainment.

So what’s different this time around? Well, this time I went into it deliberately trying to see it in a slightly different light. I have always been a fan of Isaac Asimov’s writing, and was moved by, but ultimately a little disappointed in Bicentennial Man when it was released in 1999… too much trying to entertain and not enough investigation into who Andrew was. I digress… I decided to sit through the movie again but this time watching it as a “Movie inspired by the short story of I, Robot”.

Now, I will say that two marvellous renditions of the short story exist on the screen; the first episodes of both the “Classic” and “New” Outer Limits series on TV, and honestly you’d be really hard pressed to take a small and charming story such as this and blow it up into a two hour movie. So rather than try to do this, Proyas took the basic premise (death of the creator, robot suspected of crime and so forth) and created a whole new movie out of it.

Is it a good movie? Well, if you were expecting a translation of the story… no. In fact, very little of the original story actually survives, but I have to say that I actually really enjoyed this on my second “alternate” viewing for different reasons, which I’ll get into.

This movie does have cheesy moments… sometimes in the humor… and sometimes the product placement is just too much; for example the placement of the Converse All Star shoes… ick! However, despite these occasional quirks that pull you out of the narrative, it does proceed rather well. The pacing is good, rarely slowing down to the point where you’d get completely bored… and the final reveal of the “bad guy” is actually nicely handled.

Which brings me on to why I actually really enjoyed this. It comes down to a matter of intent. Especially toward the end of his life, Isaac Asimov spent a lot of time in his books talking about how the great “Three laws of Robotics” could be considered fatally flawed and could be warped into something that was not intended. The fact that you would have to apply an almost inhuman logic to really find the flaws in the laws is actually one of the fundamental ironies.

Now, while many in Hollywood like to think of the three laws as immutable and flawless (as exemplified by Data in Star Trek: The Next Generation), even the creator of said laws saw their failures but never managed to gain as much traction with these thoughts as the original three laws managed to gain. Where this movie succeeds is in bringing this up especially toward the end of the movie. This is a wonderful way to remember the legacy of Asimov, even if the rest of the movie isn’t what he himself would have created.

So, the sumary; as an action movie this is actually pretty decent. Certainly better than most of the fluff we get fed every year by Hollywood and should appeal to most. However, there’s also a thoughtful side to the movie that shouldn’t be ignored. While it doesn’t explore the deeper meaning of existence in the same way that many Proyas movies do, it certainly takes a somewhat non-Hollywood approach to creating a Hollywood movie that has something in there for the Asimov fans as well.

If you’re an Asimov fan who hasn’t seen this movie… put it on your list of ones to see. Just don’t expect Shakespeare…

Teething Trouble

Well, some teething trouble with the new blog engine that some may or may not have noticed last night. Basically, I had to make a change in the configuration to Apache (the web server) in order to make this all link up properly. If you typed in (without a trailing /) then you’d get redirected to the internal name of the server (in my home network), which of course is an inaccessible and unresolvable name from outside! Finally fixed that by changing the Server Hostname in Apache to the external name and all was good.

Kind of a pain, but the new blog engine is nice. Pretty speedy as well, I think I’m going to like this PHP engine.

I really don’t have much to write about today. I guess Happy Birthday MP3, and Happy Bastille Day to any French readers.

Let’s see, can I ramble for a bit here? Well, I’m sure readers here KNOW that I can, but let’s see what I can ramble about.

Had a cool email from a really old friend over the last couple of days. Duncan Threadgould was a friend of mine from Buckingham Middle School, so I guess since I was about 8 years old he’s known me. Kinda cool to hear from him; I had been on-and-off in contact with him for several years, mostly because of time constraints and demands on my time, but generally kept losing touch. I have a horrible habit of doing that. Anyway, I used Friends Reunited to contact him recently and update him on my plans. After about a month, he has responded. Can’t wait to hang out with him

I’ve started going back to the gymnasium about twice a week. I used to work out two or three times a week when I lived in London, but pretty much since I moved to the USA I’ve only really made half-hearted efforts to keep in shape. This is again due to that ultimate constraint; time. Basically I took a look at myself and despite the fact I’ve lost a lot of weight in the last couple of years, I need to start moving weight around instead of just losing it. Basically I still have some weight, just not where I want it. Anyway, about 3 weeks ago I made the decision to start heading up to the gym and getting back in shape. Let me tell you, first day I went I felt great when I got done with my workout… the following day I could barely move I was so sore!!! Still, that was a good thing; I was hurting in precisely the areas I wanted to work.

3 weeks later, I’m still going to the gym and feeling better all the time. Every time I go up there I work out a little harder than I did last time, and while I still feel stiff in areas the following days it’s nowhere near as bad as it was that first day. It’s also helped me notice areas of weakness on my body that I can work on. So far I’m getting there and working those areas, and I feel a lot better for it. However, I have to say that after an hour or so of working out, going outside and straddling my bike can sometimes be a bit of a chore

Speaking of the bike, got some saddlebags and a tail bag so I can start carrying stuff around with me for a little touring. Stuff like bottles of water, my rain suit (came in handy this week with the remains of Hurricane Dennis dumping their load on St. Louis and my car being on the fritz!) and of course my gym-stuff (shoes, shorts, shirts… you know). Keeping the Chase Harper Stealth bags cinched down to my bike when travelling at highway speeds has been a challenge, but I think I’ve got it with some creative strap routing. The Chase Harper Super Deluxe Hideaway bag is awesome though. Has permanently attached bungees and is surprisingly large when folded out completely. Holds an awesome amount of stuff and will probably be extremely useful on my trip. More details as to WHY later…

Both sets of bags are extremely good and waterproof… this week’s weather has at least proven that

Well, I’ve rambled enough. I guess I need to get back to work.

All change

Well, you can probably see I’ve made some changes here. I’ve decided finally to forego my own developed solution and revert to a freely available BLOG engine called Bblog.

Actually pretty friendly, and still utilizing the same old backend stuff (MySQL), though runs PHP instead of PERL.

Give me a couple of weeks, I’ll be modifying this code to fit the way I want this to work, of course

Honestly, not much else to say on this page today. I’ve got too much to do this evening to spend a whole hell of a lot of time writing my blog.

Oh, one thing to say is that I transferred over all my old blog entries from the old one. Just hacked up a quick conversion tool. It does OK, but sets all entries with a time of midnight… whereas these new entries will get correct times. Ah well, who really cares? :)


Ups and Downs

The last couple of weeks since my last entry have been a bit of an emotional rollercoaster all things considered. I’ve had good days at work and bad days. I’m starting to see light at the end of the tunnel as regards some of my major projects, and I’m looking forward to some other projects that are coming down the pike that I really like the look of. Should be an interesting couple of months in Infrastructure Engineering.

One bit of amusing news, my website appears to have made it onto some proxy blocks from work. Hmm… was it something I said? Nothing I can do about that I’m afraid, many work proxies block personal sites as much as they do porn sites. Doesn’t make much sense to me either; especially in technical circles it’s not uncommon for people to create technical articles to assist others in performing a task, then link that from a bulletin board. So, you can get to the board, but can’t read the solution. Hmm. Thank your personal choice of deity that we still have the Google cache to rely on :)

No news on the bike per se… it’s still pretty much maintenance free except that I’ve tightened and lubricated the chain recently. Helped a lot, but at first I got the rear wheel slightly misaligned. I couldn’t see it, but when I got the bike out on the road I could feel it; the ride was a little more squirelly and sometimes just plain harsh… so I adjusted the wheel again and the problems went away. I do think I probably need to replace the chain sometime soon… and I’ll probably replace both front and rear sprockets while I’m at it. That’s a crisis for another day.

My car threw a fit though recently. I’ve had one of the two electric fans in the car out for a couple of months since it started a pronounced wobble that would actually shake the car when standing still. Really… it was THAT bad. I disconnected it. I guess I should have replaced it, but hindsight is 20/20. SOOOO, I went out for a drive in the hot weather recently, and I guess I shouldn’t have been too surprised when I looked down after 30 minutes driving and the temperature guage had moved from it’s normal 50% position and was climbing visibly toward redline. It’s fair to say that I immediately pulled over to the side of the road and shut down. I sat there for another 30 minutes in the blistering heat, nothing I could do except wait. When I finally cranked her again she was still hot, right around the normal running point. So I popped the hood. Lo and behold, the other fan had died. I guess that was inevitable. Rather than put the other fan back in operation (because the noises it makes now actually scare me), I got back in the car, opened the windows and roof and turned on the heating on full blast. This has the effect of giving a small amount of cooling to the car when you have no other options. I got up on the highway as soon as possible and tried to drive home without stopping. Of course, that involved me going 12 miles out of my way to avoid the “traffic lights from hell” on highway 94, but I made it home only stopping for about 20 seconds at one point.

So I parked the car, priced up new fans; $200 each!!! Yikes! I guess she’s gonna be parked for a while.

To add insult to injury, on the 4th of July she was parked out the front of the house, and a failed “cake” firework tipped over and repeatedly blasted the drivers side door of my car with flaming balls. So now I have some new dings to add to my existing collection, and the rest will come out with some serious buffing… but it’s still frustrating. I love my neighbors…

So here we are… it’s a Sunday and in the last two days I’ve spent almost $1500 on my future plans for October. Painful… but at least I HAVE the money (thanks to a good friend) to spend on it. Just a few more items and I’ll be ready…

I’ve also found a pair of fans for my car on ebay for $45 each including shipping. Needless to say, they’re in the mail.

I’m going to run now… got some work to do today. Email me if you wish, don’t if ya don’t :)