Archive for the ‘Misc Commentaries’ Category

How do you know you’re not updating your blog enough?

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2008

When every time you actually log in you are at least 2 revs behind on WordPress updates.

Now let me go update this turkey before some Bulgarian script kiddy defaces my site.

Back to school… Fall 2008

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2008

It’s been an insanely busy couple of weeks. Working for a university during Fall startup can be a real bear (if you’re one of the ones who actually gives a shit 😉 — I think anyone who works at a university or maybe even anyone who has been to one will know what that means). This Fall was no exception. I spent most of my time supporting a fragile and poorly documented web CMS and its main users who pretty much always operate in freakout mode. I’ve pretty much vowed to never support something that isn’t well-documented. Yeah, like well-documented home-brew software, –or my being in a position to choose what I support while still being able to pay the mortgage– will ever happen! Anyway, that took up a lot of time. And while that has been going on, I’m taking two classes this semester (first semester in part-time studies taking two instead of one).

In the eves I’m taking the follow-up course to the Introduction to (Java) Programming course, Algorithms & Data Structures. Aside from finding out when I showed up on Thursday (thinking that the class met one day a week) that I had missed the first class and that the class really met two days a week (great first impression!), it’s been going well. The teacher’s a real-world programmer for Red Hat, so he’s definitely got a lot more real-world experience than the I-moved-over-to-CS-from-the-math-department-because-I-had-to academic programmer types who know tons of stuff but don’t really ever have to work on big software projects under timelines and to keep their bills paid. It might seem subtle, but to me it’s a big difference in knowledge and skills. Anyway, this teacher seems really fired up and is someone who genuinely loves the technology, so I’m thinking this class will be a really good opportunity to learn stuff from a programmer who can impart some real world experience and knowledge. I’m repeating myself, methinks. (Give me a break, it’s 04:30AM and I’ve found myself wakeful)

The second class is an introduction to Latin. This is the one I’m most excited about right now. I’ve been wanting to learn Latin well enough to read and write it for at least 12 years now. I can date it to the time I picked up “Teach Yourself Latin” at “The American Bookstore” in Amsterdam when I was living there, it had to be in 1996. I had been studying English vocabulary (as I’m generally naturally inclined to do) and the etymologies piqued my interest. I got fired up about it again in another class I took at Villanova where we read some Augustine and The Aenead. So I decided to burn up some electives on Latin (first, then after a couple years, on to ancient Greek). The class seems to be moving at a reasonable pace. There’s a ton to know. I feel so lucky to have spent some time learning German at Santa Monica College back in the early ’90s. Even though my German is still pretty weak from atrophy, various grammatical concepts seem to have remained and things like the case system don’t seem so daunting. The teacher seems nice and has a sense of humor. I hope to do well in the class. Here’s to hoping that work won’t get in the way and bork up my attendance, since this is also the first class that I’m doing that happens during my work hours. My new employer’s been great about OK’ing the schedule shift, so it should be fine. We’ll see how it goes if there are any big emergencies though. Anyway, my state of sleeplessness feels like it is going to come to an end very soon…. I’m signing off.

Rant: Sun’s Web Site

Thursday, August 14th, 2008

I sent a message to Sun after a frustrating afternoon trying to get a patch cluster to patch my personal Sun server. The grammar and wording sucks, but I was completely pissed (and it’s been building up over the last 3-4 years trying to use their awful web site).

Subject: Your Website: Awful!

I’m trying to download the 10_Recommended patch cluster. 3-4 successive attempts to download the 600+ MB file completed after 220MB leaving me with a corrupt file. It took me 5-10 minutes to actually even find the page containing the patch cluster to begin with. Then I learned that I needed to be logged in to download the cluster. But I wasn’t given a login prompt, I was just given an error page. I had to go back and search the previous pages for a login prompt. Overall your site has, for the last 2-3 years, completely sucked. Why don’t you help the people who use your products by making things easier to find, and making them available (not by filling our hard drives with corrupt zip files)? Also, don’t make people log in to read your precious tech docs and spec sheets. That’s completely stupid too.

I used to think the people I worked for were crazy for dumping Sun for Dell/Windows, but now I see that you seem to be too inadequate to handle the business people give you. I guess you’ll be going the way of Sco Unix before long. Can’t say I’ll be that sorry to see you go when you do.

Has anything you’ve heard delivered in a whisper been worth hearing?

Thursday, July 24th, 2008

I’m not talking about divine revelations, which is another subject entirely. I’m not talking about the faint whisper on the wind of the imminent demise of you and your way of life that we all hear/feel every once in a while. (Don’t we?) To further clarify, the type of whispering I’m talking about is the raspy, slight hissing sounding whisper — a susurrus of vocalizations. I’m not talking here about the “hey, your ball is hanging out of your shorts” type of warning that is spoken in a normal voice but in a low volume so as not to draw undue attention to you while you correct your stray ball. I am also talking about adult human beings who whisper. These are the people who feel their information is important enough to share, but is of such a sensitive nature that it can’t be heard above a certain volume, but that they have to use that raspy/hissy form of the whisper.

I could be wrong, but I honestly can’t recall anything I’ve heard an adult whisper to me being of any value to my life. And I don’t think there was much value to the person whispering it (because by dint of the act, that person revealed himself to be a whisperer, which to me makes him look bad). And if the whisper was about some absent third party, which a higher ratio of the time it is, it certainly wasn’t  enriching to that person!

I hear some of you whispering “Do people actually whisper?” Yes, in my life, people — adults, are sometimes whispering. Again a chorus of whispers rises to ask why I would associate with whisperers. Of course it’s in situations where I don’t have control over who I associate with, but for reasons of commerce, I sort of “have to”.

I’m almost sure a whisper is not only a pain in the ass (because you have to strain your ear to hear this valueless piece of information) but it’s universally worth ignoring. In fact, I wonder what it would be like to halt any would be whisperer in his tracks and just refuse to listen to anything delivered in a whisper. I like that idea. And i have done it, only not as a policy. Enforcing it is definitely something worth considering to me.

But perhaps I’m just being unfair to whispers and am not seeing all their good uses. Perhaps I should start trying to say good things to other people in whispers. “Pssst” (Look left, look right) “Those are cool socks you’re wearing.” (Wink, then walk away.) Or something like that. There have got to be good uses for them. Maybe this post is really my realization that it’s my calling to start a valuable whispers movement.

Catastrophic Personal Data Loss

Wednesday, November 21st, 2007

Do you know how much space all the files you’ve been collecting and saving for the last 10 years takes up? You know what I’m talking about, all your backed up files, your contacts, old emails, old correspondence, old Word docs, your various downloads, your various license keys/serial numbers, every digital photo you’ve ever taken or had taken of you, your pr0n, your vast collection of ebooks & audio books, your wicked collection of ultra cool and ultra rare (out-of-print) music books, sheet music, play-along CDs, backing tracks, tabs, magazine scans, etc., etc.?

In my case it was 255GB (yes, gigabytes, not megabytes). The reason I know is because although I’ve always been careful about backing this huge store of amassed information to a second hard drive across the network (thus having two live copies always available), I (along with the help of a failing <brand> hard drive), may have just wiped it all off the face of the earth in a couple of stupid, fell swoops.

I always slept well at night knowing I have done a recent rsync to sync up any changes made/files added from my master data drive to my backup data drive. Why just this month I was in there tagging some of the (complete collection of) Aebersold CDs and renaming things to a more logical, easy to find system. Piles of this kind of data take hours of painstaking work to categorize and organize. It’s something I’ve never felt finished with and am always in there tinkering to make the system better, finding new ways to automate the process, etc. etc. It’s like a rather large hobby of mine. I guess I’m kind of an archivist at heart.

Well, yesterday I realized it’s quite possible I’ve lost it all to a couple of seriously boneheaded actions on my part and a surprise disk failure on a 320GB “back up” hard drive on my LAN’s file server (running Ubuntu server + Samba). It started with my other post from this week about Windows Vista. I was in my main workstation (2 system disks that are smaller 10K RPM raptors for the OSes + 2 data 500GB data disks full of audio + 1 320GB external USB drive on which these data files reside). I was smart enough to unplug the 500GB drives before messing around with the OS b/c I’ve had enough experience to know that it’s easy to wipe one of these when messing around with partitioning software in any OS. At some point I saw that the light on the USB drive was on and I thought to myself I should go ahead and turn that drive off until I was done. I got distracted and forgot to do it. (Bad move #1). Then when I was reinstalling XP, I was in the partition menu, I saw two drives with byte counts starting with “3” something. So I wiped the first one thinking it was the 36GB raptor I use for the OS. (Bad move #2) It turned out to be the friggin’ data drive. I realized it almost immediately. I breathed a sigh of relief however, since I knew I’d done an rsync between that drive and the “backup” drive about a day or two before, so there probably wasn’t any data loss. Also, I hadn’t checked the health of my backup drive before doing anything serious like installing an OS, and I don’t have any automated log monitoring set up to send me email or SMS alerts to things like drive failures. (Bad move #3).

So out of the 5 hard drives in my workstation, and the 4-5 hard drives in my LAN file server, guess which one turns out to be experiencing a total failure? Guess how I found out that the drive was failing? If you guessed that it was when I was desperately in need of a backup of the 255GB of data existing on that very 1 drive out of 9-10 hard drives I have spun up at any given time, then you guessed right.


I spent all day in a kind of semi-catatonic daze. I think I was partially in denial about it. I was also racking my brain for what I was going to do to recover it (and also trying to get a feel for the scope of my loss — which just got worse and worse the more I realized I was storing on these hard drives). I even had to go to my history class and take a test while I was waiting for fsck to stop spewing errors to my screen while running it (which may have made the situation worse for any hope of recovering anything from that drive). By the end of the night I couldn’t even mount the drive as the file system was no longer recognized as a valid Linux filesystem, I started getting IDE controller errors in the logs as well, which was a change from the earlier imagic & bad block errors I was getting when I first realized I’d just dicked myself out of all this data (and man hours collecting and organizing it).

Today I was home from work, so I got right up, got a coffee and brought my Knoppix CD to try and see what could be done. Much to my surprise I could mount the drive and it appears I was able to x-fer a few of the smaller directories over to a spare 320GB USB hard drive. While I was waiting for the transfers to finish, I got to thinking that the dd utility might be better than mounting this disk up and copying/rsyncing the files over. (Actually certain directories were unreadable and had very weird user info and perms, nothing I could do would change the perms and rsync just wasn’t dealing with the errors — as it probably shouldn’t have). Then I stumbled onto to something even better than dd (I hope) called dd_recover, which changes the block size of the x-fer on the fly to better accommodate a drive that is throwing errors. It’s a utility specifically designed for recovering data from a failing drive. So I’m very hopeful I can get something back. I have yet another 320GB USB drive hooked up and am running it. It seems to be taking a while (like 25GB x-fered in about 2-3 hours), but it’s also IDE to USB — and if it took 3 weeks and worked it’d be well worth it.

Man, Linux fucking rules. The native logging and the native tool chain that is available for troubleshooting, fixing stuff like this is unbelievable. You know what it cost for an OS that is stable and feature-laden? A single CD-R and a 699MB download. I’m sure there’s a Windows solution like Winternals, or some other 3rd party app that would do what the free dd (or dd_recover) does, but it’d cost at least $150. and have some license that times out in a year — or the app will be outdated in 6 months and you’ll have to buy it all over again. And that’s all after I had to pay for the OS, pay for the rsync-like utility that does backups, and all the other software that I’d have to pay for to do what Knoppix does out of the box. Pfft!

Anyway, back to my recovery…. I’ll post the outcome when it’s done.

Windows Vista

Sunday, November 18th, 2007

Vista’s probably the first Microsoft OS since Win98 (since that was in production when I started using computers regularly) that I’ve not been an early adopter of (or that I’ve not been using since beta). Here it is months after it was released to the general population that I’m using it for the first time. There are a number of reasons for this. It has some to do with where I currently work and the people who get have access to the licensing, it has some to do with it being much harder to just “find” a license somewhere online (and that I no longer really trust Windows software media obtained from anyone other than the source), and it has the most to do with the fact that I really didn’t care much about trying it out since I had no need to upgrade. The very little I actually use the Windows OS in my life (partially forced by work to use it, partially out of convenience in running certain apps at home –without some of the headaches of running it in a virtual environment) has been served well enough by XP — and could probably be just as well served by Win2k.

Anyway, I got a copy of the media and and installed Ultimate to give’er a whirl on my home machine. Sadly it’s not the 64-bit version, so I can’t make full use of the AMD64 this machine has, but then again, when I used to run 64-bit Linux about 2-3 years ago, it too wasn’t really that rewarding, since at that time nothing worked in 64-bit mode (it could still be that way, I haven’t tried since I’ve stopped being the kind of person who reinstalls his OS every couple weeks to try some new OS or config or something. I typically leave the OS on for years now and only upgrade when I really feel the need for a change). It’d probably behoove me to read about people’s experience running Vista in 64-bit mode before even trying it.

The install is easier, and noticeably faster than an XP install. The installation also seems to bug you less than the XP installer. I’d be interested to do a side-by-side comparison though, since a lot of the annoying questions you get during the XP install were saved for the first boot (or was it the second? Vista wasn’t clear about what really was the first boot and what was a first boot that required a reboot before the first boot) before you log in.

The drivers for my system were mostly detected — enough to get me up and running with a good resolution and an IP address obtained from my LAN’s DHCP server. I even have a functional sound driver for my Soundblaster, but I am being told by the system that I should get the real driver from Creative. I haven’t checked the device mangler for missing drivers. I’m guessing there will be a few, but not any that stop me from working right away. XP installs on this box almost always required several driver installs before I had network and video functionality.

I notice that notepad didn’t choke on a 12MB XML file, so it seems they’ve improved its support for large files (or did they do that in XP, I don’t remember). I also noticed that the command-line (cmd)’s interface allows you to expand the window vertically and the text will adapt to the window’s vertical size. I think you had to always go into options and change that in previous versions of Windows. Would be nice if it would do that in both directions though. It didn’t seem doing it horizontally worked.

It seems they did a good job of modernizing the interface to look slicker and more up to date. Nice transparencies in the windows, nice side bar, everything looks pretty clean. (I love the look of the alt-tab switching between apps! And the new system monitor that you can get to from the Task Manager is pretty slick for monitoring performance on the system.) It’s funny though, this desktop looks a lot like what people have been using for a long time in Linux (and probably on Macs too) with the transparancies and the gdesklet-like side bar.

Despite all these changes, I’m not feeling too much like a fish out of water. Mapping network drives was simple. Changing the interface look & feel can be found in the same context sensitive menus. The Task Manager is in the same place. The Control Panel is pretty self explanatory. I purposely didn’t choose all the “Windows Classic” settings for windowing and folder views so that I’d become more familiar with the default interface, and I don’t find it too disorienting.

Some of the “mother may I” stuff when accessing menus and settings gets a little annoying. I think I had to do it like 5-6 times when installing iTunes. I also see that the game port for my Soundblaster Audigy isn’t supported.

Update: I do notice something odd about the process control changes. It seems apps lock up (“not responding” in the Task Manager) a lot less. However, it seems like they just kinda’ hang within themselves and don’t respond. So in a sense it looks like the program is responding, but it’s really not. It’s kind of a fake-out. I’m talking about iTunes. I had an XML file with the mappings to the library that would fill my 80GB iPod. I imported that into iTunes. iTunes would just sit there while “determining gapless playback information” for all these tunes. If I tried to sync my iPod to the recently imported library, it would basically stop responding. I did realize that the process priority was set to medium by default. Changing to high brought about the “not responding” more often, but didn’t really seem to help iTunes process this massive load.

All in all I’m pretty impressed. I was expecting (and half hoping) to really dislike Vista every step of the way. But my first hour or so with it have been pretty good. I’ll update later as I use it more and have recourse to try working with a number of different apps.

Why I Stopped Using UPS

Saturday, July 9th, 2005

So I make a deal to trade my Grosh for a Suhr Classic. The deal’s going well. Then I decide I want to ship it via UPS ground and to insure it. I remember in the past that there were all these restrictions for insuring a package via UPS — like you had to have a driver sign something and some other equally inconvenient hoops. I also remember taking a package to a “The UPS Store” in my area and them not even being able to provide what I needed to properly insure a package.

Rather than deal with the headache I decide to take it over to the same UPS Store and just have them do the paperwork. I go in ready for a fight because the first time I walked in these cats didn’t seem like they were there to help. Rather they were there to get rid of you as quickly as possible by standing behind a bureucratic mountain of paper work that can only be surmounted by paying ridiculously inflated prices for something that should never cost so much. I walk in and this total geek is there — a guy I remember from my first trip in the store. I tell him I want this package shipped ground and insured for $1800. He curtly peppers me with questions, “What is it?”, “Is there a case?”, “Is it a hard case?”, etc. etc. (I think he’s looking for ways to deny my request and get me out of his face). I answer positively to everything and meet the requirements for being allowed to stay in his face. I fill out some paperwork, and then so does he. He hunts and pecks it all into a computer running Windows. Every couple keystrokes I hear Windows’ default error and warning sounds from the popups he’s getting. I figure it’ll be a while.

Then he breaks it to me that for $1800. insurance I’ll need to send it 3-day. “That’s fine”, I say and ask him how much. He says something like $79.90. I don’t recall the exact figure, it’s right in the $80. range, which is easily $40. more than I’m willing to pay. I ask him about the alternatives and he only offers me ground, insured for $1000. for around $27. or ground uninsured for $23. I try to figure out what the trick is to getting a ground package shipped with insurance over $1000. but I don’t know if one exists. It looks, according to that pencil neck, that I have to do the expensive 3-day option. (I’m sure he left some other options out —to get rid of me). His ploy to get rid of me works. I almost considered leaving it there with him and just shipping the guitar uninsured, but then it occurs to me that I just told him and the chick behind the counter that it’s an $1800. guitar and now I’m going to leave it in their hands without insurance. I think “fuggit” and tell him nevermind. I walked out, took it to Fedex and they shipped it 3-day insured for $1800. for $32.50. That’s how it was supposed to go with UPS, but they’re too fucked up to make things simple.

So from now on I’ve got a big pile of brown that “Brown” can eat. I’ll use Fedex. It’s not too much to ask to keep things simple and affordable.