January 2010


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Archive for January, 2010

Apple will be the death of tinkerers

Posted in Geekery on January 31st, 2010

When someone else has said something, and said it well, by all means plagiarize!

Dive Into Mark has a great post up currently lamenting the way Apple has eliminated the ability to tinker with your own computer compared to how things were back in the day. It turns out Mark is the same age as me, with a lot of the same early computer experiences, so I can quite clearly sympathize. To quote:

As it happens, this computer came with the BASIC programming language pre-installed. You didn’t even need to boot a disk operating system. You could turn on the computer and press Ctrl-Reset and you’d get a prompt. And at this prompt, you could type in an entire program, and then type RUN, and it would motherfucking run.

I was 10. That was 27 years ago, but I still remember what it felt like when I realized that you — that I — could get this computer to do anything by typing the right words in the right order and telling it to RUN and it would motherfucking run.

That computer was an Apple ][e.

[snip]…Apple made the machines that made me who I am. I became who I am by tinkering.

The first computer I got the chance to dink around with was a Radio Shack TRS-80 back in the 3rd grade. It had a little spiral-bound instruction manual with the fundamentals of BASIC inscribed within, and it took me a solid 2 days to figure out that to get the double-quotes symbol, you had to press Function instead of Shift plus the appropriate key.

By the time I was in 5th grade, me and my buddy Richard were programming a character generator program for Dungeons & Dragons, complete with money tracking and the entire shopping section. And it motherfucking ran.

That computer was an Apple ][e.

Anyway, Mark’s post is about how hard it is with today’s Apple computers to break into being a developer – it costs real money to get started, and even then you are saddled with limitations, where back when Mark and I were scribbling out our first “Hello Worlds!” all it took was a willingness to try something new.

The world needs places where kids can try something new, and it is no longer the Apple computer.


Dell NX3000 rebuild to 5TB partition

Posted in Geekery on January 26th, 2010

The number 1 search on this blog still points back to the Exchange queue post I put up a couple years back, so here’s another bit of advice.

One of my clients recently bought a Dell storage server – the NX3000. It comes with 6 internal drive bays and a 15-drive storage bay. Not bad, really – kind of a pocket SAN.

Well, those 6 internal bays are filled with 1TB drives. Two of them are in a mirror with the OS on it.

That’s right – a 1TB mirror for the OS.

If you think this is a bad design, you’re right. If you want to do something about it, pay careful attention.

If you harrass them enough, they will tell you how you can download an install image that will allow you to install the system from scratch with your own settings – perhaps, say,  a 6-drive RAID5. Well, to get that large an array, you have to break the 2TB partition barrier by installing in EFI (GPT) mode instead of BIOS mode. The instructions for this are on Microsoft’s website somewhere. (I didn’t find them, the other guy did.)

Well, when I got there today, the “temporary, transitional IT guy” was about to bash his head on the wall trying to figure out what was not working. He spent a half-hour or so explaining the situation, then wandered off while I read his documentation.

Everything seemed to make sense, but a thought struck me while I tried to make it work: I was reading MS documentation and working on a Dell. The smart money said Dell had screwed with something somewhere and I should look for that first.

I went into the BIOS settings, into the Boot menu, and toggled the Boot Mode from BIOS to EFI. After that, the solution was to let it fail to find installation media and then go into the EFI settings. Select “Boot from file” and browse through the DVD to the <efi> folder, then run <boot.efi>. The system will bounce out of BIOS and immediately tell you to “hit any key to boot from CD / DVD…” and your Windows installation will start.

When you get to the part about selecting drive partitions, it should warn you that it can’t use the current partitions because they are the wrong type. Go to Advanced mode and delete all partitions, then create a new one. It should call it Partition 3 – this is correct, because it should have automatically created the two hidden partitions EFI requires. At this point, Windows should install correctly.

Frankly, my dear…I couldn’t give a damn.

Posted in Geekery on January 20th, 2010

To all you Apple fanboys out there: shut it already, would you?

Here’s a little wake-up call for you. 90% of the world won’t touch an Apple computer because they can’t run their business on it. Yes, there are certain things that Apple has made sure “just work”, like cameras and music players. On the flipside of that, there are many things that just will not work, no matter what you do to them – and if you finally manage to get it working somehow, Apple will release an update that breaks it and kindly tell you to bugger off.

Take VPNs for instance. Mac OSX used to work with a SonicWALL SSL-VPN NetExtender. Snow Leopard broke it. There’s a work-around that’ll work if you’re lucky, but it requires changing permissions on a core service through the command line – something your average sales lizard should never go anywhere near.

The biggest problem that I have with Apple products is that everything works exactly like Steve Jobs wants it to – and I don’t particularly care for having Steve tell me how to run my computer.

I first started out in computers to figure out how to make them do things the way I wanted them to. Sure I was just poking around in BASIC (yuk yuk) but I was programming.

Later, when I managed to get a PC running Windows 98, I couldn’t stand the look of the GUI – so I learned how to bash it into something I liked. Wallpaper. Startup screens. Shell replacement. Then I got into Linux and got really nuts.

All this time, however, Steve has been forcing his opinions of how computers should work down his client’s throats. Yes, they’re pretty. They have an excellent eye for design down in Cupertino. But the bloody thing has no way to centrally-manage security and it will barely talk to a Windows network at all, and it’s even worse trying to make a Windows machine integrate with a Mac server.

We had a client once that decided they wanted to be a Mac house. We advised them against it, but they went ahead anyway and brought in a Mac “expert” to make all their Macbooks and PowerMacs talk to their Windows domain. What was his solution? He uninstalled Active Directory from the server, which broke the security on all the file shares and suddenly the owner couldn’t use his accounting data.

The thing I really can’t get, however, is how Steve managed to convince all of you to pay twice what a machine is worth in order to have a shiny widget with crippled software and limited choices.

So yeah – Apple tablet. Woooo. A niche product for a niche that doesn’t exist.

How things change

Posted in Geekery, Work on January 19th, 2010

Currently building a server with 20GB of RAM. My first personal computer didn’t have 20GB of hard drive space.

I suppose I’d better

Posted in Life on January 17th, 2010

I went through all the trouble to fix this thing, I suppose I had better post some shit.

There’s a new post up over at the leather blog about the new screwdriver case I just finished. Next project is a belt cheath for my new Gerber multi-tool, so stay tuned.

Work has been batshit crazy for the past couple of weeks. This is the first time in I don’t know how long that I have been booked solid for the next 3.5 days. Call me right now, and I might get to it by Thursday afternoon (Friday afternoon is booked too). Tuesday is going to especially suck.

Loved ones and pets are all doing quite well, so I have that to be happy about.

My car has sprung several small problems on me. The reverse lights are not working, I think the switch has gone bad somehow but I have to remove half the air intake system to get to it, so I have been less than enthusiastic about tracking it down. There is also a slow leak in the power steering system – and those hoses run about $60 each. Bleah.

My daughter is following quickly in her father’s footsteps – she has both a Yahoo and a Gmail account in the same name. I’m tempted to sign her up for a similar MSN account just to round things out.

That’s all for now.

It’s Alive!!!!!!

Posted in Geekery on January 16th, 2010

Son. Of. A. Bitch. That was a close one.

For those of you who have not seen the problems of the past few days, here’s the short summary:

Logged in to make (gasp!) a post. Got nagged to upgrade.

Started auto-upgrade plugin, everything goes fine until I hit the “upgrade database” bit. Turns out the original blog was built on an older MySQL version and can’t be updated. This essentially breaks the update and the blog is now broken.

O_o?    Sonovacrap.

Through some major back-pedaling and arcane incantations I can’t recall, I managed to get this rolled back to where they were before I started. A smarter me would have let things sit there.

Instead, I called my host, and they said they couldn’t upgrade the database, I would have to export from the old and create a new db at the correct version, which was available to me. This would have been fine, of course, if I knew the first bloody thing about manipulating a MySQL db through a phpMyAdmin interface. As it was, I found the Export button easily enough, and was able to create the new database.

The bad part came on the import – nothing I did worked at all. No clue why. The error messages would probably have been quite useful if I knew a fuckin’ thing about databases, but we both know I don’t.

In a fit of desperation, I make a clone of the existing blog in a second directory and use the WP export function to generate a save file, and then I import it into that clone. This, amazingly, seems to work…

…until I get a close look at the posts – they all date from February 2006 and back. Somehow, everything from Feb 2006 to present is gone.

I rip open all of my SQL dumps to verify, but I’m safe – I have backups. For whatever reason, the import process just bailed somehow and missed the last 3 years. I then spend a couple of hours over Friday night and Saturday morning trying to figure out enough SQL lingo to be able to import the relevant chunks of the dump files to the new database, but I am unsuccessful. Again, the error messages mean nothing to me.

Despairing greatly, and dreading trying to find someone with enough experience to assist me (the only real dbadmin I know is my boss, and there is no way I am ever showing him this blog) I decide that maybe I should try one last time from a clean database.

Click click click and a fresh db is born. I take my original SQL dump file and split it out into two files (it’s over the size limit for imports) and cut the new db user name info in. A few more clicks, and I’m ready to go. Deep breath, and click…

The spinny thing goes round and round, and then the page refreshes. What’s that on the left? No, it can’t be! It’s a list of tables it just created! And there are no error messages! Quickly, I load up the second half of the file – it loads too! I brwose through the contents quickly, and it looks to be all there! I tell Tolerant to cross her fingers as I bring up FileZilla, download, edit and re-upload the db config file in a flash. A few clicks later, and …

I see the Diary of a Wolfeman in all the original black-and-orange glory. It lives. I breathe. I throw both fists in the air and smile beatifically. The Universe still loves me.

And then, with my newfound SQL prowess and feelings of great heroism, I kill a spider for Tolerant. Life is good.