Almost Reformatted
Posted in Tech
Afternoon watch, 4 bells (2:05 pm)

I almost had to reformat a Windows 7 machine today that wouldn't recognize the primary drive or the copy of Windows installed on it. Running the repair option from the DVD saw the secondary drive and gave me no option to fix the master boot record. Opening a command prompt (again, using the Repair section of the DVD) defaulted to the D: drive, but allowed me to change to C: and view files just fine.

So my first though was to fdisk /mbr the thing, but fdisk is no longer part of Windows. That gave me a sad. Fortunately, there's a new alternative: bootsect /nt60 c: /mbr

Running that and rebooting took me right back to the installed operating system, so saving itself from a pending reformat.

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Connecting To a Cisco Router With Minicom
Posted in Tech
First watch, 2 bells (9:10 pm)

This article about connecting to a Cisco router with minicom just helped me solve a nasty problem I've been having.

PS. The default IP address of a Cisco 881W router is with a netmask of (or /29), and the usable range of IP addresses for that setup is to

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Fixing the ‘Net One Router at a Time
Posted in Tech
Afternoon watch, 2 bells (1:09 pm)

I'm trying to track down a very strange issue that seems to be geographically related, but not completely so. Basically, certain routes to some servers have long connection delays, sometimes 30 seconds or more, before any data are transferred. I can reproduce it at home some of the time. Other times, the problem is just gone. Several other people at work see the same issue, but others with the same service don't. I told you it was strange&8230;

I'm going to cash in some chips with some business associates and get some help finding the issue, it's a bit over my head at this point, and that doesn't happen to me very often.

It's not latency, because ping times are nominal. Yet traceroute results may be delayed for 30+ seconds while I wait for the second hop (first is my home router) to return results, despite having 10ms or less latency. It's like the connection itself is being held up somewhere, and seems to be happening mostly on a hand-off from Time Warner to XO Communications' network.

I'll post updates when I get closer to finding the issue.

No syslog-ng?
Posted in Strangeness, Tech
Afternoon watch, 6 bells (3:29 pm)

One of my servers went down today. It runs Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4. I don't know what happened, none of the partitions filled up or anything, it just "freaked out." Perhaps something went bad somewhere, and in its defense, it'd been running for 352 straight days.

In any case, after triage I was doing some system checks and I found I'm missing the /var/log/messages file. Weird. So I send a SIGHUP to the syslog daemon and it does nothing.

So I check the /sbin directory and the klogd binary was there, but the syslogd binary wasn't! I had to reinstall syslog-ng. It's hard to track down a problem like this when your logfiles aren't there…

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Hardware: The Drobo FS
Posted in Reviews, Tech
Afternoon watch, 1 bell (12:41 pm)

Today I received the Drobo FS I ordered last Friday, along with three 2Tb drives to make it happy.

First off, can I say that in my years of IT work, this is by far the easiest installation I've ever had. All I did was slide the drives in and plug in the network and power and turned it on. Then I walked away. Sheer brilliance.

I installed their software, the Drobo Dashboard, so I could configure the device (from a Windows machine). A few minutes after power-up, there it was in the window showing drives ready to go:

Drobo Dashboard

The only complaint I have is interoperability with backup software (I use Symantec's BackupExec), which appears to be available only with the Drobo Pro and Drobo Elite models. Don't get me wrong, I'm sure I can pull data off via the share, but a backup client does a better job of streaming data out than Windows SMB.

Overall, I'm excited to have an appliance to store our data without having to maintain an operating system and all its related hardware. Depending on how things go, we may be switching more of our storage over to Drobo later.

Where Does the Time Go?
Forenoon watch, 8 bells (12:19 pm)

Now that my MUD (which I've recently settled on the name ForeverMUD) is getting more stable, I thought I'd run some profiling tools on it. Valgrind is a very cool utility made to do this very thing.

When I first started developing, I wrote in a loop timer that keeps track of the longest processing time as well as the average loop time. After the introduction of a large (16,200 room) world map, the loop times jumped from 10-30 µsec to over 190,000 µsec—no bueno.

So last night I ran Valgrind and used kcachegrind to view the results, which showed me this:

Valgrind and kcachegrind results

Put simply, most of my time is spent manipulating mutexes. I'm going to have to rethink my design, because that's way too much time…

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No Next of Kin
Posted in News, Tech
Afternoon watch, 7 bells (3:49 pm)

Wow, I heard the Microsoft Kin's been axed already. I just started seeing commercials for it on Hulu the other day. It's only been available for two months I think.

I guess if you have a gajillion dollars you can make stuff and never sell it as often as you want. Still, it seems like a waste to me…

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Typical Sound Card Stuff
Posted in Tech
Afternoon watch, 8 bells (4:00 pm)

Today my boss came in to my office and asked if I could find out the output voltage and impedance for his laptop's sound card.

Hardware specs tend to not go that in-depth. Finding the manufacturer of the sound hardware may work, but I ran in to several dead ends trying this.

In the end, I found a website dedicated to using your sound hardware as a cheap oscilloscope. Turns out, they've done the research and listed averages, which ended up being good enough for my boss.

The answer? Typical output voltage for a computer line-out jack is 1.5-2.0v. Impedance tends to be between 30 and 400 ohms. Just in case you needed to know.

Theme Update
Posted in Tech
First dog watch, 2 bells (5:19 pm)

I fixed a small but annoying (to me, anyway) bug in my blog theme just now. If you were to view my custom theme in a very wide window (greater that 1400 pixels or so) the main body text would start to "underlap" the right-hand sidebar. By imposing a maximum-width limit to the content area I fixed the issue to my satisfaction.

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What a Machine!
Posted in Tech
Afternoon watch, 6 bells (3:28 pm)

I'm drooling over the new Cray CX1-iWS workstations.

I might not kill somebody for one of them, but I'd certainly hurt them real bad. In front of their mama.

Unfortunately, as it has a $40,000 price tag, I won't be getting one. Ever.

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Back Online
Posted in Tech
Afternoon watch, 8 bells (4:24 pm)

Well we're back online at home. Thanks to my amazing technical skills (and the install guy), it was a short visit, about 20 minutes all together.

I tested my bandwidth to Tierpoint, my colocation provider, and got an 18 megabit connection speed! So not only am I up after the Imbris outage, I've got a faster connection to boot!

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RIP Imbris the ISP
Forenoon watch, 4 bells (10:13 am)

My local ISP, Imbris (don't bother clicking, their site is down, too!) is offline. For the second time in just over two weeks.

Their office is locked up and dark. If you call their sales department, you get sent to a voicemail box that is full and will accept no more messages.

After the previous outage (which spanned around 36 hours), there wasn't a peep from the company about what went down. No apologies, no notes on their website, nothing. At that point, I started researching alternatives. I'm all for supporting local businesses and the "little guys," but this is ridiculous. I've used Imbris for as long as I've had an Internet connection. In the old (Nidlink) days, they provided dialup and a UNIX shell for each of their users (those were some fun times).

But I'm through with the outages. I'm through with them not paying their bills when they bill me regularly for mine. One time I could forgive, although I was quite upset there was no follow-up. If their first outage didn't cause them to lose most of their business, this one will. I've already ordered alternate service, and recommend anyone else to do the same.

Goodbye, Imbris, may you Route In Peace. Or not. I don't care anymore.

Posted in Tech
Afternoon watch, 7 bells (3:55 pm)

I just finished setting up a new instance of MediaWiki for an internal department. Everything went fine, the setup was straight forward. Except nobody could edit any pages. Even the front page.

Turns out the default values you get are garbage. Specifically, the memory usage. After enabling error logging (also off by default), I found that if you tried to edit a page, the wiki used up the default of 20Mb and halted, resulting in a blank screen any time you click an edit link on the wiki.

Once I figured this out and cranked up the memory limit, things started working fine. I'm just left wondering why the default settings cause the system to fail "out of the box."

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Stupid Windows DNS
Posted in Tech
First dog watch, 1 bell (4:45 pm)

Well here goes another Windows rant. I set up a new Redmine server on the internal network. I also added records for it to our primary and secondary DNS servers. Unfortunately Windows hosts couldn't reach it, or even ping it!

I used nslookup (which I thought was deprecated years ago in favor of dig but apparently not by Microsoft) and sure enough, DNS queries halted at our domain server, which only serves out local DNS (not for the Redmine server). It should have deferred the query to an authoritative DNS server, but it wouldn't until I told it to dump its entire DNS cache.

Windows continued to refuse to resolve the name until I ran a ipconfig /flushdns on each host that exhibited the problem. This should never have happened with a hostname that has never been used before.

Can you say "stupid?"

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FAILbuntu Server
Posted in Tech
First dog watch, 3 bells (5:34 pm)

I've been fighting an install of Ubuntu server on a new rackmount machine all afternoon. I've never used Ubuntu server (I recommend Ubuntu Desktop all the time), but I thought it would be a breeze.

Boy was I wrong. After fighting RAID-1 (which should be simple), and a grub bootloader that just won't install on the master boot record, I just gave up and I'm going to see if it'll run Ubuntu Desktop. I bet it works fine.

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