Entrepreneurial Leadership and Management . . . and Other Stuff

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20
Mar

I Feel So . . . Violated

Last night, my little, obscure blog started getting attacked with spam.  24 hours later, it’s slowed a bit, but I’m still getting about 20 spam comments posted per hour.  Keep in mind that there are only about 200 posts on the blog to source that number of comments.  I now know where to buy all of the Viagra, Phentermine, Cialis and teenage porn that I need, as if the spam in my email spam folder wasn’t enough to guide me to the appropriate dealers.

It’s interesting that I never had a spam problem when I used Community Server as my blog engine.  WordPress appears to attract spam like carbon dioxide attracts mosquitos.  I installed the Spam Karma WordPress plugin last night and not a single spam message has made it through my new defenses.  That’s great, of course, but I’d rather not have to worry about the problem in the first place.  Oh well.  The spam appears like it comes from a variety of domains, but I suspect it’s all from one place.   

To add insult to injury, I was just looking at my server’s event log and noticed that someone’s been trying to hack in via FTP.  Now, just how stupid do they think I am.  I have no open anonymous FTP and the password for the site gets rotated constantly.  I have had about 5 hits on my server per second (yup, that’s stated correctly) for the last 1:40.  Needless to say, my event logs are filling up fast.  They appear to all be from the same IP address which resolves to mail.e-dcs.de.

Jeez, don’t you have bigger fish for your robots to fry?

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 March 20th, 2007  
 Will  
 Computers, Software  
   
 4 Comments
04
Mar

RIP CompUSA

If you hadn’t already heard, CompUSA is closing 100 stores nationwide (see locations below).  The list is here.  Rumors had it that our local store had guys in the street with signs advertising a big sale so my son and I trekked down to the store to confirm that we are about to lose the only decent computer store in our area and to check out the wake sale.  The bad news was loud and clear as we entered the store.

CompUSA Store Closings

According to the employees of the store, Massachusetts will be left with only one CompUSA after the carnage is done and its in a town that I didn’t even know existed.  We were informed by the manager of the store that we were more than welcome to continue to shop at any of the CompUSA stores remaining open in New Hampshire.  Thanks.

CompUSA hasn’t been a great computer store in a long time.  They have carried fewer and fewer components over the years and their prices, for the most part, haven’t tracked reasonably with online vendors.  While I don’t expect a brick-and-mortar operation to match online prices, I do expect them to be only a reasonable increment higher.  But still, when you needed a new CPU cooler now, CompUSA was there.

There are still places around these parts that offer a reasonable selection of parts for the computer “hobbyist,”  but they’re disappearing quickly.  I guess the UPS/Fedex guy is going to spending more time in my driveway.

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 March 4th, 2007  
 Will  
 Computers, Misc Thoughts  
   
 3 Comments
03
Mar

Wrapping Up My Latest Geekfest – 3Ware RAID Controller

About a month ago, I posted about the dizzying array (for me) of stupid technical projects I had going on at the same time.  One of the projects was installing a new RAID controller as part of my server rehab.  I wanted to move from a 1TB array resulting in about 780GB of disk space in RAID 5 form to a 3TB array, giving me a little over 2TB in RAID 5.  I knew that this was going to be painful, but I had no idea that it would take me about a month of very conservative (out of fear of losing data) work to make the transfer.

I chose a 3Ware 9550SX 8-port controller.  I made the choice for a few reasons:

  • It was recommended by several people (who I will never speak with again – you know who you are)
  • It was a SATA II RAID Controller, working, theoretically, at 3GB/sec
  • It was an 8-port controller – since I only initially needed 4-ports (4 drives), I had some expansion room
  • It runs on a PCI-X bus at 100MHz – my server motherboard, being a bit dated, only supported up to 100MHz
  • And most importantly, it supported online capacity expansion (OCE) so that you can dynamically add disks to it to expand its capacity without having to rebuild the array

The controller installed easily enough and its post-time configuration was fairly basic and straightforward.  Since I don’t have my boot disk in this array, I had none of the usual driver issues in recognizing the array once the operating system (Windows Server 2003) was up and running.  The Windows-based administration tool (actually, a small web server – I hate that) is VERY wimpy – Adaptec and Silicon Image do a much nicer job.

Initially getting the data over to the array went slowly (I highly recommend that you put all the performance settings at their most aggressive setting – you sacrifice some security, but it’s the only way to get reasonable speed out of the array, at least for RAID 5).  Using Robocopy (a must have free tool from Microsoft for copying and syncing data in Windows), I was able to get most of my data over to the newly installed array fairly easily.  Then I added another disk to the array . . .

The 3Ware utility saw it pretty easily (although it took almost 5 days to get the newly extended array initialized), but Windows never saw the additional space.  After going back and forth with 3Ware support (a slow process in and of itself), they decided it was a Windows problem and stopped replying to my support requests.  So, after trying a set of other stuff, I decided to boot the server with Linux.  I was hopeful, but Linux couldn’t see the extended array either.  I even tried the Gparted Live CD, a very slick open source project that boots your machine with Linux and runs parted – the Linux-based partitioning utility in the Gnome GUI.  It also failed to see the newly added drive.

In the end, I had to copy all the data off the array (it’s hard to find places to back up 1TB of data) and recreated the 3TB array from scratch.  That worked fine, of course.  The bottom line is that 3Ware’s OCE just doesn’t work in a way that you can ultimately use the additional space.  Since this was the main reason I chose this RAID card, I’m obviously a bit pissed off about it.

As with most projects like this, I learned loads and wasted a ton of time.  As usual, a lot of the time I wasted was a result of me being either stupid or uninformed.  Since I can’t change the former, I need to work on the latter.  Hopefully, posts like this will help you become a bit more informed about such problems before you get knee deep into issues like I did.  But, I’m up and running now.  My server has two new processors, loads more memory and a boatload of disk space.  Ahh . . .

 March 3rd, 2007  
 Will  
 Computers  
   
 2 Comments
06
Feb

Guardian Unlimited: I Hate Macs

Yesterday’s Guardian Unlimited had a very funny article by Charlie Brooker titled, “I Hate Macs.”  In the article, Mr. Brooker pokes fun at the latest ad campaign by Apple in which two actors portray the human incarnations of a PC and Mac.  From the article:

“I hate Macs. I have always hated Macs. I hate people who use Macs. I even hate people who don’t use Macs but sometimes wish they did. Macs are glorified Fisher-Price activity centres for adults; computers for scaredy cats too nervous to learn how proper computers work; computers for people who earnestly believe in feng shui.”

Perhaps a bit strong, but you know where the author stands.  On a more factual note, the article continues:

Aside from crowing about sartorial differences, the adverts also make a big deal about PCs being associated with “work stuff” (Boo! Offices! Boo!), as opposed to Macs, which are apparently better at “fun stuff”. How insecure is that? And how inaccurate? Better at “fun stuff”, my arse. The only way to have fun with a Mac is to poke its insufferable owner in the eye. For proof, stroll into any decent games shop and cast your eye over the exhaustive range of cutting-edge computer games available exclusively for the PC, then compare that with the sort of rubbish you get on the Mac. Myst, the most pompous and boring videogame of all time, a plodding, dismal “adventure” in which you wandered around solving tedious puzzles in a rubbish magic kingdom apparently modelled on pretentious album covers, originated on the Mac in 1993. That same year, the first shoot-’em-up game, Doom, was released on the PC. This tells you all you will ever need to know about the Mac’s relationship with “fun”.”

Terrific stuff.  Definitely worth the read.

Thanks, Newsgator.

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 February 6th, 2007  
 Will  
 Computers, Misc Thoughts  
   
 4 Comments
03
Feb

Caught in a Geek’s Gravitational Field

I haven’t been posting much lately.  Once in a while, I find that I get interested in fooling with all the technology around me and, having done so, have to scramble to fix everything I’ve broken.  Of course, the more I scramble, the more stuff breaks, creating a technology focus gravitational field that nothing escapes from.  Blogging, being fairly high on Maslow’s Pyramid  is one of the first activities that gets punted when I’m in such a state.  When I demonstrate this level of obsessive-compulsiveness, even nourishment is dangerously close to being omitted from the schedule.

So, I’ve been in this black hole for about three weeks now.  I’ve taken on several projects and have used the wrong Bower Factor to calculate the length of time they’d take to complete.  Meaning that I’ve been off by at least single-digit multiples of time.  For what it’s worth, here’s what I’ve been up to . . .

  1. Server rebuild (while minimizing downtime)
    • Upgrade memory (1GB to 4GB) – Easy
    • Replace single processor with 2 more powerful processors – Harder than I expected (Intel no longer makes processors for the sockets on my motherboard)
    • Convert current 1TB RAID 5 array to 3TB array (4 750GB drives) – WAY harder than I expected (needed new RAID controller and data needed to make an intermediate stop between the two arrays)
  2. Build new screamingly fast, utlra-quiet desktop machine from scratch
    • New everything – soup-to-nuts – Not too bad, machine didn’t want to boot for a while
    • Move to Vista – Relatively painless, I’ve been using it for months
  3. Install new router based on after-market firmware (very cool)
    • Installed DD-WRT on cheapy Linksys Router (WRT54GL) – Easy, other than worrying that I’d turn my router into a brick by screwing something up in the middle of the firmware upgrade
    • Configuring the router to do what I wanted it to do – Moderately difficult since the doc stinks and there are a zillion options.  My router can jump thorough hoops now, though.
  4. Install and compare Microsoft Virtual Server and VMWare Server – Hard, neither did what I expected when I expected it.  Both were also way slower than I would have expected considering the hardware they were running on (see server upgrade, above)
  5. Install LAMP and WordPress onto each virtual servers
    • Install openSUSE on both virtual machines – WAY harder than I expected.  I don’t know if it’s a SUSE thing, but there were interaction issues with both virtual servers.  And the Linux extensions from both companies refused to work with SUSE, although the documentation said that the operating system was supported.
    • AMP installation on both SUSE implementations was a nightmare – is there a Linux law against application GUIs?  phpMyAdmin, allegedly used to poke into MySQL databases is so arcane, it’s hard to believe that someone doesn’t sit down and just write a reasonable user interface.
    • Install WordPress – Pretty easy.  It’s amazing the amount of functionality that is driven by a relatively small number of PHP modules.  Very elegant.
  6. Install PHP, MySQL and WordPress under Windows (yes, because the Linux installs were killing me)
    • Attempt to get both Apache and IIS running on a Windows 2003 machine – Getting them to run side-by-side isn’t the hard problem, getting them to both run on port 80 with only one WAN address to get to them is.  I couldn’t give up IIS, so Apache got kicked out.
    • Once I found reasonable directions to install WIMP (Windows, IIS, MySQL, PHP) – Relatively easy.  It’s clear no one thought that a whack-job like me would attempt to use IIS instead of Apache so there aren’t a lot of instructions to do so.
    • WordPress still isn’t running correctly and it’s taking me a long time to figure out why not – I think it’s a MySQL protection thing.  At least there’s a really nice GUI for MySQL on Windows . . .

Stuff from this geekfest still pending . . .

  1. The new RAID array on the server is still rebuilding after adding the fourth drive to it.  3Ware’s migration feature is so slow – it’s been running for 4 days now and is only 60% done.  Hope I don’t have a drive failure before then.
  2. Get WordPress completely working on Windows . . . I fear that this is a hierarchical black hole; one within the one I’m already in.
  3. Migrate my blog from the current Community Server server to the new WordPress server.  I basically have no idea how I’m going to do the mapping to make all the permalinks continue to work.  Luckily, so few people link to my blog that it probably doesn’t matter.
  4. More sound-deadening for the new desktop.  Not quite quiet enough yet.

Certainly, a lot of the time I’ve spent on this stuff so far has been wasted because I’m such a noob in several of the areas.  Learning is a blast, though, and the inefficiency of self-education doesn’t bother me too much.  Next time that I do this stuff (which will likely never happen), I’ll be much better at it.  😉

I’ll probably write about a few of these projects, or at least, aspects of them in the future.  If you’d like more detail on something, just send me a note.

 February 3rd, 2007  
 Will  
 Computers, Software  
   
 17 Comments
16
Aug

Yeah, That’s What I Was Thinking

 
Thanks to Worth1000.  This is just one of many edited advertisements on Worth1000’s web site.  Check ’em out.  A total hoot.

 August 16th, 2006  
 Will  
 Computers  
   
 Comments Off on Yeah, That’s What I Was Thinking
07
Apr

Cracking the Intel Mac Mini

Well, my new 1.67GHz Core Duo Mac Mini arrived at my home
yesterday.  After making sure it booted
right out of the box (it did), today was time to take it apart, take a look at
its innards and upgrade the puny amount of memory that comes stock with the
machine.  If you’re a PC hack like me,
you’re used to doing just about everything you need with a Phillips P1 or P2
screwdriver.  You’re going to need a lot
more to open this baby up, including putty knives – no kidding.

Courtesy of MacWorld

I’m not going to go into it here, but Other World Computing has an excellent
video on cracking the case and taking the unit apart.  Here are a few extra pointers, though, from
experience I gained today:

  • When
    opening the case, it’s much easier to use two putty knives rather than a
    credit card or business card. 
    You’ll see what I mean.
  • Pay
    special attention to the small wire at the front of the unit that connects
    the mezzanine board with the motherboard. 
    Just to the left of B, above.
  • Pay
    even more attention to the wire connected to the AirPort antenna.  A in the picture above.  If you don’t do as the video instructs
    (and I did not), you’ll pull out the wire that connects the antenna with
    the motherboard below.  The
    connection point is so small, you’ll have to search for a while to find
    where it is to reconnect it. 
    That’s, of course, if you don’t damage the wire or the connector.
  • One of
    the screws holding the mezzanine board to the case is slightly longer than the others.  Remember where it came from when you
    take the box apart.
     

Once you get the mezzanine card (includes the hard disk and
the DVD/CD plus some circuitry) off, you’ll need small fingers or long
fingernails to release the memory.

After reassembling the guts of the Mini, but before putting
the screws in a case back together, I decided to boot it up to see if I
destroyed anything.  As Murphy would have
it, the machine appeared to boot, but I had no video.  After swapping the memory back out and examining
every wire in the box, I realized that the motherboard had moved forward in the
case about a millimeter and the DVI connector was not completely tight.  Once I remedied this, everything booted
fine.  I put the box back together
without any issues. 

For those of you changing memory, you should know that
although the Mini uses DDR2 memory, you do not have to use two matched sticks
of memory in the box.  You can use one,
leaving one bank open.  You don’t take
advantage of the dual channels, of course, but it works just fine.

With several screwups and being the first time I’ve ever
cracked open a Mini, it took me about 45 minutes to get the job done.  If you have the right tools, the Bower Factor
of this project is
between 2 and 3.  If you don’t have the
right tools, it may go as high as 10.

 April 7th, 2006  
 Will  
 Computers  
   
 4 Comments
29
Mar

A Quiet PC Project

First off, let me say that I’m not a gamer. I don’t run an SLI or Crossfire setup (where multiple high-performance graphics cards work closely with the motherboard to create a better and faster image). I do build systems, however, that are the next step down from gamers’ rigs using high performance processors, matched memories (and loads of it), two disk drives in a RAID 0 configuration, and so forth. While my computers don’t run as hot as gamers’ rigs, they do run hotter than the run-of-the-mill setup. This means that there are more fans moving air in and out of the case to keep the system cool. Add this noise to the two disk drives in the
box, and you can have more noise than is comfortable in a quiet office environment.

The patient in this surgery was already constructed with an Antec Sonata II case; among the quietest cases around. Disk drives are mounted with rubber grommets and the one system fan in the rear of case is 12cm in diameter and also mounted with rubber connectors. The rubber keeps vibration from the drives and fans from being transferred to the case. The larger fan – most fans are 8cm in diameter – means that it can spin more slowly while moving more air through the case. The original setup used a stock Intel CPU cooler; an ATI Radeon video card with a small, extremely annoying, high frequency fan; two Hitachi Deskstar 160GB SATA drives; and an Antec 350W power supply.

The CPU cooler was replaced with a Zalman CNPS7700-Cu. This is a
large fan surrounded by huge copper fins to help dissipate heat from the processor. The graphics card was
replaced by a new, but last generation ATI Radeon card (no gaming required) that has a huge heatsink wrapped around it and, therefore, doesn’t need a fan. The disk drives were replaced with two Samsung Spinpoint drives that are not only cooler and quieter, but faster as
well.  The main system fan was replaced
with a SilenX Ixtrema 12cm quiet fan. 
And finally, the power supply was replaced with a SilenX 350W Ixtrema
Pro Series power supply.  To round out
the changes, all interior surfaces of the case not covered with electronics
were covered with Dynamat sound deadening material. 

The new power supply had the
single biggest impact.  The SilenX power
supply is whisper quiet.  It’s pretty
unreal.  The new CPU cooler did loads as
well.  The whiney little fan in the stock
cooler spins fast and makes loads-o-noise. 
The replacement cooler is much quieter. 
Getting rid of the high-pitched scream of the graphics card fan made a
big impact.  Perhaps more because of the
change in frequency of the noise from the machine than from its absolute drop
in volume.  The change in drives was an
interesting exercise, with small results, though.  The change in the system fan did nothing – a reasonable
12cm fan is spinning slowly enough that it’s hard to improve on the sound characteristics
of it. 

So, what’s the bottom
line?  An average dead-silent home is
usually about 40db.  60db is a normal
conversation.  The original PC ran at
about 56db.  My sound pressure level
meter doesn’t measure anything below 50db and the new, quiet pc doesn’t even
register at that level in normal running. 
While booting, where the drives are being hit a lot, the meter reads
about 52db, although I can only get this reading by placing the meter within
inches of the machine.  From .5 meters
away, again there is no reading.  Subjectively,
I work in a home office that is very quiet. 
The PC is almost imperceptible now.

 March 29th, 2006  
 Will  
 Computers  
   
 Comments Off on A Quiet PC Project