Computers, Events, Family, Hardware, Personal, Software, Windows


Life has been busy lately. I have stopped teaching in our Continuing Education program, and focused my time on completing my degree starting this summer.

I am currently taking two classes that are 100% online. It has been an adjustment for me for a few reasons. First, being a student again is hard. There is a lot of shit to shovel. Second, I am seeing our new systems operate like the Portal, WebCT, etc from the outside. I have to resist the temptation of “troubleshooting” mode, where I explore ways to make the process better and just focus on the classes. Third, I never got real familiar with WebCT, and pacing myself and doing everything electronically is surprising harder than it sounds. I am having fun though, and that is what counts.

We are almost done setting up our new office. The desks are in place (including the cabinet doors, which we had to hunt down). Kristin’s new desktop is here and being loaded as I write this post. We are still picking out some more lighting, storage, etc to make the room a perfect office. I am even eyeballing one of those portable AC units to keep the temperature a little more comfortable. Pictures soon!


At work, we are on the edge of having resolved a lot of our Portal issues. In addition to performance and reliability improvements, there will be other subtle enhancements that I am anxious to look into further. These include a Facebook channel, mobile Targeted Announcements, a rich text editor, a better Email SSO experience, and resolution to some terrible technical problems that are unfixable right now. Who knows if these updates are of substance, or are just marketing bullets on a sales pitch. We are fully operational in our testing environment, so the switch should be happening within the next week, assuming testing goes well.

In other news, our garage sale has made us almost $300 so far, and the space we got back in our quaint house is quite impressive.

Windows 7 RC here I come…

Computers, Hardware

The new computer is here – I am somebody now!

Actually, like all things in marriage, the new machine belongs to my wife. Her old machine gave up the ghost. Specs:

  • ASUS M4A78 mobo
  • AMD Athlon 64 X2 5600
  • Hitachi 500 GB SATA 3 HDD
  • Corsair 2G x2 DDR2 XMS2 PC800 RAM

I am so excited – I miss building computers! I think this is why I can’t get into Apple.

Hardware, Open-source, Software, Thoughts

Google Android: Explosive Potential

Android LogoThe most overused phrase on the Internet right now is “iPhone-killer”. I think that iPhone doesn’t have any serious contenders right now, but I do see one on the horizon.

Enter Google’s Android platform. What is it? From Google’s website: “Android delivers a complete set of software for mobile devices: an operating system, middleware and key mobile applications.” The T-Mobile exclusive G1phone is a great show of this platform’s potential. A phone or notebook manufacturer can use Android and tie into any of the features the platform provides.

Its a bit early in the game for Android though, and a lot of the growth that I expected to see at launch didn’t happen. I am starting to get excited again, thanks to some articles from the last few weeks.

T-Mobile recently announced that they have sold 1 million G1 phones in just 6 months after its release in October 2008.  For comparison, Android holds 6% of the smartphone market, with Windows Mobile holding 11%, Blackberry holding 22%, and iPhone holding 50%. Since the G1 is the only Android phone available right at the time of writing, and the G1 is a T-Mobile exclusive, its potential is limited by the size of T-Moble’s customer base.

Several things need to happen to make the growth of this platform explode. First, Android needs to be available to customers on regardless of carrier. Second, more Android devices need to enter the market. For comparison again, Out of the platforms listed above, Microsoft is the only other vendor that is both carrier-agnostic, and device-agnostic.

So, who else is coming to the Android platform? Samsung has announced 3 new Android phones this year, HTC a second. Motorola recently annouced that it is moving to Android Dell, HP and ASUS are reportedly working on Android-based netbooks. Acer announced an Android netbook, as well as others. If these vendors start shipping Android devices, then my second speculated requirement will be filled too, with Verizon, AT&T customers being able to purchase Android devices.

Now for that last pesky detail – everyone is developing for iPhone right? I am happy to say that the Android Market is alive and healthy. Many new apps come in every day, and a lot of the apps available on iPhone have versions availabe on the G1 from the same developer. So in a way, the success of the App Store on iPhone will contribute to the success of the Android Market. As the Android install base grows in size, so will its developer base.

For now, it is a waiting game. I think I will look into the SDK for Android and find out just how hard it would be to make some apps. If I can get a cool idea, and a polished product for a .99 cent price tag then maybe I could make some mad money!

Computers, Events, Hardware, Linux, Personal, Software, Windows

Back from Catastrophe

What a horrid last few days. Around lunch yesterday I restarted my Windows box at work, and I was greeted with unpleasantness. At the login screen, I got an error informing me that some instruction in memory has performed an illegal operation. After clicking on that, I got the infamous “NT Authority” says you have 60 more seconds with Windows error.

On rebooting the machine, I was notified that “C:WindowsSystem32hal.dll” is missing. I called shins, but sure enough, my entire Windows directory appeared to be empty. On closer inspection, Ubuntu informed me that it wasn’t empty, but instead, it was receiving an Input/Output error when trying to “ls” the contents. I ran a “chkdsk /r” wholly expecting that NTFS has fucked it all up again, and I seem to have been correct – at least in part.

After the chkdsk, I advanced two seconds further than my last attempt to boot Windows, only to be greeted with some cryptic error informing me that my registry looks about like that train over there. Repairing was not an option, so after much fingernail biting, and a few choice words, I decided that my only remaining option was a reinstallation.

Let me take a moment here to talk about the Windows reload process. My problem isn’t that I think its crappy and that I think someone should do something about it. I actually know that its crappy compared to any other Operating System’s standards. I can’t tell you how many damn “Next” buttons I had to click. And then how many preferences I had to change. This would have been much easier if I could have used something like Synaptic to check all the programs I wanted to install in one swoop. Additionally, on a *NIX platform, all of my application preferences would have been saved under my home folder. Windows is a tard in that department so it took me about five hours to get it back to usable.

After that got resolved I fired up my Virtual Machine containing my webserver (cheap hosting solution I know) and found that the MySQL database wouldn’t start. It ended up that the filesystem on my Linux box was corrupted as well. I ran “fsck” and fixed a dozen or so errors, rebooted, and realized that one of the files that was corrupted happened to be the MySQL user’s table. Long story short, I learned alot about troubleshooting MySQL, and got everything restored without losing any data.

Now I am finding other files all over the place that are 0 bytes in size. I have backups, but since the original file still exists when the backup is made, the backup is successfully overwritten with the new (0 kb) file.

John (and I partly) suspect VMWare may be the culprit. This is an incomplete theory however, and the entire process has left me visibly shaken. We run financial systems on these things. We run nuclear power plants with these things. My net worth is just a number sitting on some hard drive in a basement Wachovia owns somewhere. What happens when that dissappears?

Computers, Hardware, Linux, Open-source, Software, Web, Windows

Its Almost Here has just reviewed a pre-production unit of the Dell Inspiron Mini 9. It seems pretty impressive, with the following specs:

  • $349 base pricetag
  • 1.6-GHz Intel Atom processor
  • Tailored version of Ubuntu (or Windows XP)
  • 9.1 x 6.8 x 1.3 inches
  • 2.3 lbs
  • 8.9 inch 1024 x 600-pixel resolution
  • 1.3-megapixel webcam
  • 3 USB 2.0 slots, , VGA out, Ethernet, headphone and a microphone jacks, 4-in-1 memory card reader
  • Bluetooth and wireless G (with Mobile broadband)
  • 4GB solid state drive (also available with a larger 8GB and 16GB SSD)
  • 3 1/2 hour battery

Looks pretty tasty…

Computers, Hardware, Linux, Open-source, Software, Windows

Get in the Zone

Solaris offers something that actually impressed me this week. The concept of a “zone” (or “container” they are having a branding issue) is a twist on the traditional virtual machine analogy. Lets take everyones favorite operating system Windows as an example to illustrate the differences between a “virtual machine” and a “zone”.

In a traditional virtual machine, the entire environment is replicated. So for Windows, this would be “C:” partition.  This would include the “Program Files”, and “Windows” directories, etc. Because everything is self contained, it is a fully functional copy of a Windows installation.  However, what if you have 5 virtual machines, or 500? Well, then you are looking at significant waste (beyond the fact that my example uses Windows). For the most part, the “Windows” directory isn’t going to change too much. Its just the core operating system files needed for operations. Its not really customized for each installation. So if its the same, why replicate it?

Solaris zones tackle just that – the “Windows” directory would be hosted and shared from the root zone. Basically, the container is just the user’s files (with a few exceptions). Whats more is applying updates propogate into the Solaris Zones (which can be good or bad) so all of the systems are up to date with minimal patching effort.

Of course, this example could never work with the Windows operating system because of technical, and political limitations, but for real operating systems, this is a cool concept – especially in the server arena. I read somewhere that the impact of running a Solaris zone is less than 1% of your system resources. The maximum number of zones per host is theoretically somewhere around 8,000 – actually results will be dependent on avaialble processing power, memory, and hard drive storage space.

So kudos Sun, for finally getting something right. Now lets talk about shipping Solaris with “dpkg” instead of “pkg-get”…

Computers, Hardware, Linux, Open-source, Personal, Software, Thoughts, Windows

Ubuntu – How I Have Missed You…

Since I started working in Administrative Systems, I have been tasked with supporting a myriad of Windows-only applications. I assumed that it would be close to impossible to try and continue running any form of Linux on my work machines – especially with my boss popping in my office and telling me to pull up application X at any given second.

However, now I am tasked to work with Solaris about 90% of my day and I have to say that despite how great Putty can be – it just isn’t the best solution. Nothing beats a native terminal connection. Especially given that Windows doesn’t know jack about any filesystems other than its own. This makes editing files on the Solaris machine difficult and slow.

Slowly Linux started creeping back into my mind, and it made me homesick everytime I would go visit Scott and Chris over in VS (Well that problem took care of itself…). I have had much time to ponder how feasible a switchover would be (and what I would need to take care of as prerequisites) and I came up with a list of issues I would have to resolve first:

  1. Where can I place files that would be common to both Windows and Linux?
  2. How could I synchronize my email clients, and web browsers (history, bookmarks, passwords)?
  3. How can I access Windows applications if there is no other alternative?

These issues required some research on my part, but I finally found the following solutions:

  • ntfs-3g:  This particular piece of software is the read/write driver for NTFS partitions for Mac/Linux.  am counting on this to read/write data on the NTFS partition. It has matured so much recently that the latest version of Ubuntu can be installed inside the Windows NTFS partition. Condition #1 satistied – the files can stay where they are.
  • Mozilla Thunderbird / Mozilla Firefox: The Mozilla corporation did something so clever I have to applaud them (*clap clap clap*) – they made all application data, as well as settings reside in a profile folder. On Windows, Firefox is located at “C:Documents and Settings<user>Application DataMozillaFirefoxProfiles<profile instance>”. In Linux, this is located at “/home/<user>/.mozilla/firefox/profiles/<profile instance>”. Mozilla Thunderbird is essentially the same. The applause is becase the settings are the same on any OS! I placed the folders on the Linux partition by symlinking them to the Windows partition. Condition #2 satisfied – Email and Web browsers are always in sync because it is the same instance.
  • VMWare Server: No surprises here – this kind of software is a dime a dozen today. However VMWare offers a feature where with a bit of configuration the Operating System you can run can be the physical partition of your existing Windows partition. Pretty slick – that is after Windows throws a bitch fit that its configuration has been change and you absolutely positively must activate it again. The solution for that is to create a seperate hardware profile for Windows (a configuration that Windows made mandatory because of its bitch fits). Condition #3 satisfied – if I need Windows I can just flip over to Workspace 4 (I named it hell) and Windows is waiting for my input.