An odd set of circumstances found me prising open a
DEC MicroVax with a claw hammer, this afternoon, and I'm not
particularly proud of myself for it...
My employer absorbed one of our competitors back in the
autumn, and now that their data has been seamlessly integrated with ours
(Hah! In a pig's ear, it has!) the surplus IT hardware has been arriving.
The first batch, at the end of last year, was an identical pair of rather
nice clone Wintel servers, which immediately found a good home under my
desk and have been hosting my network management tools very nicely.
Various other consignments have arrived since then, in the form of clone
desktop PCs and strange little hardware gadgets most of which have
mysteriously vanished within a day or two - but the final batch that
arrived this week didn't attract nearly so many acquisitive eyes.
The first sign was the arrival of trolleys bearing
something I haven't seen in a decade or more -The Great Grey Wall, an
entire set of archaic DEC VMS manuals that completely covered my
holidaying department manager's desk. They were soon followed by a set of
three late-model MicroVaxen and the full range of terminal concentrators,
VDUs, printers, external disk cabinets, cables, software, backup media and
- well, in fact, it was the entire customer-facing computer facility
packed into crates and delivered to my doorstep!
This filled the rest of the manager's office to
bursting, of course, which was a cause of some concern because said
manager, a notably irascible type, is due back in the office tomorrow... A
quick poke around this morning suggested that there were at least some
components that could be recycled into either my home or office networks
rather well, but in fairness I decided to give my opposite number in our
Finance arm's IT department first look - they run DEC Alphas, which share
a lot of the same peripherals. In the end he didn't take much of any
interest (I'm sorry? You actually want 10Mbit Ethernet hubs?), but
unfortunately his eye was caught by the
most recent of the MicroVaxen, a neat little one foot cube that I'd
kinda fancied bringing home to play with. Ah, it's probably just as
well... Most people seem to think that I have enough obsolete hardware in
the basement as it is.
Anyway, I was picking through the heaps salvaging SCSI
drive packs and odd cables and fans when my manager stuck his head in to
collect all the backup tapes to be destroyed. In my innocence, I pointed
out that the remaining MicroVaxen probably had internal disk drives, and
that ideally they should be erased as well before the hardware was
dumped. He thought that this was a very good idea, and within moments had
left me to it - at which point I discovered that a) the extremely solid
steel casings were firmly locked and that b) the one thing that didn't
seem to have been shipped to us were the keys. Time was short, and what
with the fact that MicroVaxen have always been built to last, well, let's
just say that's where the claw hammer came in. It wasn't pretty...
temporary home has an
excellent rant, today, against media "experts" with far more ascribed
knowledge than they really possess. The author's experiences with these
bozos have evidently been frustrating and annoying in the extreme, and
this completely mirrors my own experiences of
False Authority Syndrome
within the IT industry.
It's well known among sysadmins that a suitably worded
email message (or even a badly-worded one, in many cases!) can inspire
users to do the most bizarre things, up to and including deleting their
entire PC and starting again from scratch. I've frequently seen messages
in online forums announcing that the poster still has the
deadly JDBGMGR virus
even after reformatting his hard disk and re-installing Windows twice
(and, often, that he or she is going to get that Linux thing instead,
because of it - good luck with that!), and even though I continue to
publicise the common hoaxes and myths on our corporate intranet, every few
weeks one of my users comes to me with a self-diagnosed case of
some-such, based on an email from his brother's friend's accountant or
something he over-heard in a pub. It's usually just a regular attack of
Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt, fuelled by
over Love Letter and Nimda, but occasionally it's more personal,
castigating me for allowing this virulent code into the network in the
first place - "I thought you were supposed to be in charge of
keeping viruses out!" The former are patiently reassured and referred to
to Rob Rosenberger's definitive Virus Myths
site for an education, the latter get an entry in my sysadmin's little
black book and are referred instead to my department manager, who has even
less time for fools than I do...
One thing that puzzles me though, now that I come to
think of it, is that they are all so sure that they have a virus
even though there are no actual symptoms! If someone is convinced that
they have JDBGMGR, based on a warning that claims it will "destroy your
hard disk!", don't they think it a little odd that their disk remains
undestroyed? The users seem to think that they can pick-and-choose amongst
the various prophecies of doom that the emailed warning contains, too,
ignoring the particulars of trigger dates or software prerequisites, and
any problems that do actually exist are automatically blamed on the
hypothetical virus - problems reading a floppy disk? Can't log on to the
network? Printer out of toner? Hit by falling whale? It must be the
Oh, well, there's no accounting for how easily led the
average sheep is, whether in political and social issues or in IT - but I
sometimes wish that I was more of the wolf and less of the shepherd...
Elsewhere, "cannabis may become the aspirin of the 21st
century", according to an article in yesterday's Independent - the online
version is in their subscription-only section but, naughtily, it's also
According to a study at the Institute of Neurology in London, the article
says, use of cannabis helps to protect against Alzheimer's, Parkinson's,
Huntingdon's and motor neurone disease, as well as generally
improving the brain's resistance to the more usual signs of aging. It
appears that the active ingredient, tetra-hydra-cannabinol or THC, is
effectively similar to the naturally-occurring fatty acid anandamide,
believed to maintain the chemical balance regulating the rate at which
neurons fire. The brain's receptors for anandamide are also triggered by
the chemically similar THC molecule, hence the traditional changes in the
perceived passage of time, and it is thought that artificially regulating
this system could slow or prevent the process of brain tissue decay.
Oh, and apropos of nothing - did you know that Che
Guevara drove a Chevy V8? Apparently so.
The technology in use on Ros's Grand Tour is taking a
surprising turn, with bizarre mail problems (probably a combination of
authentication issues) over regular dialup connections but absolutely
flawless voice and data through the satphone! So far, the bulk of her
communication has been from a
car roaring through various parts of the Grand Canyon National Park,
and I'm both surprised and delighted at how well it's working. Oh, yes,
and in a bizarre twist of fate, it turns out that the friend who is
accompanying her on the current Arizona/Nevada leg of the tour actually
designed the EDAC parity checking chips that an Iridium phone uses for
error correction! It really is a small world - but, as I've said before, I
still wouldn't want to wire it with CAT5.
The results my recent trawl through the second-hand
airsoft markets have started to arrive, and I spent a few hours yesterday
evening swapping the short M4 pattern fore-end on my
assault rifle for a longer one
styled after the SR-15 M5.
It was extremely fiddly to fit, and in the end I had to make a set of
little paper gaskets to precisely adjust the fit between the barrel and
receiver - the various M16-based replicas all differ slightly in their
dimensions, and if the spacing isn't just so when the rail assembly
is screwed on it ends up twisted to one side or the other when tight.
All the fiddling was worthwhile, though, as I'm really
pleased with the end result - it's lengthened the gun by about eight
inches and completely changed the lines and feel of the replica.
With the drum magazine fitted, it makes a really elegant light support
weapon, and has the air of something straight out of an Arnold
Schwarzenegger movie. Neat - but as you can see, I'm back on the old
camera while Ros is away and the picture doesn't do it justice.
However, the new fore-end is at least double the weight
of the old M4 design, and I'm starting to worry about the stress and
strain on the plastic receiver, one of the few remaining sections of the
off-the-shelf replica... I've been deterred from the idea of a full-metal
conversion, as it involves removing and refitting a whole bunch of small,
fiddly, but precisely aligned components into the new shell, and the idea
of performing this procedure at the mercy of the entertaining but mostly
useless Japanese instruction sheets is rather daunting. I'm no stranger to
balancing tiny parts on huge, powerful springs, though, and it looks
as if I'll have to take the plunge at some point. Watch this space...
Elsewhere - here's a cunning thing, the
iGo Juice. It's
the closest thing I've seen so far to a universal charger/power supply for
portable devices, and with a promise of any subsequent socket adaptor you
need sent free, it's probably worth a second look.
Well, that was not a pleasant few days! Mid-way
through Thursday our comms guy phoned up from the computer room to say
that there was an ear-splitting alarm sounding. I didn't need to read the
email warnings that immediately followed his alert, as there's only one
warning buzzer that loud (I could hear it over the phone!), unfortunately
belonging to the disk array on the server holding 90% of the network's
home directories, departmental shares, front-line applications etc.
I wasn't particularly worried on the way down in the
lift, however, as the array is fully redundant all the way from the mains
supply to the server itself, and no single failure was going to cause
significant problems. However, a quick examination of the front of the
cabinet showed that two drives appeared to have gone dead together, and
the budget has never been available to permit sufficient redundancy to
cope with multiple simultaneous failures.
An increasingly urgent series of calls to our supplier
eventually resulted in the promise of a pair of replacement drives and a
phone number direct to the manufacturer's tech support in the US.
Thankfully, I got through to an extremely competent techy, who calmly and
competently talked me through telnetting into the array controllers and
accessing the firmware of the disk drives to query their exact status
before announcing that one of them wasn't really dead! That was somewhat
of a revelation to me, as I've never heard of anything like it before, but
he talked me through some highly obscure shell commands and, sure enough,
the drive spun up and the ready light came on. He glossed over my question
about why this drive should apparently have staged a sympathy strike for
the genuine failure, but by that stage I was sufficiently relieved not to
press further - with only one drive missing I could bring the array
back online and start checking for file system errors. All appeared to be
Ok, and although we weren't quite at the end of our regular office hours I
was still feeling dubious about the second drive and elected not to bring
the server fully online for the users - the replacements were on the way,
after all, and having been offline all afternoon another hour wouldn't
make much difference.
I waited in vain until seven o'clock before finally
giving up, and learned this morning that, thanks to the courier company,
they were finally delivered sometime after eight - not our supplier's
fault, really, but they missed their four hour service level agreement by
four hours and I do want someone to be scolded for it... However, I
collected the drives from the gatehouse this morning, slotted them into
the array and jacked the resynchronisation rate up to maximum - the users
were starting to arrive and log in, but the array subsystem is really
grunty and there was no appreciable performance overhead. The resynch
finished a couple of hours later and we were all back in business again.
Of course, after a shock like that additional funds
were suddenly made available, and I already have a hot-spare sat at the
far end of the cabinet purring quietly to itself and ready to take over at
any signs of failure, and the promise of another to come. That will
certainly help, of course, but talk about locking stable doors! I contend
with too much of that, I feel, but on the other hand this particular
incident did bring a rather unprecedented result: my network
usually runs very nicely, and although my users gripe as much as ever, in
reality they're quite spoiled... they're not used to such a serious
outage, and to have everything but email, web and mainframe access
suddenly jerked away from them evidently started some of them thinking.
Two of them, in fact, offered the opinion that I actually had heavier
responsibilities in my position than almost anyone else in the company!
It's something that's been in my mind recently, too, and hearing it
confirmed (without prompting!) by an accountant and an engineer,
traditional enemies of the IT department, was really rather reassuring.
I heard a while ago that the CDDB, that wonderful
online database of CD track titles used by many audio players, had been
bought by Gracenote and would
probably become a licensed service, but apart from frowning at the idea of
further media consolidation it didn't really sink in... Evidently this has
happened at some point since I last played a new CD, as today my venerable
but much beloved CD Valet
player greeted me only with "invalid response returned from server". It
turns out that Gracenote have reformatted the database, changed the access
protocol, and installed some kind of key-exchange system with licensed
players to protect their investment.
However, as I hoped and suspected, the original
database is still very much alive in the form of
freedb.org. They use the
protocols, ports and syntax as the original cddb.com service, and all
that old software needs is the names of the
new servers. Unfortunately, in the case of CD Valet, that meant a trip
to the registry armed with a hexadecimal calculator, but thanks to the
clearly named keys a minimum of head-scratching ensued before the player
was once again displaying track titles.
The CD, by the way, was a recording of
Laurie Anderson playing at
Town Hall, New York City, a few days after September 11th. The timing
adds an extra poignancy to some of the songs, especially as she broke old
habits by playing a number of her older works along with the new ones...
For me, singing lines from "O Superman"
like "Here come the planes. They're American planes. Made in America"
felt like I had written it yesterday. In fact, I wrote that song in 1980
during the Iran-Contra affair, which now seemed like part of a longer
conflict that continues to rage between the worlds of Islam and the
West. It wasn't that the songs were "prophetic", as several
reviewers pointed out. It was simply that this war was still going on.
Loss, betrayal, death, technology, anger and angels, these have often
been the things I have written about. At Town Hall in New York I was
singing for once about the absolute present.
It's still going on, and it's getting worse...
What was it Marshall McLuhan said about marching backwards into the
<rubs hands> Right, enough of being soppy, back to geek
First, though, a complaint - there seems to be a new
rule at Heathrow airport limiting any individual item of luggage to a
meagre 32Kg, apparently so that the poor baggage handlers don't strain
themselves. Well, I think that's pretty pathetic, actually - I regularly
hump fileservers and disk arrays weighing far more than that in and
out of their cabinets, and I'm certainly no Charles Atlas! Lifting heavy
things is the job of a baggage handler, after all, and as they're
supposed to have both the training and the appropriate equipment for that
job I think they damn well ought to shut up and get on with it. I'd get
pretty short shrift from my management, I'm sure, if I suddenly decided
not to work on computer systems that were "too complex"...
Ros is in mid-Atlantic now, heading for
Phoenix Arizona, so I came home
to an almost empty house for the first day of ten long weeks... Not
completely empty, though, as she evidently left her love behind to
keep me company while she's away - there are seventy sealed
envelopes containing (I assume!) sweet little notes, one to open every day
that she's away, and ten little gifts, one for every case of
Monday morning blues...
What a woman! Damn, but I love her so very much... <sniffle>
After some tense negotiation in email, I've finally
snagged the classic airsoft replica I've been lusting after! It's a
Browning Mk III made in the mid-90s by the original masters of gas
blowback airsoft, Japanese firm JAC. The
current owner has fitted an aluminium slide, Hogue combat grips, and a
black hammer, safety catch etc to provide contrast with the chrome effect.
It's tuned for heavyweight .36g BBs, and is likely to be quite a beastie.
Together with the Remington M870, still in transit from Hong Kong, this
will bring the collection to seven - only a few
weeks after I announced that five was definitely enough!
There is a passage from
novelFear And Loathing In Las Vegas that I've always found
very moving, and as Ros will be in Las Vegas in a few day's time it
has been echoing in my mind... This is an edited version of the speech,
the movie and the
audio production, and without the digressions of the original it feels
even more powerful... Harry Dean Stanton's world-weary voice and the muted
background music will usually bring a tear to my eye, at the thought of
the generation I missed...
San Francisco in the middle sixties was a very
special time and place to be a part of. Maybe it meant something. Maybe
not, in the long run, but no explanation, no mix of words or music or
memories can touch that sense of knowing that you were there and alive
in that corner of time and the world. Whatever it meant. There was
madness in any direction, at any hour. If not across the Bay, then up
the Golden Gate or down 101 to Los Altos or La Honda. You could strike
sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we
were doing was right, that we were winning.
And that, I think, was the handle - that sense of inevitable victory
over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we
didn't need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in
fighting - on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were
riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave. So now, less than five
years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West,
and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark -
the place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.
- Hunter S. Thompson
And talking of Thompson, the
home page of musician Warren
Zevon, sadly now terminally ill with cancer, currently shows a photo of
Zevon being attended to by his "personal physician" - Dr Gonzo himself.
Elsewhere, according to the
World News and Yahoo, the US Security and Exchange Commission has
arrested an unusually successful stock market dealer on suspicion of
insider trading - who claimed to be a time-traveller from the year 2256...
"We don't believe this guy's story," said a source within SEC. "But
the fact is, with an initial investment of only $800, in two weeks' time
he had a portfolio valued at over $350 million. Every trade he made
capitalized on unexpected business developments, which simply can't be
pure luck." Even more peculiar, the SEC spokesman revealed, is that "no
one can find any record of the man's existence before December 2002"...
Given the original of the story, I'm taking this one
with a metric ton of salt - but it's marvellous to see the plot of so many
classic SF stories recycled so shamelessly, whether by the WWW itself or
by the self-proclaimed time-traveller in an attempt to protect his
I stood up on a chair to take this photograph of Ros's
laptop stuff, took one look at it, and quite involuntarily exclaimed "You
have got to be kidding"... I hope that by the next time I have to
do this, the comms technology has converged and unified somewhat.
Elsewhere, in a determined attempt at comfort-shopping,
it's been a busy few days on the second-hand airsoft forums. So far I've
netted a G&G SR-15
conversion kit for the M4, a
Kobra reflex scope, and a spare fore-grip for the
M1100. The latter is especially
pleasing, as I can now heavily modify (Dremel frenzy!) one of them to fit
the heat-shield, with a backup if it all goes horribly wrong.
I'm also hoping to acquire a rather special pistol, a
custom Browning Mk III by one of the luminaries in Japanese airsoft,
offered for sale only with much regret because he's leaving the country
and disposing of his entire collection... It can be
seen featured here on his classic airsoft site (it's the one at the
top of the page) and with luck and a following wind will be seen again on
this page before too long.
For no readily apparent reason, today's Epicycle is
brought to you courtesy of the
Leningrad Cowboys, singing "Back In The USSR". It could have been
worse... Much worse.
The itinerary for Ros's grand tour is mostly finalised
now, so I've been updating the map. The
route is <takes deep breath> Phoenix, Las Vegas, Cedar City, Grand Canyon,
Scottsdale, San Bernadino, Wildomar, Los Angeles, Solvang, Big Sur,
Monterey, San Francisco, Bodie, Galveston, New Orleans, Atlanta,
Philadelphia, Amish Country, Philadelphia, Niagara Falls, Toronto,
Chicago, St Paul, Pepin, Walnut Grove, De Smet, Billings, Viola, Butte,
Moscow, Spokane, Vancouver, Hillsboro, Portland, Seattle and finally home
to London. Whew!
Elsewhere, the personality cult around the vanished
Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf
continues to build...
The first commercial offering
is a talking al-Sahaf doll, and I'm sure it won't end there. Presumably a
for one's PDA is already on the cards...
Ahhhh, a well-deserved long weekend. I'd be happier if
Ros wasn't jetting off to the US for ten weeks at the end of it, but there
There's still a bunch of work to do on the laptop (I've
yet to successfully complete a data call via the satphone, for example)
but 90% of it seems to have installed and tested Ok. As far as I can
test it, that is - I can pretend to be dialling a local POP in
Phoenix, Arizona, and routing through it to a UK ISP's mail server, but
that really isn't the same as actually being in Phoenix... I've been
working with comms since the beginning of the UK home computer boom in the
late seventies, and one thing all that experience has shown is that it
hardly ever works first time -
The Tao of Comms
Keep in mind the Four Noble Truths:
Comms is constant suffering.
This suffering is caused by craving. The lust for
reliable high-speed comms deflects the soul from Nirvana.
The cessation of suffering is not possible.
There is no fourth Noble Truth.
Some ask whether two comms systems can ever be
identical. The true sage knows that even one comms system can
never be identical.
If a comms problem seems too difficult to solve,
stop. Clear your mind and reflect a while in quiet meditation. You will
then realise that your original perception of difficulty was in fact a
All comms problems can be solved by the application
of one of the two great techniques:
Random trial and error
Methodical trial and error
Remember the Eightfold Path to connection:
Male, 9-way, DCE
Female, 9-way, DCE
Male, 25-way, DCE
Female, 25-way, DCE
Male, 9-way, DTE
Female, 9-way, DTE
Male, 25-way, DTE
Female, 25-way, DTE
We'll just have to see what happens, and hope that the
comms gremlins don't manage to disable every access method
simultaneously (and as we're geared for landline dialup and broadband, and
wireless over GSM cell or satellite, there's a good chance of one
channel working well enough for me to connect via VNC to fix the others)
but, knowing Ros's friends, in the event of a complete disaster at least
there's a good chance of competent local tech support.
Elsewhere, my low opinion of US talk show hosts has raised, somewhat,
after seeing these quotes:
"President Bush announced tonight that he believes in democracy
and that democracy can exist in Iraq. They can have a strong economy,
they can have a good health care plan, and they can have free and fair
voting. Iraq? We can't even get this in Florida."
- Jay Leno
"President Bush has said that he does not need approval from the
UN to wage war, and I'm thinking, well, hell, he didn't need the
approval of the American voters to become president, either. "
- David Letterman
I do think it's a pity that they weren't saying more of
that stuff at the time, though... Dubya's
theft of the 2000
election is apparently stale news, these days, and thanks to the
carefully-applied spin at the time most people don't even seem to remember
it accurately: "Oh, but didn't that recount later show that Bush
actually won, or something?". No, it didn't...
The Server 2003 upgrade at work has proceeded so
smoothly that it appears Microsoft are rather fond of us, and following
our recent acceptance into the Rapid Adoption Program for Titanium, the
latest version of the Exchange mail server, we've just been told that
we'll actually be the first company in the UK to take it live. We're off
to the UK campus
in Reading in a couple of weeks time to be groomed and pampered, and then
I guess at some point after that a couple of
Microserfs and I will get together and sort out all the techie
details... Gosh! First in the UK for a flagship MS product! If I can't get
my picture in Computing for
this, I should hang up my cable tester
and call it a day...
So, I see that the Millennium Dome is
still in dire
straits... I've been annoyed about this massive boondoggle since the
start, as from day one it appeared to exist only to line the pockets of
the various organisations involved. The Government bought the site "as is"
from British Gas, paid again to demolish a Victorian gas works and
assorted other buildings, and then spent
fortune cleaning up various
industrial contaminants to avoid poisoning the visitors - all at the
taxpayer's expense, but we were assured that this would be justified when
the Dome was "handed over to the community", or some such, after the fuss
had died down...
After a number of abortive plans to re-use the Dome
itself, the site (with Dome intact!) was indeed
handed over a year ago, but it turns out that community in question
was a group of property firms and US corporates, which was probably not
what most Londoners had expected. To make matters worse, it appears that
the the site's not insubstantial maintenance and security costs are
somehow still being charged to the taxpayer! What a sweet deal - 190 acres
of prime building land within spitting distance of the centre of
London, revitalised with 1.5 metres of clean topsoil throughout, served by
brand new road and rail links, and with one of the world's most
distinctive buildings thrown in just in case you can think of a use for
it. Oh, and you don't have to lay out a penny on it until you're ready to
Needless to say, it didn't take the "community" very
long to draw up a plan to capitalise on this bounty, and their offering
was targeted directly at London's yuppie market - a grandiose sports
stadium and a huge tract of houses and flats to capitalise on the
proximity to the City - but it was announced today that the Mayor has
refused to permit the scheme unless it is modified to include a
significantly greater quantity of "affordable
I'm in two minds about this, I guess - on one hand, I
don't see why the taxpayers should go on paying for something that many
never wanted and most never saw except on television, and I'm sure that
the building trade would appreciate the work that
least 10,000 houses would bring... But overall it's just another
illustration of how powerful government sleaze and corporate greed can be
when acting together, and I would be annoyed even further by the thought
of the directors of Quintain Estates, Anschutz Entertainment Group,
English Partnerships et al giving themselves nice little million
dollar bonuses as a reward for closing the deal. Gah!
Elsewhere, and thanks to Ros for bringing this vital
and long sought-after service to my attention, the
Flowers company will now supply (you guessed it)
by mail. Presumably the hobby is having something of a revival, as
either, and there are even
microwave flower presses
that contract an entire year in the back of the wardrobe into only a few
minutes! What it is to live in the 21st Century...
Dan of Dan's Data
has a passion for model tanks, and his
latest review covers
a pair of tiny remote-controlled tanks that can actually "fight" each
other. They do look rather neat, I must admit, but currently not as neat
as an extended 20" barrel, foregrip and silencer to make a
sniper variant of my
M4CQB. Suddenly there seems to be
of these on the market, however, and it's proving hard to choose...
Elsewhere, I came across an article at The Digital
Bodies?" by Patrick J. Sloyan. Written in November of last year on the
aftermath of the first Gulf War in 1991, it makes fascinating but
disturbing reading in the light of recent events... On a related note, a
story at Yahoo claims that Sony are attempting to
trademark the phrase "Shock and Awe" for use in an upcoming video
game... That strikes me as unusually tasteless, but evidently they're not
alone in seeing a dollar to be made out of the war - in the last month the
U.S. Patent and Trademark office has received more than a dozen
applications for commercial uses of the phrase, including fireworks,
lingerie, baby toys, shampoo, consulting services and pesticides... I hope
that Harlan Ullman, the military strategist who coined the phrase in 1996,
is pleased with himself.
I've made the most of my unexpected day off, and having
spent a few hours fiddling with the shotgun and the new add-ons, I'm in a
position to begin the definitive guide to
after-market modifications of
Maruzen gas shotguns. The M870 will probably arrive sometime next week,
and I can have more fun mixing and matching between the two for best fit.
It's a welcome change from network servers, I have to say...
Elsewhere, according to a
news story at
Yahoo, Iraqi Minister of Information Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf has
status online with his daily television tirades against "British
infidels" and "Imperialist hawks". The unlikely fan site is down as I
write this, thanks to the usual unexpected rush of visitors, but promises
to be back up on new servers within twenty-four hours.
Another very long day, but well worth it - our
Microsoft-approved consultant from
Eurodata fixed all the AD
problems using the classic
Richard Feynman method of thinking very hard and then doing one
(relatively) simple thing, and after close of business we upgraded three
domain controllers from RC2 to the full release version of Server 2003.
Assuming that it hasn't all fallen flat on its ass when I dial in to check
it tomorrow morning, the first phase of the project is now done and
dusted, and the day of holiday I'd booked tomorrow to make up for working
on Saturday will be the start of a badly needed long weekend instead.
There was a bizarre glitch with the first server
upgrade, though - I'd set the monitor refresh rate to a nice, steady 100Hz
under RC2, but the release code didn't initialise the graphics hardware
correctly on the installation's final reboot and we were left with a black
screen... Of course, our first assumption was that the server itself was
crashing, and a worrisome ten minutes followed before we realised that we
could still ping it and then, via VNC, connect to it and login
successfully! Assuming some oddness in the KVM hardware (rather too smart
for its own good, sometimes) we switched to a directly attached monitor
without improvement, and it was only when a niggle made me think of
dropping the refresh rate did all return to normal. Now that I write this,
actually, I think I can remember this issue from the Windows 95 betas - in
the final code they trimmed some of the more aggressive monitor settings
from the list to play safe, and the installer wasn't smart enough to reset
the configuration the next setting down, as it were. Tsk!
Keith, the consultant, is an extremely competent
techy... He's about my age, and although our careers have taken slightly
different paths (and he's probably paid 10K more than I am!) we seem to
have ended up with a very similar view of the IT industry - considerably
jaded after the many thousands of dead PCs and dying networks we've been
faced with over the years, but still in love with the technology itself
and so still capable of being excited and impressed by a new operating
system... And Server 2003 is an exciting new product - it has
proved itself visibly tougher than NT4 already, when the flakey SCSI
interface on the backup server was fixable this morning by restarting the
appropriate services instead of restarting the entire server! Yay! The
DNS, DHCP and WINS subsystems on the two core servers are working
flawlessly and with the best management GUI yet, and the
very latest version of the Group Policy Editor, traditionally an
opaque and puzzlesome utility, has had a complete facelift and on first
inspection now seems extremely useable.
Elsewhere, my shotgun bolt-ons have finally arrived,
and somehow I seem to have ordered a second shotgun to go with them. It's
another Maruzen gas replica, this time of the
Remington M870 - the pump-action brother to the semi-auto M1100 I've
been enjoying so much recently. The two replicas are extremely similar in
design, and I should be able to distribute the various accessories between
them to create a pleasantly unmatched pair. Watch this space...
Another long day at the silicon face, with no sign of a
resolution to the AD problem and various odd hardware
issues on the backup server just to make sure that I wasn't bored... There
was one moment of light relief, though, when our telecoms bod (truly an
idiot of the first water) asked me to uninstall the "System Idle Process"
task on his laptop as it was using all of his CPU... <long sigh>
However, a quick look online shows that since the Windows Task Manager
became widespread with XP Home Edition, there is widespread fear,
doubt and uncertainty over the mysterious "idle process" that hogs the CPU
- and, as usual, the "experts" are out in force to resolve the problem for
its hapless victims.
This thread, for example, has twenty different explanations and
solutions, each more butt-headed, inappropriate and downright ignorant
than the last... Several people even told the questioner to remove and
re-install all his device drivers, advice absurd and dangerous enough to
have me up on my feet ranting and raving to Ros about it! There are
isolated gems of sanity, though, especially in the form of this
to Windows services from BlackViper.com and, of course, Microsoft's
own documentation, but I'm becoming very impatient with this sort of
butt-headed ignorance these days, and it's probably just as well that I've
had less and less contact with end-users as my career has progressed. If I
was still doing 1st and 2nd line support, a
'O-Nine-Tails would be standard debugging equipment... Oooh, look!
There's a new design,
The airsoft Remington
M1100 has become of my favourite toys when I want to let off a little
steam, but it's by no means perfect. For starters, the shot shells must
clearly be regarded as disposable items - the sharp edges of the feed ramp
and chamber seem prone to scraping little curls of plastic from the front
end, and as well as clogging up various moving parts the resulting
deformations tend to make the shell less likely to load and eject cleanly
- which causes further scarring of the plastic.
Secondly, I've yet to find a variety of BB to suit the
replica - loading more than three garden-variety Excel .20g BBs in each
cartridge leaves rather less gas to eject the shell, and stoppages are
common when the shell fails to leave the ejection port. An experiment with
.11g BBs was less than successful, as they're so poorly made (flaps of
sprue, moulding ridges and even occasional visible differences in
size!) that even more stoppages occurred - I've seen this particular type
of yellow BB advertised elsewhere as "only suitable for cheap springers",
and I think that my supplier,
Zero One Airsoft,
should clearly state the same thing... However, I put a few dozen rounds
through the gun last night, mostly with only two Excel BBs loaded, and
problems were noticeably fewer - but two pellets doth not a shotgun make,
and some of the fun was definitely missing. Of course, the real culprit is
the replica's notorious lack of power in general, but I feel that I
should be able to work around this with the right BBs.
On the other hand, when it works well it is
great fun to shoot. It's heavy, it's mostly metal, and it looks so
thoroughly bad-ass that I almost scare myself. To make matters worse, I've
finally had confirmation that my custom parts are in transit from the US,
and the addition of a
perforated metal heat shield down the length of the barrel will not
make the gun look any more friendly... Unfortunately it now transpires
that the claims that most
real-steel parts will fit this replica without modification
were groundless, and it seems likely that the
magazine extension tube, if I can get it to fit at all, will be
a purely cosmetic add-on.
Elsewhere, fascinating guides (if somewhat opaque to
me, I have to admit) from
O'Reilly Publishing and
ResearchBuzz to programmatically hacking the Google search engine -
using its own little-known but publicly available API to skew and filter a
search far more powerfully than is possible via the web interface.
Elsewhere again, an enjoyable
article at Hot Hardware on vintage microcomputers - coincidently, a
few nights ago I was talking to an ex-Texas Instruments employee
contemporary with the TI99/4A mentioned in the article, and he is still
quite indignant about the way TI priced the system out of the market. It
was the first 16bit microcomputer, and well ahead of its time in many
ways, but TI couldn't decide whether to aim it at home or office users and
so marketed it accordingly - in the end, their half-way approach failed
for both. Interestingly, two of the six computers featured are still
around in some shape or form - the Commodore Amiga will never die, it
seems, and I suspect that with some skill and determination even a modern
UNIX-based Mac might be tweaked to run software from the Mac II era.
Well, it could have been worse... The Active Directory
and the network itself was working well, this morning, but unfortunately
the new network design brutally exposed the vagaries, inconsistencies and
flaws in the configuration of the client PCs - our desktop team has not
been quite as rigorous as I'd hoped in following my templates for network
settings, and where they'd explicitly entered DNS or WINS addresses to
solve some legacy problem or other my carefully planned DHCP scope fell
flat on its ass... However, although around a quarter of our five hundred
users experienced some kind of connectivity problem because of this, at
least the issues were purely client-side and easily corrected. Especially
easy for me, as all I had to say was "so go and do them again properly"
and then dive back into my AD management chores.
Unfortunately, tired and thoroughly distracted at the
end of the day, I made a mistake... I was creating
sites, objects representing the geographical locations of our branch
offices, and deleted the automatically created "default-first-site-name"
site instead of just renaming it to match the central office. This is an
important object in an Active Directory network, and within an hour the
inter-server synchronisation logs were starting to show errors... There
is a documented solution, but it's complex and as the failure didn't
seem to be causing problems for the users I decided not to risk making it
any worse. I'll tackle it tomorrow when I'm fresh, and will just have to
worry and fret until then - in a directory-enabled network this kind of
problem can often be a real chore to correct.
Elsewhere, an interesting
article and follow-ups
at Freshmeat discusses one of the major problems with the availability
of open source software - apparently there's too much of it...
"Too much Free Software? And you thought people
were complaining about a lack of applications which makes them stick
with Microsoft Windows. Well, they're right. On Linux, there's no decent
movie player and no working sound recorder (like the one in Windows 95)
shipped as the default by GNOME, but hey, there are more than 385 text
editors! Choice is good, but it's frustrating when none of the
alternatives works properly."
385 text editors? I can certainly see his point...
48 hours of full-on network upgrade later, and I have a
head full of acronyms - OU, RID, FSMO, GC, UIN, DLG, GPO and <grins
broadly> even SM... On the whole, it all went very smoothly - we had a few
problems with the lack of certified drivers for Dell's network interfaces
(for some odd reason, they don't intend to release Server 2003 support for
another few weeks!) but these were easily solved by disabling all but one
of the teamed adaptors and we should be able to tick over well enough for
a while on a mere 200Mbit/sec bandwidth. The AD installation itself went
very well, and in maximum compatibility mode the client systems are
convinced that they're still talking to an NT4 domain so I'm not expecting
any significant problems tomorrow morning. The only gripe is that, thanks
to the delayed shipping of the Server 2003 Release CD, I'll have to do the
whole thing all over again next weekend - but an in-place upgrade from RC2
will be far less work than the migration itself, and I'm hoping that half
a day will suffice for all three domain controllers. It was a very tiring
weekend, though, and it's going to be a long, exhausting week...
Elsewhere, during the last
power cut I was suddenly seized with the urge to shoot something, and
as the AEG assault rifle is the
easiest to just pick up and blast with I picked it up and blasted into the
dark... It was then that I suddenly made a complete U-turn and decided
that rail-mounted targeting lasers and
flashlights were not, after all, the spawn of the devil but instead a
thoroughly desirable accessory... So one of each (together with some other
stuff spotted while I was at the annoyingly tempting HK supplier
Den Trinity) are
now gracing the rails of the M4 and very nice they are, too, although the
new shape of the fore-end plays havoc with my carefully cut foam case
The little laser unit is from
specialist ICS and is merely an overgrown, beefed-up laser pointer,
but the flashlight (or "tactical illuminator") is the real deal from
firearms company Walther - it's built to withstand the shock of recoil on
a rapid-firing assault weapon and it certainly shows... The laser is
toggled on and off by a flat pressure switch Velcroed to the forward
handgrip; the flashlight has that option, too, but it also comes with a
more conventional twisting end cap and I decided that one switch was
enough! I haven't sighted the laser in, yet, so can't comment on its
accuracy, but it's a fun toy and certainly adds to the overall kick-ass
look of the replica. :-)
Whew! The start of what promises to be the first of two
very long weekends... We started off a test of the AD migration using an
isolated dummy server, and it all went very well. Apart from some minor
glitches with 3rd-party components, the only real problem is that the
release version of Server 2003 hasn't reached us from the US, as yet, so
it looks as if we'll have to do the upgrade with last autumn's the Release
Candidate 2. This will probably be Ok in terms of functionality, as
Microsoft's own public-facing web servers were upgraded to the earlier RC1
the moment it became available last summer, but it does mean that I'll
have to spend a day or two in the office next weekend, as well,
re-installing the real thing when it finally arrives. Three weeks without
a break - sheesh!
Oh dear, oh dear, what it is to be a geek... I took the
day off, today, to recharge before the AD install at the weekend, and then
spent the whole damn day fiddling with computers anyway! I started out
configuring the laptop for net access via the satphone, which was not
successful in terms of actually being able to connect to the net, but will
probably work when I get around to taking the thing outside to test
properly. I was getting a signal indoors with the phone on a windowsill,
but only intermittently - the signal strength would move from full to
nothing in the space it took for clouds to cross the sky, which I found
rather startling. The
stack used for the Iridium data service is rather a strange and
bizarre thing, though, and required considerable massaging before I was
happy with the configuration. Later versions than ship on the CD can be
found on their FTP
site, but it's not a neat upgrade...
All that massage required many reboots, and in
the meantime I was installing and then almost immediately uninstalling the
latest version of APC's
PowerChute UPS monitoring software. As usual with a mature product, it
has suddenly suffered a rewrite into Java and has not benefited
from the experience - it's big, bloated, and includes its own web server
and SQL database, which I think is overkill for something that basically
watches a big battery... The older version slipped back onto my main
system well enough, but the server's antique
SmartUPS 600 is always problematic and once I'd started fiddling I
decided to try to
the runtime settings. This process involves attaching a fixed load of
exactly 30% and, having not quite achieved that with the table lamps etc
to hand, in a moment of brain-fade I attached a small fan heater with the
idea that I could turn the heat up and down to vary the power drain. Of
course, dragging an alleged 3000W kicking and screaming from one outlet of
a 600VA UPS caused everything to shut down all at once with one of those
sad little electronic whines, and so far it has resisted all efforts to
turn it on again.
I think that I've just blown the UPS's own fuse,
but it's an odd little size and I don't have another at hand. <sigh> I'll
head off to RS or
Farnell, I guess, to be faced with
the usual choice between paying a fortune in handling and shipping for a
5p fuse, or buying a bunch of stuff I didn't really intend just to reach
the threshold for free delivery. Fortunately the RS site allows creation
of "parts lists" that can later be imported to the shopping basket with
one click, and I had the specs of some Kynar wire and braided sleeving for
the hypothetical extra case lights all ready to add. Damn, now I'll
probably have to buy and fit another two neons... What it is to be a geek!
I've just opened up the PC for the first time in ages
(then immediately fetched the vacuum cleaner to do something about the
giant mutant dust
bunnies spawned by all those
fans) to install a new CD writer, as my trusty old Ricoh MP9060A, the
first of the combo CD / CDRW / DVD drives, finally gave up the ghost last
week. The drive turned out to have an unusual failure mode, as many of its
predecessors could still write CDs even when they couldn't read anything
at all, while the Ricoh still worked well as a reader but refused to even
think about burning a disk - one of my diagnostics even reported
that it wasn't write-capable! It worked very nicely in both modes for
three years or more, though, and given the smoky environment it lived in
I've been very pleased - a notable change from our previous Philips and HP
drives, all of which
disappointed tremendously and in fairly short order, too.
The replacement is impressive, though, and was also
extremely reasonably priced. Ros has been using LiteOn's 40x drive for a
year or so without problems, and the current 52x equivalent was getting
good reviews. As usual, the clincher was finding it from a
trusted supplier pre-fitted with
a black bezel - you can't imagine how wretched a single beige device looks
in an all-black PC... The tray's in and out movements are unusually smooth
for a modern drive, and nothing seems to rattle or shake too much
even during fast reads. In use as a writer it performs pretty much as
advertised - I burned 654Mb to disk in a shade under three minutes, which
is pleasingly fast, and in UDMA mode the CPU overhead was less than 10%.
With all the usual under-run-protection burning in the background is
thoroughly un-stressful, and I think that home CD writing (at least for
data disks - video brings its own problems!) is finally a mature
When I was a schoolboy in the seventies, one of the few
political things I remember paying any attention to was the apparently
of plane hijackings by leftist revolutionaries fleeing the United States
for Cuba - the catchphrase "Take me to Havana!" was a firm part of the
playground lexicon, and as an embryonic gun nut it was interesting to see
various countries' special forces teams at work. So when I saw on
Yahoo News just now that someone has tried the same trick today, but
this time going in the other direction from Cuba to Florida, I was quite
tickled - he'd obviously heard of Cuban hijacks, but didn't know
quite how to do one properly! However, some research online suggests that
this is the way to do it, these days - today's incident is
the second in two weeks, and one of several over the last
Apparently Castro is
extremely friendly to "enemies of the US", these days, and as the more
traditional route is now guarded by a relatively effective surface-to-air
missile defence, evidently the tide has started to turn...
It's the first of the month again, so I'll keep the
ice weasels straining at the leash
while you hurry off to vote - every little helps, and while I'll never
come close to knocking the remarkable
Dan Rutter from the top of the list
(although he's been losing ground heavily to newcomer
Cyberwizard Pit, recently, and
has even spent some time at number two!) I've managed to hover somewhere
down in the thirties quite consistently. Neat! :-)