Thursday, June 17, 2010

Two years without a post? Terrible.

No, I'm not dead. Just haven't had much to say for a while.

I am now the team lead at my job. Which really just means that in addition to doing normal sysadmin tasks, I also manage the other two sysadmins. (No, that's not a complaint. I've learned a lot about what it takes to be a good manager. Mostly, I've learned I'm not there yet.)

Also, since my last post, we have added another member to the family, and moved to a larger home (not necessarily in that order).

Time is the one thing I never have enough of...

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

I got a MacBook

If your first reaction is to smack me... you can kiss my ass and stop reading here.

I've been thinking about getting one for a while. Anyone who knows me well will tell you I bounce back and forth between Windows and Linux a lot... but, since I hate dual-booting, usually I end up reformatting one month... reinstalling Windows... hating it... and a couple of months later I go back to Linux. Everything goes well... until I find something that doesn't work right. Last time, it was wireless issues. I was sitting in a meeting at work, and couldn't get associated to the network. This had happened frequently. At home, I would just have to re-type the WPA key three or four times, and eventually it would associate. However, the WPA key at work is not something that can be remembered easily, and I had to keep typing it in. Frustrating. That drove me back to Windows.

(On a side note, in the newly released Fedora 9, NetworkManager now remembers the passphrase you typed if it fails to associate. Nice. Still wish they'd get it associating better. Maybe I should blame Intel.)

Anyhow, what I'm trying to say is this: I wanted a MacBook because OS X is rock-solid (from what I've read), all the hardware works (including suspend and resume!), and I can get Microsoft Office on it. (I've had problems interacting with others when I use OpenOffice in Linux.) However, it's Unix at the core, and with Fink I can get a lot of the software I'm used to using in Linux, with a sweet terminal and a Bash prompt.

I was pretty surprised last week when my wife gave me the go-ahead to purchase it. The two years without interest at Best Buy helped... we had the cash on hand, but it's a lot easier to swallow payments. So, despite the fact that I'd been up for almost 36 hours straight (working, we had just completed a move of 11 servers from one rack to another in our datacenter), I immediately perked up and ran to Best Buy.

I had decided on the white MacBook with 2GB RAM, a 160GB hard drive, and a superdrive. I had originally thought about purchasing the black model, but for an extra $200 it just didn't seem worth it for only an extra 90GB space. (Plus, I've never filled a 160GB drive. Maybe if I copied my entire music & movie collection over...)

So far, I freaking love the thing. I have had exactly one crash, and that was when I idiotically burned the CD image of Office 2008 to a DVD. OS X didn't like that.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that a lot of the software I had installed in Windows was available for OS X: nmap, wireshark, VLC, the MySQL GUI tools, FileZilla, and nessus were all downloaded and installed quickly. Instead of Pidgin, I decided to use Adium, and I found a VNC viewer and Smultron, a syntax-highlighting text editor that fit the bill great.

Parallels worked a lot better than I expected it to... though, firing up more than one virtual instance kicks you into swap mode damn quick. I had just purchased Money 2008, unfortunately, so this was a nice find.

Spaces is very, very cool. I was looking forward to using Expose, but had no idea Spaces had come along till I played around with settings. Finally, virtual desktops like I'm used to in Linux! I sure wish Expose would list all windows open on all spaces, though. is OK, but the key bindings annoy me. iTerm was a godsend!

Finally, Time Machine is a cool idea. I read somewhere you could download a 3rd-party tool to make it use network locations as backup media, but that it was buggy. I'm happy to use my external hard drive for now, but I'll be happy when Apple does finally make that part of Time Machine.

I don't plan on becoming a Mac zealot or anything, but I really like the Mac world. It just works.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

CentOS/RHEL and mdadm issues...

This little bitty had me going for about 20 minutes. One of the drives in my file server at home failed, it's got a RAID1 (with a spare) for /boot and a RAID5 for /. Removing the old drive from the array was easy:

mdadm --manage /dev/md0 -r /dev/sdc1
mdadm --manage /dev/md1 -r /dev/sdc2

Then, I shut the machine down, replaced the failed drive, and booted the server again. I figured this would do the trick:

mdadm --manage /dev/md0 -a /dev/sdc1
mdadm --manage /dev/md1 -a /dev/sdc2

But after both of those commands, nothing was printed to the screen... and it was obvious (from /proc/mdstat) that nothing had happened. Hrmm...

Google found me a forum where some Gentoo users were complaining about this problem. The solution?

mdadm /dev/md0 --add /dev/sdc1
mdadm /dev/md1 --add /dev/sdc2

The man page states:

If a device is given before any options, or if the first option is
--add, --fail, or --remove, then the MANAGE mode is assume[sic]. Anything
other than these will cause the Misc mode to be assumed.


Sunday, December 02, 2007

The Qube is dead... Long live the Qube!

Except... well, unlike when a new monarch is crowned... I'm not calling the Qube's replacement a Qube. :)

A few months ago, I became fascinated (read: obsessed) with low-power mini ITX systems. I blame this on the fact that my power bill this summer was completely insane. Yes, I realize that EVERYONE'S power bill was insane, but still.

At the time, I was running a Sun Cobalt Qube 3 as my firewall. I got lucky and picked this up from my previous job. We really had no use for it there, and when our chief architect decided he was tired of using it as a dev machine, I took it home. (In retrospect, I should have given him first dibs on it, but oh well... as you'll soon see...)

I noticed a couple of oddities with this device. First off, I couldn't get CentOS to install on it (using the Strongbolt installer). It kept barfing up a "Kernel panic!" error. The serial cable I had wouldn't work, either, so I was unable to determine what was causing the kernel panic. The power button wouldn't turn the unit on half the time, either -- I had to repeatedly push it on and off till finally, the system decided to power on.

I ended up swapping out the RAM on a hunch, and got lucky. The system booted, and I was able to get in and start configuring. But guess what? The stock kernel didn't come with NAT compiled in. I tracked down the source, and after a lot of pain, managed to get it working. It served me well for several months.

However, the pain I'd gone through to get CentOS running on the thing in the first place (and the weird power button issue) made me a bit leery of relying on it long-term. The mini ITX machine used a lot less power (especially when combined with a CF to IDE adapter) and was easier to get a stock CentOS installation running on. (Aside from having to roll a new kernel to support the onboard NIC, anyhow.) I got the new router up and running, and changed the IP on the Qube. And then I did something very, very stupid -- I flushed the iptables rules.

Ever played with a Cisco router? Know what happens when you drop an ACL that's applied to an interface? Yeah... an implied "deny deny" rule. Same thing that happens when your default iptables policy is DROP on input, and you run iptables -F. Ouch.

I figured... hey, I can fix this. I just need a working null modem cable, according to sources online. So I pop over to Newegg and pick one up for... OUCH! $20?? Man, you'd think these things would be cheaper. Still... $20 to make the system work... it'll be handy, I can finally debug any issues I'm having without having to pop the case and yank the hard drive! Sweet!

Only I'm not so lucky. :) The new null modem cable doesn't work AT ALL. On ANY of my machines, in Windows OR Linux. Sigh.

So, I popped the case, and attached the drive to my USB converter. I removed /etc/sysconfig/iptables, and made sure the network interfaces are configured properly. I unmounted the partitions, and put the drive back in the Qube.

And what am I greeted with? The infamous "Kernel panic!" on the LCD screen.

I've tried new RAM, and a new hard drive. I can't get any further. Even after wiping the drive and reinstalling with the Strongbolt ISO.

Poor Qube. We hardly knew thee.

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Thursday, November 01, 2007

WSUS 3.0, Windows Internal Database, and Memory Usage

I'm posting this here, not because I think anyone will care, but because if I ever have to do this again I want to be able to remember it!

With the release of WSUS 3, Microsoft switched from MSDE to Windows Internal Database. I did the upgrade for a client on Tuesday, and came back to finish patching some of his systems today... lo and behold, the sqlservr.exe process was eating 1.6GB of RAM. Thanks, Microsoft.

I'd seen this before with the full versions of the SQL Server product, and was pretty sure I could fix it... till I realized that it was no longer MSDE. Initially, googling showed me how to do this with OSQL... but guess what? It wasn't present in the Binn directory where sqlservr.exe was running. Thanks again, Microsoft... I mean, why would ANYONE need to reconfigure a running instance? Let's save space and not include management tools.

After more googling, here's what I found:

1) Install the management tools for SQL Server. You can find the necessary files here: Microsoft SQL Server Native Client and Microsoft SQL Server 2005 Command Line Query Utility.

2) Run the sqlcmd utility and change the config options.

c:\Program Files\Microsoft SQL Server\90\Tools\binn\SQLCMD.EXE -S -E \MICROSOFT##SSE
1> sp_configure 'show advanced options', 1;
2> reconfigure;
3> go
Configuration option 'show advanced options' changed from 0 to 1. Run the RECONFIGURE statement to install.
1> sp_configure 'max server memory', 512;
2> reconfigure;
3> go
Configuration option 'max server memory (MB)' changed from 2147483647 to 512. Run the RECONFIGURE statement to install.
1> exit

Voila. No more freaking RAM for you, sqlservr.exe. :P

Monday, October 01, 2007

Fedora 7 on the HP Compaq 8510w

I started a new job recently, and had the chance to pick out a brand-new HP laptop to use.

I chose the HP Compaq 8510w. I probably should have done a tiny bit more research, but when I saw that it was certified to run with SuSE, I figured Fedora would run fine on it. It does work, but it's not flawless. Since I couldn't find anything using Google about installing Linux on this laptop, I decided I'd post this on my blog.

I guess I should mention, I'm running Fedora 7 on this laptop.

The first issue I ran into was with the DVD-ROM drive. In the BIOS, you'll have to change the "SATA Native" option to "Disabled" otherwise the installer can't see the DVD drive.

The next issue I ran into may or may not be strictly related to the docking station. When I booted to the DVD and started the graphical installer, my Samsung 226bw went totally blank and indicated it had lost signal with the video card. I know the Quadro FX 570M is a newer chipset, so I assumed that the installer just plain didn't know how to deal with it, and proceeded to install in text mode. Then, I booted to single mode, and added the Livna repo, installed the nVidia Linux drivers. I rebooted, expecting it to show me the RHGB screen and boot into X flawlessly. To my surprise, the display went blank again.

After checking the Xorg logs and scratching my head for a while, I had an epiphany from when I installed Linux on my Dell D820 laptop ages ago... nVidia's Linux drivers address the laptop display and your external displays separately. Sure enough, when I opened the laptop lid -- GDM was staring me in the face. I had to add some tweaks to my xorg.conf file to make it play nicely...

Section "Screen"
Identifier "Screen0"
Device "Videocard0"
Monitor "Monitor0"
DefaultDepth 24
Option "TwinView" "0"
Option "metamodes" "DFP-1: nvidia-auto-select +0+0"
SubSection "Display"
Depth 24

The main change was the "metamodes" line: DFP-1 is the DVI port on the docking station.

However, this introduced a new challenge... I need two xorg.conf files, one to use while I'm docked, and another to use while undocked. I did NOT want to have to manually swap out the files and then restart X every time I booted my laptop, so I wrote a little script to do it for me. The basic premise is that on boot, it looks at the lid switch status (through ACPI) to determine if you're docked or not. Then it symlinks /etc/X11/xorg.conf to the proper config file, either /etc/X11/configfiles/xorg.conf.(docked|undocked). It's a bit hackish, but I'm not much of a hacker and don't know how to determine dock status otherwise.

BTW, the script installs with chkconfig once you've tossed it into /etc/init.d.

Another video-related issue I had is that Xorg seemed very choppy. I had Beryl installed, and blamed it on that initially. However, I noticed that what was slow was things like switching tabs in Firefox, and updating the title bar in Gnome Terminal. I did some searching, and found a link that indicated that there were some slowness issues related to the 8800GTX card. I don't have any real evidence for the assumption that these problems are also affecting the Quadro FX 570M chipset, other then the fact that the behavior described in that link is exactly what I am experiencing. I hope to see a new driver from nVidia soon addressing the bug mentioned in that forum, to see if it fixes my problem, before I file a bug.

Yet another video-related issue... if I boot with RHGB enabled, it fails to start, and after the screen flickers the text-mode boot is incredibly blurry. Then, X will not start, and I'm forced to power the system down. Removing RHGB from the grub.conf fixes this problem.

After booting undocked for the first time, I noticed that the Intel 4965AGN wireless card was not recognized. After installing the correct kernel module, it worked fine. I simply added this line to /etc/modprobe.conf:

alias wlan0 iwl4965

Why the installer didn't do it for me, I am not sure.

The SD/MMC card reader isn't working for me. I am not sure why. I believe I have the same type in my Dell XPS M1210, and it's working fine there. I haven't researched it enough to figure out why it's not working.

Friday, September 14, 2007

The Big Snip

Well, last Friday, I finally took the plunge and had a vasectomy.

I'll be honest... I was pretty nervous. I mean, I understood the procedure. I'd talked to friends about the procedure, and even googled a bit to see what other guys had said about it, and how their procedure went. Overall, everyone was positive about it, and said the pain was minimal. Still... the idea of the urologist slicing open my testicles wasn't the most appealing.

But, despite my misgivings (and the fact that I was ready to stop having children!), I dragged my sorry self outta bed at the butt crack of dawn last Friday and headed to the urologist's office. On a side note, I wonder why they only schedule these at 7am. Maybe the sperm are less active in the morning or something. LOL

I'll spare you the gory details, but the only painful part of the whole thing was the injection of the anesthesia. Other then that, it wasn't bad at all. I spent the entire day sitting on my butt, being waited on hand and foot by my awesome wife, just taking it easy.

I haven't had much pain, either, and the little I have had could be classified as mild.