Computing News And Notes

A few small compuer-related things have popped up over the last few days and I thought I’d take a second or two to jot down my observations for the benefit of all you fellow Intertron users out there.

  1. Apple’s recently-released 10.4.8 update to Mac OS X added a nifty “zoom using scroll wheel feature, allowing users to use their mouse wheel (or, in my case, a two-fingered scroll on the touchpad of my MBP) to zoom in on the area of the screen directly below the mouse cursor. Very nice for on-the-fly graphic design and handy for those with poor eyesight too, I’d imagine.
  2. On a second Apple note, I spent around 6 hours of my work day yesterday cursing Apple’s very name, as a firmware update for the newly-arrived Mac Pro (which will function as an OpenDirectory server until we are able to get our hands on some new Intel Xserves, at which point the Pro will most likely become my primary workstation. W00t!) adamantly refused to apply. I followed Apple’s instructions exactly time and again and was ultimately frustrated in my attempts to apply the EFI update. I had nearly exhausted my Google Fu when I happened across a random comment on a blog entry (I’ve since misplaced the actual search result) stating that the EFI update won’t run from a RAID array, as Mac OS X doesn’t actually support booting from a RAID setup on Intel boxes. Nice for Apple to tell me this, as I had (you guessed it) been attempting this update process from a nice 500GB RAID 0 array. Crikey. I threw a 250GB disk I had lying about into the box, installed the non-server OS X 10.4.7 from the DVDs that came with the Pro, ran Software Update and managed to update the firmware a mere 5 minutes after finishing the install. Arrrgh!
  3. If you’re a Red Hat Enterprise Linux user and you’re considering obtaining an Alienware Aurora desktop on which to use your chosen operating system, I have one simple piece of advice: Don’t. Buy. An Alienware. ‘Least not an AMD64-based one. I bought an Aurora SLI for work with the notion that it would be a screamer; instead, it has been a nigh-unending pain in the butt. The sky2 driver apparently freaks out every once in a while, bringing the machine to its knees and forcing a hard reboot, the onboard soundcard is really not an option, and NVIDIA’s Linux SLI drivers are prone to occasional lockups. This, combined with the fact that Alienware’s customer support stinks would suggest to me that RHEL users (and perhaps Whitebox/CentOS users, by extension) would be wise to avoid the Aurora. I make no claims for Mandriva, Fedora, Ubuntu, Gentoo, etc. users. Caveat emptor is the moral, I guess. I look forward to moving to the Mac Pro as my full-time workstation soon.

“I, Node”, Or: `man mankind.fs`

I think that the restaurant at which my coworkers and I eat our traditional weekly Chinese Tuesday recently changed fortune cookie suppliers, as their “fortunes” are now no longer anything of the kind. Instead of predictive fortunes, we routinely find pseudo-Confucian wisdom printed on our paper tape. However, this shift has yielded some great results, some of which are quite geeky.
For instance, I recieved the following at this week’s iteration:
Fortune!
…which leads to the question “What filesystem type is a man?” Perhaps this is why wives don’t understand husbands – they simply don’t have the right kernel drivers to be able to understand. (Obvious puns involving the UNIX command mount will be assiduously avoided here.)
I think I may have to send this picture over to Steve Gibson – maybe those Spinrite folks can use it. *grin*

It’s In The Air, Man! The Internet’s IN The AIR!

Verizon V640 menu
I’m sitting in an NTB waiting for the service techs to finish patching up a seeping flat, typing away on my MacBook Pro, posting courtesy of the mega-sweet Verizon Wireless V640 Express Card. My employer has been buying the PCMCIA “CardBus” offerings from Verizon for a little while now and, though the cards are on a check-out/check-in procedure, we have been finding that our users are extremely reticent to utilize the “check-in” portion of that equation (read: people love the cards and don’t want to give ’em back). However, we MBP users have been largely left out in the cold, since Apple oh-so-wisely decided to æschew the PCMCIA standard and offer the MBPs (and MacBooks, I believe…) with a single Express Card slot.
Well, we got our first shipment of the V640, one of Verizon’s two Express Card offerings, yesterday and I “valiantly” offered to take one home and test it out. I was amazed at how dead-simple the install was – apparently Mac OS X 10.4.7 comes with the requisite drivers already available and so setting up the card and getting on-line was literally a three click process.
The speed is pretty amazing for a wireless service running over a CDMA network. Speakeasy’s speed test has me clocking in at ~975kbps down/~130kbps up, which ain’t too shabby for browsing the web. Pulling large files would be a bear, I’d imagine (I haven’t tested it out yet). I really have to say, though, for the dedicated traveler blessed with an Intel Mac laptop, this card is a very compelling product (well, as long as you don’t have to foot the bill for the $180 card and ~$70 per month service fee, that is. Let the office pay for it).
UPDATE: NTB rocks
They had me in and out in under 20 minutes and didn’t charge me a dime – apparently they usually only tip the guys in the back for fixing flat tires (turns out those hosers at Just Tires did a slipshod job and only plugged a hole last time I had the tire looked at; NTB did me up right with a full-up patch). Sweet.

Draft Night 2006

September through February is my favorite time of the year, for one reason and one reason only: NFL Football, baby.
Last night was the draft for my fantasy football league and I’m even more confident this year in my draft selections than I was going into my two leagues last year (seeing as I finished 0-12 in one league and 2-11 in the other, my confidence was obviously misplaced). I believe I learned my lessons from last year’s debacles: I was too sentimental in my picks, favoring Vikings and players whom I liked over the talented and productive ones. Well, not this year! I was bound and determined to pick wisely; I was ruthless in my selections. Nary a bit of ruth was to be found in my body, no sir! I was a veritable desert of ruth, baby.
This year’s league was quite a bit bigger than either league I played in last year; there are 4 divisions in the league, each with 10 teams and each drafting independent of the others. In other words, each 10 team division had access to the full NFL roster, so cross-divisional games could conceivably see identically constituted teams play each other (although it’s highly unlikely). The draft went for 15 rounds, with each roster needing:

  • 1 quarterback
  • 2 running backs
  • 3 wide receivers
  • 1 tight end
  • 1 “utility” player (RB/WR/TE)
  • 1 kicker
  • 1 defense
  • 5 bench players

As I said previously, I feel as though I came out of the draft in an excellent position. I drew the third pick and, in serpentine draft fasion (picks 1->10 followed by 10->1 followed by 1->10, etc.) I picked up:
QB

  • Donovan McNabb, PHI
  • Ben Roethlisberger, PIT

RB

  • Ladainian Tomlinson, SD
  • Willie Parker, PIT
  • DeShaun Foster, CAR
  • Mewelde Moore, MIN

WR

  • Chad Johnson, CIN
  • T.J. Houshmandzadeh, CIN
  • Keenan McCardell, SD
  • Antonio Bryant, SF
  • Matt Jones, JAC

TE

  • Heath Miller, PIT
  • Dallas Clark, IND

K

  • Ryan Longwell, MIN

D

  • Giants Defense, NYG

I’m pretty confident in those picks (although Moore just dropped to 3rd on the Vikes’ depth charts, so I may have to make a move to replace him…) and, best of all, we’re no longer using Yahoo! for our league.

Phriday Video Phun

Presented for your enjoyment:

  • Counter Struck: Counter-Strike meets the real world. Heh.
  • Those lucky British Microsoft sods – they got Ricky Gervais (of The Office fame) to do employee training videos for ’em. Brilliant. (Profanity warning: you know those Brits and their saucy tongues. A few NSFW words/topics are discussed in those vids.)
  • Bob Casey, Jr. ain’t reliable – Rick Santorum’s campaign says so.
  • Stephen Colbert offered a challenge to video editing geeks. The results are impressive in some cases, others not so much.

Drooling Over Leopard Server

Much virtual ink has been spilled over the revelations concerning Apple’s next operating system, Mac OS X 10.5 (“Leopard”), with Windows fanboys complaining that Apple is shamelessly copying the Big M and Apple partisans returning fire. All of these discussions seem to be focusing on the desktop end of Leopard, which is all well and good, I suppose. However, what has me far more excited are the details released concerning Leopard Server.
It looks as if Apple is targeting the small office in new and exciting ways in Leopard Server. All of the announced features, including the integrated wiki server, centralized Spotlight desktop search capabilities, podcast production facilities and, best of all, iCal server point to Apple enabling businesses’ employees to collaborate effectively. I’m particularly psyched about the iCal Server, as it’s apparently a full-up WebDAV/CalDAV implementation which means that we could finally dump our old-n’-busted calendaring “solution” for one with true multi-platform capabilities.
I can’t wait for Spring ’07…

Fun In The Sun (Microsystems Server)

Or: RedHat Enterprise Linux’s `ypbind` Is Functionally Brain-Dead

WARNING/WARNUNG/ADVERTENCIA/AVERTISSEMENT: Geeky rant follows. If you don’t give a hoot about UNIX and/or Linux, you may just want to give this post a pass. -ed.
First, a little background: like many shops with a core infrastructure consisting of UNIX/*NIX servers of varying ages and configurations, we have run our network directory services using the venerable NIS directory technology provided by Sun Microsystems and implemented on nearly every single POSIX-compliant operating system on the planet. It is fast, well-understood, well-tested and generally easy to use (if set up properly). Our UNIX systems and desktops hum merrily along 99.9% of the time, blissfully confident in NIS’s ability to keep them happy and informed of the goings-on on the network. Our network is architected so that our primary (“master”) NIS server is supplemented by a lower-powered backup NIS “slave” server so that, in the event of a failure on our main server, the “slave” can take over and keep our NIS clients happy.
However, our secondary server has been having heartaches recently – apparently a patch from Sun that is supposed to prevent users from being able to overload the NIS server and cause it to

[…]prevent the ypserv(1M) NIS server process from answering NIS name service requests. A Denial of Service (DoS) may occur as clients currently bound to the NIS server may experience hangs or slow performance. Users may no longer be able to log in on affected NIS clients.

…is actually causing the server to die on its own. That’s right: we traded a potential DoS, instigated by users, for one that apparently triggers itself.
Now, this doesn’t cause an issue for Solaris clients; their NIS client software is intelligent enough to detect whether an NIS server process is running on a certain server and fail over to an alternate if said NIS server ever dies. RedHat’s (and perhaps other Linuxes’ – I don’t know because I haven’t tested other distros) NIS client isn’t this intelligent. Apparently, RH’s NIS setup uses `ping` to determine whether a server is still alive, which means that an NIS server process could die and, as long as the server hardware stayed active, Linux clients would continue to try to bind to a non-functional server, thus triggering a DoS on multiple systems. RH’s NIS client also uses `ping` to determine which NIS server to bind to; it functionally ignores the order set by DHCP servers and/or /etc/yp.conf and binds to whichever server provides the lowest latency.
All of this would be immaterial, but for one critical point: our primary server is connected into our network via a fiber optic gigabit link, while our secondary server runs on a gigabit copper link. To this point, copper networking equipment tends to have lower latencies than its fiber equivalents, which means that, you guessed it, our Linux clients were all persistently binding to the “slave” NIS server, regardless of its actual ability to serve up directory information. Thus, when the NIS processes would die on the “slave”, all of our stupid RedHat boxes would freeze, waiting for directory service on the part of a non-funcional box whose only claim to fame at the time was a functioning NIC.
Needless to say, we backed that patch out and, of course, everything’s happy again in Linux Land. Hooray for cascading failures!

Just When I Thought I’d Seen It All

I’ve seen all manner of stupid “gamer” peripherals for the PC, from mini-keypads designed to give gamers WASD and not much else to 3 dimensional mice to “physics accelerators”. I thought it couldn’t get any worse; I was wrong.
Via Engadget, I caught wind of the KillerNic, a “gaming-tuned” network card. The stupid thing has 64MB of dedicated DDR and a 400MHz processor, for goodness’ sake! This sort of tech might, might have made sense back in my college days, where managing IRQs and pumping data to the NIC were valid concerns on my 486 DX. But now? My goodness, why would anyone want, let alone need to obtain one of these wastes of silicon and PCB? It’s not like it’s a valid status symbol that will bring you praise at the next LAN party – it’s stinkin’ inside your PC’s case where no one else can see it!
I didn’t even look at the price – I don’t want to know what people will have to pay for this idiocy.