« February 2005 | Main | April 2005 »

March 30, 2005

My View of Red Sox Spring Training 2005

Today I spent the day in Ft. Myers, Florida with the family. In planning our trip we had waited until it was too late to get tickets, so we opted to show up at the City of Palms Park where the Red Sox play their spring training games and see about getting tickets.

They had standing room only tickets and after some thought I offered to stay with the kids while Heidi and Holli (Heidi's sister) went to the game. The kids and I went to the Imaginarium, which was kind of a like a children's museum and a lot of fun.

After playing for a few hours at the Imaginarium we went back to a playground right across the street from the ballpark. We could see the score board and hear the action, and if I climbed up onto the kids slide I had a pretty good view of the game.

Unfortunately, the kids were there to play and demanded my attention so most of what was left of the game was spent playing with the kids.

The photo is taken looking toward the ballpark. We were 50 yards behind the fence to the right outfield. If someone had hit a homerun to right field, there's a chance that with enough distance it would have landed, or bounced into the playground.

Posted by mike at 8:47 PM

March 25, 2005

12" PowerBook Reassembled and Alive

I believe this to be my final post about the 12" PowerBook repairs I've undertaken, for anyone who's sick of hearing about it.

The DC-in circuit board arrived this morning. Unfortunately it was right around the time I had to leave for work. Not wanting to have to go through the whole day without the laptop, I took all of the parts and packed them into a few boxes and brought them into the office.

I spent 2 hours (not counting interruptions to get work done) reassembling. I followed the steps in reverse order and everything went smooth except one hitch. I didn't bother to keep track of which screws came from which places. I figured that I could either use the measurements in the guide to get the lengths, or just use the shortest possible screw in every situation and hope that in the end it would all work out. It did, right up until the end when I was putting the last few screws into the case. I put four shorter ones near the audio in/out and superdrive slot, which left four longer ones for the cover of the memory expansion slot on the back. When I screwed on the memory cover the laptop, which had been charging (blinking lights on battery), became unfunctional. I had started it up before putting in the last screws but with the memory cover on it wouldn't start up.

Sure enough, when I took off the memory cover it worked. I did a test and found that if I put the long screw in without the cover and watched how far into the case it went, before I could get it down to be flush with the case it was pushing on the logic board and shorting out a circuit (yes, there were sparks). I exchanged the longer screws with the shorter ones from the other part of the case and the problem seems to be gone.

It feels good to be back in business, or at least be on a machine where all of my stuff is present and in the right place.

Posted by mike at 4:58 PM

Completely Disassembled 12" PowerBook

I've reached the next level in my quest to fix my 12" PowerBook. With a new DC-in circuit board en-route, scheduled to arrive tomorrow, I decided to take time to disassemble the laptop tonight so tomorrow when it arrives I'm ready to stick the new part in and put things back together.

I also figured if there's a barrier to disassembly (like I am missing a tool) it would give me time to to pick any necessary items up in the morning.

The steps on PB FixIt were perfect. Not only do they have every step, on some of them they give you details like the screw lengths or the color of the tape to remove to enable a cable to be moved. All of this will come in handy when I have to reassemble tomorrow night.

It took me about 1 hour, 30 minutes to get through all the steps. I do find myself thinking about how valuable my time is and if this is really worth saving $200. Especially when you consider the risk of breaking something in the process.

More tomorrow on the reassembly process.

Posted by mike at 12:09 AM

March 24, 2005

Replacing a DC-In Circuit Board on 12" Powerbook

After a bit of calling around I secured a DC-in circuit board for my 12" PoweBook laptop (the place I originally ordered from ended up being out of stock).

In my calling around (I've talked to 6 different places now), someone warned me that doing this work myself was not advised, and required getting as deep into the laptop as you can. That made me a little nervous, but I pushed forward in looking for a part. In the end I found the part in stock at PB FixIt. The cool thing about PB FixIt is that with every part you order, there is a tutorial, with photos, for how to get the part installed.

The tutorial for installing the DC-in circuit board is going to save me. This procedure is ranked as "difficult" and requires removing the following in the process:

The part is supposed to arrive tomorrow, so I'll be spending the evening getting it installed. Results will be posted.

Posted by mike at 3:39 PM

March 23, 2005

Fedora Core 3 as a Desktop

While the laptop is out of commission (ordered the part today) I've gotten myself set up on an old desktop with Fedora Core 3.

I'm enjoying the change of pace, and have been thinking a lot about Linux on the desktop and what it would mean to move an entire office or organization over. A lot probably depends on what that organization does. Obviously the Linux desktop does pretty well for web, email and IM. Getting around the OS has become pretty straightforward as well.

To me it seems like the issue is when you get into the more meaty work that goes on in an office. Many organizations have windows-based interfaces to HR or systems data. What if your primary business is centered on customized Excell spreadsheets, Word documents, graphic design (QuarkXPress, Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator) or any other number of well established Windows or Mac applications? It seems that regardless of how easy the installation process gets, or how nice the OS interface is, if there aren't tools to actually get your work done the reality of using Linux is far-fetched. OpenOffice and GIMP are impressive tools, but they require getting familiar with a new application, and most people don't welcome that.

One other thing, I use KDE and I can never seem to find where an application lives in the categorization of the tool bar. I guess I'm more used to a very long, alphabetical list. Is adjustments to the monitor in the Preferences, System Settings or System Tools? Seems like there could be some organization there to consolidate or something. Maybe it's just not being familar with the interface, but I've used KDE for periods off and on over the past 5 or 6 years and always find myself going through several menus categories before I find the right tool.

Posted by mike at 4:54 PM

Invitation to Author a(nother) Book

Today I was contacted by an aquisitions person from another press, to write a book about advanced MySQL topics. Hmmm, sounds familiar.

Two thoughts:
1) I think I've been pretty active on this weblog about ProMySQL, the book I'm writing for apress right now. It seems like with a little research, or just a search for Kruckenberg on Google, you'd stumble into some information that would indicate that I'm involved in another book and would probably be contractually obligated to not contribute to another. The person indicated that they had read a lot of MySQL-related stuff on my weblog, surely they saw some of the book posts.

2) I thought the invitation to write a book was a fluke, one-time chance. When I talked to Phil Windley about the opportunity to write he suggested talking to an agent to see if there were any other presses interested in the idea. I thought about it for awhile but couldn't imagine another press would think I was a good author candidate. Maybe I should have been more confident. I'm still pretty sure it's a fluke I'm involved in writing a book.

Posted by mike at 12:15 AM

March 21, 2005

Laptop Cost: Dell vs Apple

I've seen Steve Jobs compare Apple pricing to competitors before, so I thought that before I get into pushing for a new laptop I'd look at what Dell charges for a comprable laptop.

The laptop I'm looking at is a PowerBook 15", 1.67Ghz processor, 1G Memory, 100G hard disk, DVD burner, 64M video ram and build-in wireless. This laptop has a 15" screen, weighs 5.5 lbs and is 1.1" thick. The price, with 3-year extended warranty is $2,563.

The Dell Lattitude D505 showed up as a comprable laptop after answering a few questions of the laptop assistant. It has a 15" screen, weight 6 lbs (5 without battery and drive) and is 1.25 inches thick. I configured it with 1.7 Ghz Pentium (fastest available), 1G memory, 60G hard drive (largest they had), DVD burner, wireless card. The price, with 3-year warrantee is $2,018.

I'm sure Steve would have done a bit more work to bring the Dell cost up significantly higher by configuring it with all the extras that come with a PowerBook, but the comparison should probably be between the core pieces, adding in the extras for weight in justifying the extra expense.

The question is then, is it worth the extra $500 to have a Mac? That probably depends on your preferences, and how you feel about the extra's that come with a Mac.

- Sudden Motion Sensor - pulls heads off disk during a laptop drop or sudden move
- 8x DVD writer (Dell is 4X)
- Gigabit ethernet
- Firewire 800
- DVI output
- Aluminum case
- OS X
- iLife '05 Suite

For me, it's worth the extra $500 just to stay on OS X and have all the applications and tools that I'm so used to using. Having DVI to connect to my 19" Viewsonic will hopefully be something to gawk at. Gigabit will be nice when working in the data center (I'm not aware of any other place where I could utilize it).

Posted by mike at 2:54 PM

The Cost to Replace the Power Input Circuit Board in 12" PowerBook

I talked to the folks at Apple today about repairing my broken 12" PowerBook. I'm not committed to repairing it, but wanted to get a sense of how much it would cost before I made a decision. As I said before, the part can be bought new for $99, and on eBay I'm looking at an auction where the bidding is at $5 for a case that includes the power input circuit board.

The person at Apple was very nice, and more helpful than I expected. Last time I called they wouldn't talk until I had agreed to give them $50 to open up a ticket (refunded if the problem was not mine). After describing the problem I asked if I could just get an estimate based on the assumption that it was the power circuit board that needed replaced. He agreed, I was put on hold for a few minutes and when he came back he said that they would charge a flat rate, which included shipping and replacement of just that part. If there were any other problems it would be more.

The price: $340.95.

At this point, my best option seems to be to move forward with a new laptop. It seems worth a few bucks to get the replacement part off eBay and see if I can get the old PB going again, perhaps as a backup laptop or one to be available to everyone in the office for presentations etc.

Posted by mike at 2:34 PM

March 20, 2005

12" PowerBook in Permanent Coma (perhaps dead)

Well, my comments the other day on getting a new PowerBook were foreshadowing. I plugged in the power adaptor on Saturday and was suprised to hear a loud snap, like an electrical charge had been sent to the wrong place and fried something. I was quite nervous that the machine itself was hosed, but found that I could boot up just fine and do my normal work, except for the fact that there was no juice getting from the adaptor to the computer, or battery. Realizing I had about 60 minutes left on the battery, I quickly ran the laptop downstairs to the office and started performing a backup onto the external firewire drive I keep around for making backups.

While it backed up I tried fervently to get some power into the battery, using my spare power adaptor and the adaptor from Heidi's 14" iBook, but to no avail. Shortly after the backup finished, the laptop went into hibernate and I closed her (or his) lid to rest until I can figure out what the plan is.

I've had problems with the power before on this laptop, the slick little ring around the adaptor that shows green or orange to indicate charge status hasn't worked for a year. The laptop has fallen a half-dozen times, I believe one of those was a direct hit on the plugged-in power adaptor which most likely dealt a blow to the power input circuit board (did you know that there's a circuit board that handles the power input?).

The plan is to talk to my manager tomorrow about it and see what makes sense. I could probably get the laptop repaired. The part looks like it's around $100, assuming that the power input circuit board is what is fried. There is a chance I'd send the laptop back to Apple and have them repair it but that probably quadruples the fee. No, the laptop isn't on an Apple Extended Care Plan. I paid $1400 for the laptop, putting $300 into a service plan seemed silly, and still does.

The other thing, as I've mentioned before, I had actually been thinking about requesting a new laptop for other reasons, so there's always the chance I'd just leave this old boy resting and move to a new one.

Posted by mike at 2:56 PM

March 17, 2005

Yoda-esque sentence About MySQL Replication

A high-quality sample of my writing that got to my co-author, who called it Yoda-esque and made me laugh:

In MySQL, since replication is asynchronous, a system that relies on data with where replicated servers need real-time data will not.
I can't say how much comfort it gives me that a co-author, technical reviewer, editor, and copyeditor are all going to read the chapters before they go to the press.

Posted by mike at 8:09 PM

March 16, 2005

Is it time to request a new PowerBook?

I'm torn. It's been two years since I got my 12" PowerBook. I was confident that it would last until Apple did something drastic with the PowerBook, like upgrade it to the G5 processor.

Lately I've been experiencing a problem, it seems like I never have enough CPU. It gets particularly bad when I have to do something in Word or Excel. Last week I was watching a Real stream of the Sakai partners meeting and trying to work on a job description in Word. It was taking 5 seconds just to switch between applications. My cursory checks seem to indicate that any time I have Word open, regardless of if it's active, it's consuming over 50% of the CPU. In fact closing Word down (just now) makes a noticeable difference in system responsiveness and fan noise (after 5 minutes the fan went off completely).

In the first year I had this, it was rare for the fan to be on. Now, the only time the fan is off is when it's hibernating. I get the sense that the more non-technical work I do (ssh to server and use Emacs) the more CPU I need.

Posted by mike at 10:43 AM

March 14, 2005

Thinking about Bob Mould

For some reason I've been thinking a lot about Bob Mould lately, which has led to a lot of reading and digging around and bringing up the past. I think it all started with stumbling into the M secion of my iTunes playlist, which has a fair amount of Mould in it.

If you don't know Bob Mould, he was the songwriter and guitarist for Husker Du, a well-known and critically acclaimed Minneapolis-based band. I lived up the road in Fargo, ND back when Husker Du was still together but really remember getting familiar with them just as they split. There was a lot of speculation about conflicts between Bob Mould and Grant Hart (songwriter and drummer), and who really was responsible for the ending of the band.

Shortly after the split we started hearing word that Mould was working on a solo, and more acoustic album. After much anticipation we finally got our hands on Workbook (which I think was the first CD I ever purchased, being a fan of records). Shortly after Workbook came out a few of us went and saw Mould perform at 1st Avenue in Minneapolis. I'm not sure I had any idea then how much Mould would do over then next 15 years.

Since then Mould has done a few other solo CDs, and got a lot of attention with another band, Sugar. He's done some post-Sugar solo work. I've been listening to the hubcap album lately. From the posts on his weblog, Mould is in the final stretches of a new album.

In my digging around I stumbled into Mould's weblog, which appears to be fairly active, and not just a bunch of music and album-related hype. Is interesting to see this kind of "normalness" coming from a person I always saw as a bit of an enigma. He's got a nice Mac setup for recording etc:

Oh, forgot to put a link to the new machines in my life. Add 1 GB of RAM and an AirPort card to the stock model, a terabyte of hard disk space, and that's what I'm driving these days. If you're an audio geek, check out these plug-ins from DUY, Elemental Audio, and PSP - they make everything sound louder and / or better!
But no comments allowed on his weblog.

One last, silly note. When R.E.M. stopped in Minneapolis for the Green Tour, back in 1989, Mould played a few songs with them. As we were leaving the arena a friend and I stopped in the bathroom. On the life of my friend, Bob Mould was at the urinal beside him. I only got a glance as the believed Mould was on the way out, so couldn't provide any validation. I have doubted it ever since because I just can't believe that one of the performers would have been using the public restrooms. Not sure that was worth sharing.

Posted by mike at 9:39 PM

When webalizer Can't Deal with Largeness of Log Files

It appears to me that webalizer can't deal with large log files on it's own. When I say large, I mean over 3 Gb.

I've run into this before, you attempt to webalize your logs and get this silly error:

webalizer -c /home/stats/webalizer.conf -o /home/stats/www 2005_all.log
Webalizer V2.01-10 (Linux 2.6.9-1.667) English
Error: Can't open log file 2005_all.log
The 2005_all.log is a mergelog of the access_log files since January 1st from the load-balanced web servers. The merged log file is 3.2 Gb. The file is definitely there, and I'd just processed another file in the same directory. The only thing I can think is that beyond a certain size, webalizer just has to say no. I couldn't seem to find any information.

I've run into this in the past, and always broke down and did a grep to break the file up into one-month segments, but I didn't want to accept that. Then I wondered, "does webalizer handle a log file piped to it?"

Sure enough, if I cat the log file in it works:

cat 2005_all.log | webalizer -c /home/stats/webalizer.conf -o /home/stats/www
I've been using webalizer for some time, but have been hearing more about awstats lately. I like the fact that awstats preserves more than a single year of data, where webalizer overwrites the previous year's data. I wonder how fast the perl processing is, compared to webalizer's C.

Posted by mike at 5:46 PM

March 12, 2005

My Weblog is a Source of Information on Gatorade

I was looking through the February statistics for my weblog tonight. I was surprised to find that the number one item that was entered into a search engine that brought folks to this weblog was: gatorade.

Yes, that is a bit puzzling. In August, 2003 I wrote about switching from Mt. Dew to Gatorade (which didn't last long, by the way). That's the only reference to gatorade in the 2 years I've been putting stuff up here.

A search on Google didn't turn something up on the first 20 pages (which is deeper than I've ever gone in a Google search). Either there's a warped search engine out there that has me higher in the ranks, or some people are really interested in finding every piece of information possible about gatorade.

Update: After looking around the logs a bit I discovered that if you do an image search on Google, the image I used shows up on the second page. Apparently I'm not a source for information on gatorade, but a source for the gatorade logo. Perhaps I should name images I don't want showing up on Google by a name more cryptic than gatorade.png.

Posted by mike at 9:17 PM

March 9, 2005

Sakai 1.5 Released

Tuned in to the Sakai Educational Partners conference call today. As of today, Sakai 1.5 is available. The sakai site has a press release with a bunch of information.

What's in 1.5?
- normalized data into database structure, instead of using XML storage are now using Hypersonic database out of box (much better scalability)
- JSF improvements (tools can dictate version of JSF to use)
- HSQLDB is default database
- Improved Realm APIs
- Improved Site Service APIs
- context sensitive help
- syllabus tool
- disable auto-refresh behavior
- assignments has new role, grader
- database converstion tool
- integration with SAMigo
- configure resourse to store in database or filesystem
- enable or disable User Presence in the UI

Now that 1.5 is out the door, developers turn their full attention to the 2.0 release. There's even talk of the possibility of that being close to release before the Sakai summer conference!

Posted by mike at 2:08 PM

March 8, 2005

Upgrade Disks in 3 Servers

I'm sitting in the Tufts University data center, waiting for a ufsdump | ufsrestore to complete in order to finish off a day dedicated to hardware.

For a long time we've been able to get by with 36G drives, primarily because the data is spread across a few classes of servers. A while back, one of the webservers (SunFire v210) started triggering nagios alerts that it was out of disk space. We'd dealt with it (in a temporary kind of way) by rotating out large apache logs and cleaning out cached data. On Monday we were to the point that after all we could do the 36G disks were at 94%.

I'd ordered new disks a few weeks back, and they've been sitting at my desk for a few days now so I scheduled today to spend with the servers and get the disks upgraded.

We run Solaris DiskSuite for disk mirroring on all of our machines, which is great for keeping machines with failed disks up, but adds an extra level to replacing disks.

Development /data Disks
First was our development server /data disks. I started there first, because it didn't involve touching the boot disks (which adds an additional level of complexity and stress). Let's see if I can get all the steps into once sentence. I broke the disk mirror, took one of the disks out (c0t3d0), put the larger one in, formatted and newfs'd the new disk, fsdumped the data from the old disk to the new, unmounted the old, mounted up the new disk at the /data mount point, pulled out the other small disk (c0t2d0), stuck in the second larger disk and set up the mirror.

Yea, that's not a very good sentence.

Replace Disk in Unbuilt Server
By far, the easiest server to upgrade tonight is another v210 that's in another data center. It's part of our disaster recovery plan, and hasn't been jumpstarted yet. That means that there's no data on the boot disks yet and the new disks can be swaped out before the OS is installed on the machine.

To make that even better, I don't even have to go over to the other data center because an operator here is willing to take the disks up and do the swap (since there is no data migration).

Webserver Boot Disks
The last machine to swap out disks on was one of our 1U v210 servers, which has only one pair of disks that are the boot as well as data disks.

The pain here is that you have to deal with DiskSuite's medadb, there are not just one mount point but 4 (/, /usr, /var, /local, /data), and every change you make to /etc/vfstab could kill your chances of getting the machine to come back.

For instance, the meta-devices (/dev/md/dsk/d1, d3, d4) supposedly coorespond to the disk partitions (/dev/dsk/c0t0d0s1, s3, s4). After clearing out the metadb I made the chances to /etc/vfstab to make sure it was pointing at the disk, not the meta information. However, upon boot things were all screwy until I realized that /dev/md/dsk/d2, which is /var, is actually a mirror of /dev/dsk/c0tXd0s4. So, upon reboot the system was very confused until I got back to editing the mountpoints and getting them put in the right place.

There is something good to say about this, at least the server is a part of a load-balanced pool and having the machine down doesn't mean a ton of extra time pressure because folks are waiting on it or there is a closing window.

In fact, although this seems to be going pretty well, it's a nice thought that if something gets completely screwed up I can still go home and sleep and tackle the problem tomorrow.

The wait for fsdump is over, the metadb stuff went off without a hitch and I've been able to boot just fine from the new disk. Going home while the disk mirror's continue to sync up, will try one more reboot in the morning before it's called good.

Did I mention I'm not a systems administrator?

Posted by mike at 8:47 PM

March 4, 2005

Bringing a friend to freedom, then shot by whom?

This is just crazy, an Italian intelligence officer is killed while transporting a recently freed hostage. American troops shot and killed him, on accident.

Somehow the U.S. statement (cited on NPR site) is lacking:

We regret the loss of life.

I'm sure it's crazy over there and hard to know what's up and down. This makes me wonder, again, why we're over there.

Posted by mike at 11:46 PM

March 2, 2005

What do you backup?

I'm facing this question on multiple fronts right now. For the book, have been hacking away at Chapter 17 on data backup and restore (after this one only three more to go!).

At work, we're in the process of bringing a bunch of new machines into service.

The real question is what filesystem backups are necessary to backup? This leads to a question about what cases would be find having a backup necessary. Any machine that has important data (test data does not qualify) not available and being backed up on another machine.

webservers - no
Data on our webservers is pulled from a central machine, both MySQL via the network and files via an rsync. In the instance of a compromize or failure, we'd most likely have the machine jumpstarted and resync any necessary data.

primary data and database server - yes
This machine contains our end user shell accounts (very limited), master instance of database, and a central copy of all non-database files. In the instance of a failure, we'd have to decide whether to restore everything from the backup. Obviously the user accounts would need to be restored, but the data will probably be more fresh pulling from a replicated server (whichever one stepped in as the primary server at the time of failure).

replicated database servers - no
The data for this machine comes from the primary database server, if one of these machines has a failure we'll always want to rebuild from the data on the primary database machine.

media servers - no
The data for the media servers is synced from the primary data machine. Again, if a failure occurs we'd repair or rebuild and then resync the data files.

logging server - yes
The system logs from all our machines go onto this server. A backup of that data is pretty important. On a machine failure we'd definitely restore from the backup to get the log history.

test servers - no
On test machines, the code is pulled from CVS and the data is pulled (periodically) from the primary database server backup. No need to use backup in failure. Rebuild or repair and then resync data from appropriate places.

development server - yes
CVS and all the developer accounts reside on this machine, definitely want that backed up. If our dev server goes down we want /home and /data restored from the backup.

We back up our MySQL database with mysqlhotcopy (actually, we have a replicated database that is backed up to not disturb the production database) every night, so if just the database goes down or there is a problem with the data we have a history of data files on hand.

Posted by mike at 3:50 PM