Tuesday, October 31, 2006


The company I work at standardized on a server platform long before I signed on. That platform? The *ell 2850 multiprocessor PowerEdge server. I'll refer to the builder as *ell, since this Austin, Texas based computer supplier is not flattered by what has been going on in my life.
Anyway, the 2850 was a reliable old server. The build process included these steps:

1. Stick in the Windows 2003 Server CD and turn on the server
2. Hit F6
3. Load the disk array drivers from a floppy
4. Complete the OS install
5. Get on with life, content in a job well done

And then, *ell discontinued the 2850. It was replaced with the 2950. Upgraded hardware is awesome, right?
Ok, so I started building it, got to the floppy part (heheheh . . . floppy part) and -- There is no floppy drive on the 2950.
I tried USB drives, loading the drivers from a CD, and using default Microsoft drivers. Nothing worked.
In desperation, I tried the *ell supplied "Install Media". This disk contains all the drivers and sets up the computer for the installation. It also loads a bunch of unnecessary crap, but I was out of options.
The CD booted as expected, cached the install media, started the Linux build kernel and . . . "Input Out of Range". The display just died.
I downloaded new install media and tried again. "Input Out of Range"
I called *ell and explained the issue. They claimed immediately that my monitor was obviously low-quality and that I should get a better one. I asked which rack-mounted *ell-branded LCD was recommended and they rattled off a model number.
I told them that was the rack-mounted *ell-branded LCD monitor the server was attached to already. We have all *ell stuff.
They were at a loss.
As we were placing an order for 40 more *ell servers for Disaster Recovery, the sales rep (ever so helpful when you are buying 40 servers) offered to send out a tech to educate us on the 2950.

You know what? He couldn't get it working either. He gave us a hacked work-around.
He was helpful and seemed concerned, but in the end took the story back to *ell escalated support for resolution. They sent this to me today:

From: B*********************s@*ell.com
Sent: Monday, October 30, 2006 2:50 PM
To: ****,Garrick
Cc: R*******************t@*ell.com; D**************n@*ell.com; *******,Shane; W**********************y@*ell.com; D*************l@*ell.com
Subject: RE: RE: *ell Support Services: Incident # 1627770

Was informed by D******l that you should be made aware of the following info that I had requested to continue troubleshooting this issue and why:

This is the NOS analyst assigned to assist Brian ****** on this issue. I instructed Brian ****** to request the info needed in order to escalate this case due to the requirements that IPS has when performing an escalation. Upon reviewing two other PSE cases with the same issue:

You will see that IPS needs SPECIFIC info on type of monitor being used,refresh rates tried,firmware version, and basic troubleshooting (ie..changing of different equipment,monitors,DSA ISO cd versions). If we cannot perform these basic procedures and provide sufficient info, we CANNOT escalate to IPS and even if we did ignore proper escalation procedures and escalated, IPS would refuse to work the issue and reject it upon grounds of lack of info/insufficient data. Dan, in order for us to provide the best customer service and efficiently and quickly resolve issues, we need the customer to be willing to work with us on gathering data/troubleshooting this issue.

In addition to asking for this info; it is to be stated that IPS is well aware of this issue and have been working on a DSA beta that will address this issue. Planned scheduled rollout on this DSA Beta is MAR 2007.


Capitalization and tone were unedited by me.
I forwarded it to my manager with the subject line "WTF?" By then, I was too angry to not reply.
First, they again blamed our equipment while somehow also admitting that there is a known issue with the install media? Holy crap!


From: ****,Garrick
Sent: Monday, October 30, 2006 3:33 PM
To: *****, Dan
Cc: *******,Shane
Subject: FW: RE: *ell Support Services: Incident # 1627770

The build seems to be fine with the work-around you provided.
The part number on the dongle is OUF366 Rev. A00.

Is Mr. ****** aware that everything attached to this server is a *ell-branded product?

The fact that I haven't provided model numbers and refresh rates is the direct result of my never having been asked them and in any event has no bearing on the known issue currently being worked by IPS.
Does he really need the refresh rates from me? I can dig them up, but if this is a known issue with the DSA I can't understand how it would help.




I didn't curse. I blame the "Respectful Workplace". You know, I can understand wanting to close tickets and move on, but there is a global issue with no resolution until March of 2007! Holy crap again!

The response from the tech who visited us on site:

-----Original Message-----
From: D********@*ell.com
To: ****,Garrick
CC: **********,Shane
Sent: Mon Oct 30 15:37:43 2006
Subject: RE: RE: *ell Support Services: Incident # 1627770

Yes, I had give Brian ****** info on you using all *ELL branded components like *ELL branded 2160AS KVM switch, *ELL branded flat panel monitor, etc.) for *ELL rack. Since issue could be caused by resolution and refresh rate, they would need to know this information.

Thanks for the other information.

Systems Engineer
(832) 555-9231 (Work)
(832)555-5275 (Cell)
Email: d************@*ell.com

How am I doing? Please contact my manager J************************t at j****************************t@*ell.com with any feedback.

For the record, I did not contact anyone's manager.

Ok. Whew. I hate Dell. Ah, crap. Forgot the "*".

Monday, October 30, 2006

So, Friday I realized the extent of my ever growing paranoia.
My boss stopped by my cubicle just after lunch. He told me that if there wasn't much going on, I should leave at 3:00 p.m.
Of course, I immediately freaked out. My panicked mind wondered if my badge would work Monday. Did they just want an extra hour to disable my network access? Did my boss think I'm not busy enough? There isn't enough work?
As soon as he walked away, I dashed to a neighboring cube and barged in without knocking - to hell with the "Respectful Workplace".
"Did he tell you to leave early?" I tried (unsuccessfully) to keep the stress out of my voice.
"Yes. It is sort of a standard Friday afternoon kind of thing."
"Really?" I (in no way) casually responded.
"He likes to leave early, too. He is just sharing the love."
"Ok. That is what I figured," I lied.
I'm apparently completely broken. I can no longer accept going home early on a Friday as something normal and not a reason to sweat and twitch.
How did I get to this point? Why would I instantly assume I'm fired?
I need to find that baby furnace, people. Until I uncover the dark underbelly of this company I'll never find peace here.
My other paranoid moment came from the time change.
I suspect the first working day following the change has a lot of people glancing, pre-coffee, at their dashboard clocks in a split-second of panic. Mine came from opening the garage door to be greeted by the first thin rays of a beautiful sunrise.
My moment of panic came from my instant realization that the sun (long an enemy of my fair-complexioned people) had discovered my secret of leaving before he arrives in the morning.
Obviously, logic told me that the sun was trying to kill me.
I have a tradition of burning generally once a year, blistering and peeling, and then exposing a layer of geek-flesh pastier and paler than the layer just burned off. I've learned to avoid the sun and, until this morning, I'd assumed the sun was avoiding me as well.
My brief flash of fear at the sun's obvious escalation of hostilities was also sad, but not as sad as being told to kick off early on a Friday and instantly hitting the corporate Intranet looking for information on COBRA.

Friday, October 27, 2006

My Desk Chair Has a Seatbelt

Yesterday was "Safety Training Day" for me.
I learned to always bring my shoes in the event of a high-rise crisis. Wait. I learned that from Die Hard.
What I learned yesterday is about the different types of fire (A, B, C, D and sometimes K) and to not grab a fire extinguisher and just start spraying the flames. I should leave that to the highly-trained fire wardens on my floor. Unless they are on vacation, in which case I'm to turn rapidly in place to brown evenly.
Rotisserie-style geek. Mmmmmm . . . Caffeinated meat.
I also learned my personal cube-fitted coffee maker is in violation of building codes. I'll show them violations of building codes.

Ok. Crunch time.
I sort of set up my profile on NaNoWriMo.org. For everyone brave/dedicated/bored enough to play along, please use my email address to add me as a commiserating writing buddy.
I may log in more often than I do to my MySpace account. Then again, I've got 50,000 words to write next month.
If you use FireFox, you can install the word count extension found here, for extra constant pressure.
I've selected a working title and intend to polish my notes over the weekend. I may do the whole thing in an online word processor. I hate MS Word.
I chose the category "Science Fiction" though I personally prefer "Speculative Fiction". It sounds a little (tiny bit) less dorky.

Plans for today include enjoying my jeans (I know my officemates who have not yet attended "Respectful Workplace" training enjoy them) and resolving some stupid application issues which have been causing people to call me too often for my own comfort. I'm generally all about my own comfort.

Thursday, October 26, 2006


Yesterday I spent all morning in a "Respectful Workplace" seminar.
"What makes you feel respected at work?" was the initial question.
I answered that I'd been at a job with no funding where we had to rob homeless people for office supplies and that my half of a box of mechanical pencils ( 0.5mm) made me feel pretty good about coming in everyday. People laughed.
Sadly, I wasn't kidding. Mechanical pencils just make me happy.
So we learned about the various forms of harassment and prejudice and discrimination. We learned the difference between behaviour that is "Unprofessional", "Prohibited" and "Illegal".
When we were divided into groups, I was in the "Unprofessional" group. Neat!
We watched a movie detailing the evils of forwarding joke emails, hating on foreign programmers and discriminating against people based on gender, age, national origin, religion, and sexual orientation.
And then, right after training, the tests began. We are expanding the server room and the new racks arrived from Dell. The racks are very nice.
A co-worker was playing with his hardware under his desk.
A new user account set up was ordered for Mohammad A****akar.
What am I supposed to do with that?
How can I implement a respectful workplace when they throw material at me?
I got a call from someone who had been in class with me and, after trying to troubleshoot over the phone, I said, "Are you in your cube? I'll be right there."
I hung up without saying goodbye!
I officially suck at the whole "Respectful Workplace" concept.
From the film, I did learn some new and exciting ways to annoy my co-workers and what the limits are on unprofessional behaviour. Apparently, you can jump all over unprofessional behaviour as long as you don't cross the line into prohibited or illegal behaviour. Game on!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

250 posts, everybody! A personal blogging milestone! To commemorate, I've blatantly ripped off the Chicago Sun Times.

Ladies and gentlemen of the class of '06:

Play games.

If I could offer you only one tip for the future, gaming would be it. The long-term benefits of gaming have been proven by geeks on internet forums, whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than the latest re-imagining of the Original Trilogy. I will upload this advice now.

Enjoy the power and caffeine of The Dew. Oh, never mind. You will not understand the power and caffeine of The Dew until they've faded. But trust me, in 20 minutes, you'll log into Unreal 2003 and feel like your hair is on fire and every fiber of your being is alive. You are not as fast as you imagine.

Don't worry about the last three Star Wars movies. They will never be made. Or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum -- and I know that some people who read this blog are extremely good at algebra. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, like Keanu Reeves coming out in support of relief for refugees in Darfur -- instantly invalidating a concept that otherwise made a lot of sense.

Do one thing every day that scares people around you.


Don't be reckless with other people's dice. Don't put up with people who are reckless with yours.


Don't waste your time on n00bs. Sometimes you're ahead, sometimes you're behind. On the internet, the argument thread is long and, like a race in the Special Olympics, even the winner is retarded.

Remember The Empire Strikes Back. Forget Jar Jar. If you succeed in doing this, tell me how.

Keep your old hardware. Throw away your old floppy disks.

L3@rn 1337.

Don't feel guilty if you never saw the final level of Yar's Revenge. The most hardcore gamers I know have seen it once, maybe. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know don't believe it exists.

Get plenty of XP. Be kind to your parents. You'll miss them when they make you move out.

Maybe you'll get the rail gun, maybe you won't. Maybe you'll get team killed, maybe you won't. Maybe you'll camp a spawn point, maybe you'll take a rocket grenade for a teammate you met two minutes before the match. Whatever you do, don't congratulate yourself too much, or berate yourself either. Berate that 12-year-old who thought he was so 1337 until you fragged his ass into next week.

Enjoy your body. Use it every way you can. Just close the blinds first. Some of us are trying to have a society here.

Dance, especially if you have one of those sweet, hard-sided Dance Dance Revolution controllers.

Read the directions, but go online for the walk-through.

Do not read computer magazines. The information is available for free on the magazine's web site.

Get to know your data. You never know when it'll be gone for good. Be nice to your siblings. It isn't their fault they didn't get the geek gene.

Think hard about who you'd switch teams for, but think even harder about who you'd double back for.

Game on old hardware once, but log out before it makes you hard. Game on an OC3 once, but log out before it makes you soft. Trash talk in both situations.

Accept certain inalienable truths: Processor speeds will rise. Windows will crash. You, too, will get old. And when you do, you'll fantasize that when you were young, your 386 was faster, Starbuck was a man and children could solve their own printing problems.

Learn how to resolve printing problems.

Don't expect anyone else to support you. Especially if they have recently outsourced the support desk.

Don't wash your black t-shirts too often or by the time you're 40 they will look 85.

Be careful what internet sites you visit, but be patient while the pages load. Ebay is a form of nostalgia. Using it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it's worth. Especially if the action figures have been played with until the arms fall off.

But trust me on the gaming.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Chumps come up to me all the time and ask "Excuse me, Pretty Geek, sir, but can you tell me what it takes to be a true player?" I usually have my bodyguards gently escort them face-down onto the sidewalk, because a player is nothing if not busy. I've always got places to go, and platinum dub-sixes to polish, and empty Cristal bottles to fill with generic sparkling wine. But since I like you, I'll let you in on a few secrets. Observe closely as I illustrate the aspects of being a true player.

First, ignore the player haters in the Boy Scouts. Currently, California troops are eligible for a Copyright patch. This "activity" (not merit badge) patch is sponsored by, among other entities, the RIAA. It rewards scouts for not stealing music and movies off the internet.
While it doesn't help you attain Eagle Scout, the badge supplied does sport the © logo to ensure that the ladies will leave you alone to do whatever else you might want to do with a perfectly good broadband connection. It is earned through visiting movie studios to see all the people impacted when a person skips the $8 bucket of popcorn and through producing anti-piracy PSAs.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Since third parties are apparently allowed to provide "activity" patches, the staff at Pr3++yG33kyTh1ng has developed its own. Our patch is completely "ladies-friendly" and is earned through having all the latest media and zero-day applications. Demonstrating a preference for a specific BitTorrent client is optional (but recommended) as well as producing an original Brokeback Mountain parody promo out of stolen media clips. I also think the badge looks cooler.
The Internet Piracy activity patch would be at home on any scout's sash. All the fun of true piracy, but none of the scurvy.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Monday, October 23, 2006

I blog a lot, I think.
This week I'll hit my 250th post.
For anyone who has been reading from the beginning (or who has gone back and read them all), thanks.
I don't know at the moment which post actually is the 250th. I need to figure out the numbers, taking into account deleted and phoned in posts.
People have commented that the blog is a little more geeky and a little less pretty, lately. I hope that isn't a bad thing that makes this whole project unreadable.
Friday the scope of our Disaster Recovery project shifted into a modified Business Continuity project. I say modified because the new plan involves moving the production services to Phoenix and having our current equipment operational but secondary. The thought is, with enough bandwidth, no one in the company would miss our current data center if it were struck by a meteor.
I like the idea, and not just because I'm such a huge fan of meteor strikes.
I'm a big time supporter of the theory of "ninja tech". Under cover of darkness, employing smoke and mirrors, making the user forget the help desk phone number because things are running so beautifully smoothly, ninja technologists are working in all the best companies. They minimize downtime, shuffle services and hack registries to solve problems before they happen.
I'm also a big fan of "pirate tech", which is like ninja tech but more flamboyant. Also, I suspect it involves slightly more rum.
Anyway, since we are facing the same deadline we had for the Disaster Recovery plan and the end of the year chaos that all companies face, getting all vital services (Data retention, email, web services, freaking everything) actually moved a time zone west, the next couple of months (which include NaNoWriMo) should be a complete and total hoot!
This morning as I passed through the laundry room on my way to the garage I heard a very sad sound. At first, I thought it was our Siamese complaining at me in her extremely pathetic sounding way. Then I noticed she had followed me in and the noise was repeating and she wasn't moving her mouth.
Flipping on the light and opening the dryer, I found our orange cat (afraid of both confined spaces and the dark due to a traumatic incident in her kitten-hood) pretty anxious to get out.
Apparently, she climbed in at some point after the clothes were dry but before they were removed from the dryer. I have no idea how that happened, but I don't think anyone has ever been as happy to see me.
I think everyone should rescue someone first thing in the morning just to have a few moments of feeling like a super hero -- even a superhero like Aquaman. Of course, mathematically (not counting cats) that would mean 50% of people would need to be in peril first thing in the morning to make that work even half way.
Tomorrow is my peril day. I'm going to take one for the team and . . . Well I guess I drive through Houston traffic every morning. That is peril enough.
Hopefully, someone can get that rescuer feeling by not shooting me after I merge onto them or cut them off.

Friday, October 20, 2006

I fear a lot of things. Clowns, spiders, mustaches, stuff on my hands and losing my USB drive are top on the list. While I can't do much about the first four, I decided to do something to lessen my fear of lost data through physical misplacement.

The very first thing that I thought of was to put a luggage tag on my drive. This seemed like a pretty good idea on the surface since pretty much every single USB drive comes with a lanyard and/or keychain attached to it. Why not put on a luggage tag right there?

Unfortunately, the luggage tag was too bulky and took away from the convenience of the drive. I then put label with my name and address on the drive but there was so little space on it that it was hard to get my entire message on the drive. There had to be a better way.

I then got to thinking that the USB drive has a lot of storage space. I could easily fit an entire NaNoWriMo novel (and gigs of electronic comics) on the drive. A "Send Me Home" message should be simple.

I figured that if I created a text file with instructions on how to return the drive on the drive root, the finder would probably be able to open it and read the instructions.

But what do you call the file? "Readme.txt", "Help! I'm Lost!.txt", and "Reward If Found.txt" all came to mind but there was nothing that really grabbed your eye. People often gloss over and ignore text files. I know I do. Too much like instructions.

I decided I needed to do something to catch the finder's attention. I came up with two files that promised to not be missed.

The first file is an AutoIt script that I later compiled into an executable. The script was relatively simple and just provided instructions for how to get the USB drive back to me along with an incentive. The script is below.



Dim $Message2
Dim $Message3



$Title =
"Help! I'm Lost!"

$Message1 = "I've been lost and my owner would love to get my data back."

$Message2 = "Please return me to:"

= "Garrick Pass 4715 Country Spring Rd Houston, TX 77084"
= "You will receive a shiny new USB drive twice as big as this one for your trouble."

= "Thanks for your honesty in advance. - Garrick"

,$Message1 & @CRLF
& $Message2 & @CRLF
& $Message3 & @CRLF
& $Message4 & @CRLF
& $Message5)

The second file was an autorun.inf file. If you have done some work with CD's, you may be familiar with this file. It essentially tells the computer what to do when the USB drive is put into the system or if someone double clicks or right clicks on the drive icon. Thank you, Windows XP.

I created the following autorun.inf file.

action=Help! I'm Lost!
label=Help! I'm Lost!
shell\open=Help! I'm Lost!

When you plug the drive in, you get an AutoPlay window which looks like this:

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

When you click on the OK button, you see a message like this:

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

It isn't perfect, since the data is still viewable through Windows Explorer, but I'll go through the encryption process in a later post.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Last night I logged into a game from the last decade and was happy to claim (thanks to EQ customer support) some quest rewards that had not been given to my character. The rewards (hereinafter referred to as ph@+ l3w+) were missing, even though I'd successfully explored the Blightfire Moors, slain the fungus person overlord, and helped the dwarven miner determine where he'd left his ore. I've been busy.
More modern games are getting all the press, as well they should.
Game sales force hardware upgrades which has a noticeable impact on the whole computer industry.
One of the most anticipated upcoming excuses to buy a new graphics card is Battlefield 2142. I've seen screenshots. This giant armored robot combat game looks amazing.
I won't be buying a new computer to run it, though. I've decided that I wouldn't even pick it up from the bargain end cap at Target at this point.
The first reason is that EA, the company releasing the game, has suggested that players uninstall Microsoft Security Patch KB917422 in order to play the game. In fact, leaving this patch (which fixes a vulnerability which can "allow an attacker to compromise your Windows-based system and take control of it") can result in a run-time error when trying to launch the game.
This suggests poor coding to me.
The second reason is that EA has instituted add-on software which is installed (without user consent) when games are installed.
This software is by every definition I can find spyware.
Here is what it does:

1. It installs silently with no user choice.
2. It does not appear in add/remove programs.
3. It combs the local (and presumably network) drives for personal information, especially internet history.
4. It transmits this information back to EA over the always-on internet connection almost all serious PC gamers enjoy.
5. This information is used to deploy in-game advertisements to allow marketers to tap into the huge group of people who stare at a computer screen more than a TV.

Even for me, that sounds evil.
I don't want to have massive robot combat with a Starbucks branded mechwarrior.
A theatre in the background of a battlefield in 2142 should not still be showing Snakes on a Plane.
Is team-based cooperative multiplayer better if the giant robots are stomping through a Toyota dealership? Ok. Maybe.
But I'm exposed to enough advertising. If I'm playing a video game, the constant drone of consumerism is the first thing that can be reliably drowned out.
There should be no message in video games driving us to get the latest and most awesome thing that just came out to keep up with the rest of the horde of consumers.
I'm just glad my current game of choice doesn't stoop to that mentality.
And I'm even more glad I got my stack of potions, Treant Staff, magic belt and shiny rock so I can keep up with the other players. The support people also gave me a coupon code for $5 off at the Sony Style store. How nice is that?

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Last Post Ever

Guys, it has been fun. This blog has helped see me through dark times through (semi-healthy) venting and swearing. I hate to call an end to Pr3++yG33kyTh1ng, but I really have no choice at all.
I've tried really really hard to not make this another lame blog about blogging, but I really just need one more post to thank everyone for playing along for the past several months.

I'm pretty broken up about it. I've put in a lot of time composing this thing. Also, I just added two new gamer shirts to the store.

The problem is, like most of you, I comb the internet daily looking for spiritual guidance. Generally, this involves a pathetic plea typed into the Google search window followed by a quick "I'm Feeling Lucky". Sometimes just that little "I'm Feeling Lucky" affirmation is enough in itself and I can go on to amuse myself with web comics, celebrity gossip and a random forum argument or three.
Yesterday I turned up this gem, a youth-targeted article about the evils of blogging. As you can see, blogging is its very own path to eternal damnation. I wonder what they think about "Web 2.0".

Since I'm all about specific evils rather than general vanilla evils, I'll go over some highlights:

"Another reason blogs have generated headlines recently is that many parents have no idea what weblogs are, or that they exist, or that their children have one. Parents assume their children are innocently spending time on the Internet or doing schoolwork, when they are actually posting to their blogs. Parents have no idea that when they ground their children to their rooms with their computers they have, in effect, created an environment ripe for online chatting and blogging. Since these networks are so connected, kids who are not allowed to go to parties simply create online parties, unbeknownst to most parents."

Aside -- Hey, Mom! Hey, Dad! Only the cool bloggers get invited to the online parties, I guess. Its just like high school.

"Yet another obvious danger of blogs is the endless amount of inappropriate content often spread throughout them. This happens on a host of levels: filthy language, risqué pictures, etc."

Aside -- Hmm . . . Risqué, you say? I'll obviously need to step this up.

I present, the Fire Hydrant Stress Reliever:

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

"Bullying even takes place between blogs, with some using them to defame or attack other people, or spread other forms of hatred."

Aside -- Stupid heads.

"Then there is the danger of addiction. Literally some become so addicted to blogging, posting and instant messaging that other parts of their lives are neglected. Even when such people are away from their computers they will post updates through their cellphones."

Aside -- While I've done that, I'm less likely to do that if I'm logged into EverQuest for 10 straight hours hopped up on Starbucks and compulsively washing my hands.

Here is another favorite excerpt:

"The Internet—and more specifically blogs—has enabled everyone to have a voice on any matter. Now everyone's thoughts are "published" for all to see. Whether or not it is effective, as soon as something is posted the person has a larger voice. It often makes the blogger feel good or makes him feel as if his opinion counts—when it is mostly mindless blather!"

Aside -- Ok. You've got me there, Padre.

"Blogs can easily link to each other. This social network allows people to become "friends" fairly easily with another blogger. As soon as this happens, the person is viewed as a friend by anyone who visits the blog. Whether or not the person is a friend, the appearance of evil is glaring in such situations. Young people in the world are far different then those in the Church of God. The things most will say and do—even on someone else's blog—will make one blush."

Aside -- I blush red like a fire hydrant.

Ok, so this blog (of all things) is my personal one way ticket to Lake O' Fire country. I get it.

But you know . . . Maybe the Restored Church of God has it all wrong, somehow. Perhaps the scriptural backing is a wee bit tenuous. Maybe there is better documentation in the wildest Area51/Kennedy assassination conspiracy theory posted way out on an unpopular and unpatched webserver somewhere in the darkest crevice of the Internet.

Maybe I'll keep this up for a bit.


What the hell. I'm feeling lucky.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Two hours on I-10 yesterday just trying to get home. It seems that even though we live on the gulf coast, water from the sky freaks people out to the point that they drive five miles per hour or randomly crash into other people driving five miles an hour.
I hate to make light of it, since people actually died due to driving into flooded areas. I hate to, but I'll do it.
On the bright side, I was moving slowly enough that I got to use my laptop from the car to scan for unsecured wireless networks. Anyone stuck on I-10 just outside the loop should know that there is a nice and strong one right about there. I was able to check my email, read a few articles on the Dungeons and Dragons website and kick off some downloads because I was in range for about an hour.
Most days, that beats the signal at our house.
Eventually, I tired of it and pulled off to take the surface streets.
These seemed filled with people too unsure of their driving skills to stay on the interstate as opposed to the enlightened haters like myself I'd been expecting.
Then I sat through multiple flashing red lights. I'm sure everyone reading this is aware, but flashing red lights are to be treated as four-way stops. That means we take turns.
I feel the need to clarify, since no one else on the planet seems to have figured this out.
Oh, great mystery of the flashing red light! Your hypnotic beauty entrances us! Lead us unto collisions and let us suffer not the screaming lunatic in the little silver car who names us "asshat" and "moron". Let his frequent query of "What the hell is wrong with you?" fall unto deaf ears, great flashing light.
I wondered briefly if they shouldn't deploy crack teams of electricians by helicopter to fix the stupid flashing lights during rush hour.
I further pondered the quality of the solid-state electronics. I'm sure the red light cameras work no matter what, but if a bird lands on an adjacent wire we are in red flashing light misery for possibly days.
I blame nature. That's right. Nature brings us rain which slicks the roads and floods our infrastructure (in about ten minutes). Nature sends her flocks of feathery evil minions to disable our traffic lights -- the only source of order on the road. Human nature causes blind weather-related panic combined with a need to not spill the Banana Mocha Frappuccino® at the possible and acceptable cost of smashing another car into a crumpled, leaking, steaming lane-blocking pile of twisted metal.
So I finally made it near home. But by this time, the amber "fuel warning" light was glaring at me aggressively. I looped around a big parking lot and swung into the gas station on the corner to see signs on every pump advising me that they could not accept credit cards at this time (probably the stupid weather again) and that I should pay cash inside.
Pay cash inside?
Who carries that much cash?
I know gas is less expensive than it was a few weeks ago, but if I carried the amount of cash to buy a full tank of gas, and I was for some reason (like screaming at other motorists) pulled over, I would be arrested under suspicion of being a . . . um . . . an "unlicensed pharmaceutical distributor". Or maybe a pimp. I did look pretty stunning yesterday. I'd hope the arresting officer would assume I was a pimp.
The sad truth is, after two solid, mind-numbing, soul-crushing hours in traffic, my arrest would not go down well at all. I'd be flailing and screaming stuff about how the "asshats are responsible for all the wars in the history of the world" and I'd ask the arresting officer if he was an asshat.
I only hope I'd be given a chance to apologize on national television later.
So I could wear a t-shirt promoting my blog.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Small Things

I'd like to take a moment to celebrate the little things.
Little things enrich our lives in ways most of us rarely consider. A good book, a satisfying argument on an online forum, Webster. You know, small things.
While nowhere near as adorable as Emmanuel Lewis, Sunday was one of those little things.
The rain prevented yard work, we discussed religion over lunch (pros and cons) and the rest of the day was burned watching DVD's and playing games on the laptop.
Days get more productive and they get more active, but days where a person can legitimately stay in sleep pants all day should be treated with reverence and respect. And napping.
More things should be celebrated with napping, anyway.
Three pots of coffee with two people drinking it, folks. That is a good day.
Friday was less good. I spent seven hours on the phone with HP support trying to get a part (under warranty) shipped to us. The best I could do by the time we had tried everything possible was having the part for Monday. This resulted in a three-day outage. Of something. I don't really know what it was supposed to be doing before it broke, but I know it won't be doing it again until we get the busted part switched out.
Saturday we attended a festival of some kind. I know there were goats and video games. I know Gwynyth had a good time. I know kids hog a video game controller with an attitude that suggests they aren't being selfish -- They just assume an "adult" has no interest in playing Lego Star Wars Original Trilogy. Kids have no idea. Also, they all need hair cuts. Little hippies.
Multiple simultaneous cancellations prevented an actual game of D&D Saturday night, but I'm still marking the weekend an official success.
I also managed to learn something about Firefox and the supposed memory leak "bug". As a side note, if I drove a VW bug, I would pay the extra $40 a year to TXDOT for the custom license plate "FEATURE".
Anyway, I've been playing with the "about:config" page and have discovered a few settings to make this "memory leak" disappear.
The source of the confusion is the way Firefox is coded to handle cached pages, given the way most refreshes are from pages within the last 10 accessed and generally navigated to through the "Back" button. Here are the changes to make that go away and limit the amount of system RAM eaten:

Kill the amount of RAM Firefox uses for it'’s cache feature
Here i’s how to fix it:
1. type "about:config"” (no quotes) in the browser.
2. Find browser.sessionhistory.max_total_viewer
2. set it’s value to "0"

Increase the Speed in Which Firefox loads pages
1.Type "about:config"” into the address bar and hit return.
Normally the browser will make one request to a web page at a time. When you enable pipelining it will make several at once, which really speeds up page loading.

2. Alter the entries as follows:
Set "“network.http.pipelining"” to "“true"
Set "network.http.proxy.pipelining" to "“true"
Set "“network.http.pipelining.maxrequests" to some number like 30.

This means it will make 30 requests at once.

3. Lastly right-click anywhere and select New-> Integer. Name it "nglayout.initialpaint.delay"” and set its value to "0".

This value is the amount of time the browser waits before it acts on information it receives. If you a’re using a broadband connection you wi’ll load pages faster now
More options for your about:config (you might have to create some of these entries by Right Click –> New– > Interger or String

network.dns.disableIPv6: set "“false"”
"“content.notify.backoffcount"”: set "“5"
"“plugin.expose_full_path"”: set "true".
"ui.submenuDelay"”: set "0" (zero)

Kill RAM usage to 10mb when FF is minimized
This little "about:config" hack will drop Firefox'’s RAM usage down to 10 Mb when minimized

1. Open Firefox and go to the Address Bar. Type in about:config and then press Enter.
2. Right Click in the page and select New -> Boolean.
3. In the box that pops up enter config.trim_on_minimize. Press Enter.
4. Now select True and then press Enter.
5. Restart Firefox.

Plans for this week include completing the rough draft of the Disaster Recovery (sorry, "Business Continuity Planning") diagrams, spinning up a new virtual environment, and putting out user-generated fires as they develop.
Last week I published minesweeper to the production Citrix Farm . . . For testing purposes, you know.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Friday, October 13, 2006

I have to attend sensitivity training.
It isn't as bad as it sounds . . . Everyone has to go.
Currently, there is a minor witch hunt to determine exactly who said something inappropriate and ruined the fun for everyone.
Whoever it was, you can bet I'll assume everyone of their gender/racial profile/religious belief/sexual preference/eye color would have made the same comment and I'll endeavor to treat them all like they wasted two hours of my life. Fairly and evenly.
Before that was scheduled, we were all due to attend safety training.
I've been to a lot of safety training classes in my time doing I.T. work.
This is a chemical company. While I'll probably very rarely see the inside of a chemical plant, I hope we get more than the standard presentation showing a plugged in motherboard with the sign "Do Not Lick."
I laugh at it, but that warning label has probably saved my life more times than I can count.
The safety training had been pushed back even before the emergency sensitivity training due to a toy problem.
One of the things this company does, apparently, is hand out toys at training meetings.
Then there was the year they gave out stress balls with the corporate logo and some people (guys, probably) spent the rest of the safety meeting throwing them at each other until someone knocked over a coffee mug and sent shards of glass and hot coffee everywhere. While it probably isn't the first safety meeting that was interrupted with a trip to the Emergency Room, HR (the organizer of these fun fests) has promised no more stress balls.
Speaking as a guy, I can tell you that whatever we are supplied can and will be multi-purposed into a weapon of some sort.
Where was I? Oh, yes. Safety Meeting pushed back.
The Safety Meeting was pushed back to allow HR time to order squeezy firetrucks. While I can think of three ways off the top of my head to kill a man with a squeezy firetruck (I have a lot of thinking time during meetings), these were deemed necessary after the intended toy (a squeezy fire hydrant) was nixed upon arrival.
Someone in HR decided that the squeezy fire hydrant was "suggestive".
I may not know much, but I know that I want one of those fire hydrants more than I've ever wanted any toy in history.
If it is truly as suggestive as reports indicate, I could use my suggestive fire hydrant to start a never-ending cycle of sensitivity training/safety training meetings.
More than anything, I think I'd like to know what could make a squeezy fire hydrant suggestive. What would it even be shaped like? Does it vibrate or something?
I'm pretty sure my imagination makes it more suggestive than reality would dictate. Like most things, really.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Yesterday was a very special day at our house.
The celebration started with a delightful dinner and sugar-free cake. Boxes were opened and new toys enjoyed.
Yes, yesterday was NEW ROUTER DAY!!!! WOO HOO!!!
The new router has flashy blue lights. I doubt they technically do anything, but they are flashy and they are blue and they light up. Flashy blue lights!
I logged into EverQuest for the first time in over a week and laid the smack down on some evil treants. I hate evil treants, you know. And good treants, too, I guess. Who do they think they are, anyway? Freaking treants.
Then, in a manic shopping spree, I dropped almost 800 platinum on "phat l3wt" in the bazaar.
I have no hesitation in telling you it was every bit as fun as it sounds and yes, I am truly uber.
Also, I updated my podcast directory through iTunes and browsed semi-random websites at the same time!
I did have to make the trek upstairs twice to reset the new router. This tells me the problem is not exclusively our old and busted router. The new hotness router can apparently better handle the inconsistent signals sent from my wireless card. Maybe that is what the blue lights do! The knowledge that the root cause is my machine is a source of sadness, but it isn't a limitation I can't live with. Probably.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

This morning is all about a completely awesome blanket of fog.
Of course, it made the drive in a bit like a video game with poor graphics (but a great soundtrack).
I'm not sure how high the fog reaches, but it doesn't reach the 28th floor. Looking out gives me the feeling of being way higher than the 28th floor.
All I can see is oddly glowing clouds of fog below with skyscrapers sticking up here and there. It looks quiet, if something can look like a lack of sound.
Can something taste sticky? Look sugary? Smell warm?
Whatever. Either way, it looks quieter out there than in here where everyone is yelling about downed databases or something. So loud!

Yesterday Gwynyth came home with some of her schoolwork for us to review. I'll start off by saying that her score was perfect on the one I'll be discussing. Go, Team Gwynyth!

I would expect her class to cover math. I would also expect for her skills in math to rapidly surpass mine. I'm fine with this. Shana needs a back up on balancing the checkbook anyway.
My notes are probably maddening.
"It looks like you spent twenty-'xt' at graalnoor. Where is graalnoor? What is the currency conversion for 'xt' dollars?"
I would also expect Gwynyth's school to cover reading and writing. Necessary life skills.
And Texas history. Because Texas is awesome. Ever seen a mailbox in the shape of Illinois? I thought not.
The paper she came home with yesterday was a worksheet designed to reinforce a lesson about drugs and alcohol. At first, I thought this would be great. What would be cooler than having my seven-year-old able to make a passable vodka tonic for me?
Unfortunately, this was not the focus of the lesson.
"Alcohol can make your vision _____________", with the correct answer "blurry" instead of my choice, "unconcerned".
"Marijuana can make you _____________ things", with the correct answer "forget" instead of "hungry for sweet".
I'd have sent a letter to her teacher, but I was too drunk and my short-term memory is crap.
On the back of the sheet were smiley faces and frowny faces and a list of things that were to be connected by lines to the appropriate face.
Her line for "Wine" was drawn straight to the frowny face. I told her that was alright, but really it depends on the wine.
Her line for "Dog" was drawn to the smiley face. I told her it really depends on the dog.
Her line for "Marijuana Cigarette" was drawn to the frowny face. I let this one go, even though the term "Marijuana Cigarette" on government hand-outs never fails to make me laugh.
Her line for "Book" went to the smiley face, but there are a lot of really crappy books out there.
It is all about the details, educational system. I'm tired of picking up your slack.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

I've needed computer memory for a while, but I'd held off.
First, memory prices can be kind of crappy.
Second, it has been so long since I bought memory I don't even know what I'm looking for anymore. Technology changes pretty quickly. What used to be simply PC100 or PC133 is now broken into clock speeds and numbers I don't even understand (or particularly care about).
After reading up, I determined that I needed PC3200 DDR RAM.
I checked around. I hit TigerDirect.com and NewEgg.com.
I searched Overstock.com and Ebay and wandered through Pricewatch.
Fry's (outpost.com) was outrageous.
Then I decided to check Axion Tech. I've shopped there before. In fact, before I moved out the the suburbs it was the only place I shopped.
Since they are a local Houston company, I figured I could get shipping for about what it would cost to drive there.
I loaded a stick of PC3200 DDR RAM into the virtual shopping cart and placed the order Monday, satisfied that I'd gotten a good deal and kept the money local.
Then Zack called . Zack works at Axion. He let me know that the memory I'd ordered was no longer in stock. Further, he told me it was no longer being made. When he said my laptop would need another compatible type, I hung my head. I didn't need RAM for a laptop at all.
"Did I order laptop RAM?" I asked.
"Did you not want laptop RAM?"
He laughed, but not in a mean way. He agreed with my explanation that memory types change quickly and that it was okay to be confused a bit. He may have been just being nice.
Then he found not what I ordered, but what I needed. He substituted a brand name for the generic I'd settled on and told me that shipping for that brand was free. He further explained that by using the free ground shipping I would likely get the memory as quickly as if I'd paid for two-day shipping, what with them being local and all.
He then sent me a PDF of my new receipt, which was about $4 less than what I'd been expecting to pay for the memory that wouldn't have fit anyway. $4! That's like half a gallon of gas!
In short, I will never buy parts anywhere but Axion in the future. I cannot recommend them enough.
In long, I will have more RAM in my workstation on Wednesday, which should allow me to steal files and game all at once. Go, Team Stealing-Files-And-Gaming!

I've been thinking (stressing) quite a bit over NaNoWriMo. In less than a month, I've got to actually start typing for real. Of course, I've got plot ideas bumping around in my head pretty much constantly.
With so many awesome ideas, how can I narrow it down to just one? Or more than one strung together in some kind of crappy Chaucer-esque (though not really Chaucer-esque due to my lack of ability and his lack of ninjas) series of seemingly unconnected events?
Some ideas I'm kicking around:

1. Two drug-addled delivery drivers take a pizza to the wrong planet, sparking an interstellar war that decimates the galaxy in Kromlock Wanted Anchovies!

2. An I.T. worker pushes a security update to every computer and accidentally sends his CEO's personal pornography collection to another computer . . . But which one? Enjoy the silly chase in Format This.

3. Space ninjas (that are cyborgs) attempt to return their sacred dojo to glory by defeating a horde of slavering monkey zombie pirates in This Time You Die For Real, Dishonorable Pirate Monkey Zombie Creatures.
On second thought, that is less novel than musical production.

4. A guy and a girl play video games. Later they fix a snack. When she goes to brush her teeth you'll wonder why you started reading I Don't Know, What Do You Want To Do?. I can't imagine the cover art that would make me pick up that book. Well, I can, but I'd read the first hundred pages thinking, "When do the space ninjas from the cover show up?" and then I'd be bitter. I'd finish reading it, though.
I mean, I've invested a hundred freaking pages in it.

5. A killer toy is on the loose in a daycare. The kids must join forces with no thought to potty training to defeat The Deady Bear.

6. Barthur the anthropomorphic magical non-varkian from space defends his people with a laser knife and chainsaw sword in Ham-star the Destroyer.

As awesome as all these may sound, I can't start writing until November 1st. You'll just have to wait for preview chapters to show up here. Sorry to get everyone's hopes up. I'm just anxious. And stressed. And vomity nervous.
It isn't pleasant.
I also need to quickly post a message to everyone who suggested that I might like the "Weird Al" Yankovic song White and Nerdy. My message is this: You guys suck and I hate you.

Wait, that is harsh. I mean you guys "kind of" suck and I "mostly" hate you. SRSLY SRSLY

You know who you are.

Monday, October 09, 2006


Well folks, it is that time of year again. The McDonald's Monopoly Game ushers in another Fall of cranking out envelope after envelope to get those Best Buy Bucks.
Official Game Rules

"How to get BestBuy Bucks, and make a profit at it."

Step one: Do NOT eat at McDonald's. Holy crap, that food will kill you faster than street racing while hopped up on prescription pain killers.
Mmmmmm . . . prescription pain killers . . .


By requesting game pieces by mail, you will actually come out ahead with BestBuy bucks. Here is how it would break down:

Example: 100 requests for game pieces. (you can make requests as often as you like, but NO mechanical means can be used to address the enveloples, do it by hand) Each request will net you One (1) Game Piece and One (1) Chance Piece. You WILL get either a $1 or $5 BB Buck and you might win something else with the other piece (food, other prize, or nothing)

Given that you have a 1 in 12.4 chance of getting a $5 BB buck, here is what you can expect to get back.

Worst Case: $100 BestBuy Bucks
Best Case: $500 BestBuy Bucks
Probable Case Based on Odds in Rules: (Eight $5 Bucks & Ninety-Two $1 Bucks) $132 BestBuy Bucks (Note: this average is down $33 from 2005).

Cost to send 100 submissions:
Number 6 envelopes can be had from many drug stores on sale at about 300 for $1. Add tax and you have $1.08. You will need 200 envelopes, as you need one to send in and one that they will send back. Total Cost: $0.72

Stamps: You will need 200 stamps. $0.39 each (up from $0.37 in 2005)
Total Cost: $78.00

Complete COST: $78.72
So, using the probable outcome I discussed above. You will most likely gross $132 BestBuy Bucks, subtract your costs ($78.72), which leaves you with $53.28.

In other words, you are most likely going to save 40.36% on your purchase at BestBuy.
(78.72/132=0.5963, 1.0-0.5963=40.36%)

Now this is assuming your time is free, which it may or may not be.

Writing the McDonald's address (MONOPOLY® 2006 Game at McDonald's, Game Piece Request, P.O. Box 49434, Strongsville, OH 44149) took me about 45 secs. Writing my address took about 25 secs. Total, 70 secs times 100 entries equals 1hr and 57 minutes. Given the figures above, you are making about $27 an hour doing this. Not bad!

If you can do it on the clock at work (while borrowing envelopes) this money is closer to pure, sweet profit.

Keep in mind, the max amount of BestBuy Bucks that can be redeemed per day (and therefore per purchase) is $200. So, the sweet spot for submissions would be no more than 152 requests.

Finally, this is not meant to be a waste of time. I would rather not spend more money and eat a ton of unhealthy food in order to win something in this contest. Before you get that roll of 100 stamps, you should get your mind set on what you want to spend it on at BestBuy and ask yourself these questions:

1. Is it excluded by the rules for purchase with BestBuy Bucks?
2. Can I get it for 43% off elsewhere?
3. Am I ready to spend 2 hours writing on envelopes?

Also, it is more fun finding loopholes in the game that will benefit you. Yes, the thrill of the challenge and dodging trans fats, friends. That is what it is all about.
Mmmmm . . . . Trans fats.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

For Joe:

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
Usually I try to keep this place on the internet light-hearted and fun, but today I must share one of the most tragic stories I've run across in years.
You see, Arthur (beloved children's program cartoon character and proponent of reading and doing things for the right reasons) is having his identity taken from him. Forced to hide his rodent nature, Arthur is a victim singled out simply for his species.
The conspiracy is wide-spread. Some of the official Arthur webpages have been hacked and defaced, racial slurs scrawled across the title calling Arthur the hamster "Aardvark" and advising readers (mostly teachers) on the methods of "using" Arthur in the classroom -- with no regard to his feelings at all.
I know he is a cartoon, but I still feel for the little guy. Some meth-head freaks on Wikipedia even psycho-edited Arthur's listing as some kind of sick joke.
I submit as evidence a picture of Arthur in a hamster wheel:
Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

For further evidence, look at the many subtle differences between the hamster above and this aardvark:
Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
And then, I discovered this re-writing of Arthur's species has stretched inside the very walls of my home. My own beloved spouse is buying into the pro-aardvark hype.
I can re-edit and correct the Wikipedia entry all day, but I need everyone to please head over to Shana's delusional challenge to set the record straight.
Arthur = hamster.

Friday, October 06, 2006

As many of you are aware, I'm 100% on board with the oppression and enslavement of other species. It looks like I'm not alone in this.
A group of scientists has figured out how to coat biological viruses with platinum. After the bling is applied, they are coaxed into lining up to create super-tiny microprocessors.
Of course, using viruses for any type of experiment invariably ends up in either apocalypse or rampant zombie-ism. I think it is a fair trade-off if we can squeeze a few more frames per second out of some blistering 3D action.

Any easily (or even less-easily) offended people should stop reading here. The rest of this gets icky and twisted.

Hi, Pam! ;)

In the course of my daily research, I turned up some unfortunate URLs. It is extremely important when choosing a domain name to think of it in every possible context. PrettyGeekyThing.com is a fairly straight forward name. Of course, it is a very simple site. There are other names that are not so well thought out.
Here are some unfortunate URLs:

1. I need a vacation. How about one in beautiful in Lake Tahoe? We can find their brochure website at www.gotahoe.com

2. Therapists in the US merely wanted to offer troubled souls a shoulder to cry on. Let's hope their advice is not as short-sighted as whoever registered the URL www.therapistfinder.com

3. Welcome to the First Cumming Methodist Church. Their website is www.cummingfirst.com

4. There is one betting site that is way out in front as my favorite: www.oddsexchange.com

5. "We're not just a printer," claims the firm Tri-Plex. And they guarantee: "Short runs or long, we can handle both equally well." But it makes you wonder what kind of service they are offering from their website with a name like this: www.triplexbusiness.com

6. If you are looking for a place to download the latest songs you might think this one is a homage to bad digital music. It just so happens that the banner ad displays Mariah Carey so maybe this URL is accurate after all: www.mp3shits.com

7. Law firm Morrison & Foerster has more than 1,000 legal professionals worldwide. Surely one should have caught this. It contains a slang abbreviation for a rather strong swear word that would leave them in contempt of court: www.mofo.com

8. This drinks franchise has spawned a host of copycat stores around the US as it attracts customers by the barrel-load desperate for a schoolboy giggle and quick buzz: www.beaverliquors.com

9. Ingleside Vineyards of Virginia has a website. This makes me both laugh and follow up with "Awesome": www.ipwine.com

10. The plant-growers of Mole Station Nursery in New South Wales claim to specialize in the production of frost- hardy native shrubs and farm trees. OMG: www.molestationnursery.com

11. If you need an IT professional to fix your broken PC this could be a great place to start, especially if you are having a problem with your hard drive: www.expertsexchange.com

12. Looking for an actor and want to get in touch with his or her agent? Then "Who Represents" is a database of contact names and numbers: www.whorepresents.com

13. A building firm based in Ontario, Canada, promises: "No job too small, or too tall." They have even helpfully included some handy pictures showing exactly how they manage to get it up: www.mammotherection.com

14. Then of course, there's the Italian Power Generator company: www.powergenitalia.com

15. And then there are these brainlesss art designers: www.speedofart.com

Before registering a URL, these companies should have run the choices by their I.T. people. Any giggling would have been a sign to look in another direction for a name.

Edit: Shana suggested an internet security consulting company. For more information you can visit them at: www.rtfm.com

Edit #2: Andrew offered up a pet portrait site that could double as a fan site for the flatulence of John Woo at:www.woofart.com

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Broken computer stuff completely sucks.
Of course, it also largely pays for what my family and I lovingly refer to as "living indoors", so I guess it has its upsides.
Our CIO stopped by my cube earlier this week and knocked. What CIO knocks? Also, there is no door, so he had to knock on the piece of plastic that tacks down the carpety stuff I like to stick pins in.
He asked me if I was monitoring "Context Switching" on the server farm.
Never, in a decade, has anyone ever asked me about context switching. Hell no, I'm not monitoring for it. No one has ever cared. I thought I was the only one who even found it interesting.
Windows native monitoring (and most third party monitoring add-in like sysmon and perfmon (which are considerably less third party since Microsoft bought them)) look at processor load and memory utilization. It takes very specialized monitoring tools to even notice context switching, much less analyze trends related to it.
In general a Context Switch is something that is at the core of a multitasking operating system, as it is in fact the switching from one application running on the computer to the other. A CPU can actually do only a single task at a time. Sure, it can do a lot of them in a second so it looks like its doing various things at the same time but down-level you can only use the hardware registers once. Intel's Hyperthreading tries to cheat around on this but in the end the CPU is still doing a single task at once.
Let's say your CPU is currently executing a program that is part of MS Word, now on your Citrix server this will not be the only application available so MS Excel is also running. The operating system wants to give Excel its slice of CPU cycles so it switches between the two. What happens is that the CPU registers in use by MS Word are written to memory, afterwards the CPU registers that MS Excel has been using are copied to the CPU. When these are in place the task the CPU is supposed to be doing will be executed.
Stack up 40 users worth of these and you can see where there might be a lot people spending time staring at the spinning hourglass. Oh, how I hate that hourglass.
The earlier indicator of excessive server load is memory utilization and processor activity. These are easy to track.
Citrix has an optional module that checks for context switching issues and (within five minutes) my CIO was proven correct.
That was a long way to go for a short conclusion. I apologize. As compensation, please feel free to discuss Context Switching at your next dinner party. I'd suggest just after the salad course.
He told me I'd been budgeted for more servers next quarter and wants a full and detailed plan for what I'd do to "fix" our solution. Our little group of servers will probably double.
I'm pretty happy about that.
But I still hate broken computer stuff.
Like our router at home.
Apparently, "wireless" in the case of our router refers to the need to walk upstairs every ten minutes and pull the power "wire" out of the back to reboot the thing.
I've made public my plans to smash it with a brick when the new router shows up. Smash smash smash smash-ity smash. Last night I picked out the lucky brick.
I updated the firmware, switched the channel, altered the "mode" and gave the router every possible chance to maintain our connection to the internet. All I want to do is download some podcasts and surf the internet. iTunes freaks my router out like I'd freak if someone dumped a bucket of live spiders on me.
Mmmm . . . bucket of spiders. I could have a lot of fun with a bucket of spiders.
A tightly sealed bucket of spiders. With a very very long handle. Maybe remote control.
You know, I should probably just wait a few years. I hear the Japanese are developing spider-filled robots in a secret bunker somewhere in Okinawa. I could probably pick one up cheap after they use them to completely immobilize every military force on the planet to return the Sony empire to glory.
I, for one, hope our spider-launching robot overlords can find a use for me growing sushi rice somewhere quiet. Hopefully hydroponic rice, since I hate to get stuff on my hands.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Spinning Our Wheels

I got some disturbing news yesterday morning.
I have a friend (no blog link) who worked with me at MD Anderson. Before that, he was at Shell Oil for years.
In addition to being really good at EverQuest, Jason is one of those I.T. people we have all heard about who was asked to train his outsourced Indian replacements before his lay-off date.
He was given enough notice in that round of lay-offs to land another job before the end, but I know people who haven't been so lucky as well.
Jason got out with tons of amusing stories from his days spent training people half a world away and some of the disastrous impact they continue to have on the bottom line. He still knows people at Shell.
Anyway, Monday Shell announced that they are delighted with the effect outsourcing is having on the stock price. As a result, they are ramping it up over the next 12 months.
They have also fine-tuned it. This time they will offer enough notice that they won't have to pay severance to the displaced I.T. workers -- several who have been loyal employees for over a decade.
There are a lot of questions that spring to mind over this.
When factoring in response time and system downtime, is there really a cost savings?
How do the business units feel about having a technical team that attends meetings from the other side of the planet?
Is this about efficiency? Using contractors instead of full-time employees? Hiding expenses from stockholders by funnelling money through other channels than payroll?
Is it evil?
I can't answer any of those questions with authority. I know how I feel about it.
And then there are hard facts.
Within a year, Houston will see a glut of displaced I.T. workers on a scale unseen since the Enron collapse.
These people will spend the following 12 months adjusting to new roles elsewhere.
Some will move away, but the majority will be absorbed (skills intact) into the Houston I.T. landscape - a landscape dense with Shell competitors.
During my interview for this job the final question from my current manager was "Why should I hire you and not someone else?"
I love that question. I always have.
The answer is the same, always: "Because I'm going to go to work somewhere. Would you rather it be here or at someone this company competes with?"
I think in the long-term Shell will end up paying a lot more for outsourcing than the books suggest.
I know in the short-term I'm done buying gas at Shell. And Quaker State and Pennzoil.
While I can buy petroleum products anywhere, it is wrong for a company to take the same attitude towards I.T. services.
Leslea sent me a link to USB-powered awesomeness. Due to the topic of today's post I wondered if the little guy might be a metaphor for the I.T. worker in the market today.
I think it can be for a number of different reasons. First, it obviously works very hard and goes almost nowhere. Secondly, if you remove it from a computer it doesn't do anything (though it remains cute and fluffy).
For the third metaphor, the "U" in USB stands for universal -- This little guy can do his thing anywhere with equal cuteness and efficiency.
I remember from keeping non-USB old-school hamsters years ago (as everyone should at least once), like the modern I.T. worker hamsters need something to chew on all the time or they become sick and despondent.
I also remember that the cute and fluffy little guys can inflict a very nasty bite if they feel they have been wronged.
There are ways I.T. people differ from hamsters, too. Like the whole "eating their young" thing.
But every metaphor has a limit.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Over the weekend a firewall hole used for testing was accidentally left in place. As a result, some enterprising spammer spent the whole weekend relaying junk email through our mail server. Thousands and thousands and thousands of emails.
Of course, it all got lodged in our outbound filtering system and stopped all mail by Monday morning.
On the bright side, I know where to get cheap prescription drugs.
Since I personally have nothing to do with the firewall and very little to do with our email system, I came out of the meeting as the only one un-fussed at. Looking good by comparison is the same as looking good based on individual merit. Not that any fussing was of a level I'd deem noticeable anyway.

Basically, my boss turned on his speakerphone and addressed the offending team member (who was not only not responsible for the firewall but had been working on the mail issue from home since 4am) by telling him how shocked and disappointed he was in the whole situation. He did not curse. He did not raise his voice.
And technically, even though my cube is about 10 feet from his open office door, the conversation was private.

By 10:30, things were going back to normal in the email world, so my boss called a meeting.
He apologized (three times over about 10 minutes) to the admin he had called out over the speakerphone and to the rest of us who may or may not have heard it.
I chose to not tell him that I've been personally insulted and demeaned at the end of a successful project and that contact from management during an actual crisis has often stopped just short of physical shaking. If he thinks that is the line I'm not going to be the one who argues to re-draw it someplace angrier.

And then I went to work on our old Citrix farm. I've avoided it like it has an open dripping wound so far, but there are applications still in use on the old girl and they are (understandably) broken.
Our new farm is load balanced and up-to-date and accessible from (literally) anywhere on the planet. The hardware is state of the art and the event logs are remarkably free of angry red marks of Microsoft pain.
The old farm is two wheezing servers running an outdated version of Citrix. Also, due to an error in the licensing protocol, you can't actually connect to them through Terminal Services. This means that to work on one, I need to plug in a mouse and keyboard and monitor. Only then, they don't show up. Even using USB hardware the operating system won't find them without a reboot.
So I power cycled the first server blind, with no way to know if users were on it, and the keyboard still didn't work. I needed to launch a session on it to initialize the drivers, only there is no real way to launch that session.
In the end, I found that the only way to gain access was to launch a third party application and break out to a desktop. That done, I discovered that the problematic applications were deployed on the other server. The other server that did not share the hackable application.
Due to lack of documentation, I started a full forensics job from the accessed server to the running production server I have no way to get into.
I kept picturing the swamp monster in the stump in the Flash Gordon movie. Timothy Dalton was pretty enough. I'm at least as pretty as Timothy Dalton.
So I dug around in a dying server full of users most of the day yesterday, pulling applications and *.dll files to the safety of the new farm and telling the Desktop Group to expect the calls as people start to have applications vanish.

Plans for today include finding the ex-employee who left me this mess for a fight to the death on top of a floating, twisting, spiked platform.

Monday, October 02, 2006

My Thumbs Hurt

Honesty time.

I'm horrible at video games.

I'm okay with this, really. If there were an award for most deaths in EverQuest, I'd interrupt my current naked run through dangerous territory to get back my stuff to step up to the podium and graciously thank the EQ Academy for their consideration and all the little people (gnomes, mostly) for their unwavering support.
Especially twitch-based games. My thumbs are powerful BlackBerry scrolling tools, but my reflexes are poor at best.
I've long suspected that any frag-tastic success at gaming is attributable to dumb luck or my penchant for camping the spawn points and firing a virtual rocket launcher at anyone who shows up just before they can fight back.
But yesterday all the luck and guile in the world failed me, and failed me miserably.
Gwynyth and I broke out the PS2. She wanted to play the X-Men game, but that game is cooperative and I wanted something a little more competitive.
We settled on Dead or Alive, a fighting game that allows a player to punch, kick, tackle and throw his or her opponent through destructible set pieces or off roofs.
I picked the angriest looking Kung Fu guy and Gwynyth settled on the girl with the nicest dress. And heels.
I tried almost every combatant available over the next hour or so. Gwynyth stuck with her original choice.
She beat me mercilessly ten matches to two. Her pretty-dressed avatar kicked mine in the face, chest and groin and repeatedly threw pushed and kicked me off overhangs, through parking garage walls and over railings.
Gwynyth is a poor winner. I suspect the standard Texas school curriculum includes Math, Science, English, History and Trash Talk, a subset of Social Studies probably.
"I'm going to beat you down again, old man."
"Oh. You want me to defeat you again?"
"Push the square button. That helps." (It doesn't, by the way.)
"You've been beaten again, but remember that time two matches ago when my girl grabbed your guy by the beard and rammed his face into the wall again and again? That was a good time."
She continued the trash talk through dinner and my switch to Mortal Kombat. The constant sprays of blood hastened our switch back to Dead or Alive. Where the beatings resumed.
As we put her to bed, she couldn't resist reminding me about the time she threw me off a cliff and I bounced across the cobblestones. I muttered something about my (legitimately) sore thumbs. Older people develop thumb cramps. I have a potassium deficiency and I'm allergic to bananas.
"Fine, Whiny McWhinester."
I turned at the top of the stairs and walked back to her doorway fully intending to lecture her about sportsmanship and being a good winner.
All attempts at good parenting evaporated when I saw the confident smirk under the pink mesh canopy.
"It's on for tomorrow! Be prepared to bring it!"

"It's already been brought old man, but I can bring it again."

Were it not for a stupid email outage, I'd have stayed home today to practice.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Hey! Look!

If you need a strong password for Windows XP, open a command prompt (Start>Run>cmd) and type:

"net user administrator /random" without the quotes.

A strong Windows approved password will be generated without having to think anything! Yay for not thinking!
I'd never used that little function until earlier this week. Also, I'd never missed it since I only used it because I was researching this post.
Truth is, Windows XP is full of functionality no one ever uses. These extra apps are a major source of the billions and billions of security related issues which come up all the time.
They are also the reason my current Windows XP directory takes up (just checked) 2.33 Gigs of space on my hard drive and is using a staggering 640MB of memory (page file) for me to compose this and use Firefox.

So, Joe brought me a desktop computer to manage . . . um . . . media gathering optimization exercises?
The computer included a license for Windows XP Professional, but I didn't know the password. I also didn't want the password. Seemed rude.
So I loaded a version of XP I found earlier called TinyXP to replace the licensed version.
TinyXP has the extra junk included with XP removed. Like Internet Explorer. And the bits and parts associated with Microsoft Office. And the Windows sounds and screensavers.
Strangely, audio and printing support are left in. So is MS Paint. Wordpad and the Calculator are missing, but the Microsoft Sidewinder game controller is still supported.
Here are the advantages:

1. On disk, the install (Windows directory, Documents and Settings, and Program Files) takes up just under 400MB of space. Contrasted with my figure of 2.33 Gigs for the Windows folder alone you can see it earns the name TinyXP.
2. Stuff doesn't run in the background. Listen. According to Task Manager, the OS is using under 40MB of ram. That leaves quite a bit available for whatever I'd like to do.
3. The distribution includes, uTorrent (for um . . . verifying network speeds?), a browser (which I replaced with Firefox), WinRAR, and the Windows management suite has been replaced with versions of everything that run cleaner and use up fewer system resources.
4. The whole OS installed to a freshly formatted drive in six minutes.

The distribution won't work on a laptop (no power management junk left in) and some driver updates were problematic because the manufacturer-supplied drivers included applications which relied on Windows XP Bloatware features TinyXP doesn't include. The workaround is the bust up the executable and manually install the driver files - but it works.

The end result is that the system is fast and responsive. I haven't missed a feature yet. Unless you count remote management, but that is more an issue with stairs than TinyXP.

Since it is offically October, today will be spent rigging up the house to try to make small children cry by the end of the month. 'Tis the season.