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User Journal

Journal Journal: in which i am a noob all over again 17

I haven't posted a journal here in almost three years, because I couldn't find the button to start a new entry. ...yeah, it turns out that it's at the bottom of the page.

So... hi, Slashdot. I used to be really active here, but now I mostly lurk and read. I've missed you.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Can hackers provide solutions to our energy problems?

GE has kicked off the Ecomagination Challenge, a $200 Million experiment to discover and fund the best ideas out there for renewable energy, grid efficiency and eco-homes and buildings.

I think the key to generating innovation in this space is to create a big community of energy hobbyists - the hackers and makers who have driven innovation in computer hardware, software and many other industries. To enable this we need inexpensive standardized modular components, including micro-generation devices and storage, that hobbyists and makers can use to build their own systems and experiment with renewable energy. Most importantly, we need a programmable and networked centralized controller so we can do interesting things with these devices. I think there is a huge untapped market of people who have an interest in this but are prevented from building and tinkering by price barriers. I know because I'm one of them. As a programmer and hacker, and I'd like to experiment with small energy generation devices, but spending thousands on a solar panel system that is hard to modify is not what I want.

I've submitted an idea to the Challenge, called "Flexible, Modular, Programmable Residential Power Center", to see if we can get GE to create and bring to market the inexpensive standardized components needed to lower the barriers to energy system tinkering. Check out the Challenge and my idea. Of course, if you agree with my goal I'd like your support. Also, think revolutionary thoughts and contribute *your* ideas, and then talk about them here so we can support them. Currently there are only a thousand ideas, and the top one has less than five hundred votes, so we can own this. (annoying registration required to submit, vote and comment, but it's free)

User Journal

Journal Journal: Passive Obsessive Checking Disorder

In the standard distributed monitoring described in the Nagios docs, check results flow one way - from leaf to root. I needed something a little different - peer to peer distributed monitoring. There are several problems that drive this need. One is checking public services. Our nagios server runs in the same tiny backroom "data center" as the public web server. It can check things internally, but can't check that the general public can actually get to hosts and services that are up internally. Another is that we have larger customers who manage their own network. Our nagios server rightly does not have direct access to all the internal services that need to be checked.

One way to handle both problems is to use nagios remote plugin execution (nrpe) to run the problematic tests on another server. However, our larger customer also wants his own nagios server, with only his network. Having our server monitor the same network via nrpe would be redundant, so I decided to try the peer to peer distributed approach. Each nagios server has a mix of active and passive services. The active services come in transmitting and non-transmitting forms. Both systems are first configured as "regional servers" according to the standard model. Then, I add "obsess_over_host 0" and "obsess_over_service 0" to the root host and service templates on the central server. Specific hosts and service to be sent to the customer's nagios are marked with "obsess_over_host 1" (similarly for service). In nagios, "obsessing" over a host or service means to run a script with each check. For a distributed setup, that script sends the check results to another nagios server (usually via send_nsca).

I added passive-host and passive-service templates:

define host {
                name passive-host
                use linux-server
                active_checks_enabled 0
                notifications_enabled 1
                freshness_threshold 3600
                check_freshness 1
                obsess_over_host 0
                register 0
define service {
                name passive-service
                use generic-service
                obsess_over_service 0
                active_checks_enabled 0
                notifications_enabled 1
                check_freshness 1
                freshness_threshold 93600
                check_command check_dummy!3 "No passive update yet"
                register 0

and used these for the hosts and services to be check by the other nagios server.

Actually, originally they did not have the "obsess_over_host 0" (and for service) entries, and this led to my passive obsessive checking disorder problem. The symptom was that the log showed passive check results coming in continuously, with checks for the same host or service a second apart, not every 5 minutes as configured. I got frustrated and stayed up late, and finally after sleeping on it realized the problem. A passive check triggers the nagios "obsessive compulsive" behaviour the same as an active check. And this is actually a feature, because you might want to relay the passive checks on to yet another nagios server. I just need to turn off obsessing for the passive hosts and services to prevent a feedback loop between the systems.

User Journal

Journal Journal: "Green" drives fubar servers 1

Laptop hard drives have long come with power saving features. This makes sense for laptops, which are generally single user systems. I just had the misfortune of installing a pair of "green" WD5000AADS-00M2B0 drives in a server. I soon noticed the problem of rapidly rising Load_cycle_count acknowledged at the WDC Faq.

The fundamental problem with these "green" drives is that they assume a single user system. This was an OK assumption for laptops, but it is rather annoying for a desktop drive. I suppose a desktop can be single user, but I guess we have carefully buy "server" drives instead of "desktop" drives now. Just like you have to buy a "server" desktop to get ECC. While the WDC suggestions to tune logging and setting laptop_mode for linux (which they don't mention) can produce periods of inactivity for a single user long enough to be compatible with "IntelliPower", they are ineffective on a server with multiple virtual machines, or on a SAN server, with many clients, or even on a busy email server.

For laptop drives, power saving could be disabled on linux via "hdparm -B 255". This doesn't work for the new "green" desktop drives. The inactivity timer of this model seems to be set at 8 seconds, so I wrote a simple C program to read a sector from each drive every 8 seconds in O_DIRECT mode (to bypass caching). WDC provides a DOS utility to adjust the inactivity timer - setting a very high value effectively disables it. Unfortunately, these drives were in the field before I noticed the problem.

User Journal

Journal Journal: a return which is long overdue (plus achievements!) 17

I've lurked at /. without posting for ages, mostly because I just don't have the time to interact like I used to.

But I've been clicking through the old RSS feed more and more lately, and when I saw the PAX Plague thread today, I came over to comment, since I'm kind of affected by the whole damn thing. I thought I'd take a look around since I haven't been here in awhile, and I saw that there are freaking ACHIEVEMENTS associated with our accounts. It's silly, and I'm sure it's been here forever, but I thought it was awesome and I was delighted when I read it.

I didn't realize how much I missed Slashdot until I spent some time here today, and I bet that anyone who joined in the last 2 years doesn't even give a shit about my stupid comments or anything, but it felt good to come back here, and feel safely among my people again.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Favorite Slashdot Stories?

I'd have to say that this one is one of the most insightul ones I've seen during my time here. Overall, career threads on slashdot are usually extremely informative and interesting, but that one more so.

Which threads do you find yourselves reading time and again?
User Journal

Journal Journal: Announcing the release of my new book 22

This feels like a mega-spam entry, and I'm very self conscious about posting it, but I'm excited about this and I wanted to share . . .

I just published my third book, The Happiest Days of Our Lives. I mention it here because it's all about growing up in the 70s, and coming of age in the 80s as part of the D&D/BBS/video game/Star Wars figures generation, and I think a lot of Slashdot readers will relate to the stories in it.

I published a few of the stories on my blog, including Blue Light Special. It's about the greatest challenge a ten year-old could face in 1982: save his allowance, or buy Star Wars figures?

After our corduroy pants and collared shirts and Trapper Keepers and economy packs of pencils and wide-ruled paper were piled up in our cart, our mom took our three year-old sister with her to the make-up department to get shampoo and whatever moms buy in the make-up department, and my brother and I were allowed to go to the toy department.

"Can I spend my allowance?" I said.

"If that's what you want to do," my mom said, another entry in a long string of unsuccessful passive/aggressive attempts to encourage me to save my money for . . . things you save money for, I guess. It was a concept that was entirely alien to me at nine years old.

"Keep an eye on Jeremy," she said.

"Okay," I said. As long as Jeremy stood right at my side and didn't bother me while I shopped, and as long as he didn't want to look at anything of his own, it wouldn't be a problem.

I held my brother's hand as we tried to walk, but ended up running, across the store, past a flashing blue light special, to the toy department. Once there, we wove our way past the bicycles and board games until we got to the best aisle in the world: the one with the Star Wars figures.

I'm really proud of this book, and the initial feedback on it has been overwhelmingly positive. I've been reluctant to mention it here, because of the spam issue, but I honestly do think my stories will appeal to Slashdotters.

After the disaster with O'Reilly on Just A Geek, I've decided to try this one entirely on my own, so I'm responsible for the publicity, the marketing, the shipping, and . . . well, everything. If this one fails, it will be because of me, not because a marketing department insisted on marketing it as something it's not.

Of course, I hope I can claim the same responsibility if (when?) it finds its audience . . . which would be awesome.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Series 2 of IT crowd 1

I'm surprised that this hasn't made the rounds of Slashdot considering thats how I found out about the series in the first place, but the second season of IT Crowd has begun on UK's Channel 4 and is available by the usual channels.

While the writing is still crisp and funny, with the same geek flavor, the camera work seems more dramatic than the consistent use of long shots and some new set decoration. Even though, very much worth checking out. Any thoughts from the peanut gallery?


Journal Journal: i need a new computer - advice? 29

Simple tasks like switching between Firefox and Thunderbird are driving the load on my machine up over 4, and if I'm trying to run Amarok at the same time, it drives it up to 8. In fact, my machine frequently climbs up into the 7-9 range, bringing my apps to a crawl and frustrating the hell out of me.

So I've decided it's time to buy a new computer. I'm going to replace my aging Sony Vaio desktop machine (which runs Linux) with something newer that has more RAM, a faster processor, and a bigger hard drive.

The thing is, I'm not entirely sure where to start looking. A quick walk through Circuit City a month or so ago lead me to believe I can get a rather "big" computer for as low as five hundred bucks, which further leads me to believe that if I were to buy something online, I can get a huge pile of RAM, a fast processor, and a big honkin' hard drive for even less.

I run Kubuntu, and use KDE as my desktop (though I occasionally switch to Gnome when I get bored) and I mostly use Firefox, Thunderbird, OpenOffice.org, Amarok, and run PokerStars in wine. I'm looking for something that can do all of that without slowing my machine to a crawl.

Anyone have any suggestions on where to start looking?

Edit: I don't think I have the patience to build my own machine out of individual parts. I also don't have any real loyalty to any particular company or architecture. New Egg has lots of machines with AMD processors, and though I've always had Intel processors because more things seemed to run on x86, that's not as much of an issue as it once was, right?

User Journal

Journal Journal: Millionth user? 3

Has Slashdot finally crowned user 1000000? I see lots in the mid-to-high nines, they must be close.


Journal Journal: Oil Industry-sponsored FUD at Slashdot? 12

I am absolutely stunned that Slashdot's editors would give credibility to a completely false story, pushed by a paid industry PR professional. As Rugrat said,

The "article" is not an article, but a press release written by an employee of a public affairs company.

"Tom Harris is mechanical engineer and Ottawa Director of High Park Group, a public affairs and public policy company."

For a website that spends so much time and energy combating FUD from Microsoft, and the MPAA and RIAA, it is baffling that FUD that was paid for and is pushed by the oil industry would make the front page here.

Come on, Slashdot. You can do better.


Journal Journal: So, About Dapper . . . 24

For the last year or so, I've been happily using Debian, with a mixture of sources so I was stable, but current, just like nearly everyone who uses Debian.

Then I tried to upgrade or something insane like that, using aptitude, and the whole thing went tits up on me. No amount of cussing, kicking things, or actual tinkering with the software could save my machine.

I thought about asking for some advice in the Debian forums, or on one of the lists, until I ran out of fingers in my entire family tree to count the times someone said some variant of, "Shut up, noob! Your stoopid and not leet leik I am! Go back to Winblows! Ha! HA! HA!!!1"

Yeah. Guess I'm not venturing into those waters, so I figured I'd just have to grab my network install CD and start over (luckily, I set up /home on its own partition a long time ago, so if I fuck something up really bad, I don't lose all my porn very important data.

The day I planned to reinstall Debian, I read that Dapper Drake had been released, and everyone loved it so much, they totally wanted to marry it. A friend of mine, who is wise in the ways of science and the air speed velocity of unladen swallows has also been singing the praises of Ubuntu for a long, long time, so I grabbed a Live CD to see what all the fuss was about.

Holy shit. What an awesome bit of work it is! It's the first Linux distro to find every single bit of hardware on my old Sony Vaio desktop machine, including all the USB ports. It looked great, too, and was the most "Mac-like" Linux I've ever used.

I realize that a lot of you are mocking me right now, but listen for a second: I'm not interested in hacking on my kernel to make sure something is detected during boot, or modifying all sorts of settings in a text editor just so I can make the damn thing find my camera . . . and don't get me started about CUPS. I love technology, and I love and fully believe in "free" as in speech, and I'm grateful for free as in beer. But also really into "works," as in just does. And on my machine here, Dapper Drake just works, and it's awesome. This is the Linux distro that I can take to my parents, and to my friends who are drowning in a sea of FUD, and convince them that they don't really have to be part of the Borg if they don't want to.

And ultimately, I believe that has to be our goal if we're going to convince people to give Linux a real, serious try as an alternative to Windows. We need to be able to tell them, with confidence, "Put this CD in your machine, and give it a try. I think you'll like it, because it just works."

User Journal

Journal Journal: Tell Congress/WIPO: No B'cast Treaty Without Representation

Please read the alert here. The Broadcast Flag is back, this time as a WIPO treaty, and if you don't speak up, it'll be decided by bureaucrats without any democratic input at all.

The alert provides a web form to write to your congress person. Please do that. And please put the alert up elsewhere, so that other people can help too.

I'm in Washington DC working on this today, and your support will help.



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