Sunday, November 30, 2008


is the name of the latest addition to our home network. He's a fat bastard too, but that name was already taken[^].

You might remember I've been planning to set up a Windows Home Server machine here to handle data backups. Those plans came to fruition a month or six weeks ago, using the old PC Sonya used to have. A couple of 500 Gig drives for data, a 160 Gig drive to boot from and that old (four years old - yikes, how time flies) computer now sits headless under the desk. Sonya seems to think it's there to put her shoes on when she's not wearing em!

Naturally the price of the server software dropped a week or so after I bought it; it's now on egghead for a hundred bucks or so after I paid $140 for it. That's life.

As for the software itself, it just works, which is how I like it. I'm still wrestling with the IIS security model, to say nothing of getting SQL Server 2008 accessible across the network! I know why they're making it more secure (slammer anyone?) but do they have to make it so damned hard to configure? It's not like Joe Blow is about to run out and purchase SQL Server 2008 (or even download the free express edition).

Windows Home Server is, by contrast, a no-brainer to install and configure. Well that fits the target market, the aforesaid Joe Blow but it's fine by me. It does help my peace of mind that we're sitting behind a router. I've chosen not to use the remote access functionality built into the product, preferring to stick with my existing arrangements of non-standard ports assigned to each remotely accessible machine, forwarded by the router to each machine and using Windows Remote Desktop. If I ever *did* need remote access to GreedyBastard I can always remote to this machine and then use the WHS console.

For the rest, well they make it very easy indeed. Bring up the server and connect to the network. Download the 5 and a half million security updates. Once that's done enable remote admin on it so it can truly go headless and then, on each client machine, navigate to the shared software folder on the new machine. Install the WHSConnector software and you're almost done. By default the entire client machine is backed up save for a few places that really don't need backup, such as the internet cache, the swapfile and so on. If you're feeling brave you can add one or more exclusions - directories you don't want backed up.

Then just let it run and overnight it backs up each client. It spends a lot of time determining what's changed since the last backup. Interestingly, it seems to be doing some kind of checksumming of files. I added yet another new machine to the network yesterday; this one's a web server/development box with Visual Studio 2008 - total disk usage about 25 gigs when you factor in a complete install with SQL Server 2008 (ah, so *that's* why I've been struggling with network database access) and a bunch of other stuff. Extra disk usage on GreedyBastard? About 3 gigs. I attribute this to the fact that the new machine is essentially a clone of this machine (same development environment) and thus the new machine's backup can consist of a bunch of links to files already backed up.

The other nice thing about WHS is the way it handles file sharing. It sets up a bunch of 'known' directories for music, photos etc. You copy your files to there and anyone in the workgroup can read em. Yeah yeah, big deal. No really, it supports folder duplication for those folder - two copies spread across your storage space (and across different spindles if you have multiple drives). Sounds like RAID but a damn sight easier to set up. You just add a new drive, reboot the machine, it notices the new drive and asks what you want to do with it. Add it to the storage pool? Yup. A couple of hours and a *lot* of hard disk activity later, and it's redistributed your files so that they'll survive a hard disk failure. Well, that's the theory though I haven't yet put it to the test.

It's intelligent about external backup. We have a 250 Gig USB drive. The first time I backed the public folders up it took about 60 Gigs (mostly my music files). The second backup took about 250 Meg (the extra music I'd added in the intervening week). Viewing the backup sets I can see 60 Gigs or so in each set but I know the second set is linking to the files that *didn't* change, in the first set.

Do you reckon I can convince either Sonya or Andrew to use the public folders? Not on your life. 'It's backing up my machine' they say 'that's all I need'. Well, yes, but those backups are *not* part of the external backup set. I reckon they are, without even realising it, playing a numbers game. The system is resilient enough if only one machine fails at a time - but if one of theirs dies *and* GreedyBastard dies at the same time they'll be out of luck. I won't be - I'll have the external backup of *my* files. Of course, the house could burn down but if it does I reckon losing a bunch of symphonies will be the least of my worries.

A bowl of chicken soup

For some obscure reason (read, I don't know why) it was a tradition in my family that we, the kids, were given money to buy lunch on Mondays. The rest of the week we took jam sandwiches, or sardine sandwiches, or salami sandwiches to school, but on Mondays we trooped off, the proud possessors of two or three shillings, ready to make up our own minds about what we'd eat for lunch.

I can only imagine what a sacrifice those few shillings were. I seem to remember that money was always short (when isn't it?). I recall my mother making sacrifices to raise the half a guinea needed to make me a member of the local YMCA in 1960 so it's not much of a jump to connect 3 bob (shillings) in the same year with a major sacrifice. Yet she made it. There's a mothers love for you! I'm seeing much the same thing here in 2008 in the way my wife will make all kinds of excuses for Morgan when any dispassionate outsider (myself for example) would pronounce a sentence of 'let her stew her in her own juices'!

But I digress. Back then, in 1960, I'd take my precious three shillings up the road from school and around the corner into Barkly Street, to a pie shop, and buy a pie. The pies weren't quite as good as the ones my grandmother (with whom we lived) made, but that hardly mattered. The pleasure was in fronting up at the counter, all of 6 years old, asking for a pie and plunking down a bob or two.

For the benefit of my American readers I'm talking of a meat pie. I'm not quite sure how it is that my new homeland has missed the pleasure of the meat pie but miss it they surely have! Mystery meat and gravy locked in a savory pastry, food fit for the gods! Alas, I had far too few pies in Australia a couple of months ago, but I *did* have lots of fish and chips!

Pie in hand, hot enough to burn through the waxed paper, I'd emerge into Barkly Street and blow frantically on it to cool it enough to eat. I honestly don't remember tomato sauce involved but I'm quite sure it was. I also don't remember having to choose between a dozen varieties of pie; there was just the one. Meat!

A few years later, 1963 or thereabouts, somewhat more sophisticated, my friends and I used to patronise a small shop right next to the railway line in Yarraville. The building is still there and I walked past it a couple of months ago. These days it now looks like someone lives in what was once a low end diner. I imagine the space where we once played the posh gent, nine or ten years old and with all of three bob in our pockets, is now their lounge room. Could they even imagine the pretensiousness of it all?

I remember one lunchtime we, my friends and I, Peter, Bill, Carl and possibly Cliff, graced that restaurant with our custom. I ordered the chicken soup and it was marvellous! Soup and whatever they ordered consumed we paid our bill and exited, to have a smoke in the backlane a street or so away from school. Time had gotten away from us and the hour, which usually seemed more than adequate to wolf down a few sandwiches, exchange the odd joke and have a smoke, was up before we knew it.

We came perilously close to 'the cuts'[^] that day. Old Mr Powell (he had the same name as the street the school was in and I've always suspected his name wasn't Powell at all), wasn't all that vigorous at ringing the bell, though rather more vigorous at dropping us in it when he had the opportunity. Thus, dimly, I heard the bell ringing a street or so over, and alerted my pals. Some doubt at first; had I really heard it? This, incidentally, is how I know it was 1963; it had to be before my first wristwatch and I received that on the day that JFK was shot[^]. We ran like hell and got back to class with barely a moment to spare. That half a cigarette stubbed out in blind panic was forgotten for the nonce!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

It's been a while

since I've written. (Cue the standard blog apologia). The truth is that there hasn't been that much I've wanted to write about. Morgan in jail for the third time? And getting off again? Methinks you've suffered enough being expected to read about her trials and tribulations.

My hours have changed considerably. Time was when, had you suggested I'd be rising at 6 AM and arriving at the office at 7:15 AM I'd have diagnosed a bad case of rocks in the head. But alas, that's exactly what's happened. I can't believe I'm actually driving to work with my lights on. The first few times I'd get to 8 AM (and the third cup of coffee) and be unable to convince myself that I'd turned em off; nope, I had to go to the car park and check. The fact that it might have been a convenient excuse for a smoke will go unmentioned.

I have the option to start at any half hour between 7:30 and 9 but I reckon I've spent enough of my life sitting in cars waiting for traffic to move. If I hit the office by 7:15 I'm ahead of the rush both ways. How very sad.

It's the other end of the day that's the real problem though. One might imagine that if one is rising at 6 that one might be ready to retire somewhere in the 11 PM region. Not a bit of it! Come midnight and I know that I have less than 6 hours till rising and I still can't get to sleep! There's the power of 35 or so years of habit for you. Well, I can blame those years but the truth is that I also enjoy the hour or two I get to myself at the end of the day, when Sonya has gone to bed and I can listen to a symphony knowing that I won't be half way through when politeness requires a pause to listen to an interruption.

Except, of course, when the phone rings to announce that Morgan's been arrested yet again!

You wouldn't be dead for quids, would you!

Monday, November 10, 2008

That could have been worded a bit better

Our ISP is Cox Communications here in Phoenix. Truth to tell, we don't have a lot of choices - it seems to be QWest or Cox or satellite. Satellite sucks for internet usage and QWest are DSL. There are probably dozens of dial up choices but who wants dial up if you can have better?

For the most part Cox have been ok as an ISP - relatively little down time and reasonably reliable though for some reason we seem to go through a cable modem a year. I could understand that if we were replacing them in mid-summer or during the lightning season but we're not. It seems to be a mid October to late November thing.

Thus to a few weeks ago when we started experiencing the usual (for this time of year) random slowdowns and outages. After three or so days we decided it was time for the annual cable modem purchase. Off to Frys, returning with yet another piece of disposable technology.

If you've ever been through this you know the drill; you can't just replace the modem and expect everything to work. Nope, you have to call em, recite a bunch of details such as modem serial number and MAC address and wait while they 'provision' the modem. Just why they call it provisioning is beyond me - I provided it, all they're doing is adding the MAC address to the 'allow' database so the system will function. Not a terribly painful process but it does take time. Presumably they deactivate the MAC address that used to be recorded against ones account so the old modem can't be used somewhere else on their network.

Which, of course, leaves a bit of a quandary when troubleshooting ones network. Once one has concluded that the problem lies either with the modem or the infrastructure at the other end of the cable one has to get them involved. Can't simply swap out the new modem and try the old one again. Worse, the people one has to deal with have 'scripts' to follow.

Obviously the cable modem replacement, this time around, didn't resolve the issue. Our connection can be great one moment and maddeningly slow the next. When investigating this I usually disconnect the modem from the router and run it direct to just one computer. If everything springs into life on that one computer I know it's us; if not it's them. If them then comes a long drawn out process of doing what they ask, no matter how inane. Little use to protest that I've already cycled power on the modem and rebooted the PC.

This time the problem looks for all the world like someone else on our cable segment has a DHCP server running on the WAN side; sometimes we cop a 192.168.x.x address when renewing the IP lease. My guess is someone has recently added a second computer and a router to their home network and they've plugged the cable modem into one of the downlink ports on the router instead of the uplink port. That would certainly explain why our lease renewals sometimes get a private network address. I'm pretty sure we can't solve this one without Cox assistance.

Today Sonya was getting toward the end of her tether with the internet connection. We'd already been on the phone with Cox yet again; this time I must have sounded knowledgeable because they forwarded us to their operations centre and they agreed that my theory sounded sound. They 'provisioned' the modem yet again and told us to call back if the problem continued. Which it did.

Sonya, fed up with slow connections, asked, 'How about Vern and Guy' (friends). 'Do they both have Cox?'

Out of the corner of my eye I could see Andrew slyly smiling, wondering if I was going to go for it. Was I? Does the pope wear a funny hat and expect not to be laughed at?

'Of course they do, my dear' I replied. 'That's why they're called blokes!'

Maybe you had to be there.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Voting for change

Today was my first Presidential election and my fourth since moving to the US. It would have been my fifth had I registered as a Democrat or a Republican but I didn't so I didn't get to vote in the primaries.

Going by the blather emanating from both sides in the long drawn out campaign you might be forgiven for wondering, given the title of this post, whether I voted for the winner or the loser. Both held themselves out as agents of change though I fear my home-state Senators claim seemed more wishful thinking than anything else. I couldn't help but think of a McCain victory as Bush's third term. Given that my one regret was that George Bush was constitutionally unable to run again so I could have the pleasure of voting against him I think you can probably take a reasonable stab at my choice.

Methinks most of my readers had already pegged me on that side of the fence!

Today was quite the contrast to the previous three elections I've attended. Instead of providing a welcome relief from ennui for the volunteers by being the first voter they'd seen in an hour, I had the pleasure of standing in line for nearly two! Fortunaly Sonya and I went together; this meant we could take it in turns to step away for a smoke and not lose our place.

Of course it was badly organised. For whatever reason two voting districts were assigned the same polling place. But did they think to put up a sign or two indicating that fact? Well, they did an hour after the vote opened. Problem was we'd been in line forty minutes by that time and, as luck had it, we chose the wrong line. Not that there was anything to indicate which line to choose. We get to the end of the line, whip out our ID and discover that we're in Clearview sub division, not Desert Springs sub division. Naturally the line we stood in was the Desert Springs line.

And of course the Clearview line is a hundred feet long, occupied by people who are not going to let us convince them we've already been there an hour or so. Back to the end of the line. Being honest though, had the positions been reversed would I have believed? I think not.

So we end up in line next to a talkative woman who left me convinced that there really needs to be an intelligence test to determine fitness for the vote.

Of course I proudly wore my I voted today[^] sticker at the office. Bummer that no one noticed.