Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Water Shut Off

The Board of Water Supply for the City & County of Honolulu deemed it necessary to replace branch trunk main lines on our street.  The outsourced the job to Ideal Construction.  The first thing they did was back in the spring when they came and marked the street up with spray paint indicating treasures underneath.

Over a month ago now, Ideal Construction started doing work on the street.  Since our street is one-way and in Waikiki, they couldn't just block it completely off.  The road still has to provide access for people driving the wrong way (tourists), Roberts Hawai'i buses, fire trucks, ambulances, police cars, mopeds, and cars for people that live here.  Ideal Construction has been working on segments at a time.  I can't actually tell what they are doing, but casual glances show new fire hydrants installed and new manhole covers.  I guess they are replacing pipes too, though you never see the new pipes or the old ones being removed.

I work from home and the noise generated by this construction crew makes it very hard to concentrate.  They start at 7:00 AM every day and end at 3:00 PM.  They are moving north along our street and the past few days they have been working directly in front of our building, which I guess explains why our water has been shut off.

I don't actually think they are doing anything based on my observations.  Here's what I see happen:
  1. 7:00 AM, crew arrives and starts up the jackhammer and large walk-behind circular saw capable of cutting in to pavement.
  2. 9:00 AM, crew uses one of two Case backhoe loaders to remove the broken up pavement and expose the alluvial till below.
  3. 10:00 AM, crew continues using one of two Case backhoe loaders to dig a hole about the size of an SUV.  The backhoe loader takes forever to do this and makes a lot of noise during the process.
  4. 11:00 AM, crew covers the newly dug hole with steel plates.
  5. 12:00, break for lunch.
  6. 1:00 PM, crew uncovers the hole and gets in the hole.  Workers point at things and I think they discuss how the morning hole digging went.
  7. 2:00 PM, crew recovers the hole with steel plates and packs asphalt around the edges of the plate making it just that much more permanent.
  8. 3:00 PM, end of work day.
Well, that's my observations based on what I hear and what I see when I go to lunch or the corner shop.  I really think they are just digging holes for the hell of it.

The noise just stopped, so I looked at the clock.  Looks like the crew is on step 5.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

NetworkManager in Fedora Installer

(this is a work post)

Yesterday, I committed a large number of code changes to the Fedora installer ("anaconda") that change how we do network device configuration. The move shifts us over to using NetworkManager. A lot of Linux users already know about NetworkManager because it's how you change wireless networks on your running system, but it can do more. We're using it early in the installation process so we can gain all of the functionality it supports.

For example, we will be able to do encrypted wireless installs using WPA passphrases or WEP keys. It's not quite ready yet, but I'm working on it. I have a few large items that I want to get cleaned up over the next few days, as well as backend code cleanup (lots of things can go now), and make sure that wireless installs can actually work.

For Fedora 10, users can expect NetworkManager in the installation process now. It's rough around the edges in rawhide at the moment, but it is working.

Also, this means the end of libdhcp, the piece of shit library I inherited at Red Hat that replaced libpump.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

I As In Irritated

This is why I hate when people won't use the ITU phonetic alphabet when talking on the phone.  Seriously, it's not hard to learn.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Fake Savings and Tricky Pricing

My friends know that I hate stores that have fake savings cards.  Whatever name they go by, they are the free card you are to use when you make your purchase.  Stores use this to track your spending habits and the general spending habits of the store.  The information is also sold to direct marketing companies.  For example, if 1000 people in one ZIP code buy gigantic bags of dog food each week, the area is a good candidate for mailbox spam for dog houses or TV and radio commercials for 1-800-PET-MEDS.

I don't really care that stores track and analyze the buying habits of their consumers.  What bothers me is when these systems are presented as savings programs.  With the card, you get special pricing.  Total crap.  Regular prices are inflated.  The card price would be the normal shelf price if the card system were never implemented anyway.  They are not voluntary systems.  I could go on, but I recommend you visit Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering.

Sadly, it's become very difficult across the United States to do ordinary grocery shopping at a non-card store.  In Hawai'i, Safeway is a dominant store and the nice one closest to us.  I've learned that you have to be careful when shopping there.  It's not sufficient to just go by the card price.  If the card price is X for a certain price, you have to buy X in order to get the card price.  When I lived in Georgia, Publix had the practice of dividing the price by X and making that the new per unit price.  Not so at Safeway.  And Safeway has stupid pricing promotions.  Twelves boxes of macaroni and cheese for $10 or something.  OK, fine, but now I have to buy 12.  What if I only want 11?  Too bad, you're paying the non-card per unit price.

I went to the store tonight to pick up some lunch stuff, breakfast stuff, and something for us to have for dinner.  There were a few things that I paid the regular unit price on because I didn't want a cabinet full of, say, Rice-a-Roni.

The other thing that's frustrating with the large X value for certain price promotions is that one trip to the store can end up costing hundreds of dollars.  Just tonight I spent $77.18.  The fake savings the card gave me:  $20.74.  So if I didn't have a Safeway card, I would have paid $97.92.  Click here for my transcribed text version of the receipt.  Yes, I was bored.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Goes On Pink!

DAP DryDex Spackling proudly proclaims their product GOES ON PINK! on the container.  In fact, it does go on pink.  But it dries white, at which point you sand it down for a smoother surface than the painted walls.  So you need to sand it...poorly.

What am I talking about?  I decided today that I would take care of some minor fix-it problems around the condo.  For as long as I've been renting, I have kept a box of things for these sorts of projects.  I started calling the box the "Apartment Screw Up Kit" because it contained everything I need to move out of an apartment and leave no indication that I punched a hole in the wall, installed additional wiring, or just generally screwed up the place.

What's in the kit?  It varies, but here's what I generally have:
  • DAP DryDex Spackling.  All purpose wall filler.  I also have some wall repair screens for when the holes are a bit too large.  Sufficient to fill in a hole where you installed, say, an outlet box and later removed it.  However, if you do plan on making a hole that big for installing something like an outlet box, just do a good job and plan on leaving it there when you move out.
  • Putty knife.  This is for applying the spackling.
  • Sanding block.  I used to keep sandpaper, but that sucks, so I have a sanding block.  You want to smooth out the spackling after applying it (and letting it dry).
  • Wall anchors and assorted screws.  Get good ones that can support a reasonable amount of weight.  I've hung speakers from these things before.  Depending on the terms of your lease, you may have to back anchors out and fill the holes before moving out.  If you have to do that, that's where the spackling comes in.
  • Paint brush.  My usual rule is "I don't paint."  And I try to stand by that.  I did enough Eagle Scout service projects growing up that my painting days are over.  However, sometimes you will need to paint over spackling to make it match the wall.  In every place I've lived in, there has been a mostly used can of paint under a sink or something that works just fine for this purpose, I just need the brush.
  • Assorted nails.  Ones for hanging things on walls as well as repairing a shelf or something like that.
  • Electrical tape.  Has many uses.
  • 3M Command Strips.  Way safer than mounting tape.
  • Toilet flush handle repair kit.  Seriously, when these things break, it's at night.  I can fix it myself.
  • Light bulbs.  The environment friendly soft serve cone compact fluorescent ones.
I said it varies depending on where I'm living.  At various points, I've also had these things in the kit:
  • Kitchen sink and bathroom sink drain baskets.  For catching food particles or hair or whatever.
  • Leviton QuickPort parts (ports, tools, wall plates, etc).  Do your own networking.  In New Hampshire, we used the phone lines to do 100BaseT networking.  Cut the phone jack off, add a Leviton QuickPort and suddenly it's a networking port.
  • Extension cords and grounded power adapters.
  • Carpet knife.  When you need to cut out carpet, you need a knife.
And that's the bulk of it.  I also have tools that go along with the kit.  The usual things, but mostly a hammer, a level, tape measure (a METRIC tape measure, of course), screwdrivers, wire cutters, needle nose pliers, channel lock pliers, and probably some other things.

Oddly, with that small amount of stuff, I can hide most accidents in an apartment (or cover up modifications).

Today I am doing the following:
  • Replacing a paper towel holder in the kitchen.  Yes, this is a simple job, but it has to be done.  One arm of the holder snapped off the other day.
  • Replacing a light bulb in an overhead light in the kitchen...just not sure how to reach it yet.
  • Installing a new towel rack in the bathroom.
  • Repairing a wall scar that we covered up with a picture frame.
  • Hanging some more wall items.
  • Making the remote power switch for the office light actually work.
We also suffered catastrophic failure of both the toaster and the coffee maker this week.  I went to the store earlier and replaced those items.  Now it's off to City Mill to get things I forgot during the first trip.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Bitten by D-Link....AGAIN

Ten years ago at Georgia Tech, my friend Chris was having trouble configuring his LAN. He had just a handful of computers and others shared by the people in his dorm room. Everyone checked their TCP/IP configurations again and again, they remade cables again, checked drivers on the cards, and even connected systems directly to each other just to see if they could ping. Everything looked fine, they systems even worked with crossover cables. But why wasn't there a consistent connection using the hub? Some systems could see others. Sometimes they would disappear. Eventually another hub showed up and the D-Link one was replaced. Suddenly everything started working perfectly. What the hell was the deal with the D-Link hub?

I think Chris swore off D-Link equipment at that point.

Nine and a half years ago, the same D-Link problem affected my father's business. They couldn't understand why some computers were only visible to certain computers on the network. I went to investigate and found a D-Link hub in service. Basing my decision on the experience Chris had, I decided we should hit the nearest electronics store and get another hub that wasn't from D-Link. Guess what? That solved the problem. Never buy D-Link again, I told myself.

At the end of last year I was stocking my two development systems before shipping them to Hawai'i. I wanted to add at least another NIC to each system (I prefer two NICs in each system because I do network development). Searching online, I decided to order parts and ended up with D-Link gigabit PCI Express or PCI whatever adapters. Sure, fine, drop them in the system and go.

I recently upgraded the processors in the development boxes and also upgraded the BIOS. After the upgrade, the BIOS would not respond to the Del key to let me in to the setup program. What? Very frustrating.

Last night it dawned on me that it might be conflicting hardware, so I started removing things. When I removed the D-Link card, everything started working. WTF?

So yeah, bitten by D-Link again. How are these people in business? Why does their hardware suck so much?

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Passed the General Class Exam

Lagging behind KG6CIH a bit this time, but last night I passed the FCC Element 3 exam for the General class amateur radio license.  Basically this means I am now allowed to spend an order of magnitude more money on radio equipment than before.

I'm interested in DX (long distance communications) mostly because from Hawai'i there are not really other options.  But first I need an HF radio.  I live in a condo and the building association as well as Waikiki have restrictions on what you can put on your lanai and what can be sticking out from the building.  Antennas will be challenging, but I think I can come up with something.

Hawai'i doesn't have a lot of short distance HF like the mainland, but we do gain extra frequencies because of our location.  In the FCC Part 97 rules, 97.307(f)(11) states, "Phone and image emissions may be transmitted only by stations located in ITU Regions 1 and 3, and by stations located within ITU Region 2 that are west of 130° West longitude or south of 20° North latitude."

What does that mean?  Well, that restriction applies to frequencies listed in 97.307(f), which is here.  For people in Hawai'i, it means we gain phone and image privileges on 7.075 MHz to 7.100 MHz in the 40 meter band.  Take that, mainland!  Oh, and Hawai'i is about 158° West longitude.

I am most likely going to get a portable HF radio, but not necessarily a mobile.  I'd like to be able to take it to the top of Diamond Head or another mountain nearby and try things from there.  Or travel with it.  I'm leaning towards the Yaesu FT-817ND at the moment, but if anyone has suggestions, I'm all ears.

Extra class (the highest amateur radio license class in the US) will have to wait a while.  It's a significantly more difficult test than General.  General was simple after I studied a while, but it is definitely more difficult than Technician.  Technician is mostly rules, operating procedures, and knowing frequencies and bandwidths.

Will I get Extra before KG6CIH?  Maybe?  (/me wonders if he's getting the book now)

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Scatman John

For no particular reason, enjoy Scatman John's Everybody Jam! video:

Friday, August 8, 2008

Position Closed

Words that are all too familiar to people who travel by air in the United States. Airlines struggle to make enough money to keep their businesses running. Fuel costs so much now that airlines are starting to get rid of extras on flights. Snacks, drinks, in-flight entertainment...all of these things and more are going the way of the dodo and at the same time, airfare keeps going up.

One way that airlines have cut back on expenses is to eliminate people. At one point in time, you could walk in to any major airport in the US and see lots of employees checking people in, printing tickets, and tagging baggage. It seems that every airline now has self check-in kiosks and maybe one or two people to handle the luggage for a group of kiosks.

On Wednesday, I tried to buy a roundtrip ticket from Honolulu, Hawai'i to Vienna, Austria on Delta. Why Delta? I had a large voucher that I needed to use with them. It didn't cover the entire ticket cost, but most of it.

I logged in to delta.com and started the buy-a-ticket process. I got to the end of it failed to complete the reservation. It gave a cryptic error report saying it had processed my reservation, but could not get tickets. It warned me not to click next or back in my browser because my credit card could be charged again. It also gave me my reservation number as NULL and told me to call Delta to complete the reservation. Total failure, on to the phone.

Called Delta and they looked it up by my SkyMiles number. Because I had tried to buy the ticket online, I had to be transferred to the online customer service center.

For the next 53 minutes, I was on the worst voip link in the world to India. The audio quality was barely good enough for voice. It became incredibly annoying when you have to keep repeating 20, 30, or 40 digit alphanumeric identifiers to the person on the phone (agent: "that's A as in apple, 1, 3, C as in California, P as in polymorphism, W as in Wonder-Bra", me: "ok, got it, Alpha, 1, 3, Charlie, Papa, Whiskey", agent: "what?  can you repeat that and please spell out your letters."). In the end, the support representative was unable to complete my reservation. He even involved his manager, but they were unable to make it work. They told me that I would have to go to the airport and buy the ticket in person. At this point I am wanting to know if my voucher is still around or if it vanished in the process. I wanted to know if my card had been charged anything. The guy on the phone was unable to answer any question, he just told me to go to the airport and see a ticketing agent.

I gave up on Wednesday and decided to resume on Thursday. You have to stop and wonder why an airline wants to make ticketing so much of a process for someone. I mean, I want to give money to the airline. Something that most people don't want to do. They already have most of my money, I just want to give them more. Why make this a hard process?

On Thursday at lunch, I headed over to HNL and went to lobby 4 to talk to a Delta ticketing agent. Oh, I forgot it's 2008. Airlines don't have ticketing agents anymore. Crap. I talk to a Delta employee who is helping people enter the only queue and explain my situation. She tells me to wait in the queue.

When I finally get up to the self check-in kiosk, I wait for the person tagging luggage to walk over and I get her attention. I explain that I have tried to buy a ticket online but failed, called and tried to buy it on the phone but failed, and I have been instructed to talk to a ticketing agent at the airport to buy my ticket. The bag tagger says, "ok, well just touch the screen to start..."

I interrupt, "no no, you didn't hear me correctly. I am trying to buy a ticket, not check in. I need to speak to a ticketing agent." She looks confused and asks for some explanation again. Did I try delta.com? Did I call? Yes, all of these things and I was told to come here. The airport. I am instructed to go wait by a POSITION CLOSED counter.

As I stand next to the POSITION CLOSED sign, I turn around and look back at my options in lobby 4. Trying to talk to an airline is a choose your own adventure sort of thing. Maybe I should have gone to the first class counter and played dumb. Around that time, a nearby POSITION CLOSED position becomes open and someone is there. On the computer. The computer works! They do actually have working positions!

I wait for my turn and explain to the lady what I'm trying to do. She locates my reservation. The dates and times are right, the fare is right, the destination is right. Wow, I'm impressed. Now to pay for it. I tell her I want to use my voucher and pay the difference on the credit card. She fills in the blanks and clicks MAKE IT SO or whatever and the computer rejects the payment.

She struggles with this for a while. I ask what the problem is. She says that my voucher was originally for a ticket to Canada. That's travel from the US to Canada. I am trying to apply that credit to a ticket from the US to Austria. For some reason, the payment processing system is unable to decompute the Canadian ticket taxes and recompute the Austrian taxes and arrive at a zero net result. Ummm.....oh-kay. Why aren't we just subtracting again?

She keeps at it and is able to get me booked on the flights and even prints an itinerary, all without paying! She gives up and calls the international reservations office. Explains it to them and they both agree that what I'm trying to do is definitely not the norm. OK, but do it. I mean, according to policies and what was explained to me, this is doable. I am not violating the Warsaw Convention or the Contract of Carriage or anything else printed on ticket envelopes that no one ever reads.

The international reservations office is able to override The Gibson and process my reservation as a ticket change from my original Canadian travel plans. Downside is they took another $75 from me to process it as a ticket change.

I finally left with my tickets paid for and everything in order. I asked why I couldn't use the voucher online because I was originally told I could click "Apply eCredit" and that would work. She said I could do that with a voucher. Just enter the voucher number and then enter a credit card and it'll use up the voucher first. I said I did that, but it didn't work. She then said, "oh, well not for this ticket. it wouldn't have worked for that."

What?

She helped another person and I think the position returned to POSITION CLOSED before I even left the airport property.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

WorkBot


My office was getting out of hand. Stacks of things all over. Piles that served as organization methods, but it started to become a walking hazard (as in, walking around the room was a hazard, not the items in the room started walking around).

This past weekend, I went to City Mill and purchased shelving parts for all of my work equipment.That was the first goal. Get everything off the floor and organized in to a cart. The cart is about 86 cm tall and sits on large casters. There are three shelves, which are 46x46 cm each. This is wide enough to hold two mini tower computers side by side and still have room to put all of the supplementary parts (power strips, KVM switch, Ethernet switch, and so on). The top shelf is currently just used for storage, but that's way better than the floor.

As I was putting it together, Karen and I noticed it sort of looked like the beginnings of a robot. I started calling it WorkBot. The really nice thing about WorkBot is that I can roll it out and turn it around to change cables. Everything is tied down with over 125 zipties. Only the wires I need coming off of it are free (e.g., power strip hookup). My Flickr page has more pictures of WorkBot.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

109 Years of Kama'aina Living

City Mill has been celebrating being around for 109 years. That's a long time for a hardware store to be in business. I like City Mill. They don't feel like Home Depot or Lowes.

The past few days, I have been to the Kaimuki location a lot. First to get parts to fix a toilet. Second to get what I forgot the first time. Third, to get parts to build a computer rack for the office. And fourth, to get the parts for the rack I forgot. (Post about the computer rack coming later.)

The other day at the store, I got to the cashier and she started scanning the items I had in my cart. The store was pretty busy and there were only two cashiers working. Not really a big deal, but lines were forming, so she was trying to work fast.

After scanning everything, she looked at the screen on the register and noticed it had stopped responding at some point, so no transaction had started. She cycled the power and waited for it to boot up. City Mill uses POS devices running what looks like Red Hat Linux 7.3 (kernel 2.4.20-8bigmem). What was even more interesting is to see they were using /bin/login as the cashier login handler. The shell (I'm guessing) was configured to be the POS software.

I enjoy seeing my company's software in use in the world. I've seen RHEL and other products everywhere now and it's always in the places I never expect.

I eventually left knowing my credit card data was more safe on a RH-based system than something else. I also left with a t-shirt that says 109 Years of Kama'aina Living.