Sunday, December 19, 2010

I Hate Computer Hardware

I enjoy writing software, hacking on other software, and otherwise geeking out at the software level. But I hate computer hardware. It's not fun to work with, it's annoying, and requires an arsenal of special purpose tools to work with effectively.

I used to assemble my own x86 systems back when that could actually save you a couple thousand on a new system. I don't do that anymore. I will upgrade components like memory or a wireless card, but aside from that, I don't want to get inside the computer. And yesterday reminded me why.

I bought a new SSD for my Dell Mini 9. Specifically, the RunCore Pro 64GB 50mm PATA Mini PCIe SSD. That's a lot of technobabble to say I am quadrupling the hard disk space in my netbook.

The Mini 9 is a now discontinued netbook that exposes the wireless card, SSD, WWAN, and memory cards to the user. Remove them and install new ones if you want. The first thing I did when I got it last year was install more memory. The second thing I did was replace the wireless card with an Intel one so I could use it more easily under Linux. Replacing the SSD seemed equally trivial.

I stripped both screws in the process and only got one out. Ugh. So I've got some more tools en route to me as well as a Mini 9 screw kit. Have I mentioned I hate hardware?

Once I get the 64GB SSD in place, I'll do a reinstall of OpenBSD. Oh, right, I didn't tell everyone. I'm not using Fedora Linux on my netbook anymore. I'm tired of the constant changing of core system components. I can't effectively use Fedora for my non-work work and things change so fast that I have to constantly relearn how to do simple things. Or at least learn the new approved way of the week. Some people enjoy this, I just don't want that on my personal system. Call me a greybeard unwilling to change, I don't really care. I want a simple Unix system that runs modern software, but doesn't adopt every new half-baked idea that comes along. I thought of FreeBSD for a few minutes (I used that for about 5 or so years, I forget), but went with OpenBSD because it seemed more like what I wanted now.

Top 5 things I like about OpenBSD:
  • They discourage users from building a custom kernel. They tell users that config(8) on a compiled kernel will most likely do what people are looking for when they try to come up with their own kernel configuration.
  • They discourage users from rebuilding the entire operating system. I think this is what I hated most about FreeBSD. Yes, cool, I get it, I can compile the whole OS. So what?
  • Configuration of wireless devices is provided by ifconfig(8). No need for iwconfig, NetworkManager, or wpa_supplicant. It's nice.
  • Detailed man pages for everything! OpenBSD has great documentation, and a vast majority of it is available in man pages. I really wish Linux did a better job of this.
  • I install 36 packages from ports after installing OpenBSD and that doesn't expand to 2636 like it would on Fedora.
  • I can understand pf syntax unlike iptables.
That was actually 6 things. Ooops. But there are some things I dislike about OpenBSD. Top 5 dislikes:
  • Firmware for Intel wifi adapters is not included with the base system. I understand the reasoning, but even Fedora is shipping those. I think no BSD or Linux distribution has a correct grasp on what can and can't be included from a legal standpoint. I wish we would all normalize what we can include from wifi firmware, MP3 support, and the other taboo technologies that everyone uses but can't ship.
  • I wish there was a ports tree that was in sync with the -stable branch rather than exclusively following -current. If you want to contribute to ports, even just a patch, you more or less have to be running -current.
  • They still use cvs, which is excruciatingly slow. While I advocate git, just any of the other distributed version control systems would be an improvement.
  • fdisk(8) and disklabel(8) suck from a user interface standpoint. The installation goes from yes/no questions to this overly technical clown barf on the screen. This might be because I work on installation daily and partitioning and such is always on my mind.
That was only 4. Another oops. It's probably not the ideal system for everyone.

On the new SSD, here's the mountpoints I came up with:
  • / (100M)
  • swap (2048M)
  • /tmp (50M)
  • /var (100M)
  • /usr (600M)
  • /usr/X11R6 (300M)
  • /usr/src (1024M)
  • /usr/xenocara (1024M)
  • /usr/ports (512M)
  • /usr/obj (1500M)
  • /usr/xobj (1024M)
  • /usr/local (4096M)
  • /home (32768M)
That leaves 20390M unallocated. I predict /usr/ports, /usr/local, and /home growing, so I'll leave space where I can grow those somewhat easily.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

So Close to 50k Miles

Living in Hawaii makes it easy to earn a lot of frequent flyer miles. As a loyal Delta customer (have to support the hometown businesses), I am able to maintain SkyMiles Medallion status. The SkyMiles program has changed a lot since I've been living in Hawaii. Benefits change slightly and the names of things change more often than anything else. Medallion, Elite, SkyTeam Elite, Breezeway, Sky Priority, ... the list goes on. Basically they all mean you can board the plane before other people, which is useful because you get first pick of the overhead storage space.

Delta has 4 levels for the Medallion status. The Silver level is attained after you fly 25000 miles in a year. Gold is 50000 miles. Platinum is 75000 miles. And Diamond is 125000 miles. Diamond is the newest and it was added because Delta found that the super frequent fliers are usually way beyond 75000 miles, so they created a new level.

The mileage requirements are actual miles flown (per program rules) in the calendar year. Bonus miles, miles earned from credit cards, and other such non-flying miles rarely count towards medallion status. Another nice trick is that Delta awards a minimum of 500 miles per flight, so puddle jumping can earn you a lot of miles in a short distance.

I am currently just under 41000 miles for the calendar year. I will most likely hit the Gold requirement for this year again. Karen just leveled up to Silver during Thanksgiving.

So why do I care about this? Delta is really nice to Medallion members. All of the benefits listed seemed pointless, but they are nice. Two free checked bags on every flight. Priority check in, special reservations number, automatic complimentary upgrades to first class (various rules apply and there is a pecking order with other medallion members), boarding before the other suckers, double miles earned, and other things. It all seems pointless, but every since I achieved that level, I don't want to lose it.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Cable Modem Replacement

I started my day today like any other day. Except that Karen and I are now getting up at 5:30 (or in my case on eastern time work days, breaking at 5:30) to exercise. The work day started out well. Was getting through things and then the cable connection went down. It does this from time to time. I call the status line to see if there are outages for Waikiki. None reported. A couple minutes later and service comes back for other people in the building. Shortly after that, TV service is back at home. But our Internet and business phone systems are still down.

Some backstory... our cable service is through Oceanic Time Warner. I don't really recommend them, but then again if you want cable in Hawaii, there really isn't another choice. The Internet service is mediocre, a far cry for excellent providers like Virgin broadband, and the channel selection on TV is mediocre. The prices are not terrible, but they get you with equipment rental fees. You do not have a choice to not rent equipment, it's mandatory to receive the service. They itemize it so they can advertise low monthly rates. We have had Oceanic service since we moved here and as of now, we are on our 3rd modem.

I call Oceanic back and explained that our Internet and phone connections are still out. They ask me to do typical things like restarting the computer, phones, etc. Nothing works. They remotely check the modem and decide that it's faulty. They ask me to bring it in to a service center for a replacement.

I wait for a long time to get the replacement. The supposedly broken device is a modern looking piece of consumer electronics. Something designed to be out of the way and minimal. It was manufactured in November of 2009. I hand it over to Oceanic and await my replacement. They bring out the world's oldest cable modem and hand it to me.

From something like this:



To something close to this:



I ask if they have something smaller. No. But they gladly tell me I can come back later and replace it for something else. Not wanting to spend more time here, I head home and hook it up.

The Internet connection works for a few minutes, then stops. I reboot my router so it can renew the lease or whatever. Doesn't work. In fact, all the lights on the cable modem go off. Just for fun, I try the phone. No dial tone. OK, reboot the modem. Lights come back on. I try rebooting the router again and notice all the lights go off again. Hmmm, I think I see what's going on.

I Google the model number of my cable modem via my phone and find that it's generally a hated model that's pretty stupid and can't deal with loss of power on the Ethernet port. So if you cycle the power on a router by unplugging it and plugging it back in, you'll have to reboot the cable modem too. To test this out, I disconnected the router from the cable modem, powered both down, then powered up the router, plugged it in to the cable modem, then powered it up. All the lights were active on the cable modem, but I had no working Internet connection. I ssh'ed in to the router and did a soft reboot. It renewed the lease and the cable modem didn't shut down, I am guessing because the Ethernet line had power the whole time.

OK, so the Internet connection is mostly working. I go to check the phone and still no dial tone. I power down the phone and power it back up. Similar fashion to how I treated the router. The best I've been able to get is occassional dial tones for a few seconds. You press the speakerphone button and nothing happens. Minutes later you get a dial tone for a few seconds and then it's off.

I have called Oceanic and explained the behavior of the new device. They ran some remote tests and noted that it seems pretty slow. I pointed out that the modem is from the paleolithic era and quite possibly the world's oldest cable modem. Try to think of it as a computer from that time period.

They are unable to resolve the phone issue so they ask me to bring the modem in for another equipment swap. I say I'm not too thrilled with that resolution and could I just buy a cable modem online and have them register it? No. In fact, so very much no. They seem downright offended that I even asked them to entertain the idea. You MUST rent equipment from them. You think you have better equipment? You don't know our system! It's a special division! Cable drives on the left here! Blah blah blah. All lies, but this is hardly a discussion that will get me anywhere. I just thought it might be faster with regards to getting service restored.

They offer to send a technician out to repair the modem or replace it. OK, fine. Come early tomorrow. Oh, tomorrow is full. How about later in the week? No, see, I work from home and also I'm paying for this service so how about you fix it faster? They tell me the best they can do is put me on standby for a technician to come by tomorrow between 8:00 AM and 4:30 PM. Given the history of Oceanic visits, they usually come well after 4:30 PM, if at all. Having no other options, I agreed, so tomorrow will be yet another waste.

I am hoping that at least the Internet connection holds up for tomorrow. I can use my cell phone, but I must have an Internet connection.

This is a typical gripe of any utility company. It's just frustrating since we all rely on utilities because, well, they are supposed to be useful. I wish they would not end each phone call with "Thank you for choosing Oceanic Time Warner!" because it's not really a choice other than not being a customer. I didn't choose them because they were the best cable provider in town or for their award winning customer service. It's like the electric company or the water company thanking you for being a customer. Patronizing.

My options in Hawaii for Internet service are extremely limited. And given that we are moving in less than a year, I really have no desire to change things. However, I do rely on the cable connection for work, so that could be a catalyst for a short term change. Annoying.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Wedding Photos

People are starting to post photos from our wedding. I have been combining them in to a central area here:

http://photos.burdell.org/OurWedding

If you have wedding photos you would like added to that collection, contact me by email.

NOTE: The wedding.burdell.org site will be going away by the end of October. We will be saving a copy of it, but the only ongoing information from the wedding we would like to share are photos and we can do that via another site.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Married

September 18, 2010 in Honolulu, Hawaii by Judge Bode Uale. Thanks to everyone who was able to share the day with us and thanks for the many well wishes by SMS, email, phone, Facebook, and Twitter we have been receiving! I look forward to seeing all of the photos people took.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

ISC merges LDAP configuration patch for DHCP

What? OK, first the acronyms:
  • ISC is the Internet Systems Consortium. They are responsible for core Internet software, the F-root name server, and many RFC documents.
  • LDAP is the Lightweight Directory Access Protocol. Read about it here.
  • DHCP is the Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol. It's the technology that runs in the background when you set up your computer to "obtain address automatically".
ISC maintains DHCP software that pretty much every operating system vendor on the planet (except Microsoft) uses. It is core networking software. Until 2007, I was maintaining this software in Fedora Linux and Red Hat Enterprise Linux (by maintain, that means I made sure we were using the latest stable version and applied any patches to the code to make the ISC work correctly on our operating system).

Enter the LDAP patch. DHCP software has two components: the server and the client. The client is what runs on your computer when you connect to the network. It speaks to a DHCP server, which is run by your ISP or a wifi router or your company's IT department. The server is configured using a configuration file usually called /etc/dhcpd.conf. It can get rather large and difficult to maintain, so large DHCP sites wanted the ability to store their configuration in some sort of database. This is what the LDAP patch allows. Your DHCP server configuration can be stored in an LDAP database and managed by any number of separate tools. In fact, the DHCP servers themselves do not necessarily need configuration data as they can just request that from the LDAP server.

Support for LDAP in the DHCP server was started by some enterprising people at Ntelos and Novell. The original authors moved on to other projects and since I was maintaining this patch in Fedora Linux, I was asked to take over ownership of the patch for upstream purposes. I said sure and moved it over to github.com. I received many bug reports, patches, and requests for this patch to make it in to various releases of Fedora Linux and RHEL. Not all could be fulfilled, but it was clear that a lot of people want LDAP configuration support in the DHCP server.

ISC was asked on numerous occassions to merge this patch in to the upstream DHCP code. I am pleased to say that as of version 4.2.0 of ISC dhcp, the LDAP configuration has been merged. This is great news because I no longer have to maintain the patch out of tree. If you are finding bugs with LDAP support in dhcp and you are using 4.2.0 or higher, send your bug reports and patches to ISC. See the README file in the source code for how to report bugs.

From the RELNOTES file in the DHCP source code:
"The LDAP Patch" that has been circulating for some time, written by Brian Masney and S.Kalyanasundraram and maintained for application to the DHCP-4 sources by David Cantrell has been included. Please be advised that these sources were contributed, and do not yet meet the high standards we place on production sources we include by default. As a result, the LDAP features are only included by using a compile-time option which defaults off, and if you enable it you do so under your own recognizance. We will be improving this software over time. [ISC-Bugs #17741]
While the "do not yet meet the high standards we place on production sources" statement is a bit subjective, the bottom line is ISC has recognized that people want this support. Many thanks to everyone who contributed patches to improve LDAP support in DHCP. And many thanks to ISC for merging this code upstream!

NOTE: I am keeping the ldap-for-dhcp project alive on github for people still wanting to use older versions of DHCP. We have patches going back to dhcp-3.1.x which may be of use to someone.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Tape? Really?

I've moved my backup system to tape. My Amazon S3 experiment has not been reliable (or fast). Network backup is great, but going from a residential connection out is just not useful if have more than a couple gigabytes of data that changes daily. So I decided to go with tried and true technology: tape.

I have an HP StorageWorks DAT 72 external USB tape drive now. And 5 tapes. I'll probably need more tapes, but they cost around $5 each, so I'm not too worried about that.

Plugging in the drive caused the kernel to excrete these messages:

usb 1-1.4.2: new high speed USB device using ehci_hcd and address
usb 1-1.4.2: New USB device found, idVendor=03f0, idProduct=0125
usb 1-1.4.2: New USB device strings: Mfr=1, Product=2, SerialNumber=3
usb 1-1.4.2: Product: DAT72 USB Tape
usb 1-1.4.2: Manufacturer: Hewlett Packard
usb 1-1.4.2: SerialNumber: 4855311024394344
scsi5 : usb-storage 1-1.4.2:1.0
scsi 5:0:0:0: Sequential-Access HP C7438A ZU8B PQ: 0 ANSI: 3
scsi 5:0:0:0: Attached scsi generic sg3 type 1
st: Version 20081215, fixed bufsize 32768, s/g segs 256
st 5:0:0:0: Attached scsi tape st0
st 5:0:0:0: st0: try direct i/o: yes (alignment 512 B)
osst :I: Tape driver with OnStream support version 0.99.4
osst :I: $Id: osst.c,v 1.73 2005/01/01 21:13:34 wriede Exp $


I have a test backup running now, but will play with it more tomorrow. So far it's A LOT faster than any of my network backup attempts.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Wedding Invitations and the USPS

We recently finished up our wedding invitations. We did the invitations ourselves, which involved finding stationary, figuring out the content, printing everything, and getting it all assembled in to envelopes. We both worked on the content and layout for each component of the invitation. Our parents helped us collect mailing addresses, but I also have to thank Facebook for helping out with that too. I purchased the massive quantities of postage we needed. Karen handled addressing all of the envelopes by hand. I handled printing everything as well as figuring out the return address labels. We used OpenOffice on Fedora Linux, which caused a bit of frustration, but really if we had been using any other office software, it would have been just as frustrating. As I told Karen, I am incapable of using office software (which she finds amusing because I work with computers, but I tell her it's just not the same as what I do).

But most importantly: invitations are done!

During the addressing phase, I learned more about preferred USPS addressing formats. Yeah, this is real edge-of-your-seat reading, I know. For starters, I was already familiar with the request by the USPS that addresses appear in all caps, no punctuation (except the hyphen in ZIP+4 codes or in street addresses), and using approved USPS short forms for types, directionals, and common words. The address should be left justified in the center of a #10 envelope, except centered is pretty loose since the scanners can pick it up from most anywhere on the front of an envelope. The return address is to be written in the same manner, but aligned to the upper left corner of the envelope. Postage is aligned to the upper right corner.

I learned some more specifics about preferred addressing and corrected some things I had wrong. For example:

  • Directionals are to be abbreviated as N=North, S=South, W=West, and E=East. If you have an intermediate directional, use the same letters to abbreviate, but put a space between them. This is a really common mistake. Instead of writing NW, you need to write N W.

  • Do not use the hash mark for the secondary unit number. If you know the secondary unit type, you need to use the abbreviation and then the number, e.g. APT 603. For each deliverable address, the USPS keeps normalized addresses in a database. They prefer you use those addresses on mailings. If you live in an apartment, but the USPS has your address listed as SUITE 603, you need to use SUITE 603 on your address. You can figure out your normalized address by looking it up on the USPS web site.

  • If you DO need to use a hash mark for the secondary unit number because you don't know what abbreviation you should use, put a space between the hash and the number, e.g. # 603.

  • Do not write a comma between the place name and the state abbreviation on the last line. Instead of writing HONOLULU, HI you need to write HONOLULU HI.

  • The hyphen is allowed in ZIP+4 codes and unit numbers (but only when it is part of the official unit number).

  • Only put a single space between the state abbreviation and the ZIP code. I did know this, but I feel it's worth mentioning as the USPS preferred method conflicts with business and personal letter writing styles that we are all taught in school.

  • Another I do know, but feel is worth mentioning are state and territory abbreviations. You need to use the two character USPS abbreviations and not GPO abbreviations that were taught thousands of years ago in school. That means writing AL instead of "Ala." and MA instead of "Mass."

  • Addresses are scanned from right to left and from bottom to top, which means the most significant information is at the bottom right corner of the address, which is the ZIP+4 code. If you have other lines of information you want on the mailing, place it on the top lines. The general rule I've picked out of the USPS information is that there are 4 important lines on an address and everything else is extra (this is only true for personal mailing, not business mailing). That's the list line, secondary address line, delivery address lines, and the recipient line.

  • Another I know, but want to point out. The city/state/zip line is really last line name/state/zip. The last line name does not necessarily correspond to city names. Last line names are assigned by the USPS and reflect city, town, CDP, or region names. You need to use the correct place name for your ZIP code, which may or may not correspond to the actual city or town you live in (though it may be an honoured exception).

I started looking this information up because while we were addressing invitations, Karen wanted the return address label on the back flap of the envelope and I wanted it in the upper left corner. I was trying to see if the back flap was acceptable. No conclusive answer found, but since it is not specifically stated, I can only assume it's not preferred.

What are the advantages to using preferred USPS addressing? More accurrate and faster deliveries. The USPS is extremely flexible when it comes to addresses, so these are not rules, they just ask that people follow them because it speeds up processing. It helps them help you.

Would you like to know more? Check out USPS Publication 28. It's a page turner, that's for sure.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Meta Blog

Have not posted here in a while. I like keeping my blog around because I periodically come up with something I want to write about and it does not fit in the Twitter 140 character limit. But, I have nothing to post right now, so how about a collection of updates.

Karen and I went to Turtle Bay Resort this past weekend. Originally planning on having a beach cottage, the hotel upgraded us to the Ali'i Presidential Suite. It was more than twice the size of our condo. It was really nice, but I hope it didn't spoil me on conventional hotel rooms. Pictures of the room are here. We tried to guess who would stay in this room normally. The room entrance is not clearly marked, probably to keep the typical guest of this room from being bothered. The room covers an entire end of one of the 6th floor hotel spokes (3 spokes to Turtle Bay Resort, check out aerial photos via Google). The entrance is a double door, but it's past the regular rooms and it appears to be a service door, so you might think it's where the service elevator is or maybe an area for housekeeping. Nope, it was our gigantic room. One of my favorite parts of the room was the card from the VP and General Manager of Turtle Bay Resort including his office and cell number and email address, indicating we should contact him if we have any issues. They are serious about the high rollers.

You know the card on the back of hotel room doors that lists state hotel laws and the rack rates for the room you're in? The card for our room did not indicate a rate, but rather a rate range of $800 to $3300 per night. Ha!

Karen and I are nearing the end of what has seemed to be infinite wedding planning. We wanted something simple and while it's still simple, there are so many questions people have. Questions that sometimes we don't care about, but people still want an answer to. Karen is having to help me remain sane and I'm having to do the same for her. We have a rule where we only focus on one task per day, otherwise it's entirely too overwhelming.

In other news, I am awaiting the title to my car. Yes, it has finally been 72 months. That's right, I financed it that long. What? You think I'm insane? Yeah, maybe. But the point is it's over. I purchased the car shortly after graduation and took the new graduate financing option where you didn't need any cash down and could purchase the car rather than lease for 3 years and have a 100 mile limit on the car. 72 months is an insane amount of time to pay off a loan. Since I purchased the vehicle, I have put about 68000 miles on it and lived in 4 different states. The car has driven through 15 states and DC. The car has also been on both Oahu and Maui. In short, it's definitely done a good job of getting me around and not being a burden. Once the title arrives, I have to go and get a Hawaii title. Yes, the car is still titled in New Hampshire.

Well, that's it for now. It's been a very busy summer so far. Before we know it, we'll be packing things up to move back to Boston.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Energy Sources in Hawaii

The topic came up in discussion with some friends the other day. Where does Hawaii get energy? What energy sources are available in Hawaii? The following is my own research in to the subject, so if anyone has anything to add, feel free.

First, those who don't know, Hawaii is composed of many islands. The islands are so far apart that they lack physical utility connections between them. That means that each island has its own generating facilities and for fuels like gasoline, they are brought to the island. But more on that later.

Hawaii has no sources of natural gas and since it's impractical to transport natural gas by any means other than pipe, Hawaii just doesn't have natural gas. What we do have is synthetic natural gas (SNG). Synthetic natural gas is made from petroleum byproducts and while the composition is different, can be used in applications where natural gas would be appropriate. SNG is currently only available on the island of Oahu and even then in limited areas. The Gas Company provides SNG service to customers on Oahu via tank delivery or access to their pipeline network. Their site claims to have around 1000 miles of SNG pipeline.

So are those tiki torches I see at night around Waikiki using SNG? All of the information I can find on the Internet tells me no. They primarily or exclusively use propane for the torches. You can also tell by the smell when they light the torches. It smells like someone firing up a barbeque.

Which brings me to propane. Propane is used in a lot of places in Hawaii where natural gas would be used on the mainland. It's an established energy source in Hawaii and can be transported by tank or pipeline. Propane also makes sense because it's a byproduct you get when you refine petroleum. There are two petroleum refineries on Oahu, so it makes sense for Hawaii to make use of as much of that fuel as possible.

Which brings me to gasoline, diesel, aviation fuels, and bunker fuels. We have all sorts of vehicles zipping around the islands. Cars, trucks, buses, airplanes, jets, and ships. All of these vehicles require petroleum for their engines. Hawaii's two refineries produce these fuels and they are distributed from tank sites that are very similar (if not identical) to tank sites you see on the mainland. Ever see those not so tall but really large diameter white cylindrical towers in the industrial area of your city? These hold the fuel that you will eventually buy from your local station. There is not one tank site for each brand of fuel. There is generally one or two suppliers for a major area and all stations buy from that. The branding of fuel is simply that, branding. Larger brands add stuff to the fuel, like detergents, to make their fuel better (or worse) than other brands. Chevron Techron, for example, is a branding for a detergent that is added to fuels sold at Chevron stations.

Fuel is refined on Oahu and sent on barges to the neighbor islands. This is one reason why fuel tends to cost more on neighbor islands than on Oahu.

What about electricity? Since each island has to generate its own power, we have many different solutions. Here is the breakdown by island:
  • Oahu: Serviced by Hawaiian Electric Company (HECO). There are 3 petroleum-fired generating plants owned by HECO. There is another petroleum-fired generating plant owned by Kalaeola Partners. In addition, Oahu is home to H-POWER and AES-Hawaii. H-POWER is a waste-to-energy plant (it burns trash to make power). AES-Hawaii is a coal-fired generating plant. Yes, they ship a small amount of coal to Hawaii to run this plant.
  • Kauai: Serviced by Kauai Island Utility Cooperative. They generate power via petroleum, hydroelectric, biomass (like burning trees or sandwiches), and solar.
  • Maui: Serviced by Maui Electric Company (MECO). There are two petroleum-fired generating plants on Maui. HC&S also generates power on Maui by hydroelectric means, bagasse (sugar cane pulp), coal, and petroleum. Maui is also home to the Kaheawa Wind Farm and a small as-needed petroleum generator in Hana.
  • Molokai: Also serviced by MECO. Molokai has a single petroleum-fired generating plant.
  • Lanai: Also serviced by MECO. Lanai has a single petroleum-fired generating plant.
  • Hawaii (Big Island): Serviced by Hawaii Electric Light Company (HELCO). There are six petroleum-fired generating plants on Hawaii. Puna Geothermal Venture and Hamakua Energy Partners can supply up to 90 MW for Hawaii. There are also three wind farms (one owned by HELCO) and two hydroelectric generating plants.
HECO, MECO, and HELCO are all part of the same holding company.

The needs of each island vary, but you can see the majority of the electricity in Hawaii comes from petroleum. There is also no way for one island to back up another island if the lights go out. Each island is self-sufficient for electricity generation. And yes, the lights have gone out before. Oahu went dark around 7pm on 27-Dec-2008. Among the many people here at the time were the Obamas for Christmas.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Friends Using Fedora part 2

The comments and email replies I received to my previous post seems to indicate that some people missed the point I was trying to make. A lot of people I heard from privately seemed shocked that I do not come running out the door, guns blazin', screaming USE LINUX! USE FEDORA! I'm not that sort of user. As I previously stated, if people are interested in Linux, I will answer questions. I will help them set it up too, but I do not have the time nor desire to become everyone's personal IT department. I don't even want to be my own sysadmin. Those days are long since over.

My main point was that, in general, Linux distributions have advanced to the point where most users can figure things out for themselves, much like they would have done on Windows or MacOS X. A decade ago, you couldn't really say that about Linux. It's really nice that usability in Linux has reached that point. My fiancée and my friends being able to figure out how to play movies, work with MS Office document formats, and so forth all without asking is nice. At one point in time in the Linux world, answering those questions meant sitting down with someone and telling them how to compile software. Fortunately we are way past that point.

The other point I was trying to make was that despite that fact that we still do development at a ridiculous pace and push releases out all the time, my friends still using Fedora Core 6 have no complaints and no problems. The people telling me that I'm horrible having them still use it because they are missing some security update simply doesn't matter. Most end users don't care about updates, ever. These users are like that. If they were running Windows on this system, they would still ignore updates. Would a Windows system of that age still be usable? I don't know. I'd like to think the Fedora system of that age holds up better.

If I had approached them each time a new Fedora release came out -or- made sure they were installing updates on an almost daily basis, they probably would have said to me, "you know, this is too much work, just forget about it." And they would have left it running whatever was on the system.

So, for those users, in the amount of time since Fedora Core 6 was released, the only thing they wanted that was newer was Firefox. In retrospect, CentOS probably would have been a better option for them. But really, I don't think it matters for them in the end.

Thanks for the suggestions for getting a newer Firefox to them as well as all of the concerns for them being vulnerable to countless security issues. I wanted to make sure knew the points I was trying to make.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Friends Using Fedora

I'm not one to push Linux on people, but if they ask about it and decide to give it a try, I will help them out. First, my fiancée started using Fedora when she bought a new laptop. Her old one just stopped working and she took the opportunity to switch over to Linux on the new system. She is currently using Fedora 12 and has only had minimal questions. Most of her questions have been about how to do things in OpenOffice, which I am generally unable to answer immediately but can usually poke around and figure out what to do. All of the other typical desktop tasks such as web browsing, email, music, photos...she has no problems doing on Linux.

Oh, and in addition to having to adjust to OpenOffice, she has also had severe problems with the touchpad. She has a Dell Mini 10 and the touchpad is absolutely irritating under Linux. It does not have physical buttons on it, but rather button areas on the touchpad. But the driver can't seem to distinguish between a click and a drag and in the middle of dragging if you hit the button region on the pad, it translates that to a click. Very irritating. So irritating that I just got her a USB mouse. If anyone knows how to make the touchpad on a Dell Mini 10 behave, let me know.

Second, I have two friends in Somerville who bought a computer from me several years ago because they needed a new one and I had one that I wasn't using anymore that was less than a year old. I told them I could set it up with Linux and help them with that, but if they wanted Windows, they'd have to figure that out by themselves. They chose Linux. So I set it up with our latest release at the time they bought the system: Fedora Core 6. I was just back in Boston recently and visited them and they are still using Fedora Core 6. They commented on how reliable the system is and it's so nice not having to worry about viruses and spyware and other junk software that tends to pollute a Windows system. Mind you, I really just set it up, showed them a few things, and they haven't really asked me much since then.

They did ask me two questions while I was there recently. One was about mounting an external USB hard disk with an NTFS volume on it. That was easy to solve, they just needed the ntfs-3g package installed (which we had available in FC-6 fortunately). The other was for a newer version of Firefox. I said it would probably be to their benefit to upgrade to a newer Fedora first and they asked what they were running and what the latest was. I told them they had version 6 and we were nearing the release of version 13. They laughed and said, "eh, well we'll worry about that later."

To me it's an interesting type of user. These are people who do not care at all about the latest and greatest everything. Of the new stuff out there, they wanted a newer version Firefox. The fact that they are still running FC-6 and haven't hit any issues is nice to see. I did see some things on their desktop such as iTunesSetup.exe and other such things, which are probably leftovers from attempts to figure something out in Fedora, but learning they needed to take a slightly different path. I saw they had added software to the system since I set it up, mostly for movies.

I imagine they will start to hit hardware failures before the software stops being useful. I wish there was still something like Fedora Legacy for these types of users. When I think about it, it's really security updates that would matter the most as well as updates to high profile applications like Fedora. Even keeping the older repositories still available would be nice. I installed ntfs-3g for them, but had to modify the files in /etc/yum.repos.d by hand to point to the correct repo locations. Would be nice if the last update delivered before a release is marked EOL is updated repo files in the fedora-release package to point to the new repo URLs.

In an effort to help them out, I'm going to see how much of a disaster it would be to upgrade from Fedora Core 6 to Fedora 12, doing a yum upgrade to each release. Sure, I could reinstall, but it would be interesting to see if a yum upgrade through each release quickly would work.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Does Anyone Know What Time It Is?

In my job I have to deal with five time zones, four of which observe summer time at some point in the year. The team I manage sits in the following time zones:
  • Central European Time (CET) - 1 hour ahead of UTC
  • North American Eastern Standard Time (EST) - 5 hours behind UTC
  • North American Central Standard Time (CST) - 6 hours behind UTC
  • North American Pacific Standard Time (PST) - 8 hours behind UTC
  • Hawaiian-Aleutian Standard Time (HAST) - 10 hours behind UTC
UTC is Coordinated Universal Time. All of the time zones I need to deal with deal with summer time except for HAST. In the summer, I need to deal with the following time zones:
  • Central European Summer Time (CEST) - 2 hours ahead of UTC
  • North American Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) - 4 hours behind UTC
  • North American Central Daylight Time (CDT) - 5 hours behind UTC
  • North American Pacific Daylight Time (PDT) - 7 hours behind UTC
  • Hawaiian-Aleutian Standard Time (HAST) - 10 hours behind UTC
However, they don't all change at the same time. The North American summer times start on the second Sunday of March and end on the first Sunday in November. Note that this only went in to effect in 2007 in the United States. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 amended the Uniform Time Act of 1966 and extended the daylight saving time period. Prior to 2007, daylight saving time in the US started on the first Sunday in April and ended on the last Sunday in October.

CEST is another story. CEST starts on the last Sunday in March and runs to the last Sunday in October.

Scheduling meetings in March is frustrating because 9 different time zones end up being used during the month. The start of summer time was never aligned between the US and Europe, but we used to both end on the same day.

In the United States, if you live in Hawaii or Arizona or any of the US territories, you don't have to deal with this crap (except that you do when working with people in other time zones). But it is nice having the same local time throughout the year.

If you live in Indiana, I do not know how clocks work for you.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Post Birthday

Aside from the tsunami and yammering on about my car, I have been off the blog for a while. Quick summary of happenings in no particular order:
  • Had some friends from Innsbruck, Austria visit. Decided to buy an Aerobed for visitors and that turned out to be one of the best purchases we've made here. I still need to learn German.
  • Took a long weekend trip to Turtle Bay Resort and stayed in a beach cottage (it's on the other side of the island, the best we can get for a weekend road trip).
  • Became manager of my team at Red Hat. So far that has meant more use of the phone and more decision making, but I'm enjoying it.
  • Got a land line phone, since the cell wasn't cutting it for the many calls I have to make for work now.
  • Had a birthday. Karen framed my diploma from Georgia Tech, which was a really nice surprise.
  • Booked the venue for our wedding and got save the date notices sent out. Also put together a wedding web site. Now we have to deal with the details.
And that's more or less the major things that have happened since my last real post.

Karen is currently getting past bronchitis, which has kept her down for about a week now. She is starting to feel better.

I worked over the weekend on bug blocking an in progress release of RHEL. We figured out the problem and have it fixed now, we just have to get to the point where it's too late to do anything about the release.

Speaking of work, I had lunch on Friday with the other two RH employees based in Honolulu. It was nice to meet other RH people in my time zone. And fortunately we're all on the same island. When we moved here, I was the only RH person in Hawaii. Now we have two others, so maybe someday there will be an office here (doubt it).

We've got a lot of travel coming up. April may require travel for me and June is definitely going to be travel. We're going to Karen's brother's wedding at the beginning of June and from there I head to Boston to get some office time.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Car Service

My 2004 Jetta was in need of service, so I finally got it over to Tony Volkswagen today. Of the different VW dealers I've used in the past several years, I like this location the most. They do a nice general check on the car and give you a multipage printout of how your car is doing in certain areas and they explain what different things mean so you are not totally in the dark.

Today the car got its 70000 mile service done. I had them replace a broken storage compartment latch and figure out why the rear door locks do not always unlock as well. During the general car inspection, they discovered the following problems:
  • Left tail light bulb out (how did I pass the state safety inspection in Dec?).
  • License plate bulb out (again, state inspection passed, how?).
  • DG coolant fan "problem" (it's stuck on the high setting, unknown reason).
  • Electrical short.
That was in addition to the service I came in for. On one hand, it's nice to have all of these things found, on the other hand it reminds me why I hate owning a car.

They recommended replacing the rear brake pads and rotors (rear brakes were at 3mm) as well as a brake system flush, power steering system flush, new wiper blades, and headlamp restoration. The estimate quoted was $1326.12. Come on. I declined most and got $320 worth of service instead.

Next in line will be brakes. I also need new tires. I keep going back on forth on whether I should get tires or not. I can't buy all season tires in Hawaii unless I order them, so I may end up doing that.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Tsunami Updates part last

The tsunami watch has been cancelled by the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center. The emergency net on 146.88 has closed and everything else is starting to close up. Honolulu DEM has not given the all clear, but I think we are moments away from that.

No big wave.

Tsunami Updates part 4

11:04 AM came and went, as did 11:19 AM. At which point the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center told everyone that those times were sort of a guess and really it could come at any time.

Right now all that people have seen is an increase in water levels and when the water goes out, it's more than usual.

Everything is still closed, roads are still closed, and we're still in hurry up and wait mode.

Tsunami Updates part 3

The 10:30 AM civil defense siren just went off. Since the last siren went off, we've had Honolulu police and fire patrolling all of the streets here in Waikiki on loudspeakers telling people to get to the 3rd floor or higher. The emergency vehicle sirens have not stopped.

What else has not stopped is the little beach house across the street from us. They've got music blasting and are just having a party.

Waves will reach Hilo around 11:05 AM, they are still saying 11:19 AM for Oahu. Nothing much to do now except wait.

Tsunami Updates part 2

The statewide civil defense sirens went off at 9am as per the tsunami emergency plan. Since the last post, we've learned the following:
  • Tsunami reached French Polynesia. Waves at 6 feet and no damage reported. More waves expected.
  • Tonga, Tahiti, and the Cook Islands instituted emergency evacuation plans.
  • The wave size predictions have decreased but the length of activity expected is still the same.
  • The estimated first wave arrival time in Hawaii is now 11:05 AM HST.
Hilo will receive the first waves and most of the Hawaii news attention is there, as well it should be. On Oahu, stores have been closed or have been forced to close due to being overwhelmed with panicked shoppers. There is only one Costco open on Oahu at the moment, both the Hawaii Kai and Iwilei locations closed for the day.

Hawaiian Airlines is not changing or cancelling any flights except ones in to Hilo because the Hilo airport is closed right now. Honolulu International Airport is still open.

A reminder to Hawaii residents: FOLLOW EVACUATION PROCEDURES! The department of emergency management for your county as well as statewide civil defense makes decisions on what areas needs to evacuate and when. If everyone evacuates at once, all of the roads will be jammed.

Information on local evacuation procedures is in the front of the phone book (includes contact numbers, maps, and other important information).

We are now about 1.5 hours away. More updates to follow, assuming we keep power.

Tsunami Update

To all of our friends who have emailed, called, or sent a text message... we are ok and are preparing. We know it's national news at this point, but here's an update from how things look in Hawaii:
  • We are currently preparing ourselves for loss of utility service for 72 hours. This is normal for hurricane preparation as well. We have some supplies left from hurricane season, we're replenishing water at the moment.
  • Many stores and public places are now closed.
  • Per the DEM evacuation plan, we are currently staying put. This may seem counterintuitive, but there are only two roads in or out of Waikiki and those need to be kept clear for emergency vehicles and those people who actually need to evacuate.
We are moving Karen's mom's car and possibly mine as well.

News is keeping people informed and the panic levels are relatively low at the moment. People are being good about staying at home and not freaking out. First wave hits in a few hours, so we'll see where things go from there.

As long as we have power and Internet, I'll post here and try to get things on either YouTube or Facebook.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

New Monitor

I bought an SGI 1600SW panel off eBay the other day and it arrived today, all intact. I have not yet hooked it up because I need to do some desk rearrangement.

The 1600SW panel is a 12 year old LCD panel that was made by Silicon Graphics. When they released it, SGI was promoting their Visual Workstation computer line. The Visual Workstations were Intel-based computers running a hacked up version of Windows NT. Those computers never took off, but the LCD panel caught the eye of many people. Twelve years later and it's still a nice display. I like the size, supported resolutions, and the fact that it's not glossy (remember in 1998 we were not in to glossy LCD displays yet).

Being 12 years old isn't the only problem the 1600SW presents. The fact that it came from SGI means there is going to be some sort of "catch" to make it usable. For the 1600SW, you need a special dingus to allow it to connect to a VGA or DVI interface. The 1600SW uses OpenLDI, a wonderful video interface standard that was never adopted anywhere. The panel I bought did come with the dingus (SGI sold them under the name "Multilink Adapter") and the necessary cabling, so I should be in business relatively quickly. The preferred resolution with this display is 1600x1024, so I'm hoping to not run in to problems there.

On an entirely different note, I received an email that Blogger is requiring me to change my blog or lose functionality. So I need to do something about that soon, which may mean changing hosting providers.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Can't Wait For This Season

Honolulu got to see the first hour of LOST season 6 episode 1 on 30-Jan-2010, everyone else has to wait. The hype around LOST is absurd and damned entertaining at the same time. I absolutely love the ridiculous fan speculation and theories and writeups on the Internet. It's hilarious. I personally avoid any of the extra LOST stuff and just stick with the show, but still this is hilarious:



(Found via Jorge Garcia's blog). Yes, there are a lot of questions for the writers to answer and I think it's safe to assume that we won't get answers to everything, so here are my top 5 questions (in no particular order) that I'm hoping to have an answer to:

  • What is the smoke monster? And by that I mean tell me what it is, why it sounds like an NYC taxi receipt printer, and where did it come from. The smoke monster first appeared in the pilot episode, so I think we deserve an answer to this one.

  • What's the deal with the Egyptian stuff? The statue, the hieroglyphics, and so on. And don't give me a Stargate answer.

  • What's the deal with Richard? Seriously, no aging? Come on, explain yourself.

  • Who does the glass eye belong to? The what? That's right, the glass eye found in the hollowed out book in the abandoned Arrow station by the tail section survivors early in the series. Yeah, I want to know if it belonged to Uncle Patchy and if so, how'd he lose that eye.

  • What do the numbers mean? The numbers had way more screen time early in the series and that's sort of been reduced to occurrences of the numbers in various forms here and there.

I could really list a lot more, but those are the 5 that came to mind. Hopefully it'll be an entertaining season.