Sunday, 16 November 2008

Volunteering and the youth of today

Recently I've been involved in a project where significant amounts of volunteer work is required to make it a success. Although the level of help has been enormous, the cross section of ages of people involved has been very interesting. Almost all of the volunteers have been the parents of kids involved in the project and none of the kids themselves. By kids I refer to those with the age group of 30 and under. Many of these people are heavily involved in the sport in question, but very few have turned up to help out - their mothers and father have though. I find this very disappointing - after all, these kids are the ones who demand the best facilities and complained the loudest when the previous facilities were falling into aged disrepute.

I'm not sure if this is endemic across all volunteer efforts, but the ones I'm involved in it certainly seems to be. It's as if the altruism our parents demonstrate, the generosity of their time and effort have not been passed on to their overly spoilt and wilful children. I'm not sure how to combat this, after from charging those who don't help out more than those who do help out. Recognition of the effort being made by these volunteers is important - but they don't help for that reason. As a wise man once said, it's amazing how much can be accomplished when the people involved aren't asking for anything.

Personally I've spent several long hard days helping out and I'm exhausted, but I'm also disappointed and a bit unhappy about the lack of help from people my age. Lazy bastards I think while I'm out there working - a few more young folk and the work would go much easier. Instead older men and women are expending their efforts for something they'll only enjoy peripherally at best. Here is my message then, to you young folk - get off your arses and go and help out. Only a couple of hours of your time makes a big difference - you're not just helping yourself, but many others too. I actually feel ashamed of my age group. I'm appalled at the younger people and I don't know where this has gone wrong - maybe those self same parents making the effort now failed to teach those altruistic skills onto their progeny? At any rate, I've got work to do, and sitting here bitching isn't getting it done.

Friday, 14 November 2008

Ubuntu 8.10 Review updates

I've been using 8.10 for a while now at home and at work. Naturally the more demanding of the two has been at work, where I've been working both on ISO9001:2000 documentation and also web page development. Two things have struck me as annoying, and I've found one little solution and one big solution.

The first problem I've had is when I enable the nVidia restricted drivers for the video card in this GX270 OpenOffice has problems with it's rendering. Specifically the menu names, the font name, font style etc all become transparent and I can't read them. When I close a document and the dialogue box for Save/Discard/Cancel comes up I can't read the options. Firefox is unaffected, which is fine, but I spend a fair bit of time in OpenOffice and it's very inconvenient. The fix? Well it's a little one - I disable the restricted drivers and problem solved. I don't use a lot of the extra graphics effects so that's fine.

The other problem is the workspaces control applet in Gnome. There are only 2 workspaces by default and ordinarily you right click on them to add extra workspaces. For some reason this doesn't work all the time. There is a bug report about it I believe. Yesterday I was cranky enough that I re-installed Ubuntu (this was an upgrade machine that I've "tweaked" and so a fresh start was a good option). Voila! The workspaces thing is working again. At home, however, it isn't and I'm not about to re-install that machine too. For the time being I'll suck it up, find the config file and manually change it if I get cranky enough. At home the extra workspaces isn't such an issue, but I do like to have 4 at any given moment.

Apart from that, everything is going extremely well. The darker theme is very soothing to the eyeballs and that's a good things - especially with many hours spent staring at the screen. Well done, good work and keep it Linux Developers!

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Review: Windows Server 2008 Small Business Server

Recently I've had the requirement to install and configure Windows Server 2008 SBS. Previously I've deployed 2003 SBS in varying settings and found it to be quite a nice little product. In more recent times though, I've gone the more segmented path of Windows Server 2003 plus Exchange 2003 separately and found that to be quite effective. For a small operation, however, SBS provides many features that are very helpful to the operator who isn't necessarily skilled in IT, nor has a great deal of time to set things up and play with them. Being a Sys Admin with the inclination and the time to play with it, here are some of my thoughts regarding SBS2008.

The management system for accounts and the like is very nicely set up for the none technical user. An application with common tasks is easily available and allows for configuration of most casual system changes to be made. I refer primarily to user and group (both distribution and security) creation, file and folder shares and backup configuration/testing. SBS2008, like it's predecessor has some nice daily reports that can be emailed to the Administrator or to a designated person and contain excellent information to keep an eye on the system. For example, this includes disk usage, backup status and the like. Very nice.

SBS2008 likes to take control of the network - it offers to be the gateway, DNS, DHCP, mail and file server all in one. I had problems with this on my network - I already *have* a gateway, DNS, and DHCP servers and it didn't play nicely together at all. In fact, the installation failed and I had to restart it again from scratch. This time I was a bit smarter and had the server plugged into a dummy switch. Once the initial install was passed, I added a virtual interface to my gateway and set the SBS server to point at it. This time it was happy, but by gum it wasn't the first time around. It automatically assigned itself the .2 IP address on the network (i.e. and off it went from there. It did talk successfully to the gateway and once I reconfigured squid and my firewall, network traffic flowed as one would expect it to.

Something I learned from SBS 2008 is that you cannot set up mail addresses etc from within Active Directory, as you can in Server 2003 (not SBS) with Exchange. Also, security and distribution groups all had to be set up from the SBS system application. Not realising this, I created groups and used the Exchange Systems Manager to set up the email accounts and groups. These did not appear in the SBS system application. Oops! I'll have to revisit it and see if it's found them or not. Something else I learned - the HP ML350 I installed SBS2008 on is a very nice machine, but the HP setup disks - which cater for nearly every *other* version of Server 2008 - do not cater for SBS 2008. Damn! All those drivers and tools had to be installed after the fact - SBS2008 just would not work with the HP boot CD. Disappointing, but the ML350 was released before SBS2008, so you can't have everything I guess. That being said, the ML350 is quite a nice bit of kit indeed and highly configurable and affordable too. This one had a simple RAID1 mirror and everything ran flawlessly - as you would definitely hope it to in this particular setting.

Overall, I was impressed with SBS2008 and if needed I would happily deploy it elsewhere. I imagine that as one becomes more familiar with it, the ease of installation and configuration would certainly increase - I felt a bit confused at times and had to rely on trusty Google to get me through. At the very least, the problems I encountered were well documented by others. I must say though, the initial problem I had with the installation of the server failing was one that had been noted on the Microsoft webpages but no solution had been offered. If your SBS 2008 install fails - make sure it is the only thing on the network when you do the install - no other servers should be present if you want it to go smoothly. By all means migrate your AD stuff later, or even better (given that it is for Small Businesses) create a fresh new directory and build it in a pristine state for roll out. Also to be noted - it requires a minimum of 60GB of hard disk space for the C drive and a minimum of 4GB of RAM (!). Lucky RAM is cheap :-)

Flexibility, with Dell and Ubuntu

I know I wax rhapsodic about Ubuntu and the general power and wonderfulness that is Linux but I've just had an experience that adds another ingredient to the mix. I have a bit of penchant for older hardware - I maintain a gaming system that is generally no more than a year old before I upgrade it's innards but apart from that system, all my hardware is old stuff. Why bother to buy a new machine to run Linux on it, when a two or three year old box will do exactly what I want it to?

I recently picked up a Dell Precision 380 and an Optiplex GX280. Sweet machines - I'm particularly impressed with the Precision and it makes me wonder what a brand new one would be like. Perhaps I'll have to break with tradition and invest in a new one :-) The Optiplex was purchased on a bit of a whim - only $100 and it's a P4 3.2GHz box with DDR2 RAM etc (I'm using it right now actually). Not bad and it's also a mini desktop (or whatever you call them). Very small, quiet and easy to tuck away. It's the same as the two GX240's I've got. The only bad thing I've found is the CDROM appears to be faulty in some fashion. At any rate, installing Ubuntu 8.10 wasn't happening - disk errors abounded and although the CD itself checked out, it was failing on this system. Rather than piss and moan about it, I pulled the 160GB SATA disk out and popped it into the Precision - all the disk mounting stuff is the same, the cables reached perfectly etc etc and after a short interval I shut the box down, retrieved the disk and threw it into the GX280 again. An hour and a half later, I've customised the hell out of my Ubuntu install (mmm pretty) and it's going great guns - no hardware issues nothing. Sweet!

This is kind of a review of Ubuntu 8.10 too - I really like the new DarkRoom theme and as usual the upgrade process (that I performed on another box) went very smoothly. It runs quite nicely and although I've read elsewhere that 8.10 is slower than other iterations of Ubuntu it appears to run quite snappily for me. Earlier I transferred about 10GB of data over my gigabit network and that gave it a real push - the load hit about 8 at one point :-) But the old hardware and the new operating system pushed on quite happily - although I do hear the fan complaining a bit. With the ambient air temperature around the 28 degrees C plus the work it's doing, it's no wonder really.

Back to the Dell PCs I've got now - I have 6 and many of the parts are interchangeable. Naturally there are exceptions to the rule - the power supplies vary somewhat between the little PCs and the Precision has almost unique innards compared to the others. This is quite alright. I'm very pleased with all of them. I've actually got a reasonably good working installation of Windows Server 2008 Standard on the Precision - Microsoft's TechNet Direct is a terrific resource if you want to stay on top of all the Microsoft software out there. The Precision runs it quite happily and it's gratifying to note that nVidia even has drivers for the Quadro network card that work happily under 64 bit Server 2008. It's a happy little family of Dell PCs, Ubuntu Linux, Windows Server 2008 and my lone Windows Vista/XP gaming box. The cousins in the lounge room - the Xbox (modded naturally) and it's younger brother the 360 talk happily to these machines too and combined it forms a nice little network. If only my power bill wasn't quite so large.....

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Virtualisation in the server space

Recently I've had the chance to view VMWare ( and HP's ( entries in the virtualisation market - through VMWare's ESXi server and HP's Blade servers and SAN systems. Prior to this presentation I'd only looked into virtualisation a little bit, concerns for server redundancy and the like preventing me from spending a lot of time looking into it, and also, the size and scope of the organisation I work for is insufficient for such things - or so I had thought.

I have about 10 servers under my direct control and of these, 6 could be virtualised. Thinking about it going forward, in 3 to 5 years when these servers are due for replacement, buying 2 servers and a small SAN will cost less than the 6 new servers and provide the same services. At the end of the day, I think that's what it is all about - same services (or better), with uptime being up in the 5 nines range and cost-effective hardware/software. I've been a fan of VMWare's virtualisation stuff for several years, solely through the VMWare desktop range. Running multiple operating systems and applications on a single development machine was lots of fun. Back in the day (5 odd years ago) RAM was pricey and so was disk space so the VM's were pretty little.

Now you can run whole server instances in a file and then slip that file between servers depending on load requirements and whatever other fancy things you want to do - such as bringing one physical server down for updates and maintaining all your VM's on another server. Absolutely amazing stuff - especially when you combine it with blade technology and have dozens of servers sharing one big SAN all in the same rackspace. Truly incredible. Pretty complicated too I think as well, remembering where everything is going.

The new Blade servers from HP look very impressive too - they've done a lot of work on cooling and on cabling and everything is redundant with backup from at least one module exactly the same. Of course, when I saw those big fancy Blade servers I thought to myself - why virtualise? You could have a netboot install of a server ready to rock at a moment's notice and be back up and running in a very short time, especially if you combine the server with Microsoft's ASR technology and tape backup. There is so much chance for overkill it's every enterprise geek's wet dream. There were quite a few geeks at the presentation that looked like they were in their happy place that's for sure.

The most important thing I took away from it all was that virtualisation in the server space has come a long way since I last looked into it and the offerings from both VMWare and HP are quite spectacular. Given my quite low funds though - I'm now looking into Linux's XEN virtualisation. If you're more interested in this (any virtualisation for that matter) there is a lot of stuff on the interwebs. Mind you don't clog up your tubes! :-)

Waiting for Windows 7

OK, so we're starting to see some peeks at Windows 7. Check this out at ars technica: The first screen shots of Windows 7. I'm not particularly interested in it at the moment, I'm more interested in the whole "What do I do with my 8 year old Windows XP now?"

There are several options and as a Sys Admin I get more than a few questions about what to do as Windows XP ages gracefully into oblivion. Obviously the wonderful Windows Vista is an option, as is the various distributions provided by the gifted GNU/Linux community. With Windows 7 slated for a late 2009 (probably 2010) release should users be holding out for it as their hardware ages and their PC's become due for renewal? And for businesses that have laboriously got themselves into a nice 3 year PC replacement cycle, what do they go for?

Honestly at this point I'd point them at Novell's Linux Enterprise Desktop 10. There is no way I'd suggest Windows Vista at this point. It is such a massive resource hog, plays poorly with legacy applications and just seems to be a slapped together and rushed out the door operating system. It should be noted I run Vista on several machines, and have a couple of machines out there with regular users running Vista and honestly, they give me no positive feedback on it. On the other hand, I've put Ubuntu and OpenSuSE on people's desktops and they have really liked them - especially on older machines where the processor is only a P4 with a 1GB of RAM.

So the question really is - wait for Windows 7 and hope for the best OR deploy Vista to the desktop? It's not a nice question at all. I'll admit to feeling burnt by Vista - sure it has some nice features but by crikey it can be frustrating to get it going in the right direction at times. I've rarely had issues with the various Linux dizzies I've installed and Windows XP, for all it's faults, has been a good OS from both a systems view and a users view. Obviously security is paramount with XP, but at least it works - and it works on a lower hardware spec than Vista. With the economy going spastic and the Australian dollar declining versus the US Dollar (and how does that happen when the greenback is in such turmoil with obvious poor management and leadership???) PCs are getting more expensive again. Boo hiss.

If Windows 7 requires even more grunt than Vista I see it being out of reach for a lot of users for at least a year past it's release date. As to Vista I'm going to try and pretend it never happened and keep it out of the workplaces I'm involved in. What are you going to do?

Monday, 27 October 2008

Review: The Soldier's Son Trilogy by Robin Hobb

An odd thing happened to me a couple of weeks ago. I was out and about when I found myself with 10 minutes to spare. Why not pop in the bookshop and see what they had to offer. I found the final two books of the Soldier's Son trilogy - the first book had languished on my bookshelf under a self-imposed ban until I got the final two. With a widening grin I grabbed both of them and started the trilogy that night.

It should be said I've been a huge fan of Robin Hobb, I love her other trilogies and have waited for the final books to come out. It was worth it.
The writing style is immersive as always, and builds a believable world for the main protagonist, Nevare Burvelle, to run around in. The rich details of his life and the amazing twists and turns it takes are vividly rendered by Hobb's superb narrative. Writing from the first person perspective must be challenging at times, without the ability to jump to another place or time and fill in the back story, but Hobb does it well and as the character learns key events, his perception of what is happening fills the story for us.
Something I've always been opposed to in fantasy books has been guns and normally I avoid them when they come up with it. This book, however, includes them in a very natural way, combining the chivarly of the Knighthood with the tactics of long rifles and clutch pistols. The "Old" nobles and the "New" nobles show the changes in the society and the effect the new technology is having - but all told, it's the magic of the world and the Old Gods that have the true control. Hobb's weaving of these elements is superb and there were several long nights where I read until the wee hours, drawn so deeply into the tale that I forgot what time it was and only surrendered to sleep when my eyes stopped focusing. In my view that's the sign of a damn good book.
I was very pleased to note that the series wound everything up at the end. I was able to put the final book down with great satisfaction and knowledge that the story - or rather the bulk of the exciting stuff - was pretty well finished. There have been several other writers out there (Robert Jordan I'm looking at you) who leave things hanging at the end of a 600 page book and you wonder what is to happen next, will there be more or not? The Soldier's Son trilogy has none of that and wraps up wonderfully. I read for enjoyment and this series certainly provided that. Bravo Robin Hobb - I look forward to your next books with great anticipation.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Review: Fluxbuntu on the Dell L400

Readers will remember that some time ago I purchased a Dell L400 Latitude second hand for about $200 bucks. Great little machine, runs a cut down version of XP happily and is all good. For some time now I've been struggling to find a distribution of Linux that I'm happy with to run on this little machine. Orginally I had SuSE running on it, then I tried Puppy Linux, DSL, Vector Linux 5.9 Lite and the lighter version of Ubuntu 8.04. I just wasn't quite happy with any of them. Following a comment made on my blog yesterday I thought I'd give Fluxbuntu a try and see how it goes.

As you can tell from it's name, Fluxbuntu is an Ubuntu derivative, running the Fluxbox window manager. The installation was quite easy (as it usually is with Ubuntu), although it was the more command line version of the install than the flashy graphical installation. This is no problem to me, because unlike many out there, I don't mind a bit of hacking with the command line and I can handle fdisk or cfdisk without trouble. 

Naturally, all the appropriate drivers were supplied for the hardware and the installation ran quite smoothly. It correctly detected and configured X and everything else. On reboot, the system started up and away we go. The boot process was a little slow, but I'm wagering I can pare that down without trouble. 

Fluxbuntu is based on Ubuntu 7.10 and I imagine that when 8.10 is released, they will update the distribution to that version. I expect a straightforward upgrade. Given the dearth of applications provided for Ubuntu and Debian there is of course no difficulty in installing whatever software you are happy with. I don't mind Abiword (which is installed by default) and I'm just starting to play with Kazehakase (the web browser). It started up pretty quickly - not bad for a PIII-700! About the only thing I'm struggling with is our proxy here at work. It can be a finicky thing at times.

As usual, I rebooted the system and test entry into Windows (to make sure it still works). Thankfully it does and Fluxbuntu had correctly set Grub up to allow for the extra partition. I noted that it had updated the kernel (twice) during the first round of updates and grub reflects that. I'll have to edit it later and tidy it up a little bit.

Overall, I'm happy for the moment with Fluxbuntu. I'll play with it for a few days and post an update on how I'm going with it. If you've been using Fluxbuntu for a while and have any tips to share - by all means do so in the comments!

Monday, 20 October 2008

Finishing up a job

Well, I've just resigned from my existing place of employment. Ironically I've done myself out of a job. When I started there was a *lot* to do - the network was a very organic thing, without meaningful or comprehensive backups, there were servers that were rebooting without warning or explanation and the desktops, don't let me start on the desktops!

So I built a new AD domain, put in new servers, replaced all the desktops, got LCDs on all the desktops and implemented fairly comprehensive backup/recovery solutions across the servers. All in all, fair better than when I arrived. Problem is, apart from some desktop support type stuff and the normal server maintenance I don't have a lot to do. The Debian GNU/Linux servers I've installed require minimal attention, while the Windows server (and usually they require a lot more time) are running very happily. I have used defence in depth to protect the network, rather than a hard outer shell and a soft middle as so many networks tend to have.

So why leave? I'm bored to be honest. It's time for new challenges. The lure of new work, new place and people is strong and while I'm not a particularly ambitious person, nor am I driven by money, I am pushed by my curiosity and the environment here isn't that interesting any more.

Often when people leave an organisation they either leave it well or badly. I intend to leave things as up to date and in a good position for the next person to look after it. Having come into organisations and seen the mess that was left by an employee who couldn't wait to go, I refuse to do that to someone else. It's really just wrong. Even though it's kinda boring stuff that remains, I'm working to get it all done.

Something I have noticed is that when you leave a job, or are in the process of doing so, people tend to treat you differently - it feels like you've pulled yourself out of the current that is the workplace and you're standing on the riverbank watching it go by. The busy concerns everyone else has, once so relevent to you, are no longer applicable and you can be much more objective about what's happening. If you could apply this to life in general - this extra awareness of things - I believe it would be quite useful. A detached view can help with understanding and problem solving. I've certainly noticed that a few of the ongoing problems here have become far easier to understand in the last few days. Although I haven't solved those problems, at least I have begun to think of ways to get past them. Sadly though, some people write you out of their awareness and interest once you tender your resignation and I feel sorry for them. Their view of life is so narrow that if you're not part of it, you become like a ghost to them. I realise this is probably their way of coping with change. Others though talk keenly about what you are going to, how things will be different and sometimes ask for advice on where they might go to find something different. These people never last long and move on too - following their dreams for something different.

Ah well, 9 working days to go and then it's off to a brave new (working) world!

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Appalling Palin

What was McCain thinking with Palin? And what the hell are Americans thinking with Palin? I know that here in the US we have idiots like Julia Gillard, but at least she has spent time in the political system at the top end, not just in state politics or even worse, as a mayor of a city and claiming that to be a justified credential for the top job. This Palin person seems to be uneducated and completely unaware of any broader issues. I mean honestly, if you can *see* a place you are not an expert on it. I can *see* the airport - does this mean I'm qualified to be an air traffic controller? But enough of such easy attacking.

I read a fair bit of stuff on the net and I see other women reacting to Palin very positively. Have they taken leave of their senses? They do not seem to be questioning her credentials for the position she hopes to assume, i.e. Vice President of the US. Sure Dick Cheney is a meglomaniac and all, but he at least has the ability to make his crazy ideas work. Palin doesn't seem to have any ideas and appears to be there to attack Obama. When Australian news anchors said that she did well in the debate against Joe Biden, Obama's VP candidate I laughed out loud. I saw the debate and frequently buried my head in my hands with embarrasment for Palin. She just doesn't have a clue - and what's worse is, no-one else wants to point it out! I guess it's like Al Gore. He was too smart for them. Sarah Palin is about the same intelligence as the mob and as such, they are comfortable with that. Let's have the country run by someone who isn't much brighter than we are! It's not as if her job is bigger, or has more responsibility than "Joe Six-pack" does. 

This is a rant and it's a rant at stupidity which I cannot abide. Every time I find myself being stupid about something it's makes me very unhappy indeed. It's an interesting juxtaposition though, Obama vs McCain, Biden vs Palin, New Ideas (including *gasp* diplomacy) vs Entrenched Old Ideas (mostly about using force to negotiate). New vs Old energy. Although Palin is young, she has an old mindset. A "we're the most powerful country on earth, let's blow some shit up! Hoo UH!"

Personally I think a vote for McCain/Palin is a vote for the past and for the ways things are currently run (i.e. Bush/Cheney) and a vote for Obama/Biden is a vote for the future and for the chance at something better.

It reminds me of this old adage: Insanity is defined as continuing to act in the old way and expecting something different to happen (or words to that effect).


It now appears that the initial positive upswing of support for Palin is failing miserably as people realise she is unqualified for the job. More people are looking at McCain and saying: "He's pretty old, and he's had cancer - do we really want Palin as the President?" A damned interesting question I think.

Financial Bail out

For anyone in the money markets the last month or so has been a devastating one. I've been reading a bit about the way this whole thing started, with the bad debts in the USA and how this is now flowing on to the rest of the world. The biggest thing that irks me is the lack of responsibility being taken by people.

Take the people at the bottom line of things - those people who took out mortgages for homes that they could never effectively repay. Yes, during the first 6 or 12 months when they were paying 1% interest back they could afford it. When the honeymoon was over and their mortgage repayments became what they should be - well then they were screwed and many choose to walk away on their bad debts. Accordingly, the over-priced homes they had bought were then sold for less than the purchase price, so the debt wasn't covered by it and the lenders had to take a write off. Consider the massive inflation in home prices that was caused by all these cheap mortgages and people paying far more than a home was worth. It turns out this is a widespread thing, and it's happening in Australia too.

Deregulation of the financial sector is probably partly to blame, but the greed of these people in the financial sector is more to blame. It's not about responsible stewardship of people's money - it's about how much they can make and how fast they can do it. The major banks here in Australia are posting record profits. The executives are getting massive bonuses. If the market falls here like it has in the US and the Australian government bails them out that is the worst kind of financial mismanagement that there is. The record profits and bonuses should go back into the banks to keep them solvent. The people's money should be protected - both people with money in the banks and the taxpayers who are being asked to foot the bill (and by and large they're the same people).

In the US no-one is taking responsibility for the fall. Bailing them out only serves to indicate that you can do this sort of thing and get away with it. What a load of shit! It's like murdering someone and walking away with the smoking gun in your hand and a nation of witnesses. The US government should be ashamed of themselves. A cleansing needs to happen - all the bad debt, all the bad operators and all the bad investment groups need to be shutdown. That's the point of letting them crumble. Yes there will be some financial hardship for the people with their money tied up in this but it will pass. The cycle will continue and hopefully, the next loop around will be a better one that before. I've always refused to put money in the stock market. I can't see the pay-back on betting on confidence in companies and really, that's what it is. A company can still make products to a high standard but their share price won't reflect that - it'll go up and down based on the most absurd premises - the company's CEO shagged someone else's missus or something ridiculous. I wish I were joking. 

The worst thing that could have been done was to provide a safety net for the people who have caused the financial melt down in it's current state. They are not being held accountable for their actions and I read recently that in the US they are not even being prosecuted! What the fuck!? Let's just allow them to get off without responsibility. I suppose that's the Bush way. I wonder if it will be the Rudd way as well?

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Review: Compaq tc4400

I have just recently had the good fortune to get one of these delightful little items. I've always thought that perhaps the tablet pc was really over-rated. After playing with one for a while, however, though I find it to be a wonderful tool. The system is superb. I'll break it down into several areas.

Firstly, the keyboard - although a tablet is special for it's touch screen,  I have to mention the excellent keyboard this device has. It's very nice to type on - wonderful tactile keys and a great layout as usual. For extended typing it has been very pleasant and easy to use.

The construction of the notebook is sturdy and feels great in your hands. It's a nice weight and has a good sized monitor running in 1024x768 that swivels with the monitor as you turn it one to use it as a tablet.The pen is neatly hidden and has an easy release that is quite solid. Writing on the screen is very easy and this is probably the biggest surprise. It's a simple matter to write things in and have the hand writing analysis translate it to something readable.  Even with my surprisingly bad handwriting it makes sense of it probably 90% of the time. I've written this entire blog post on it and I've only had to correct a few small errors.

Under the hood, the system has an Intel Core 2 processor running at 2 GHz, with a 12o GB disk. An external DVDRW completes it and I've averaged 4.5 of battery life so far. I haven't used it to watch DVDs or the like so no idea on how long it would last doing that. It is an excellent tool and one I look forward to using in the future.

The biggest con for this device is the price tag - orginally priced at $3699 or thereabouts I would never have considered getting one. Finding them brand new on GraysOnline for $899 though - that's a price I was willing to pay. Be smart about buying your new toys and you can save a lot of money indeed.

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Linux and upgrading your hardware

I've just recently purchased a second hand Dell GX270. Readers will note that I had Ubuntu 8.04 running on a Dell GX240 previously and I was very happy with it. Once I upgraded the RAM to 1.5GB it went very nicely. The GX270 came up at the right price so I grabbed it - a P4 with 3GHz processor, hyperthreading and all the other stuff. It's also in a slight bigger case, so I have a full sized DVD-R/RW in it as well as 2 full sized PCI slots available and best of all - 4 RAM slots on the mainboard! W00t!

Given my inherent lazines and desire to work smart, not hard I pulled the 80GB WD hard disk out of my GX240 and put it straight into the 270. I also threw some extra RAM into it to bring it up to 1.5GB and started it up.

Firstly, I had to enable restricted drivers - this new machine has an NVidia chipset and it wanted drivers. After a little bit of screwing around (basically making it re-detect the display) I have the appropriate resolution now (1680x1050). All up that took about 5 minutes. The next thing I had to do was set my static IP address which was easy and that was it. Completely different hardware, existing install and it's up and running in 10 minutes flat. From bitter experience I know Windows would have barfed on any number things - mainboard, graphics card, network card etc etc.

I'm typing this up on my new PC and it's great - happy days all around. Just another plug for how great Ubuntu is and how great Linux is in general!

Monday, 21 July 2008

The Dawn of a New Time

Have you ever felt a push from the Universe to get moving in a different direction? Everything seems to be going wrong, or difficulties you couldn't foresee become apparent and you have to change direction?

I'm in that zone at the moment. It's a daunting and exciting time and I've learned a lot about myself and how things around me flow as a result. Something I've found that I'd like to share is about doing what interests you. It sounds so basic, but many of us forget that we spend a lot of time at work and a lot of our energy there and if it's being wasted on menial tasks and mindless work then what is really the point to it all?

When I started my job I had targets to achieve - a network to rebuild and systems to deploy to maintain and protect that network. Nearly 2 years on and I've achieved those goals and now I'm tied up in administrivia. I'm really not enjoying it at all. My personal life is suffering too and the relationship between the two is readily apparent. I'm not happy and it's time to change.

The courage to take a major change is not something to scoff at. Give up all that is known and safe and comfortable and go for something unknown, uncertain and unseen? Absolutely! What is there to lose? Nothing! The Universe, or God will look after you. Go with what you truly desire and keep a few things in mind as you go:

  • Always be grateful for what you receive - practising gratitude is a great way to raise your vibration and your profile with the universe
  • Be aware that only good lies before you - sure there will be challenges along the way, but they only make the rewards that much sweeter.
  • Trust yourself and give yourself the best opportunity to go forwards

Friday, 20 June 2008

Ubuntu 8.04 Review

As my legion of fans will know I've been a Linux advocate for many years. Back in the old days I started out with Mandrake and Debian. Debian for servers, Mandrake for the desktop flavour of things. I stayed with Mandrake for several years and then switch to SuSE. When this upstart Ubuntu appeared on the scene with it's livecd goodness I gave it a crack - I think it was version 6?

Now with the latest and greatest version on my Dell desktop I've decided to review it's usefulness as a desktop operating system and share my thoughts. My first thought is, I like it. The interface for upgrade/installation is easy as pie to work with, I like the fact you can include encryption for filesystems and overall it's quite polished and nice to drive. The interaction with the windows network here at work is acceptable, I do a lot of terminal server based stuff and that all works a treat. I like the enormous array of software one can install and use and I've found nmap and nessus to be so handy as I probe our network for various weaknesses.

Possibly the only thing I'm not a fan of is the default theme. Brown is just not my colour, but this is a very minor annoyance. I've had no problems at all with the installation, it just works and for me, that's a very important factor. Like a plumber with a leaky tap at home, the last thing I want to do is to be trying to solve my own IT problems in the midst of trying to help others.

All the normal Linux goodness - multiple desktops, excellent shortcut key support, terminals, Firefox 3, Amarok and the like are present and work very well. I'm using it on a P4 2.0GHz Dell GX240 with 512MB of RAM and a baby hard disk (about 20GB) in it. I've pieced this machine together from parts because I like the small form desktop. I find Ubuntu to be much more user friendly than Vista and there is nothing I can do on Vista that can't be done here on Ubuntu. Printing, device detection etc all excellent. I recommend you give it a try. I'll be installing OpenSuSE 11 over the weekend (hopefully) onto a very similar PC I have at home and I'll review it once I'm done.

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Review: Treo 750

Recently my JasJam decided (after it's 5th graceless crash to the ground) that it would only work under certain conditions. These include the 4th blue moon of the year, only on days starting with X and the like. You get the picture. Adios JasJam.

So being phoneless is no fun (although very quiet :-) ) Being a geek and needing email access and the like, but refusing to have a crackberry, I opted to have a bit of a look at the Treo 750. Compact, nice weight, nice screen and the keys feel good. Okey dokey. So being a high powered manager I demand and receive one immediately (ahh sweet sweet power). I've been using it for a couple of months now and here are my thoughts:

Windows Mobile 6 - much nicer than 5. Speedy and hangs up in a quick manner. I like that. Interface is nice, the green is very pretty and it has some useful functions. These things I like. Very easy to set up mail and stuff and I like the way it handles text messages using threading. Aye, that's pretty. I *still* don't like that you can't have an MP3 for the alarm tone. Come on! It's 2008 - catch up Microsoft!

Stylus - cunningly placed, nice weight, unlikely to get lost in the pocket and works well. I like it.

Keypad - I like the keypad too, although the buttons are small and I sometimes hit the wrong ones when I'm not paying enough attention they have a lovely tactile response to them.

Generally it's a good device. It hasn't crashed yet on me and it holds a good charge given I use it extensively throughout the workday. I can get probably 3 days of battery life out of it which is great. It's weight, shape and size are pleasing also. In general I feel this device to be a better one than the JasJam was. It has mini-SD memory (bit of a change from micro like everything else). I promptly put a 2GB card in there and it works great.

It lacks a front camera for video calls (but I never make video calls so who cares). Also, the camera that's built in has poor resolution and the like but again, that isn't why I got it. It does a reasonable job and that's really all I care about. Sound and voice quality are fine, dialling easy.

So I'm quite happy with it. It's not quite as good as my e61 though on calls and the like, but is smaller and easier to deal with than the e61. So in conclusion - not a bad bit of kit at all.

Self Worth

What do you think of when someone asks you about self worth? Is it merely a financial thing? Or does it refer to an overall way you think about yourself, your values and value or where you are going in life?

I ask these questions because I have recently had great cause to question my own self worth. Someone I care deeply about lost a someone they love recently and I was helpless to do anything. I am still feeling this way as I cannot do anything to save the person in question. This naturally led me to question my own self worth, my self-esteem, and confidence in myself. I've learned a few lessons and I'm not sure if they'll help others if they go through this, but I'll offer them anyway.

It's not always about you
This is something I've struggled with. When something bad happens to someone else and you can't help them, it's not about you. It's their grief, pain and anger that is shaping the situation. All you can do is offer support and if they choose to take it, then so be it. If they don't then that is their choice and you have to accept it, hard as it is.

Some of it *is* about you
Questioning your own self worth, feelings of inadequacy and jealousy in this sort of situation is about you. These things spring from internal conflicts or problems, not external ones. My challenge has (and still is) to move through these feelings without allowing them to impact on my loved ones. Jealousy in particular is dangerous. Sometimes it's warranted and sometimes it's not. When it isn't, then it is critical it can be controlled because it may very well develop in control issues. I refuse to allow this to happen - controlling someone in a relationship is the antithesis of why I'm in the relationship.

Focus on your blessings
Put the positive thoughts and images back into your life. Our thoughts shape the way things happen. Fear, jealousy and the like are negative influences on our life and shape things in the way we fear. Replacing negative thoughts with positive thoughts is a key factor to moving past these problems.

Seek help
Find a therapist, or a kinesiologist, or whatever to talk to about this. They will offer (if you get a good one) ways and means to work through feeling low self worth. Self Worth is tied up with lots of aspects of your life including (but not limited to):
  • self esteem
  • prosperity
  • confidence
  • love of self
  • love of others
Of course, these are pretty big things for anyone. For me, it's been about how I feel about myself and what my life path is. In context with my life, the double hit of what has happened and the sudden and immediate requirement for me to address these problems has put me through a loop. Most of the time I don't know how I feel with the exceptions of pain, loss, confusion and frustration.

My final piece of advice is this: Once you start to build or re-build your self-worth it's a tough road. It is your choice walk it or to remain where you are. My choice is to walk that path. I recommend you do it too. Once you look at where you were and the changes you've made to get to where you are, it's pretty amazing. I don't think I could go back to being the person I was before. So much of the sweetness of life passed me by. Now I'm actively looking for it and finding a small measure of peace as I go along.

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

New Games and the Quality of their Storylines

I'm a fairly avid gamer. Since I was a wee fellow, I've enjoyed PC games and console games. Over time, though, it's become less of an interest as the story lines and general plot development of games seems to be in a decline. The imagery, the music, the sound have all improved. The hardware requirements have likewise increased to match pace with the increased demand on processing power and available RAM. What gets me is that older games were more interesting. Less bling and more substance if you understand what I mean. Take the early Police Quest, King's Quest and Space Quest games. There was a lot of work involved in those games and I can remember being immersed in them for hours. Then there was the F117, F15, Test Drive and various other simulator games that worked so hard for realism. And let's not forget the excellent role play games like Pool of Radiance and the games following it.

Nowadays I've got an Xbox 360, Xbox, PS2, and PC to play game on and none of the current titles really grab my interest. I've finished playing Halo 3 recently and while it wasn't a bad game, it was far too short for my liking. I started with Halo on the original Xbox and loved it. The game was great. Halo 2 never seemed to run properly for my liking on the Xbox and I tired very quickly of the long load times. I'm not there to sit around waiting for the next bit to load, I've got more things I want to do. Likewise, Gran Turismo 4 is not as good as Gran Turismo 3 to my way of thinking. Sure it had a few better bits and stuff, but at the end of the day, I played GT3 for a lot longer than GT4.

Take for example the Need for Speed games. I've been playing those since the first one came out. I loved NFS High Stakes and its sequel NFS HS II. Gold. Loved the cars, loved bringing other cars in. When NFS Underground came out I liked the new driving challenges. NFS Underground 2 was a revelation. Cruising the city, driving wicked cars - all good. But there was a discordant note. It was becoming easier to do everything in the game. Once you had to have a clue about sliding the car into a high speed drift. Gradually it became so easy that retaining control of the car in the slides became more difficult. The most often response I got regarding this from people was so that kids could do it. I see - let's not force them to learn how to do it properly, let's instead dumb it down so the lowest common denominator can handle it. Seems to be the way of all things these days. Task too hard? Aww poor kid. We'll make it easy for you so you can do it with even less effort than your putting in now. Lets dumb down everything! Yay! Fortunately this seems to have changed for the better - NFS Carbon had some difficult driving required in it and it paid off if you had the time and skill to put moves together successfully.

One of the few games I've truly enjoyed in the last few years has been Knights of the Old Republic 2: The Sith Lords. I've played this through four or five times already and the story is excellent. It's a decent trip to go on. I like to read novels and see the advancement of plot and KoTOR II provides that kind of entertainment. You have to think - consider your options, consider the outcomes and the writers and designers of this game have done a fantastic job with it all. I'm slightly biased though - I love the Star Wars universe and the Jedi. Of course, a game with choices that change many things at once, some subtle, some gross, is not a game with some stress. A good choice is worth some stress over and the rewards are in the results.

Thinking on it further, I guess that shorter games are more appealing for the attention deficit children of the current age. If it's more than 8 minutes without a break, they'll probably lose focus and need an ad break to let their minds recover from the exertion. Does this reflect back on real life? I think it does. The gaming industry seems to reflect the market quite well and so shorter, easier games are going to sell better than longer, more complicated games that have greater depth and require analytical skills and planning.

I really hope they bring out another KoTOR game!

Friday, 15 February 2008

SCO Unix gets a lifeline?

I've just read this news article about SCO being thrown a $100 million dollar lifeline (source: InternetNews Real Time IT News).

I wonder if they'll squander it on more ill conceived lawsuits that win them nothing but costs and ongoing losses? Someone must be awfully brave. I could never understand what SCO were about with the attacks they made on Linux, claiming patent breaches and the like. Along with many other Linux enthusiasts, I was shocked and appalled (my strongest expression of unhappiness) by their behaviour. I was likewise very pleased when Novell's prior patent claims were upheld and it became apparent SCO owed Novell money for all the products it had shipped. I laughed very hard. I had followed most of what was happening through the excellent work of PJ at Groklaw ( Bravo to her for all her brilliant work on the subject and for successfully enduring the unpleasantness that was apart of it all. I really felt for all the folks who were suckered in through fear to pay SCO for their Linux installations. I'm glad that it's all quietened down.

So now we can focus on using the best OS out there - Linux!

The Culture of Fear and it's prevalence within society

It seems to me as I read my daily compilation of stories from such sites as,, and that the apparent culture of fear in the US, UK and Australia (and various other countries) is maintaining itself very ably through the political machinations of the various governments, most notable of which is the US government. I can only imagine how the members of these groups little hearts shrivel with fear at the thought of the next terrorist attack - or more accurately, at the thought that they could be losing power in some way. And that's what their real fear is. The US continues it's warrant less wiretapping, listening in on countless constitutionally protected conversations while proposing to allow those who have caused this to happen, and those who have facilitated it, to get away with it all. I was pleased to note that the US House of Reps have rejected the telco's immunity bill. I think at some point, all the folks involved are going to have to take responsibility for their actions in this area. And that, gentle reader, is probably their greatest fear.

But using fear as a tool is an old government trick. Hitler used it, and so is Bush. The constant, ominous warnings about terror strikes come at any point his attempts to subvert the US Constitution are curtailed is a source of snorting amusement to me. "If you don't let me torture people for information - there will be another 9/11!" Wow, I bet that's true How about this: the more people you torture, imprison without adhering to the vaunted US laws and the more involved you are with other people's countries and religions, the more likely it is that someone is going to want to attack you. It's a simple act of trying to protect themselves. I liken this somewhat to the Palestinians and Israelis. Israel bomb a bunch of them, cut off food and supplies and what do the Palestinians do? The only thing they can - one of them puts bombs on him/herself and goes and detonates it where it will have maximum shock value. The cycle of violence continues. I don't condone this behaviour, but I understand it. After all, Israel has enormous backing from the US - and why that is is a question I'd like an answer to. I realise that the news reports out of that region are probably tainted by the agenda of the various news and government agencies and are most likely to be biased in some way or another, but I feel that the Palestinians have probably copped a raw deal out of it all.

That's a bit off topic though. I was ruminating on fear and the consequences of having fear drive your life. Bush's veto of the bill against torture is such a thing, and I feel it to be in the worst interests of all involved. It's no longer a possibility that he will take the award for the most craven, mentally challenged President of the United States - I believe he'll hold that award in perpetuity. But, he's a cunning bugger for all his apparent deficits. After all, he has fairly successfully manipulated things so that the "democracy" of the US is powerless. And fear has been his tool.

It was fear too that led to the death of a gay teenager in the US too. WTF? I hear you ask - where did that come from? It's not that much of a leap really. People fear what they don't understand, they fear what is different, and in the case of homosexuality, they fear they may have their own proclivity for it. This kid wore clothes that proclaimed his sexuality and as one of the folks there put it: "That was freaking the guys out." (source: The LA Times) Freaking them out why? Fear!

It is apparent throughout our society. It's not just in the US. Australia has it too and it's appalling. The longer we live our lives afraid, the worse things will be. At some point people have to say: "I'm not afraid of that. I can live with it and it has no power over me." For example, I'm not going to live in fear that the terrorists may strike in Australia. If I live that way, I give them power over me. That's just not cool. No can do and no will do. I call on all people to get a can of Harden Up and drink it. Fear doesn't deserve your obedience. As Yoda put it:

“Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” (source: Yoda Quotes)

So very true....


Thursday, 7 February 2008

US Presidential Primaries

I've been watching with some interest the primaries in the USA. As I understand it, the current mini elections are for the Republicans and Democrats to sort out who they want to have as their candidate for the Presidency. I can't help but notice the biased media reporting. TV, newspapers and radios support the industry favourites - Obama, Clinton, etc while the Internet crowd seems to be massing behind Ron Paul. And I can understand why. Someone who has a track record of consistency, answers questions straightforwardly and doesn't attempt to pass blame off is very attractive the attention limited crowd on the Internet. We don't want to read through the bullshit that some of these cretins are spewing forth. That idiot Giulani should be hung out to dry - is he mental? The leverage for his campaign is 9/11 - a tragedy that was arguably caused by the US intervention into other countries affairs. I was really amused when Ron Paul tried to describe the phenomenon of blowback to this moron. I guess he doesn't get that if you blow up bombs in your neighbour's backyard, sooner or later that dude is going to come back at you with some heavy shit.

And while I'm proselytizing on that issue, I've read a few things suggesting that 9/11 was planned and executed within the US government to give Bush the kind of momentum he needed to suspend all kinds of rights and the like and also to invade Iraq. Well done. I salute him on his planning and execution skills, even though I reckon he didn't have much to do with any of it and someone else planned the lot.

I think it would be nice to have someone who isn't tied up with all the big companies and oil and the presidential dynasty in the US leading that country. Ron Paul seems to be my favourite at the moment. Even though I disagree with some of his policies - for example I think a woman's right to choose an abortion is her business (as Jay in the movie Dogma puts it: "A woman's body is her own fucking business") I like the fact that he has stood by the decisions he's made and makes them in good faith. Good luck to him. Were I American he'd have my vote.

Monday, 21 January 2008

Windows Mobile 6 Review

I've just updated my i-Mate JasJam to Windows Mobile 6. Although I was initially skeptical about this, I had to do it, basically. My JasJam checks my email continuously throughout the day, and when I'm on a call, the data check drops the sound for the call which is a major inconvenience. So I looked into some updates - via the Telstra JasJam site and found that Windows Mobile 6 was a free upgrade.

Being an early adopter of technology I decided to give it a whirl (even though it's been out for a while). During the update things went slowly. At one point I thought I'd fried my JasJam, a moment that made me decidedly uneasy. It came back to life however, and things progressed from there. I've been using it for about 14 days now and here are my impressions:

  • wireless connectivity (802.11) is much better and setting up connections is easy and relatively fool proof.
  • bluetooth seems more reliable
  • no more sound drop outs during calls and while phone is checking email (yay!)
  • I like the look of the new interface - pretty!
  • Speed of dialling is faster. Previously the onscreen keys took a moment to register a press - now it's very quick.
  • hanging up happens immediately. Previously, I had to press the "End" or red phone key several times until the phone would drop the call. Annoying if you say things after a call you don't want the caller to hear (oops!)
  • Email interaction with the server is smoother and runs without any errors.
Overall, I'm quite happy with the improved interface. I note that it has it's own "Windows Update" built in. It also has updated versions of the various mobile office applications - Outlook, Word, Excel for example.

Most importantly it still has the block breaker game - my usual boredom killer.

OK, so here are my gripes:
  • the alarm tone still has to be a wav file - large, unwieldy files that rarely seem to work
  • the phone has hung a couple of times
  • battery life seems to have decreased

All in all, not a bad update and fairly straightforward to implement. Works well with both Vista and XP. I should also note that the use of the phone as a modem is much improved. Well worth the time and effort to do.