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.....