Monday, March 30, 2009

sdrawkcaB oediV gniyalP

I had a video that someone made where they thought they were being artistic and reversed it so it was playing backwards. I had this itching to see it forward, and set out on a quest to figure out how to play video backwards under Linux with mplayer. Here's what I did:
  1. Create an empty directory, and change to it
  2. Use the following command to convert all the frames in the movie to individual JPEG files:
    $ mplayer -vo jpeg:quality=100 \
    /path/to/video/backwards.avi

    You will end up with a directory full of files like 00000001.jpg. Each one of these files is a single frame of the video you are attempting to reverse.
  3. Now create a subdirectory called TARG - this will contain the same JPEG files linked in reverse order. Do not change into it just yet...
  4. Create the following silly perl script (substitute the $a=2800 for the number of the last file in your directory):
    #!/usr/bin/perl

    $a = 2800;
    $b = 1;

    while ($a > 0) {
    $sa = sprintf "%08d.jpg", $a;
    $sb = sprintf "%08d.jpg", $b;

    link("$sa", "TARG/$sb");
    $a = $a - 1;
    $b = $b + 1;
    }

    exit 0;
  5. Now change into the TARG directory. There will be a list of files like before, but they will be named in reverse order. Use the following command to reassemble them:
    $ mencoder "mf://*.jpg" -mf fps=12 \
    -o /path/to/new/movie/rev_movie.avi \
    -ovc lavc -lavcopts vcodec=mpeg4

    You will likely need to adjust the fps (frames per second) - this may take some trial-and-error if you don't know anything about the original movie. You can try this out (without doing the encoding) by using:
    $ mplayer "mf://*.jpg" -mf fps=12
  6. Enjoy. You can wipe out all those frames now...

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

One Hail of a Storm

Today we had one hell of a hailstorm. I have an (approx?) 4'x8' skylight in one part of my house that was shattered, with hail and pieces of skylight all over the place. Smokey was terrified and found his way into a cardboard box - he still looks like he is recovering. Neighbors up and down the street have cars with cracked windshields (or have holes knocked in them). Apparently the skylight breakage was common enough that it became newsworthy. The neighbors behind me have a house with a similar floorplan and features and their skylight has a crack in it. While not as devastating as the hurricane damage in Houston, this gave everyone here in the north-west part of Austin a taste of the fury that "mother nature" can inflict.

Before showing some additional photos of the storm, I need to thank the neighbors who live behind me for being there when I needed help. I am terrified of heights and cannot go on the roof. They provided a tarp and climbed up there and protected my house from any further potential rainfall. I'm kind of hoping things calm down for a couple of days, but it looks like we may be finding another round of severe thunderstorms on Thursday afternoon. Hopefully the temporary fix will last in the meantime...

I heard from a few other friends in the area, and they have similar stories to report. It was not a good day for anyone around here.

So here are a few pictures of the hail with some size comparisons:




Here is a picture of one of my gardens, which is a very conservative demonstration of the sheer amount of hail that was present:


I was able to use the huge blue recycling can to catch some of the water while the rain and hail was coming in:


I think that my plans for an underground home at retirement may not be a bad idea...

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Without

I've had a couple of challenges to my belief system this week, and I think some of it deserves a bit of clarification. Those faithful readers here have no-doubt seen that I have a rather long list of non-somethings (said as "something-free") that some people are reading as pretentious and exclusionary. That is definitely not my intent at all, for the most part, but when it comes to describing who I am and the kind of lifestyle I wish to lead, these "nons" are quite important. I think when people see the prefix "non" they think I wear it as some kind of badge of honor. This is also a misconception. They describe my principles and because they are often contrary to popular belief, socially it becomes a very difficult path to take. The thing I most want to emphasize here is that they are not arbitrary.

There are two of my non-somethings that get the most attention, and those are being non-theist (atheist, or freethinking) and non-drinking (not consuming alcoholic beverages).

Atheists get a really bad rep in this country despite the constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion (or in this case, freedom from religion). Atheists are seen as anarchists, who have no principles, who defy the word of God, and who contribute to the downfall of society as we know it. All of these things are wrong and are horrible misconceptions. My principles are stronger than many people who are religious. Atheists are people who see the world from a humanist point-of-view and who's laws, principles, and belief systems are based in doing what's best for the world we live in as a whole. I will repeat for emphasis - we do what's best for the world as a whole. For most Americans who are atheists, our guiding principles are based strongly in the Judeo-Christian value system as most of us grew up in or were ancestors of people of those beliefs. We've thrown away, to a large extent, the judgement of individuals based on their sexual orientation or how people serve God. Being free from belief in a god is liberating experience. It allows one to view our accomplishents and our problems as being of our own doing, and taking the credit and responsibility for these things, rather than being a victim. It is this mindset that makes being atheist actually less likely to contribute to the downfall of society, particularly given the societal turmoil that has occured throughout history as a result of some kind of religious unrest. As I have said before, I am willing to accept whatever will happen to me when I die if I'm wrong, but I think any god that is all-loving will understand that my beliefs were to maintain their creation in the best possible way I knew how. Only a selfish, conceited god would hold a lack of worship and direct service against me on judgement day (and if that's the case, strike me down and send me straight to hell!).

My other controversial belief is how I feel about alcohol. There are two things I have a problem with on alcohol -- one is an issue of inconsistency, and the other is a problem with the lifestyle and responsibility surrounding alcohol.

The consistency thing is that I hear people tell me how bad drugs are and will make comments about people who are "drug addicts," and at the same time will excuse and even glamorize people who use and/or abuse alcohol. I don't see any difference. It seems rather hypocriticial for people to aribtrarily decide for the rest of society what their recreational drug of choice should be. Most people who know me know that I oppose anti-drug legislation and feel that the "war on drugs" is a scam and should be stopped. That doesn't mean that I feel that using this stuff is a good idea, and personally I won't do it, legal or not. Those are my own feelings and they're my principles. What people do in the privacy of their own home or appropriate place is their business, as long as it doesn't adversely affect me.

Then there's lifestyle and responsibility, which is the one that usually comes-up in conjunction with discussions about my girlfriends (or lack thereof) or social situations. I don't want to be in a lifestyle where alcohol (and/or drugs) are prominent. I will admit that perhaps I took things a bit too far in my younger days (I was very anti-alcohol), but it wasn't without a good reason. In my opinion, when you're drunk or stoned it doesn't excuse what you do. People get into car wrecks, destroy property, hurt people, and order "pay" movies on someone else's cable service without permission, when they're drunk, then they use being drunk as an excuse for their actions. They do things, make comments (funny or not), and act in a way that's entirely out of their character. I don't want to be any part of a lifestyle where this is someone's definition of "fun." I don't want to be the sober person to taxi around all the people who are into this as a fun activity. I definitely don't want to spend the rest of my life with someone who is into or advocates this kind of behavior in real life (as opposed to fiction, like in the movies). It conflicts with my principles. The friends I keep are, generally-speaking, of this mindset, and those who are not are generally considerate of my feelings as I am of their's (we agree to disagree).

It's not a coincidence that much of what you'll see in my writing falls under a libertarian mindset. While I feel strongly about many things, I try to let people live as they wish provided they don't (as I said above) adversely affect me. I don't consider myself primarily libertarian (or, maybe better said, libertarian in the extreme) because there comes a point in a society where some actions are just plain wrong, and it is necessary to make these actions illegal. For example, cruelty to animals doesn't directly affect me, but the act is so heinous that it needs to be illegal in a civilized society. Respecting animals is part of doing what is best for the world. There needs to be reasonable environmental regulations, so that greedy, selfish people don't ruin the world for future generations. There's the redneck "wild west" kind of libertarian who advocates letting people do whatever in heck they want, which is closer to anarchy where I come from. Then there's the "gentler" kind of libertarian who feels that government should play a role only where it is necessary to provide for the defense of the nation, or to set down basic laws to maintain a civilized society, which is closer to where I am. In reality, I consider my political beliefs a healthy mix of liberal, conservative, and libertarian ideologies. Yes, Rush, they really can co-exist. Argh.

Even though I advocate people living as they wish as much as possible, I do have a set of beliefs and principles and typically stand firm to them, while still remaining open-minded and willing to listen and adapt them when I find what I believe to be wrong. I have definite opinions (as you have no doubt seen) on the world and how I feel it should be. I continue to be amazed about how thoughtless and short-sighted people, in general, can be. While my view of the world is not perfect, I do feel that these views through my own actions help make the world a better place. I hope that by sharing how I feel that someone says to themself, "Hey, that's not a bad idea!" and maybe one more person can carry the message and spread it around. In the end, this is the best all of us can do, and (particularly if you don't have kids) it's the best way to leave a legacy when you've passed-on.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

New Computer Part 1

I did end up building the new computer I said was thinking about making (See "Yummy Greek Food & Computers" from March 5). It is definitely one kick-butt system. I don't have all the pictures ready to post yet, but here are the guts of the system, for those techies who are interested.

Here is the motherboard, relatively bare, with just the new CPU -- an Intel Core2 Quad processor, 2.83 GHz, 12 MB of cache (the Q9550 processor). In this photo, the processor is mounted and bracketed into the system board. The system board is a Gigabyte GA-EP45-UD3P.




To assure that the CPU would not overheat, and in the name of making the system as quiet as possible, I used a Noctua NH-U9B CPU cooler. The thing is huge. However, in my tests, the CPU doesn't get warm at all. I have not yet figured out how to read the CPU temperature under Linux (I'm sure it won't be too hard once I find out) so I don't have any specific numbers to back-up this comment. You can also see the 4GB of memory (2 x 2GB) made by G.SKILL. This is DDR2 1066 (PC2 8500) memory and cost $53 bucks at Newegg for the set (not too bad).




Here we can again see the sheer massiveness of the CPU cooler. Also apparent are the many ports available on the motherboard. Particularly useful are the dual Ethernet ports. This allows me to connect one to the cable modem (so the system can act as a firewall for the rest of my network) and the other can connect to downstream devices on the rest of my network. These days, I have several IP telephones, the access point, and what will ultimately a single "guest PC" system. Occasionally I will connect a very old PC to the network that has my old chip programmer board.




Finally, we have the system board inside the case. The case is an Antec P182 - which has a reputation for being designed for silence. There were two issues I had with the case: First was my own fault, and it's that I found the case was much larger than I expected. Sure, the specifications were right there online, but when I saw 20"x20", I didn't exactly visualize the size of the case. It can hold a total of 6 hard disks (I have 1). Second issue is that the three fans inside the case are a bit on the noisy side, for an otherwise very quiet case. The fan on the top is particularly obnoxious and so I disabled it. It turns out that with the fan in the rear of the case, it pulls enough air through the system to keep it cool. If I start to see a problem, I'll probably look for quieter fans.

The video card is the ASUS EN9500GT TOP/DI/512M. It's a basic video card with good performance and a quiet cooling system (again, concentrating on quiet). It is based on the NVIDIA GeForce 9500 GT graphics processor, runs at 700 MHz, uses GDDR3 memory on-board, and has 32 stream processors. While not the ultimate gaming card for sure, I see no reason why this card won't drive a HDTV at 1920x1080 for basic X windows, older FPS games (like Quake 3 Arena), or viewing video without any real problem.

Not seen in the photos is the Corsair CMPSU-650TX 650W power supply. This has ample connections for everything that I have in this system and more. I decided to save some money by not getting cables that will remove from the unit if not being used. This may have been a minor error on my part because finding a place for the extra cables - even in a large case like the P182 - can be a little on the tough side. Actually, routing cables in general was difficult because I wanted to keep them neat, but from/to routing of the cables didn't always allow that.

The two things I took from the old computers - the Western Digital 640 GB "green" hard disk and the Pioneer DVR-110D DVD+-/RW drive - worked fine with everything else.

The following may help people who plan to install Linux with this Gigabyte motherboard:

Disk: Set the BIOS to AHCI, and use the Linux AHCI SATA module (ahci and sd_mod) for the SATA drive access. AHCI will allow greater flexibility and it's what newer systems are using. Don't confuse the AHCI disk management with the USB AHCI HCD. They are not the same. The SATA disk drives will appear as SCSI drives (/dev/sd*)

Ethernet: Use the Realtek 8169 driver (r8169) which also supports the Realtek 8111C, which is what's on the motherboard. I had trouble with the old r8169 module on the Gentoo live CD. I was only able to get the second Ethernet port to work reliably, and both were showing loads of dropped packets (even on the first non-functioning port that had no cable attached). As soon as I installed the 2.6.27 kernel, everything worked fine.

Parallel ATA devices (DVD drive, in my case): This is a JMicron chipset, so use the pata_jmicron driver in conjuncation with sr_mod (and will appear as /dev/sr*)

Audio: The Audio chipset is Intel's HD Audio chipset, and so this is the driver that needs to be available. On the kernel I'm using, it's the snd_hda_intel driver. The CODEC seems to be the Realtek ALC889A. I have not tried the SP/DIF port yet (or the audio through the HDMI cable on the video card). I hope to try that soon.

Firewire (1394A): I have not tried to use this. I don't have any Firewire devices (yet?)

Serial/Parallel ports: Yeah, there's one of each, but a header for using them isn't included. I have only found one place that sells this part, and it seemed a bit pricey. They do post the pin-out online and I believe it's standard enough where you could probably use a hunk of ribbon cable, a DIL IDC, and a DB25/9 IDC, and you'll have what you need. I decided to power the X10 controller with a PL2303-based USB-to-Serial adapter, and that works great (it appears as /dev/ttyUSB0).

In general, the GA-EP45-UD3P is a pretty Linux-friendly motherboard. Except for the Ethernet driver issues, I had no trouble getting this board to work. It works reliably, as well. No crashes.

For those interested -- the video card also seems to work OK with Linux. You can use the stock "nv" Xorg driver without acceleration. To get accelerated video, use the Linux driver from the NVIDIA web site. I will feel more confident about this once I have connected the computer to my HDTV through the HDMI port.

I am still in the process of trying everything out, and getting more familiar with the capabilities of the hardware. In a later posting, I'll summarize what I've found out. What I can say is that Firefox compiled so fast that I wasn't sure that it completed successfully. I also installed the CPU regulator drivers, and the unit takes about 75 watts when idle. So it is definitely much less power-hungry than running multiple smaller systems.

All in all, I think it was money well-spent. If nothing else, I helped give the economy a boost!!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Visit to Dallas

Saturday I went to visit my friend Toni in the Dallas area (about 3.5 hours from Austin) who I haven't seen in person for about 14 years. Toni and I worked together at a company in the Houston area when we both lived there. We've kept in touch on and off about once every few years or so through e-mail.

What I remembered most about Toni was that we used to be able to talk for hours about various subjects. This weekend was no exception to that. It isn't by accident that I don't speak much about Dallas. I have never liked that city very much, and so my expectation was to visit Toni and catch-up on things. I surprisingly got to see the city I never cared much for in a different light, and even more, the a bit more of the state I have called home for a substantial part of my adult life.

For lunch, Toni recommended an Asian restaurant called Jeng Chi in Richardson (a Dallas suburb). The restaurant is clustered among a cluster of other Asian restaurants and markets. Toni commented that Jeng Chi has been owned by the same folks for a number of years, and that the waitstaff have been working there seemingly forever. The food was excellent. We shared three dishes, which I unfortunately can't recall exactly which they were, and I had a bowl of the hot and sour soup. I couldn't have imagined better food and conversation, really.

By the time we got done with lunch it was getting too late to do most of the stuff we originally thought we could do. So Toni whipped-out the ever-popular "Entertainment" coupon book (the kids in almost every large city sells these for fundraisers). We decided to go to the railroad museum in "Fair Park."

The railroad museum was pretty interesting. They have several old full-size locomotives/equipment that you can view from the outside, and some on the inside as well. Two of these were steam engines, one seemed to be an old wood-fired engine, and the other definitely coal (there was the tell-tail hopper behind the engine). Walking through some of the passenger cars was like going back in time to a completely different era. They also had a Pullman Sleeper Car on-display. I speak of these as though I knew something about this, but really didn't know much until going on this little walking tour.

Fair Park is, as the name subtly implies, the area of Dallas where the state fair is held. Toni participates in cooking-related contests at the fair every year, so she gave me a quite detailed tour of the area. There is no way I could recall everything she told me, and will likely leave-out a lot of it here (not on purpose). Toni explained how during the restoration of many of the buildings on the fairgrounds they have discovered beautiful old murals under layers of old paint, and showed me some of the ones they have brought back to life. I am completely in awe of how they were able to resurrect these murals in such detail, forget having to do this after stripping back layers of paint.

The Texas state fair, as these fairs usually do, has a lot to do with agriculture in its many forms. Austin is a liberal city, and as such the topic of agriculture is usually about sustainability and moving away from meat, and that kind of thing. So I tend to forget that Texas is a state rich in agriculture - we grow lots of crops and raise lots of animals for food. In fact, after talking to Toni (who grew-up in this state) I realized how little I really knew about the place I've been calling home.

For dinner we ate at Fadi's Mediterranean Grill (near the Stonebriar Mall in Frisco) - a place similar to Tinos Greek Cafe here in Austin (I mentioned this place in a recent posting). It was really tasty, although thinking about things, I probably like Tinos a bit better. That isn't a bad thing - both places are good.

So while I still don't picture myself ever living in Dallas, I did have a chance to see the city I never much liked in a much better light than I have in the past. They definitely have some good food, and I always thought Austin was a good place for good food.

So my thanks to Toni (and her four cats) for a great time. It's hard to believe this was all just one day. I'm not sure I could do as well for someone coming to visit me.

The Prius didn't do as well as I had hoped on gas on the trip - there was a pretty strong wind out of the north during the drive up, which I had to fight the whole trip. I think I got about 43 MPG. I left back for Austin at 11:30pm. On the trip back the gas mileage started out strongly (over 50 MPG), but that tapered-off somewhat as I started to get tired and was less able to concentrate on avoiding sudden acceleration (like anticipating going up hills). While I am usually a night person, and do pretty well at this hour, I was a bit worn down from all the activity during the day. By the time I was about an hour from Austin, I had to stop at a rest area for a short nap to avoid falling asleep at the wheel. I arrived home at 3:45am to a confused and happy cat who was very glad to see me.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Flashtastic

Warning: This posting is chock-full of opinions on Flash and the Internet, yet again. I didn't embed any other topics in here...so you can skip this if you're not interested or if it bothers you.

The following is my response to P. J. Onori's article, titled, "Anti-Flash Standardistas - You’re Cutting Off Your Nose to Spite Your Face"

The Internet (as we have come to know it) was developed on open standards because the content was supposed to be accessible regardless of what computer or operating system a person was using. Adobe has really only acknowledged two desktop computing platforms: Microsoft Windows-based PCs and Apple Macintosh. Flash on other computing platforms, whether supported by Adobe or not, either works poorly or not at all.

If Flash, as you say, is something that we should "be devoting our energy toward making this technology more seamless throughout the browsing experience" then the proper thing would be for Adobe to establish Flash as an OPEN Internet standard and, even better, release the Flash player to the open source community. This would allow developers all around the world to assure that the Flash player would function on just about every platform, extend its function as needed, and would also provide an open review of its security flaws so that they could be corrected.

As for Flash-based content … I am sure it is debatable whether or not it is applicable in some places. I am one of the people who feel it is over-used. To tell someone they can’t view any part of a web site, like a restaurant menu, unless they download the latest Flash player, is kind of dumb. Think about it - does a restaurant menu or the front page of a web site really constitute a multimedia experience? Does it even need to be? For sure, YouTube is revolutionary in its own right, but it wasn’t Flash that made it possible — it was because someone happened to code the software in Flash. They could have used Java or even developed some new software. Content-wise, it’s important to use the most appropriate medium, and not just use something because it’s there.

It’s not my call, though, whether someone wants to poorly design a web site or not — that can be done with or without Flash. The problem that I, and others, have is that Flash has no business being as pervasive as it is without being a truly open Internet standard. Do you want a single company to control access to your content or to specify what computer and/or operating system you can use? I certainly don’t.

I'd like to emphasize that my feelings about Flash are not based on an anti-Microsoft, anti-Mac, anti-new-media, or anti-multimedia sentiment (although I admit, some of my feelings may be strengthened by one or more of these). The problem has to do with free expression, as I have said several times before in this forum. Those who see the Internet as evolving (the so-called "Internet 2.0") have seen this only because of the foundation that others have set before them. While multimedia in its current form may seem like a brand new Internet experience, in fact it really isn't. The Internet has always evolved on the basic premise of having everyone around the world on a single, interconnected network. Every so often, a new "killer app" that someone envisioned and releases shakes the world up a bit. The HTTP protocol and the World Wide Web itself is merely one of those "killer apps." Before web browsers, there was gopher. Before that, ftp, and e-mail, and netnews, and computers interconnected using a store-and-forward mechanism called UUCP. Every one of these were new and cool in their own time, and they had to happen in the sequence they did so the next great thing could happen.

The next great thing to happen would not have happened if a single company or the government) controlled the medium.

So back to Flash -- If Flash really is the next generation "killer" Internet application, then it needs to be an open standard and open source like the ones before it. The Netscape browser became an open source project for just this reason (which is why we have Firefox and the Mozilla project). Personally, I think Flash in some ways is the "gopher" of the web-based multimedia presentation world in that it is a primitive form of what is to come.

I can imagine a melding of the Flash / Java / .NET concepts into a single, unified, fast, multimedia-rich bytecode-based virtual environment. Where the web browser was usually a person's view of the Internet, this VM would be their view, and the web browser would simply be another application inside this VM (more or less a "legacy" view of the Internet). The environment would be designed with security in mind, and would give people the ability to scale-down some of the graphics for less-capable displays. Because the bytecode would be the same no matter what hardware platform was being used, it wouldn't matter what hardware or OS platform was being used. The question that continues to be a problem is how to design something like this that is extensible enough to grow as hardware becomes more capable, without leaving people with older hardware in the dust. If our young'uns are really as environmentally-conscious as they claim, then they'd agree the last thing we need is the entire world throwing out their computers every couple of years because nothing on the Internet can be viewed on their systems.

Enough babbling for today.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Cisco Sucks

(Yes, the title was meant to be a play on the classic "disco sucks" chant of the '1970s)

Today I had the misfortune to encounter a Linksys (owned by Cisco) SRW2008P Gigabit Switch at work. On the surface this seems like a pretty nice little device. However, deep inside lurks evil. For background, the SRW2008P is an 8-port Gigabit Ethernet switch with Power-over-Ethernet (PoE) support. Two of the 8 ports are shared with two SFP GBIC slots (Linksys calls these "combo ports") that can be used for fiber optic cable. The switch is a "managed switch," meaning that it has an internal processor allowing the switch to be configured in various ways.

We had some problems today where a connection between one of these SRW2008P switches and an enterprise Cisco 3560G-48PS switch kept "flapping" up and down. There was no way to tell why this was happening - the 3560-series switch was indicating many thousand CRC or input errors. The person who installed the SRW2008P forgot to configure a management IP address, so we had to go on-site to diagnose the problem as well as set-up the management IP addresses.

So about the SRW2008P: I was pleased to find a telnet text-based interface was supported. I was not pleased that it was this hokey menu interface. I was looking for some information about errors on the port that was giving us problems. All the menu interface could tell me is that the port was configured, and the speed that was detected. That was not helpful.

So I break out a web browser (Firefox) on my trusty Linux-based laptop. Connected to the web interface, and got the login prompt. I logged-in, and what appears next is....nothing. Nothing usable,that is. It's a mostly blue screen with the Linksys logo and a "Save Settings" and "Cancel Changes" link. Nothing else. WTF?! Oh well, I guess that the hokey menu interface was good enough (I would have liked a stripped-down IOS-like command line, but okay...it's cheaper than a Cisco brand switch). I did finally diagnose the problem with the link, but I'll get to that later...

When I got back to the office, just for the heck of it, my coworker and I decided to pull over a Windows system, run Internet Explorer, and see if that allowed us to get into their web interface. Surprise - it did. Well, it looks like the futhermuckers at Linksys did it again: forget web standards, let's build a device that just works on fscking Microsoft Windows! This is an excellent reason to never buy a Linksys product, ever. In this day and age, for something as simple as a switch management interface, this should have been supported at least under Firefox and Internet Explorer (no Flash, either, damn it). I say "at least" because in reality, for something like this, it should work on SeaMonkey, Opera, Safari, and any other modern web browser as well, on any operating system platform.

I was trying to find something that would shed some light on this disappointing revelation. I went to Linksys' web site, only to find the usual half screen worth of "To see our sucking web site, you must download the latest Flash plug-in, because we have no idea how to write HTML" (paraphrased, of course). I grumbled and clicked "Support" and tried to use their customer support expert system (called "Ask Linksys"). My question was, "Why doesn't Firefox work on the SRW2008P?" Among its 6 responses, the one that best fit was, "03) You have trouble accessing a manageable switch's web-based setup page." Exactly, so I select that one. It sends me to a document called, "Encountering Difficulties Accessing the Manageable Switch’s Web-Based Setup Page." Okay, still sounding good. All the stupid article said was how to configure HyperTerminal to reset the switch to factory settings using the telnet interface. Completely worthless, as was my remaining "Ask Linksys" experience.

Finally, in desperation, I looked at the firmware release notes. There, under "Web browser availability" was my problem in a nutshell:
-Using Mozilla Firefox Web Browser:
(a) Install Firefox "IE Tab" add-ons. The latest version is available on https://addons.mozilla.org/firefox/1419/
(b) Select Tools --> IE Tab. Add in the IP address of switches to Sites Fitters
(e.g. �http://172.18.1.27� accepts wildcard http://172.18.1.*).
(c) Ensure that cookies are enabled, by clicking "enable" to "All sites to set cookies"Tools -> Options -> Privacy -> Cookies.
-Using Netscape Web Browser: Click the icon in the left corner, and select "IE Display".

In other words, someone at Linksys decided that they couldn't program a table-based setup screen without using a Microsoft IE-specific web browser extension. It also looks like someone developed a Firefox plug-in to create a workaround for this kind of thing. Unfortunately, that doesn't help those of us using something other than Firefox, and it doesn't fix the underlying problem of a poorly-designed web configuration interface. It isn't even a good interface.

The switch itself has a lot of pretty powerful options (only accessible via the web interface), including a cable test command that does a TDR-like cable length measurement. It's just a shame that they wrapped all these functions inside a bad web interface.

The problem with the flapping link was a strange one, and continues to perplex me and my coworkers. After a lot of testing, we discovered that the Cisco 3560-series switch appears to be unable to provide a usable signal on the two cables that are going to the location in question. The cables run near some old power distribution equipment, and since the installation is on a barge on a lake, it is possible that the cables are acting as antennas. In any case, we decided to put the connection through a fiber-to-twisted-pair Gigabit Ethernet media converter and use fiber to connect to the 3560 switch (which would also provide some lightning protection for the 3560). The media converter's timing and/or cable drive characteristics were sufficient to overcome whatever the 3560 couldn't, and we now have a clean, reliable connection. The Linksys switch was actually working correctly, despite all the ridiculousness with their configuration and status interface. I'm still not sure if the 3560 is malfunctioning, or if it is working as designed.

So in conclusion, I have a few things to say:
  1. I said it once, and I'll say it again: Linksys - please hire new web interface programmers that know something about supporting multiple browser/OS platforms. Lots of us are using Linux and Macs, so only supporting something Microsoft is a bad idea.
  2. Until Linksys changes its evil ways, I won't buy any of their products, no matter how cheap they may be.
  3. Sometimes an expensive Cisco switch doesn't work as well as a $200 media converter for cable under certain cable conditions.
  4. Linksys' stupid web interface makes this the the next item in my "blatant stupidity" list.
I think it's time to walk away from this for a while and sit with some cats at the Humane Society.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Yummy Greek Food & Computers

I had lunch today at Tinos Greek Cafe (once again). I realized that I failed to mention just how yummy their food is in one of these entries. When I looked them up online (www.tinosgreekcafe.com) I discovered that, while they are certainly a chain, they are a local Austin chain. While I'm sure that Tinos is probably considered "fast food Greek" to Greek food experts in the same way that Taco Bell compares to Mexican food, I feel that Tinos is different because their food really is, as their web site says, "Always fresh." It's true. I always order the Gyro plate (served with pita bread) with the feta salad, tabouli, hummus, and rice pilaf, and am amazed what a delicious, hearty, and fairly healthy meal I have for under ten bucks.

I haven't been adventurous and tried anything else there, but the one near work is always crowded at lunch time. All this said...I give my thumbs-up to the good folks at Tinos Greek Cafe. (PS: Yes, I know it looks like I left out an apostrophe and an accent, but this is the way they spell it...).

On to something completely different.

I am thinking about updating my computer system at home. Why? Not really sure exactly. Part of the reason is that I'd like to further reduce the number of Linux systems I leave running all the time. I'd also like to put Windows 98 (yes, I still run it, because I don't use Windows much anyway) in a virtual machine rather than have it running on a separate system. This would mean I could use Visio or Word from anywhere in the house without having to plop myself in front of the old homebrew Athlon 800MHz system. The other reason is that since I run Gentoo Linux, I am constantly compiling software, and having something better than a couple of 2.4 GHz Pentium 4 systems (all having quirks that prevent them from being upgraded) would allow the compiling to go faster. It would also be nice to have a video adapter that would support HDMI so the system could be connected to the TV/amplifier at one point. I also think the reduction in constantly-running systems would reduce my energy usage (aka "carbon footprint").

The goal of the system is to be reasonably high-performance (without necessarily having expensive, cutting-edge technology), VERY quiet, able to run Linux well, and would easily handle virtual machines as needed.

Have I convinced you I need a new computer yet? Good, because I haven't convinced myself yet either. However, as soon as I have, this is what I'm thinking of building:
  • Case: Antec P182 -- This was rated by Silent PC Review (SPCR) [www.silentpcreview.com] as being a very quiet computer case. Someone at SPCR helped design it. It shows.
  • Power Supply: Corsair CMPSU-650TX (650 watt PS) -- This also got good reviews for being a quiet device, but also has plenty of power for an additional hard disk and other components.
  • CPU: Intel Q9550 2.83 GHz Core2 Quad Processor -- The Q9550 has 12MB of cache for its 4 processing cores. It should scream. I thought about the I7 processor, but the motherboards are twice the cost at the moment, and like I said above, I don't need a cutting-edge processor.
  • CPU Cooling: Noctua NH-U9B -- This is a very quiet & efficient CPU heat sink/fan combination. It too has gotten excellent reviews, and while a bit on the expensive side, I understand it is worthwhile. It also has real metal screws, not cheap plastic clips that seem to pull-out of the motherboard after a while.
  • Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-EP45-UD3P -- This system board is the best combination of features, quality, and cost that I could find. Every system board review had someone who complained that it was the worst one they ever found. This Gigabyte board is really cool -- it has two Gigabit Ethernet adapters built-in (good for allowing the system to act as a firewall), and that's just the beginning.
  • Memory: 2 X 2GB G.SKILL DDR2 1066 (PC2 8500) -- 4GB of memory is all I feel I'll need at the moment (I don't feel like running a 64-bit Linux build yet). The G.SKILL memory has gotten good reviews, and the specific pair I'm getting is a nice balance of price and performance.
  • Video card: ASUS EN9500GT TOP/DI -- This video card has a HDMI, VGA, and DVI connector on it, so basically it will interface with any display I can dig-up. It isn't the highest performer, and is not what all the gaming community is buying. Those video adapters cost more than $200, and I would never use the features. The one I spec'd-out is under $100, but is plenty capable of driving full-motion video at 1920x1080 and will most definitely handle Quake III Arena (probably the only game I play, an oldie but goodie).
  • Hard drive: Western Digital "green" 640GB -- I recently purchased this (on sale) to replace a failing drive on one of my computers, and this drive will be moved to the new system. Right now, it is more space than I will ever need. In a few years...
  • Optical drive: Pioneer DVR-110D ATAPI DVD+/-RW -- I purchased this a couple of years ago and will be moving it from one of my systems to the new system. This will work just fine until Blu-ray disc recorders come down in price.
  • Wireless: This system will be wired, not wireless (servers shouldn't be wireless), but will drive my existing Netgear WG302 access point as is being done now. I could probably put a wireless card into this system and make it work as an access point also, but since I have the WG302 already, and it doesn't take much power, it isn't worth building myself.
The old 2.4 GHz Dell system that takes overly-expensive (and hard to find) RAMBUS memory will likely be donated to Goodwill. The 2.4 GHz IBM ThinkCentre (small form factor) would work out nicely as a "guest" PC. The homebrew Athlon 800 will more than likely also be headed for Goodwill. I will keep my Dell Inspiron 2200 laptop in its current duty as, well, the laptop. While a bit heavy in weight, and a little light in processing power (1.8 GHz Celeron processor), it does what it does just fine.

The only thing that's bothering me about doing all this is that I am burning out (to some extent) on computer stuff. This new system will have a fairly large price tag (to me, that is...actually it's a good price considering the performance) and I don't need a quad-core processor to read e-mail, "surf the web," and act as a firewall. On the other hand, there is something to be said for lowering power consumption and having less equipment to maintain. So I am thinking carefully about this. Given that my birthday is quickly approaching, I figure this would be a nice gift to myself (in addition to a new heating/air conditioning system, which will make this computer seem cheap).

If anyone out there has a suggestion or comment on the proposed system, let me know. I spent a lot of time looking into all these parts, and I think I've put together one heck of a fast & quiet system (quiet was a primary criteria in the system design).