Saturday, February 19, 2011

It All Came Crashing Down

The past few months have seemed, for lack of a better word, surreal.  I'm not really sure if anyone is really reading this anymore.  I've lost a lot of the motivation to post.  Some of that motivation is lost due to the apparent futility of writing about things and never really feel like a difference was made.  Some of the motivation has been lost due to medications prescribed to cure some of the things that ail me, but in truth only complicate things more.  Sometimes I've just stopped writing because I've discovered others who are so much better at expressing their ideas than me.  Either way, a lot has happened, and it all seems kind of weird in a way...

Internet Changes

You're probably saying, "Seriously, dude, what could you possibly be doing with your Internet connection again?!"  Seriously, I went back to Time Warner Cable's RoadRunner again.  Yes, you read that correctly.  DSL from at&t was seriously slow.  Unnecessarily slow.  Inexplicably slow.

About the best speed I could get from the fastest DSL I could buy (6 Mbits/sec down, 768 Kbits/sec up) was around 4.8 Mbits/sec down and 630 Kbits/sec up.  This wasn't a limitation of  the local loop.  According to the loop information, the attainable speed exceeded my provisioned rate.  For several days, I had problems accessing one of the sites that serve icanhascheezburger.com (the wp.com base site).  Let me tell you, I'm not very happy when I have to struggle to get to the LOLcats!  I do believe that at&t has truly reached new lows when it comes to being able to provide quality Internet service.  Where do I begin?  If you're really interested, let me know and I'll review them in more detail.

It seems that I finally, no thanks to Time Warner Cable in Austin, figured out why I had problems with my Internet service a few months ago.  The underground service cable between my house and the pedestal in the neighbor's back yard had a splice in it.  The splice was starting to corrode, and the center conductor was heavily oxidized.  Instead of repeatedly bugging me about my inside wiring (how many times can you take a 50' piece of wire and put new connectors on it?  Huh?) this is where they should have concentrated their efforts.

To prevent the old cable line from ever being used again, I cut it.  I then installed 1/2" gray PVC electrical conduit from the cable "demarc" box on the side of the house to the property line about 2' from the cable company's pedestal.  This required a trench to be dug through the back yard (I buried the conduit between 6" and 1' deep, as my back yard has a tendency to slope).  Yes, I dug it with a shovel by hand.  Yes, there were large chunks of limestone about 4-5" below the surface of the lawn.  Yes, it was a pain in the ass to dig (in fact, said ass and left leg are still in pain...).  When the cable company installs a new service cable, they typically just use a shovel to pull back the lawn and bury the cable about 3" or so below the surface of the lawn.  I understand why they do this, but this is why the cable tends to get damaged easily whenever gardening or other yard work is done.

Fast-forward about a week and here's what resulted.  Note the trench is filled-in.  If you look at the gray boxes on the side of the house, the one all the way on the right with the smaller (and slightly crooked) conduit going into the ground is my new cable service.  I have a friend (thanks Jack!) who has a spool of direct-burial Commscope F660BEF cable that fell off the back of a cable installer's truck (almost literally) that I easily pushed through the conduit.  I left about 3' at the demarc end (inside the box on the house) and about 10' just on the other side of the fence in my neighbor's yard.  There are no splices, the cable is in perfect condition (not just like new but really new!), and all that is needed is for the cable company to come out, pull the cable 2' to their pedestal, put connectors on the ends, and install my RoadRunner service.  Cool.

That's not the coolest part though.  First, even though I canceled my service in December, I was able to sign-up online, get a promotional price of $29.95/month for 12 months, and free installation.  But wait -- there's more!  Since December, they increased the speed of standard RoadRunner from 7 Mbits/sec down and 512 Kbits/sec to now be 10 Mbits/sec down and 1 Mbit/sec up (and it really does attain the "down"-direction speed and better)!  Very cool.  Finally, I thought I was going to need to provide a "clue" to the installer when he came to my house to hook up the cable.  I was wrong - the installer actually liked what I did and was nothing but positive the whole time.  So when all was said and done, I had fast Internet service again that will hopefully be reliable.  If nothing else, if there's a problem now, it will NEED to be in the neighborhood cabling (or a bad cable modem) because all mine is good and protected.

This is what I keep saying about Time Warner Cable.  I know there are people there who give a damn about providing good service, but sometimes you need to pull the hair out of your head to find them.

Cat From Hell

Remember my new cat Emmy?  The "sweet" tortoiseshell that is so affectionate and is great with people?  Well, it turns out that aside from those positive attributes, Emmy has a dark side.

Emmy wants 100% of my attention, finding new and creative ways to punish me for not doing so.  For example, I now have two netbook power cables and one laptop power cable with tooth-marks in them from being attacked by the cat.  One cable was shorted-out and temporarily damaged the netbook.  She also is chewing at the edges of the carpet and pulling out the fibers.  These are only a couple of her favorite ways to drive me up the wall.  All reasonable methods of controlling her psychotic behavior has failed so far.  I finally looked for help from my fellow volunteers and the staff at the Humane Society.  I am trying my best not to return her because I really like this cat, but if what she really needs is more humans around and a more active household, then I may need to do that.  My goal here is to do what's best for the cat, in addition to maintaining my own sanity and protecting my property.

I did take Emmy for a ride in the car with the idea that (if I do keep her) I'd like to bring her with me when I visit my parents.  She is extremely well-behaved in the car.  As soon as I am in the right mental condition to take a long drive again, I will see how Emmy handles being in the car for several hours.

The Thinking Atheist

I need to send a positive "shout out" to Seth a.k.a. The Thinking Atheist who is active on facebook and YouTube.  With the world (not just my world) going all to hell in a hand-basket, Seth's videos, podcasts, and other discussions have been a breath of fresh air among a sea of stupidity I so frequently encounter.  While Seth and I don't always agree 100% on everything (thank the lord ;-), what I think makes him different is his ability to truly think before speaking.  Seth's attitude is one I have been able to look-up to.  He'll discuss something controversial, but at the end if he disagrees with someone he'll truly agree to disagree, and say "hey, now let's get a cup of coffee and chat about something else."  I can tell in his writing, too, that he genuinely means it.  I know from my own personality that once someone says something that gets under my skin, it's hard to let go even though it's the right thing to do sometimes.

Looking at the facebook discussions and some of the feedback Seth gets from theists, I have to wonder about the sanity of the world around me.  On the subject of religion, I see no reasonable attempt on the part of those who are religious to consider the idea that the belief system they have chosen may not have any validity.  Now I can understand why that would be hard to swallow if that is the basis for a lot of the activity in your life, but sometimes a serious examination of why you believe what you do is necessary if you're really interested in how things really, truly are.  Instead, both theists and atheists (the former more than the latter) beat Seth up for allegedly "attacking God."  The videos and other discussion on The Thinking Atheist is not an attack against god.  It is an attack against a group of people who feel that everyone must believe as they do, and those who don't are evil.  It is an attempt to counter religious groups who, through government legislation, force people to believe as they do.  Seth's videos use parody in order to demonstrate how unreasonable and silly some of the customs practiced by theists look to atheists.  Instead of participating in a debate, these people lash-out and attack Seth and his work.  There is no debate.  There is no rational discussion.

Worse still was a recent discussion Seth had about global warming a.k.a. global climate change on facebook.  Seth initiated the discussion because a lot of people were making an assumption that atheists all shared the same (usually far left-leaning) political ideologies, and using The Thinking Atheist facebook page as a soapbox.  Seth said he was skeptical about global warming, presented his reasons for being skeptical, and was looking for some discussion about the topic.  There were several people who simply attacked Seth's integrity for even suggesting that global warming may not be "real" and left his facebook page.  That kind of attitude is the exact same attitude that theists have when it comes to discussion with atheists, making me wonder myself if global warming is not just another religious belief.  The only thing that made me have something more than a facepalm moment was that there were actually some people who "got it" and had a truly educational discussion/debate.  I remember when I took-on this same topic in this blog (see Global Whining from December, 2009) and wondered how many people wanted to rip my head off afterward.  Amazing.  Imagine what would happen if Seth brought-up the topic of abortion?!

In any case, I'd be happy to get coffee with Seth sometime if he ever ends up in Austin, Texas.  We need more people like him around.

Cisco Sucks (again)

Oh, my, where do I begin?  We recently purchased 4 Catalyst 3750X network switches at $7,000 (academic discount) each that were announced by Cisco about a year ago.  Our motivation for buying this hardware was that we needed a production-quality, high-performance, high-availability switch with dual power supplies and the capability to upgrade the uplink to the switch to 10 Gigabit Ethernet at some later date.  So far, so good.

When we went to hook-up the switches, we noticed that the front panel link status LED indicators (you know, the lights that show that you have an active network connection when you plug a network cable into a port) were behaving unpredictably.  By unpredictably, I mean that they sometimes just never wanted to come on or stay on.  Now I don't know about you, but wouldn't you think that this kind of functionality is something that should be pretty well-established and you'd just expect it to work right?  We know it isn't hardware-related, because we have 3 other switches that behave the same way.  It's a software (firmware) problem.

So we report the problem to Cisco (we couldn't find a bug).  Turns out that there was a bug report, it's just that Cisco considers this problem "cosmetic" and therefore we didn't see it in our search.  Never mind that, what we really want to know is when the dang problem is going to be fixed.  Answer:  Within a few months.  Upon further examination, I discovered that there has not been a single IOS (software) release for this switch in the past year that did not have this bug.  That's right, a $7,000 switch that has front panel status LEDs that have never worked properly.  What in the world has happened to Cisco's quality assurance people?

Cisco's response:  Well, this is a low priority item and most people don't use the status LEDs anymore.

YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME!  Talk about a facepalm moment.

In the end, it looks like they may have a fixed version of IOS out in March sometime, but we may not be waiting that long.  Frankly, if a major network equipment company can't put out a product with working port status LEDs, then I have to question my confidence in the product in general.  If it's up to me, I'm going to pursue sending the crap back from whence it came.  I just don't know who's product to replace it with...yet...  Yeah, sometimes even being a network administrator can have its share of unnecessary stress.  My favorite was when the rep from Cisco compared the IOS software development process (and amount of bugs) to Windows Vista.  I could see his face turn red when I told him, "That's why I use Linux instead of Windows."

So my request to everyone -- please go out and search for a copy of Rick Dees' "Disco Duck" from the 1970s and see if we can't get a parody written called "Cisco Sucks."  If someone is brave enough to write it and post it, I'll see if it's possible to get Rick Dees himself to put the words to music (again).  I think it really needs to be done.  Hmmm...maybe I should STFW and see if someone has already done this...

Speaking Of Cisco and Windows...

Did you know that software is fragile and can permanently break?  I kid you not.

The netbook from my employer I have at home that I use for work-related things runs Windows 7 and I use the Cisco AnyConnect VPN client to access the network at work.  I did something kind of dumb the other day (not including running Windows 7) when I got my new Internet connection.  I was VPNed into work through my Linux server (which also acts as a firewall/gateway/NAT) with the netbook and I forgot this fact when I pulled the Ethernet cable off my DSL modem and plugged it into the cable modem.  Oops.

"Oops," is right, because from that moment forward, I could no longer use the VPN to access work through my server.  I could not make Windows 7 forget the characteristics of that network, and I couldn't get the VPN client to forget that that the rug was pulled out from underneath it when connected through my server.

I tried uninstalling/reinstalling the VPN client (together with a reboot between), removing any file or directory or registry entry that had the word "cisco" in it, as well as more than a dozen other possible fixes (yes, I did STFW this time).  I tried removing and replacing the Ethernet driver.  I still got the "repairing VPN connection" message from AnyConnect and 30 seconds later saying it couldn't connect to the VPN server and that there was a problem with the VPN adapter.

How in the world can one irreversibly break software in this manner?  Cisco had a document that outlined what to do if this message came up.  The first two things didn't work, and the third was to (basically) reinstall Windows 7 on the platform.

ARGH!

Did I mention that my brilliant management and Windows admin guys decided that minimum 12-character passwords and having to re-enter your password for any administrative action would be the new policy?  Oh, yeah, after typing that password for the 100th time, one's ability to restrain one's self from throwing said netbook through the wall becomes very difficult.

So while writing this entry, I've been reloading Windows 7 on my netbook and taking a snapshot of the installation when the system is pristine and working fine so that I can get this working again.

I know what you're thinking.  "Why not just use Linux you open source zealot?"  I would, really, except that there are applications that only run on Windows that I need to do some of my job.  I can run Windows 7 in a virtual machine at the office, but on a netbook that really isn't an option.

I think it's finally time to retire.

On that comment...  Even though I have a lot more frustration to vent, I need to actually accomplish something today.  If nothing else, I need to find out what my cat has decided to chew next...  I will try to get back to a more regular schedule of posting here...

1 comment:

Toni said...

What about another cat companion for Emmy?