Monthly Archives: February 2007

New toys and broken ones.

I’m totally digging my new phone. I haven’t done much in the way of software downloads for it, but I’ll get there eventually. I did install PocketPuTTY, so I’m SSH-enabled wherever I can get the data service or a wifi-connection. I’m also quite pleased that HTC/Audiovox decided to use standardized plugs with the phone, and that Canon did the same with my new camera. They both use the same standardized cable, which is pretty damned nice in my opinion. I was able to buy a couple additional cables at CompUSA, so that I could leave one at work and one connected to my workstation at home. This lets me charge my phone or transfer data between the phone/camera and the computer without disconnecting or transporting cables. Pretty nice in terms of convenience.

I’m totally not digging the fact that my receiver (an Onkyo TX-SR603) decided to take a crap on me over the weekend. When I last used it thursday night, it worked fine. When I went to watch some Star Trek with Jessica on saturday night, it worked less than fine. The monitor video outs, both S-Video and composite, where pretty much dead. No picture at all, even from the internal configuration menu. After much and annoyance, I plugged my TV into the Video1 outputs, which worked, so we were at least able to watch Star Trek. Not a permanent solution though. It’s a good thing that I purchased that product protection plan when I bought the receiver though. I took it up to Circuit City yesterday, and they’re going to send it off to their service center for repairs. If they can’t fix it, I get a new receiver. I’m actually hoping that they can’t fix it, so I can get the newest model of the same class (TX-SR604), which has newer nifty features like HDMI inputs and outputs.

More RSS fun

Tonight I discovered that MediaWiki has a RSS feed for the most recent changes to articles in the wiki. Knowing this, I decided to add another sidebar block for recent updates to the wiki. You may notice that there are currently duplicates. I guess that's how its designed. Instead of the last X pages that have been edited, ignoring when the edits take place, it shows the last 10 edits in order. Not a horrible thing really… and it still gets the message across.

I also added the little RSS buttons for direct links to the feeds that I use to generate the blocks, on the off chance that anybody cares to use them.

Fun in Phoneland

My current cellphone contract with Nextel is up on the 20th, so I decided it was time to decide whether I wanted to stay with Nextel or get a new phone with another provider. My phone usage has changed in the past few months, and I've really been taking a hit with text messages. I decided that I wanted a phone that had something better than the small numeric keypad so typing in text messages wouldn't be such a pain, and I also wanted a plan that would accomidate text messages in bulk.

A few coworkers have some pretty neat PDA/SmartPhones, so I asked around for their experiences with the phones and carriers. After a few 'interviews', I decided that I wanted to grab a PPC6700/XV6700 (same phone, but different model number depending on the provider). It's a Windows Mobile Smartphone, which kinda goes against my anti-Microsoft/Windows mentality, but my coworker that has this phone is quite happy with it, and recommended it highly. It has both WiFi and cellular internet capability, bluetooth, and a slideout QWERTY keyboard. A cool piece of gear all in all.

Both Sprint/Nextel and Verizon carry this phone. I was initally planning on just upgrading my Nextel service to Sprint with this phone, but the Sprint/Nextel website wouldn't seem to allow it. It was like a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book. However, unlike the real books that give you paths through the story that are both “good” and “bad”, I never found one path through the upgrade process that let me out alive. I gave their customer service a call, and was told that they could upgrade me, but that they didn't have that phone in stock currently, and that I should check around at local Sprint stores. Honestly, I don't know if the sales rep completely understood what I wanted to do. It's my guess that he was a Spanish-language representative, because his english was pretty bad, and had a thick Spanish accent.

After that failure, I considered looking around a bit more. Verizon had the same phone for $100 less on the website, so I decided giving them a shot. I was sure that I was going to go into a Verizon store and buy the phone, but I didn't know how Nextel would interpret me taking my current number and allocating it to another plan with another carrier. I gave them a call to get the firm date on when my plan ended and to see how that action would be taken, and whether it would be considered a breach of my contract. The sales rep seemed attentive to the situation and asked wether there was some reason I was inquiring about those details. I explained the situation, and how I found the same phone with another carrier for $100 less, and was planning on switching for that reason. She put me in contact with another rep in a different department. She offered to match the Verizon price, and apply $100 in manufacturers rebates at the same time. The price instantly dropped from $399 to $199 – $100 better than Verizon's price.

That was plenty enough to get me to stay. It also turns out that the Sprint plans are a bit less expensive as well. The base-rate Verizon plan that includes the unlimited data service is $79/month, which also counts the phone service. My base phone plan with Nextel was $49/month, and Sprint will match that with the new phone. The data plan is only an additional $15/month, and I added a text messaging plan for $5/month. So, my plan will weigh in at around $70/month.

Did I need a new phone? No, not really. But anyone that knows me knows how much I like cool gadgets. This certainly is one. I've already done some checking around, and there are a few good instant messenger clients for this phone which support all the large chat networks (AIM/MSN/Yahoo) along with Jabber. There's also a stripped down version of PuTTY available, which will allow me to use SSH on the phone as well. The fun will never end.

Gallery Update

Spurred on by my recent camera purchase, I decided to update my gallery and import all of the images I’ve been sitting on for the past year. I’m now running Gallery 2.1.2, which is a tad better than the 2.0beta version I was running previously. This one has a lot more nifty features, namely the RSS feed function. You’ll probably notice that the “Gallery Updates” section on the sidebar has returned after its long hiatus. That’s provided via RSS, and will update whenever I make updates to the gallery.

I’ve been taking random pictures pretty frequently with the new camera, and I’m still quite happy. I’m learning to use more of its features, which has made for a couple good pictures, and many bad ones. Here’s one that I think turned out pretty well.

[picture of Mesa]

Power Shot

Watch out world! I’ve got a working camera again! Technically my old camera (a Nikon Coolpix 3100) never stopped working, but it’s become woefully inadequate over time. The battery door is broken, it runs through batteries in a heartbeat, and it’s painfully slow. The battery-related issues are the worst though. It used to be able to take at least 150 pictures on a full battery charge, but now even new batteries only last for around 20-30 pictures or so. I’m not sure why.

Well, that’s not a problem anymore. As of wednesday, I’m the happy owner of a Canon PowerShot SD600. Jessica picked up the same camera a short while ago, and she is quite enamored with it. I played around wth it a bit, and decided that it was time for me to upgrade. And an upgrade it is. I’ve taken at least 100 pictures on less than an hour’s worth of charging of the battery. The camera takes less than a second to power up, and snaps pictures a ton faster than the old one. In short, I’m happy.

The only thing I’m not happy with is that my additional memory card hasn’t arrived yet. I found a 2GB card for around $14, and ordered it along with a few spare batteries. The tracking information shows that the USPS recieved the shipping order on the 6th – the same day my camera shipped – yet it hasn’t even been picked up yet. Grr. That means I have to suffer with the 16MB card that came with the camera and offload the images constantly.

Much of the pictures I’ve taken are of the same boring variety as the pictures I normally take. We’ll see if that situation improves. This is the only one so far that I think is interesting…

[smokestack]

Wikified

As alluded to in my last post, I put up a wiki on the site. I’ve got a couple of articles up so far, mostly related to various scripts I’ve written. They’re easy to cut and paste. I’ll probably go back and edit a few posts to reference the wiki articles as they’re written.

The link to the wiki is up in the menu bar. Wikitastic.

Disassembly

I’ve been playing with Xen quite a bit over the past few weeks, and I must say that I’m becoming a fanboy. I’ve got it set up both on a machine home, and my colocated server at work. I am using it to break up my existing monolithic Gentoo server environments. I’ve got a couple main reasons for this.

First off, I’m just tired of having Gentoo in a server environment. It’s pretty neat in theory, but in practice, its a beast to maintain. Compiling packages from source takes forever. Gentoo is very much bleeding edge, and because of that, things change often, and said changes aren’t always painless. Binary distributions like CentOS definitely are at the opposite end of the spectrum. I’ve got a lot less free time these days to dink around with this and that, so I’ll definitely take the ease of use of a binary distribution, and the relative stabiility in the software environment provided by an enterprise-level OS.

The second benefit to Xen is that I can use it to “disassemble” my current server installs one piece at a time instead of just migrating everything in one fell swoop. I’ve been slowly taking pieces of functionality out of main Gentoo environment and placing them into smaller single-purpose CentOS environments. This allows for the transition to be much easier, since testing one or two pieces of software at a time is much easier than ten or more. Currently I have separate environments for mysql, jabber, shoutcast, and a communal system logger along with the Gentoo environment I’m working to replace. Eventually, there will be environments for apache, DNS, and email services as well.

The third benefit is an added layer of security. With each service in its own Xen environment, the chances of the entire server being compromised via a single vulnerable service essentially goes away. It also allows for me to set up environments for family or friends without having to worry about them getting into things that they shouldn’t be seeing.

Since Xen uses standard linux bridging to handle its internal networking, some pretty neat things are possible. I’ve got two network interfaces in my colocated box at work. One is connected to the internet, the other is connected to a private network. I only have the environments that require access to the internet connected to the public network bridge, but all of the environments are connected to the private network bridge interface. This allows all of the environments to communicate privately amongst themselves without the traffic ever leaving the physical server. As mentioned before, the second network interface is also connected to the private bridge, so I can (and do) connect other physical machines into the private network, and they see the Xen environments as if they were physical servers.

I was also able to do some more neat networking utilizing ssh and pppd. I found an article a few weeks back when I was looking into some ssh networking tricks, and it described a one-line command to create a ppp connection between two machines with ssh as its transport mechanism. This allowed me to create a tunnel that connected my home network to my private network inside (and outside) my colo box at work. The connection isn’t very fast, but it’s secure, and pretty stable. Its transparent to my machines at home since the tunnel is initiated by my gateway machine. The Xen environments only need a few static routes added for things to work properly, which is trivial. The only thing I’m doing with it so far is capturing usage statistics from all of the Xen environments via SNMP using Cacti. The slow speed of the tunnel doesn’t affect that at all. I might try to set up mysql replication between my mysql environment in the colo box and the mysql environment at home for backup purposes. Who knows. There’s a lot of possibility.

I’m thinking of setting up a personal wiki on the site here for various implementation notes, procedures, scripts, and other things. If/when I set that up, I’ll post my notes on setting things up there.

Edit: I’ve documented the SSH PPP scripts in the wiki.