Power To The People

Hm, one post a month.. that’s about right for me I guess.  Today’s is prompted by the fact that I don’t feel like retelling this story many times over, so I’ll tell it once and then I can just paste a URL from there on.  Go, lazy!  Speaking of which, I’ve started (a while ago) uploading photos finally.  I’m not done yet – there’s probably between 1 and 2 thousand more to do – but I’m getting there slowly.  Now, on to the story.

As some of you know, they’re doing construction in our building at work.  Half the building is evacuated while they do the work, and I’m in the other half (normally, I wasn’t moved there though some people were).  Today, they were saw cutting through the poured concrete into the women’s room, which is halfway between my door and Leigh’s, right in the middle of the “Occupied” area.  So late yesterday, everyone was told, “If you don’t absolutely have to be here, don’t be here.”  I planned on sitting at home, checking mail and working on some other things I wanted to do.  I did not plan on going into the office.  I just got home about an hour ago.

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Photos Are Coming! (And Other Stuffs)

Last night I started going through the myriad of photos and videos that have collected on my computer in the last… I’m not even sure how long.  Captioning, organizing, and getting ready to turn them loose via iPhoto2Gallery to get them all uploaded.  So hopefully I’ll have a new post here with links to all of it in the next week or so.  Yes, I said that before when I upgraded the laptop to 10.5, but I had other things to work on and didn’t get to it then.  Sosumi 😛

David is doing well.  He just started pulling himself up from just about laying down to a seated position, and he pretty much stays seated on his own (occasionally topples, but who doesn’t?)  He’s been standing as long as you support him, and smiling and laughing at a lot of things.  Occasionally you get him in the right mood, and you can keep a laugh going until he just about runs out of air :>  The other night he was sitting on the floor, and I laying next to him on my side; he grabbed my jeans and just about pulled himself up to standing, probably would’ve succeeded if the blanket he was standing on wasn’t slippery and his feet went out from under him.  Guess it’s getting near time to lower the mattress in his crib now too.

In other news, the renovations in my building at work have begun.  The library is now gutted, and there’s a few rooms elsewhere that have been stripped clean in preparation.  This summer’s going to be “fun” – probably a week or two of frantic running around, then quite a bit of time twiddling thumbs, and 2-3 spurts of constant work over a weekend to move things around in the server room since there’s some work being done there (finally, after 7 years, we might actually come out of this with a usable and well-designed space).

Whaddya Mean, It’s Not Broken?

That was an interesting few minutes.

This morning, I saw that one of the hosts at work, which is not mine (belongs to HVAC for the control system for the building – tells them about the status of the systems in here, and lets them change things remotely like the temperature of various rooms and such) had gone red and then green again. Now, it was red again, but when I got down there nobody was around next to it. Panel was left open, and you could see the ethernet, serial and power cables where the terminal server used to sit. So I waited, and as soon as I saw it went green I ran downstairs. Since the management station only checks every ~15 minutes for a host’s existance, I was hoping that it came online recently and someone was still sitting next to the box. Sure enough, when I got down there, Nate (I think that was his name, I’m terrible with names – and if somehow you’re reading this and it’s not your name, I apologize) was staring at the blinkenlights and wondering what to do next. I said hello, we exchanged formalities, and I said, “You know, that thing’s not broken.” “Well, we can see it’s there, but we can’t talk to it.” “Yes, I know. But it’s working just fine.”

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HVAC And Switches And Firewalls, Oh My

Well, this morning was a bit busy. We had friends over who left around 10 something, and I finally got to sleep around 1 or so. Then at 0250 my cell phone buzzed. “Main server air intake too high: 77 deg F” Well, let’s see what happens in the next few minutes… same message. As I’m getting dressed to come downstairs and have a look at things, it continues to buzz every few minutes as the environmental sensor sends new traps to the management station. I login to it, and sure enough it’s warm – and even one of the machines in the room complained that its drives were getting hot inside the case. While I’m looking at things, I get the magical page: “Server room *WAY* too hot, shutting down Hydra” [our Beowulf cluster]. After watching to be sure Hydra shut down properly, I put on my shoes and left to head into the office, arriving just before 0400.

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Oh, and Get Me the Machine that goes *PING*

So… it’s been awhile. Partly because I’m lazy, and partly because I’ve been busy at work and by the time I get home, I don’t have much playtime. So what’s new in the world?

Been playing with APRS, the Automatic Position Reporting System (Some links: here, here and here). It’s basically a packet radio system, but instead of normal packet radio which is point-to-point, this is more of a broadcast type system. Packets can be destined for a specific radio, so you can send messages from one system to another, or they can be broadcast for all (all amateurs, that is, not really for the general public and therefore not “broadcasting” in the FCC’s eyes). Since I don’t have a TNC (Terminal Node Controller, basically a modem that connects to a radio) to receive APRS packets in my area, I have it setup with an internet link (the last link above is to APRS-IS, the APRS internet service, which links digipeaters over the internet) on my laptop and at work, the latter runs pretty much constantly now as W2SRH-1. Oh, and just for completeness, a digipeater is for digital packets what a repeater is for analog voice – basically, it takes the packet you send, and re-sends it for all to hear. This way, if you’re running a very low-power radio in your vehicle, your packets still have a chance of getting over a large area if a digipeater picks them up and rebroadcasts them. Now why would you run a packet system in a car? Because you can hook a GPS receiver up to it, and as you move about the planet the little TNC and associated systems will send out your coordinates as a packet, which is picked up by these digipeaters and I-Gates (internet gateways), and someone else with APRS will see a little vehicle icon move across their screen as you travel. Pretty neat! I can watch as people who live in my area, or around the world since I read an unfiltered feed at work (ie, the packets I get are not limited to a specific area), move from one point to another. While that may not sound too interesting to everyone, it is kinda neat to see, and has other uses as well. For search-and-rescue work, an area can be setup where the operation will take place, and if everyone is carrying APRS transmitters then someone can monitor their progress and see what areas they’ve covered. Or in the case of an emergency, someone can pinpoint the location on the map, and others can see it. You could even use it to mark off an event of some sort, or something that others might find important: an accident location on a highway that should be avoided (or where help is needed), or the current and predicted location of a hurricane (which I saw just yesterday). While using this system with a radio is how it was originally intended, it’s still neat to be able to use it with an internet connection.

What else is new lately… we got a new machine at work, which is supposed to hold all the data that people want to keep on spinning platters but not backed up. 15 SATA drives, 200GB each, 3U enclosure. Only one problem: No floppy or CD-ROM drives. No problem, we’ll install Fedora with a USB key! Bought two keys, threw a boot disk on one of them, plugged it in, and… oh, another problem, the damned motherboard doesn’t boot from a USB device. Great. Oh, wanna go three for three? Okay, Fedora doesn’t have drivers for the motherboard’s SATA ports. Hell, RedHat in its entirety, as well as the Linux kernel, doesn’t support them – the company that sold it to us compiled a patch from who-knows-where into the kernel to get it to work. Well this just makes things interesting, doesn’t it? One good thing lately, we got rid of 10 of the old Sun Ultra5 workstations, and there’s only two of them left in the building. Those two will be leaving soon, like as soon as I get my hands on them (one’s in a pile in the server room, and one’s in a pile on someone’s desk). We should have enough computers from the decommissioned Beowulf cluster to replace a couple of the Ultra1 workstations too, and it’ll be good to get rid of them as well. That will still leave us with a few Suns in the building, not as many as when I started but getting close to a manageable number since the one machine that is serving their filesystems is no longer under hardware contract, and starting to show its age.

Along those lines, we also have to move faster on deploying LDAP to replace NIS, since our NIS server is getting overloaded (same Sun that serves ‘/’ to the other Suns). At least I’m guessing that’s what is happening, all I know is that every now and then I get error messages from various machines in the building that they can’t contact Newton for NIS information, but when I login to them things are working fine. NIS isn’t really well equipped for this kind of setup anyway, while LDAP is a bit more robust. I tested some LDAP server stuff today, including replication (where one or more ‘slave’ servers get their information from the LDAP master; the slaves are read-only, the master allows writes also) and auto-failover, and it all worked wonderfully. I setup a client machine to listen to the master and slave, logged in, did some things, killed the master and tried logging in again… and it worked just as fast as when the master was up, only it was talking to the slave now. Tried a write operation, and it failed with “Unable to process request”, quite a fine answer when I try writing to a read-only database. Brought the master back up, tried it again… and it tried to write to the slave, got an error, and bumped right over to the master where it worked fine. Perfect! End result is that I can setup a few slaves, and if the master gets overloaded or goes down, the slaves will continue to serve data, but nobody can change their password (nor can any new accounts be created) until the master returns. Sounds good to me!

Stephanie’s graduation is in a couple weeks, that should be fun. At least one of us graduated from college, and she’s now got more letters after her name than I will unless I get some certifications (but she’ll always have more degrees, I don’t think I’ll ever be going back to school). Before that, however, is … RUSH, Live at the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, New Jersey … ahh, this should be good. I have heard a couple songs from their latest album, it’s a tribute album with all cover songs from bands that inspired Rush (Geddy Lee singing “…sometimes I wonder what I’m a-gonna do, ’cause there ain’t no cure for the summertime blues…”).

Okay, on that note, I just went and looked up the tabs to Broon’s Bane again, and wish I had a room where I could practice and not wake anyone up. ‘Cause now I want to try to play it again. Like I wouldn’t get frustrated since I haven’t touched either my 6-string or my 12-string in ages, but I still want to play. Grr. Off to bed with me.

There’s Something You Don’t See

..namely an out of shape guy on a mountain bike, smoking a butt. Okay, it’s counterproductive, but it’s a dirty nasty habit that I still haven’t shaken.

Anywho, it’s been awhile since I put anything in here, and I thought about it a couple times but just didn’t mosey over to my website from work (where I would have more time to sit down and write than if I normally try it from home). But today I’ve got a bit of time. Actually got into work a little early for me, and left at a normal time so Steph and I went for a bike ride shortly after I got home. Headed over to TCNJ and rode around the campus a bit, and then back to home. I *knew* I should’ve put the speaker-mic on my HT as I left, but I didn’t, so when I heard Dan (K2QM) calling I couldn’t really answer without pulling over and stopping. Oh well, next time.

So what’s new and exciting this week… got a local repository setup for not only doing new installs (Fedora Core 2 is what we’re looking at) but for updating old installs as well. Just this afternoon I got the last of the machines updated, so now everything is running the latest patches for everything. Only a handful of machines that aren’t, but they’ll be upgraded by hand to FC2 before long (they’ll be the first ones to get the upgrade since they’re the oldest and not patchable currently – I’m not setting up a yum repository for 6 machines). Kinda nice to be able to move an RPM into a directory, and that night all the machines in the building will install it without extra work.

Since the last entry, I’ve also got all the equipment at home to be able to get on the air (not much, just power supply, another magmount and antenna) plus the quick charger for my handheld and the speaker-mic. Only I haven’t been able to do much with it because of how I’ve been working lately. Also trying to setup Camden County RACES with my brother-in-law since he’s doing a cleanup down by where he lives and didn’t know what to do for communications during the event. With any luck, anywhere from 10 to 20 hams will be there to take care of it (myself included).

Probably other stuff, but I’ve put this down a couple times and come back to it, and I don’t feel like thinking anymore. Back to the Dungeons of Doom.

Eight Days a Week

As in, how long it’s been since I wrote something here :>

So last night sucked. Well, kinda. I worked fairly late, and then headed up to the Sarnoff club meeting at 19:30. Ended up staying there until almost 22:00 chatting with a few people, including David (N0YMV) and a few others I had met before, a couple I’d talked to on the air but not yet seen in person like Dave (K2ULF). Finally got home around 22:30, had dinner, hung out a bit, and around 00:30 saw an email about a possible problem at work. I headed back up to work and got there around 01:00, hung out with the guys who were observing remotely (connected from Princeton to a telescope at Apache Point, NM) and worked on a couple issues that were going on there, and ended up getting home around 04:00 after getting gas and taking my time — as well as calling out for anyone else who was awake on the repeaters at that hour. Nobody was. Talked with Bruce WA2ZST on my way in to work, he was chatting with someone else about roads and towns in South Jersey where I grew up and taking me back to my old stomping grounds. Pretty funny when you hear someone up here talking about Bridgeboro Road and how it cuts a straight line from Moorestown to 5-points in Beverly, and I know exactly where that is.

Anyway, since I was in so late and got home so early, I left an email saying I wouldn’t be in today, and I wasn’t. Woke up around 10:30 to someone banging around in the parking lot, and went back to sleep until Steph came home around 15:30 from her class. Realized what time it was so I got showerd and dressed right quick, loaded the bike onto the back of the truck and we headed out to Princeton to go to the N2ARC station at the American Red Cross on Alexander Road. Met up with Gerry (N2GJ) and a couple other folks I hadn’t really met before, we checked into a net that was taking place in Connecticut I think, and then Gerry showed us the station setup and the equipment. Was very nice, because I think this is the first time that someone’s shown me a station setup and actually made sure I knew what I was looking at and how to work it. Granted I already know how to work a 2m rig, and a bit about APRS and how it works, but to have someone show you how to change antennas and retune the radio is a lot nicer than pointing at a black box and saying, “That there’s a HF rig,” and that be the end of it. While I’m saying good things about him, let me point you to his website – n2gj.org. Check out his list of famous hams too!

After that, we headed over to Pep Boys and picked up a new lock for my hitch (so I wouldn’t have to keep putting the bike rack in the bed of the truck, or leave it hanging off of there for anyone to pull the hitch pin and walk away with it) and then shot up to Dick’s Sporting Goods for Steph to pick up her bike, and me to drop mine off. We got all the accessories we’d need for hers, and Jay looked over mine and said an overhaul was in order. Clean up the cables a bit, regrease things and make sure everything is in adjustment. Also I’m getting a kickstand and a new seat, the one I have on there currently is … well, not too kind to the posterior. Picked up a new water bottle for each of us too, an insulated one that will keep the cold stuff cold. Woo, flashbacks to an old McDonald’s commercial. She tried out the bike in the parking lot there and then later when we got home, and she likes it a lot. Originally was looking at road bikes (the old-style “10-speed” kind with the curved down handlebars and such) but ended up getting a “comfort bike”. Wider tires like a mountain bike, but less aggressive tread; shocks on the front fork and I think on the back as well; spring seat that’s a little wider also; and adjustable in multiple ways for making your ride more pleasurable but still able to go from the asphalt to a dirt road like the ones that parallel the D&R canal around here. All good.

After that we headed over to Town & Country for dinner, and what a dinner tonight! Usually I’m just happy with an order of chicken fingers and fries, but tonight we were both in the mood for a real dinner. Chicken fingers were the appetizer, then I had a sliced london broil with mushroom sauce (wasn’t bad, just brush off the vegetation) and baked potato(e), Steph had this seafood sampler platter that was huge. And everything came out in courses that were well spaced, I had time to let each part settle before the next plate came out. It wasn’t our normal cheap diner run, but it was definitely good. Hell, I’m still full from it all now, and that was a couple hours ago :>

Well, this oughta make up for not writing in awhile. Anniversary is tomorrow, and Steph is going to stay in her class until it’s over (summer course, only meets three times – she doesn’t want to cut out early, and I don’t blame her in the least) so we’ll have our nice dinner out this weekend. And, I talked with someone at Universal Radio this morning, I think my order is going out today or tomorrow. Meaning, with any luck, I’ll be able to get on the local repeaters from the apartment with the HT on a bigger and better antenna, instead of having to go out front on the HT or (as I have been doing) sit in the truck on the mobile rig. That’ll be kinda nice.

Feeling Like the Little Dutch Boy

Did a round of patching on systems over the last couple days. Hopefully that’ll stem the tide for a little bit at least. Looking forward to checking out the apt/yum repository features of Fedora and being able to have machines auto-update themselves at predetermined times. That would be very nice, something I’ve wanted for the last couple years but now I don’t have to write it myself.

Spent some time up at the club shack this past weekend, and started writing the shack manual. So far I’ve got some basics in there, but just want to expand on it a bit. For example, there’s a bunch of antennas there that I’m not even sure what they’re for, and some that I’m not sure if they work. There’s enough people involved with everything though, I should have no problem getting all the information I need.

Making this a short one, partially because I don’t have much on my mind, and partially so I can get started with the LDAP stuff I’ve been pushing aside for so long — seems like something else always comes up that requires immediate attention.

I’m Soooo Tired, I Haven’t Slept a Wink

Ahh, but my mind is always on the brink. At least that’s what I’m told.

So let’s see, what’s new in the world today [steps in front of large screen ala Dennis Miller]. I drove to the state EOC Monday evening, after finally finding the right entrance to the State Police HQ I made my way into the building. Watched Dennis (K2DCD), Glenn (N2RPM) and Bob (N2HX) run the various nets for the state, which connect the counties of NJ to the state EOC. Kinda neat, I’ve never been in a EMP shielded room before :>

Chatted with a few folks on my way in too, like Jenn (KC2MEI), Mark (N2KIV), Glenn, Bob, and Gary (K2GW). And if Jenn reads this and I should be spelling it with one ‘n’, let me know. Chatted with Glenn on the way home as well. The rest of the day was mostly uneventful.

Yesterday, we had to shutdown the beowulf cluster so the new air conditioner could be finished. See, when someone measured it for the room, they … well, must’ve been smoking something, because the plenum for the top was about 12″ too tall for the ceiling. So they had to make up a new plenum to bolt on to the top of the unit, and in the mean time we had a full sheet of plywood bolted up there on top of some struts, to keep the drop ceiling tiles from flying up into the air. Only nobody had planned the shutdown with us (you know, only the people who have to RUN the silly computers that are being kept cool by that air conditioner). Apparently last week someone came in and at one point said, “So it’s okay to turn this off now?” *sigh* That went pretty smooth, I had the cluster set to shut itself off at 10:00 and by 10:30 when they were ready to kill the A/C it was already quite chilly in the room. Once finished I powered everything on again and it’s been working like a champ. At some point I’ll have to get down there and adjust the vents on the unit now, to make sure the air is going in the directions I want it to go. But even without adjustment, it’s still keeping the room quite cool, which is good enough for me. Much better than the system we had up until a month ago, which mainly relied on a few fans, a wing and no hope of even a prayer.

Last night was the county ARES/RACES net, and it was quite short. I asked about any drills that might go on, and the answer was that there aren’t really any in the area, nor in the state. A little disappointing, but if it’s not deemed necessary I guess I don’t mind. A while after the net, Kip (KB2EGI) sent an email to the list with some information, including message passing “practice nets” that go on, the fact that they’d like to start one for the county, and that some of the municipalities also have RACES equipment in their own local EOCs that is largely untested because of a lack of operators. I mailed him back tonight about how I could hit anything between Princeton and Ewing, and apparently nobody has volunteered for Ewing yet. So I might be heading down the street for the next net (or some other predetermined time) to make sure the hardware is operational. Works for me, I could just about walk to the building from home.

Tonight was the DVRA club net, and I think it ran much smoother than last time (no offence to the previous net control station, but I prefer a “round-table” type net than a straight directed net where every station hands off to net control when they’re done — the latter tend to, in my opinion, not be as friendly for general conversation and chatter). Mick (W2YNO), Furman (N3OBY/MM), Gary, Pam (W1PAM) and Jill (K2JIL) were there, with Dave (KC2LCF) running the show. We passed it around a little, and it ended up being just Dave and I. Since we live so close together, we hopped off the repeater and picked a simplex frequency that was open and chatted for awhile after the net was officially closed, mostly about radios and possible plans to get together at the club station this weekend (Stephanie has a lot of work to get done for her classes, so I’ll be doing the nice thing and staying the hell out of her way :> ) All in all, the club net is, I think, a great idea for people to get together and just BS about whatever’s going on. Keeping it restricted to topics related to just the club is a good way to run out of topics, if you ask me, so just having it be a place for members and prospective members to jump in and talk about whatever seems like a good thing to do.

Along the lines of radios, I’m thinking one of two things for getting a station in the apartment. One is to get the antenna and power supply that I’ll need anyway, and then pick up a quick disconnect mount for the radio in the truck which I could then bring inside with me to use here. The other, a suggestion from Dave, is to just pick up an el-cheapo 2m rig since that’s most of what I’ll want to be able to do for now. I kinda like this idea, because I don’t have to move the radio from the truck every time I want to use it in the house, and .. well, he’s right, I’m not licensed on HF yet, so why worry about getting something that can receive it and all? 2m is where I’d want to talk most of the time, so if I get something that can handle that I’d be set for awhile. Plus, a 2m rig should be pretty cheap, compared to a dual band or more radio when I’d probably not use the other bands much anyway.

Oh well, just opened some windows and put a fan in the kitchen, apparently whatever Steph’s baking has a lot of sugar in it, and some got on the floor of the oven. No wonder my eyesight was getting foggy, it was the room. Oops :> Now that I’ve finished typing this, I see that Hump Day is over. Time to roll down the calendar and head towards the weekend. Sounds good to me, I don’t remember when the last time was that I had a chance to really relax and have some fun.

That’s more like it

Heh, been 10 days since a post. Guess I’m back to normal :>

So, what happened. Well, we had the break-in as mentioned, and I got it cleaned up pretty much by Monday night. Stayed home on Tuesday, and ended up taking Friday as well since with the interviews we’ve been doing I hadn’t had a chance to catch up on sleep yet.

Last weekend, on Saturday I met up with Dan Marlow (K2QM) at the club station and we diagnosed a problem with the antenna rotator on one of the towers. Seems the sweeping arm on the potentiometer which should send a signal back to the indicator (so you know where the antenna’s pointing without going outside with a compass) isn’t contacting the resistor. Okay, so we need to take the rotator down and crack it open. After a little demonstration of HF (15 meters, chatted with folks in Israel, Russia and Italy) we headed out. Sunday I met Dan at the station again, and he climbed the tower to get some measurements and such. We devised a plate we can use to hold the mast in place while we take the rotator out of the tower, and discussed some options. Seems he knows of someone who refurbishes these things, and will send out a refurbished unit to us (only one trip up the tower, swap it out and be done!) and then we send our unit back to him. Might be a better idea to do anyway, so that 1) there’s less trips up there required, 2) We have a working unit faster, and 3) We don’t fix ours, put it back up and two weeks later find something else wrong with it.

Tuesday found me limping Stephanie’s car up to my folks place to do a brake job. Should’ve only been a 4-6 hour operation, including breaks and goofing off, but turned instead into an 8 hour ordeal which was mostly spent trying to get the damned rotors off the hubs. They’d rusted and siezed onto the hub, and I ended up using liberal amounts of WD40 and a gear puller (!) to get them off, when everyone I consulted agreed that “once the caliper is out of the way, them things oughta just slide right off the hub.” Riiiight.

On Wednesday we had our first (at least in recent history) DVRA club net, which went well. Only a few stations checked in, and I’m not too sure about the idea. It’s a great idea to get people on the repeater, but I have a feeling that a “directed net” isn’t the way to go to foster any kind of ragchew. Maybe it’s just because I’ve listened to the PepperNet so much (which is done “in the round”) so I’m more used to that kind of thing, but I see a directed net as more useful for traffic handling, emergency communications, etc… not quite so much for “So, what’d you do today?” Perhaps I’ll bring that up either at the next net, or meeting (or on the email list).

This Saturday is the March of Dimes walk in Mercer County Park, I’ll be one of the operators there. Kinda sucks that I have to be there by 0730, but I’ll get to sleep in on Sunday all I want just about (plus our evening plans for Saturday got cancelled, so I can always nap in the afternoon – You’re never too old for a midday nap :> ). Sunday my in-laws are coming up for dinner, I don’t remember now what we’re having. Just that my bid went in for BBQ ribs :>

Monday will be the state ARES/RACES net, and this time I’m probably going to head to the NJ State EOC (located at the state police HQ on the other side of town from me). I figure once I’ve checked each of the various EOCs in the area, then either I can float between them every month or pick one and stick there, depending on how things go. So next month will be the Red Cross right in Princeton (meaning I stay at work late instead of going home before the net). Then Tuesday night is the county ARES/RACES net on the local repeater, which I can throw my callsign in on the HT from out front, unless I want to say more than hello.

Good enough for now I guess. Waiting for a RAID to rebuild, and looking around for what else I can get into on a Friday afternoon.