31st October

Fun and games with Remote Desktop, today, Microsoft's latest incarnation of the venerable Terminal Services system. We've always used pcAnywhere for dialup support of the salesmen's laptops in the past, but as the sales force swells the licensing costs have swelled to match, and when I described Remote Desktop in a recent management briefing document on XP and .Net they seemed to fasten onto the idea like remora onto a shark. Unfortunately I didn't have the facilities to actually test it at the time, but a fairly thorough scan over the popular tech support boards showed that it was widely used and without any problems that didn't stem from basic user idiocy...

I did test it after I completed the "model build" of the first sales laptop for the desktop team to image and distribute, giving my new .Net RC1 server its first workout at the same time, and it seemed to be fine - possibly even a touch faster than VNC over the LAN, and although I didn't like the way that it logs out the remote user, it certainly seemed useable. After a few weeks, though, I started hearing rumours of problems, and as the new laptops proliferated the rumours turned into outright bitching - in the end, the desktop team even resorted to sneakily installing pcAnywhere into the standard build when I wasn't looking, which caused various spin-off problems to further confuse the issue.

I was baffled, as although on my systems I could hardly make it fail, on the desktop support PCs they could hardly make it work! The problem achieved critical mass yesterday, though, and after a word from my manager I spent most of today successfully connecting to a poor, hapless laptop under widely differing conditions - although all the tests by a member of the desktop team still disconnected the dialup connection. At the end of the day I still don't understand the cause, but I think I've at least isolated a pattern - connecting to the XP Pro client from a .Net server is fine, as is connecting from Win2000 and Win98 systems... but the desktop team are using XP Pro themselves, and that combination seems to hang up the remote system's dialup connection just as it initiates the Remote Desktop connection. I really can't imagine why - so until I get a clue I stuffed Win 2000 onto a spare mini-server to keep them going, as blood pressures were rising visibly... Odd stuff.

30th October

Work... <groans> I don't want to talk about it...

Here's something more interesting - another milestone towards the development of a fully-immersive interface. Teams working in England and the US have succeeded in transmitting sensations over the Internet, with two scientists working together to "pick up" a computer-generated cube.

"The experiment went very well," said Joel Jordan, part of a team of scientists at University College London (UCL) which has teamed up with colleague at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to conduct the experiment. "You can actually feel the object being pushed against your hand," he told Reuters. "We can feel each others' forces... You can feel how rough something is, or how springy the side of the cube is, you can hit each other hard enough to leave little bruises."

The killer app for this technology, when its derivatives finally arrive at the consumer market, is extremely obvious...

Elsewhere, here's another spam-baiter, conversing at length with one of the prevalent Nigerian Fee email scammers. It's inventive stuff, and worth reading through to the outrageous conclusion...

28th October

Network Associates have finally released a new version of their Thin Client corporate anti-virus software, bringing the first updates and bug-fixes since the product was released over two years ago. Their strategy for the TC has been extremely confusing, unfortunately - when we first installed the ePolicy Orchestrator antivirus management system we were assured that the TC was absolutely the bee's knees for use with ePO and we'd be stark, staring mad to even consider using anything else for desktop protection... and then they clammed-up for a long, long time, completely ignoring the lightweight client in favour of their feature-rich VirusScan 4.5 series - which spawned service packs, hotfixes, updates and finally WinXP support while the TC languished alone and unloved. They finally broke the silence a few weeks ago, though, when a representative of the company mentioned to my manager that the TC had only been written at the insistence of one of their enterprise customers (my guess is British Airways, a notorious early-adopter of the ePO) and that it would not be much longer for this world... This was annoying, but it wouldn't have been too awkward to replace it with VScan 4.5.1 and having a single client for all the company's systems was certainly appealing. An abrupt reverse emerged today, though, along with the 6.1 version of the Thin Client - several documented bug-fixes and, at last, support for WinXP even if not .Net Server... So I stuffed it into the software repository and sent it out to a small, carefully-selected group of test systems for a couple of weeks of holding it up to the light and frowning at it...

Unfortunately, I did something wrong - I think the directory inheritance was enabled by default, for a change, and before I even realised what was going on the management server had upgraded forty-eight client PCs and was busily working on the rest... Unfortunately, again, I hadn't configured the installer properties at that stage and the auto-reboot-on-completion feature was enabled - so users suddenly found their PCs shutting down in front of their eyes and a moment later all the phones on the helpdesk started ringing at once... I was mortified about this, of course, as it was a truly butt-stupid thing to have done - but my PFY thought it was hilarious when I told him: "So, you are human after all!" Well, I probably make many more mistakes than he realises, as there are definite advantages to being a sysadmin when it comes to covering one's tracks and snowing any affected users with techno-babble - but these abuses of power only go so far, and I've yet to learn any way of concealing five hundred PCs rebooting spontaneously...

There will be a fair bit of checking and tidying to be done tomorrow, as in my subsequent hurry to nail down the new version's configuration I simplified the directory by uninstalling the old version - forgetting that the various system-wide tasks running on the server itself were keyed to the software performing them and so would disappear along with it. Fortunately I've built an ePO installation from the ground up four or five times, now, and the details came back to me quickly enough - although the proof of the pudding will come tomorrow morning when I see if it performed all of its overnight update tasks properly. <crossing fingers>

26th October

I found an interesting little chain of information, last night. A link at NT Compatible took me to an article on current hacking threats, and a little research on the scary intrusion tools mentioned there took me to the homepage of security guru Dan Kaminsky. Among the articles there is a quick review of Passfaces, a method of authenticating a login by recognising a series of faces chosen in advance as a form of password. I participated in a online trial of this technology last year, and now it seems to have been released as a commercial authentication system. As a network sysadmin, I'm always interested in alternative authentication methods and my own experience shows that the Passfaces concept is certainly a valid one - unlike the current state of fingerprint recognition technology, which can often be compromised using nothing more exotic than a jelly sweet...

Elsewhere, CD Baby is a web-based independent record label with a catalogue of over 26,000 artists and groups - including such gems as Rondellus, a Lithuanian band who play covers of Black Sabbath songs, sung in Latin and played on medieval instruments...  "Can you imagine what Black Sabbath would have sounded like if Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward would have formed the band in the 14th century?"  Hmmm. Fortunately I don't have to strain my imagination too far, as CD Baby provides copious samples in RealAudio format. It's... uh... different.

China is rapidly becoming a significant manufacturer of PC go-faster accessories (all my rounded IDE drive cables are from Akasa, for example), and Directron have just published some photos of new products taken at recent trade shows in the Pacific Rim. Four pages of sleek, shiny things to look out for in the spring...

25th October

Much too late for Weasel Day on the 22nd, I know, but here's Scott Adams' Fun With Weasels, a promotion for his new Dilbert book. <smiles> That name always makes me think of Deep Throat 2, now...

I found out today that the fans for the new servers hadn't even been ordered, yet, so I threw caution to the winds and made the most of what appeared to be a relatively quiet afternoon to rearrange the five PCs in my little corner of the office... And once they were all in a heap on the floor, of course all hell broke loose on the network. I managed to cope with the problems while simultaneously installing the new servers, and finished up with just enough time to wash my hands before making a grateful exit for the weekend. I'd like to say that it will be free from malfunctioning computers, but somehow it doesn't seem very likely...

24th October

Ah, now that's more like it! Everything has been smooth, peaceful and quiet today, so I spent the whole day flat-out finishing one of the new servers while I had the opportunity. As soon as the fans arrive (a pair of basic 92mm Akasas for each server - front/low and back/high in the textbook layout) I'll throw both boxes under my desk and with the W2K system to handle the day-to-day chores I can build the .Net system in my copious free time. I smiled sweetly at the desktop guys, too, and they've promised me a matched set of black keyboards, mice and 17" monitors from the latest shipment of Dell workstations. Cosmetics are a significant feature in corporate IT, these days, it seems!

I've just finished Chapter House Dune, the final volume of Frank Herbert's original series. I didn't find the last few books nearly as dire as some have implied, and while they're a very different animal from the earlier novels they've definitely been an interesting and thought-provoking read. Somewhat to my surprise (I'm always very slow to realise these things) the series turns out to be a political treatise, comparing and contrasting forms of government and the types of personalities that they create among both governors and governed. I found the end of Chapter House to be rather anti-climatic, though - Herbert spent many thousand pages creating the apocalyptic confrontation between Bene Gesserit and Honoured Matres, and then it all seemed to fizzle out, leaving me mulling over his final thoughts on invasion and conquest... The subjugated always prevail, in the long run at least, assimilating or merging with the conquerors to form a hybrid - and it is because of this mingling of cultures and societies that civilization flourishes.

Taken together with the more recent addition of son Brian Herbert's collaborations with Kevin Anderson, the Dune series now forms a massive and complex body of work - and is highly recommended, here. I shall start on their lengthy Butlerian Jihad prequel soon, travelling from one end of the Dune timeline to the other, and I'm expecting to enjoy the journey.

23rd October

A disturbing start to the day, as the computer room air conditioning failed sometime overnight and the place was like an oven when I opened the door... We've had problems with the aircon in the UPS room, but this is the first time that the primary unit has died and, with some of the servers' internal temperatures as high as 50 this morning I very much hope that it's the last. Most of the morning was spent opening (and later closing again) all the cabinets, chassis panels, access bays, windows, etc, and in carrying portable fans up and down from the main office. The afternoon was spent in a fruitless wait for the aircon engineer, but at least I managed to use the otherwise dead time to make a little more progress on my new workstations. What a day...

Otway's hit, Bunsen Burner, is still hanging onto the charts by its fingernails - number 43, this third week, and I reckon he might survive one more week in the top 100 before obscurity claims him again. Not bad!

22nd October

I have new servers to play with, this week - weeee! My manager returned from leave and decided that the two matched servers we inherited last week are indeed surplus to requirements - and as the desktop team have been nagging me to replace my workstations (a pair of aging Dell PIIs and the only surviving Gateway mini-tower in the company) for months, he decided that I should have them.

I was quite taken with the idea, as they're certainly a very respectable spec for management workstations - 50Gb of SCSI-3 RAID5, a DDS4 tape drive, 512Mb RAM and a 1GHz PIII with room for a second - and best of all they're an exactly matched pair! I flirted with the idea of clustering them just for fun, but in the end I've decided to install one with 2000 Server and the other with .Net RC1, dividing the management tools between them to see just what I'm letting myself in for next year with a mixed network...

I won't tailor them too much, though, as in an emergency they could easily be put to use helping to run the LAN. My previous disaster-recovery strategy involved pressing a couple of my home systems into use, but in the event of a fire or flood localised to the server-room these new systems could easily be tweaked to provide DNS and DHCP services, host the Active Directory, or provide file and print services. I'm somewhat relieved, as there is still no sign of a formal DR contract and I don't think my colleagues are quite ready for INFINITY2...

They do need a few more fans, though - they were built for a temperature-controlled environment, and life under my desk in the main office is going to be too harsh for the single 80mm PSU fan to endure. The full tower case has all the usual fan attachment points, though, so I'll pick up some basic Sunons or something from CPC and add some more CFM.    <grunt> More power!

21st October

This is worth a look: a wide selection of American music from the 1920s to the 1960s, burned onto compilation CDs for 2$ per track plus shipping. Possibly a touch expensive for more the contemporary music, especially when compared to the sadly-defunct CD Now, but probably an excellent way of acquiring a taste of the older and less usual - I wouldn't mind a disc or two of the 30s big bands, I think.

20th October

Rules for connecting IDE devices using 80 wire UDMA cables:

The blue end connector must be at the host adaptor
The grey middle connector must hold a slave device or be empty
The black end connector must hold a master device

And these are not just guidelines - if you do it differently, be prepared for odd and aberrant behaviour - drive activity LEDs permanently on, strange freezes during removable device operations, and sub-optimal transfer rates right across the IDE subsystem. And I know, as I've just cured all these symptoms by correcting my earlier mistakes - so you have been warned...

I've spent most of today performing open heart surgery on INFINITY2 - replacing the DigiDoc, swapping some tape and CD devices around as above, and sleeving and tidying the last few wires. The inside of the case still looks rather busy, but I guess there are so many devices etc to connect that it's never going to be possible to hide all the wiring away out of sight.

I'm pleased with what I did today, however, and have now declared Phase I of the project officially complete. Phase II, tentatively scheduled for the spring, will include adding an extra pair of lights and upgrading the RAID subsystem. I've chosen the likely hardware for the latter (a Promise FastTrak SX4000 controller coupled to four Western Digital WD1000JB disks), and in another few months it's likely to be a little more affordable.

19th October

Newly-defined weights and measures, from a list that was circulating recently:

2000 mockingbirds:   Two kilomockingbirds
1000 cubic centimeters of wet socks:   1 literhosen
2 monograms:   1 diagram
1 kilogram of falling figs:   1 Fig Newton
Weight an evangelist carries with God:   1Billygram
1000 aches:   1 kilohurtz
100 rations: 1 C-ration
1 trillion pins:   1 terrapin
16.5 feet in the Twilight Zone:   1 Rod Serling

I was searching for wallpaper in an odd moment, last night, and came across the home page of Infinitee Designs - they have a whole raft of freely downloadable SF and fantasy wallpaper, predefined Photoshop actions, Bryce models and scenes, and for those with an artistic bent it's worth a browse around to see if anything appeals.

18th October

If I get any more deliveries at work I'll start thinking that christmas has come early... Today's was a new multi-slot mailbox for the PowerVault tape library - not the six slot unit I'd been expecting but instead a twelve slot monster! I'm not sure if it was ordered in error or delivered in error, but either way it's firmly bolted to the library now and is not coming off again.

BackupExec didn't take very kindly to having eighteen new slots to keep track of, though, especially as the new set started at 1, renumbering all the existing ones accordingly up to the original maximum and so vanishing half of my backup tapes... As I write this I'm dialled in from home waiting for the server to reboot after a device driver refresh, and hopefully then it will re-enumerate the slots and discover my tapes again.

This particular server is the company's main working file store (around 140Gb) as well as being the backup server, as it's always made sense to me to keep the backup local to the greatest bulk of data - but one of the drawbacks of this approach is that it has an unusual number of SCSI and fibre channel interfaces. Waiting at home watching the PING -T trace while it reboots can be a nail-biting experience, with a lot of "Request timed out" responses scrolling up the screen while it's scanning it's various busses and loading it's various BIOSs...

It was a routine restart today, though, and successfully fixed the problem - the new slots were properly recognised and inventoried and all appeas stable and settled... with three minutes to spare before the beginning of tonight's scheduled backup window - the jobs would have started as soon as the server did, anyway, but it's a matter of pride. :-)

No rest for the wicked this weekend, though, with a DigiDoc to swap out and the mysterious drive LED to debug - and while I'm in there I might as well finish the last oddments of cable-tidying so that I can "officially" complete Phase I. Busy busy...

17th October

"I'm so positive, you're so negative
that must mean I'm attractive to you"

 - John Otway, who is a chemist, you know...

A day of many deliveries, with the new fire safe and a pair of servers "donated" by a company we've just acquired arriving almost simultaneously. The safe is huge and capacious, and the servers similar - they're from some no-name box-shifter, but built with good, industry-standard components throughout - Intel ServerWorks dual PIII motherboard, Adaptec SCSI RAID with four 18Gb Seagate LVD disks, a DDS4 DAT tape drive... nice stuff, all mounted neatly in an Addtronics full tower case (very similar to INFINITY's old clothes) and running Windows 2000 Server. What we didn't have, though, was the admin password, and so my PFY and I ended up in a race - he was trying to resurrect the dead company's tech support team on the phone while I was trying to hack my way in.   :-)

I went straight for Petter Nordahl-Hagen's marvellous NT password and registry editor, recently updated with many more SCSI drivers, but I was still puzzling over the I20 RAID channels when he managed to retrieve the password via traditional social engineering methods about twenty minutes later... But I think I was almost there, having just succeeded in mounting the system partition but still unable to discover exactly where Windows was installed and so unable to open the SAM. One of the standard Windows security tips is to install to a differently named directory, and I can really see now how that can help in sufficiently adverse circumstances - a hacker would probably still be stood in front of that server, trying endless possibilities: \Win2K? \Windows2000? \Win2000? \William? It's obviously an extremely useful last-ditch measure for at least slowing down unauthorised access even when physical security has been completely compromised.

16th October

A touch of DIY this evening, modifying the cable management arm from the new Dell server to accommodate the KVM interface module. These are matchbox-sized pods connecting to the VGA port, with flying leads for keyboard and mouse, and on these particular servers it prevents the cable arm from folding up completely - which, in turn, prevents the cabinet's rear door from closing properly. The solution was fairly obvious, though - throw the warranty to the winds and remove a carefully-measured section of the U-shaped tray to leave adequate clearance for both the KVM pod and it's attached CAT5 data cable:


 I reached for the Dremel, initially, but even the reinforced cutting disks were making little impression on the steel and in the end a hacksaw turned out to be a better tool for the job, with the Dremel to smooth away the sharp edges. One touch of black paint later, and even a Dell engineer would think it kosher..

15th October

Back at work to discover that a new server had arrived for the intranet upgrade, together with a freebie - a full-height Dell cabinet that I suddenly had to find a home for in an already over-crowded computer room. I think we'll have to migrate the PABX out into the car-park if this goes on...

Also due for delivery is a third fire safe for the overflow of LTO tapes, which will necessitate stacking the existing, smaller pair on top of each other... Each weighs 108 kg, so I've rounded up my PFY and a pair of the desktop support guys and we'll have a stab at it tomorrow morning - hopefully before the new one arrives, as the delivery drivers are usually rather short on patience and at 265kg it's pretty much going to have to stay wherever it's put.

14th October

A Lego harpsichord? Clever, but see previous note about hands and too much time...

NASA's Human Spaceflight pages have some nice images and animations of the evolution of the International Space Station, updated after this week's construction mission installed a new section of the 110m Truss Structure that will support the solar panels and cooling radiators. Look in the sidebar under "Station Imagery" and, especially, "Interactive"...

I took a day of spontaneous holiday, today, and have been fiddling with the new VXA-1 tape drive. I get around 180Mb/min from the local disk and around 140Mb/min over the network for write operations, slightly slower for reads - all in all, about ten gigabytes per hour, which is very respectable from a tape drive at the sub-500 price point... I'd have to spend in excess of 2000 to significantly increase either performance or capacity.

What I don't get, however, is any significant hardware compression - Backup Exec reports that it is in use, but if so it isn't having any effect, and the PC also experiences strange pauses during tape mounts and rewinds when hardware compression is enabled. Enabling software compression instead gives my customary 1.2:1 - 1.6:1 ratio depending on data, a slightly higher write speed, and the pauses aren't nearly so obtrusive. I had the pausing problem with the Seagate Travan drive in certain configurations, too, and suspect that it's an issue with the ATAPI interface both drives use stalling a driver originally designed to cope with SCSI operations - I'm trying to work out how to separate the tape drive onto it's own IDE channel, but that will involve moving a disk volume from the onboard controller to the Promise RAID card and that leads me into thinking of upgrading the RAID subsystem again... It's a vicious circle.

I've also discovered that the PC is the source of some rather annoying television interference on two of the five broadcast channels. I'd wondered about the effect of the side windows on EMI, and this confirms it - so I'll either have to live with it it, or find some way of screening the windows with fine mesh. Ho hum.

I noticed that the orange backlight on the DigiDoc fan controller was flickering a little yesterday, and so I wasn't surprised to find it completely dead when I got up this morning. This could have been problematic, as it's an integral part of my PC, but Kustom immediately offered to send a replacement up-front together with a postage-paid label for me to send back the faulty unit - in spite of being in the middle of moving their office this week! Their customer service is faultless, really, and in strong contrast to one of their slightly larger UK competitors, who sent me the wrong cable three times in a row without apology or any offer of refunding the postage. I won't be shopping there again, especially with Kustom expanding their product range weekly... on the web, it's easier than ever to vote with your feet.

13th October

"Prediction is very difficult - especially about the future" - Niels Bohr.

Bunsen Burner has slipped down the charts to number 23. It will be interesting to see what happens next week, after last Friday's airtime on Top Of The Pops.

12th October

Randomly-generated product ideas from The Surrealist's Prior-Art-O-Matic - try your name, then check out their other randomnesses.

Elsewhere, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zaid al-Nahayan, a government minister in the of the United Arab Emirates, has spoken out in criticism of the all-pervasive Internet censorship imposed by his own department of Information and Culture.

"Knowledge is the right of the citizen before it is the right of the government to prevent the citizen from the means of acquiring knowledge," he told an information and communications conference in Dubai, one of the emirates in the UAE.

An interesting and surprising viewpoint, certainly, and rather reminiscent of James Ferman's stance in his final years at the BBFC. I have the feeling that Sheikh Abullah's eventual fate may well be similar to Ferman's, too...

11th October

Sonny Barger, as I live and breathe! The legendry Hell's Angel's founder and spokesman is in London, this week, visiting with the UK Angels - he's 64 now, but still looks lean and mean enough to carry it off. Surprisingly, though, I hadn't heard that his larynx was removed during cancer surgery 20 years ago - I guess he speaks with one of those buzzers, now, and somehow I just can't see that restoring order in an over-heated Angels clubhouse...

An odd decision on the part of tape drive manufacturer Exabyte, now amalgamated with Ecrix - the manufacturer of my new VXA. They have decided that offering tech support by email is not "effective", and so now are offering only telephone support - and it's not even a free-phone number in the UK! I'm really ticked off about that, as from my point of view telephone support is massively less convenient and more time consuming. When I raise a call by email, I can include all the diagnostic logs, firmware revisions, operating system details etc etc and it's all there at their fingertips if they need it - that simply can't be replicated over the phone, and it's going to be a whole bunch more fuss if other manufacturers adopt the same policy. I'm especially ticked off that they've done this right now, though, as since I installed the new tape drive one of my disk activity LEDs has been on permanently and I really wanted to ask them about it.

For various reasons I've just spent a while researching the history of the famous folk ballad Matty Groves. The modern version of the song, a standard for Fairport Convention and others for many years now, seems to be a composite of several earlier American versions of the song. The original English version, documented by Child as Ballad #81, was entitled "Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard", but actually seems more similar to Joan Baez's rendition than anything I've heard by contemporary English bands. It's interesting to see how the name "Barnard" has evolved over the years, too - far more common these days are Darnell, Arlen, Arnold and Donald... the word has so obviously been misheard en route and I can't think of anything that illustrates so clearly the oral tradition of folk songs. Marvellous...

Oh, and just for the completist - here is Matty Groves translated by Babelfish from English to German and then back again. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: some people have far too much time on their hands.

10th October

I've been waiting for a fresh batch of LTO backup tapes, at work, and they finally arrived this morning. Half my life seems to have revolved around backup and data safety, recently - I'm still tweaking the jukebox and software at the office, and shaking down the new VXA tape drive at home whilst idly thinking about new RAID arrays... Sometimes I wonder if having reliable, complete data backups isn't more important even than the stability and performance of the servers hosting the data.

So, the morning was spent unpeeling a crate of LTO tapes from their nested layers of cellophane, sticking their barcode labels on and stuffing them all into the library's copious slots - and I'm still unable to decide if I should persevere with the current media set-based rotation strategy or switch to a slot-based one. There are compelling advantages to each with respect to ease of management, and I can't predict which will be best in the long run... Gah!

9th October

The new Ecrix VXA-1 tape drive finally arrived a few days ago, and I stuffed it into the case last night. I use the word "stuffed" advisedly, as my PC is now pretty much full... all the 5" bays, all the PCI slots (even the one shared with the AGP card - hah!) all the DIMM sockets, and all the IDE channels. Well, I could hang another pair of drives from the Promise RAID controller, but only in a 0+1 configuration and so probably not worth the effort. I may upgrade to their current RAID-5 hardware * at some point, but that would be a fairly major project and I really feel that I should take a break from it all for a while.  I have to do something about finishing off the internal cabling, though - nearly all of them are neatly braided or wrapped, but they're still in a dreadful mess and shoving everything this-way-and-that to install the tape drive has not helped.

The drive installed painlessly enough, although a silly error early on allowed me to test my theory that under many circumstances it doesn't actually matter which way around you install high-speed IDE cables. I was wrong, it seems, at least for my configuration of devices, and had to open everything up again to turn it around... It's very quiet in use, which I like, but it's taking me a while to get used to the traditional green LEDs in the front panel. Hmmm...

The first test, with the native Windows drivers and backup app, was faultless and at 2.7 MB/sec the drive seems to be running at close to the theoretical maximum. Backup Exec recognised the drive readily enough, in spite of the lack of documented compatibility for this particular flavour of VXA, but although the basics are working well I seem to be having a problem with data compression. The drive supports it in hardware, and Backup Exec reports that it is enabled and in use, but my full-tape test bombed out at a little less than the stated capacity of 33Gb. I know that my data set is compressible, as BE managed software compression at around 1.6:1 with the Travan drive, so this certainly needs investigating.

(*) Promise's new baby looks pretty slick, actually - four independent channels each supporting an ATA/133 drive, capable of RAID 5 (with parity calculated in hardware) as well as the usual mirroring and spanning, and up to 256Mb of SDRAM cache to put the icing on the cake. It seems to be around 110 right now, which seems extremely reasonable - with four of Western Digital's exceptional WD2000JB drives, you could bring 600Gb of safe, high-speed storage online for less than a grand...

8th October

Happy birthday Otway! "Bunsen Burner" went straight into the charts at number nine, which far exceeded anyone's expectations, and buoyed-up by that last night's gig was extremely well-received. Otway was exuberant, of course, but looked tired - his schedule over the last few weeks must have been punishing even for a veteran club player, from what I've read on the Otway mailing list - television interviews, book and CD signings at various record shops around the country, promotional spots at radio stations and newspapers, and generally plugging himself and pressing the flesh. So there weren't quite as many guitar-playing somersaults, the trademarked leap from a tall step-ladder wasn't as death-defying as I remembered, the microphone head-butts somewhat more subdued... Of course, I mustn't forget that he's fifty - when I last saw him, at college, he was a mere stripling of thirty-four and younger than I am now!

The music was outstanding, though, and with the benefit of an excellent sound-mix - loud without being deafening, foot-stompingly bassy without muffling the wailing guitars - I haven't heard music in the London Palladium before, but from the stalls the acoustics were certainly pleasing.

The first half of the gig was something of a motley. After enthusing with the audience for a while, Otway plunged into a handful of his classics, ably supported by his current group The Big Band - with a full drum kit and a pair of guitars, they certainly bring a fatter feel to the old favourites than his traditional journeyman guitarists ever managed in the nineties. As usual, Otway didn't restrict himself to conventional musical instruments - an old faithful, synth-drum pads in his trouser pockets, was as delicious as ever, and his more recent addition, a slick modern Theramin (a birthday present from fans a couple of years ago) has all the hallmarks of being a worthy addition - for a performer who flails and thrashes his limbs as much as Otway, the Theramin is a perfect instrument...

I'd been hoping that Wild Willy Barrett could be persuaded to share a stage with The Aylesbury Madman again, and wasn't disappointed... he's older, and fatter, and grey-haired, and somehow looks even shorter next to the gangling Otway than he used to - but he still plays fiddle as if he's trying to saw it in half, bunches of severed strands flapping from the ends of his bow... They really tore into the old tracks, and it was great to see him again... Next Barrett played a few songs with his new band, Sleeping Dogz - a pleasing folk-punk fusion that certainly bears keeping an eye on.

Then, as the stage was being cleared, the pair fell right back into their old routine from the early eighties - standing together at the microphone with Barrett's arm draped around around Otway's neck, battering his forehead into the microphone whenever it seemed funny... Ah, nostalgia... I was sorry that they didn't play more together, and had especially hoped for Racing Cars, a firm favoutite - but Otway And Barrett as a duo will always be the "real" line up, in my heart.

I've noticed peripherally that Dr Feelgood are still active and touring in spite of the death of cornerstone Lee Brilleaux, but I wasn't expecting to see one of their guitarists filling out Otway's Big Band line-up on keyboards before their own set. I've never been especially fond of The Feelgoods, as it happens, but the three or four tracks they delivered on Sunday night were great R&B, and fitted in just right. The other Big Band members seem to play elsewhere on a more regular basis - accomplished lead guitarist Richard Holgarth fronts heavy-rock band We-Evil, drummer Adam Batterbee and guitarist Murray Torkildsen play with The Sweeney... Perhaps Otway's pace is still too hectic for the youth of today to cope with full-time, but from their solo spots they are clearly all talented musicians.

The second half of the gig was pure Otway - a generous handful of unfamiliar songs, as he's obviously still writing, but mostly the old standards and bastardised covers... The audience had a ball, as did a very tired-looking Otway - there were smiles all-round on stage, and as the finale the entire ensemble of musicians, singers and oddments (about forty in all, I'd say - it was a crowded night!) demonstrated a disco routine specially choreographed to match the old Disco Inferno riff that Bunsen Burner is set to.

Unfortunately there won't be an official video of the gig, as The Palladium apparently wanted too much money for the rights - but I live in hope of a bootleg, and there are some excellent unofficial photos of the evening here. And, of course, as a genuine chart sensation Otway will be performing "The Hit" on Top Of The Pops this Thursday. Hah!

6th October

So, it's John Otway's 50th Birthday Anniversary Gig, tonight - the new hit, "Bunsen Burner", has been in the shops for a week and is apparently selling well... It's been twenty-five years since his last chart success, Cor, Baby, that's Really Free, and it would be so sweet if this afternoon's chart shows that his army of loyal fans has provided a second hit to celebrate. Crossing fingers!

5th October

I've just read an interesting and detailed review of the new consumer Linux distribution, Lindows. Based on the Debian build, it's been heavily customised to be approachable and unthreatening for end users, and although according to the reviewer it's certainly not perfect in this first release, it's certainly worth investigating if one fancies a change from Windows. Interestingly, having checked back on it's ideological predecessor, Armed Linux, it appears that it has been quietly bought by Lindows Inc at some point - so it's not only Microsoft that sneakily gobbles up the competition, then?

I discovered a picture that I'd overlooked, last night, so updated the last page of the INFINITY2 article with a gratuitous image of a pair of beautiful, shiny CPUs. Enjoy...

4th October

A new version of Cache Sentry has been released, and it will be interesting to see if it works any better than the last one. It's a little utility to manage Internet Explorer's recently-viewed pages cache, and as well as managing the cache size rather better than IE itself, it fixes several bugs which can cause wildly aberrant browsing behaviour.

IE's entire cache subsystem seems to have been slightly broken since version three (as I recall the first release to use more of Microsoft's new code than of the original Spyglass Mosaic) and unfortunately it seems to be getting worse rather than better. The problem commonly manifests itself by triggering a reload of web pages from the net even when they really ought to have been loaded from the cache - in extreme cases even clicking the "Back" button will cause a fresh download, which is extremely annoying over dialup! Predictably, it also plays havoc with any attempts (especially under Win9x) to synchronise pages for offline viewing, as some or all of the cached content can spontaneously disappear.

A reboot will often cure the symptoms of the browsing issue, as will clearing the cache through IE (in more seriously damaged systems deleting the entire cache manually to force a rebuild of the INDEX.DAT file, afterwards) but I've come across several PCs which had endless problems with all things cache-related.

The "Random Deletion" bug has it's origins all the way back in IE3 - rather than picking the oldest or least-frequently files used to delete when the cache starts to become full, the manager apparently throws out anything that catches its eye. It's not quite random, apparently, but certainly appears so.

The "Stray File" bug is less annoying in use, but harder to detect and correct before it fills up your system partition... If a page transfer is aborted in mid download, under some circumstances the images and objects already downloaded are not recognised by the cache manager and just sit forlornly in the Temporary Internet Files folder - they're never deleted, even by a forced purge of the cache, and if left unchecked will accumulate for years.

The latest release of Cache Sentry also claims to fix a third bug - apparently the cache manager sometimes fails to calculate the total size of the locally-stored files correctly, which can also lead to early or unexpected deletions of cached content. I'm hoping that this fix will help the most problematic system I came across - it certainly sounds plausible, and the new cookie management feature might be worth investigating too.

3rd October

I finally decided to upgrade to Internet Explorer 6, only to find soon afterwards that the SP1 version was released a few weeks ago, so I'm writing this between reboots... The cookie management stuff looks quite promising, and I took the opportunity to throw caution to the winds and delete the lot of 'em to start with a clean slate.

It was a bitch of a day, though - virus scares, a glitch in remote email connectivity, a surprise printer engineer, a panic over the Windows XP disk image we're designing for roll-out next week, my PFY still on holiday and my manager seriously distracted by his pregnant wife's imminent delivery... and to top it all off I was playing with a wonderful new server monitoring tool that ended up crashing the main server in the middle of the day.   :-(

I wonder if I'm still young enough to cross-train into another career... brick-laying, perhaps...

2nd October

I've more-or-less completed the INFINITY2 pages, now. I'll probably add some more links to the text, but it's enough for now. Phew!

I had a spare moment at work today, and having a head-full of Active Directory and Windows XP I upgraded one of my spare Windows 2000 servers to the recent .Net Release Candidate 1. It was a fairly painless process, and as it apparently didn't feel the need to enable most of the new interface, I'm left with a fully working development server with a handful of interesting new gimmicks. The only application compatibility issue so far, an unpatched version of MSDE, was clearly diagnosed, cleanly trapped by the OS and easily fixed by the latest SQL Server update. Bonza!

I gather that Microsoft's own public web servers are already running under .Net RC1, and the smart money seems to think that it's well on track for an end-of-year release. This coincides pretty well with my plan to install it on all our servers in Q1/Q2, and I'm cautiously starting to get a good feeling about this...

1st October

Nothing to see here... move along, move along...






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