If I ran Kodak…

(Disclaimer: I’m working at Kodak, but not with anything to do with Picture Kiosks. I’m not privy to any discussion of new technology or upcoming enhancements to the Kiosks.)

If I ran Kodak, I’d connect all those Picture Kiosks up to the internet with cheap DSL. Then, after you’d uploaded your pictures to OFoto (sorry – “Easy Share Gallery”, I think), you could say “Print this picture to the nearest Kiosk”, and it would tell you where the Kiosk was (and give the option to choose a different Kiosk if that one wasn’t good for you) and give you a PIN. You’d go to that Kiosk and enter your PIN, and out would come the pictures you’d sent to it. Much handier than having them mailed to you, or having to go to certain participating stores.

Is it time for a new server yet?

I’ve had my Linux server for several years now. I don’t remember exactly when I got it, but according to the time stamps on the picture gallery from when I did it, it’s been about 2.5 years since I improved the cooling with monster copper heat sinks (1 pound on each CPU). In my experience, a heavily used server like this isn’t good for more than about 3 years before it starts getting flakey. But so far it’s been solid as a rock. Since improving the cooling (and stopping running SETI@Home, unfortunately), I can’t think of a single time when it froze up or rebooted spontaneously.

So I’m thinking that although I don’t need to rush out and buy a replacement, I should at least start thinking of what to replace it with. And here’s the problem – computers have become way more powerful and fast since then. This computer was pretty fast for its day, and I could easily get CPUs that run 3 or more times the speed, but so what? There is nothing I do on this computer that stresses the CPUs in any meaningful way. Normally my load average is down around 0.01. So what would I want out of a replacement? “Bottom of the rung” CPUs, but really fast networking and disk? Something small and quiet like a Shuttle? Something maybe not top flight speed-wise, but really well built by a company that knows how to make reliable hardware like a Sun or IBM or an Apple G5?

One thing I really like about this computer, though, is the fact that it’s dual CPU. It seems to me that if one process runs away the other CPU keeps it pretty responsive until the process finishes or I figure out what’s wrong. For instance, yesterday I noticed the system getting pretty slow. “uptime” showed the load average up over 15, and “top” showed a process owned by the apache user called “oops” taking a bunch of time. One quick “/etc/init.d/httpd restart” later, and things were back to normal.

If I were to replace or improve this computer, I can only think of a few things I’d like to do:

  1. More RAM. 1Gb seemed like plenty when I got it, but since upgrading to Fedora Core 4 from Fedora Core 3, SpamAssassin seems to take WAY more memory so when I start up X and start doing stuff on the console (not very often) it actually starts dipping into swap.
  2. SATA. Right now IDE drives are wonderful and cheap, but it looks like the future is SATA.
  3. RAID. If I’m going SATA, I’d like to get a real RAID. I don’t know why, but it seems that most of the talk in the SATA world about RAID is RAID 0+1 (striping + mirroring), but I was really impressed the first time I saw a RAID 5 setup and the owner of it just yanked a drive out of the array and slapped another one in, and the application didn’t even hiccup while the RAID controller went about its business rebuilding the new drive.
  4. LVM. I like the fact that LVM can do a “transaction snapshot” almost like a database transaction, so you can backup a consistent view of the system instead of trying to copy an image of a system that’s changing while you copy it. I haven’t read if this is possible, but it seems to me that you’d be able to stop all the services that are most likely to have problems with consistency (postgres, mysql and innd for instance), start your backup snapshot, and then start those processes again, so the services would only be down for a few seconds rather than however many hours your backup took.
  5. Dual processors. Like I said, I consider that one of the best features of this current machine. Any replacement would also have to have them.

It’s like the worst of the worst

When you’ve worked all weekend, Mondays are the double suck. First of all, you’ve got all the Monday dragginess, like filling out timesheets and morning meetings. And then on top of it you’ve got the accumulated tiredness that you normally feel on Friday, but worse. Plus, on Friday you’ve got that boost from the thought that it’s soon going to be the weekend. For me, it isn’t soon going to be the weekend, and I’ll probably end up having to work some next weekend as well, so a real weekend is at least 5 and possibly 12 days away. At least I’ve got Great Big Sea to look forward to.

Today’s interesting discovery

You know those little USB flash drives, aka “pen drives” or “thumb drives” (I wish we’d just find a name for them and stick to it)? Well, it turns out that if you accidentally put one through the laundry, it still works fine. It rattles around in the case a bit like maybe the plastic loosened up a bit, but all the data is on it.

Of course when I got the drive back, I didn’t want to risk my important computers, so first I tried it on the Game-OS box. Once that worked and didn’t short out the USB port, I then had the nerve to try it in my precious Powerbook and Linux boxen.

The Computer Doctor is IN

A few days ago, my step-daughter Stevie complained that her iBook wasn’t booting right. All the symptoms pointed to her having the logic board problems that her model of iBook is heir to, but the warranty on that design flaw was only three years and her computer is 3.5 years old. She took it to the local Apple store where they told her it would be over $700 to fix. I can’t see spending $700 to fix a 3.5 year old computer, considering that it only cost us $1400 new, and she graduates in 2 or 3 months any way. So I proposed a fix: She sends her computer to me, I swap the hard drive into Vicki’s computer, and she uses Vicki’s 3 year old iBook to get her through the season, and I see if I can eBay a logic board for her computer. And if not, Vicki wants a new MacBook, so no risk, eh? (Personally, I wouldn’t mind a MacBook either, but it looks like Adobe won’t be porting Photoshop any time soon, and I’ve heard it runs dog slow under emulation. Plus I love my 17″ screen.)

The laptop arrived today. Thanks to The ifixit FixIt Guide, I had step-by-step instructions on how to take the two laptops apart and put one back together. It was pretty daunting, especially the part where after half an hour of prying open cases, taking out screws and removing cables, I get to the point where it says “Remove the following 16 screws”. But I got the first one apart without breaking anything worse than it was before. And Vicki arrived home with a 15″ Powerbook Titanium DVI that she borrowed from work. So surgery got another step. So first I opened up Vicki’s laptop, and put in Stevie’s hard disk. It booted, and I made sure the trackpad worked (I was worried about the cable), the sound worked, and the keyboard worked, and the Airport card worked. So now it was time for surgery 2 – I took Vicki’s hard drive, and put it into the Powerbook. That was way easier – only 7 screws to open the case, and two to take out the hard drive. The only wrinkle was getting the hard drive cable back on this tiny little connector. But it booted, and I made sure the sound, trackpad, keyboard and Airport all worked on it too.

So I’m two for two, and now I’m off to find if I can get the logic board cheap on eBay.