Tags: self-absorbed rambling

pilchuck, glass

What's in a Name? (The Doom That Came to Sarnath)

[Cross-posted from my MovableType Blog]

[ed. This should have been posted on Thursday, but werk eight my brane.]

@colin_clive(it's alive . . . It's Alive . . . IT'S ALIVE!)

A few months ago I procured two 3Ware hardware RAID cards. One for slackers (a nice SATA unit, with caching & acceleration), and one for myself (an older, lower-end unit, but probably adequate for my needs). My intention was to use mine to build a fileserver on which to store backups (primarily of my photos, but also of other important data to which I want semi-convenient, networked access).

As I was thinking about doing this, it occurred to me that I'd never named a machine "Sarnath." This is surprising, since as names go, it hits a trifecta: it is a city that is both mythical and destroyed (either one would be adequate for Slackers' Network inclusion) AND it exists(-ed) in the Dreamlands (my own personal subset of the Slackers' Network scheme)

For all of those reasons, it seemed the obvious choice for the new machine. And yet, I decided that I should not tempt fate that way, (the name of the story is "The Doom That Came to Sarnath," after all!) Naming my shiny new Athalon64 fileserver "sarnath" would be hubris: basically asking for it to be struck by lightning. (Technically, flooded and dragged to the deep by lizard-men, but that's not really likely in Northern California! Though I suppose swallowed up by an earthquake would be close enough...)

So, when I finally got around to ordering the other parts, I rejected "Sarnath" in favor of "Kiran[*]." Little did I know that the fate had already been sealed.

What follows is a blow-by-blow of my attempt to get this machine up and running:

  1. 1 day (1 day total): Putting the machine together took several hours, because, in my excitement, I kept doing things out of order, or just generally rushing.
  2. Installing CentOS 4.2 x86_64 from both a CD-ROM & DVD-ROM causes MANY errors. I assume the issue is the new (OEM) DVD drive.
  3. After many hours patiently retrying failed package reads, I manage to get the machine installed. The installer doesn't recognize the on-board GigE NIC. (One of the reasons I bought that particular motherboard, bad research on my part)
  4. I download the latest (binary *grumble*) network driver from nVidia, burn it to a CD, and install it.
  5. Attempting to update the packages to the latest versions, it appears that sustained network activity cause a kernel panic. (with a binary network driver, fan-fucking-tastic!) As it is now 3:30am, I opt to put this off until Monday evening.
  6. 1 day (2 days total): Working on the assumption that the optical disk errors are caused by a faulty DVD drive, I exchange it at Central Computer (where I'd paid a small premium to have it on Sunday (when Surplus Computer is closed))
  7. That evening I try: the replacemnt DVD drive, a DVD drive Jonah had lying around, and a CD-ROM drive I had grabbed as a sanity check. All of them fail in the same way with different cables.
  8. Resigned to the fact that I will have to RMA something (the motherboard most likely, but possibly memory), I don't spend a lot of time fiddling with the network. Plus, I'm hoping (against hope) that the network problem is in the chipset (even though it's probably a software issue.). I do start a metest86 to run for a few hours. The memory checks out.
  9. 3-5 days (5-7 days total): I apply for an RMA for the motherboard. This will take a minimum of 3-5 business days. They'll ship it back to me UPS Ground. So glad I paid for a rush delivery. (I know this is SOP for most vendors, but I've known a few that ship RMAs with the same shipping as the original order, and really, this whole entry is just kvetching)
  10. +2-4 days (10 days total): It takes a week.
  11. +2 days (12 days total): . . . Not including shipping. Fortunately, my replacement ships from SoCal, so I save a day in shipping.

    (It did spend an overnight stay in South San Francisco. I thought long and hard about asking them if I could come get it, but I didn't have time to work on it that night anyway.)

  12. 2 days (14 days total): Without installing the motherboard I test an install with a spare disk and as little connected as possible (in an attempt to minimize variables). The IDE/DMA issues appear to be fixed.
  13. Reinstall most of the hardware, and reinstall the OS on the RAID array. Everything seems fine.
  14. During my 9 day wait for my motherboard, I did some research on the nForce network chipset, and looks like the forcedeth driver should be able to drive interface. But after some futzing, I give up on that.
  15. In attempting to update the packages to the latest versions, the 3w-xxxx driver loses track of the array with the OS on it. It never recovers, and a hardware reset is necessary.
  16. I upgrade the firmware and BIOS on the 3Ware card in a vain attempt to make this problem go away.
  17. Several more tests confirm that it appears to happen most consistently when reading from the network & writing to the array.
  18. I begin to swear like a sailor. Skimming the source for 3w-xxxx (since I have source for it, mad props to 3Ware on that front) seems to indicate that it's missing interrupts, but I'm hardly a kernel hacker. To me, the most likely culprit at this point is the proprietary nForce driver.
  19. Further research suggests that the forcedeth driver only from a later kernel (CentOS ships with 2.6.9, which is starting to show it's age) will drive the nForce gigE NIC on my motherboard.
  20. I download the kernel packages (and dependencies) from Fedora Core 4, and attempt to install them. Another freeze occurs during the install. In hindsight I realize I should have booted single user before installing to prevent this. The kernel panics on boot.
  21. I give up, and plan to buy an e1000.
  22. 1 day (15 days total) : I buy an Intel e1000 card to use as a replacement, since that family of NICs has been supported under Linux since, well, effectively forever. I find it mildly funny that I'm using an Intel NIC in my new AMD64 server. Not funny "ha-ha." Running with the e1000 (and the nForce driver never even loaded) does not help the situation.
  23. I open tech support ticket with 3Ware on this issue
  24. For another datapoint, I install the i386 version of CentOS 4 on this machine to see if it exhibits the same behavior. The console log for the installer shows the error message once (before the entire console disappears), but it is not fatal. This does not bode well. I update the ticket with this information.
  25. 1 day (16 days total) : 3Ware support answers a trouble ticket on a second-hand card with a solution that works. (Turn off ACPI). Double-plus mega mad props to 3Ware.
  26. Warily, I reinstall the x86_64 distribution, making sure ACPI is turned off from the outset. After installation I successfully upgrade the packages to the latest versions.
  27. With more testing, and more data moving around, I become more confident that the solution has been found.

So, in the end, there is a happy ending, and that's what is most important.

[*] Kiran contains a beautiful temple that a distant king visits once a year to pray to singing gods, and only he is allowed to enter the temple. Can you think of a better name for a backup server?

California, bike, Los Angeles, AIDSride


I have this nasty habit of writing journal entries offline & never getting around to completing the circuit. I started writing this a few months ago, and finished it last week, before "Teh SIK™" set in.

Some time ago (around my birthday, holy crap that was a while ago) avocado_tom & I had one of our really good conversations. This was the first in a loooooong (much too long) while. At the end we made a pact of sorts to create "motivation" filters (in LJ). The purpose of this was to talk about goals (specific and nebulous, long-term and immediate), stumbling blocks, and maybe some encouragement. He's carried out his end of the bargain marvelously.

I've been putting this off for nearly 6 months. I suppose that time of year has come for many of us, so I guess I'll actually try to make this a regular thing. (My soon to be added free-time commuting will certainly help that)

If this is something that may be of interest to you, or if you'd like to help me get motivated (I don't know how to make that sound any less pathetic), I'll be more than happy to add you to the filter.
pilchuck, glass

". . . I can't tell you, but I know it's mine . . ."

[Cross-posted from my MovableType Blog]

I've been writing this entry since the middle of February. It started is as a Trackback response to something Sean said, most notably, the last few sentences.

The core of my feelings on this matter have not changed, but most of the window dressing has, so this will probably require some serious editing on my part.

At the core, I know that my survival those first few months would have been nigh impossible without my friends. To all of you I owe a great debt of gratitude. No matter how much I loved my job, and the guys I work with (whom I'm lucky to count amongst my friends), I'd been careening for quite a while and I needed a foundation to land on. It took me some time, but I think I'm on my feet (though I may still be a bit wobbly)

Most of my vacillating during my first draft of this entry revolved around my near-complete ambivalence as to my living situation. I was convinced that my decision was premature (it wasn't) or that it would lead to an inevitable stagnation (the jury's still out on that). Living with Jonah (jd5p) has worked out better than either of us expected.

All in all, things are good. I still enjoy my job. I'm comfortable where I am, but I know it's not permanent. I have a routine that I need to work on, but on the whole I've been a heck of a lot worse.

February, for example. Looking back from this end of the chasm, many things are clearer now. I refused to let myself miss Chicago, Yojo or any of the rest of the Army of D[ao]rkness. I love them dearly, and I miss them still. I owe them another debt of gratitude for getting me through yet another hard time in my life, as they did so openly and selflessly the last time we shared a mutual tragedy.

Refusing to acknowledge those feelings doesn't make them go away. Nor does rekindling relationships here . . . dishonor or negate those far away.

As with everything, it's a work in progress. Nothing is ever finished.

pilchuck, glass

Surreal Estate

[Cross-posted from my MovableType Blog]

I've been meaning to post something here for a while, I've even composed a few in my head. At first I marveled at how my world was about to be turned inside out, and yet I didn't feel that anything had changed. I just blithely went about my remaining days in Chicago barely registering anything.

And now I'm here. The job (for all of three days) has been fantastic. Matt & Sean are great, I know I'll have fun working with them, everyone's really energetic, and the problems I'm going to work on look like a lot of fun.

...and yet, I'm still "just visiting." I'm sure this is exacerbated by my lack of a place of "my own," but I can't escape the feeling that this is a very short-term trip. Any day now I'm going home. "Home" being a loaded term in it's own right. (For many months in Chicago this was "back home")

I feel caught between the two worlds. I love being back in the fray, I love being back in the Bay, and yet, I look around and everything seem so superficial. It's all so ...sanitized is the only word I find. Hospital clean. I miss the grittiness of my old neighborhood.

And, of course, this nostalgia is itself a delusion (but that's the nature of nostalgia) I spent most of my time in Chicago wishing (consciously or otherwise) that I was here. Granted, my coping skills were seriously hampered, but I still have to wonder.

The short of it is I miss my friends. I miss Yoj. I miss my psycho-stupid cat. I just need to embark on my master plan to move all of those things here. Or not here. Oakland maybe. They'd get along fine in Oakland.

pilchuck, glass

Reality Check

[Cross-posted from my MovableType Blog]

I had a job interview last Friday, in my old stomping ground (Mountain View). It's a position I'm really excited about. But I was more than a little concerned about this impromptu homecoming, however brief.

Recently I've found myself idealizing the time that I spent there. I re-read Tales of the City, I've spent a lot of time talking to friends in the area (that I called home). I've been thinking about what would happen if I got this job.

I was worried that I'd have so much fun with this visit, that I'd feel so good being back that I'd have a crisis of self/identity/whatever and decide that I had to get back there any way I could.

I had a very visceral reaction to being back, but not the one I expected. I hated being there. It felt like a huge step backward into the rut that I climbed out of when I left. I had a great time seeing people, and I miss them again now that I'm gone, but I realized that have no stomach left for the suburban sprawl of the Peninsula. I couldn't afford to go back where I'd been.

It is still home. And I still very much want this job to work out, but I need to live in an urban environment. I need to have people around. I need to be able to WALK to see people/go out. I need culture. I need to be more than the drone I'd become living in Suburban Hell. So once again I find myself planning to live in San Francisco.

There were a few very surprising side-effects to this trip. I realized that I'm more at home in Chicago than I believed. I'd been in denial for some time. I kept telling myself that the Bay Area was home, and my only home. I now realize how silly that uncharacteristically singular view was. Adopting a more familiar continuum view, I can accept that Chicago is home right now without betraying my feeling that I will go back to the Bay Area.

The other side-effect was that once I realized that Chicago is also home, I realized that I'm not as miserable here as I'd been leading myself to believe (if that makes any sense at all). Life here is not without it's issues (drama-queen tendencies aside) but the time has come to take an active role in living it.

pilchuck, glass

Wonder-Blog Powers . . . Activate!

[Cross-posted from my MovableType Blog]

Or should that be "Lame-Blog Powers?" Or is that too pleonastic?

I created this blog to test a MovableType instance I was installing for some Slackers' Network users. And I re-created it when I was testing the Slackers' Network automatic "make me a blog" script. At both of those times I toyed with the idea of actually trying to keep a blog, but came to the conclusion that I don't have enough to say on a consistent basis to warrant spewing it into a blog.

Fundamentally, I don't think anything has changed. But recently I grabbed my "Personal" page as a random guinea pig in revamping my website (tooling it into XHTML/CSS), and I realized that it's already slightly out of date. And that version was the first major edit in over 5 years.

It occurred to me that such a page full of ephemeral information would be better presented in a date-stamped, episodic format. Namely, a blog. And so here we are. I don't really expect anyone to read it, but it will hopefully it will assuage my desire for random personal commentary on the web.

And there may be a side benefit for people who see me on a regular basis. I have (once again) gotten annoyed at my habit of repeating stories ad nauseaum. And I assume that if it annoys me, it drives my friends crazy. This way I can post things to the blog with the intention of getting them out of my system. People that care to can read them, and I'll be left to find more interesting (or at least less boring) things to talk about.