but the fourth one stayed up

Thanks to some generous donations and my tax return, I have obtained parts and put together a new server.  This blog and a few other minor things are already running on the new machine, though as I write this, most of my other Internet services are still on the old server, saidar.  The new server is named frodo.  I was going to name it bilbo, but changed my mind after reflection.  Frodo is a more mature character than Bilbo, capable of carrying a heavier burden.

The specs of the server are as follows:

  • Old 2U rackmount case with 460W PSU
  • ASRock M3A785GXH/128M motherboard
  • AMD Phenom II X3 705e processor
  • 2x2GB DDR3-1600 RAM
  • two 1TB SATA2 drives, mirrored

Internally, the CPU is a full quad-core Phenom II, but sold as a triple-core. This is part of a line of CPU models that allow AMD to sell chips with bad components that would otherwise just get junked. Not all of the chips are actually bad, though – some of them are perfectly functional chips that have had components disabled to sell at a lower price point. Anecdotal evidence suggests that as many as 70% of them are fully functional. The BIOS on this motherboard has the ability to re-enable the disabled components.  In addition to enabling all the cores, I have also overclocked it from 2.5 to 3.0 Ghz.  It’s been running for over a week now (since 2009-Feb-09) without any issues.

On the software side, this will be the most feature-laden system yet.  Some of that will be just because everything is a newer version, but I have learned some things in the last few years about mailserver configuration that will bring a lot of new functionality to my users.  Some of it is available on the current server, but only to people with root access.  In other words, only me.  Here’s what’s installed or planned so far:

Mail Server:

  • postfix
  • dovecot (backports.org)
  • amavisd-new (backports.org)
  • spamassassin (backports.org)
  • clamav (debian-volatile)
  • razor
  • pyzor

Web-based software (php apps are from source):

  • apache
  • php
  • phpmyadmin
  • postfixadmin
  • mailzu
  • squirrelmail
  • roundcube

I had been planning on doing some full documentation on my wiki of how I’m configuring it, but in the interests of actually getting it done, that hasn’t happened.  I have put up some disjointed notes, which I will flesh out and clean up.  Unfortunately, using those notes won’t be possible for a novice.  If anyone is interested in setting something similar up, I may be able to help out.  Such help would be free of charge unless it’s for a business.

finding stuff

I need a little information from anyone who might be reading this. Two things, one of which is probably too fanciful to actually pursue.

The first item is a good pair of inexpensive shoes for the clipless pedals on my bicycle. I already have cleats from my previous pair, which are too small for my spreading feet. Anyone know of a store or two in the greater Salt Lake City area that I can go for such a thing?

The second and fanciful request for information is relating to an idea I had this morning. It occurred to me that if there is a sizable discount on gasoline in large quantities (200-300 gallons), then I’d like to check into the feasibility of putting an elevated fuel tank (bottom about chest high would probably work) in my back yard. It might be impossible or impractical to do.

South Jordan has a habit of not allowing anything that might detract from the beauty of its neighborhoods, and more importantly the property values driving its tax base, so they might strongly object. If that’s the case, it might be possible to fight for a zoning variance, but that’s time-consuming and probably also expensive.

It might cost too much for the tank itself, and I might run into high costs for permits and ongoing inspection fees. There’s also the logistics of getting a supply truck in there regularly to refill it when it gets low.

Should I even start looking into it?

gubment cheese

The 2007 Daylight Savings change was described in an email to me as “legislative ass hattery.” I have to agree with this assessment.

I’ve just spend an hour and a half tracking down things that did not update properly when the time changed. It seems that the worst offender was Windows 2000, but we have discovered some of the custom software we run has issues as well, both stuff developed in-house and provided to us by our customers.

Microsoft has stopped supporting Windows 2000, and has not released an update patch for it. You have to use a timezone tool to edit the timezone you care about, or use a complicated and messy knowledge base article to update your registry to get all the timezones. I’ve read that if you want to pay Microsoft $4000, they’ll give you a program to update all your Win2K systems, with a heavily restricted license that says you can’t let anyone else use it. Windows 2000 is still heavily used by businesses, so that program is likely to give them millions in revenue.

I was doing technical support for Cisco when Y2K hit. That was a total non-event, all hands on deck, most of them earning vacation plus time and a half.

This probably could have been a non-event too, except that unlike Y2K, there was no big banner telling everyone that something big is imminent. Congress passed the law rather quietly in August 2005. That gave everyone a year and a half to get their stuff fixed. The problem is that for many devices and programs, the updates were not available until 1-2 months ago. In the world of IT, that is very little time to prepare.

For many consumer hardware devices, there are no updates available at all, other than replacing the unit.

After fixing the Y2K bug in an application:
WELCOME TO <censored>

towing yellow citrus

We went up to Access RV on Saturday and pulled the trailer back home. I set it up on Sunday to see how they did on the repairs. At first, things looked pretty good.

Now, of all the things noted on my last post about this topic, two of them are ultra-critical. One is the roof leak and the other is the heater. Most of the rest we could live with for a whole season if we had to.

After I got the roof raised and pulled out one mattress, I noticed that the other mattress had large beads of water on it. If the water had been there more than just a couple of minutes, it would have soaked in and it would have taken longer to see, but we hadn’t had rain or snow for days, and I could not see any water dripping anywhere. I wiped those drops up as best I could with my hand and checked the heater … which didn’t work.

They replaced the inverter on the generator and it claim it is now operating completely within specs. Replacing that part had supposedly made the pulsing better, but did not eliminate it. I plugged in the generator to see how bad the problem was. In a nutshell, it didn’t look any better to me.

As it was now Sunday and the dealer was closed, I gave up and abandoned it for a few hours and spent some time with Kathy planning the camping trips we are going on next summer – assuming our trailer is serviceable. It’s worth noting at this time that I hadn’t set the trailer all the way up. I hadn’t dropped the stabilizer legs or zipped the various canvas bits together, and the supports were not installed to hold the canvas up over the beds.

Later in the afternoon, there was a storm rolling in, so I went out to pack the trailer back down for the storm. As I was pulling the canvas around, the side with the slightly damp mattress suddenly poured several ounces of water down to the ground, and I found that it was very wet on the outside.

It’s a very bad idea to put the trailer away wet, and it was beginning to rain as well, so in frustration, I put the trailer fully together and made sure all the canvas bits were zipped and velcroed in place. Over Sunday night, we got inch or so of snow. Yesterday, I went out to check things over and found that the leak we had noticed on our third campout was a lot worse than we had thought, though I don’t think what it’s done so far is going to result in permanent damage. The canvas itself is holding the water out, even against the snow. I placed a cup and a towel to catch the drips from the roof until things dry out, which I really hope is soon.

Also yesterday, I looked deeper into the heater issue and the generator problem with pulsing lights. I took a bit of cat5 cable and bypassed the thermostat. The heater fired right up and blew out hot air. Then I did some experiments with the generator.

With the generator hooked up to the trailer, I plugged a worklight with a standard incandescent bulb into a trailer outlet. It pulsed just like the 12V lights in the trailer. I then unplugged the trailer completely and plugged the worklight into the generator directly. No pulse. With the light still in the generator, I plugged the trailer into the generator as well. The worklight started pulsing. I believe at this point that the generator is OK. At that point we were dealing with two likely culprits – the power converter and the battery.

The RV dealer claimed they tested the converter ten ways from Tuesday and they think it’s fine, so I decided to check the only thing under my control at the moment – the battery. Kathy and I had talked about getting a second battery and the power isolators necessary to hook up two batteries in parallel and ensure they charge properly, so I went down to Autozone and picked up a second deep cycle marine battery. I hooked it up and made sure everything was working with it, then started the generator. After the generator stabilized, I plugged the trailer into it. The lights got brighter and remained absolutely rock steady. All of the 12V problems we’ve had with the trailer could be explained by a bad battery.

It could still be the power converter, even though the new battery fixed the problem. I believe what was happening was the power converter was sucking additional power to deep charge the battery, and for whatever reason, suddenly deciding that it needed to change modes to trickle charge it instead, and then deciding again that it needed to deep charge it. The big question is whether it was a bad battery providing improper feedback to the converter, or a bad converter unable to charge the battery correctly.

I’m going to need to run the new battery down pretty far to see whether it’s a charging problem on the power converter or if it was in fact the battery with the problem. Either way, this will close the electrical chapter.

Most of the other problems that I noted in the previous post are taken care of. To fix the broken piece that holds down the canvas, they replaced it with a metal equivalent, so I’m going to check to see how much they want to replace the other strips that haven’t broken yet. The new canvas piece is on order, and they even winterized the trailer for free, which was pretty generous. We decided not to mention the screw problem with the curtains, and Kathy did manage to find a way to get them to close all the way.

Unfortunately, this morning we are now getting more snow. I had hoped to have all the previous snow off the roof and be able to close the trailer up before trying to putting a tarp over it, but that may not be possible.

The leak is the last big problem we have left to solve … but when I spoke to the guy who did the work yesterday, he didn’t seem to have any solution for it. I asked him to have the service manager call me, which hasn’t happened yet. It appears now that adding the air conditioner may have been a bad idea, that maybe we should have installed the slim unit that doesn’t weigh as much. The thing about that is, we were not given any choices on the the type of air conditioner to install.

The salesman assured us that their service department could install the AC and there would be no problems with it. We specifically asked them if they would take out the roof fan and put the AC there, and whether the trailer was pre-wired for AC, and we were told yes on both.

When we initially received the trailer and discovered that they had chopped a large hole in the roof for it and run surface-mounted conduit for its electrical, we were very surprised. To now find out that they may not be able to properly seal the hole is more frustrating than I can describe. If they thought the AC would cause problems like this, they should have mentioned it before they installed it. I’m aware that they installed it at our request, but we were relying on their assurance that it would work.

what fassbinder film is it

I recently went back to work after a nice long vacation. I was off work from August 27th through September 7th. Kathy and I had grand plans to get a zillion projects taken care of during that time, but mostly we sat around and did a lot of nothing.

Near the end, we did spend a little time on a building project, and on that last day of vacation, we finished moving our shed. The shed was bought at Sam’s Club a couple of years ago for $700. When we initially set the shed up, we just cleared a section of dirt and put it down. We didn’t really have any way to level the area properly, so the shed became warped and the doors wouldn’t close properly.

Before we moved the shed, we built a custom platform for it out of 19/32″ plywood and 2×6 boards. The platform was placed on concrete blocks, which we levelled with gravel. Below are before and after pictures, which you can click on for more detail. You can see the warping in the first picture and some of the construciton detail in the second. The third picture is the concrete block we used. There are six of them under the main platform and one under the bay at the rear.

The whole thing turned out better than we expected, and after spending a couple of days going through the heat of daylight, the shed has even shifted back to where it is mostly straight and the doors close right.

deck block

zero stones … ZERO CRATES!

Tonight I was going to create a couple of titles for later blog entries. This was at about 11:00 PM.

Now it’s 1:22 and my blog is finally back online. I was having a segmentation fault in PHP related to MySQL fetching. After recompiling PHP several times and not figuring out what was wrong, I finally decided to downgrade my MySQL development library. One more recompile of PHP and now my blog is working again.

The Lower Lights forum system didn’t have a single issue the whole time, so it must not use whatever function was crashing.

wordpress 1.5 upgrade

I’ve upgraded my blog again. I can see that my RSS feed URL has changed, so I apologize to everyone who’s tracking me via RSS that may now have a problem. When/if I decide to move the blog to the new URL, you can all feel free to hate me one more time for the same reason.

Initial impression of the new version’s look — much better than the defaults on the old version. There are some weird issues if you have viewed my site before and your browser has cached it. Hold down either ctrl or shift (depending on your browser) and click on the reload button … that should clear up any problems.

The new version seems to have a fixed width that is significantly smaller than I like – I run 1600×1200 at work and 1280×1024 at home. I’m thinking I should probably optimize the width for a browser opened fullscreen on a 1024×768 monitor, with the hopes that there aren’t any readers out there with really old or small monitors. I’d like to hear your thoughts on this.

domain registration silly business

I have registered two new domains … “atory.org” and “itory.org” are the names.

Under strong consideration for my blog is https://purg.atory.org with a new blogname..

An old friend of mine that I haven’t seen in a long time owns ity.org which is much better than mine when it comes to using real words as hostnames. I’m going to need to use partial words as hostnames for most of these.

URL changing

Because there never has been anything useful on my main website, I have decided to change the URL of this blog to just http://www.elyograg.org instead of appending the /blog … so my RSS feed has changed too. Update your readers as soon as you can.

For now, /blog/* will properly redirect.

luring the bears

I read about Project HoneyPot on Slashdot recently, and signed up to help out the cause. I put pots on two of my domains and also donated two MX entries. So the spambots can find them, links to the pots are here and here.

Although I have managed to eliminate virtually all spam from my own email, other accounts that are hosted on my servers are not so lucky, so any progress in the fight against spam is a good thing.

I would encourage anyone with their own domain to create pots and MX records to help out.

ipcop firewall project

Along with the .org, .net, .com, and .info versions of my ‘elyograg’ domain, my server runs Lower Lights, the domains that my wife set aside for a business, and some of the pieces of my friend Nat‘s domain. Eventually all of Nat’s domain will reside on my server.

Currently I use a firewall product called Smoothwall to protect my Windows machines. Because of limitations in the free version of Smoothwall, my Linux servers are on the “outside” of the firewall.

The limitations in Smoothwall are intentional. It is built around the Linux kernel and a lot of other software pieces covered by the Gnu Public License (GPL). Because of this, they are required to make the program and the source code for all derivative works available for free. They are careful to adhere to this requirement, but they also have a commercial version which is where they actually put all their development energy. The components that are unique to the commercial version do not fall under the GPL, so they are able to make a large profit on them, even though the majority of the overall system is free software.

Smoothwall’s half-hearted stance towards the open source ideal has irritated a lot of people. One group of those people created a fork of the project and named it IPCop. Although it lags behind commercial Smoothwall in features, it is not by much. They are willing to listen to requests from the community, where Smoothwall only implements new features when it will make them money. One feature that I would like is not offered by any of the free firewall products — the ability to use the real public addresses on the Orange (DMZ) network. I can do without that for now.

So, one of these days I will convert my firewall to IPCop and put my Linux machines behind it, giving them better protection from all the Bad Stuff(tm) on the Internet. I have not had a security problem with the servers yet, mostly because Linux is inherently more secure than Windows. Additionally, I am diligent in using secure protocols and keeping my software up to date for all reported security vulnerabilities.