Monthly Archives: February 2010

Downscaling My IT Operations

My desktop computer has been playing up for a while. After it was shipped to the US, I managed to blow the power supply because I didn’t know it was non-auto-switched. I got the PSU replaced, but like someone’s back after a minor rear-end collision, things were never really the same again, Doc, just sign here, cheers thanks.
A series of problems manifested themselves. I would press the power button, and nothing would happen. I would press the power button, the machine would get through grub and then freeze on the Ubuntu logo. Or it would freeze partway through the drive check it kept wanting to perform. Other times it would boot up, connect to the network, and operate for hours, but then freeze at some random point when I was in the middle of doing something important, like playing Nexuiz.
When it froze, I found that neither pressing the little reset button or holding down the power button would work – I had to use the PSU switch on the back.
After some poking around and asking some questions, I was told that it may be the memory that was at fault. So I downloaded the Memtest86+ ISO file, burned a bootable CD from it, and rebooted then machine from that. The program found multiple errors, so I bought some new RAM sticks from Crucial. It was pretty simple to figure out which type I needed, because although the Crucial System Scanner only works with MS Windows, they had a tool to figure out what manufacturer and model my motherboard was. I bought the maximum 4GB, and when they arrived, I opened one stick and tested the box with it.
No luck – it still froze at the same places.
This was getting tedious, so I called Castro Computer Services, a few blocks down the hill from my apartment. I had checked their reviews on Yelp, and they seemed pretty good, and this feeling was reinforced when I dropped the machine off. An unassuming front window with blinds and a couple of screens showing screensavers hides a large workshop with big tables, those high stools you remember from the science labs at school, tools in racks, and machines being worked on, as well as a Yorkshire Terrier and a big parrot. I brought the machine in at the weekend (desktops are heavy!) and explained the various symptoms. Yesterday I got a call saying it wasn’t good news – my motherboard was dead. My drives were still OK, and all the other various parts are probably OK too. So, question: Do I want to build a new desktop and start again?
Perhaps not. I’ve been thinking about downsizing to a laptop for a while. Why do I need a big powerful computer? I don’t do video editing or music production, apart from the minor dabbling which doesn’t need much horsepower (think OpenShot, SoX, and espeak). I don’t really play games anymore, apart from some MAME, and the above mentioned Nexuiz. The former doesn’t need a powerhouse, especially for my older favorites like Strike Force, Robotron 2084 and Defender, and the latter can be scaled back to provide fast action without all the glow, shadows, particles and rippling water (I keep the blood splatters though, otherwise where’s the fun?). In addition to all this, space is limited in our apartment – at least space for a big desktop is limited. A big desktop needs a big desk. We have a smaller desk in the living room, but that has Cassie’s Macbook and papers on it. My big desk that I bought in San Diego takes up a big load of space in the bedroom, and it’s just not really justified anymore. I still have my nice widescreen monitor, keyboard, mouse, external drives and so on. I can plug those in if I need them.
So. A laptop. It just so happens that a few days ago I finally received my free Dell Mini 10v from Comcast for being such a good little customer. I was going to put it on eBay, and then buy another laptop with the proceeds plus some more, but the situation has forced my hand somewhat.
So it was that last night I spent a couple of hours setting up my shiny new black 10″ laptop. It came pre-installed with MS Windows XP, and I couldn’t resist playing Space Cadet 3D Pinball for a few minutes. I read around before breaking the seal on the box, and it appears that Ubuntu will install fine. So that might be a project for the next week.

Because we all now how well I deal with these ongoing IT projects.

It Was Twenty Years Ago Today, That We Went After The NSA

Had a fun and social time at the Electronic Frontier Foundation 20th Birthday party at SF’s famous DNA Lounge last night. Met up beforehand with foodie and antiques fan Adam at Tu Lan Vietnamese restaurant, which is a tiny grubby place, with amazing food at incredible prices. It was the first time we’d met after being that most modern of things, “Internet Acquaintances”, for nigh on six years, via Monkeyfilter, WTFIWWYP and so on. Great to finally meet.

After stuffing ourselves we went over to the venue, where the earlier VIP event was still winding down. But they soon let us proles in, and we had a look round the space. The DNA Lounge is pretty popular amongst the geeky set in San Francisco, and there are several club nights there I might take a look at. Then again, I haven’t been to a club proper in years – and an Industrial night called “Meat” may not be the best place to start.

I got to meet lots of cool people. Adam is friends with the EFF’s Rebecca from way back, a symptom of what he described was the incredible way that in SF, there only seems to be 3 degrees of separation (is that why lots of guys in San Francisco are big fans of The Three Degrees?). He introduced me, and it was nice again to meet someone who I follow on Twitter. Hearing my accent, Rebecca in turn introduced me to Veteran Of A Thousand Cyberwars Danny O’Brien, who was working the room like a pro after his on-stage antics, and he seemed pleased that I was wearing my old “Elite” NTK tshirt. We had a chat about the old NTK days, how it started, why it stopped, and why it’s no longer needed. I contributed a couple of tiny things to the site “back in the day”, including the Paunch tshirt of which I am not really that proud.


Here’s a couple of Flickr sets from the evening, including clips of the hilarious “Legends of EFF” theatrical production, which told the story of the EFF, from the first case of the US Secret Service raiding an RPG manufacturer because they thought it was a cybercrime cell, through the incredible antics of AT&T and the NSA (just a block away from my office!), to the court battles over the Broadcast Flag.

Great evening, good fun, good cause, and it’s spurred me on to dump the evil (and under-performing) AT&T and get a better phone – so much of the social whirl seems to be driven by iPhones and Androids, and my battered Centro just doesn’t cut the mustard anymore. Plus I want a new toy.