Archive for July, 2006

Online UPS systems kick ass

For almost a year and a half I’ve had one server, a Dell PowerEdge 800, randomly reboot itself with no warning in its syslog. The problem component is a CERC 6 channel SATA RAID card (from Dell) that is extremely sensitive to power supply fluctuations.

Even though it was connected to an APC UPS re-configured from its default to its most sensitive settings the server would end up rebooting, usually right after transferring on or off the UPS battery. This happened a lot due to the insane, and widely varying, load levels the rest of the (manufacturing) machinery in the building consumes.

Simply put, a server rebooting itself, especially without any notice, is unacceptable. I could not trust the machine. Just after this started happening, I put a scope on the machines input power and could see just how bad the power was. I also noted that I often only got email for the UPS battery kicking in, but never out since the machine would reboot before the monitoring software registered the status change and submitted the mail. So, knowing that there was nothing I could realistically do about the bad power situation, I said we should buy an online (double conversion) UPS. About 14 months later I finally got one. It kicks ass.

I installed the unit on Tuesday just before a mild thunderstorm that night and a really big one late Wednesday afternoon and evening. After an unknown amount of brownouts (the UPS will actually use input voltages between 65 and 138V to constantly charge its battery) and 9 complete blackouts (18 transfers, well really just losses of input power since output power is *always* off of the battery) the server was still going. This was a first, this server had never made it through a single thunderstorm without rebooting. Fantastic. If it keeps it up for three months or so, maybe I’ll start to trust it.

Of course, I probably should have thrown the server back at Dell in the first place since NONE of our other servers, workstations, or digital electronics on various machines have any problems as bad as this one server. If it wouldn’t be such a pain to transfer the load to another machine I probably would have. Oh well, at least that server and everything else I plugged into the online backup (a couple of switches, a Cisco router and Nortel Voicemail) should last a lot longer having nice clean power to live on.

Anyway, the online backup I got was a Tripp Lite SU1500RTXL2Ua. $799 US on their website. You should be able to get it for less than $900 in Canada… wholesale cost before shipping (it’s heavy) is about $750 CDN.

3 comments July 30th, 2006

How to activate an analog cell phone with Rogers

Just over a month ago my father managed to get his cell phone a little wet. Normally that wouldn’t be a big deal, except that his cell phone was made around 1985 and parts are a little more than scarce. Yeah, 1985 — a Nokia Mobira 200 brick, a damn good phone with 3 watts of power and a big antenna, with the ability to connect an even bigger antenna. Sure beats the heck out of the measily 0.6 watts max that any phone made in the last decade or so will put out, especially if you want to conduct one of those “cell phones fry you brain” studies.

So anyway… I tear this phone apart, full well knowing that it’s probably some custom IC that is blown. I see no obvious damage to any of the hand soldered cicruit boards or the plethora of retro sized (for consumer electronics anyway) resistors and capacitors, or even to any of the 7xxx series chips. Crap, I can fix those. There is one custom IC that looks like it is in really bad shape though. Screw it, I wasn’t about to go on a hunt for replacement chips and service manuals for a 21 year old cell phone (although I did convert the handset to a service handset to see if I could make sure the phone’s programming just wasn’t lost).

So I had a new task at hand. Find my father a new cell phone. Should be easy, right? Of course not. The one and only priority for a new phone — it must have analog capabilities. Analog, yes analog, digital is evil as you all know. Actually, he mostly needs the phone where there is no digital coverage, just analog which you’re lucky to get if you stand really still, on something high, with a horseshoe up your ass (antenna theory, apparently). There’s an advantage of living in a sparsely populated country, cell phone reception just rocks.

That shouldn’t be a problem though, my own cell phone has analog capabilites, a tri-mode CDMA phone by Kyocera. Now a few years back I remember that there was talk (by the cell phone providers with the CRTC) about phasing out analog service by 2008, which sucks, but whatever. Bell Mobility, my provider, still sells tri-mode phones with analog capabilites so I should be in the clear. I know Rogers uses TDMA phones, so they’re not compatible with Bell phones (even if they were they’d probably be SOC locked so that’d be one more thing to defeat), but no problem, there’s about 1 cell phone dealer for every thousand people around here, so I should be able to get a phone that Rogers will like.

Wrong! Rogers, quite some time ago (and I know remember knowing about this), rolled out their GSM network and said a big f*%$ you to anyone who wanted to keep using either TDMA or analog phones. Now who cares about TDMA, a GSM phone with analog capabilities would be just fine (and Bell Mobility sells one) but Rogers will tell you that there’s no such thing. They want nothing to do with analog. I can’t say I blame them since it costs way more to operate and is taking up bandwidth that the could use for orderes of magnitude more digital subscribers. I just wish it wasn’t so (and I hope Bell keeps their analog service up for some time).

So Rogers will only sell me a new GSM phone. You’d think they’d give me one on an account that’s been active longer than Rogers actually owned, or new anything about, the cell phone company they now have. They won’t even give me a hardware upgrade bonus or whatever it’s called that they’ll give anyone else that’s had a new phone for as little as six months. Heck, getting rid of an analog subscriber would be literally worth giving me a new digital phone. Oh well, I guess we’ll just have to do it my way.

Over the course of three days I looked around on eBay and alerted the troops that I needed an old/used/unwanted Rogers cell phone. Within a few days I had my hands on a Nokia 3360 TDMA phone previously activiated (and branded) on the Rogers AT&T network. Yeah. Now just to get it activated.

It’s a good thing that I know just about everyone (of any fun use, anyway) in this town. Off to Radio Shack, err, little Best Buy, uh, whatever the hell they’re called now. After shooting the shit for a while, Scott’s willing to attempt to activate the phone for me even though he’s been specifically told not to try to activate any TDMA phones, told that it wouldn’t work even if he did and that the web interface all the dealers use won’t let him.

Into the web interface the phone’s ESN and crap goes. No errors. Perfect, I’ve got a phone that should be activated. Scott tells me that phone info gets pushed out to the network switches from a queue about once an hour from this web system. I’m all set.

A day later the phone still isn’t activated — I get “your phone isn’t authorized, call *611″ whenever I try to make a call. Crap. I go back to see Scott. He says, “hey I told you so”. I say, “call Rogers dealer support”. So Scott calls the dealer support number and tells them what we’re doing. They tell him to sell me a new phone. I get on the phone and do what I do best when I know there’s no real technical reason from preventing me from doing something… I make stuff up and hope they don’t call my bluff. I tell them, “when I called customer service last week and asked if I could do this they said no, and I said fine, I’ll go to Bell they’ll do it, and then was told that since I already had an analog only phone activated they’d allow me to activate the analog/TDMA phone on the same account, so that’s what I’m doing”. The response, “oh, OK”. The cell phone worked before I even hung up.

So if you need an analog cell phone and you’re with Rogers, and you don’t want to lose your number and switch to Bell:

  • obtain an old TDMA phone from friends/eBay/etc that was previously activated with Rogers — I don’t think they’ll activate an old phone that they don’t already know the ESN of
  • go to something like Radio Shack or Wireless Wave where they’ll do anything you want if you look like you’re going to buy something else — buy a new battery or charger while you’re there, say “I’d like to buy this battery if you can activate this phone”, they’ll do it in a heart beat
  • get them to try to activate it in their web interface even if they’re sure it won’t work, if you have to offer to pay for their time, they won’t take the money but they’ll do it
  • call Rogers and tell them they already told you they’d do it if the phone doesn’t get activated within a few hours (make sure the phone is properly configured with your number/etc first though)

Thanks Rogers. You still suck, but at least it’s in a good way.

2 comments July 28th, 2006

Drive-In Theatres; a magnet for mosquitoes and idiots alike

So once again, even though I told everyone there was no way I was going to again, I got suckered into running the Midland Drive-In twice a week. When I begrudgingly agreed to, I said that I’d probably regret it. What was I thinking — probably?

A lot of things have changed at the drive-in. For starters one of the co-owners (Paul), the one who actually ran it, died last summer (which was the only reason I ran it on weekends last summer). As a result nearly all of the best staff immediately quit. Those who didn’t quit after he died had already quit before he died after his brother (the other owner) took over and expected them to actually work when they were there. I can’t say I blame them. Having your entire night screwed up for at best three hours pay at minimum wage certainly sucks. I know that, if I was looking to make money, I’d rather just go out or stay home and do consulting work or whatever else I’ve got on the go than waste my time at the drive-in. Luckily for ‘them’ I like to put on a show every once in a while and just do it for fun.

Anyway… I swear that every year both the customers and the staff gets dumber. Maybe one group is wearing off on the other. Maybe they’re both wearing off on each other in a vicious circle of idiocy.

Stupid comments from customers that stand out:

  • Why don’t you have matinees?
  • Do the movies play in the order listed in the program?
    You mean the program that says, “The first feature is… the second feature is… third feature is…?
  • What’s a four feature? Why does it run so late?
  • I left my ignition on for four hours, why is my battery dead?

Stupid comments from staff that stand out:

  • Why don’t we have matinees?
  • I didn’t feel like making any more popcorn.
    Did you tell that to the 150 people standing in front of the empty popcorn machine?
  • Can I have every holiday weekend off this summer?
  • Can I drink while I’m here?

Between all the stupidity and the generally crappy movies I’m becoming quite numb. At least the constant mosquito bites won’t bother me as much. Tip for movie goers: if you plan on swatting the mosquitoes, don’t wear a shirt you don’t want completely covered in your own blood.

Add comment July 27th, 2006

Apache SpamAssassin 3.1.4 released!

We released Apache SpamAssassin 3.1.4 today. Crazily enough, we actually hit our always vague target of July. Coincidentally, Theo sent out the release announcement, tonight, almost exactly a month after suggesting a July release.

On 6/27/2006 12:44 AM, Theo Van Dinter wrote:
> It’s been less than a month since we’ve done both 3.1.2 and 3.1.3, but I’d
> like to start down the path of getting 3.1.4 out in July.

On 7/26/2006 8:00 PM, Theo Van Dinter wrote:
> Apache SpamAssassin 3.1.4 is now available! This is a maintainance
> release of the 3.1.x branch.
>
> Downloads are available from:
> http://spamassassin.apache.org/downloads.cgi?update=200607261000

Add comment July 27th, 2006


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