August 31, 2008

Attack of the mutant slug from the fourth dimension

I went to buy some parts at my network dealer and they had the Linksys NSLU2 in stock. Wow! I've heard many good things about the NSLU2 but have never had one because they were never available locally. So I bought one immediately.

Loading the Unslung firmware (and voiding the warranty) was relatively easy. One issue I ran into was that eventhough the NSLU2-Linux website and wiki are very complete, they are not always updated to reflect changes in developement, and there are a lot of duplicate pages filled with conflicting information created by different people at different times of the firmware's development process. It is not easy for a newcomer to the NSLU2 "scene" to find the right information to get started.

I didn't have any projects in mind for the NSLU2 when I bought it, but I happened to need a USB printer server and was never able to find a good one. In fact, I was looking at buying some USB-capable wireless routers such as the ASUS WL-520gU and load it with Oleg's firmware to turn it into printer server. So I decided to turn the NSLU2 into a USB printer server by using CUPS.

Which turned out to be a good choice. After running CUPS for a bit, I realized that all the USB print servers I had previously as well as Oleg's firmware use p910nd, which appears to simply forward all data it receives from the LAN directly to the USB port, which causes all kinds of weird issues and random lockups. CUPS, on the other hand, works differently by spooling the files locally then sending them to the printer, which can be seen by the ability to cancel or move jobs directly from the CUPS web interface. So buying the NSLU2 turned out to be a good choice after all.

But after using the NSLU2 + CUPS for an hour "in production", I immediately ran into a new issue. When the USB printer is turned off, or if the NSLU2 is powered on before the printer, the printer appears to be unplugged from the NSLU2. If CUPS receives a new print job at this point, it has no way to turn on the printer by itself, so it just stops the printer queue and holds onto the job, and the web interface returns the error: "Unable to open device file "/dev/lp": No such device". Unfortunately, turning on the printer manually at this point doesn't automatically make CUPS restart the job queue, and I had to manually restart the printer from the web interface or from the shell.

A lot of googling and reading the hopelessly confusing wiki all seem to point to one conclusion: I need to have the hotplug package, which doesn't seem to be available in Unslung. So while I was contemplating the installation of SlugOS, the printer suddenly came to life and the stuck print job came out. Magic! So while it's not like having a hotplug event that automatically resumes the print job immediately, at least it resumes, and everyone is happy.

Update: Turns out that the Canon printers we use have an auto-power on feature that turns the printer on when it receives a print job. It just happens the one printer I used for testing the NSLU2 and CUPS earlier was a new printer just taken out of the box and had not yet had the auto-power on function enabled. When the auto-power on feature is enabled, the printer automatically works without CUPS complaining or giving any errors. Yay!

August 28, 2008

Slashdot effect

No, I didn't actually make /. but it appears like there was a lot of interest in the EOS 50D before its official release. Those leaked sample pics I posted in the last entry got downloaded more than 2,500 times within a day. Total traffic usage was about 3 GB.

This was nothing compared to September last year when the EOS 40D was released though. After the 40D was released, for some reason the PDF manual wasn't available for download, so someone posted a scanned copy of his manual, and I offered to mirror it. The PDF manual was downloaded more than 10,000 times within a day. The file was a large 25 MB and the traffic usage came to nearly 30 GB. (I wonder how many downloads he got and whether his ISP caught fire?) When the official PDF manual (less than 6 MB) was released a few days later I deleted the file thinking that people could just go download the official one. Unfortunately, I didn't expect hundreds of other sites linking to me, and I got a massive number of 404's. I imagine if I hadn't deleted the file, I would've gotten way more downloads.

Always nice to have unlimited bandwidth.

August 24, 2008

Canon EOS 50D

(Update 8/26/2008): EOS 50D is officially announced. You can now download the full size samples at the official site here.

Click on the images to see the originals. Bandwidth warning: the photos are 15 megapixels.

Hmm, time to upgrade my camera.

See you in London 2012

The 2008 Beijing Olympics ended after 16 days. The closing ceremonies was as spectacular as the opening ceremonies. I was a bit disappointed that my favorite singer, Stefanie Sun, didn't make an appearance even though she was supposed to. Or maybe she was standing behind all the other megastars.

Congrats to all the athletes! And to all the people that worked hard behind the scenes, a job well done! I know someone who is a military police in Beijing and he worked 24-hour shifts for almost a whole year leading up to the Olympics.

I also know a lot of Chinese and all they seem to know how to do is complain that the added security during Olympics is giving them trouble in bringing foreign snacks back home to China and moan that the government is blowing money away on showing off. In fact, hosting the Olympics brings in huge revenues as well as improving the overall infrastructure of the country. Oh right, the money isn't flowing directly into their pockets.

August 23, 2008

Work less and spend more time with your loved ones

(Click on the play button to play the embedded video.)

Today is the second anniversary of my dad's passing. My dad passed away suddenly two years ago just weeks before my wedding. What really broke my heart though, was that both Father's Day and Mother's Day fall in August and I had made plans earlier with my parents to go out and spend two whole days together, but then my server had a hard drive problem, so I moved the date to the end of the month and spent the long weekend working.

Time is never enough for a sysadmin, but now I try to spend as much time as possible with my family. If you are reading this, take a moment to call up your loved ones, take the weekend off and spend time with them, buy a book on time management and read it. Do something, before it's too late.

P.S. Takuya Kimura is not my dad.

August 18, 2008

Google AdSense

When I first created this blog I moved it from Blogger to Wordpress then back to Blogger again. Both are free and offer similar features for a casual blogger like me, but I wanted to use Wordpress because I could use a shorter name ("ivoid"). Unfortunately, Wordpress doesn't allow the use of Google AdSense with free accounts, so I came back to Blogger again.

According to the Google AdSense policy, I'm strictly prohibited from clicking on the ads placed on my own site. Unfortunately, because I always write about things I like, the targeted ads that appear are always things I'm really interested in, and I can't click on them and I had no idea how to reach the advertised sites. Eventually I found a silly way around this by enlarging the ads so they'll show the advertiser's URL, and I just manually type in the URL without clicking on the ads. (Which is why the ads are so big.)

Besides the ads that I'm actually interested in, I'm also getting a lot of Scientology ads. I bet they'll double now that I've actually mentioned them in a post.

I've heard horror stories about people being dropped from the AdSense program due to invalid clicks. I'm really worried about this because I have an absurdly high Page CTR (click through rate) on one of my sites, probably because people visit the site to look for the particular product that we sell (almost all visitors found the site by Google search), and then click on the ads to find more similar sites.

I'm also not supposed to encourage people to click on the ads, so please, don't click on the ads! :-)

August 17, 2008

Baltimore Bullet wins as usual

Wow, just watched Michael Phelps win his eighth gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Congrats! Michael broke seven world records at the Olympics this time, and yesterday he beat Milorad Čavić by 1/100 of a second!

Almost (?) all the swimmers at the Olympics are wearing the Speedo LZR RACER. This high tech swimsuit coupled with modern training techniques assure that more records will be broken in the future.

August 16, 2008

Internet 1984

The Thai cyber crime law (officially unofficially the Computer-Related Crime Act of B.E. 2550) comes into effect next week for all "service providers". This law essentially requires all "service providers" to log everything that users do for at least 90 days. It also allows police free access to home computers and online contents of individuals suspected of... well, basically anything they want.

The most absurd thing about this law is that "service provider" is taken in the broadest meaning possible, where anyone giving Internet access to another party is considered a service provider. So if you're a company giving e-mail access to your employees, you have to log all employee activities. If you're a little coffee shop giving free Internet access to customers, you must log their activities. If you're a home user sharing your Internet with someone else living in your home, you have to log their activities too. Where is the privacy?

This law is a huge boon to the firewall and logging devices industry though. Just the past month alone I must've received at least 5,000 calls from vendors selling firewall devices with logging capabilities for many times they are worth, trying to scare small businesses into buying their products. Unfortunately, non-compliance with the law is considered a criminal offense. Makes you think that the people that made up these ridiculous laws probably own more than a number of these firewall dealers.

It sucks that the large IT shops and influencial people are not doing anything to prevent the law from being passed. Instead, they are holding expensive seminars and speaking in public to "teach" people about how important and useful this law is.

Why doesn't the government just unplug the Internet and let's all go back to the stone age?

August 15, 2008

Linksys WRT310N and DD-WRT

I mentioned having a Linksys WRT310N earlier.

One day I walked into a networking shop and they happened to have the new Linksys WRT160N and WRT310N on the shelves. I asked the salesperson for their prices and they were selling them for exactly the same price! I asked why anyone would buy the WRT160N when the WRT310N is exactly the same price, and he said the prices came directly from Linksys.

So... I bought the WRT310N, and two minutes after arriving home, the warranty is void.

I had to install DD-WRT because it supports far more devices than Tomato does. I don't dislike DD-WRT, but when I last used it, I kept running into a problem where if the router loses power, it resets to the default configuration. This bug seems to be fixed in the current release.

(Click to see larger images.)

WRT310N has a 300 MHz CPU, 32 MB RAM, and 4 MB Flash.

The good ol' WRT54GL's 200 MHz CPU, 16 MB RAM, and 4 MB Flash.

The WAP54G with 200 MHz CPU, 8 MB RAM, and 2 MB Flash. Running DD-WRT Micro.

DD-WRT Special has advanced QoS settings with detailed bandwidth control.

I loaded the WRT310N with DD-WRT regular edition to capture the standard QoS settings screen.

Some older chipsets also support Ethernet port priority. (Not sure if it works on the WRT54GL, but it's not shown in the WRT310N QoS screens above.)

DD-WRT Special has other nice things like PPPoE server built in.

Another DD-WRT Special feature, Zero IP Config.

August 14, 2008

Building computers for aggravation and frustration

This is probably a common experience to all the tech people who ever built computers for families and friends. They never seem to appreciate what you've done, and often they even argue with you.

A long time ago, I used to go out and pick out the parts for my family and friends. Build everything up at my workshop, then drive to their houses to deliver the hardware, then help them install the software that they needed. All these for free, and they always complain that I charge (?!) them too much. Aren't computers supposed to be really cheap?

So later on, I would just bring them directly to the computer shops and pick out the parts in front of them and let them pay directly to the shop. Which turned out to be an even worse experience because they always want to haggle with the shops. (Aren't computers supposed to be really cheap?) But the reason I bring them to those particular shops in the first place is because I know the shop owners, and they would already give me a discount, but they always think that I'm somehow conspiring with the shop owner to overcharge them.

Fine. So more recently what I do is just ask them how much budget they have, and just write up a list of parts and let them go to the shops to buy those things. I even put in a slightly higher price than what I can normally get, so when they go to the shops, they always think that they managed to get a cheaper price than me, and would always come back to boast. (They never do, since I can almost always get dealer prices.)

So is this the perfect solution? Obviously not, or I wouldn't be writing this.

The latest wrinkle to helping people pick out computers is that many people are still stuck to stuff they knew from ages ago. Few weeks ago I wrote a list of parts for someone to buy based around the Core 2 Duo. A few days later he called me back and said he doesn't want a Core 2 whatchamacallit. He wants an Intel.

"The Core 2 Duo is an Intel."

"I want a Pentium."

"No no, the current Pentium name is a low end product. What you want is the Core 2 Duo."

"I want a Pentium 4. That is the best Intel CPU."

"No, the Pentium 4 was succeeded by the Pentium D, then the Core 2 Duo. Then the Pentium name was brought back as the low priced Pentium Dual-Core." (Why was I even bothering?)

"I saw on TV that the Pentium 4 can make the Internet faster."

Ahhhhhhhhhhh! Boom. (Brain implodes.)

Man, I can't wait for the Core i7 to be released.

August 12, 2008

My pain was felt

Recently we've been having a lot of problems with Gmail at work (we use Google Apps) and it's good to find out that I'm not the only one.

One thing about email problems is that I get notified very quickly. My users would call me up the instant anything goes wrong and demand me to fix it. Unfortunately, when the email is hosted elsewhere, there's very little that I can do. I tried to get my boss to pay for the Premier Edition with uptime guarantee, but since we have a lot of users, the cost is just way too high. I hope one day Google will have a lower priced edition with uptime guarantee but without the other fancy stuff.

The Gmail guys really work out their problems very quickly though. So I would always tell my users that I'm working on a fix, and after a few hours they'll call me back and tell me that they can use their email again!

Today is also H.M. the Queen of Thailand's Birthday and also Mother's Day. Happy Mother's Day!

August 9, 2008

2008 Olympics opening ceremonies

The opening ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games was completely spectacular. I watched it live on TV since there's just an hour's time difference between here and Beijing. I tried to find video clips of the event on YouTube but they were all taken down due to copyright issues. These are some of the pics I found online that I really like. Copyrights belong to their respective owners.

The lighting of the Olympic flame performed by former gymnast Li Ning was awesome. Li Ning was a six medal winner at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics and after retirement, owner of the sportswear company named after himself. Unfortunately, the harness carrying him didn't seem to be completely in sync with the unscrolling of the images on the video wall in the background. He was going too fast at first, and when they slowed him down it was too slow and the music seemed to end before he reached the flame lighting point. Plus they already had a flying kid with the kite running in the air during the performances.

Later... I found clips of the complete opening ceremony at HiNet and they appear to be viewable from anywhere in the world. Part 1 and Part 2. The same site has shorter clips of the individual performances of the opening ceremony too and clips of competitions that are constantly updated. Check them out!

August 8, 2008

08/08/08 08:08

8 is a very auspicious number for the Chinese people. So 08/08/08 is an incredibly auspicious day. Hotels have been booked months in advance for wedding ceremonies taking place on this day.

So obviously they had to pick today to start the 2008 Summer Olympic Games. Don't forget to watch the much hyped opening ceremonies later today.

It's also Father's Day in Taiwan today. Happy Father's Day!

And I'll end this post with the world's shortest horror story: Eight ate eight.

August 7, 2008

Art appreciation

A very good friend was starting her own business selling paintings and I helped her with some of the technical / Internet side of the operation. Unfortunately, I had no idea what type of paintings she was selling when I recommended her the e-commerce site she's using. In hindsight, I should have designed a web gallery with plenty of animation and large photos.

I don't really know my art or religion theory, but many of the paintings have Buddhist themes. They are made from acrylic paint and look really really nice.

Her website is called Asia Serenity and you're welcomed to check it out.

August 5, 2008

ThinkPad Serial / Parallel Port Bay Adapter

Most modern notebooks (or even desktops) don't have serial or parallel ports, making configuring management routers and switches and industrial machines like PLC's or HMI panels extremely difficult or impossible. Sometimes USB converters work, but they are problematic, especially if you need to use older programs that are written to talk directly to the hardware.

This is where the ThinkPad Serial / Parallel Port Bay Adapter comes in. It's an Ultrabay Slim device that works on the T60, T61, and R60. The adapter does not work on the R61, any of the Z series, or anything older than the 6x series. Some of the older ThinkPads have a parallel port, and you will have to use the docking station to get a serial port.

When the adapter is inserted into the Ultrabay, the serial and parallel ports will show up in the device manager and in the BIOS. They are true hardware ports.

The adapter and my T60.

The adapter uses the middle connector in the Ultrabay.

Inserted into my T60.

Connected to a router board.

Showing up in Device Manager.

True hardware ports.

Update 12/23/2008: I finally got to see a ThinkPad T400 in person. And unfortunately, the T400 does not appear to have the middle connector in the Ultrabay necessary for the serial / parallel adapter.

Looks like my next ThinkPad will be the X200 for portability.

August 4, 2008

Virtual reality

Some high school kid took GTA into real life, stabbed and killed a taxi driver, and tried to drive the taxi away. But he forgot that he doesn't know how to drive outside of the game. All over the local news: Bangkok Post (English) and Manager Online (Thai).

Edit: since Bangkok Post regularly erases their news posts, I'm archiving it here without permission.

Teenager imitates online game, kills taxi driver


A Mathayom 6 student stabbed a taxi driver to death yesterday, acting out a robbery he copied from the online game Grand Theft Auto. Neighbours called police to Soi Charan Sanitwong 77 in Bang Phlad district about 2.30am after being woken by a constantly blowing car horn and saw people struggling inside a pink taxi.

Police arrived and saw Polwat Chinno, 19, trying to steer the taxi backwards, but the soi is a dead end. The teen had locked himself in the car but they finally persuaded him to get out.

There was blood all over the vehicle. The body of the taxi driver, Kuan Pohkang, 54, from Maha Sarakham, was on the back seat. He had been stabbed about 10 times. Two sharp knives were found nearby.

Police said Polwat confessed to being addicted to the online game GTA and said killing seemed easy in the game. He imitated a scene where a criminal kills a driver for his car to escape police.

The game allows people to play the role of a criminal in a big city who attempts to climb the criminal ladder. They are given missions to complete, such as bank robbery and assassinations.

''I needed money to play the game every day. My parents give me only 100 baht a day, which is not enough. I am also fed up with them fighting. They are civil servants and do not make good money,'' he said.

''Today [Saturday] my mother gave me 500 baht, so in the evening I went to the Lotus superstore and bought knives.'' He flagged down one taxi near his house on Soi Charan Sanitwong 75, but the place was crowded so he did not make a move. He tried again and was picked up by Kuan, hoping the older man would not resist him.

When the taxi arrived at the destination, he pulled out a knife and held it against the driver's neck. He said he did not mean to kill him but the driver reached for a metal bar under a console and tried to hit him. He stabbed the driver several times, killing him, then dragged the body onto the back seat and sat behind the wheel.

He could not drive, but thought it would not be hard. He was still struggling with the car when police arrived.

Manon Pohkang, 25, the victim's son, said he was shocked by the sudden loss. His father was the family bread winner and was trying to repay loans to a bank and loan sharks. ''He was a nice man, who harmed no one,'' he said.

Polwat was charged with robbery causing death and possession of knives.

August 2, 2008

Usability studies

I'm not a usability studies person, but I manage a lot of computers and have a lot of users, and watching them work with computers and also listening to them complaining about computers teaches me a lot about how "typical users" work. Most of my users are common people who knew practically nothing about computers but were forced to learn to use them for work.

The most obvious difference I notice about novice computer users and experienced computer users is that novice users love the default Windows XP theme, and they love the standard Vista theme even more, and they loooooove the Windows Aero theme. And they love smooth scrolling and animated windows and event sounds and all the things that I find annoying and slow me down while I'm working at the computer.

This is also true of website designs. You know how web designers always advocate clean and functional web designs, and how to avoid website pitfalls like overuse of animations and bad fonts. But in real life, my users love those flashy websites. And I'm not talking about users who are just browsing websites for fun, but managers and high level decision makers in the company who look at supplier or customers websites daily. So web designers really have to look carefully at their intended markets and design accordingly, and not always design what they themselves think is a good looking website.

When tech people looks at Windows or look at an application and wonder, why did they ever do that? Why did they take out feature x and why did they do a certain thing a certain way? Why are some websites so ugly and have tons of flash animations and yet attract millions of visitors?

Because users love them.

August 1, 2008

Total solar eclipse

Don't forget today's total solar eclipse! You can read more about it in the NASA Solar Eclipse website or in the Wikipedia article. You can also watch the solar eclipse online here (NASA) here (in Chinese).

Here in Thailand the eclipse will be a partial solar eclipse visible early evening. Too bad it's a cloudy day today.

Later... It rained! Wahhhh! The NASA webcast is now archived here and there's a YouTube video of the event here.