6 May 2003 trs80   » (Apprentice)

Where to start? At the beginning, of course.

Warning: long and mildly ranty post ahead - click here to skip.

So, quite a few months ago now, my home computer started having trouble powering on - like, it would take several turn on, wait, turn off cycles before it would POST. Then, about 6 weeks ago, it just wouldn't power on at all one morning. At first I thought it was the power supply that was dead, so I picked up a new one, but to no avail. After procrastinating for another fortnight, I took it into UCC for a LAN, where I took it apart completely. Looking at the motherboard (Abit BF6), it became obvious that I had fallen victim to the (not so) fabled batch of stolen electrolyte capacitors. So I got one of the technicians from the EE workshop to replace them for me. Upon powering it up at UCC, it seemed to POST fine, so I packed it up and took it home. To my dismay, when I booted it at home, I realised the keyboard didn't work. After trying with another PS/2 keyboard, I figured my PS/2 port must have been fried. Also, since I'd reset my CMOS when I was determining what was dead, it hung at the POST screen saying "F1 to continue, DEL to go to BIOS", and my P3 600MHz CPU was running at 400MHz (while I normally overclock it to 800MHz). So I thought "maybe a USB keyboard will work". Of course, the only USB keyboard lying around UCC was a dutch imac keyboard of k's. Thankfully, it worked, but since it has no DEL key, I can't get into my BIOS and speed up my CPU, so I'm sitting here typing on a horrible tiny keyboard on a computer that's running half as fast as it should be ... but it still feels great to have my computer back again :-)

UCC

About 2 months ago, wheel (the shadow hand that runs UCC) decided that we should replace our venerable stable of standalone X servers that date from the early '90s with modern thin-clients (more on these later). So after the usual time to get quotes and generally be disorganised, we actually got them last Friday. They're Athlon 2000+ (the slowest Athlon you can buy today!) with 512 meg of PC 2100 DDR RAM, nice slimline cases (in black, of course), and ASUS A7N266 nForce based motherboard. Usefully, the motherboard has a built-in PXE boot agent, so netbooting them wasn't a problem .. or so we thought. The nVIDIA linux ethernet driver only comes as a module, and is a wrapper around a closed-source binary to add insult to injury. So while we got them PXE booting a kernel pretty quickly, NFS mounting a / filesystem was going to be a world of pain as we couldn't use the builtin kernel facilities.

After fighting the Debian initrd (which doesn't support NFS / at all), dhcpclient, pump, mount and portmap most of Sunday, I finally got something that mounted / in an incredibly ugly fashion. Davyd helped refine it, and we got it booting fairly well, apart from some locking issues which we're still working on. That afternoon, Bernard (resident kernel-hacker) announced that he'd figured out how to compile the object into the kernel, rendering most of my efforts pretty pointless, since we could use the kernel nfs root and IP autoconfigure stuff. Davyd and Bernard cleaned up the configuration today, and put together some hacks to allow several of these machines to use the same filesystem (with the exception of /etc/hostname, /var/run etc.).

If anyone knows of a better system that's desgined to allow netbooting clients to share a single filesystem, I'd love to know of it. Note that the way it's currently set up, we can apt-get install something on one, and it'll be installed on the other by definition. None of the current cloning systems like cfengine or systemimager are tailored for this scenario, which is caused by our desire to save disk space and admin time (since the machines are identical save for MAC addresses). gconf might be interesting however ... anyway. Tonight grahame installed the RTCW linux demo and kept on commenting how nice these machines were. They're called pitch and velvet (because of the black cases), and the best bit: they cost less than $AU500 each for fast, functional Linux X terminals. And, with an AGP slot, we can upgrade the graphics in the future (although we'll need to find a slimline video card).

Well, I was going to rant slightly about the old Labtam X servers, but it's 2:30am. The HDS ViewStations we picked up recently are of a similar era, but are nicer, to the extent of having a local tetris client.

Life

Life has been fairly good, but I've got a bunch of stuff to do, like two uni assignments, but instead I spend all my time at UCC instead of doing work. There was some fun social ranting tonight at UCC about various people, Cameron Hall is an incestuous social microcosm, but it's moderately enjoyable provided you don't care too much. Brought some of k's couches from STV to UniSFA today, after helping in the Cameron Hall cleanup. As usual, the two worst behaved tenant clubs didn't help out (in fact one was off having a sausage sizzle), but hopefully our soc plant will raise some shit about this. Hmm, too much uni stuff in the "Life" section ... let's see ... saw an X2 preview last Monday, it rocked; just finished Mistress of the Empire by Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurts, now I have to read Magician to get the other side of the story. And that's enough for now.

Rant over, you may continue your regularly scheduled diaries.

One final note - for those who complain of obscurity if they have a diary rating less than 3: firstly, only logged in users have their recentlog affected by the threshold - anonymous people see all entries because they don't have a root for the diary rating calculation; secondly, you might be able to rate yourself above the threshold - I make no judjement on the ethics of doing this.

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