Website Maintenance

Some (ok, none) of you may have noticed that the website has been down for a few weeks.

The combination of WordPress and Gallery2 have been really slowing down the server in ways that affect other server users.

So I shut down the site to give them some breathing room and am redoing it as a MovableType powered site.  A lot of things just aren’t working right now, so please bear with us.  I’ll soon have the Gallery site back up as well.

Also, please update your bookmarks — this site is now known as www.hogenmiller.net.  Later, Robin will be hosting her pictures and posting to here as well.

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Floor Fan

No, I’m not saying I’m a fan of floor (though they are pretty nifty and useful), but rather that putting a fan in a floor is a nifty idea.
I have this room that I call the “server room”, mainly because it is a room that contains servers.  I have been experimenting with different ways to keep it cool without running the air conditioner.  With the door and windows closed, it can heat up to 80+F in the room, even in the middle of winter.  During the winter, I had no actual windows in the room and one air conditioner in the wall.  This meant that with -7F outside, I had to run the air conditoner to keep the room cool.  No, at those temperatures, what really happened is that the A/C unit simply acted as a fan and probably never ran the compressor.  However, as fans go, the one in the A/C unit is fairly inneficient.
At that time, I cut another hole in the wall and installed a dual-window fan.  One fan was set to suck air into the room.  I angled that one to blow towards the wall.  The other fan is angled to blow to the center of the room and works as an exhaust fan.  Between them, they kept the room around 50F throughout the winter.  Up until this week, the room has been staying around 65F (On a side note, this room is somewhat insulated from the rest of the house).
Starting yesterday, the room started mirroring the outside world: 80F outside = 80F inside.  I tried switching completely to exhaust with no change.  Therefore, the A/C has been on again, at least during the day. Today however, I have implemented my new plan.
This room sits directly over the basement, which stays relatively cool year-round.   So step one was to pick up a floor-vent, cutting a matching hole and dropping it into place.  Step two was to create a wooden box big enough to hold an 11″ x 11″ box fan.  I then screwed the box fan into this box and attached it flush to the floor underneath the vent.  The final step was stapling an air-conditioner filter to the underside of the box, keeping basement dust out.  There were a few minor details — I had to remove the louvers on the vent so that the fan would fit up close to the grill, as well as cutting a hole for the plug in the box.  Since the server room is trafficed only by me, I decided to run the plug up into the server room, across 1.5′ of floor and plug it into the server room wall.  Otherwise, I would have plugged it in under the floor.  I also moved the server rack in position between the floor fan and the exhaust fans in the window.  My goal is to have cold air from the basement being blown up into the server room and then pulled through the server rack by the window fans.
Immediately, cold air started flowing up into the server room.  In the last half hour, the room temperature has come down from 83F to 79F, which is a nice 4 degree drop. According to my thermometer in the basement, it’s currently 70F down there, which kind of surprised me.  It feels much cooler.  So, it’s still to early to tell, but one would like to see the server room drop down to under 75F.  Most people like to keep these rooms around 65, but my servers are operating in acceptable ranges:


Sensor Location Temp Threshold
------ -------- ---- ---------
#1 PROCESSOR_ZONE 38C/100F 62C/143F
#2 CPU#1 37C/98F 73C/163F
#3 I/O_ZONE 48C/118F 68C/154F
#4 CPU#2 37C/98F 73C/163F
#5 POWER_SUPPLY_BAY 31C/87F 53C/127F

While it’s still too early to tell, I could see putting these in a couple other rooms.  Of course, these would have to be plugged in in the basement, but with the option to flip an on/off switch from upstairs.  I sniffed around the air coming into the server room and I’m not getting any sort of wet basement smell.  We’ll have to check again after a good rain.  I could see two of these in the front room (pool table room), one in my office, and one in the work shop area.  The living room just got new carpet, and I don’t want to cut it up anytime soon.
The cost?
(1) 10″ fan — about $12  at most dept stores (I had a used one)
(1) 1×6 wood, about 5′ long ($3 at YBC)
(8) 1.25″ screws dug out of a screw jar (< $1) – these are used to build box
(4) .75″ screws dug out of a screw jar (<$1) – these screwed the fan to the box
(1) 4 angle braces + screws, sold complete for $6 at Zimmermans
(1) air conditoner filter – $1 at most dept stores
(36) staples to staple the filter to the box.  $0.10?
Not counting the fasteners, you’re looking around $22 in parts.  If you have a cool basement, this provides a cheap source of cold air. You know.. to offset the carbon footprint of running behemoth servers 24×7.

Kubuntu, Sabayon, and Windows XP

I have an HP dv1000 Pavilion laptop. Back in ’05/’06, I had this setup with Mepis Linux, dual-booting with Windows XP. Now the thing about this laptop is that it has a Broadcom wireless card (BCM43xx). With Mepis, I used ndsiwrapper to get the card working. However, the screen resolution was never very good, media files would play weird (codes at the time were a bit off, I think), and sometimes when switching wireless networks, the entire system would freeze. Wireless support was all command-line based (iwlist eht1 scanning) and didn’t support WPA encryption. Because of this and my highly mobile workstyle, I eventually switched back to Windows XP.
A year has passed and I’ve been itching to get back to having a linux powered laptop again. My computer still had a “weird” partitioning scheme left over from various installs of linux/windows/data recovery/whatever. Plus, Windows was long overdue for a reinstall. It was time to try Linux again.
First, I made a backup of my data partition to an external hard drive. The interesting thing I did as well was to use VMWare’s converter program to convert my Windows XP install to a VMWare machine, effectively backing up the entire OS into one small directory (or, more accurately, one 13GB file). I was able to run my laptop’s OS and applications on another computer before I even attempted a single installation. Very impressive.
I decided to start with Sabayon Linux. I had tried this recently as a Live Dvd on a tower system and was truly impressed with the options available with it. Sabayon is gentoo based, and gentoo has always been on the “bleeding edge” with hardware support compared to other distributions. Sabayon also comes pre-installed with Beryl, the nicest windows manager I’ve seen on any OS yet.
The way it works with the live DVD is that you boot up into a fully functional version of the operating system with all the bells and whistles. I played a few movie files without any lag. The wifi worked, it just couldn’t do WPA, but it was working. I read an article about having to install WPA_supplicant to get WPA to work. I tried this, but was unable to on the live dvd. Otherwise, I was satisfied and went to install. The install took around 3 hours, which was mind boggling to me. However, I was able to browse the Internet, chat online, and send email while the install was going on, so I didn’t mind.
Once the installed system was running, it was a bit faster than the dvd version, but still seemed kind of slow. My laptop is 2.0ghz with 512MB of ram, so I was somewhat dissapointed. I was able to install VMWare player and access my Windows XP install off of the external hard drive (this was extremely slow, but manageable). I could even mount the vmdk file as a partition and copy files off of if. It didn’t take me too long to setup Firefox, Thunderbird, and gaim with my profiles from Windows XP. Btw, that is a sweet feature of those three programs (and similiar OSS cross-platform applications). The configuration, extensions, bookmarks, and everything is saved in “profile directories” that can be copied from computer to computer, operating system to operating system. I didn’t even loose my cookies while switching Operating Systems.
Now for the bad news. I installed WPA_Supplicant. I read several hundred guides to getting WPA to work. I couldn’t connect to my private WPA network. Half the time, it wouldn’t connect to the unencrypted network. It just didn’t work. Then, while using the system, I noticed something. Beryl was crashing. At first, I could no longer minimize windows. Then, I couldn’t move them. My taskbar would dissapear. Usually, logging out, then logging back in would fix this. The first two times, I didn’t think much about it. However, it soon became an annoying trend. The applications would work fine, but the window could no longer be resized, moved, or closed. If I tried it without Beryl, things would be fine. All things considered, I was getting fustrated with this distribution. Maybe I could have gotten the wireless working. Maybe, I could have found a patch with Beryl to get it stable. Maybe I could run without Beryl. But I wanted to use an installation that “just works”.
Earlier, I had booted up with Kubuntu. Ubuntu variants are vey popular now. They’re based off of Debian (just like Mepis is), which has a wonderful package system. Kubuntu is just like Ubuntu, only with a KDE Window Manager instead.  Kubuntu had deteched my “QuickPlay” keys which have the play, fast forward, and volume controls on them.  Nothing else I had used had done that (even Windows requires you to install the HP QuickPlay drivers) “out of the box”.  I went into this knowing I would have to do a few extra steps to get the wireless working.  I was a bit apprehensive since Ubuntu uses entirely “free” components, which means you have to add your own codecs to play media files like MP3s. While in the livecd, I was again impressed.  It had the resolution working better than Sabayon did (I hae a widescreen laptop).  The sound worked, the buttons worked, things ran faster.  There was no Beryl, but I figured I would ignore this for now (just how stable is Beryl anyways?) and soldier on.  I read the the newer version of the kernel used the BCM43xx module instead of the ndiswrapper I had used so long ago.  There were sites and apps to setup Ubuntu with all the “non-free” essentials that I would want.  I began the install.
Again, because it was a live CD, I was able to browse, chat, and email while installing.  This installation only took about an hour to do.  Once I was back up, I mounted my USB drive, copied my data over to my home partition, mounted the virtual machine file, and copied my mozilla/gaim profile directories over.  Within an hour, I was back up in business running “my” Firefox, Thunderbird, and Gaim.  I also use KeePass to keep track of my passwords, and this is also cross-platform compatible.  My advice to anyone thinking of switching operating systems: start using the cross-platform apps.  When it comes time to switch, you’ll be able to take your customizations with you.
I read more sites on getting the wireless part working.  I downloaded some files, got bcm43xx working.  I could now scan the wifi networks around me (from the console).  Eventually, I found “K Network Manager” which I must admit, is a wonderful little utility.  It puts one icon in your system tray.  If you click on it, it shows the wired and wireless networks available.  With wpa_supplicant installed, you can click on a wpa enabled network and it asks you for the key.  And it worked the first time.  I was impressed.  After a day’s labor, I was able to disconnect the network cable on my desk.
After a few days, I started running into problems.  The network manager (or probably the underlying wpa_supplicant) would loose the connection to my AP.  Sometimes, it wouldn’t be able to connect to any access point, encrypted or not.  Sometimes, it wouldn’t detect a single wireless network.
Also, dual-monitor support was lacking.  I wen through the config screens to extend my desktop onto my second monitor (did that with both Kubuntu and Sabayon).  First, you have to restart X.  In Kubuntu, this option is disabled, and you end up restarting the computer (yes, there’s probably a nice kill command to do it, but I figured I’d go all the way).  Then it doesn’t work.  In Windows, you can just check “extend desktop onto this monitor” and hit Apply.  You might have to fiddle with the resolution afterwards, but Windows XP understands extended monitors. Xorg/KDE does not (who handles that part?).
So, last night, I went ahead and switched back to Windows XP.  The reinstall took about an hour.  I have the Driver recovery cd, so I ran that and got all the drivers working in one go.  Today I went and installed SP2, followed by the AutoPatcher updates.  That took about three hours to get it back up to “current”.  And… everything works, just as it had before.
So.. if I had gotten a PCMCIAA card with a better chipset (Intel/Prism) I would most likely have had a better wireless experience. I know it’s really Broadcom’s fault for not working with Linux. With a desktop, I can pretty much swap out hardware to suit and not care.  With a laptop though, anything I add decreases my battery life, puts a breakable object hanging out the side (wether PCMCIAA or USB), and adds one more thing to remember to grab.  I am more productive in Linux when everything works, but for my laptop and countless others, the “barely there” support makes me fight my computer more than work on it.   Recently, Dell has been asking their customers what they want, and over 100k people responded with “Linux compatible”.  If Dell puts out a Linux compatible notebook, then my next laptop will most likely come from them.  Until then, I’ll be running Windows XP.  I’ll end up setting up a computer to keep up with the Windows Vista clients I have to support, and I do have an in-shop Linux desktop.  But my personal desktop will be Windows XP for probably another year.

Beeping phones

At first, I started noticing that my phone would beep in the middle of the night.  Upon checking, there would be no missed call, no voice mail, no text message.. nothing on the screen to tell my why it beeped.  Recently, I realized that the phone would beep at 1:13am.  This was the great mystery that I typically didn’t think about until oh… 1:13am.
Today however, the mystery has been solved.  I was up, the phone was near me.  Suddenly the phone lights up and the screen reads “open flip to continue”.  I open it up, and “backup assistant” is running.  This program is designed to back up all of at a time designated “late night”.  After it finishes, the phone beeps at me to tell me that it’s done.

PEX Master

i just wanted to say some amazing things about PEX piping. This stuff is simple, and it works. I’m not a marketing guys, but here’s some things I love about it:

  • Smooth-walls: avoid build up of corrosion
  • Flexible: bend it around corners
  • Flexible: will expand to 7 times its size (frozen water) without any lasting effects
  • Simple connectors: Crimp it down, no glue, torch, or threading needed
  • Cheap: 100′ costs less than $25 (Zimmerman’s/Ace Hardware stores/Lowes)
  • Less measuring — run what you need and cut off the excess

Anywho, I had the *opportunity* to do some plumbing last week. I had to replace two runs of pipe (hot and cold) running about 13 feet each, with 7 elbows (and small sections) on each pipe. I had a few holes 6″x6″ each cut into my wall to see the existing pipes. I left these pipes in place, and did not remove an entire section of wall to do this. I started from the top and pushed the pipe down until I could grab it from the first hole. I repeated this all the way down to the floor, where I had to wiggle the pipe around until I was able to bend it and shove it into the basement.

10963 10966

This process, repeated twice (once for the cold, once for the hot) took me less than 20 minutes to do. Along the way, I eliminated the need for 14 elbows. Then on Saturday, I rented the crimper tool ($10/day; $150 to buy) and crimped the downstairs into place in about 5 minutes. I made a mistake here with the red pipe. I had pulled it down and then crimped the excess. This left me 2″ too short up top. The blue pipe had no issues. I spent probably another 10 minutes struggling with the red pipe before giving up and buying an inline coupler for $2. I crimped that to a piece of scrap pipe and had Robin turn on the water. She reported some dripping downstairs at the valve, but up in the ceiling was dry. The dripping downstairs was actually in the metal, threaded, shut-off valves. A bit of cranking with the monkey wrench fixed one, the other seems to have a leak in the older, galvanized pipe. The leak is so small, I’m not going to worry about it (Randy’s suggestion: put a cup underneath and use it to water your plants). But I’d say it would have taken less than 10 minutes to crimp it down, turn on the water, and fix the leaks on the threaded pipe, if it hadn’t been for my mistake on the red pipe. The entire experience took less than 30 minutes all told.