Saying so long to the Dark Side

At least for my business email. And it’s sad in a way; like an era has passed. Yeah, I know, everybody’s got problems, quit bitchin’. But when eras change, sometimes, somebody makes note of it; other times they just fade away. Yeah, take it Buddy:

“I’m gonna tell you how it’s a gonna be…,..
You’re gonna give your love to me……
Love can last more than one day……
Love a-real not fade away…….
Love a-real not fade away……”

It was 1994 when I procured my first 3-letter domain. I say “procured”, because back then domains were free. Email was text, email was crude, but email didn’t get spammed. At least back in the mid-nineties. And when it first started happening, or when there was just somebody whose email you didn’t want to read, there was a nifty application called procmail, a mail transport agent, an mta that was there to help. Enter a recipe in your .procmailrc and bingo, no more emails from idiots. Oh, the power of the Dark Side.

Everybody knows what happened next, so fast forward to the turn of the century. Hell, fast forward to current times, where entire multi-million dollar ISPs exist that do nothing but churn out spam. Millions of “messages” per hour. And the sad part is, (and I never really understood this part), but if a lot of people weren’t buying fake viagra and penis extenders, the multi-million dollar spam-ISPs wouldn’t exist.

But, knowing all that, we’ll linger around the turn-o-the-century for just a couple of lines or so.

Sometime after the year 2000 I became acquainted with Spamassassin, an open source application. Without getting into a whole long thing, calling the spamassassin app from your .procmailrc caused all incoming emails to be scanned and rated as to “spamminess”. Then a .procmailrc recipe could take certain very spammy emails and delete them, and store slightly spammy emails in a bin where you could check them out for the occasional false positive and pass good mail on to your basic legitimate user. By keeping good mail in one file and spammy mail in another, and running spamassassin’s learning feature on both files, spamassassin would get “smarter” and “smarter” in finding spam.

Hell, for smart people who could use the Dark Side and run procmail and spamassassin, spam was pretty much doomed, right?

Uh, yeah right. Long story short again, but either spammers were figuring out spamassassin, or I just wasn’t as smart as I thought I was, or a combination of the two.

As recently as a year ago, out of the thousands of spams per day which were hurled at my domain, barely one or two ever got past all my “stuff” and ended up in my box or one of my users. But over the past few months, no matter what I do, each user has been getting 20-30 spams per day. Still not bad considering the thousands headed our way, but a major consumer of time, nonetheless. Spamassassin didn’t seem to be working as well, so I was going back to filters involving IP blocks. Lately, in my slightly spammy file, two thirds of them were being “okayed” by spamassassin and were only stopped by manual IP blocks. And since spammers have so many blocks to use, I end up spending an hour or so a day just adding them to my filters. (But lest anyone think I no longer recommend spamassassin, hold your horses. I put the blame on my lack of keeping up.)

This started me thinking. For the last couple of years, I have sporadically had to maintain a webhosting setup for the mother of an acquintance after he unexpectedly died. He had email and scripting setups that were reasonably secure during the mid-nineties, but which lent themselves to being compromised in recent months. When I first went into his site to plug holes, it was a mess. So I started thinking, what if something “unexpected” happens to me? What happens to my business websites and email? Who’s gonna learn all this crap?

Sooooo, I took a little-used domain and tried an experiment. I signed up for “Google Apps Standard”:http://www.google.com/apps/intl/en/business/editions.html . You basically point the MX records of your domain to the gmail filtering and storage system and see what happens.

What happens is no more spam. And it’s pretty easy to set up.

After double checking everything, I decided to move my 3-letter business domain over and give it a try. I tried the free, standard version first (and that’s where I am now) to see how it went. There is another beefier version that you pay $50/year for, so I figured if I still get a lot of spam with Standard, I could upgrade. There’s even a 30 day trial to kick the tires before you make the leap. What makes the $50 Premier edition “beefier” is the ability to turn on Postini industrial strength filtering. You also get a bunch of apps, ability to watch videos on a company intranet, but I won’t get into that stuff. I’m doing this to kill spam. You can also leave your email storage wherever it’s stored now, at your ISP, webhost, etc., and pay $3/year per email address for just the Postini filtering. If for some reason my Standard version test doesn’t pan out, I’ll check out the others. I had looked at Postini before, and I found the interface a little confusing, but basically, it’s giving you similar power to procmail recipes in creating filters, so yeah, it takes a while to learn, even in a GUI.

Anyway, tonight is the end of Day 1 using the free Google mail system for my very spam-infested domain and the results have been pretty startling. Out of several users, exactly one spam got through early on. There are hundreds of others in the various gmail spam bins for my users. Pre-e-e-tty impressive. But we’ll give it a few weeks and see how it goes.

Basically, after signing up, I followed the steps to prove I owned the domain and then put Google’s MX records in my domain. The verification process and the time it took to where the mail was running through Google took about an hour total. Once my mail was running through Google, I turned off the catch-all (actually I think that’s the default) so that all the madeupnames@mydomain.com spam would bounce into nowhere. Then I created a CNAME at my domain so that I could have http://webmail.mydomain.com/ point to the new gmail interfaces for myself and my 3 users.

After that, for the users who use Outlook Express, I downloaded the Google Email Uploader and sent all their messages, contacts and storage up to their gmail interface with its hefty 7 gigs of empty space. A word of caution to anyone who found this post from a search: You have to enable POP mail in the gmail interface before uploading, but *after* you upload it, go into Settings and set it to “Enable POP for anymail received after Now”. Otherwise, when they fire up their Outlook Express, it tries to download a couple hundred megs of their old messages and you have a lotta deletin’ to do. I know, I learned the hard way. Also, depending on how many years of email they want to upload, start it at night and let it run until the next morning. It is slow.

That’s about it. I’ll be checking out some of the other Google Apps. They looked kind of “enterprisy” at first glance, but you never know.

And as far as the Dark Side goes, yeah, I still use it for work, just not as much as when I had to try and outwit the spammers. Most likely I’ll go crazy and start exclusively using mutt & vi from my home computer, but that’s just my crap to sort out.

I really hate to admit this…

For several years now, I have used XP Pro for my work computers and Ubuntu linux for my play computers. The work computers run everything I need to run with nary a hiccup and my play computers provide the cutting edge entertainment that I seem to need. I break them; I fix them; I learn; I turn stupid. It goes on and on. Not that I don’t use my main linux machine for work; it’s on the LAN and it’s running a LAMP testing server for my Dreamweaver experimenting.

So what the hell is the point here? Am I stalling about admitting something? Did something really embarrassing just happen?

Oh jesus….

“!vista_t.jpg!”:http://www.elburro.net/vista.jpg

Wait! Wait! There’s mitigation. Seriously. No, I didn’t go out and fork over $300+ for Windows ME with a new name. It was FREE, dammit. Directly from Microsoft. Yes, legal. I had to uh, do a couple a small things in return…..but we don’t need to go there right now.

Last week I opened up the mailer from Microsoft and discovered that I had two dvds in there, one was Vista Ultimate 32 bit, the other was 64 bit. The “Not To Be Sold!!!” imprinted onto each dvd kinda dissipated any eBay fantasies I might have had. So I figured, hell, they make nice coasters, no?

No, you want long embarrassing story cut short? Okay, I installed the bastard.

After a little research, I found that my “next to, but not quite” current copies of Photoshop and Dreamweaver could possibly have some problems with a 64 bit os, so I went for the 32 bit.

I backed up the stuff in my $HOME as usual and was about to backup all my emails and settings, but I noticed a huge link at the beginning of the Vista install that said Easy Transfer. Hmmmm, I thought, not like the last time I tried this in XP and had to search for the fabled Transfer Wizard. Oh well, let’s do Easy Transfer. The “Easy Transfer” took several hours for some reason, so I went to bed and tackled the bastard the next day.

Well, the next day, sure enough, my stuff was on my external hard drive in a single file. Hmmmmm…. Anyway, let’s install Vista, yup. I installed vista from within XP Pro and it was uneventful, a quicker install than XP, but slower than ubuntu. Install my main apps, uneventful, Photoshop CS, DW8, Microsoft Office Pro 2007, Peachtree Accounting 2008. Then it’s time for Easy Transfer my email and Stuff. It should be called Slow Transfer. I call it a day and tackle the bastard again the next day.

This section should be called The Bad:

The next day, I open up the new Windows Mail to find my several years worth of email that’s important enough to save. Uh, nothing there. Hmmm. Okay, import the messages. Click, browse….., browse….there’s the folder, click, Import. Nope. Vista says there’s nothing there. (But I know there is, dammit). Several hours later, researching vista forums, google, etc., and I’m finding I need to change the file permissions of the email, among a bunch of other suggestions…Hours go by, and some of those emails are important, dammit, why didn’t I back it up the old way! Dang, Dang! Long story short, in one of the forums, someone had a solution. Now normally, in a Windows computer, when you want to say, import your saved bookmarks, you click on Browse, you find the bookmarks.html on your hard drive, click Select, and Import and it’s there. Unfortunately, not on Windows Vista, at least with email imports. After you find the folder containing them and click Select, in the little box it shows up in you have to type:
C:\path\to\yer\messages before the folder name. We all congratulate ourselves for finding yet another Vista bug, and I have my email back. So much for Easy Transfer.

That was the only major trauma. The rest of it should really fall under Vista Annoyances. There is a much easier backup program than in XP, but it wants to back up everything, and I don’t friggin’ *want* everything. Just my crap. Still working on that one. Windows Explorer. Needs a little getting used to but not all that different. If I think of any more annoyances, I’ll stick them in, but for now we’ll go down to….

The Good:

Stable & snappy. 3 gigs of RAM, 3.2 GZ dual core processor, no problem. Seems quicker than XP, but I don’t have much crap on there yet. Update. I installed some more crap, mainly the Service Pack 1 for Vista, which was supposed to break my Creative Audigy SE sound card. Well, the sound card still works, and shockingly, on my 32bit version of Vista, it’s showing all 4 gigs of installed RAM. That’s supposed to be impossible on a 32bit system, but SP1 just did it. P’shop will be happy to hear that. (Oops! According to the googles, it shows the full 4 gigs, but only uses 3325 megs.)

The Windows Firewall. Basically, I’ve got a *hardware firewall*, securely setup machines, and we don’t need no stinkin’ Windows Firewalls. They’re LAN killers and all our machines have it turned off. Except, when I installed Peachtree Complete Accounting 2008, it specifically wants you to turn on any windows firewalls. It’s fairly important not to screw up, because like all my business apps, P’tree Accounting runs off a central server and all the workstations keep the data on the server. Anyway, I follow instructions and install it leaving the firewall *on*. I enable the firewall on the server too, just to make sure no glitsches. Amazingly, there were no glitsches. Peachtree works fine through the firewall, so does Access, Word and Publisher. In fact I left the firewall on just to see how long before it broke my LAN. A week later, it still hasn’t broken it.

Networking. On this aspect, I have to give mini-thumbs up to Vista. It’s internal networking seems a much more solid architecture than in XP. For one, all the workgroup shares show up immediately, without all of the “discovering” you have to do sometimes in XP. And in XP, some of my larger apps that run off the server (like P’tree Accounting and Access), when left on all day (or even for an hour or two) tend to lose the network connection. So when a customer calls and wants you to look up something on their invoice from six months ago, you click on Peachtree and the program crashes because the LAN disconnected. “Uh, sorry, let me run over to another computer and see if it crashed there too, heh heh.” In Vista, I can leave the accounting and database apps open all day on this workstation, because somehow the networking keeps it connected. Maybe when the lease times out, it reconnects behind the scenes. I dunno, but it makes me happy. I also have all my Photoshop and Dreamweaver files stored on the server, and even after I converted to gigabit LAN, it’s still a little show to pull up, especially my huge company website. In Vista, for whatever reason, it’s quicker and snappier hauling stuff up over the LAN.

Windows Search. For the first week or so after the vista install, your hard drive runs a lot, indexing everything causing consternation. Then it stops. After all that, searches are so instant that you don’t really need to go looking for anything. No more “where in the hell did I store that show application?” Just type a little search string and it’s there.

Defrag. It’s automatically set to run by itself once a week, unless you change the schedule. And it takes hours longer than the defrag in XP, and supposedly, it’s better and more thorough. We’ll see. So far I like it.

Anyway, I hate to admit it, but it seems a little better than XP, at least for my business apps. More later, the Good, the Bad, the Ugly. I’m a little nervous about my email, should I have to go back to XP, but heh heh.

A Friend

Larry
“So if youre down on your luck
And you cant harmonize
Find a girl with far away
And if youre downright disgusted
And life aint worth a dime
Get a girl with far away eyes”

I was probably around 14 when he knocked on my door announcing that his family had just moved into the neighborhood. We became fast friends, and looking back, I’d have to say he put a little color into what was pretty much a drab small town high school experience.

He had this little glint in his eye that said, “hey, there’s a party going on.” Even when it was just us taking his Dad’s rifles and shotgun out into the woods after school and “shootin’ up a storm” until we started getting return fire from a local farmer and found the police waiting for us as we hurried back home.

He had early Bob Dylan and Smothers Brothers folk records long before I had heard of either. My brother played drums and I tried to play a little guitar, so he bought a bass and asked me how to play it, since I could read music. It wasn’t long before we had a garage band.

The band played successful gigs at local high schools and churches, and we had a coterie of followers. Suddenly, it was easy to meet girls. One of our “followers” belonged to a big deal yacht club on the lake and arranged for us to play at a social. I think we were making $150, very big bucks at the time.

It was an outdoor dance, and we unpacked our stuff and set up as usual. But when we hit the first chord in the first song, something was dreadfully wrong. We couldn’t hear the vocals. All we could hear was my brother’s drums. People on the other side of the lake heard it fine, and a few called the police, but we couldn’t hear anything, and neither could a bunch of frustrated wealthy yacht-clubbers. We had no idea, but we didn’t have the equipment to do an outdoor gig. We bravely played on through the boos, and at the climax of the evening, my friend Larry, in an Eric Burden imitation, “died” onstage, got “revived” and ran headlong out to the dock and jumped into the lake.

After the gig, we spent the $150 on outdoor horn speakers for vocals, but it was too late. Not only did word of our disaster get around town, the local music mogul heard about it, and especially the fact that we hadn’t joined the union, so we were pretty much blacklisted, even from schools. The end.

When I went to college, Larry went pro and joined a group called McKendree Spring, who went on to play a lot of national and international venues and cut several albums. At one point, when he had a summer gig at the Bitter End, we shared an apartment in NY. On one of the nights I went down to catch his act, after the show he brought me across the street to “meet his new buddy, BB King”:http://www.elburro.net/article/12/hangin-with-bb.

I went back to college in Ithaca, NY and since Larry’s band was based in nearby Trumansburg by then, he moved into a building on the main street that was the town’s new “hippie” building. Larry was on the road most of the time, so it was really only a place to keep his stuff. The building quickly became suspected as a place where “drugs got smoked” and during the annual Ithaca drug bust, which happens every spring, the inhabitants of the building were rounded up, including Larry, who had just gotten in the night before after a long road trip.

According to Larry, he told the cops, “I’m an alky. I don’t smoke, swallow or shoot any kind of drug”. “Yeah right”, they said, “that long hair and beard says otherwise.”

When he got down to the station to be booked, there were dozens of Ithaca residents who were also being booked for possessing marijuana or whatever and when he walked into the station, they all burst out laughing. “Tucker’s a drinker, not a doper! You cops are crazy, ha ha!” The cops ended up letting Larry walk out of the station.

A few years later I met him at a bar in downtown Trumansburg. He had been dropped from McKendree Spring and he was pretty upset. As he explained it, the band had no drummer, so his bass was pretty much expected to hold the sound together. By then he was keeping a beer mug full of scotch on stage and was starting to get bored with his rudimentary bass lines. So he’d experiment, or he’d just get too drunk, and at some point it wasn’t working, and the band let him go. He had moved out in the country near Trumansburg to a little silver trailer, and since it was snowing heavily that night, we managed to drive my car over there before the roads got snowed in. It was a cramped little trailer, but I found a place to crash in a corner. The next morning he was gone. I saw tracks in the snow, and he returned about an hour later. He’d walked several miles through the snow to the closest liquor store for a bottle of Bushmills.

“I had an arrangement to meet a girl, and I was kind of late
And I thought by the time I got there shed be off
Shed be off with the nearest truck driver she could find
Much to my surprise, there she was sittin in the corner
A little bleary, worse for wear and tear
Was a girl with far away eyes”

I finished college and Larry was still in the area. I left him at a local party one night, and the next day when I drove by, he was sleeping on the porch where he’d passed out. Things weren’t going so hot for me either; I was working in a printing press on Eddy Street and getting wasted a lot. We started another band, I don’t think it had a name, and played gigs at rural bars. I remember one at a country bar that was $15 (for the band) and “all you can drink” (which later turned out to have been one drink when we tried to get paid). We kept our day jobs. We had one glimmer of hope when we auditioned for a “fraternity gig”:http://www.elburro.net/article/5/a-night-to-remember, but that didn’t go too far. Work was getting sparse, and the cops seemed to be all over us, so a girlfriend and I moved to Boston, shortly after Larry moved there.

I ended up getting a job as a waiter and eventually started a little business when I was off during the days. Larry moved to Broad Street at one point and was working as a short order cook and living upstairs from the restaurant with Debbie. I lived in Cambridge, but I’d visit from time to time. I’d pop into the busy restaurant and he’d be slinging orders and he’d say “go on up, I’ll be up after nine”.

Wherever Larry lived, it was never expensive, and there was never any fancy furniture, but it always felt like “home”. Anytime you walked into one of his places, you were “home”. There was relaxation, there was beer or coffee, there would be fun and scholarly talk; his own little cafe on the Left Bank.

At some point, Debbie left. I urged him to try and get her back, but he said it was over. I didn’t hear any details until several years later, but hung out a little more at his place on Broad Street. He had managed to accumulate quite a little library of used and rare books, and occasionally he’d buy a garage-load at an estate sale and I’d help him move them into the apartment.

It wasn’t long after that that we ended up both doing the old Boston Flea Market. I was in a booth with my partner where we sold our jewelry, and Larry had a booth for his books. We all made a fortune every Sunday. It was way before the Faneuil Hall restoration, when the area became a high-priced tourist area. When we did the Boston Flea Market all the old buildings remained in their original state from the 1700s. It was a great place and there were plenty of tourists and shoppers. After the show, we’d pack up and go over to the North End for pizza.

I remember meeting him on Broad Street one very cold winter night with heavy snowfall and we went out and hit the bars. We were two pirates, hot with the ladies and drinking like there was no end. In one place I realized I hadn’t seen him in quite a while and I ran down to the men’s room, which was a little flooded with water shooting out of all the turned-on faucets. Uh oh.

I ran back upstairs and ran into a cursing manager. “What do you want?” he yelled. “I’m just looking for somebody”, I said. “You mean that guy I just threw in the snowbank who flooded the downstairs? Are you his friend?” “Uh, no, I’m an undercover cop and I’ve been trying to tail him all night. City Hall wants a word with him, if you know what I mean…”. “Hah, well your guys right out their in that snowdrift, drunk to the world. Have fun getting him downtown.”

I went out and picked up a giggling Larry, covered in snow (“I just didn’t want their pipes to freeze”) and we made it back to his apartment, where there ended up being a couple of sixpacks in the fridge and we talked all night about former girlfriends, “and where are they now, dammit!!”

“Well the preacher kept right on saying that all I had to do was send
Ten dollars to the church of the sacred bleeding heart of jesus
Located somewhere in los angeles, california
And next week theyd say my prayer on the radio
And all my dreams would come true
So I did, the next week, I got a prayer with a girl
Well, you know what kind of eyes she got”

When he opened the bookstore on Mass Ave, he lived there, and I was living in my company’s warehouse over in East Cambridge near Lechmere. We shared a membership at the YMCA for showers (cause there weren’t any in our businesses) and got together to drink beer in the evenings. It became a regular thing, and a good time. On 4th of July, he had some friends doing a rooftop party on Comm Ave. to watch Arthur Fiedler do the summer ritual with the 1812 Overture at the Esplanade on the Charles. There was some serious hard liquor there and I nearly fell off the building. Next day in the papers, there were a number of people who did just that. Summer was a great time of partying with Larry’s Moroccan buddy who owned a convenience store down the street and we were making lots of dough at the Boston Flea Market. But when winter came, the money dried up and it got real cold. They turned off the heat at our warehouse and my partner’s apartment, and in March we decided to move to Atlanta. She went down early, and Larry helped me load our machines in the truck and saw me off.

Over the next 25 years, he came down to visit a few times and sold books to stores along the way. He moved back to Ithaca and opened a couple of bookstores. By the nineties, he was starting to sell over some kind of book cooperative online that he accessed through a computer running DOS. He gave up the road trips selling books and I had a company website up that started to make a decent living for us in addition to our trade show circuit.

I didn’t see much of Larry physically, but we enjoyed a lot of crazy emails back and forth. He was “El Greco Bandini” and always moaned about a lost girlfriend named Althea. He was living on Slaterville Road by then and had his house converted to a giant library while he sold books online. During one of his trips south, he mentioned that he had awakened from a diabetic coma in an Ithaca hospital and now had to take insulin. I wasn’t drinking at all at that point and thought it a little strange that he’d drink a beer and then back it up with a shot of insulin, but he said he was fine.
We continued our emails, which always got pretty active around Christmas.

Last March he called me because a web search on his name had turned up this site and a couple of my stories which included him. He said he was looking to see if anyone owed him any royalties from his old band, but he hadn’t found much. He said the increased competition at his online bookstore had taken all the profit out. Competitors were selling books he paid $5 for for .50. He told me he had quit drinking entirely, but didn’t elaborate and I didn’t ask. After a lot of joking and laughing, he hung up.

In late ’07, as the Christmas season approached, I tried to contact him for our annual email festivities, but couldn’t remember his domain (lightlink? speedlink?). I ran a search on tuckerbk, his moniker, which usually brought up all his book listings. But this year it brought up something else:

“This”:http://broad-street.blogspot.com/2007/04/in-memoriam-lawrence-g-tucker-1950-2007.html and “this”:http://www.mckendreespring.com/site2.php and “this”:http://www.zwire.com/site/news.cfm?newsid=18317774&BRD=1395&PAG=461&dept_id=546876&rfi=6

“So if youre down on your luck
I know you all sympathize
Find a girl with far away eyes
And if youre downright disgusted
And life aint worth a dime
Get a girl with far away eyes”

Larry Tucker
sometime in June, 1950
to March 28, 2007.

So long my brother.

(for those with no sense of music history, the passages in quotes are from the Rolling Stones, unless Gram Parsons actually wrote them.)

How to turn a Dell Poweredge SC440 into a PC

Okay, you’ve seen one of the deals at Dell for $499 or $249 for “this”:http://configure.us.dell.com/dellstore/config.aspx?c=us&cs=04&kc=6W300&l=en&oc=bscwdr1&s=bsd

But it’s a server with fair, but not great “onboard video”:http://ati.amd.com/products/server/es1000/index.html and designed for use with Windows Small Business Server 2003, Red Hat Enterprise, and a couple other enterprise versions of linux. It comes with drivers that work with each one of those os’s, but that’s about it.

There’s lots of discussion on converting the server to a pc at various blogs, “here”:http://www.poweredgeforums.com/showthread.php?t=3213 “here”:http://www.davtar.org/blog/?p=24 and “here”:http://www.irishwebmasterforum.com/general-chat/2829-dell-poweredge-server-149-a.html#post20586

The video card dilemma. After reading through everything, I think it’s safe to say that a gamer wouldn’t want this machine. There are three PCI-Express slots, a 1x, 4x and 8x. In previous incarnations of this deal on slightly different machines, gamers were modding the 8x slot by heating up a box cutter, cutting away the plastic on the slot and sticking a 16x video card in. Apparently, Dell changed the bios so that each slot only runs at 1x. That’s my guess; I don’t know for sure.

Windows Vista? I’ve read that it will install and find drivers. Windows XP? Yep, that works. But I read that at least one person had problems with an XP disk that only had SP1 on it, and it sounded like hardware driver problems. The easy workaround, if your cd does not have SP2 on it, is to “slipstream”:http://www.theeldergeek.com/slipstreamed_xpsp2_cd.htm
a new Windows XP cd that *does* have SP2 pre-available.

The non-enterprise linuxes? Haven’t tried it yet, but here is a “link”:http://download.fujitsu-siemens.com/server/Unix/Linux/Doc/fsc-linux.html
to get the drivers you may need if you know your chipset.

What I did. Sorry, I’m not into experimenting with heated boxcutters on a motherboard. I’m not a gamer; But I am a Photoshop/Dreamweaver-er. I decided to go with what looked like a decent 1x card, an ATI Radeon x1300, which has 512 megs of “hyper-memory” and 128 onboard. (The extra memory comes from your system RAM, so make sure you have lots. I also pre-ordered a “sound card”:http://www.newegg.com/product/product.asp?item=N82E16829102002
a “500 gig hd”:http://www.newegg.com/product/product.asp?item=N82E16822136073
a “DVD burner”:http://www.newegg.com/product/product.asp?item=N82E16827129007
and a “USB keyboard”:http://www.newegg.com/product/product.asp?item=N82E16823126012
and mouse because the server doesn’t come with any PS/2 ports.

Okay, all the hardware I ordered came in around the same time and I unpacked the Dell. Wow, incredible case. One lever releases the side panel and there are two cold-swappable hard drive positions within easy reach, click and pop out. I stuck the 500 gig hd in the first bay and moved the 80 gig to the second bay, to become my Photoshop scratch disk. I had to add my own sata cable, but the extra plastic “bay click-in holder” was ready and waiting.

Okay, back up a minute. There were some sketchy “quick install” instructions included, so I first booted the computer on the 80 gig drive, and there was all this stuff on there to facilitate installing Windows Small Business Server or Red Hat Enterprise. But we’re having none-o-that, so we just powered down and stuck in the 500 gig as the soon-to-be boot drive.

The instructions are indeed “sketchy” and few. Remember on a normal Dell pc how there is a big graphic with instructions identifying the Power Cord and how to plug it in? Well, we didn’t get one of those in the server. We’re supposed to know what we’re doing, because, naturally, we’re a professional.

Anyway, after sticking in only the hard drive, I booted to my new slip-streamed Windows XP cd and followed the usual install instructions. I would add the new hardware later. It installed uneventfully, and fairly quickly on the new machine with a Dual Core Pentium 3.3 ghz and 2 gigs of RAM (oh, forgot, I put my two gigs of RAM in before the install). You have to order ECC RAM or it won’t work on this machine. I got the exact stuff I needed from “Crucial”:http://www.crucial.com/ , for around $80, a lot cheaper than from Dell.

Okay, the OS is working with the onboard video (and it looks a lot better than I thought, but we haven’t done anything fancy yet). Next I put in the green disk from Dell and installed all the hardware drivers I’d need from the Windows Small Business Server 2003 folder. They all worked fine with XP.

Next I stuck in the new video card and installed the drivers from the cd, rebooted and did the same thing with the sound card. Then I switched out the included cd drive for my DVD burner.

Reinstalled all my apps, and the thing is pretty amazing. It has a huge heat sync fan, but incredibly quiet. The front and rear of the case are completely perforated, and cool air just swishes through there. I put in Photoshop and Dreamweaver to test out the Dual Core and as Ann Coulter says, it went “swimmingly”. I can be working in DW and have a bunch of large photos open in Photoshop, all dragged from our main server in the other room, and there’s nary a hiccup.

Soooo, I ended up spending more than $249 after all the additional hardware, (I think I spent another $300) but if you just want a fast machine that works, you can pretty much just use the 80 gig hd and 512 megs of RAM and onboard video that comes with it, add a sound card and Windows XP and you’re good to go.

A Virtually Perfect World?

Uh, no. But I slept in a Holiday Inn Express last night and am now running Windows XP on Linux….
“!http://www.elburro.net/Desktop.jpg!”:http://www.elburro.net/Screenshot-Desktop.png

Should I do long-story-short? Nah. When two new computers invade the household, there occurs a drastic change in heirarchy. Apparently, 3 boxes I had been saving for uh, something, are now headed for charity. (I’m sorry, dammit; I appreciate everything you did for me in the past, really) My former machine at the fun desk is shivering and clinging to its life next to the bookshelf where it hopes nobody notices it until it can be put to use somewhere. It’s a good machine; an Athlon XP 2000+ with a gig of RAM and a 40 gig hd and a decent video card. It needs to be put to use, and I’m working on that, really, but we’re a little busy right now.

My former office machine, an Athlon XP 2500 with 1 1/2 gigs of RAM and 250 gig hard drive has been evicted from my work desk by the Dell SC440 server and scrambled to my fun desk where it nudged out the Athlon 2000. Having labored under Windows XP for several years, it has now been liberated to the world of linux and Ubuntu. It is happy.

During the install of “Gutsy Gibbon”:http://www.ubuntu.com/getubuntu/download , it reminded me how much easier and quicker the install goes than Windows. And how much more fast and stable and interesting linux is after sagging under the Windows workload for all those years.

But…..hardware has its disadvantages, and so does linux. A big hard drive and a lot of RAM can spell trouble for any self-respecting pc. There are Windows programs, essential ones, that aren’t found in the linux world. So install wine. Yeah, that works a lot of the time, and there are fewer and fewer bugs, but with VMWare, you can put your entire Windows operating system on a fast machine and enjoy the best of both worlds.

Okay, I’m tired and it’s long-story-short time. Following this “excellent tutorial”:http://ubuntu-tutorials.com/2007/11/17/install-vmware-server-on-ubuntu-710-gutsy-gibbon-updated/
I got VMWare up and running on a machine that formerly ran Windows XP, now ubuntu, and I was able to install the OEM version of the original XP software on VMWare because, duh, the hardware hadn’t changed. I set XP to use half my available ram, about 800 megs, and it works fine. As a final test, I installed one of my five Peachtree Accounting licenses on it. You can’t get much more bloated than that. And the fact that the data files are located on a network share doesn’t make it any easier, but XP on VMWare didn’t even flinch.

Anyway, I probably deserve a good beer by now, so catch ya later.

The Donkey’s New Machine

Okay, new computers are never easy for me. I can’t really claim they’re business necessities, when, as my Bo…er..partner says, “the old computers are just fine. What we really need is a new vibratory finisher and a skiving machine.” And when I save up my own money and buy what I want, she steals the damned thing:

“What’s this box? A Dell? Is that for the business? Oh great, oh, it’s yours? But you’ve already got a fast computer.”

“It’s a 400 mhz, and the Dell is a 2.4 gig.”

“But you like it; you’re always on it. Wouldn’t it make more sense to set the Dell up on my desk so we can all use it? And you can keep that one over on yours as an extra? :-)”

So I usually end up “importing” parts in a rucksack….”oh, it’s just a mainboard, a little upgrade, heh heh”. Or…”this little box? Just a little ‘ol cpu, a little upgrade is all”. Once they’re all smuggled in and I put a few nights in, no one can tell. “Your computer seems quite a bit faster. What did you do? Can you look at mine?”

That’s how I ended up with an AMD Athlon XP 2500+ at my work desk, and an AMD Athlon XP 2000+ at my “fun” desk. After losing the Dell.

But they’re getting old.

So….it isn’t exactly what I would have chosen, but I saw this “deal”:http://configure.us.dell.com/dellstore/config.aspx?c=us&cs=04&kc=6W300&l=en&oc=bscwdr1&s=bsd at Dell last weekend, and considering what I could do with a little modding, it was pretty much irresistible. (Considering the deal ended last weekend and was for $249 at the time.) It was slightly different. The RAM they offered was only 500 megs, not the gig in the current listing. And obviously for $249, I got it with no operating system. Beyond that… the same.

But the purchase is the easy part. It’s the chess game behind the purchase where all the action is.

“Dell is having a $249 sale on business servers this weekend only. I’m getting one.”

“Go ahead, get what you want. Did you say a Dell?”

“Yeah, and I was thinking I should order two, so you’d have one too.”

“Hmmmmmm. A Dell for me….a Dell for you….and they’re both the same?…….really……..”

“Yup.”

(Welllll…..almost the same. When they come in I’ll take the 500 meg RAM out of mine and put it in hers and stick the 2 gig kit of ECC RAM I got from Crucial in mine, but she won’t be able to tell. And I really need to stick in a 500 gig hard drive in mine. She’ll never use up the 80 gigs that comes with hers.)

I ended up going with the basic stock offering for the sale. I upgraded the processor, but left everything else the same. I’ve gone a-configurin’ at Dell sales before and ended up ready to put $2000 of stuff into my cart. I can buy the other stuff I need a lot cheaper.

Well, some of that other stuff turns out to be at least a video card and a sound card. I didn’t really want a file server, but I liked the horsepower for the price. It comes with “onboard video”, but that’s a stretch. I think it has 15 megs of RAM and shares the PCI bus with the NIC. (Yikes!) Don’t get me wrong; it’s fine running a CLI on a server, and my partner could probably learn to cope.

“Sure you can surf the web with this, really. Just type lynx at the command line there…..”

No I’m not that mean, but I hate to kill a perfectly good fantasy.
So, I ended up ordering a couple good 2D graphic cards and a couple sound cards. And when I save up some more booty, I’ll smuggle in one-a-them raptor hard drives. Figger it’ll run pretty good, ayup.

Dood, you might get to keep a Dell!!

Back in the Saddle

Well, our roving donkey, who has bravely gone where all kinds of folks have been before seeking cheap webhosts, is now back in Pittsburgh. And I transfered the database without breaking (!). All that means is that you are now reading content courtesy of Pair Networks, and not a weird page saying, “Fatal Error! SQL call to somethingerother.php failed! Syntax error line 684 of somethingelse.php! Contact your network administrator.” (uh, that’s me) Basically, a Dead Donkey in the Middle of the Web until I could cajole a little help from the “Good PhotoDoctor”:http://www.photodude.com/.

But that nightmare didn’t happen. Either I’m getting smarter or the software has improved.

So….the mind spins along. The “Boss” would like it if our $49/mo hosting bill went down to $29. I can do that easily by getting rid of SSL on our account. Which would cause two (non-producing) web stores to stop working. I could convert them to third party shopping carts: “Mals”:http://www.mals-e.com/ (free and fairly configurable) or “Americart”:http://www.americart.com/ (costs $, but insanely configurable). They certainly have their merits over database driven shopping carts where you add products over a web admin interface. Say you’ve got a belt that comes in 30 colors and 16 different sizes, and the real long sizes cost a little more or there’s quantity discounts. Whoa, try entering all those different combinations in osCommerce! Then say, you like your pre-existing html coding and don’t really want to learn how to make a database driven site look anywhere near as good by spending 150 hours searching through forums.

But we seem to be on a tangent of some sort. Some of us who are a little crazy kind of like fooling with that crap and the extra $20/mo gives us a cheap playpen to do it in. Which gets down to I might sign up for one-a-them grid hosts, just to fool around, and pay for it myself. Then the Boss is happy, and I’m only short about two good six-packs/month.

In the meantime, I have a prepaid year over at Dreamhost with a gazillian gigabytes of storage and bandwidth and unlimited mysql databases sitting empty.