They Have World Class Talent and This Support Site?!?

I bought Barbara an Intel NUC — a tiny (5 inches square, 1.5 inch tall) computer — a couple of years ago. It’s fast, quiet, small and dependable…up until now.

The other day the wired ethernet connection died. It isn’t a cabling problem — I tested the connection with a Raspberry Pi — and downloading/re-installing the drivers didn’t fix it. So I went to the Intel support site to start a repair ticket.

That’s when the fun started.

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“Please Contact Windows”

I’m a long-time user of the Adobe Creative Suite. So I’m more familiar with Adobe software than I’d like to be…because it is generally insanely great, from a creative point of view, and all too often not very well written, from a nuts-and-bolts point of view.

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Murphy’s Law

Okay, deep breath. I’m going to write about this because, well, it is funny, in a dark, ironic way. At least now that a few hours have passed.

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Dear Comcast

Dear Comcast,

Tonight I called you to re-activate my cable boxes because one of them had stopped working and I wanted to use that TV to watch an On Demand movie. Which would, you know, earn you some more money.

The first time I called your tech rebooted my cable modem instead of reactivating the set top boxes. The only upside to this was that it terminated my phone call to tech support — I have my phone service with you, as your tech would’ve known if he’d checked his screen — so I had a chance to re-enter the Comcast Tech Support Person Lottery.

Fortunately the second time I got someone who knew what he was doing. And actually listened to my request. And knew that “reactivate cable boxes” isn’t remotely like “reboot my cable modem”.

Of course, re-activating the cable boxes means they take 45 minutes to re-initialize the program guide and, more to the point, the On Demand functionality. In that 45 minutes I could download, oh, about 12 gigabytes of data over my Comcast High Speed Internet Connection. That must be one honking big program guide and On Demand subsystem.

I get so tired of monopolies who cherish their market power to the extent that they almost totally ignore customer service. I hope I live long enough to dance on your grave.

All the Best,

Disgruntled Comcast Customer #377,582

Less Noise Is Good News

In preparation for moving to a new home I’ve been going through my stash of surplus motherboards, hard drives, etc., and getting them ready to donate to the local community college district. This finally caused me to look into disk-scrubbing software, since I don’t want to release drives that may have confidential information on them.

The scrubbing exercise has reminded me of a few things I’d completely forgotten about:

  • I am so glad the industry moved to the SATA interface from PATA. Those !@#$!@#$#@ forty  pin EIDE connectors, and power connectors, are a pain in the butt to remove.
  • It’s laughable how much storage capacities have grown. None of the scrubbed drives are more than eight or so years old, but the earliest ones stored only 6 gigabytes of data. I just built a NAS4Free file server around four 3 terabyte (3,000 gigabyte!) drives, each of which has 500x the capacity of those old drives…in the same volume. For the same cost. In nominal dollars. Wow!
  • Those old drives were noisy. Work environments must have been a lot louder back in the day. Yet I don’t remember that.

The P in PC Stands for Personal

I’ve noticed a disturbing trend on the part of more and more companies selling software products, or hardware products like printers which require a software component to function.

They’re forgetting that the P in PC stands for Personal. As in, “it’s mine, not yours”.

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Almost 2,000 Days of Spam

That’s the period for which I have statistics on the spam and non-spam email that arrived at my mail server. Now that I’ve moved to a new cloud-based Exchange server it seems only appropriate to see how much garbage arrived between February 19, 2008 and July 20, 2013 (I was running my own email server for years before then, but I had to re-build my system and lost the earlier records).

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End of an Era: Part 1

Sometime in the late 90s I decided to learn enough about Linux to wire my house to the internet and run my own email server. It was a frustrating process at first because linux is radically different from the various Microsoft and Amiga OSs I’d been using for many years. I can still recall the feeling of my head exploding as I tried to wrap it around all the moving parts — linux itself, DNS, IP routing, sendmail, firewalls, NAT, etc. — that were necessary to “just run my own email server”.

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Can I Have Some Ice Cream with That?

I got my first Raspberry Pi the other day. For those not in the know, it’s a single-board computer — just barely bigger than a credit card — which runs Debian Linux.

It’s astoundingly cool to run a full-fledged version of Linux — including XWindows — on something that size. Particularly when it only cost $35 (well, the power supply is extra, but let’s not quibble about $10).

I bought the device because I need something to wake up my video server when the remote media extenders are trying to connect to it. Due to an oversight in the design of those extenders, they aren’t smart enough to do that automatically. But it’s a simple task to do within linux, using wakenonlan and xinetd.

I’m still working out a couple of glitches, but if I can get the Pi to fulfill this role that removes the last reason I have for running a linux server as my router/NAT/firewall at home. I’m looking to decommission the server, and the companion Windows 2008 server which runs Exchange, so that I can move my email setup to the cloud, simplifying the IT structure around here in advance of our move into a new home.

And, incidentally, saving some money on electricity :).

There’s Always a First Time

I can’t tell you how much time I’ve spent twiddling my thumbs over the years as various versions of Windows let me know that they’re creating a system restore point. I understand the concept — take a snapshot of the system drive before installing anything significant so you can restore it if something goes wrong — but, at least for me, when things go wrong with Windows they really, really go wrong. As in, what’s the point of having system restore snapshots on a drive that’s hosed anyway? Since restore points apparently have to be kept on the system drive and it’s the one that takes the brunt of any problems. So I’ve always considered system restore points a waste of time and disk space.

Until today. [Read more…]