Like I need more hobbies…

I have a good number of things to keep me busy. First of all, my favorite hobby also happens to be my job, which keeps me plenty busy. I work in computer systems and network administration. It’s kind of addictive, really. If you’re someone who will sit down and read about different ways to solve a problem, and then implement some version of a solution using that knowledge, I recommend this area. I have other hobbies too, and am picking up another one, but they all have one thing in common…

All of my hobbies have a healthy dose of problem solving, and they are all things that nobody could ever claim to have absolute mastery of. There’s always something more to learn about it. I guess that makes them lifelong hobbies. One hobby I enjoy, but don’t get to do much of lately is billiards. I’m not talking about walking into a bar to play 8-ball on a 6-foot bar table. I’m talking about tournament 9-ball, straight pool or even one-pocket on a 9-foot, tournament-quality table. I’m no professional at it, and certainly now I’m out of practice, but I was no slouch when I played a lot. I was lucky to have a place to go where there were a lot of good players who would share bits of knowledge with you, and I had the luxury of time to devote to it at that point. Billiards, contrary to the talk of blowhards who play in bars and put their bottle of Bud in the pocket while shooting, is a game of physics — not geometry. Once you figure that out, you look at the game in a completely different way.

Guitar is another hobby that exhibits these features. I started playing at age 12, and really never stopped, even when I didn’t own a guitar. There’s always an extra one around somewhere, and I managed to stumble onto plenty of them. If you’re good, people want and invite you to play their instruments. Even the stereotypical cocky bastard guitarists recognize an opportunity to see a good player play, live and up close. And I learned that even players who aren’t as experienced or well-rounded can teach me a thing or two — you always have to keep your eyes open!

The hobby I’m picking up now is woodworking. This is the most dangerous hobby I’ve picked up, but I practice good safety and recognize bad safety practices pretty quickly. This one started just recently — in fact, I haven’t technically made anything yet. I’m laying a wood floor in my house, and instead of hiring a contractor to do the work, I used a fraction of what that would’ve cost to buy the tools I needed to do the job. Table saw, miter saw, router, jig saw… and more, and I still haven’t come close to what a contractor would’ve cost. The tradeoff is that it takes far more time and patience to do it yourself. In doing these rather basic things with the tools I have, I’ve sparked an interest in doing more with the tools I have. I’ve done a good bit of reading now, and it turns out that the tools I have now can actually do a good number of things. Also turns out that doing the basic rips, miter cuts, rabbets, and templated cuts are a great way to get at least a basic understanding of how these tools generally work and what they’re capable of.

It’ll be a while before I do anything creative with these tools, but I’ll try to post pics as things get rolling.

Why Sun Microsystems Will Eventually Go Away

There’s a story on CNET here that talks about Sun’s plans for a comeback from the abyss it has fallen into, partly due to major vendor support for Linux. They’re viewing this as mostly an OS war, though hardware isn’t left out in the cold either. The problem with this plan, and the reason I think Sun will fall on its face, is that Sun completely fails to account or take responsibility for things they have been consistently bad at, which made people look to Linux in the first place.

Sun is so focused on fighting Linux and IBM they’ve forgotten to fix the problems in its own platform, and so this whole campaign really looks like nothing more than a marketing scheme which will cost all kinds of money that would be better spent fixing the problems that clearly exist internally, and crop up as flaws in the OS.

What problems? Well, to give an illustrative example, I’ve spoken to more than one Sun engineer about what I view as a major shortcoming in the Solaris LDAP client implementation. In fact, there is more than one. When I brought these issues up to people are Sun consulting engineers and the like, the typical answer I get back is “we have multiple customers requesting the same things as you, for the same reasons as you, and it never gets past the lab coats”. That is an enormous problem.

The difference now is that there’s a viable alternative that has an added benefit of being an OS that can be run pretty much everywhere at some point. It’ll start at the network edge, work its way into core services, and someday reach the enterprise desktop. It’s already doing this, so if you’re thinking I’m a zealot for thinking this way, it’s due to the fact that I’m fanatical about keeping up with news in this area, which you probably haven’t the time or inclination to do.

They also fail to take into account the fact that Linux got where it is partially via underground movement, and partially because Linux makes simple things simple, and hard things doable. Sun does neither. Ever run an “strace” on a simple “getent passwd ” under Solaris? Compare that to the output from a Linux machine of your choosing. 85% of the time, this isn’t really likely to matter, but it illustrates a point, and during the other 15% of the troubleshooting occurrences, things are a bit simpler under Linux. Period. There’s just no comparison.

Another illustrative example: do you know what the Sun-recommended method is for changing the name of a machine? One word: “reinstall”. Now, in Sun’s defense, this isn’t absolutely ludicrous if the machine is running all kinds of services that use a hostname in their config files. But they recommend this even for workstations which really do nothing in the way of offering services to other machines on the network! On a Linux box, this isn’t (to my knowledge) made *super* easy for you, but you can absolutely do it, and have the machine act in a predictable manner afterward. On the other hand, I once took a Sun system administration course, given through a Sun-certified learning center and all that, and I had this teacher who was a Solaris field engineering consultant veteran with over 10 years experience. He had tried multiple times in the past to change a hostname on a Solaris machine. Every time something went wrong. Not to mention the fact that you have to change somewhere in the neighborhood of eight files, and still there’s no guarantee. Some of those files are ones that nobody can even understand what the hell they do.

Solaris needs to change. Mostly, it needs to be fixed. Did you know that if any user in a Solaris environment belongs to more than 15 groups, the entire system becomes unusable? Did you know that a NIS netgroup has a size limit that forces many installations to have really messy nested netgroups? Further, did you know that if you put one machine in two netgroups, and then give mount priveleges to both netgroups in your NFS configuration, your NFS server will completely puke?

But there are changes, too. CDE (Sun’s graphical desktop environment) is disgusting. Attempts to port GNOME to Sun have, so far, sucked badly, to put it mildly. The whole idea that fonts suck in CDE seems to be mandated by Sun. The intrusive registration nonsense that requires a support call to fix, the Netscape browser that just about everyone has grown tired of, and the lack of choices in preinstalled applications are not only all things that Solaris users have been griping about for 10 years, they’re things that Linux easily fixed. For free.

Sun will eventually go away because they’re approach to the battle between them and Linux consists mainly of equating “Linux” with “Redhat” to clarify the target. Unfortunately, Novell has bought SuSE, and by some estimations, SuSE has every bit the shot Redhat does of becoming the Microsoft of the Linux world. In addition, I can’t imagine that Mandrake won’t get bought out eventually. Laugh if you want, but Mandrake has been doing a ton of work in areas like clustering, security and a lot of enterprise-specific areas, and I think that, speaking of strictly the technology, Mandrake is a worthy target for acquisition, and a worthy opponent to both SuSE and Redhat. So there goes a bearing wall in Sun’s so-called structured approach. If they bought Mandrake, they’d be better off in all likelihood.

Sun, like Microsoft, is about getting more proprietary in a world that is getting more open, and calling themselves “open”. Ironic. Sun will eventually come to understand all of this. They will eventually understand that people wouldn’t have moved to Linux if Solaris worked properly. They will eventually understand that just because they’re called “Sun” doesn’t mean the rest of the universe revolves around them. And yes, Sun will eventually go away.

Sybase releases ASE Express for Linux

See more at the Sybase site.

This could be cool. I used to work for Sybase as a consulting DBA (among other things). I haven’t seen a real database since then, mainly because I now work in academia where database needs don’t really warrant spending thousands of dollars on database software. We get by just fine with PostgreSQL and MySQL (which are free, but less mature, database systems). If you’re a DBA aching to have a real database that *isn’t* Oracle on Linux — for free — I would urge you, as a former DBA who has dealt with Sybase, DB2, MSSQL Server and Oracle, to give Sybase a shot….

I was wondering when Sybase was going to get around to this. They’ve been offering demo downloads of ASE (their flagship database) for a long time, but it never seemed quite right to me (I had always run it under Solaris, and once under AIX). However, I haven’t seen it in quite some time, and I doubt Sybase would push this out the door and put their name on the line to the Linux community if it didn’t work. I wish them luck.

There’s only one small catch, which I don’t really see as a real problem: you can only run it if it’s on a machine with 2GB RAM or less, and one CPU, and the free license is limited to 5GB of data storage. The free software and even some Linux zealots will scoff at Sybase’s offer. Real DBAs will see value here. Real DBAs who can live their entire data-lives within those limitations will be in heaven.

Redhat and other vendor certification

I’ll note a disclaimer which is that I’m a RHCT. I’ve prepared for other certifications that I never sat for, from Sun, Checkpoint and others. So I have some idea how certification sorta works. I don’t so much have a problem with application-specific certifications like CheckPoint or SQL Server. I also don’t have a problem with a question regarding the dfstab or ticotsord files on a Sun exam, since these are files specific to the system, which must be understood to properly administer a Solaris box. Redhat, on the other hand…

Redhat seems to think that because you choose Redhat as your platform, you’re naturally going to run all of your services using the Redhat-supplied packages. So, the certification doesn’t go over things like how to optimize your kernel using sysctl, or how to get blazing NFS performance by altering the client settings. No, sir. They cover how to deal with their quirky implementations of various open source tools.

Well, in my environment, most of our production services are built from source! SSH, BIND, Apache, Samba, CUPS, Sendmail, IMAP, SSL, OpenLDAP — all built from scratch. Why? Because Redhat is slow to implement features we need, mostly. For example, their OpenLDAP implementation still uses gdbm or ldbm (I don’t remember which), while the entire OpenLDAP developer and user community has been recommending bdb since it was offered as a feature. Another example: their SSH implementation still doesn’t use the “UsePAM” or “UseDNS” configuration directives. For the record, I also don’t remember any SSH server configuration questions on the RHCE exam (which I failed), and OpenLDAP wasn’t covered in any of the material or the exam, in spite of the claims on their website.

So, to those looking to get certification in anything, I say “be careful”. Sure, these certifications look good on a resume. They can help you maintain an edge in the market. This is all good. But before you plunk down $2500+, be sure that you understand what’s going to happen when you get there. The RHCE, in my case, didn’t even come close to representing what I do on a daily basis. Of course, the RHCT is all about configuration of the local machine, and I scored 100%, because that’s one of the things I do every day. My $.02

Desktop PC Vendors :-(

I’m really ticked off right now. I really do NOT want to build my next computer. It’s a hassle just to keep up with which RAM goes with which front-side bus speed, and which processor goes on which motherboards, etc., etc.

“So why not just buy one from Dell, HP, IBM or Gateway?” you ask. Well, because I’m not planning to run Windows on it. I won’t get into a diatribe on why, but I choose to run Linux on every box I own, except for my Mac (which I keep around mainly for GarageBand and Dreamweaver). And while I could just buy a machine with Windoze on it and install Linux over top of it, I’m essentially going to pay around $200 more for the machine, for the privelege of getting an OS preloaded, which I’ll never use.

“So why not buy one of the Dells that come with no OS pre-installed?” you ask. Well, because they absolutely suck. It’s 2004, for crying out loud! Why the hell would I buy a machine with a 2.4 GHz CELERON!?!? Sure, it’s cheap, but as I’ve stated time and time again: if a software or hardware vendor takes the time to put together a system that works with Linux, I’m willing to pay for that. I’m NOT willing to pay for what would otherwise be Dell surplus machines.

“So why not buy one of those Wal-Mart PCs that come with Linux or no OS?” you ask. Because they suck too. They’re extremely low-end systems that are built specifically to be cheap. That’s not what I want. What I would like to have is something along the lines of a Dell dimension 8200 or 8400, but without the Microsoft tax.

“I happen to know that vendor xyz sells Linux or no OS systems” you say? Well, send the link then I guess — but I’ve looked at every big name vendor site in existence, and searched long and hard on each one to find Linux desktops. The closest I came was an IBM workstation which says you can get it with linux, but I couldn’t figure out how to configure it as such — the OS option was locked on XP. Lovely.

What really pisses me off isn’t that I can’t find Linux preinstalled. I don’t care so much about that, because I’d likely do a reinstall anyway. What pisses me off is that vendors claim to support it, and preload it in some instances. Then, in another year or so, they’ll take that line off the market, claiming that “Linux isn’t selling”, when in reality, they should be saying “Linux users don’t want crappy systems”.

“So why not buy a penguin computing box?” you ask. Because those are really workstation specs, and they’re priced as such. I’m really looking for a higher end desktop system. Penguin makes a fine machine — they just don’t make desktop systems — they make workstations.

Flooring project pics, as promised

As promised, I’ve put together some pics of the trials of laying a hardwood floor on your own. If you just wanna see a couple of quick pics of where I’m at now, just scroll down past the pictures of the atrocities I’ve faced, and the good pics are toward the bottom. Here’s the link.

Note that this will load a bit slowly on a dialup link, because it’s one huge page. I was too lazy to write the code necessary to break it up. I did the whole page in about 40 minutes, and it was late at night, so I was tired.

Now, back to work for me!

The Era of the Great Vibrating Bathroom

It seems there’s no grooming tool of any kind in your bathroom that can’t be upgraded to one that vibrates these days. It started with the relatively innocent and luxurious pulsing shower head. OK, I admit it. When I was living in Louisiana, working from 6:30am until it was too dark to work, doing manual labor and trudging around on top of flatbed trucks all day in uncomfortable boots in the hot sun, I wanted one of these. But that was just the beginning.

Next was the vibrating, rotating, pulsating toothbrush. These are essentially the DeWalt power drill in a safer form, for chiseling off whatever you’ve apparently welded onto your teeth. Either that, or it’s meant for people too lazy to move their arms back and forth for two minutes to brush their teeth manually. OK, another disclaimer. I own one. I do think it’s a little ridiculous in retrospect. I think I did as good a job on my own.

The last straw, though, is the vibrating razor.

I’m not talking about an electric shaver, mind you. Those are a separate rant altogether. Why anyone would spend $150+ on a shaver is beyond me. I’m talking about what basically amounts to a standard Gillette Mach3 razor, that you buy in the toothpaste/deoderant aisle, equipped with a AA battery, and a vibrating head.

All of these new-fangled gadgets have me wondering: How exactly did my grandparents hang on to their teeth? How did my grandfather keep from having a constant 5 o’clock shadow? How did these people live without these things? They must’ve been filthy without a pulsating shower head! Are my ancestors just part of the great unwashed, unshaven, tooth-decayed masses? Not quite. The bathroom is just awash with gimmickry, and I think it’s ridiculous. If I ever go into a friends bathroom and see a vibrating disposable razor and a pack of AA batteries on the vanity where the soap used to be, thoughts of violence may cross my mind.