Categories: Hardware, Amiga, Mac, PC

Mountain Lion - back to the past

21/02/12 | by admin [mail] | Categories: Software, Mac, OSX

I must say that the naming of 10.8 struck me as a little odd in the context of past names.

Mountain Lions are in fact the same species as Pumas (and arguably Panthers). This requires a closer look.

10.0 - Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus)
10.1 - Puma (Puma concolor)
10.2 - Jaguar (Panthera onca)
10.3 - Panther (Puma concolor OR Panthera pardus)
10.4 - Tiger (Panthera tigris)
10.5 - Leopard (Panthera pardus)
10.6 - Snow Leopard (Panthera uncia or Uncia uncia)
10.7 - Lion (Panthera leo)
10.8 - Mountain Lion (Puma concolor)

So, a cynic might say that superficially 10.8 is an improvement on 10.7 but is really 5 (or 7) steps back.



05/03/11 | by admin [mail] | Categories: Hardware, Networking

Never underestimate the bandwidth of a station wagon full of tapes.
-- Dr. Warren Jackson, Director, UTCS

Many moons ago, on the original AmigaOne beta testers mail list, one of the mailers referred to their gigabit sneaker net. An external hard drive which they would walk home from the office with.

In networking terms, bandwidth is the capacity of the network to transfer data. If you ignore the underlying medium (which really doesn't matter), you can see that sneakernets often have very high bandwidth. Take a 3TB external drive. Over 10 mins (600s) the unidirectional bandwidth is 50 gigabit/s (assuming 10bits/byte). Of course, if you also need to transfer the data from a system to the 3TB drive, and then to another system, bandwidth is greatly reduced.

But back to the quote. Let's assume some 1.5TB LTO-5 tapes. Let's assume a rather conservative capacity of the station wagon of 5000 tapes. That's 7.5 petabytes. Over an hour, that would be about 16terabit/s, or Sydney to Melbourne about 1.5tbps. Which doesn't compare too badly to a fibre optic link.

Of course, sneakernets or stationwagon-nets may have high bandwidth, but there are two big issues to consider. One is that these nets are half duplex. If you require a network technology that allows you to communicate back and forth a lot, something involving time critical dynamic data processing (like gaming), it's not so great. The other thing to consider is transferring to transport medium from the system. Maybe with a hard drive, this is not such a problem. You could keep your home folder on an external hard drive or, maybe the whole system on a removable bay. But for tape, which is necessarily an offline medium, you lose a lot of time in the transfer.

However, if what you need to do a one transfer of a large amount of data, sneakernet or car net, will usually outperform ADSL, SHDSL or even 10mbit fibre.


Macs I have owned

15/02/11 | by admin [mail] | Categories: Hardware, Mac

For a while (about 6 years) I was buying and selling on eBay to earn a little cash, and indulge my interests in hardware. As a result, I managed to own, for periods of time, a variety of Macs.

It's just a list. And I must admit, I feel a little like this guy.

Interesting, is that I've only ever owned 1 68k Mac (I have a long standing project on the backburner to get MacOS 8.1 running on a 68060 Amiga).

Centris 610

Quite a few nubus Macs. At one point I was going to build a Beowulf cluster of 6100s, inspired by this guy. But discoved that only 2 of the 5 I had acquired worked, so not much of a cluster. I upgraded one of them to a G4, making it one of the slowest G4 macs in the world (I think 300Mhz, on a 66MHz 6100), and scored some 128Mb SIMMs to upgrade it to 264Mb. There are rumours of 256Mb SIMMs, but I've never seen one.

Power Macintosh 6100
Power Macintosh 7100

I had a quite a few PCI Power Macintoshes, and various bits and pieces for them, including a ZIF carrier card and a few G3 accelerators. I had one with the AV card, and used it a few times for live video capture. I wouldn't mind getting a 9600 (or maybe a 7500), and upgrading it a bit to get OSX running on it. I think, theoretically, you can get 10.5 running on one.

Power Macintosh 7300
Power Macintosh 7500
Power Macintosh 7600
Power Macintosh 8500
Power Macintosh 8600
Power Macintosh 9600

And quite a few beige G3's, which were good back when G4s were still too much. The Beiges allowed you to use IDE drives, the CPU was on a ZIF and easily replaceable/overclockable, had built in everything plus 3 PCI slots. I had one running a Voodoo5 at one point, as well as Radeon 7000, firewire and USB2.

Power Macintosh G3 desktop
Power Macintosh G3 minitower

PowerBook G3s. I managed to get a near mint PowerBook G3 Pismo back in 2004. I still think it's the best laptop Apple made. The case design is far more beautiful (sensuous even) than anything else they've made, had most of what you'd want in a laptop for its time (and quite a few years after, too), and could be relatively easily upgraded. It had a cool feature which allowed you to swap out the optical drive for another drive (floppy, zip, hard drive) or second battery. And had a CardBus slot for expansion.
I upgraded it to 768MB RAM, 500MHz G3, 80GB hard drive, and a CardBus Airport compatible 802.11g card.
I sold it to pay for an overseas trip, and regret it still.

PowerBook G3 Wallstreet
PowerBook G3 Pismo

Very briefly had a 5 flavours iMac G3 tray loader. The only G3 iMac I've owned, and only one of two iMacs I've owned.

iMac G3 tray loader

Nearly every PowerMac G4 they made, except the later Mirror Door and Firewire 800 models which never seemed to be good value for money. The PowerMac G4s were the computers I started the transition to Mac from Windows on. I bought an AGP, which I upgraded and sold, then bought a Digital Audio, which I upgraded and sold, and then ended up with 933MHz Quicksilver, which I kept until I got my G5. I managed to upgrade from the AGP to the G5 without ever spending more than I sold the old computer for.

The Digital Audio was what I kept the longest. I had a 733MHz model, which was the top end in its day. The DA had a few advantages, basically the same as the QS (QS 2002 supported drives larger than 128GB), cheaper, a 133MHz bus, gigabit ethernet and a 4x AGP slot which meant more upgrades possible for the Video card. The only downside was the 3 RAM slots, although in its day 1.5GB was more than enough. I got around the 128GB drive limit by using a SATA card, with SATA drives.

There were quite a few upgrades along the way, flashed and modified G5 Radeons, SATA cards, PCI airport compatible cards, USB 2 cards, CPU upgrades, dual screens. I think I ended up with dual 21" screens. I still have a couple that have I got free or very cheap. Currently, I am upgrading a Gigabit with dual 7447a CPUs.

PowerMac G4 PCI
PowerMac G4 AGP
PowerMac G4 Gigabit
PowerMac G4 Digital Audio
PowerMac G4 Quicksilver
PowerMac G4 Quicksilver 2002

PowerMac G4 Mirror Drive Door (bought dead for parts, and never worked)

1 eMac, briefly. At the time I bought it I had a G4 with a 21 inch screen, so 17inch was not so impressive.

eMac 1GHz

Another bargain. All it needed was a new power adaptor. Kept this for some time, until I got a cheap, slightly faulty, white MacBook.

PowerBook G4 1.5GHz 15"

Mac Mini's are good a 2nd and 3rd computers. The G4 had a couple of flaws, some of which persist, firewire 400 and one 10/100 NIC. I think the Mac Mini's could benefit from dual NICs and maybe eSATA, although USB3 might do the trick on both counts, particularly in the server version.

Mac Mini G4 1.42GHz

Very cheap Xserves. I still have the G4 Dual, but had to scavenge the PowerSupply to repair another Xserve G4.

Xserve 1.33 G4 Dual

The dual 2GHz G5 was my first G5, and I had it from late 06 to late 07. No major upgrades apart from a 9800Pro, 4GB RAM, airport/bluetooth, and several hard drive upgrades. It was bought faulty, and repaired. I sold it anticipating the rev B Mac Pro was imminent, but ended up buying a very cheap 1.6 a month or two later to use until the 2008 Mac Pro arrived.

PowerMac G5 1.6GHz
PowerMac G5 2GHz dual


Another weekend hacking away

13/02/11 | by admin [mail] | Categories: Hardware

So, I found a nice book called Linux Sysadmin Recipes which covers a range of practical solutions and tools for administering Linux (and *nix) servers. It's the kind of good practical hints and tips that are really needed.

Anyway, one of the things Juliet Kemp suggests is to set up a wiki for managing documentation. A wiki has a number of strengths that make it quite useful for this. It is web accessible, meaning you can access it from any web browsers (more or less), and perhaps more usefully, make it accessible (in full or part) to other IT staff and end users. So, you can do something useful like document how to set up an email client, or VPN service, and your junior IT staffers and end users can read the info from their web browser. And by putting the info in one place, you can update it in one place, and everyone has access to the current version. And you can keep the more complex internal documents restricted to the appropriate staff.

The wiki can act as documentation, and knowledge base, and different users can be given different access. You can integrate authentication into your existing LDAP (or other directory service) and make it internal and/or internet facing. If you have multiple IT staff, they can update the documentation as needed, and since a history is kept, you can see the changes and who made them.

All in all, a very useful tool.

So, Juliet suggest mediawiki, which is very similar to the old wikipedia layout. Mediawiki requires a database backend (the usual suspects) PHP5, and a webserver (supported is IIS, Apache). I decided to try an install on 10.4.11 server, as I'd recently acquired a couple of cheap 10.4 licences, and 10.5/10.6 Server have their own wiki services built in.

First up was setting up a virtualised Mac OS X Server. More challenging than it appears. First attempt was with VMware Fusion 3. I used the 10.5 profile, and installed from a 10.4.7 iso. Install went ok, config went ok, update to 10.4.11 et al went ok. Open a terminal and type mysql -V and the VM hang. Interesting, reboot and try again. Same thing. Re-install to 10.4.7 and same thing, update to 10.4.11 et al and same thing.

So, no luck with vmware. I decided to cut my losses and try VirtualBox.

VirtualBox is maybe not as nice, but is a little more 'flexible'. So, go through the install routine under VirtualBox, and config, and update, and test and it works.

Now, 10.4.11 comes with PHP 4.4.9, so to run the current release of MediaWiki, I will need to update to PHP5, with the appropriate mods for Apache 1.3 (or else also update Apache to Apache2 on Tiger). Luckily, the guys at have already built PHP 5 for Mac OS X. But on 10.4.11, only version 5.2. But it will work, so I download, and install, and follow the instructions to disable the php4 module for Apache in Server Admin Web service.

Restart the web service, make a test page index.php with a print statement and the phpinfo() function and confirm that PHP5 is installed and working.

The next step is MySQL. The tools for starting/configuring MySQL are in /Applications/Server in 10.4. It's nice that they decided to integrate it into Server Admin in 10.5. I start the service, and set a mysql root password.

Good to go? Not quite. The PHP5 module references the default socket for mysql, which is /tmp/mysql.sock, rather than /var/mysql/mysql.sock. This need to be changed in the php.ini file, which is in a different location since PHP5 has installed into /usr/bin/local rather than overwrite PHP4. Which is a good thing, just takes a little hunting around to find it.

I updated the php.ini file, restarted apache, and checked my test php page to see if it the updated mysql socket details have come across.

Everything is ok, so I download and extract the mediawiki tarball, and set up a website to point at it, and create and chmod a config folder. And run through the install. No issues. Copy the created conf file to the web root, and we're up and running.

It works.

Is it worth it? Or is 10.5/10.6 wiki easier to deal with? It's a little bit of work, and I'd only recommend it if you needed to run it on 10.4. If you have 10.5/10.6, then it is far less effort to install (enable php5 module, start mysql, set up a website to point at the extracted mediawiki folder), although still a little more effort than setting up the wiki service. The 10.5/10.6 wiki is better looking by default.

Assuming you were installing this on a hosted service, with only FTP and phpMyAdmin (and php5/apache etc), then it is very doable. All files can be uploaded, moved, created, manipulated with any decent ftp client, and phpMyAdmin will allow you to manually create the databases if you don't have the mysql root password.

One of the things this experience does underline, though, is some of OS X's weakness compared to Linux. Installing an updated version of PHP on any major distro of Linux, is near trivial. Indeed, updating Apache and MySQL is fairly trivial, too. If I had wanted or needed the current version of PHP (5.3.5), then I would have had to build from source, which would mean digging around for the source and instructions. Macports does have 5.3.5, although it is not clear if it apache2 only.


Another RAID failure

03/02/11 | by admin [mail] | Categories: Hardware

Actually, this is two stories. A client had a mirror RAID die on them about 4 months ago, but could not be convinced to spend the money on a second drive (about $100) to replace the failed drive and rebuild the mirror. So, 4 months later the other drive failed. And they had to pay for 2 hours labour to recover the data, luckily they had a relatively current Time Machine backup. And they were down for days.

This underlines the earlier point that similar drives have similar failure rates. If you build a RAID with identical drives, expect the 2nd drive to failure not long after the first, and if you build a RAID-5 with identical drives, you are asking for trouble.

The second story is about an external RAID-5 box. A couple of clients have had these. They are a nice idea. An external device that does RAID 5, and connects to the host with eSATA, USB, Firewire etc, and does all the building itself. What they offer is a self contained and reliable storage. However, my experience with these devices is that they aren't quite reliable enough. In one instance there was a brief power outage causing the RAID box to report itself as failed (the server etc came back up without issue). It necessitated an onsite, and re-reading the config from the drives. In the second case, the RAID box was powered down over the christmas break, and on restart reported itself as faulty, necessitating an onsite and same procedure of re-reading the config from the drive.

This RAID box failed at the core task of a RAID, reliability and continuity. In both cases, no data was lost, but time was lost. If the device fails at one of its core duties, it fails as a product.


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