March 2014


That’s the number of emails sent out this morning by a test service that was getting pummeled by an automated QA script.

Mood: Cranky.

[Update: after many eyes explored the logs, the QA test script was found to have done exactly the right thing, and the bug was in the actual service. So, a big huzzah for catching a truly crippling bug before it reached Production, but damn that was a mess.]

Columbo on Bluray

I just learned that there is a limited-edition Bluray box set of the complete Columbo series, for the Japanese market. It includes the English audio tracks, though, so the only snag for most people would be navigating the menus.

Well, and coming up with the $275 plus shipping at Amazon Japan. The “plus shipping” is what makes the $375 import pricing at Amazon US not completely outrageous.

It comes in a cigar box.

Fortunately, we're not hiring proofreaders...

Dear student looking for a summer internship,

When one of the prominent credits on your thin résumé is “Perfect SAT Score in Math & English”, you really ought to have caught the howler in “I have learned how to diffuse confrontations…”.

And, yes, I know you’re an undergrad, so there’s not much to fill the page with, but the sidebar labeled Strengths has 2 lines of technical ability (repeated from the main text), and 32 lines of Precious Stanford Snowflake back-patting; this does nothing to endear you to me before the interview.

P.S. I know it’s not your fault that modern college admissions forces you to play up bulllshit like Presidential Community Service Awards. Just show up prepared to talk about problem-solving and putting your technical skills to practical use, and you’ll do fine.

New home firewall router

On a whim, I went looking for a new small-form-factor PC to use as a home firewall. I found the Shuttle DS61, which has several things to recommend it: dual gigabit NICs, mSATA port, dual serial ports, 4x USB2 and 2x USB3, HDMI and DVI, and the ability to take up to a Core i7 and 16GB of RAM.

Everything but the USB3 ports are supported by OpenBSD, so it will make a spiffy little firewall. It would be nice to have a third NIC to run a DMZ, but the only thing I’m using a second static IP for right now is my wireless, which I can leave untouched. The CPU and RAM are serious overkill, but it means I have plenty of spare power for Openvpn and IPSec tunnels.

So, for $427.61 on Amazon, I got:

It took about ten minutes to put it together and boot it up. I did a quick OpenBSD test first to make sure everything worked, then threw a graphical install of Scientific Linux 6.4 on it to see how it worked as a potential developer box. (modulo the lightweight CPU and small amount of RAM I put in it, that is)

So far I like it. I might even hold off on turning it into a firewall for a while, and use it to replace and move it out of the current co-lo. I’ve been running on an old beta NetEngine for, um, too many years, with a 500MHz Pentium 3, 256MB of RAM, and an 80GB hard drive.

Aero considered harmful

Outlook 2013 started breaking for our users last week. Only some of them, and not all at the same time, but the symptom was that the application would no longer start, hanging at the “loading profile…” screen.

The solution is to switch to the “Windows 7 Basic” graphical theme, turning off all the 3D UI decorations.

No, seriously.

And that’s about four days of sysadmin time that we’d like back, please.

Microsoft Surface Power Cover

Microsoft finally released the Surface Power Cover recently, and it was worth the wait.

There is only one downside: the keys aren’t backlit, like the standard Touch and Type Covers. I can’t imagine why they did this, since the set of people who want significantly more battery life and don’t want a backlighting option has to be pretty small.

Physically, it’s twice as thick and twice as heavy as the standard Type Cover, giving my Surface Pro 2 more of a netbook feel to carry, but not unpleasantly so. It came with a warning label telling you to make sure you have all the latest software updates before attaching it, but since I preordered mine the moment they flipped the switch on the Microsoft site, I got it the day before the official release date, and the firmware updates didn’t show up until the next day. It worked fine, though, and after the update, the battery levels were tracked separately.

How well does it work? Well, I just finished 45 minutes on the elliptical with a ripped Bluray disc playing, at 2/3 volume and 100% brightness, with WiFi turned on. The system reported that I had just over 15 hours of battery life left, and based on how the Pro 2 has performed the past few months, I believe it.

Triggers and Trolls

"Don't say these terrible things that wound me psychologically," we say. "I'm going out of town for a week and keeping my door unlocked. Please don't rob my house," is what the troll hears.


“Need a clue, take a clue,
 got a clue, leave a clue”