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Two Dimensional Dog

Filed under: General — 19day @ 21:26:33

Joey, my parents dog, is now down an eye. He had some sort of blockage that caused the normal pressure in one of the eyes to leap something like 4 times normal, causing a slipped lens (or perhaps due to it). We noticed it when I was taking care of things while my parents went out and I destroyed their computer. All we knew was that he would squint with that eye occasionally, and were hoping it wasn’t going to be an issue. But the area became swelled with infection, and even began affecting the other eye. My mother spent a week at the vet’s where essentially she was told the eye would have to come out. If it didn’t then, it would probably eventually, he was already blind in that eye due to the damage already done. Then she was told that during the operation, there was a 1 in 4000 chance they’d damage the nerves such that he would be completely blind. And that was only if he survived the operation at all since he’d have to go under general anethetic, which always carries risks.

In the end though, as of Friday last week, he was done, sans an eye, still with vision in the other one, and home again, though wearing a lampshade around his neck for two weeks. He still needs to have the other eye monitored, but for the moment it seems the worst is over. He’ll probably bump into things for a while, but he was doing that anyway even with two good eyes.


Joey in 2007.

In other news, I lost an external drive this weekend, I seem to have bad luck with hardware now. I had a 320GB drive that was kind of flaky ever since I got it. I was hoping it would work better on Vista (perhaps with a better driver) but windows would still report disk errors with it in the event log, and lose sight of the drive contents until it was power-cycled (the drive, not the computer). Anyway, I bought a 1TB drive and copied all the stuff over from the flaky drive. I was originally planning to just format it, but I decided to run the windows version of Disk Doctor, having it scan for bad sectors and all. It was taking a long time, so I left it to run overnight. I got up the next day to find that the window was already closed, so I had no idea what the results would have been. I checked the contents of the drive, but it didn’t see anything, so I power cycled it, and it still didn’t have anything. On further inspection, it said the file system was RAW. So trying to fix the drive utterly destroyed it, oh well, I copied the stuff off, so I’ll just format it. Trying that just has a dialog pop up immediately saying the format failed. I’m not sure what else to do, but since it has a history of acting up, I’ll just retire it outright.

It was my Strange drive. I named my volumes (and wrote in ink on the enclosure) for quarks. I didn’t really plan to have many drives, so I thought 6 names would be enough. I currently have Top (1TB), Bottom (500GB), Up (250GB at work right now), Down (250 GB), Charm (500GB), and Strange (320GB and dead). These are all connected to the Vista machine via a USB hub. They sit on a shelving unit next to my desk that I got for expressely for these drives. Alicia was over and saw them for the first time and was shocked at all the storage, heh. I also have an unnamed drive that isn’t connected up that I used to backup my internal drives on the old XP box. The backups were done ad-hoc and quite old, it’s basically emergency backup to have something. I need to figure out a proper backup strategy.

So these past few months have been pretty unpleasant. Computers dying, cameras breaking, and even the family dog going under the knife. Hopefully the fullness of spring will bring nicer things.

Updated: nicer things failed to be brought, as Joey’s other eye went soon after and had to be removed. He’s now blind, but seems to be coping okay.


To the Winch, Wench

Filed under: General — 19day @ 23:55:24

For Vera’s birthday, we went to Medieval Times, which is something I’ve wanted to go to for a long while, though I hadn’t thought of it for years. Though of course the first trick was to get down there, which was further away than I first thought. I’m not particularly adept at getting around via busses and streetcars as I’m not particularly aware of them or the routes. So I got a general gist of where the place was, which was beyond the exhibition area and I figured I could find it from the ground.

I headed to Union and there were all sorts of helpful signs saying “This way to Exhibition streetcar” and the last stop was called Exhibition loop, it was hard to get it wrong, and in a twist, I didn’t. Though once I arrived, I wasn’t sure where to go. I thought the roof of the place was multicoloured and that I’d be able to spot it, but it’s actually just red. I was mistaken due to seeing the roof from google maps across VPN into work, which I had set to a low colour, and it was zoomed out, so all of that made it look different than it was. And besides, I couldn’t really spot it from the ground anyway. I was hoping for “This was to Medival Times” but found none. I did find some map kiosks around, but none of them told me where I was on it, so I only had a vague idea where I was given the giant building I was next to, but couldn’t decide on a bearing, and ended up going the complete wrong way. I had maybe 15 minutes left until the meeting time, so I figured I wouldn’t make it, but as I was walking back, Chez and Alicia drove up, having spotted me. Even heading in the right direction, I still would have had problems finding it.

So we arrived, and went into the ticket line, but it was kind of baffling. They asked us for a confirmation number, which we had, and then asked if we had tickets, which we didn’t (or rather, Vera had the tickets). I was confused why they would ask those questions in that order, and even when we got the tickets from Vera when she arrived, and waited for others to turn up, we still didn’t know what the point of the tickets was, but it was later discovered that the tickets had to be redeemed for table marker things. We were Green 18, and eventually were seated, and we were dead last to arrive, the show started almost immediately after.

The stadium is divided into 6 segments, each a different colour, Red, Blue, Yellow, Red and Yellow, Black and White, and Green. There are also the six knights with those colours, and we were to cheer for ours and boo the others. We were seated in the very back row possible in the Green section, but it was still a good side to be on since it was the side of the stadium with the entrance for the horses, and above that the King and Queen high table, so we got to see more than some people closer to the front but on the far side of the stadium.

It was very dark in the back row, and our serving wench (which is how she introduced herself) overfilled some of our glasses. The meal was served in stages over the middle section of the show. The start of the show had some plot, but at the heart of the mealtime the show was mostly entertainment in the form I anti-euphamistically call horse torturing. Well, they had the horses running canters in circles and had them do different runs and walks, including the Spanish walk which was pretty dramatic looking. The meal itself started with Tomato Bisque, then a half roast chicken, a spare rib, half a seasoned baked potato, garlic bread and an apple pastry. All were eaten with the hands, and for us, in the dark. I have lots of food aversions, but I enjoyed the meal, the chicken was greasy and I didn’t like the leg bits much, but there was good breast meat. The spare rib was fatty at times but I enjoyed it, and all the rest was good.

As the plot developed, it turned out that our guy, the Green Knight, was the antagonist of the show, and the badass. Some of our group lamented that fact, but I liked it, as our knight was really the only one with personality. The rest were just Knights of the Realm, but our guy had an agenda and was memorable. I mean, we knew he had to be defeated in the end, but it was still fun shouting out “You Go Green” and “Down with the king”, I regret nothing. The show lasted around 2 hours, and my voice was struggling near the end. We were also witness to a proposal made just before the show, and we were generally of the opinion that we would not have done that ourselves.

After the show we went to Demetre’s, closeby to my apartment, and were given another show by our waiter who wowed us with his memory skills. We all ordered, but out of order in terms of going one way or the other around the table, and all ordered different things, and the waiter wasn’t writing anything down. Someone piped up at the end “You’re not going to remember this, are you?” and he took that challenge, and recited all of our orders instantly. We applauded. I walked home after that and cracked into some Macadamia nuts that Alicia got me from Hawaii. She also got me a pen with wood elements and it has my name engraved on it, along with Hawaiian form, Kawana. As it is one of the few pens in my apartment that actually works, I’ll be using it, and when it fails, I’ll put it on my bookshelf of memories.

Celebrating the first blog post in a while not computer-related.


Warnings and Errors and PIO, Oh My

Filed under: General — 19day @ 01:52:08

So my old XP computer is doing a major fade. Over the weekend I had Norton File Protection encounter a problem and crash, well hurrah. The main drive was down to 3 gigs, and the computer seemed sluggish, so I moved or deleted stuff that freed up 36 gigs, but Norton was being a pain in the ass and holding on to all of it for it’s undelete. I really hated the protected recycle bin, but it saved me once so I was always hesitant to turn it off. I tried to empty the protected files, and it just froze up explorer. So then I tried turning it off from the Norton config screen, and trying to get there froze up norton, ah crap. I tried to manually restart the service, but it didn’t seem to like that either, so I resolved to reboot. As it shut down and then again while it was loading, I thought it was taking a very long time. And then when it was up again, it still felt sluggish, even after waiting for the inevitable startup crap to finish up. Process explorer showed that the Interrupts pseudo-task was doing little spikes here and there, 1% here, and then maybe a minute later, jump up to 20% for a second, then back down to nothing again for a while. I immediately felt uneasy… something was up, I knew it didn’t normally do that. But I left it for a bit thinking maybe I missed it before.

During the week, it occurred to me why windows might be slow and why interrupts would be running. Something I had read about a few years ago somehow bubbled to the top, PIO transfer mode. See, device data transfer is too annoying for a CPU to usually get involved, it’s too slow, so it gets tossed off to dedicated handlers to do it behind the CPU’s back, and it’s called DMA. There are increasing levels for DMA, higher is better, and faster. Normally these are set to take the best mode available for the device and the cabling. Now, the thing I had read about was how Windows could be mean to you if you had a scratched CD or a flaky hard drive. As the operating system encounters errors from the device for those reasons (especially bad for a simple scratched CD or DVD), it steps down through the access methods until it hits the lowest level, PIO, where the CPU does the heavy lifting. Now, that’s nice and all, especially with a flaky device, keeps it alive. But windows keeps (or perhaps kept, not sure if this changed) the value forever. So one bad CD and ruin your drive essentially, by dumming it down to PIO. It can be changed, but not really easily, you can’t just tell it to be good again, you need to jump through a couple hoops.

Unfortunately, my hard drive was set to this PIO mode, so it was slow as a river of bricks. Now, I started looking up how to reset it to its former glory, but checking the event log showed me why it was dropped to PIO at all.

Warning:An error was detected on device \Device\Harddisk0\D during a paging operation.
Error:The device, \Device\Ide\IdePort0, did not respond within the timeout period.

What? What the hell now… are you kidding? Oh dear god no…. more digital fire. And searching for these terms is no help, I found tonnes of people all asking each other if they knew what it meant, and usually the symptoms were accompanied by freezing or occasional failure to boot. Yeah, it looked bad, and the options here were no good at all. The drive could be failing… the drive controller could be failing… the motherboard could be failing. About the only non-disastrous cause was perhaps the IDE cable was screwed up. But given the age of the drive, I think it really could be dying outright. Even the secondary hard disk in the computer was getting reports of errors and a status of Healthy (At Risk) from the Disc Management snap-in, so both were heading downhill. I did entertain myself a bit trying to see if maybe it was that drive that was set to PIO and was causing all the fuss, but according to XP, Device 0 on IDE chain 0 was set to PIO, while all the others were set to high DMA levels. And even at PIO, more errors were being added to the log. There was never a problem that windows directly reported, so I guess the drive eventually responded. But I was waiting for it to just bluescreen on me at any minute, so I spent hours into the night copying, very very slowly, everything I could think of from the two internal drives to my external drives. Trouble is that stuff is everywhere, and I had to hunt around a bit.

Now I think I’ve copied everything I can, so I’ve shut down the dear old XP box. I’ll only start it again if I remember something I needed to salvage, or when I start to tinker with it. I’ll try to figure out what’s wrong with it, I mean, there seem to be several things, since when it did the hard fails with bluescreens before, I was checking the event logs a lot and hadn’t seen the hard drive related errors then, so this appears to be relatively new.

The other other thing that’s done this is one of the external drives I have, where occasionally it just dies, windows claims it can’t see anything on it, 0 bytes, but the drive is there. Also can’t safely remove it despite nothing having an open handle to it, but cycling the hard drive power makes it come back, and apparently, with no ill effect. I think I’ll need to replace that one too, but I put low priority stuff on it anyway. I was nearly going to buy a NAS recently too, with dual 1-TB drives for it, on Raid-1, but I can’t justify the expense to myself right now, proping up the economy be damned. I looked up Drobo first actually, it sounded like a neat device at the time, but it is hella expensive, no discs with it, and only recently got Network-connectivity at huge expense, so I don’t think I can go for that one either.

When my parents computer exploded when I touched it, and when we surmised (though it has not yet been confirmed) that it was due to a hard drive failure, I thought to myself, I haven’t really had a hard drive fail. Well, I had one that occasionally threw out CRC warnings, but it lasted a good long time and I replaced it with another one for capacity reasons. But I hadn’t had a big one. I thought I was due, but not this soon. I suppose I’m lucky in that I had the chance to back stuff up.

Anyone got some DAT’s they don’t need anymore… and a backup server to write to them?


VM Madness

Filed under: General — 19day @ 00:05:54

So I found my copy of XP and installed a virtual machine of it on my vista box. Running XP in a virtual machine does have it’s disadvantages, at least using VirtualBox. For fun I decided to try to run the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy text adventure on it first, sort of like how I tried running it first on Vista to find (or rather, sadly, confirm) that DOS stuff was right out on 64bit platform. Unfortunately, under the XP VM, the whole thing died taking the VM manager with it, which is pretty crappy. A bug was logged with Sun a year ago and I guess it’s not a priority, as everything still seems to run under DosBox.

Can I just say thank bob for DosBox? If it weren’t for that, my parents new computer wouldn’t be usable as a backup for my mother if her work computer dies. Dosbox provides a valuable service that Microsoft seems unwilling to provide. Which is unfortunate, fine, but also kind of weird. I mean, who better than they to provide this, even if not baked into windows but as a side-along app like Dosbox? And I’ll quote something from The Old New Thing

Why 16-bit DOS and Windows are still with us

Many people are calling for the abandonment of 16-bit DOS and 16-bit Windows compatibility subsystems. And trust me, when it comes time to pull the plug, I’ll be fighting to be the one to throw the lever. (How’s that for a mixed metaphore.)
But that time is not yet here.
You see, folks over in the Setup and Deployment group have gone and visited companies around the world, learned how they use Windows in their businesses, and one thing keeps showing up, as it relates to these compatibility subsystems: Companies still rely on them. Heavily.
Every Company has its own collection of line-of-business (LOB) applications. These are programs that the company uses for its day-to-day business, programs the company simply cannot live without. …
The LOB application is the deal-breaker. If a Windows upgrade breaks a LOB application, it’s game over. No upgrade. No company is going to lose a program that is critical to their business.
And it happens that a lot of these LOB applications are 16-bit programs. Some are DOS. Some are 16-bit programs written in some ancient version of Visual Basic.

Perhaps with a big enough carrot, these companies could be convinced to undertake the effort (abd risk!) of porting (or in the case of lost source code and/or expertise, rewriting from scratch) their LOB applications.
But it’ll have to be a really big carrot.
Real example: Just this past weekend I was visiting a friend who lived in a very nice, professionally managed apartment complex. We had occasional to go to the office, and I caught a glimpse of their computer screen. The operating system was Windows XP. And the program they were running to do their apartment management? It was running in a DOS box.

Chen, R (2007). The Old New Thing:Practical development throughout the evolution of windows. Boston,MA: Pearson Education, Inc.

For simple consumers not interested in building their own computers (like my parents), seems that the carrot is actually more of a stick. See, if you just walk into a big box store like Futureshop trying to get a simple desktop computer, all you can get now is 64bit machine with 64bit vista. Dell is pretty much like this too (though the last I checked, you could still try to get 32bit Vista, but I don’t think it’s DOS support is all there, if at all). So really I guess it’s businesses that get to hang onto their stuff for a while longer, since businesses are the big important thing. My mother is her own business, and it needed WordPerfect 5.1. Oh well, apparently. So again, thankfully Dosbox picks up the pieces for us. At least so far, I’m still holding my breath until such time as she actually tries to use it fully to see if it all works.

But anyway, at least with this XP VM I can remote desktop to work, which pretty much covers all I needed, so I guess I can ditch this old crashy XP machine, except that it has all my stuff… grr. Oh, and I decided to install my Space Quest collection Alicia got me on the XP VM, set up the sound card, and try to play it. It actually works, and the sound as well (though that took a few tries). I’m amused that it installs it’s own copy of Dosbox though, hehe.

Click for larger image

So here is Space Quest 1 VGA running on the XP VM in the top left
Worms running in a previously installed Ubuntu install on the top right
VLC on the host playing an episode of Father Ted, for fun
CPU graph showing all is well on the host, Vista.


I Am Become Gigabyte, Destroyer of Systems

Filed under: General — 19day @ 17:28:06

So for the second time, a computer under my influence has died. I did a couple of things to it before the big fade, I moved some music files from the boot partition to another partition to free up space. I ran Ccleaner to delete the IE mystery zone of internet files and cookies and such, but I didn’t have it touch the registry or anything sensitive. I downloaded overdisk to see what was using the most space, and I saw that a lot of it was in windows, in the spot where it downloads updates. It had downloaded 45 updates, but it wasn’t set to install them. I know of a number of worms around exploiting patched defects, so I had it install them. Oh, you need to reboot now? Okay. Ah yes, dual boot, 98 or XP, well, back into XP….

Windows could not start because the following file is missing or corrupt.
Please reinstall a copy of the above file.

Ah crap. That’s not good. I rebooted and tried again (why not) and it happened again. I rebooted again and went into the primary boot partition that is running windows 98 (which is what originally came from the computer). I use explorer on 98 side to see that the file for the XP side is indeed there, but as for it being corrupted, I couldn’t tell that. Doing this took like half an hour, because accessing certain bits of the D: filesystem froze up 98 pretty good for around 10 minutes each. This was the first real clue as to what might be going on. The second was attempting to reboot into XP again in Safe Mode, and then Last Good Configuration Mode, and getting absolutely nothing… just a black screen and no disk activity whatsoever. The third clue, if it is one, was some odd behaviour when booting back into 98.

See, after rebooting back and forth a couple of times, 98 wouldn’t boot up normally anymore. I was infuriated at that point. It was doing it’s crap behind the 98 loading logo, and then beepidy beeped, and brought me back to text mode with Norton saying that it thinks it smells disk corruption and to press any key to scan, and then goes ahead and scans anyway. It immediately started with the D drive, which is where XP lives, rather than C drive, which is 98 side. It made it as far as scanning for a boot sector and basically froze up. I reset and then canceled the scan to make it all the way into 98, which is more or less stable for the moment.

I had also attempted to boot from XP Pro install disc we’ve got here and try to repair the installation. I had tried once and got into the Recovery Console, but it couldn’t read the D drive (after the fact, I suspect it remapped stuff around). I tried again but selected to install XP (I was looking for the magic auto fixer). I got as far as XP asking which partition I wanted to install on. It saw the C drive and its one partition, with 98 on it. It saw the D drive (physically) and it saw 3 partitions, as it should. Unfortunately, only the last one was given it’s volume label, the other two were labeled as Unknown Partition. This could only be very bad.

All research into the problem I was doing online was being done on my mother’s work computer, a seperate but equally fragile 98 install. The 98 side of the affected computer didn’t have net setup properly (we basically always used XP on that one). Certain malware can do stuff like what we saw, but given the 98 side freezeups trying to enumerate the file system, my brother and I decided it must be corruption on the disk itself. A disk that unfortunately was sliced into 3 partitions.

What to do was also a problem, no partition was big enough to act as a new XP host, we weren’t sure if the XP disc we had was valid (or if it was from my installation on my home computer, it tended to get passed around so XP could be repaired. I really hate the policy these days of not giving installation media but having “Recovery Partitions”… you can’t actually fix anything, you just destroy your data is all), and the computer itself is old, could we even buy a new internal IDE drive to install XP on?

So we decided, perhaps impulsively, to just go out and get a new computer, so we got an HP Pavillion, Quad Core, 4 GB RAM, Vista Home Premium computer 64bit. Apparently you can’t get a 32bit computer anymore, at least not from a big box store. I really wanted it to be 32bit (or running a 32bit OS) because I wanted fewer headaches for my parents to use the stuff they wanted to use. Anyway, stuck with 64bit machine, I’ve been attempting to set it up. Despite my parents not doing much with the ‘fun’ computer (as opposed to my mother’s ‘work’ computer), there are a couple of things that they wanted. Primarily, it needed to be a backup for the fragile work computer, meaning it has to run WordPerfect 5.1, which she has to use. The DOS one. The one from 1989. Vista 64bit has totally dropped support for DOS stuff… luckily Dosbox is there to pick up the peices and I got that working with WP so far. Getting a copy of WP off her machine was another trick entirely. Both the vista and work machines are tied into a router, but they couldn’t effectively see each other, a few internet searches warned about attempting this freezing 98, so I backed off and did some tricks with the internet to get the files to me.

Two other lost causes are the scanner and printer, both use parallel port for connection, and apparently that form of connectivity has been shunned. So getting this computer means new scanner and printer I guess. The 98 side of the broken computer can still use them I think, but I don’t want to attempt hooking crap up to the work machine for fear of breaking that too. Another potential loss is my father’s horse pedigree related program, he said he can just download it again as he bought a license to use it and all, but I was worried about it being compatible with vista. It is trapped on the broken computer right now so I can’t try it right now, but I’m currently lead to believe that it is 32bit, as is its installer, which is good news.

Trying to rescue stuff off the broken machine has proved to be a bit of a problem. I bought a spool of CD’s in the hopes of just using 98 side to burn whatever we wanted, however 98 can’t see the burner, maybe it never could, it worked fine in XP and that’s all we used, damnation. Internet doesn’t work either, despite all the settings basically being correct compared to the other 98 machine that connects fine, so I’m out of ideas there. The grand plan was to get an IDE enclosure to put the defective drive in, rescue as much as possible, and see if it really was corruption. However, brother didn’t bring his, and we couldn’t find one to buy here, so I guess that part of the plan has to wait for another day.

So really, I’m not sure if I caused the problem by installing the updates, hell, maybe we played with the windows XP boot logo, I can’t remember, I don’t think we did though. I know that will cause kerplosion when you install a service pack. Or maybe Ccleaner killed something, but I doubt it. I hope it’s the corruption thing, cause then it will just have been a coincidence. A horrifying, expensive coincidence. My parents and brother don’t understand why I get so worked up about computer problems, when I get into a level of anxiety usually reserved for spiders crawling on my face and me with my arachnophobia.

The trick is, I’m a packrat, in a physical sense to a degree, but much much more in a digital sense. My home computer’s 2 internal drives and 4 external drives (with an addition external I used for backup, and another one sitting at work) are a bit of an indicator. Now, take someone who is really a packrat in the traditional sense, and then set their house on fire… see how they react. These types of computer screwups are, to me, a digital fire.

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