Friday, April 29, 2011

Dead Servers, Dead Hard Drives, Dead Video Matrices....

Geez....I'm surround by DEATH at work!
Well, defunct hardware anyway.....
18 months ago, shortly before I was "released" as a contractor from the site I was assigned to, we came up with a very comprehensive shut-down procedure, and a set of minimum environmental control standards to be maintained after the equipment was powered down. Some of it happened, and some of it didn't. We knew the server/communications room was apt to get too hot, and we even had a portable air conditioner set up, with its exhaust directed into the air return for the ship's HVAC system. It kept the room at a nice 65 degrees, a welcome change from the times it got over one-hundred degrees in there when something went wacky with the ship's HVAC system.
WELL....we never finished shutting everything down, as each round of layoffs (that's really what they were) left fewer and fewer qualified people to work the procedures. It turns out that some of the servers were left operating because nobody was around to properly power them off, BUT because the air conditioning and HVAC were just soooo easy to turn off, that's what happened.
And none of the more obscure video equipment used to route the video sources, and run the Big Screens, got shut down.
And these things run hot.
Last week we started the process of bringing things back up, and some things just didn't turn back on, either at all, or properly. Bringing the servers up and examining their logs showed that whoever had shut the down basically just "pulled the plug".
I was able to get the systems we needed up and running so that we could do some testing, but I've got two application servers that have wonked out hard disks in them, and a couple of the others are throwing errors.
My suggestion will be to image the hard drives in the known good ones, replace ALL the hard drives in the 8 "mission critical" machines, and then re-image them with the good image.
You do NOT want an applications server to go down at T minus 10 minutes!
The video gear mostly has fried power supplies. I pulled a supply out of one of our good shelf-spares, and used it to confirm that was the problem with all the "failed" equipment. The supplies are being used at about 85% of their capacity (850mA from a 1 Amp supply), which I consider borderline for long-term reliability. Eventually we'll be upgrading all the "Big Screen" stuff, but for now we'll just lay in a good supply of the little power modules inside the boxes, and live with it.
The company that originally made these boxes wants $450 to "repair" them, and since the supplies can be had for about $20 shipped, it's a good way to save the reconstituted enterprise some money.
And we haven't even started on the RF systems and Weather Radar yet. The next four months should be a lot of fun.....

On the home front, I've been trimming trees all weekend, and *finally* got the lights on my little tower trailer wired up so I can haul it down to the DMV and get it licensed. Field Day is coming up the last weekend in June, and I need to get plates on it so I can tow it down to the Field Day site.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Get Over It!

I was going through my archives this morning, and found one of my favorite Eagles songs, "Get Over It!".
It's fitting song for today's "Victim Mentality", and you can actually understand the lyrics as he sings them. And watch that wicked slide guitar WB6ACU plays!

Enjoy!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Light Blogging For A While.....

GROAN.......Just not used to getting up at O-Dark-Thirty, running around all day between two ships, climbing 157 (yes, I counted them!) steps on one of the ships to get all the way to the Comm Shack on the top under the main mast, and climbing ladders into and out of the SatCom dome on the other one.
At least our tests are running well, and I've lost track of how many times I've had people tell me how nice it is to have me back!
After we get the SatCom RF tests finished, I get to power up and check out the weather radar system. We're the ONLY ship in the world that has a C-Band Doppler radar for weather use, and I'm one of maybe 5 people that know (and *understand*!) how it works. I've already been told the controller is timing out on servo errors, so I suppose I'll be spending a lot of time up in the dome showing the youngsters how to swap out a servo, test it, and then calibrate the whole antenna controller servo system. Last time I showed them how to level the antenna I don't think they "got it", and it's possible that the person who was doing the "preventive" maintenance went in to the configuration section of the controller program and dinked with it.
And I suppose I'll have to teach them about Magnetic North vs True North, local deviation , and how they relate to the calibration procedure, all over again.
And probably another lesson on how using a hand-held magnetic compass on a STEEL ship can give you false information.
And we still have to bring the INU's back online, and probably send out the sensors for calibration.
Oh....calibration!
EVERYTHING is at least 12 months out of the calibration cycle! Since we have a lot of redundant instruments, I'm trying to convince the management to send half out now, and the other half out in 90 days. That way we'll never have all the instruments come due at the same time, which could shut us down.
That happened during my first "tour of duty" at this site, and it took much wailing and gnashing of teeth (along with lots of phone calls to the manufacturers) to convince Management that we could put a 30-day waiver on some of the instruments, and get them calibrated after we finished the current deployment.
Everyday my job jar gets fuller and fuller!

Monday, April 18, 2011

"First Day" Back At Work.....

.......And I spent half the day shaking hands with people I'd worked with there for over five years.
Went through my security briefings, got my badges and parking decal, and a stack of paperwork to fill out for the medical benefits, 401(k), direct deposit, yadda-yadda-yadda.
Everything has been "Cold Iron" for over a year now, and yes, they're worried too, that some things might not / will not power back up, either properly, or at all.
We're completely replacing the data aggregator for the satcom system, so tomorrow my task will be to get the antenna and uplink controllers reprogramed to track the satellite we'll be temporarily using, shifting all the carrier and data frequencies to the new values, and setting the cross-pole correctly, so the preliminary testing of the new data system will run without worrying that something is wrong with the RF link up to the bird.
Geez....I could have sworn I wrote and distributed some clear-and-concise documents for the youngsters to follow, AND trained them in how-to-do-it, but everybody there is scared shitless to actually DO anything, touch anything, or program any new values into the controllers.
Sigh.......
Oh, well. Gives Old Greybeards like me a chance to teach them again, make some extra retirement cash, and have fun.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

"Atlas Shrugged: Part 1" -My Take-

This is kinda funny. Last summer I gave my wife my copy of Rand's book to read. She got about half way through it, and gave up. She said she didn't like the characters in the book, and it was "too wordy".
Tonight we're leaving the movie, and she says "Wow, that was really good".
I was almost speechless, and then we started discussing the movie.
One thing that I noticed about 10~15 minutes into the movie was "Is this really Part 1"? I felt like I was watching a mini-series, and had caught it at the second or third episode. Granted, it's a long, complex book, but I felt that "something" was missing, and I can't quite put my finger on it.
I thought the actor that played Hank Rearden did an great job, while the actress that played Dagny Taggart was a bit lifeless for the first half of the movie. To me, the way the characters played in the movie are almost a complete reversal of how I perceived the characters in the book. Rearden's family, except for his wife Lillian, were relegated to much less important roles than the characters in the book.
Francisco d'Anconia is another major character in the book who's given very little 'air time', and Hugh Akston comes off as major space-case
Again, this is a long, complex novel with deep characters, and bringing it to the screen at all is a major triumph.
While I won't say it's one of the best movies so far this year, I think it's one of the more important ones, given the relevance of Rand's book to today's society.

Here's a much better review from the American Thinker website.

Friday, April 15, 2011

"Atlas Shrugged: Part I" Opens Tonight

I'd go, but I have a prior commitment.
I just hope they don't screw it up!

Visit the Official Atlas Shrugged Movie Web Site here.

Trailer here

List of Theaters

Thursday, April 14, 2011

25,000 Visits!


I just checked my sitemeter page, and I see I've gone slightly over 25,000 visitors.
While I'll never get to the numbers that some of my friends out here have, it's gratifying that enough people have stopped by to let me achieve this.
Either that or I'm a terrible writer, and people come by to use me as an example of how NOT to blog!
Off to the dentist...I was chewing on a caramel last night, and I popped a cap off one of my molars. Hopefully my dentist can just glue it back on without any other work.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Crawl Spacin' FINALE!


WHEW....I'm finished with the project, and it works fine.
Signal levels at each Set Top Box increased by 6~7dB, and the Signal-to-Noise ratio improved by a similar amount. My wife can now watch programs recorded on the home theater DVR without having them break-up/artifact/pixelate, which made watching them before an exercise in frustration.
I finished the little network panel this morning, and mounted it in the closet. I cut over all the Ethernet connections first and tested them, and now everybody's PC zips along at full FiOS speeds, 35 meg up and down. I was able to retire THREE wireless routers I had been using as Ethernet "bridges", and get rid of the Cat5e cable I had running from the main FiOS router in the living room to my stepson's bedroom.
Removing unsightly cables draped all over the place goes over very big with your spouse!
And I no longer have the "Looking Up...." or "Page Timed Out....." messages in the browser on my PC. I knew I had some DNS issues between the wireless bridge I was using and the main router, but I could never get them nailed down. Now, with a wired connection (well...there's a couple of GigE switches in the path, but they're 'transparent') to the main router, those problems are gone.
After getting the network tested, I went ahead and cut over the coaxial part of the system. At first I was going to just run a jumper from the existing coax out of the ONT (Optical Network Terminal) and the new coax I installed, but after I pulled the access panel off, I decided to just connect the new coax into the network panel in the closet. I switched all the cables on the Verizon router and STB's , and then power-cycled them all to let the network reset and come back up.
Everything worked!
My wife was surprised that I had some doubts about it working, but until you flip the switch, you never really know.
Tomorrow I'm going to remove all the old double-coax on the outside of the house, and push the old cables down through the floor and seal the holes. I'll pull it all up through the hatch in the closet floor, and dump it in the recycle bin.
There's not much copper in this type of coax; the center conductor is copper-plated steel, and the shields are all aluminized mylar foil, and aluminum braid. The new coax I used has a solid-copper center conductor, and two layers each of foil and braid, hence the term "Quad Shielded".
This is a project that I've wanted to do since we got FiOS installed, and it's finally done!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Cables Pulled, Terminated, and Checked!

WHOO-HOO!
I'm in the home stretch now, baby!
Went under the new part of the house today, and ran the cables from our bedroom, through one of the old ventilation grilles in the old foundation, and brought them up through the holes I drilled in the closet floor.
I found some stuff under the new part of the house, but not Jimmy Hoffa, who's still missing.
I found a couple of hand-held garden cultivators, a hammer, and a really neat small pick axe/mattock with a 10" handle, just short enough to get a good swing in confined areas. The wife tells me they were probably left over from the plumbing work she had done a few years ago when they had to dig out a pipe and replace it.
I also found a full length of All Thread, which is now "All Rust".
I finished terminating the coaxial connectors, and swept the coax from 10MHz through 3GHz. All the sections have low loss, and the amount of "tilt" I'd expect for that frequency range.
Then I got out my Fluke Network Cable Tester and verified all the Ethernet cables.
We're good to go!
I'll cut over the Ethernet segment tonight so I can get rid of the three wireless Ethernet bridges I've been using, and tomorrow I'll connect all the splitters to the coax, and cut over the FiOS to the new RF segment. Before I do that, though, I'll go into the diagnostic menu of each of our set top boxes, and record the signal levels, and signal-to-noise ratio. I'm curious how much better the signals will be with all new, modern, low-loss coax.
After everything is connected and checked out I'll remove all the crummy old cabling that's hanging all over the outside of the house.
Been a pain, but I'm almost done.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

One Cable More To Go!

Hmmm...almost sounds like a C&W song title.
Got the cables from the kid's room and the Home Theater rack pulled in after crawling around on my belly for about an hour under the house.
Rather than crawl into and out of the divided areas a couple of times each, I used two big tape measures as 'fish tapes' to bridge the span. That way I only had to crawl under the bathroom once, tape the cables for the kid's room to the tape measure blade, and then crawl back to where the tape started, and retract it carefully so the cables wouldn't tangle, kink, or otherwise bind up.
I did the same for the cables to the Home Theater rack, only I didn't have to crawl under the bathroom and wiggle around all the pipes!
BTW, the bathroom plumbing looks to be in great shape, no leaks, no foul odors, so the wife was very happy to hear that after getting all the plumbing problems fixed that the house had before I met her.
And I found some interesting things laying around today while I was doing my reptile impersonation:
A 6' piece of 1" steel pipe, capped on both ends.
a 4' piece of large diameter black iron "soil pipe", probably from when my wife had the bathroom repaired.
A couple of big light bulbs.
Half a dozen scraps of coaxial cable from the cable TV installation.
Several sawed off pieces of 2x4, probably from when the house was built.
A whole box of the wire pipe hangars like you use to hang gas and water pipes.
And other bits and pieces left over from various other "projects" that preceded mine.
Before I came back up for the day, I looked at the board on top of the foundation that separates the old and new parts of the house. I found a drilled hole between the old and new parts, and it's in the correct location to use for a pass-through to get the cables from our bedroom over to where I'm bringing them all up. Fed a long piece of stiff wire most of the way through it, taped to some of the 3/16" Dacron cord (think small paracord) that I use for guying light antennas. This will (I hope!) let me pull the cables from our bedroom without having to go under this side of the house again.
So, tomorrow should be the last time I go Crawl Spacin' for a while. I'll go under the new side of the house, tape the last cable pair to the stiff wire I left in there, and stuff the cables through the existing hole. I should be able to just pull on the cord coming out of the floor hatch, and have the cables "Come To Daddy!", and be done with it.
While crawling around under there in the dirt and mud, I began to think about all the men and women who've served our country in the armed forces, and protected our freedoms to do things like own and work on our own houses. I by no means put myself equal to them for this bit of under house work, but knowing that a lot of people have crawled through dirt and mud, in the rain, while getting shot at, just so *I* could do things like this, made me say a little prayer to all who have, and who are, serving our country.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

I Think I'm Getting Too Old For This Stuff!

GROAN!
Well, I didn't get all the crawl spacin' finished today. I had a couple of cables I forgot about, so this morning's activities consisted of making the measurements, adding 20% plus 5 feet to my calculated length, and then cutting lengths of RG-6QS and Cat6a Ethernet cable. I drilled a new hole in the floor under the radio desk, and stuffed the Ethernet cable into it, then went outside, trimmed a small hole in one of the foundation vent grills, and stuffed the coax that will connect to the FiOS ONT ("Optical Network Terminal") into the new hole. Got that finished (in between phone calls), had lunch, and then went down under the house, and pulled the cables from the front room PC and router from where they landed on the dirt when I stuffed them in the other day, back to the hatch opening. Then I crawled the other direction to where the two new cables were that I laid in, and pulled them back to the hatch. While I was down there, I "scouted out" the locations of the cables from the Home Theater rack, and my step-son's room to see how far I'd have to crawl to get to them.
I couldn't even see them!
All I had was my drop-light, and while it lit up the immediate area, it doesn't throw a beam, so anything more than 4~5 feet away is effectively UN-illuminated. I would have taken my spotlight down, but it uses the same battery as my cordless drill, and that battery was in the charger.
Since I've never been under a house before, it was a real learning experience for me. I can see where I need to go, but the entire area under the house is not all open space. I suppose I should have known that, understanding a bit about Mechanical Engineering and Construction Practices, but I wasn't prepared to see all these concrete "pilings" under the house in various places. All the load-bearing walls have good support under the flooring, resting on these pilings, but they make crawling around under the house a bit like being in a maze.
Let's see, we go 6' this way, make a left turn through the cutout in the foundation, go 6 more feet, through another cutout, make another left, and there's the cables from the home theater rack! I can't just drag them back with me, as they wouldn't be long enough, so I've got to feed them through the open spaces in the framing that rests on the pilings, go back and take out the slack, feed them through the *next* open spaces in the framing, and THEN go back to where I started from to get them to the hatch area.
The process will be similar to get to the cables from my step-son's room, but I'll be twisting and turning to a different map.
The one thing that bothers me the most is going in and out of the hatch in the closet floor. I don't mind crawling on my belly like a reptile so much, but man, getting in and out of that damn hatch (it's 24"x18") when there's only 27" of space between it and the dirt is a major pain in the a$$! I just aint as limber at 59 as I was at 29!
Going under the "new" part of the house shouldn't be quite as bad. The access to that crawl space is through a small door on the side of the house, and it's just a straight crawl all the way. I have to go in there to get the cables from our bedroom, feed them through a gap I found, and then pull them over to the hatch. It shouldn't be as bad as pulling the cables under the original part of the house. When I was down there today, I fed a long length of small Dacron line (think tiny paracord) through the gap, and I'll secure that to the cables before I feed them to this side of the house. That way I won't have to go through that damn hatch, but will be able to pull them to me with the cord.
Gads, I'll be glad when this project is finished!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Crawl Spacin' Update

Got the holes drilled through the floor in all the rooms where they need to be, fed the cable pairs through, and cleaned out the closet that has the hatch so I could take a look down there.
As you can tell, I'm apprehensive about diving under the house, but after I pulled the hatch and stuck a drop light down there, it doesn't look *too* bad. The dirt is dry, and looks pretty well compacted, and best of all, I measured 27" from the "floor" to the bottom edge of the joists.
YAY! I won't have to worry about getting stuck while I'm crawling around down there!
There was a nice breeze coming up through the hatch, and *NO* foul odors of any sort, so I'm guessing we don't have any plumbing leaks. I even took one of my small low-light video cameras, connected it to a old monitor I have, and "probed" around under the house as far as I could reach with the pole I had the camera mounted to. No beady eyes stared back at me, and it looked remarkably free of cobwebs and other junk.
If all goes as planned, all I should have to do is crawl about 15' to each cable pair, and bring them back to the hatch area. I've drilled holes through the floor in the closet by one of the side walls, and that's where I'll bring the cables back up through the floor to connect to the splitters and 8-port Ethernet switch that I mounted on the plastic plate today.
I was going to use a piece of plywood, and then I remembered I had several plastic cutting boards left over from a project, so I grabbed one of those and used it. It's easy to drill, doesn't splinter, and doesn't need to be painted to look nice. I've used various sizes of plastic cutting boards to mount radio stuff on over the years, and a bonus is that they even have a handle built-in!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Crawl Spacin'

Well, at least that's what I call it.
Since I'll be returning to work in a couple of weeks, I got a fire built in me to finish up some projects that got stuck in the doldrums for the last year. The first one out of the Job Jar is to finish up cabling the house, which as the post title implies, requires going into the crawl space to pull new RG-6QS coax, and Category 6a network cable.
The way the house is wired now for the TV is antiquated, obsolete, and a general MESS. The cable was originally installed waaay back when they had to run TWO cables to each cable box because the analog systems they had back then didn't have enough bandwidth to carry all the channels. Each Set Top Box ("STB") had two "F" connectors on it where the coaxes attached, and the box would do an A/B switch internally to get all the channels on the cable system. I'm pretty sure this hasn't been used since the early 80's, so that would make all our existing cable, connectors, and splitters at least 30 years old. And the original installation was your typical "Paid by the job, not the hour" installation, which means they did it the quickest way possible. This resulted in some of the cables being (poorly!) mounted under the eaves, and run down the side of the house into (and back out of!) the nearest ventilation grill. We literally have cables running everywhere, and I can't make heads-or-tails as to which are the "gozintas" and which are the "comesouttas". All the cable on the outside of the house has several coats of paint on it (NOT good to paint coax!), and over the last year I've had to replace several connectors, and redo some splices to get the signals in to the STB's up to an acceptable level. Since the system is all digital, along with all our TV's, you don't get "snow" or "static" if you have a weak signal. The picture will just freeze, or pixelate/artifact if the level drops below what the STB can decode and send to the TV. I knew the cable was pretty crappy the first time I saw it, so I bought a 1000' foot spool of Belden RG-6QS, and a BIG bag of Snap-N-Seal compression connectors so I could (eventually) rewire the place.
When we got Verizon to install FiOS for us (it's amazingly fast!), all they did was disconnect the cable drop from Charter (our previous TV provider), and plumb the new signal from the Optical Network Terminal (the big gray box on the side of the house where the fiber comes in from the utility pole) into the existing coax.
YEEECH!
What I'm going to do is to pull a new coax, and a network cable, from each room to a central point, which happens to be the middle bedroom, a.k.a. The Radio Room. I've made a thick plywood panel that I mounted the required splitters and a Gigabit Ethernet switch to, and after I dive under the house and pull the new cables, all I'll have to do is put the connectors on, plug it all together, and then swap the coax from the ONT to the new wiring. If it all works properly, I'll cut the ends off the old cables, stuff them back down through the hole in the floor where they come up, and remove all the exterior cables.
We'll have a nice, new, low-loss coax, *and* a Cat6a Ethernet cable, in each room, and the outside of the house will be cleaned up. It also gives us ALL the cables at one central point, making it much easier to troubleshoot if that's ever required. And we'll probably have half the signal loss we do now.
A couple of the "access ports" the original installers used had FOUR paired (8 actual coaxes!) cables coming out, and haphazardly running up to the eaves, and then running every which way.
Over the last few days, I measured/guesstimated the cable length I'd need from each room to the "Server Closet", added 10' to each length, and measured/cut new sections of cable. Then I taped a network cable to each coax, and drilled new holes in the floor to pull the new cable pairs through. I made the cables extra long, as my old adage is "Better 10 FEET too long than 6" too SHORT!". If it was a straight-line measurement of 12' from one location to the "Server Closet", I doubled it to 24', and with the added 10', I wound up with 34'.
When my wife asked me why I made them soooo long, I just smiled and told her that compared to my "cost" of spending a lovely day crawling around under the house, the cost of the actual cable was insignificant!
I have a Tyvek suit with hood, some good flexible leather gloves like driving gloves, a bunch of the anti-particulate face masks, a good pair of goggles, and a good BRIGHT lantern. I'll also take a long-handled brush with me to "clear the way" as I go Crawl Spacin' on Thursday. My stepson is home that day, and he'll be topside helping me by feeding the cable through so it doesn't kink or hang up on anything.
I haven't done this in years, so I'll be extremely careful, and if it looks like I can't fit where I have to go, I'll back out and we'll figure out some way to fish the cable to where I can grab it.
I don't relish doing this, but it's got to be done.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Red Dawn 2010/2011


"Red Dawn" is one of my favorite movies. I didn't see it when it first came out (me BAD!), and I didn't see it until around 1999 when I was working at DirecTV. One of the fringe benefits of working there was that they gave ALL the employees a free system, with all the programming, Including NFL Sunday Ticket, for free. I'm not a football fan, so I mostly watched the movies, and a few series' I liked.
ANYWAY....the remake of Red Dawn was supposed to be about the ChiComs invading the US, but it seems the studio executives started getting nervous over portraying our major lender (and a 1.5 BILLION dollar export market!) in what was perceived to be a bad light. The movie was edited, and all the graphics digitally altered, to make the new Bad Guys be the North Koreans. Gotta be ultra-PC In Hollyweird, don't cha know?
It will be interesting to see how well they pulled this off, but the trailers look pretty good, and I guess we'll just have to wait and see.
On the Red Dawn 2011 website you can create you're very own "Citizen Alert" poster, so I filled in the relevant information about the Most Dangerous Man in America these days, and here's the final product.