Category Archives: Computing

First week at a new job

So for the first time since January I am working again. This is a bit tricky since I had become quite accustomed to not doing a great deal and sleeping late! So far the job is going OK, although because I work for such a big organisation who have taken on an awful lot of people for a certain event later this year, there is a lot of time sitting around not doing very much stuff and often sharing computers because there are more people than computers. I have realised, as I have many times that I do not cope well with boredom. It is difficult for me to “look busy”, as I am often too distracted by what other people might be doing or very poor at finding things to do other than chatting to people on facebook.

I have had one slip up so far, I didn’t go to work on Thursday. I suppose it was an impulsive moment, not enough sleep and not enough productive things to do at work the day prior had caused me to think too much about those less fortunate than myself and the government, and as usual, get annoyed and frustrated on their behalf. However, I did not harm myself and I did not run off to another country. I managed to email one of my bosses and found out in the process that he has a son with Aspergers.

Today was easier, the day was dominated by boxing up hardware that was on test in order to transport it to a live location. It didn’t take long, but at least I have a fair idea of what should be in which box now and the best ways to pack it up. All the hardware must be locked down with K-Locks, the most annoying things are these little eyelets which fit into a special hole on the back of the monitor and the system unit, in order for a steel cable to be threaded through and then looped around something immovable. Being very small (less than an inch square), its easy for them to get lost…

Hopefully next week I will get to go to said live venue and box this kit, set it up, etc.. it will be good to get out of the office for a bit.

The other part of today was scenario training… what should we do when x or y happens. The biggest issue was many people over-thinking the situation. You have two choices in this deployment if things go wrong – re-image the machine (akin to re-installing windows, but a lot faster) or replace the machine. I guess it makes things easier, but there is a part of me that says “I want to know why that broke” – I believe that person is probably stuck in the 1990’s-early 2000’s!

So now a weekend, a small change to sleep later, but not much of a chance as I have work to do for Open University courses due towards the end of May. Right now I am really really tired, so I shall be off to bed soon!

Making Changes

I have spent the last couple of days trying to update my site and bring it a bit more into the 21st century! The old home page used hard coded, hand written HTML and was kinda old and sad looking. For some of the other websites I host here, I have been trying to get them to move away from static HTML pages (most of them can’t code) and towards CMS systems (such as Drupal or WordPress). So I wanted to try my own site with Drupal, I had quite a nice site worked out with it, but then there was the snag, how to import seven years worth of blog posts from a hosted WordPress installation? I tried my hardest to import them into Drupal, but it didn’t even get close to working.

So I decided the best way was to go back to WordPress, but use it as more than just a blog. So I created a new wordpress from scratch and then imported my old blog entries into it. There are a few things I like better in drupal – its easier to put in quick link pages (eg. rather than and the drush system is pretty good. But at the end of the day I wasn’t really willing to throw away all those blogs.

What I have now is WordPress, with a few static pages and then a ‘Blog’ page which is the archive of all my blog posts. I hope you enjoy the new look!

Fixing problems in WordPress

So for a while now I have had this problem that whenever I go to my blog’s home page the browser tries to download the PHP file rather than the server turning that PHP code into the blog. I was thinking that it must be something wrong with a content-type setting, but everything seemed fine. Then I discovered this in /etc/apache2/mods-available/php5.conf:

<IfModule mod_userdir.c>
<Directory /home/*/public_html>
php_admin_value engine Off

What that actually means is that if the user home directory module is loaded and the page is being loaded from the user’s home directory (that’s the ~seth bit), then TURN OFF PHP!

So you can see why it wasn’t working. I assume that in some recent update to Apache or PHP there is some security concern that has caused a paranoid code maintainer to put in this draconian setting. Once I had commented that out, it was fine.


Then I needed to update to WordPress 3.1, that went fine as I have done it many times before. But then when I tried to load the homepage again, it was blank – the so called “White Screen of Death”!

I fiddled around with a few things that people had suggested – turning off plugins, changing themes, but none of them worked. What I decided to do was to start from scratch and not use my old wp-config.php. Once I opened up the new version of wp-config-sample.php I realised that there were a lot of things my old file (probably from WP 1.x) didn’t have in it. So I changed my database password and then put in my settings. Once I had done this, everything worked fine!


Stuff I like to do and do well!

So tonight a friend of mine brought over 2 Dell Servers that weren’t working. Although they turned on, there was no video and just the flashing amber “something is wrong” light!

Click on pics to show larger version…

(Stripped down Server)

After stripping both down to the motherboard I find that both had a mis-seated CPU, with the CPU coming out with the heatsink (even though the retention mechanism was locked!). So I clean the gunk off the CPU’s, re-gunk, put it all back together et voila 2 working servers.

(Intel Xenon CPU Stuck to Heatsink!)

(YAY! It boots!)

The thing is, even though I started doing this at 11:00pm and didn’t finish until 3am, even though the noise of them running (still installing operating systems) is so loud I can hear it in the next room, even though I knew there was going to be no payment for this job… I still loved it and put my best into it.

(My desk piled with servers!)

So working with hardware is what I love, I just need to find a job where there isn’t too much pressure and I don’t have too much responsibility. Any offers?

Trying to get Assignments done!

So, I guess we all (Students) have this problem, assignment x is due on date y, Time is now y-4 and it isn’t done! Like I said back in “Hello from Newcastle“, these things are difficult for me.

I think that the latest batch of undergradates are probably members of the ADD generation – not that they have ADD, but more that life has too many distractions. Facebook, Myspace, IM, email, texts… we can now access these services anywhere at any time. Nearly everyone has a laptop or some kind of computer of their own and the temptation to go off and chat/social network is probably greatest when we are bored, but know whe have stuff to do: Procrastination. Workplaces have to block these sites because people would get no work done otherwise (not to mention the possibility of litigation).

Now I know I cannot blame anyone for this, no-one held a gun to my head and said “join Facebook” but sometimes it seems that way! I guess in these modern times our lives are bankrupt to the point where we just have to know what everyone else is doing to be happy!

Tonight I had a plan, thanks to agreements between North West Universities I am able to go to any University and use their library to study. I am also able (theoretically) to use Internet facilities of  any University in the UK that participates in the Eduroam Service. I made this choice because home is too distracting and Bolton has a very poor library with little space to study and never enough computers.

So I went to Lancaster University, because I know that there is no requirement there to show ID to get in, so no arguments with jobsworth security guards. I did do some work, approxmately 300 words about Alan Turing for an assignment due Friday, but sadly Eduroam failed. I could not logon to the system and I don’t know if this is the fault of Bolton or Lancaster, but according to JAnet their systems are supposedly up to scratch. I have emailed Bolton to ask what’s up.

Possibly this wasn’t the best of ideas, an hour’s travelling time or so each way to do 300 words, but I did do something and I suppose I should think about that rather than thinking “I can’t do this, there is no point in me remaining at University”.

Tips and Stuff

I have recently moved to a new virtual server hosting provider, Linode have hosting centres in 4 locations in the US and allow you to pick which centre you would like your server in. They have a great web user interface and are cheaper than my previous provider, Slicehost. So now I am paying about half what I was for hosting. I have also got away with using a lot less memory for my virtual server, by implementing some different ways of getting around spam.

Realtime DNS Block Lists (DBL)

DBL’s store a list of known IP addresses which should not be trusted when receving mail, either they are IP’s assigned to home machines (DSL/Cable clients) or known spammers caught out by traps. There are a few DBL’s, but until now I have only been using one – Spamhaus, but sadly this doesn’t catch most spammers. I have now been through my configuration and included a few more DBL’s which are listed below. The advantage of this is that looking up an IP in a DBL is not processor or RAM intensive and does not require an external program – like Spamassasin. I have also implemented a few features in postfix which allow the looking up of hosts who try to exchange mail with my server, if the hostname they are giving doesn’t match their actual hostname or they have no A record or MX record for the domain they are using, postfix will end the connection.

smtpd_recipient_restrictions =

It is very important that “permit_mx_backup” goes at the end, because I am finding that spammers will take advantage of backup MX servers to get their spam accepted in some way, which then causes a lot of dead return to sender messages in your queue later.

With the “reject_rbl_client” lines I have in this config, I don’t have to use Spamassasin or other spam anaylsis programs at presnt, the few spams I am getting are minimal and may have been things I accidentially signed up to in the past! was blocking Google Mail last night, which is why I have blocked it. requires that you sign up to use their service first.

Moving MySQL

I have to admit that I am no programmer; Systems Administration, Network Administration and troubleshooting come fairly easily to me, but programming has always passed me by. I have often just blindly copied something someone else has done to get by and I remember when I was young spending hours typing in source code from magazines to see try out programs and stuff!

So when it comes to SQL people say “well its not that hard, its mostly english!” but you have to remember the order things go in and weather a line needs a ; at the end, etc… I have tried to get into PHP and stuff, but I just get really bored and give up. I have a load of programming books on C and PHP if anyone is interested!

I use some SQL on my server – WordPress, which makes this blog work uses MySQL… but to keep it going I had to move it from my old server to my new one.

I followed the usual instructions, to backup your databases use:

mysqldump -u root -p --all-databases > database_backup.sql

And then to restore:

mysql -u root -p < database_backup.sql

Then presto and everything is back, but is it working? Well it might be a good idea to try:

/etc/init.d/mysql restart

Because when you import your old databases, you overwrite the passwords for the users that are stored in them. In the file /etc/mysql/debian.cnf there are settings for a user called debian-sys-maint which is setup when you install MySQL. A password is generated for this user and then stored in the file, when you import all databases you overwrite the users database which then overwites this password, causing debian-sys-maint to be unable to access the database and a failure when you try to start MySQL, although the daemon is running.

phpMyAdmin is your friend here, because you need no knowledge of SQL commands to go in and change the password for a user, therefore fixing this nasty problem! Once you’ve done that you can then use this command to stop MySQL (as /etc/init.d/mysql stop won’t work):

kill | cat `/var/run/mysqld/`

Then go ahead and start MySQL as normal:

/etc/init.d/mysql start

Uninterruptible Power Supplies and their lack of Uninterruptible-ness

An Uninterruptible Power Supply or UPS is a big battery that will keep your computer running if the power goes off, it will also protect it from surges and incidents when the power dips to what it should be. They are very useful for when you need to move things around or if you have electricity that you have to pay for in advanced (and will therefore be switched off automatically if you have no credit).

I have had small UPS’s for a few years which are about enough to keep an average desktop PC going for about 10 mins if the power fails. However, I have recently had to start dealing with them at work, since we have moved away from Co-located hosting to hosting our servers at our office. When you are running UPS’s commerically, the need for power cannot be overstated – you need things to be as overkill as possible! Most UPS’s (anything designed for keeping more than just one PC going) will have overload detection and if the UPS detects an overload, it will start to shut itself down – because if the power were to be lost, the batteries could not take the load and the servers connected would not be able to shutdown gracefully.

However this means that mains power is lost to these connected servers and hence zap – no power… Well, in our case it means a 50% reduction in power as the servers have 2 PSU’s each which are redunant. However, it is not so easy to build redundancy into a network, and taking out the UPS that the network switches are connected to will take down the servers as they can’t talk to the outside world… resulting in my mobile phone ringing and someone giving me grief that they can’t do any work!

Teamed Network Cards are network cards that can run in pairs (or more) providing greater throughput or redundancy if they are connected to different switches (in different UPS’s!) however my employer apparently has little interest int he redundancy aspect of this and uses teaming only for throughput… why have 1Gb/s when you can have 2Gb/s?!

After this happening twice today, I had to bypass the UPS’s entirely as they were getting less reliable than the service from the electricity provider!

Whilst I like my job, I hate the fact that my employer prefers to buy his parts on eBay and expects great performance from a limited budget!

Well, I think that is all for tonight… until next time (in the imortal words of Sara Cox) – “rave safe kids, rave safe!”

Damm Motherboard

This is my motherboard, which is broken.

Where the red circle is, there should be a bit of plastic which sticks out, just like the one on the other side. These points allow you to clip the heatsink down onto the processor (the gray square), to ensure good contact between the two.

I contacted the company I brought it from, they have told me they will not take it back basically because they think I am a nube and broke it. I did not break it, it broke by itself. I have been building PC’s for 10 years and I have an A+ qualification. I DO know what I am doing!

So I have now contacted the manufacturer, who are supposedly regarded as one of the best motherboard manufacturers. I await to hear what they say. Even if they could send me a new plastic bit (its only held down with screws), that would be nice.

But being me – generally a very impatient person, I decided to get a new, but much cheaper motherboard, because I cannot stand the old PC I have, and don’t have any compatible parts to make the shiny new one – which I only built in September, work.

I’ll let you know what happens re the current motherboard. If anyone has a broken AM2 motherboard where that plastic part is intact and would like to give/sell it to me, please contact me.

An interesting day…

So this morning I go to see the optician, he tells me that my glasses from 2 years ago are still at the prescription I need, which is really good considering last year I saw another optician who told me they were too strong! I order new glasses because under the UK NHS system I am entitled to money towards new glasses every 2 years.

This evening was more about taking things apart, a friend of mine and Ed’s brings in a laptop to the TermiSoc tutorial that his housemate sat on… One of the guide rails for the DVD drive was bent, Ed and I took it apart to discover this, but there was very little we could do, albeit assure our friend that it would still work.

Then tonight after we got home, the whole house electricity kept tripping out every few minutes. After doing a test by turning on all the most power consuming appliances we have, we found we could not trip out the power. Then we turned on the tumble dryer, and it died! What I discovered after I had ruled out the socket and the extension cord was that the element that gets the dryer hot had somehow gotten wet and since electricity and water don’t mix, well better that we lost power than our whole house burnt down!

After I dried out the heater compartment and put it all back together it started working fine. So I guess there can’t be much wrong with it.

But I think to myself, why am I doing all this calculus and maths stuff when what I am good at is fixing stuff, with my hands… Give me a broken computer and I am happy for a few hours!

So now, at 1:20am I am finally going to bed! Tomorrow the Calculus starts!

Rave Safe Kids!

Seth out.

A Day of Success!!

Well today was a great day, first off I got up at a reasonable time – 9am, not like last week when I was lucky to be asleep by that time! Then I had to go to an interview, the job – which I saw advertised through an Agency is with InfoTeam who have the contract to repair and provide technical support to customers of Acer equipment, including PC’s, Laptops and other IT paraphernalia! The interview went well, I was able to answer their questions really easily and I felt comfortable.

The great news was that about 2hrs after the interview, I was told I got the job and start on Monday at 9am!

Later I went to take the first of the CompTIA A+ exams, which is a qualification to show that you can fix computer hardware and software and provide technical support.

I passed that as well, the required score was 675 and I got 750 out of 900! So now I have to take part 2, I have a choice of Phone Support, In Person Support or never talking to a customer back room stuff!

Tonight we (as in TermiSoc) shall be going out for a curry to celebrate the 21st birthday of our great comrade, Ben A’Lee. He was actually 21 two weeks ago, but everyone was busy back then!

It has been a great day and I am definitely feeling better about myself!

Fixed my blog problem

Those of you who read my blog regularly will have seen that there has been a bit of a display problem if you’re viewing it in Firefox, whereby the posts ended up spewed across the page and the menu to the right ended up at the bottom. Ironically the page displayed fine in Internet Explorer!

I have fixed this problem now, it turned out to be an unlikely culpret – some code that you need to embed a YouTube clip into a page went wrong and messed up the whole page – the clip was in the post entitled ‘I passed the Test‘ which was from July!

I have also moved my blog so that it is within my home directory, which tidy’s it up and makes it a bit cleaner. I’ve put in a redirect, but if you want to update your links, you can now find my blog at

I’ve also changed the theme lately, hope you like it! Look at if you’d like a shiny new wordpress theme of you’re own!