Jan 022011
Screenshot of Meld comparing two Apache configuration files

Both coders and system administrators encounter many cases where text files need to be compared. Every *nix system for the last few decades has included some type of plain-text diff tool, but this is often not enough. The human brain just doesn’t have the capability/capacity to merge the differences between two files.

My grandfather taught me a very important lesson about manual labor: you let the tool do the work. The same lesson can be applied to other fields. Our brains are trained to quickly pick up on visual cues. I work much more efficiently with a utility that displays differences visually.

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Dec 062010

Twice now I’ve downloaded, built and installed Handbrake 0.9.4 without any problems. Then when I try to re-encode a video, I’ve found that the “Start” button is grayed out and Handbrake isn’t actually working. Unfortunately, these two incidents were so far apart that I forgot the fix and had to start from scratch. I always assume it’s a library/dependency problem, but it’s not!

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Dec 022010

Linux software RAIDs are very useful, but a lot of people seem to have trouble when they need to boot from an array. They just don’t grok Grub well enough to get it installed properly. It’s especially common to see everything work fine until one of the drives fails. Then they realize that Grub was only installed on one of the disks in the array (the one that failed) and it doesn’t boot anymore. The correct process isn’t tricky, but you have to know the right commands.

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Nov 222010

A fair number of users come to 6by9.net searching for “linux remote clipboard”. I find this interesting, as I’ve never had a use for such a thing. I do not know your use case, but I think it’s possible you’re not considering some of the more powerful options available. There are a couple remote clipboard software packages for you to consider, although you may end up having to pay a license fee. You may also be going about the solution in the wrong manner, so I’ll suggest some alternatives.

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Oct 172010
Character 3 from Revenge of the Titans

Character 3 from Revenge of the Titans Character 1 from Revenge of the Titans Character 1 from Revenge of the Titans Character 2 from Revenge of the Titans Character 1 from Revenge of the Titans

I’ve been having a great time playing the indie game Revenge of the Titans by Puppy Games. Revenge of the Titans is a lot of fun, but it can be quite difficult to advance if you don’t know what you’re doing. For example, you can’t learn what benefits the technology advancements offer until you’ve researched them. This guarantees you won’t research the right areas until you’ve played through the game at least once.

I was unable to find any sort of walkthrough, tutorial or howto on the game, so I thought I’d write my own for other beginners.

To spare those who don’t like spoilers, I’ll start with general user-interface tips and tricks. I’ll warn you before getting into the real secrets!

Disclaimer: this was written towards the end of beta testing (v1.6). The final release has changed a bit, but most tips will still improve your efficiency and survival rate ;)

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Oct 152010

Yesterday, I decided to take the plunge and switch 6by9.net to Google Apps. I’d been mulling it over for a while, mostly because I was worried about the hassle and headaches associated with transferring all my settings and data. Just a day later, it’s almost completely done and I’m very pleased.

The biggest change is that now all my mail is handled by Google’s GMail. But it also means that I have almost all of Google’s services associated with 6by9.net, including Analytics, Calendar, Docs, Google Voice, Reader, etc. I made the decision that it would be more efficient to stop running my own mail server and spam filters when there was a much more efficient service available for free. Additionally, I no longer have to worry about multiple accounts – one for 6by9.net and one for Google’s services.

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Sep 042010

I’ve now been using Drupal on 6by9.net for a year. The flexibility and variety of add-on modules has been great, but there is a definite learning curve. I would not expect casual users to have any fun at all, and the management interface is fairly daunting. Once you dive below the user interface, adding/modifying/updating modules or Drupal itself, the headaches can really begin.

So, even though I’m a highly technical user/administrator, I’m quite ambivalent. Using Drupal has been great. Administering Drupal has been demanding.

Updating modules is a painless process. You unpack the new tar and run an update script. I haven’t had any serious bugs, although the last update did raise a couple errors I had to double check (just to make sure they weren’t critical).

Updating to new versions of Drupal is serious work. You have to replace the entire site directory with the new version and then pull in the changes you have made (modules, themes, files, settings file, etc). I haven’t found a great way to automate this, yet, although I certainly would if my site were larger.

One trick I’ve found very useful regards module settings. All the non-core modules must be disabled before the update. You then have to go back through all the modules (often several pages long) after the update. Instead of manually keeping track of which modules were previously enabled, try this:

  • Pull up a new window in your browser and point it to the page of module settings (usually example.com/admin/build/modules).
  • Don’t make any changes – just put the window aside until you’re done with the updates.
  • After your Drupal directory has been updated and you’ve put all your site files back where they belong, go back to your browser window with module settings. Scroll to the bottom and hit save.
  • Depending on what modules you had enabled, Drupal may prompt you to confirm that certain dependency modules also be enabled.
  • Done! Now run through the myriad module updates that are probably needed.
Apr 172010

Basic feature comparisons (e.g. amount of L3 cache):
Plot of Xeon 7500-series L3 Cache size

png( filename="plot.png", width=640, height=440, bg="#070707" );
par(bg="#070707", fg="white", col.axis="white", col.main="white", col.lab="white", mar=c(3,4,2,2) + 0.1);
plot(xeon$Model, xeon$L3.Cache, ylab="L3 Cache", border=brewer.pal(8, "Dark2"), cex.axis=1.3, cex.lab=1.5);

Two-factor comparisons (e.g. with and without turbo boost):
Plot of Xeon 7500-series Processor Frequency and Turbo Boost

png( filename="plot.png", width=640, height=440, bg="#070707" );
par(bg="#070707", fg="white", col.axis="white", col.main="white", col.lab="white", mar=c(3,4,2,2) + 0.1);
plot(xeon$Model, xeon$Frequency, ylab="Processor Frequency", ylim=c(1.8,2.8), border=brewer.pal(8, "Dark2"), cex.axis=1.3, cex.lab=1.5)
points(xeon$Model, xeon$Frequency..Turbo., col=brewer.pal(8, "Dark2"), pch=19)

Required packages: RColorBrewer

Download Data File

Intel Xeon 7500-series model lineup

 Posted by on 2010/04/17  Tip  Tags:
Apr 172010

I’ve loved R since the first time I used it in statistics class. I went several years without using it, but I probably should have pulled it out a few times. It’s incredibly powerful and ends up being quite fun for data visualization geeks. Unfortunately, it’s not intuitive to a lot of users.

Further, even those of us comfortable with it seem to quickly forget exactly how we displayed the data just the way we wanted last time. I’m going to post the tricks/scripts I write whenever I use R – both for others and myself to re-use. Just click on the tag R.

 Posted by on 2010/04/17  Tip  Tags:
Feb 042010

Kids love to watch movies, but they are not kind to equipment. Some of the older media, such as VHS tapes, might be technically inferior to DVDs but they certainly were more durable. We have tried to get our kids to carefully handle DVDs, but it just doesn’t happen. A few were destroyed before I learned my lesson.

It turns out that most geeks with kids have realized the same thing: you just can’t give kids DVDs. All the films and videos they love can be stored on your hard drive with much better results: no more messing with scratched discs, no more fumbling for the right video case, instant access to whichever video they want to watch, and you won’t have to replace broken DVDs over and over (something which will make our corporate overlords very unhappy).

This had been working well for us until I tried to save the new Pixar film Up. A quick bit of googling revealed that movie studios have attempted a new form of disc copy protection: ship broken discs.

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