Doing DotNetRocks!#

On June 24th I was a guest on DotNetRocks... but we didn't talk about .NET, we talked about my favorite subject, TOYS! Actually, the focus was on water-cooled computers, which is definitely toy-ish, although we digressed into a number of equally entertaining topics.

There were a variety of questions, so I figured I'd best answer them here. First off, I put together a little photo-pictorial of one of my water cooling conversions.

One of the gizmos I used in that photo-pictorial but didn't take a photo of is this little motherboard power adapter that I plug into my power supply so that I can fire it up without having to actual turn the machine on. It's very useful for being able to run the pump without heating anything delicate up.

Its just a female 20 pin ATX plug that connects pins 13 (ground) and 14 (power supply on) together. So there ya go Geoff, don't say I never did nuthin fer ya.

If you looked at the water cooling page above, you may have noticed I'm using rackmount cases for my workstations. I have a server closet that's all rackmounted, but I also had my desk custom built with rackmount bays as well.

This is one of the bays being fitted out while the office was still under construction. The rack itself is a 12U Middle Atlantic SRSR Rotating Sliding Rail System rack. This rack actually slides out of the bay and then rotates once fully extended so you can get at the back of the case without digging around blind. I have two of these in the office, one for each main workstation bay. There's enough room on the rack for a UPS, two PCs and other sundry gear.

Although we didn't talk a whole lot about it on the show, for rackmount junkies, here are a couple of links to my server rack set ups. The first link is to my old rack, which ran from September 2000 to December 2002. After that, my new rack server closet was up and running, which is how it continues to this day.

This shot was taken today... the rack is essential the same as it was December 19, 2002, except that it's a whole bunch messier. Over the summer I'll be rebuilding most of the systems in here, after all, some of the hard drives are now four years old an essentially ticking time bombs well past their MTBF (Mean Time Before Failure).

Sunday, June 27, 2004 5:50:16 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00) #    Comments [1]  | 


Wrapping up at DevTeach#

I'm about an hour away from delivering my last session in the last time block at DevTeach in Montreal.

Its a repeat session of my Introduction to OLAP, a session I've done a number of times and can have a lot of fun with. I love the last session of the conference, its a good time for humour and lots of silliness. I did this session in the first block in the first day... 8am Sunday morning is a tough time to present, much less to attend.

The conference has been lots of fun, many of the usual suspects were here (many are already leaving)...

  • Guy Barrette (thanks for setting up the great dinner, Guy!)
  • Jim Duffy (believes he's funnier than I am, and may even be right)
  • Sylvain Duford (behind that enigmatic smile beats the heart of an evil bugger like the rest of us)
  • Markus Egger (Austrian, and not afraid to tell you about it, over and over)
  • Carl Franklin (pick a card, any card)
  • Cathi Gero (way too nice to hang around with this evil crowd)
  • Rob Howard (enjoying his new found freedom)
  • Tom Howe (the indominable, the incomparable, and my dear friend)
  • Don Kiely (from Alaska, and it shows)
  • Kevin Kline (its all about SQL Server, dummy!)
  • Nick Landry (hey, settle down, I'd like to come back to this place again some day, I live here y'know)
  • Julie Lerman (have you seen my husband?)
  • Ted Neward (I call him slash-boy, ask him about it if you get a chance)
  • Rod Paddock (trying to keep Duffy under control, when he isn't hassling Markus)
  • Marcie Robillard (the DataGird Girl herself!)
  • Joel Semeniuk (take my clients - PLEASE!)
  • Rick Strahl (the dude with the hair!)
  • Christian Weyer (popped his sushi cherry and is never going back)

Missed my buddy Steve Forte, who was supposed to come along and do the Oracle/Linux to SQL Server/Windows Interop session with me. I made it work solo, but its not the same. I also presented a brand new session on Error Handling in SQL Server 2005 (Yukon). While I appreciate the sentiment of giving SQL Server real error handling, I'm still debating about its relevance... how many errors occur in SQL Server that don't have to be propogated back to the client anyway? I brought this line of discussion up during the session, and I think the general consensus was that deadlocks were pretty much the only error that we really want to handle on our own.

I was thinking along the same lines and had written a bunch of test code to try catching a deadlock in a stored procedure and recover automatically... to no avail. Blame it on the beta, I'll wait for Beta 2 and see how things behave then.

Marcie (DataGridGirl) Robillard crashed the conference to catch a couple of sessions and ended up presenting one! What's up with that!

Poor Cathi Gero - we pick on her endlessly. The problem is that Cathi is a genuinely nice person, while the rest of us are evil buggers. The number of times over the course of the past three days that I've seen Cathi with her hands over her mouth, turning pink with embarassment are almost beyond count. Here's an example:


Here, Ted Neward is feeding Cathi some odd thing from our dinner at this lovely Belgian restaurant that Guy Barrette arranged for us. Somehow the feeding of Cathi became highly amusing (you can see me laughing in the background) and Cathi was red all over again... I don't know why she puts up with all of us.

After this final session (only a few minutes before I have to go set up), I'm conference free for a couple of months - a relaxing summer polishing barbequing skills and enjoying being at home. Oh sure, I'll still be working, but that's the easy part.

Next conference - Tech Ed in September, Kuala Lumpur for sure, and Tokyo a maybe!

Tuesday, June 22, 2004 10:34:21 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00) #    Comments [6]  | 


The most beautiful PC you ever will see...#

Hey, I like building my own gear, I'm an old time geek after all.

The case modding culture is a bit baffling to an old guy like me, though. I could handle the modders, trying to tweak their machines to maximum performance. Heck, we did that back in the old Z80 days. I must have done a couple of dozen lower-case mods for the TRS-80 Model 1.

But with the multiplayer first person shooter games came LAN parties, where a whole pack of geeks would get together somewhere and blow the heck out of each other. And that naturally leads to wanting to show off your machine... hence case modding.

There are case mods and there are case mods. However, this guy... this guy is in a league by himself. This is most beautiful PC you ever will see.


Tuesday, June 15, 2004 7:40:20 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00) #    Comments [0]  | 


There's no such thing as too much screen space!#

My friend Scott Hanselman has been worrying about his multi-monitor productivity. I agree whole-heartedly: this blog is being typed on a machine with a Matrox Parhelia video card driving three Viewsonic VP181b LCD panels for a combined resolution of 3840x1024. There is no such thing as too much screen space.

(Yeah, my desk is a mess, so what?)

You can see my email on the left, blog in the middle and Scott's blog on the right. when I'm developing, the code window is in the middle, with the property windows stretching over to the next monitor on the right, docs further right, and the running app on the left... ah, bliss.

9XMedia, Mass Multiples and Panoram Technologies all sell pre-configured multi-monitor set ups. I'm still looking for an excuse to set up one of 9XMedia's 5x2 oriented 22 inch display configurations... how's 19200x4800 grab ya! And only a mere $190,350! Even in more reasonable setups, these ready-made solutions are substantially more expensive than just putting something together yourself.

Viewsonic sells multiple display stands for their thin-bezel monitors. Most Viewsonic LCD panels have standard VESA 75mm or 100mm mounts, so that the stand that comes with the monitor can be easily removed and replaced by third-party stands. Mediamounts and ICW make some great stands.

I'm also in love with whole concept of LCD TV, although the many of the dedicated LCD TV's like Panasonic's line are ridiculously priced. When my wife wanted a TV in the kitchen, I combined an ICW wall mount with a Samsung 15 inch LCD monitor with tuner built in and got a slim, trim LCD TV solution for a few hundred dollars. Today the 15 inch LCD is gone, but Samsung makes a 17 inch bigger brother, also for a reasonable price.

But if you want to talk serious monitorage, I'd look at Samsung's 241MP, a beauty of a 16:9 proportioned 24 inch LCD panel running native 1920x1200. A pair of those would make a hell of a desktop, regardless of the absurd price. Another outrageous monitor is Viewsonic's VP2290b a 22 inch LCD beast with a native 3840x2400 resolution. 96 PPI? BAH! Try 204 PPI! And priced accordingly, too.

Some general thoughts on the state of LCDs today...

Current generation LCDs run with 25ms response times or better, making gaming just fine. In fact, I've played Unreal Tournament on my triple-screen set up, so I have a 143 degree field of view of how badly I suck at Unreal Tournament. Also, that whole limited angle of view thing is going away as well, with 160 degree and better viewing angles.

Good wallpaper can be a challenge. 9XMedia gives away a bunch. My current one is a shot of Mars off the rovers that happened to be the right proportions.

This whole DVI vs. VGA battle is silly too. The center display of my triple rig uses a DVI cable, the left and right are on VGA. You can't see the difference in the display. The only real difference is that DVI cables are limited in length and compatibility. A good quality VGA cable is a better bet every time.

When I'm buying LCD panels, I like name brands (Viewsonic is my favorite), and as much brightness and contrast as I can afford at the time. And as much resolution as I can get away with - no such thing as too much screen space!

Warranties for LCDs are very picky - if you read them close, you'll see that they don't cover a couple of failed pixels, although all the new Viewsonic displays I've bought recently (and that's quite a few) have been flawless: not a single bad pixel.

The most vulnerable part of an LCD panel is the backlight, which is generally a flourescent. Flourescent blubs need ballast, which means they're susceptible to power fluctuation damage. In environment where power is really bad, you can cook off a backlight in less than a year. Sure, its under warranty, but what a pain in the butt. Plugging your LCD monitors into a small UPS will protect them.

Many art folks can't stand LCD panels - they're much more limited in the number of colors they can display. Case in point was my 12 year old daughter. She's a photoshop nut, has a Wacom tablet, and drawing is what she's all about. When I built her machine, I stuck one of the 15 inch LCD panels I had in the office on it. Within seconds she noticed that the colors in her drawings were wrong. I couldn't see the difference, but then, I have no art skills. The machine went into her room with a 19 inch CRT attached.

LCD technology is still evolving - CRTs are as good as they're gonna get, but LCDs are nowhere near done. The difference between my four year old Viewsonic 18 inch LCD and my new Viewsonic 18 inch LCD panel is substantial - brighter, faster, more contrast, thinner bezel, lighter and less expensive. And its only going to get better.

Wednesday, June 9, 2004 9:35:16 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00) #    Comments [4]  | 


I'm a PC Plumber#

You may recall I had a little water problem with my PC... well, I managed to find and fix the leak.

The challenge of fixing the leak was finding it. I slid some paper underneath the machine to see where the water dripped out (after removing the covers from the machine) and left it run for awhile. That led me to the pump. But even knowing the water was somehow coming from the pump, I couldn't actually see the leak. So the pump had to come out.

Now, removing the pump means breaching the water loop (technically, its already breached with the leak, but still). So now I had to figure out how to get the water out of the system without getting it all over the office. The trick is to find the highest point of the water loop, where the water naturally drains out when its not in use. Or create a high point by lifting a hose as high as possible until its full of air. Hopefully, this is on a nice, long hose that you can unplug, lift out and stick into a bucket (or in my case, a large, empty yogurt container). Now you need to fire up the pump again, preferrably without burning up your system.

I have this little plug that I stick onto the main power supply connector that does two things - it makes sure that the motherboard is unplugged so the board won't power up, and it lies to the power supply so that it will turn on while not being plugged into the motherboard. The result is that the pump fires up (and the hard drive, and anything else plugged into the molex connectors).

This is the moment where you realize whether or not you unplugged the right end of the hose - either water is going to pump out into bucket, or shoot all over the case (ask me how I know). I took a shot of the pump extracted from the case, you can see the four bolts that hold the pump in on their rubber bushings.

Now that the pump was extracted, I made a little closed loop solution, hooking a hose from the output to the input of the pump. Poured a bit of water back into the pump and fired it up.

You may notice the water looks rather white and foamy - it is. The pump is under so little pressure, the water is just ripping around the loop and swirling in the reservoir. Good thing I didn't fill the reservoir all the way up, it would have shot it all over the place like an overflowing blender.

After a few seconds, I could see drips coming out of the pump housing, right beneath the reservoir mount. Turns out I actually had two leaks. The output mount sticking out of the top of the pump (which already has silicon on it) was still leaking, and there was a crack in the pump housing around the pump pickup from the reservoir. It took several tries and lots of silicon to actual get all the leaks plugged. Pulling the pump was definitely the right solution - I would have liked to have fixed it in place, but this was the only way to get it right.

Once the pump had run over night without a leak, I drained it, put it back into the machine and refitted all the hoses. After refilling the system, running it briefly to burp air from the lines and topping it up, I left it go for the night with the paper in place to find more leaks.

And this morning it has a clean bill of health. Nothing on the paper, water temperature holding steady at 38C.

Sunday, June 6, 2004 8:52:17 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00) #    Comments [0]  | 


There are strange things afoot in the Java & Open Source community...#

I wrote my first line of code in 1977, and as what most people think of as an “old time” programmer, I'm fairly resistant to development zealotry. In fact, especially in this day and age, I think zealotry is a bad idea at the best of times. I'm not a true believer in anything development, really... I don't see any one language, operating system or development methodology as the “one best way” to do anything. Granted, I am a Microsoft Regional Director, which to most people makes me more pro-Microsoft than I actually am. I build software and systems the best way I know how (at the time) to serve my customers.

And I say all this only to set the stage that I am a keen observer of the various markets out there. I try not to have an axe to grind when it comes to technology. I'm not a true believer in open source, I've utilized their technologies where it has made sense to me (and facilitated success with my customers). And while I don't routinely program in Java, I'm relatively literate in the language, certainly in the concepts, just as I am comfortable and familiar with many other development languages and environments.

In the Java and Open Source world (and they aren't the same things, but they are heavily intertwined), specifications are developed publicly. There are working groups where interested parties collaborate (and argue) one design over another, until eventually they come up with an agreed upon specification. Then anyone can build and sell an implementation.

Generally, by the time a specification is ratified, lots of companies have built products around the various ideas, and these companies are usually involved in the working groups developing the specifications, and sometimes an implementation is essentially picked as the specification.

And so it was with EJB 3.0 expert group and a technology called Hibernate at The ServerSide Java Symposium in Las Vegas, May 6-8. Hibernate is essentially a tool for persisting entity beans... I could go down the path of describing entity beans and the persistence of them, but that's secondary to the story. The product is controlled by a company called JBoss. JBoss calls itself a “Professional Open Source” company, which is cool as far as I'm concerned - I like the idea that open source concepts can be applied in a for-profit model, not just the non-profit/educational/university-centric model that most people see.

Lots of folks were surprised that JBoss landed this coup. David Jordan's article on the topic is very interesting, as long as you're also aware that he's involved with JDO 2.0, the “losing” specification in the entity beans persistence debate.

However, JBoss has now been caught up in an ugly scandal, being accused of astroturfing: essentially, JBoss staff used anonymous postings to pump up their products and attack their competitors. The ensuing storm caused a response from Marc Fleury, CEO of JBoss, and further recriminations from the folks involved. And there's been plenty of folks writing about this astroturfing incident. It just surprises me that they haven't connected any of this with JBoss's recent successes at the expert group level.

I think it also brings to light some fundamental misconceptions about open source. This isn't all sweetness and light folks. A for-profit company with the open source banner wrapped around them has done the online-community equivalent of a pump-and-dump, and quite possibly stands to benefit hugely from it. How badly derailed is the EJB 3 development path given the implied manipulation of the working groups?

This whole situation is still just coming to light. I think the real trouble has yet to begin. Its going to be interesting to see how the Java and Open Source community responses to this.

Thursday, June 3, 2004 5:47:12 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00) #    Comments [0]  | 


Why sometimes intolerance is a virtue...#

So a few weeks ago I bought a new laptop, one of the Dell XPS tanks. Its a monster, but the performance is untouchable. And I can stand all the teasing by my fellow RDs, they just wish theirs was so big.

But it had this weird little foible... some web pages rendered really poorly. The fonts were all jagged, and sometimes it painted incredibly slowly. In some cases, web pages were just plain messed up. And I just put up with it - it wasn't that important to me to fix.

So then a friend of mine bought a Dell, partly on my recommendation. No, he didn't buy the XPS, it bought something a bit more moderate. In fact, the only thing his machine has in common with mine is that they're both Dells. Different processor, video card, etc, etc... but he has the exact same screen rendering problem!

However, not as patient as I, he insisted there must be an answer. I figured since we both have the problem, it had to be something in the default Dell configuration. Its a reasonable assumption, but finding out what could be almost impossible. I suggested that we could just blow the drives and do scratch installs of XP (something I'm prone to doing anyway, just to be sure), expecting that the problem would go away.

Maybe a half hour later, he IMs me - in the Advanced display settings there's an option for Large fonts. It increases the default font sizes of everything on your machine by 25%. And for Dell laptops with high resolution screens (like this awesome 1920x1200 screen), its set to large by default. Setting it back to normal got rid of the problem, and the fonts are really small on the screen. However, more importantly, everything is rendering normally, and nice and fast.

Why put up with tech not just the way you want it?

Drivel | Toys
Wednesday, June 2, 2004 1:07:22 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00) #    Comments [3]  | 


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