Monday, October 31, 2005

Reflections on uber-geekness...

As extreme and weird as we may seem in our computer-related projects, the truth is that we're often doing the same things as normal users. Its just that we find much more sophisticated ways of accomplishing them...

Normal people use laptops to get computing anywhere in the house.
Ubergeeks deploy a server infrastructure with a hot-desktable thin-client solution.

Normal people check e-mail through their ISP or something like gmail/hotmail/etc.
Ubergeeks run their own e-mail server with IMAP+SSL, SMTP AUTH, and server-side mail filtering.

Normal people use their desktop PC when they need to run a Windows application.
Ubergeeks install Windows 2000 Server on a SunPCi card in their Sun enterprise server and install Citrix Metaframe Presentation Server to provide multi-user Windows application access authenticated through Samba, and still refuse to play Snood.

Normal people listen to MP3s with WinAmp or iTunes off their desktop's hard drive.
Ubergeeks mount an NFS export from their RAID file server and play the MP3s in XMMS.

Normal people watch movies off their DVD player or their cable services.
Ubergeeks construct network-booted machines running MythTV to stream movies off their RAID file server.

Normal people buy telephones at Walmart and use them to talk to their friends.
Ubergeeks run Cat5e across their houses, and deploy an IP Telephony solution through an Asterisk box.

Normal people think a "router" is an $80 Linksys box you buy at CompUSA that lets them connect multiple PCs to the internet.
Ubergeeks think a "router" is a multi-service rackmount Cisco device with ethernet, T1, and frame-relay interfaces, capable of supporting OSPF and BGP.

Friday, October 28, 2005

A necessary evil...

Yup, I'm talking about Windows here. As much as I normally avoid it, the need to use it does occasionally crop up. It could be when the g/f wants to go to some ActiveX game-tracking ESPN site, someone actually *needs* to use MS Office (the real thing), or when I want to run some embedded development software written for low-end Windows tinkerers.

Of course your usual Windows desktop is useless for this, give how my computing setup is presently designed. Outside of my personal desktop in my computer room, all my "around the house" computers basically consist of SunRay thin clients. (which provide an X-based desktop running Gnome served off a Solaris machine) Even with VNC (which is slow and crappy) or "Remote Desktop" from a normal Windows machine running your average desktop version of Windows, I'd still run into problems once more than one person wanted to use the thing at a time.

So, what I need is a mult-user remote-desktop-capable Windows machine...

For the hardware, I've got a SunPCi II card currently sitting in my Sun Blade 1000 workstation. This is a machine I plan to turn into a server soon to replace the Sun E420R which I've been using as an interim server since I decided that my Sun E4000 used too much power. In any case, I've been using the SB1000 for tinker purposes lately, so it was perfect to test out some things on. Now the SunPCi II was basically a 600MHz Celeron with 192MB of RAM on a PCI card inside the Sun. I've since upgraded it to a 743MHz Pentium III (1GHz P3 with a 100MHz FSB... darn clock multiplier locks). I also need to add RAM.

For the software, I basically had two choices... Windows 2000 Server or Windows 2003 Server. Since the SunPCi II software only supports Win2k Server, my decision was made there. So I got that installed and running. Unfortunately, to my dismay, the "Terminal Services" in Win2k server (remote desktop backend) only supported 8-bit color, and might not work as well as desired for the serial ports. Thankfully, there was an alternative... (I know WinXP Pro would have worked, but it would have failed my multi-user requirement if both users wanted to be using at the same time.) I dug out this wonderful product called Citrix Metaframe XP Presentation Server. (3rd party remote desktop up the wazoo) Not only did it work with serial ports, but I even got login music (which I promptly disabled).

Now there was just one piece of the puzzle left... authentication. So I went ahead, and once and for all figured out how to get Windows domain-style logins running through my Samba server. Now all my normal "Logicprobe accounts" can also be used to log into this Windows machine.

(I'll have to set this all up again when I rebuild that SB1000 into a server, but at least I've done a test run of everything and know it will work.)

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Ahh, the joys of geeking out...

On Saturday I was visiting a friend of mine who recently bought a house over in the Winter Springs area. While there, I ran across a CD he had of a game from Sierra called Alien Legacy. I remember playing this game from hours on end, and it took me back.

So the next day, when at home, I decided to get out my bad-ass gaming box. This thing has specs that'll make you drool. The box is a loaded 486DX-33MHz with a whopping 16MB of RAM (probably worth about $800 retail), a fantastic Number Nine #9GFX VESA Local Bus (VLB) graphics card, Sound Blaster 16 sound card, and an Adaptec ISA SCSI card. That's right... Both the CD-ROM drive and hard drive are SCSI. I even wound up upgrading from the 400MB drive I was using to an enormous 2 "gigabyte" hard disk. And for the heck of it, I also decided to order a VLB SCSI card to replace the ISA one I had. This thing's definitely a screamer, and no idea how I got my hands on it :-)
Needless to say, Alien Legacy ran really well on it.

Oh, wait... It's 2005, not 1993... That machine's probably someone's old junk collection that they'd pay me to take away. :-D

Well, in reality, its a machine I decided to build a couple years ago with the goal of being the uber-dream-machine from 1993'ish, to run those old games really well. At this point, the only other upgrade I'd even consider would be for a 408DX2-66, simply because TIE Fighter can get jerky at times.

In any case, I also chose a fitting name for this machine... Phologiston.