While I was gone on my brief Christmas vacation over the last week, my computer back at home disappeared from the internet - the IP address did not respond to any connection attempts at all.
Naturally I feared the worst, namely that some thieves broke into my apartment and stole all my stuff, or something like that. Fortunately, when I got home I discovered that the cable modem had simply stopped working, and everything else was fine.
There may have been a power outage or some other electrical anomaly while I was gone, because the cable modem seemed to be fried. When I plugged it in, all the LED lights turned on but it didn't seem to do anything else. I searched around on the internet but couldn't really determine what these symptoms meant, or how to fix the problem (for the reference of anybody searching for the same thing in the future, it's a Terayon TJ 715x cable modem).
What happened next was the most amazing thing I have experienced all week. I thought for sure that I would have to call Comcast, argue with them ("yes, I tried rebooting the computer.."), make an appointment for two weeks in the future, which they would be late for, causing me to miss work, etc. (being without internet access the whole time, of course).
What actually happened was that I called Comcast, immediately got a real person on the other end, explained the problem, and got a maintenance appointment scheduled for "right away". A half hour later, the guy showed up, swapped out my modem with a new one, and now everything works again. In total, it took about 45 minutes.
So I am pleasantly surprised that Comcast had such good customer service and I was able to get the problem fixed so quickly. Of course, this doesn't excuse them blocking our, uh, bible, downloads, but there has definitely been a lot of improvement since my last encounter with them.
This week I got the grade for my Data Compression class and was somewhat surprised at the format. From my undergrad experience I was expecting it to be in the usual A, B, C format, but instead I got a "3.9" grade.
I looked up the University of Washington's grading system, which is apparently number-based and on the same scale as the GPA system. So 3.9-4.0s are "A equivalents", 3.5-3.8s are "A-"s, 3.2-3.4s are "B+"s, etc..
I'm a bit torn on my evaluation of the merits of this system. On one hand, it's much more fine-grained than the lettering system, and you can distinguish between students who worked really hard and got perfect scores on everything, and other students who just did the work required to get an A. The letter grade system doesn't really distinguish between people to that degree, until you start using the plus/minus quantifiers to the letters, at which point you've basically admitted that just using the letters doesn't quite cover all the information you need to convey. It seems that UW has solved that problem by just throwing away the letter system and replacing it with the number system.
On the other hand, I'm sort of miffed by this, because after all these years of school, it's become very ingrained in my mind that an A == 4.0 GPA. Now I have an "A", but my GPA is 3.9, which in my mind means "dang, screwed up and got a B in 1 out of 10 classes." Of course, in reality, a 3.9 is a perfectly fine grade and probably nobody will ever care anyway (how much to MBA/PhD programs care about GPAs? I am not really sure.. hrmm..). Still, grr :).
Now that I know how the system works, I can accommodate it if I decide I really need that 4.0 (which, honestly, I probably don't).
Apparently my copy of 1984 restarts from the very beginning on page 43, meaning that it's missing about 40 pages at the end of the book:
If it was any other book I would have just chalked it up to incompetence, but since it was this particular book, I had to wonder if it was done on purpose, and if so, what did those 40 pages contain that caused them to get tossed down the memory hole? Perhaps a stinging revelation that the paperback-publishing industry is the root of all evil? If I asked about it, would the answer be that "1984 is missing 40 pages. 1984 has always been missing 40 pages"?
I found and read the rest of the book on the internet, and alas, it doesn't actually appear to be a vast conspiracy 🙁
This week I got a HP MediaSmart server, which runs the new Windows Home Server software. It's a small, quiet headless computer about the size of two six-packs stacked vertically:
Fortunately I was able to get an employee discount of a few hundred dollars off the list price. I don't think it would be worth it otherwise, compared to just re-using an old desktop computer as a server. The advantages of this hardware are that it's small, quiet, consumes very little power (it has an AMD Sempron), and has server-class parts designed to be running all the time (SCSI .5 TB drives, etc). The disadvantages of the hardware are that it is headless (can't be used as a small media center or DVD player), and that it has only 512 MB of RAM.
I got it to replace my Mac Mini, which I had been using as my media center, MP3 server and remote-login server. The Mac Mini hardware apparently wasn't up to the task of running all the time, since it died a horrible death after running continuously for about a year and a half. I'm hoping this new computer will fare better.
I would use my normal desktop computer for server stuff, but the problem is that it's extremely loud, noisy, and sucks a lot of power, so I usually have it turned off at night and while I'm gone. This creates the problem that I can't log into my home network while I am away, in case I need to access an important file or do other, uh, tasks that can't be done at work.
One nice feature of Windows Home Server is that it is essentially a stripped-down version of Windows Server 2003, with some unnecessary parts removed (Active Directory server, etc), but useful things kept in, such as IIS. It gives you a free *.homeserver.com domain name, and automatically updates the DNS records whenever Comcast changes your IP address on you. At that address it serves up a little web page that allows you to log in and access files on the server, upload new files to it, and TS into the server itself or other computers on your network with Remote Desktop Proxy. Using the normal server administration tools, you can use Wake-On-LAN to boot up any of your computers, even if they are turned off or are sleeping (which is cool). You can also run whatever ASP.NET 2.0 apps you want on it (I'm trying to think of a cool one to write).
Another of the big features is that it can automatically back up your Windows computers every night with Volume Shadow Copy, and allow you to restore the entire OS to any point in time by booting off a CD and copying the image off the network. You can set it to back up the important data on multiple disks, so that if one of them fails in the server, you're still safe. These kind of regular backups are things that everybody knows they should do, but few really do, myself included. Up until now, my current backup strategy was "burn a DVD every 6 months or so", so this should be a lot better.
Unfortunately I am hitting one problem with the way it does the automatic backups. It sets your computers to automatically wake themselves up at 3:00 AM via ACPI and connect to the server to do the backup. After that, it seems to assume that the computer will automatically fall back asleep after 30 minutes of inactivity, or whatever the Windows default is. Of course, I have automatic sleeping disabled on my computers, so that doesn't work. For the last two days I've woken up to find that my computer woke itself up at 3:00 AM and stayed on all night. I made a small scheduled task that should put the computer back to sleep after it finishes backing up, so we'll see if that works tonight.
One of the interesting things about the HP server is the printed manual that comes with it. I don't know if they just never copy-edited it, or accidentally published the first draft instead of the final one, but it's absolutely terrible (almost 'Made in Taiwan'-bad). Here's a little gem on the DRM-troubleshooting page: