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But it was obsolete before I opened the box….

Once upon a time, [profile] bedlamhouse got a copy of a new video game called City of Heroes. It was an online multi-player RPG set in a comic-book superhero universe, and he suggested to the others in our AD&D group that if we all got copies, we could team up and play together. So I went and bought a copy. After watching me play it for a few days, [personal profile] kitanzi decided it looked like fun, so we went and got her a copy too. For the next three years, we played the game a lot, often just the two of us, often with other members of Penguin Force, our superhero group. But eventually, we did what could be done, and newer shinier games (*cough*World of Warcraft*cough) lured me away from Paragon City. When I made the jump to WoW, [personal profile] kitanzi decided to hang up the MMO habit, not wanting to get addicted to yet another time sink.

Earlier this year, though, CoH, now a venerable old warhorse in the MMO field, announced they were going free-to-play, and old subscribers could reactivate their old characters and play without paying a monthly fee. We both jumped back in, and while I couldn’t recapture my enthusiasm for the game, she had a lot of fun beating up bad guys and flying around.

Last night, [personal profile] kitanzi says to me, “Yeah, I think I’m getting bored with City of Heroes again.”

“Well,” I said, perhaps a bit too eagerly, “If you want to try Star Wars: The Old Republic”, I could get you a copy. We could play together again!” She’d been watching with interest as I’d been playing the game since shortly before its release, and she’d also enjoyed watching me play other BioWare games like Dragon Age and Mass Effect, so she didn’t require much convincing.

I decided that it was probably about time put a proper video card in her machine, though. Integrated graphics were fine for the games she was playing before (I mean, CoH came out in 2004…it’s not really going to stress out a modern system, even without a gamer-spec card in it), but TOR was likely to give it a bit more of a workout.

So, in preparation for this upgrade, I popped open the case to examine her power supply. I honestly expected to need to replace it, because gamer-spec video cards are power-hungry, and this was just a Dell Inspiron intended for general home use. But hey, I figured, check anyway, to make sure. And what I found astonished me.

I had figured I’d find a 280W or 300W power supply. If they’d been really spiffy, maybe a 350W, but I didn’t expect more than that.

It has a 160W power supply.

I checked my calendar to make sure I hadn’t accidentally opened the case of a computer I built in 1995 instead of the one I bought last year. Seriously, Dell, way to go. I’m amazed it even boots.

It’s now fitted out with a 500W PSU and an ATI 6670, which is a solid entry level card that wasn’t too expensive. Now we’re ready to conquer the galaxy!

My computer rebooted into 2005…

Earlier tonight, the power went out. Our whole block was apparently affected, despite the fact that it wasn’t unusually hot and there wasn’t a cloud for miles. After about an hour, the power came back up.

My computer didn’t.

it would boot up normally as far as starting windows, and then just went to a light blue screen. No text, no errors, no…anything. I tried unplugging everything except the video lead and power, thinking it might be a misbehaving USB device (this has happened in the past), but no luck.

To be fair, my video card has been acting a bit flaky of late, so I was beginning to suspect that it might be in need of replacement soon. In the meantime, I rummaged around in my desk drawer and managed to extract a replacement.

So I’m currently up and running on an nVidia GeForce 7600 GT, a video card that was state of the art when I bought it six years and two computers ago.

Ah well. I get my first paycheque on June 15th, and then I can see about getting something that will at least let me finish Portal 2. (Sometime in the not-too-distant future, I planned on replacing the entire system, but what I want costs a bit more than I’m ready to just drop yet, especially with at least three out of state trips in the next few months.

The Dawn of Mass Computing: Promotional Photos

I actually used some of these systems, back when they weren’t antiques. 🙂

The Dawn of Mass Computing: Promotional Photos

Remember the days of 5 1/4 inch floppy disks, reel-to-reel tape drives, green or amber monitors, terminals, big mainframes, big daisy-wheel printers, and more? Here is a selection of vintage promotional photos showing computing equipment of yesteryear.

Four-inch computer has more ports than you’ll ever need | DVICE

I agree with the commenter who said “I don’t know what I’d do with it, but I want one.”

It’s so *cute*!

Four-inch computer has more ports than you’ll ever need | DVICE

Small computers aren’t anything new to write about. Xi3 Corporation’s new little computer, however, is unique. It has more ports crammed into as little space as possible that we’ve seen in recent years.

For such a tiny box, it doesn’t skimp out on accessible ports. The Xi3 has six USB 2.0 ports, DVI, two eSATA ports, audio in/out, DisplayPort, ethernet and special ‘Xi3 Port.” Who else besides professionals need two eSATAs and six USB ports? There are three CPU options are available for the Xi3 — 1Ghz, 1.8Ghz and 2.2Ghz. Sorry Intel, but these dwarfs run on AMD Athlon processors.

All of this is crammed inside a small 4-inch aluminum cube. Take that Mac Mini! The interesting thing about this tiny PC is that it’s case also serves as a heatsink. Yeah, pretty cool stuff.

The dangers of USB drives. – By Farhad Manjoo – Slate Magazine

I’d heard the story years ago of a group that ran an infection test to prove a point. They put their benign virus on a bunch of branded USB sticks, put them in a fishbowl, walked into the target company and asked the receptionist if they could leave it there for people “as part of a promotional campaign.” They got over three-quarters of the computers in the office.

The dangers of USB drives. – By Farhad Manjoo – Slate Magazine

If a company wants to ratchet up security, it’s not as simple as banning all thumb drives. To be extra careful, you’d have to ban iPods, cameras, and every other USB-based doohickey—all of those devices are capable of carrying Stuxnet-like viruses, too. I asked Sean Sullivan, of F-Secure, if he could imagine any failsafe IT policy that would have worked to thwart Stuxnet. “Well, in our malware test machines, sometimes we put glue in the USB ports,” he joked.

You’ve come a long way, baby

There’s nothing quite like spending your day working on a ten-year-old OS to really make you appreciate how far Linux has come.

We have a couple of legacy apps running under Solaris 7. While there’s active development of the next generation of these systems, which will be on a more modern platform, I meanwhile have to do my best to keep these systems healthy and happy. To this end, we’ve acquired a couple of identical servers, on which I am doing various recovery tests and preparing them to be hot-standbys.

Now, Solaris 7 was a fine, fine operating system. In 1998, when it was released. It had lots of cool stuff like support for 64-bit architectures and all that jazz. And back when it came out, there really were only a few “serious” Unix platforms to choose from. If you were an enterprise-level project, you were either going to be on Solaris, HP-UX, or AIX (or, heaven forbid, Windows NT). You could use a BSD variant if you were a purist or working in an academic setting, but the corporate use of it was pretty small. And then there was Linux…

I distinctly remember a guy we hired for tech support back around this time, who fancied himself a bit of a “leet hacker dood”. He complained bitterly to me that we *ought* to be using Linux instead of Solaris, and I said, “Linux is a toy. It’s interesting to play with, but it’s nowhere near ready for commercial use.”

Looking back, I stand by that statement. At the time, Linux *was* a toy OS, and it lacked both the tools and the support necessary to make it a viable option for business use. And it’s sobering to realise how far we’ve come in such a short time. Today, $EMPLOYER is primarily a Linux shop, with only a handful of Sun servers remaining, and those are being aggressively phased out. We rely heavily on Open Source software, something that would have been dreamt of just 10 years ago.

Of course, the commercial Internet itself is only 15 years or so old at this time. (You can’t really pin a precise date on when the Internet shifted from a mostly-educational network to a mostly-commercial network, but I recall things really starting to explode in late 1994 to early 1995, when commercial ISPs started to really proliferate and national media attention began to run countless stories on it. So 1995 is generally the year I consider the modern Internet to have been born.)

Working on this project this morning does remind me that I wouldn’t want to go back to this level of tech on a regular basis. The tools really *have* improved that much, but I admit I’m feeling a little nostalgic for the early days, when everything seemed possible and it was all so new and exciting.

Random #filkhaven moment of the day…

[lj user=autographedcat]

I have this sudden image of bardling wandering the streets like Jacob Marley, wrapped in cat-5 cable with small switches attached and dragging along behind her.

[lj user=autographedcat]

Scrooge the BOFH, visited by three spirits….the Ghost of Systems Past, the Ghost of Systems Present, and the Ghost of Systems Future….

[lj user=autographedcat]

“Where are we?” “Don’t you recognise this room?” “That– that’s my old PDP-11! But this data centre doesn’t exist any more!”

Pointless whinging.

What follows is probably mostly whinging and self-pity. But it’s my journal, and I get to use it for stuff like that sometimes.

Retail Therapy Weekend

We really hadn’t intended this weekend to be a shopping weekend.

The computer is dead. Long live the computer

The computer is NOT my friend.[1]

I got home yesterday at my usual time, a little after 5pm, and, after taking care of the dirty dishes, decided to play a little CoV before making dinner. Went through the entire map, was engaged in combat with the big bad at the end when….everything locked up and CoV crashed. It’s been doing that alot lately, and inf act this was the third attempt to do this mission. So I started to see if I could diagnose the problem. My first thought was that it might be a memory problem, caused by having unmatched DIMMS. I shut everything down, and pulled 256meg of RAM out, leaving the pair of 512s.

And the computer wouldn’t boot. No errors. No beeps. Nothing. The lights came on, the drives spun up, but no video, no sound, nothing.

I spent the next hour or so checking and reseating all the connections, trying replacing the various ram chips in different combinations, unplugging different parts. Absolutely nothing worked, and as near as I could tell, it was a dead system.

To say I did not react well to this was….an understatement. I take computers failing on me rather personally at times. It’s not just a hardware fault. It’s a betrayal. And this betrayal drove me to do something I have not done since the mid-1980s [2].

I went to CompUSA and bought a retail PC.

I know I just lost a ton of geek-cred, but honestly, I don’t think I could have built a system for as cheap as they’re selling in the stores anymore.[3] For $550 (after rebate), I got myself a lovely Compaq Presario SR1950NX, with Athlon 64 3800 processor, 1GB of ram, dual-layer DVD-RW and a 250GB SATA hard drive.[4]

I got it home, and immediately put the RAM from my old PC in, bringing me to 2GB, and tried to put my hard drives in place. I figured out pretty quickly that they weren’t going to install nicely in the actual drive bays, so I finally settled for standing them on edge in the bottom of the case and hooking them up. I’ll evetually get myself some external enclosures for them.

The only thing I need now is a good video card[5] and I’ll be ready to rumble.

[1] If this be treason, then let us make the most of it!

[2] The last retail computer I bought new was a Laser 128 Apple ][e clone. I bought two Amigas second hand after that, and have since then owned 4 different PCs, all of them hand-built.

[3] And if you think you could, don’t tell me. I need what few illusions I have left, Besides, whatever small amount I MIGHT have gotten cheaper is offset by the instant gratification factor.

[4] And yes, Windows XP. This is the gaming system, which makes Linux and MacOS be less than ideal.

[5] The video card in my old system was an AGP card, and the new system is PCI-E. I’ve got a couple of people who might be interested in buying my old card though, so I’m hoping to offset some of the cost of the new one.

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