Petri Wessman's weblog

Disk recovery update

Got a situation update from DataPrey on the disk recovery attempt, with a nice technical explanation of the problem. Turns out the “service zone” of the disk had developed a physical fault, and even though the fault is tiny in size, since the disk “boots” internally from the service zone, any fault in it means that the disk flat-out refuses to work and just bangs the reading heads around. It’s sort of like the BIOS in a PC getting zapped.

This explains the sudden, no-warning crash of the disk – the fault was miniscule, it was just in the worst possible place.

The normal procedure is to hunt down a disk that is exactly the same model as the broken one, and copy the microcode from there. Problem is, this is an old 30G Maxtor disk that wasn’t too common even back then, let alone now, and finding a “donor” disk is proving to be troublesome. They have some leads (4 of them), but they need to find an absolutely exact copy. If they do, recovery should be possible. If they don’t, it will be extremely hard or flat-out impossible.

So we’re still waiting, we should know the status by next week.

Whatever happens, I’m impressed with the professionalism in the feedback I get from DataPrey, these guys at least sound like they know what they are doing.

Added: on the very slim hope that someone might have one lying around, the disk in question is a 30,7 gig (yes, tiny) Maxtor ATA drive, model 33073H3. It’s about 6 years old, and was originally sold with the “Maxtor Diamond Max” label.

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Attack of the Killer Tick

When I got out of the shower this morning and put on my clothes, I noticed my leg had a sore spot. Thinking it was some scratch, I pulled up my pant leg and found… well, a fairly harmless garden-variety tick attached and happily sucking away at my precious bodily fluids. Not quite the face-hugger from aliens, but a pesky parasite anyways.

I didn’t really remember what one was supposed to do in order to get rid of the things, the thing I knew not to do was just pull it off with my fingers. So I asked the still-sleepy Janka, and she murmured something about “tick-pincers” and “apteekki”. So off I go to the drug store and they sell something that looks like a mini-size medieval torture implement. One which works, since I got the little bloodsucker off my skin without problems. Yay!

First time I remember having a tick in ages… one of the cats had one maybe two years back, but that’s about it. They’re not that common around here, I guess.

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Backpack revisited

Backpack is a web-based service/app run by 37signals, the same company responsible for unleashing Ruby On Rails on the world. The base/demo version is free, if you pay you get extra functionality – this seems to be a growing trend these days.

So, what is it? That’s a reasonable and simple question, but the answer is a bit more elusive. It’s something like an ultra-simplified wiki with todo (and other) list support. It provides some structure to your data (unlike a traditional wiki which is totally freeform), but doesn’t mandate a strict system or layout. It’s also extremely streamlined and simple, by design – the design idea was to only include the things people really need, and nothing else.

So we’re back to “what is it”?

It’s an sort of freeform, online personal organizer tool, a place to hang all the virtual (or physical) Post-It notes and lists that are always hanging around. It’s a place to store all the general small “stuff” and info that don’t have any proper place, and which you need to refer to often. Todo-lists. Reminder notes (Backpack provides email notifications on those). General “notes to self”. Just… stuff.

I tried it out when it first came out less than a year ago, and was mildly interested by the concept. On the other hand, my gut feel was “I could do all this myself with a wiki and some other stuff”. Which is true… except I never got around to organizing something like that, so the “I could do something like this myself” has been replaced with “well, I could, but why should I when this exists”?

At the time, Backpack was missing any sort of calendar, and that was really the deal-breaker for me – I need some sort of calendar in my organizer tool.

Well, just about a week(?) ago the bastards added a calendar to it. I tried it out, and it works – like everything in Backpack it’s ultra-simplified; there is only one view, and you can’t really configure anything. But it works, and my calendar needs are very simple. As a sneaky move, the calendar is only available in the for-pay accounts, so I was “forced” to move into the $5 per month account scheme. I don’t really mind.

So. With the addition of the calendar feature, Backpack has become a surprisingly useful tool for me. I still find it hard to describe to people exactly what the thing actually is or exactly how I use it, but… “works for me”.

While I’ve come to appreciate 37signal’s “keep it as simple as humanly possible” design method, I still think they take it a bit too far sometimes. There are a lot of things in Backpack I’d like to customize. On the other hand, I suppose everyone has their list of things, and if all were accomodated the whole app would quickly become a confusing, Microsoft-like mess. The zen-like simplicity does have a certain charm, keeping that in mind.

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VTES page

Moved the VTES page to a Typo-managed page for now. Ideally I’d want a wiki for that stuff, but one thing at a time. The “public” link of http://www.orava.org/orava/vtes should still be used, that will redirect to the correct place.

The big Ropecon 2006 tournament is in a few weeks, and this year it’s also a qualifier for the European Championships. Whee! Please note that, like last year, I’m closing registration at 17:30 on Friday – either be there on time, or pre-register by emailing me. See the VTES page above for details.

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Dig more clay, you lazy sods!

The latest mini-craze seems to be Travian, a fun and addictive strategy board-game-via-the-web. Nothing really innovative here, you grow/mine/gather resources and use them to build Stuff(tm). But the execution is nicely done and it’s massively multiplayer, each server has 10-20k players. Fun and suitably slow-paced. I’m on server #7, trying to grow enough wheat to keep my economy booming, and keeping a careful eye on a nearby Teuton village – I’m convinced a raiding party will show up at my gates any day now.

Work continues on Squirrel Valley, the upcoming capital of my empire. Pretty pathetic right now, but just you wait…

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Ok, I’ve been playing around with Typo a bit now and it seems a lot nicer than Wordpress. A lot of the “nicer” comes from it being written with Ruby On Rails, which is a kick-ass platform, especially when compared to the steaming pile of dung that is PHP. Don’t get me wrong, WordPress is very nice – but Typo suits me more.

It helps that I’ve done some stuff with Rails, and I know how the framework is organized and is intended to work. This, together with Ruby being a nice and concise language, makes peeking under the hood in Typo a pleasant experience, as opposed to the “aaaagh, I want to claw my eyes out!” reaction I get from PHP and WordPress. I’m already thinking of writing a sidebar plugin or two, they seem pretty straightforward. I also want to add a text filter to generate DriveThruRPG links easily.

The installation and setup was pretty straighforward, the new installer defaults to a Mongrel server which suits me fine. I ended up with Mongrel listening to a port on the local interface, with Apache proxying requests that way. Rails is not thread-safe, so Mongrel wraps most of the app in a sync block – which is fine for a small site like this, but would not scale for more traffic. Luckily, Mongrel has support for running a cluster of Mongrel instances, and Apache 2.2 and later have a load balancing proxy module that is reported to work. I don’t need that now, but it’s good to know that stuff like that exists. All in all, it seems that the Mongrel + proxy solution is a very painless way to deploy and administed Rails apps. Nice. Production deployments have always been the slightly ugly side of Rails, up to now at least.

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New books

Yay, Amazon (or the post office, to be more exact) got around to delivering two books I had ordered, The Book of Postfix and Linux Firewalls. I know how to do basic (and some not-so-basic) mail system configuration with Postfix, and I also know how to build firewalls with iptables… but both are pretty complex pieces of software and I want to get a somewhat deeper understanding of what really goes on in the internals.

Lots of reading to do.

Hmm, the Amazon sidebar is a bit annoying at the moment. I’ll trim it down soonish.

Later: can’t seem to find any documentation on Amazon’s legacy book link generator parameters, I want to get rid of that “buy now” botton etc. No luck. So I’m removing the sidebar for now and looking into coding something of my own using Amazon’s XML web services at some point.

Still later: decided to forget the sidebar, and to hack the Amazon link postprocessor in Typo to also include clickable book title images automatically. The page Abusing Amazon Images helped nicely with this. Lo and behold, after only about 20 minutes of hacking I had a functional first implementation. Gotta love Ruby.

After this, all I need to do is type in text like

<typo:code> Book title </typo:code>

where NNNN is the Amazon ASIN for the book in question, and the Typo plugin forms it into the correct link and also inserts a floating link with book cover art into the post. Nice.

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Drive recovery proceeding

Just got a message from DataPrey, saying that they are hunting down the spare parts for the recovery procedure – they have to find the exact same ones as the disk uses, and since it’s an old disk it could take some days. We’ll see how it goes.

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