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Wednesday, April 18 2007

4 Cores, Working

Last week, I was discussing the Mac Pro octos with Adam, and bemoaning how expensive they are (the top price you can configure is over $18k for a single machine). I was saying I could really use more than 4 cores, and Adam didn't seem to believe me.

Today, I ran Parallels Transporter on my Dell (via Remote Desktop Connection) to make a VM for running inside Parallels. I was impressed with how simple it was, although the VM didn't actually work.

I also installed Solaris 10/x86 in a VM, which was painless, although it insists on running at 1920x1600 (the 23" CD's native resolution), which is not what I want. I set the resolution within Parallels (I hate that you can't do that without shutting down the VM!), but that doesn't help. I'm sure I'll get it soon, but it's lame.

I was also burning the latest Leopard Server seed for testing (the first time I tried it never finished closing the session, but this one seems good), with the source image being served up via Samba.

So with an install and a DVD burn locally, and an RDC session, plus background tasks, I passed 50% on 3 cores. Note that I wasn't actually doing anything, except waiting for the installs to complete. Ideally, I'd just leave Solaris 10, WinXP, and RHEL5 all running idle or paused, but with 4 cores that would be foolish.

4 cores working

The old PMG5 had 2 1280x1024 displays (2.5mpixel); one died, and I replaced it with a 1600x1200 Samsung 20", but the video card couldn't handle it (design flaw), so I stuck with dual 1280x1024; one of those won't work with the Mac Pro (no ADC), and the other will go home, where it belongs. With the Mac Pro upgrade, I am moving up to 1920x1200 + 1600x1200 (5.5mpixel). Sweet!

Tuesday, April 17 2007

Super-Tent move begins in 10 days

My group is currently scheduled to move on May 1, and it looks like the Super-Tent will be ready. It isn't yet, but they're pretty close. This week I learned about VESA monitor mounts. VESA has a series of (poorly named) standards for monitor mounting; both my Samsung monitors use a 100x100mm VESA mount, and (with a small adapter) my new Apple 23" display does as well. I have a VESA mount of some sort on order, but have not been able to find out what they actually purchased yet.

I am now wondering if I would've been better served by a taller monitor, instead of the widescreen aspect ratio, but it doesn't seem like our space will be so tight that this is going to be important. Fortunately, even though I am using different displays, they are both silver, both 1200 pixels high, and both use the same VESA mount, so I should be fine.

The Mac Pro arrived today, and it does seem substantially snappier, although it's the "low-end" Mac Pro (4 2.66GHz Xeon cores), compared to the original fastest PMG5 (2x2GHz G5s).

I have already salvaged the 120gb drive from my old 700MHz Microway Linux machine; nothing else was worth keeping, although it was a fine Linux test box for several years. I got rid of the Sun Blade 100 (500MHz), which was invaluable for testing (and net installing) Solaris 8-10, even though it never got much TLC. I've tentatively decided to keep the Windows Dell, as much so I can test p2v conversions as because I haven't yet installed the Remedy "Action Request" (help-desk ticketing) client in a Parallels VM yet.

I've seen my RHEL5 VM fail to respond to input on the MacBook Pro a few times, so if that continues to be a problem I'll switch to the VMware "Fusion" beta. I very briefly played with several of the VMware pre-built "appliances", but for my work it's as valuable to run through the installer as to actually log in, so I will be installing Solaris 10 x86 (my first x86 Solaris install) tomorrow under Parallels.

With the frosted glass (still under paper) the partitions are taller than I expected, and the 4-person cubes are larger than I expected, but there is still going to be a major lack of privacy. With 60+ people in the tent and HVAC turned on, it is also likely to be quite noisy. We'll know soon!

Our cube, from above

And my current office; the new Mac Pro & 23" CD are on the right; the old PMG5, 19" Samsung & Apple 17" LCD are on the left (all going away). The Windows Dell is out of sight on the right floor. Ironically, I will actually have boxes for the two nicest/most expensive pieces of equipment because they're new -- assuming I don't give up and throw the boxes out in frustration at the crowding first.

[My current (old) cube](http://www.reppep.com/~pepper/album/ru/super-tent-20070417/Pages/21.html "My current / old cube"

I installed several hundred megs of patches, am right now copying over my MP3s, and am now installing XCode (should be standard on Mac Pros!) to install Fink next.

Sunday, April 15 2007

Major Mac Movements

I was discussing this week's plans for computer rearrangements with Amy, and was amazed when I listed them all. Most of these will happen this week.

  1. I'm getting a Mac Pro at work; it has shipped and should be in soon.
  2. I got the (very nice) 23" Apple display already; I'll connect it as soon as I get the Mac Pro.
  3. I'll bring my current PMG5 home; it will become a Leopard testbed, and after Leopard's release will become www.reppep.com.
  4. The PMG5 has a 17" Apple LCD with ADC connector, which will come home with it (I don't have anything else at work with an ADC connector, and nobody wants a 4-year-old 17" display).
  5. I bought a 20" LCD at work a few months ago, but the ATI video card Apple shipped with the PMG5 can't drive it and a 17" display properly. I got a replacement card, thinking it was defective, but the (expensive) replacement part had the exact same problem, so it's a design flaw with that model. I brought the 20" display home and brought my own personal 19" display to work. I will bring the 20" back to work.
  6. I will bring the 19" LCD back home (I'll miss the pixels for iPhoto, but otherwise it's fine).
  7. Amy now suddenly needs a new computer (preferably one which can run Windows), and our finances have just gotten tight again, so I have deferred my purchase, and instead bought her a MacBook, which should arrive this week.
  8. At work, I have an original MacBook Pro which I use for a) ssh, b) Safari, c) Leopard testing, & d) Parallels/VMware hosting & testing. I'll bring my own PBG4 in for ssh & Safari, do Parallels/VMware on the new Mac Pro, and move Leopard testing to the PMG5 at home.
  9. I'll bring the MBP home, where it will be much faster than the PBG4.
  10. I'm replacing our 100mbit switch (the old gigabit switch died a year ago) with a new 8-port gigabit switch -- for $35 ($50 before rebate!!!).
  11. I'm running Ethernet to the loft where my desk and printer are; this will free up an AirPort Base Station currently connecting the printer to our home LAN via WDS.
  12. I will replace our upstairs DVR with our hacked Series 1 TiVo, so I can once again extract video to watch on the subway with TCPMP; I will use the newly-freed-up ABS to connect the TiVo's Ethernet.
  13. My 60gb iPod photo should be back soon, so I'll be moving my Eudora Folder (email) back off the old 10gb (which was mine, then Amy's, then attached to the stereo to share).

Then later this month, we'll pack up our offices and move everything to the Super-Tent. I'll be moving the Mac Pro and PBG4 w/ 2 displays, and getting rid of my Sun Blade 100, Dell Windows PC, & Microway Linux PC -- replacing them with VMs on the Mac Pro.

Tuesday, April 3 2007

Today's Accomplishment: SSO ssh Upgrades

Today I upgraded our 8 core authentication ("Single Sign On") servers from commercial ssh to OpenSSH (it was a 2-year battle to standardize on OpenSSH, but in the end the right product won).


The tricky things are: a) These machines are critical enough that they're not directly accessible from campus, so everything must be done through an intermediary machine. This complicates everything. b) Upgrading ssh is problematic because it's the remote control tool, so working on sshd implicitly interferes with your own control. Fortunately we have good terminal servers, which make this much less problematical; when sshd is down, you can get in the back door to bring it up.

One of the neat things about UNIX is that you can delete a file, but if it's open the file is not actually deleted until that filehandle is no longer in use (when the last filehandle is closed, the disk space is reclaimed), so for non-terminal-server systems, I've actually done the whole upgrade through an sshd binary which is deleted at the beginning of the upgrade, replaced during the upgrade, and still in use until the very end.

I (we) have been doing this long enough, and refined the procedure sufficiently, that the whole upgrade took under 90 minutes total for 8 machines, although there was a lot of prep and follow-up, cleaning up accounts, /etc/sudoers, installing public keys, etc.

Overwriting /etc/passwd, /etc/shadow, and /etc/groups with copies from the intermediate machine was particularly stressful; I was highly relieved that nothing broke.

Thursday, March 22 2007

Super-Tent Approaches

People are also calling it the Pavilion and the Big Top (I like Big House), and we're now supposed to move in April 27th (previously it was set for March 15th, but I guess we're not going to make that one). Last week, moving boxes showed up in our current office -- that wasn't encouraging.

We're discussing steps to alleviate the crunch, like swapping out desktops for laptops and virtual machines, but I'm somewhat surprised there's no big movement in this direction. Personally, I'm hoping to get rid of 3 desktops and upgrade a laptop. Mac Pro octo (when released) should be a dandy VM host too.

It would be helpful if we could do some telecommuting, but I'm not sure if the Powers That Be will allow it. We'll have to see how bad the crowding and noise are -- the real experience may change everyone's thinking (or it might not be too bad, but that's a lot to hope for). The partitions certainly were higher than I expected, and the cubes less tiny, although if we double up, they will be very cramped. On the bright side, I hear the city will only give a 5-year permit for the tent, which is better than I expected. It's not a good thing when you're relieved at only spending 5 years in a large semi-permanent "building" with outside bathrooms. But hey, at least we'll have good connectivity. Oy vey!

Anyway, new pics are up.

Upstairs cube farm

Wednesday, March 7 2007

Rockefeller Is a Good Place to Work

I was up on the 8th floor of the Rockefeller Research Building (RRB), and got captured by the prospect looking down, south onto the FDR and the East River, and separately west onto York at 63rd Street (and the Peggy Rockefeller Plaza). I took a bunch of pictures, including a few of the crowded mess that is my cube. Our move to the Super-Tent has been pushed back from March to April (tax day?), so I'll have to clean up and dump a bunch of stuff soon, to fit into the new cube-farm.

Peggy Rockefeller Plaza

But I was reminded that, overall, RU is a good place to be. It's why I came back after leaving several years ago, and why I've stayed this time (I'm in my 7th year this round).

FYI: Our web group has posted an excellent Interactive Campus Map.

Oh, and the camera is still going strong after having taken a total of 188 pictures & movies combined since its initial charge.

Saturday, February 24 2007

Super-Tent Purgatory

Tent & Cars

I had a conversation with a co-worker about our new space. We're moving into the Super-Tent in March, and the construction on Theobald Smith Hall (where we're being kicked out of for the gut renovation) is supposed to finish in 2011. There's been no discussion about where IT will go after we move out of the Super-Tent, except that we're not moving back, because Smith (and Flexner) will be all open-bay lab space (no administrative departments allowed).

We all assume Flexner will start as Smith is winding down, so if Smith takes 4 years, Flexner might take 3 (until 2014). At that point, Bronk is going to look quite old and unloved (as it already does, actually), so that's 2017. RU IT is over 60 people now, so by then we should be 80+, and the University is extremely unlikely to have a nice space to put a group of 80+ people (we're currently in 5 locations in 4 buildings, spanning 5 blocks).

So perhaps in 2017 (barring major construction delays, and we all know all construction finishes on time, right?!?), the University will be trying to figure out what to do with 80 people, who are less important than any lab.

At this point, I have to think they'll wait to think about it (as they waited to give us new space, or renovate our existing space for a few years). Perhaps 3 years later the City will finally make them remove the tent (which is not approved as a permanent structure, of course), so around 2020, I expect RU to be scattering the IT department across campus again. Maybe we can find the 13th Colony!

Note: Bathrooms will be outside -- outhouses are so retro!

Check out my Super-Tent photos and the RU article on the construction plans.

Props to the Network Guys

We have a bunch of 48-port terminal servers (they're Linux/ssh based, and quite good). Unfortunately, one of ours has a bad Ethernet port (intermittent connections -- no good for lights out management!)

Today (Friday), I spent from 4:15 to 5:30 labelling 48 Cat5 cables, replacing the old terminal server (a tight fit!), reconnecting the cables, and testing. It increased my respect for our Network group, as they do this type of thing all the time (although usually with less ports), and scheduling network downtime is much tougher than scheduling console downtime. Lots more people notice. Fortunately, the terminal servers are for our group, and used almost entirely by 4 particular people, so notification and scheduling was easy.

Still, it wasn't fun. At the end I had a label maker with dead batteries, a whole bunch of garbage from the labels, and grimy fingers, but we regained remote access for the weekend, which was my goal.

Next time I'll ask a hardware guy to do the cable swapping!

Thursday, January 11 2007


The building I work in at The Rockefeller University is almost a hundred years old. It has a history of important science and medicine performed within its walls, and is thus a national historic landmark. On the other hand, it's in awful shape. The University cannot replace it, so they have decided to gut our building (Theobald Smith Hall) and the adjacent Flexner Hall; the buildings will then be completely rebuilt internally, and converted to open lab space.

The renovations and landscaping are expected to take several year, at which point IT won't be moving back, because the buildings will be only for labs, so we'll get put somewhere else. Unfortunately, IT does not get good offices. We are currently scattered across several floors of 3 buildings, with servers in 4 rooms across 3 buildings -- and insufficient environmental support for all our equipment. Construction always takes longer than planned, and it seems likely they will renovate another building after our two are finished, which means the space crunch will continue longer.

The immediate impact: in the early spring we will be moving to a new temporary structure (the "Super-Tent" -- "it's not a tent!"). It's being assembled right now, two stories tall. It will be real office space, but it's going to be crowded and noisy. I hope it has sufficient heating, cooling, power, and networking, but we can't know yet. Here's a picture of the "Super-Tent" under construction:


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