Now on centos 5.1

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My VPS server is now on CentOS 5.1, moved up from CentOS 4.6.  

My server is hosted on RapidVPS.com, a virtual hosting provider.  Since going to CentOS 5 is a major upgrade, the safest way to do it was to create a new virtual server, install it clean with CentOS 5.1, and migrate services over one by one.   

I love virtual servers.  Doing the migration by creating a new server was much less stressful and less hassle than upgrading a physical server in place. 

The cost was creating another virtual server, but I could do that for extra $12 a month on RapidVPS.  And once the migration is done, I kill the older server and go back to paying for a single server.

RapidVPS has been good to me

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I moved this weblog and my personal email out of the closet and onto a virtual private server last summer.  After looking around, I picked RapidVPS as a hosting provider.  They had good reviews and reasonably priced service.

After I moved, I was quite happy with the performance of my server, but increasingly unhappy with its reliability.  My server was sometimes down or hard to reach, and indeed it was in fact less reliable than it had been living on a Dell P3/550 in my closet.  When I contacted RapidVPS about the problems, they generally responded quickly, but the problems kept occurring.

In November I vented my frustration and sent a message to them.  I was "reluctantly unhappy," I told them. I got a response from Rick Blundell, the owner and chief tech person: what can I do to make you happier?  Make my service more reliable, please, I replied.

Today I just sent Rick another message thanking him.  For the last three months, my service has been everything I could want.  It just works.  No more slowdowns, no issues reaching it. It's been boring again, and that's just what you want out of infrastructure.

Doing server Infrastructure is hard work.  People only notice when it stops working.  When it works, they don't care.  I know; I've run server farms at CNN and EarthLink.  Problems happen. And sometimes fixing it can be difficult, frustrating, and expensive.

Rick and RapidVPS have made me a happy customer.  Thank you, guys. 

Take your Kindle to the beach

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Just after Christmas I got away for a few days to Jamaica.  All I did for 5 days was read.  I read by the beach, by the pool, in bed.  It was lovely.

But unlike every other vacation I've ever taken, I didn't take a large pile of books.  Instead, I took my Kindle.  And a small pile of books.  (I wouldn't want to end up in another country with nothing to read.  Heaven forbid!)

Understand, even if I don't have time to read more than a few books, I like having choices.  And I like to be able to leave off a book for a while and try something else.

The lure of the Kindle is instant gratification: you get bored with a book, you can download another one in less than a minute.  But that doesn't apply if you're outside the US.  So the night before I left, I bought five more books.  Ah, choices.

I did end up finish four books over my little vacation:

I read more than I have in years.  And I think I know why: no internet!


Another reason I like my Mac: it's QUIET

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My Mac Mini may not be the most powerful computer I have in the house, but it has one huge virtue: it's quiet.  I love that.  

The earliest Mini's didn't have a fan.  This one has one, but it is amazingly quiet. 

Nice work.

A great laptop bag: The North Face Surge

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I carried around an Intel-branded laptop backpack for perhaps 8 or 9 years.  I got it when I worked at CNN, and at the time computer backpacks were not common. 

Various parts were finally giving way, so I decided to buy a new bag as a Christmas present with money my folks gave me. 

I started trying to do some research, but ended up going down to REI to see what I could find.

I picked up a North Face Surge, and I've been very happy with it.   Features I like:

  • Unlike the Intel bag, this is a true backpack, and it feels very good on the back.  I've learned why hip and chest straps are good.
  • It has a little pocket for power cords.  It actually took me a while to find it - it's on the front of the bag at the bottom. 
  • No separate sleeve - the pocket closet to the straps is padded.
  • Small pocket just for electronics - iPod, etc.
  • Very well organized outer most pocket for pens and all the random stuff I carry.  
It's not a cheap bag - around $100 - but if it lasts as long as my last bag, it could serve me for 10 years.  Highly recommended.

I'm happy with my MacBook - no Air for me

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My experience with the the Mac Mini I bought in October has made me a convert.  Even though I built a new AMD-based Windows system at the same time that's faster than my Mini, I like the Mac environment.  And for those Windows applications that I can't live without, VMWare Fusion works just fine.   So since October, the Mac has been my primary environment. 

I've never spent my own money for a laptop.  I work in IT, and since 1996, every company I've worked for has provided me a Windows laptop.  But it seemed unlikely that a company would buy me a Mac laptop.  So in December the bug bit me, and I bought a black MacBook. 

I was never really in the market for a sub-notebook, and the specs on the air don't attract me.  1.6 Ghz processor vs my 2.2.  2 gig of ram vs the 4 gig I put in mine.  (From Fry's - only $90 with rebates!)  No DVD.  80 gig 4200 RM drive vs my 160gb 5400.  Higher res screen on the Air - that's nice - but not worth the extra money.

The lower weight and sleekness isn't necessary for me.  The Macbook is already thinner and lighter than the other Windows laptops I've had.   I like it a lot.

Changing my Kindle order to next-day delivery moves me up the list

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I was paying close attention November 19th when Amazon announced their Kindle reading device.  In the morning, you could order the Kindle for next day delivery, but as the day went on, the delivery date starting stretching out.  That evening I wasn't sure if I wanted one, but I decided to put my order in to hold a place in line.  With 2 day delivery, Amazon said I would get my Kindle Tuesday December 4th.

I'm an Amazon Prime member, so changing the order to overnight delivery is only an extra $3.99, so I decided to change the Kindle order to see if it would change my delivery date.  I expected Amazon to immediately come back and say I'd get it one day early - next Monday - but instead, Amazon said to check back later for a delivery date.

I check this morning, and it says my delivery date is November 29th - tomorrow!  Changing to overnight clearly moved me up in the queue.

Techdirt reported last week that Amazon has a patent on juggling delivery dates based on the value of orders they expect you to place. Interesting ....

Leopard's built-in VNC server doesn't quite work

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Mac OS 10.5 has a VNC server built in to allow remote access back to your Mac.  Many sites have claimed that standard VNC clients will work with Mac OS VNC.

Well, that may be true for some people, but I haven't been able to connect  back to my Mac outside of my local network using Apple's built-in server. 

It worked fine from a Windows machine on the local network.  But outside my network - no go. I tried opening port 5900 across my Buffalo home router.  I tried RealVNC and TightVNC, both from a Windows XP system, and both would let me get to a password prompt, but then died promptly. I tried tunneling port 5900 across an SSH connection to my Mac. I tried squinting and chanting "Apple is my friend."  Nothing worked. 

My solution was to download the Vine Server VNC server from Redstone Software.  I configured it to use a different port to avoid conflicting with Apple VNC server.  Vine Server is free.

It works very well. Vine Server also pays attention to other VNC options that Apple's server doesn't - it will work with 8 bit color, for example, which is important for speeding up the connection. 

I also went in and turned off the Dock animations.  (I wish there was a way to do that automatically when logging in via VNC.)

It still doesn't work as nicely as Remote Desktop does for the PC, but it's a good start.



If Emacs is broken under under Leopard, time to reinstall

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I bought a Mac Mini a few weeks back.  I bought it just one week shy of Apple's release of Leopard, knowing that I'd have to do the upgrade myself and pay an extra $10 for the DVD, but the siren call of pretty new hardware was too strong to resist.

I did the upgrade the Monday after Leopard came out - a straight in-place upgrade - and everything seemed to be fine. 

But all was not well.  Emacs was my canary in the coal mine; when I fired up a terminal and started emacs, I got the cryptic message " Fatal malloc_jumpstart() error"

This discussion convinced me that something broke doing the Leopard upgrade in place, so I went back and reinstalled Leopard using the archive and install method.  Problem solved.

My back says 'thank you' - a new chair

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For years, I've been using Lifetime folding chairs as computer chairs at home.  They're relatively affordable - perhaps $35 - and quite good as folding chairs go.  No more.  Last night I bought myself an Steelcase Leap chair.

At work, I've sat in Aeron chairs for the past 10+ years.  They're good, but it took me a while to discover that the Aeron chair has one nasty flaw - the mesh fabric is abrasive.  I started getting holes in the seat of some of my khaki pants, and I finally figured it out - that's where my wallet is.  (And I have a very thin wallet - the ALL-ETT, which despite the weird name, is quite good.)

The wide consensus is that you get what you pay for in an office chair, and that really you can't get a decent chair for less than $500.  The Leap chair isn't cheap - mine cost $800, but it should last a long time.

I bought mine at Sam Flax in Atlanta.  I think of them as an art suppy store, but they carry office furniture, and they service what they sell - if I have a problem, I can take it back to them.