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Mike Macgirvin

Documentation? What documentation?

  last edited: Thu, 31 Jan 2008 16:09:19 +1100  from Diary and Other Rantings
The school's weather station webpage seems to have stuffed it sometime around Thanksgiving. Today somebody finally noticed and alerted the support staff.

My boss asks "where's the documentation?".

Right.  There is none. This system has been in place for ten years or more and fails occasionally.  When that happens we go in and fix it.

Start with the webpage that actually displays the data. It's pulling the data from a file that is supposed to be automagically updated. Except we don't believe in magic. The file didn't get updated. Now to find out why.

Since this is a scheduled event, cron has to be involved. Let's have a look at the crontab file. Hmmm. It's pulling the changes from another file that is supposed to be automagically updated. That one hasn't been changing either. What changes that file? It isn't cron. Or is it? That file is symlinked to a file on another computer. Let's go have a look at the other computer. Ah, I see. There's a crontab running there which generates the contents of the update file from a data file via a collection of python scripts. Let's have a look at those.

As I suspected, they are pulling data from yet another file that is automagically updated. Right. It hasn't changed since November either. What changes this file? Time to scan the logs. Nothing.

OK, it's time to start from the other direction. The weather station is connected to a PC in the corner of a lab. Let's have a look there. It's hung and totally unresponsive. OK, maybe that's the problem. I reboot it. Then go back to the webpage. Nope. Nothing has changed.

OK, somehow the data has to get from the weather station computer to the other computer where the python scripts can munge it. Let's have a look at the logs.

The logs say everything is fine, but it isn't fine. Nothing. It's not happening. Well this is interesting. I check connectivity and network connections. They're OK. We've got an IP addess and pings work just fine. A closer look reveals that there's a Windows task scheduler which occasionally FTP's the weather files across the net to the second Unix box. The logs don't show any errors. Hmmm. The files aren't being FTP'd though. They aren't making it. Then I see a notice at the bottom of the screen. Updates were applied some time since the computer was last powered on - six months ago. OK, what updates? Windows firewall. Right. So I have a look, and sure enough the computer's FTP connection has been firewalled because of an automatic update. The FTP's are silently failing - and indicating success. This is pure evil. After several minutes I'm able to get in with an administrator account that can fix the firewall and do so.

Then have another look. Still nothing happening. What could be the problem now? Ah, on reboot FTP is automatically disabled on the weather station software - again without any warnings. The logs again say everything is working and files are being transferred. More evil. What's the use of having log files if they lie to you? I turn on the FTP. Bingo - now the files get through. Now back to the second computer to manually process the files and dump them into the directory where the third computer can pick them up. Then back to the third computer to manually update the processed files.

Yay! It works.

Back to the documentation. How would somebody document stuff like this? There's just too much that can go wrong. I could use up a tree or two writing it all down. This is why we've got systems folks.
Stormy Weather

  last edited: Sat, 05 Jan 2008 07:57:09 +1100  from Diary and Other Rantings
Some rough weather over in California...


Fierce winds toppled trucks on a major Bay Area bridge and knocked out power to more than 100,000 people in Sacramento as wicked winter weather moved into California on Friday.

Tsering Gyurmey snapped this image of an overturned truck on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge Friday.Image/photo

Forecasters said the Pacific storms could dump more than 10 feet of snow on California mountains by Sunday.

Winds in the mountains could gust to 145 mph, forecasters said, the strength of a Category 4 hurricane. A Category 4 can inflict extreme damage.


Yowza! 10 feet of snow! 145mph! That's a serious storm. Hope you folks make it through OK.

Let me put this into perspective. I was in 100mph winds once in Colorado. There were full trash dumpsters rolling down the street, and I could barely stand up. Walking was a process of planting one foot ahead of you, wait and regain your balance, then plant the other foot. Several folks lost the roof of their house, which just blew right off.  And what they're predicting is half again more powerful than that.
My power was out when I awoke this morning (to the beeping of a UPS) and I rode my bike to work at the peak of the storm...but here the winds were no more than 50 or so. The 145 winds Mike is trying to visualize are equal to Hurricane Katrina at landfall. I saw what happened to Ground Zero, Mississippi. Not pretty.

Anyway, 10 hours later it's now calm (but still raining). Power is back on, and all is right with the world again.
Over, under, sideways, down

  last edited: Fri, 14 Dec 2007 21:46:27 +1100  from Diary and Other Rantings
Finally a bit of respite from the weather. Now I'll probably get accused of gloating instead of whining - but this is when I can say that it's generally nice to be here rather than there. In this case - there being the NorthEast U.S. where this picture came in from...


Let's contrast that with this typical Christmas shot from NorthEast Australia...


I know, I know - life is tough.
Global Warming

  from Diary and Other Rantings
After a couple of beers I was contemplating this whole global warming thing and potential business opportunities. What are we going to need a few years from now?

Around here, most folks have a big water storage tank next to the house. I'd be getting these manufacturers ramped up for export. In the states, a few enviro-conscious folks have water barrels to catch rain. But I'm talking tanks - as in thousands of liters, up to millions of liters. We've got 'em. Just have to start shipping them out of the country.

Other product trends to invest in: hip waders, paddleboats.
Miscellaneous Stuff

  last edited: Sun, 02 Sep 2007 20:27:19 +1000  from Diary and Other Rantings
The neighbor backed into my car yesterday. Smashed up both doors on the driver side a bit. (That would be the right side). It's still drivable. Took out her tail light.

It was just outside the front window, which I was sitting in front of, but I didn't hear a thing. My ears were occupied. Finally got the bulk of the studio wiring in place and I was busy adjusting the digital delay units for the virtual drummer - and otherwise going through system tests to make sure all the gear was cooperating after being relocated on the other side of the earth.

This setup had been delayed by a lack of suitable speakers. Speakers here cost a fortune, as does everything else. Professional recording gear has always been one of those maximum gouge industries and it's no different here. The difference is that it's a captive market. To buy this stuff overseas you'll end up with the wrong power supply - or in the case of speakers, a hefty bill for shipping. A pair of Yamaha monitors that I can get on eBay for $100 costs about $800 on this side of the pond.

So I did a lot of comparison shopping and found a pair of Chinese 12" wedge monitors for about $125 each. That's quite affordable so I ordered a pair. The speakers themselves are crap, but it's the boxes I was after. Someday I'll find a used pair of JBL or Eminence drivers I can drop in and bring them up to my standards, but they'll work for now. I can smooth out any shortcomings with the equalizer. It will be a lot cheaper in freight costs to import a couple of better transducers than it is to import a couple of quite hefty wooden boxes. I've been down this road many times before. I know what it takes to get just the equipment I require within a reasonable budget. You can't hang out waiting for the best, or you'll spend your life waiting and not doing. During the dot-com boom I could buy the best (and did). Now my planning is once again like my starving student days, except that I've still got a bit of good gear to work with.  

Anyway, the speakers finally arrived this week and I picked them up yesterday morning (the weekend). The other thing I've been waiting on for the studio setup is furniture. We sold all of it - remember? So off to Bunnings (that's the local equivalent of Orchard Supply Hardware) and I came home with three folding utility tables.  The ones that cost about $30 at Home Depot. I paid about $55 each.

But it was the last piece of the puzzle that I needed to get everything setup and working. So now I can finally get that jumble of cables off the floor of the living room and make Amanda happy (and myself, since I'll be using them for their intended purpose). Glad I didn't leave any of those behind. Each cable runs between $20 and $50 here. And I need a few hundred before all is said and done. 64 RCA cables for patch buses, 16 MIDI cables, 24 XLR's, and 24 1/4 inch cables, 7 or 8 mini (PC sound card) to twin RCA for starters; you do the math. It starts adding up real fast. $40 for a MIDI cable. And that's for a single one meter cable. Ouch. Luckily I've got enough of all this stuff that I don't need to do the math.

I find it amazing that Australian musicians can ever get to the world stage. They would need a lot of capital.  

Oh yeah, Happy Father's Day! (They observe it in September here). Also yesterday was the first day of spring. I don't completely understand, since it has nothing to do with the equinox, but then I never understood how it worked in the states either (for instance they call the equinox the 'first' day of summer, winter, whatever). But the equinox isn't the beginning or end of a weather trend. It's smack dab in the middle. Oh well. I've argued the point 'til I'm blue in the face already. The declaration of seasonal endpoints as occurring during the equinox is logically incorrect but it isn't going to change anything. Just like it doesn't change the fact that Australia celebrates the coming of spring on September 1, which has nothing to do with anything. Happy spring anyway and a toast to the end of an extremely long winter.
Defining 'wet'

  from Diary and Other Rantings
It's difficult to appreciate what I mean by Robertson being a bit 'wet' without some measure of comparison to put it in perspective. Let's try this...

England (universally accepted as a soggy place) just recorded their wettest summer since records began in 1766 - with about 387.6 mm of rain falling in the 3 month period from May to July.

Robertson's last summer recorded 605.4mm over the three summer months. We won't have an accurate reading for the winter months this year because the local rain gauge only holds 500mm and it spilled over recently before the end of the monthly measuring period.
power outage

  from Diary and Other Rantings
Well at least our power outage today didn't compare with the fiasco that hit San Francisco yesterday. I feel blessed. We had a scheduled interruption for about four hours to finish up the job they were doing three weeks back.

One of the workers came by to check on the breaker, so we asked what it was they were doing to the lines. Turns out that when they put up the telephone pole across the street, they encroached on our neighbor's property by about 18 inches. It was a simple mistake. There's a big drainage ditch and common sense says to put up the telephone pole on the edge of the drainage ditch rather than in the middle. But he complained to the council, and they complained to the power company. So here they were, rewiring the entire block to move the pole over 18 inches into the center of the drainage ditch.

Part of me applauds this action. Government doing the right thing by its citizens is a noble virtue. But now they've stuck an electric pole that supplies a quarter of the town smack dab in the middle of a drainage ditch. I've seen this ditch when the monsoon rains hit. Sure hope the pole doesn't get swept away in the next big rain.
This could be the last time...

  from Diary and Other Rantings
Nice warm spring day. For me, it's gonna' have to do for summer because I won't get a summer this year.  

Today was the official first of the last days. It could be the last time that I'll do many things. Last trip to the stables. Last trip to the local music store. And it goes on and on.

After leaving the stables, I had to buy a new pair of shoes. Toss the old ones. The old ones have been near livestock, and this causes fumigation and perhaps quarantine issues. So I went through Target for the last time. I remember going through Target at the peak of the Silicon Valley recession in 2002. I think there were three people in the entire football-field size store. Today was a sharp contrast. It was bustling. Good to see the valley alive again. It's been a long recovery.

Then over to the music store. I picked up a Blueridge and serenaded the Washburns and Martins with it. Used to sell Blueridge. This turned out to be the finest sounding guitar in the entire store, very pleasant. Said goodbye to the clerks who all know me by name. Even a former customer of mine out shopping for Strats wished me well.

Some of the last times have already happened. But today was the first day that I've started to take notice.
Global Warming

  from Diary and Other Rantings
Have to hand it to CNN - which looks like the first major US news organization with the cajones to declare 'Global Warming is the real deal.'.  

This of course clashes with official government policy, which is that global warming is a myth perpetuated by tree-hugging enivronmentalists in order to deprive Americans of their constitutional right to guzzle gas - which would deprive Exxon and Saudi Arabia of their constitutional right to make lots of money.  

So don't bet on the US signing Kyoto or ever showing any leadership on the issue. It's up to you and me.