Saturday, October 16, 2010

Are you a programmer+sysadmin+support person at a small company? You need to read this.

I'm a sysadmin, developer of in-house software, and end-user tech support person at a small company. I wear a lot of hats, and do everything from Java EE applications to data recovery from crashed user laptops. If you can't open that email attachment or get to that website, I'm your man.

Needless to say, this makes the programming side rather challenging. I've always thought of interruption as the enemy of effective programming, and I've observed my effectiveness falling as the rate of interruption increases.

This article gives me reason to reconsider that idea, and consider trying to plan for and work with interruption instead. I cannot recommend it enough.

Friday, October 15, 2010


I suspect that some of the ideas behind the design of SSD drives as currently sold are rather flawed. Update: See the end of the article for an alternative viewpoint, though.

These drives are embedded computers, with their own CPUs, RAM, firmware, etc. They are much more complicated than they should be for a simple storage device, and are more like mini RAID controllers than they are like hard disks.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Notes on gdb use

I find myself looking up how to do certain things with gdb, because I use it rarely enough not to remember, but frequently enough for these to be somewhat annoying. This post notes how to handle things like signals and paging in gdb.

BoB (Belkin F1PI243EGau) DNS is still broken

Update Oct 19, 2010:Contacting Belkin sales and customer feedback and pointing out my increasing efforts to show how poorly they've performed in public finally got a response from Belkin. Admittedly the response is to say they've put the issue though to an "overseas engineer" ... but maybe something will happen. More likely, it'll stay trapped in another layer of disinterest and poor management, this time one I can't apply direct pressure to.

UPDATE Oct 6, 2010:An indirect approach, by bothering a friend who works at iiNet, got this issue through the support wall and to people who can deal with it. Belkin has been notified at a higher level too. It's a real shame that a clearly demonstrable issue like this got stuck behind support people at both companies, to the point where I had to bother a friend who shouldn't have to deal with this stuff just to get the issue looked into. Sometimes tech support acts as a barrier that prevents a company from finding out about real problems, an issue I've seen not only with iiNet and Belkin but with endless other companies. Anyway, hopefully Belkin will be getting onto this now.

A year ago, I reported to iiNet that AAAA lookups in the BoB (F1PI243EGau) DNS forwarder were always timing out, rather than returning SERVFAIL or correctly forwarding the query to the upstream server. This is the cause of the slow browsing issues reported for the BoB.

A couple of months ago I got hold of a pre-release firmware that fixed this, and about a month ago the firmware was finally put up for public use. This fixes the AAAA issues, so browsers like Firefox and Safari on IPv6-capable operating systems like Mac OS X and Windows 7 don't take an eternity to resolve every DNS query.

Unfortunately, Belkin didn't take this as a hint to properly test their DNS forwarder. They fixed AAAA lookup, but didn't fix it to return SERVFAIL when it encountered something it didn't understand, and failed to test other record types like TXT and SRV.

Sure enough, TXT and SRV lookup have the same problem. This is currently causing problems with Google Talk (using Pidgin) that require the configuration of a fallback connect server to bypass TXT record lookup.

Belkin support do not understand the problem. The low-level support folks at iiNet don't seem to get it either. Neither are passing the problem on to somebody with the experience and knowledge to understand the problem, and neither seem to have access to suitable hardware - or the inclination to use it if they do - to verify the issue.

Here's the explanation I sent to them.