I’ve successfully compiled and installed OpenSolaris from source code. While the build and install has a lot of rough edges still, it’s very exciting to have a working open source (mostly) copy of Solaris running!

Dennis Hickey wrote an interesting article in the Taipei TimesClearing the air over sovereignty.”

My dad left this morning. The highlight of his visit was spending Sunday and Monday up on Yangming Mountain. We stayed at a nice out of the way hot spring resort and spent some time exploring some of the scenic spots. Emily got carsick twice and we got stuck in the rain at one spot, and I had to drive illegally (I can drive but don’t have a Taiwan driver’s license. My wife can barely drive but has a license. We tried it the legal way but it was not fun.), but overall it was pretty nice.

The low point was me getting a stomach bug again on Tuesday. We managed to make it out for a while to take the world’s fastest elevator to the top of the world’s tallest building (Taipei 101), but it wasn’t that fun for me. I think we know why I keep getting sick though. On Tuesday evening one of the downstairs neighbors in our building came up to say that the water tank for the building is very dirty and wanted to discuss splitting the cost of cleaning it. While we have our own separate water tank, it turns out that it is fed from the main building tank. I’d wondered about the water quality before, so I’m hoping that getting the tanks cleaned will solve the problem. I’m sticking to bottled water from 7-11 until they’re cleaned.

Thanks for sending the salami, Bonita.

Batman Begins

I suppose I should give some background. I’ve never read any of the Batman comics. I saw some of the TV series when I was younger. I thought the 1989 “Batman” movie was quite good. I thought the subsequent Batman movies ranged from mediocre to awful. I had heard good things about the latest movie, though, so I went in with pretty high expectations.

I was not disappointed.

I very much enjoyed “Batman Begins” and would even say that it is the best movie I’ve seen this year. Unlike previous Batman efforts, they stayed solidly with a dark theme which avoided the painful awkwardness of trying to mix dark themes with humor which plagued the previous versions. The plot and writing were quite good, with few holes in the story (and hey, it’s based on a comic book, so you gotta let certain things slide). Visuals were excellent. Casting was very good. It seems odd to put a little known lead actor with so many veteran actors in the supporting cast, but it worked surprisingly well. This Wired review complains that Katie Holmes didn’t perform well, but I’d have to disagree on that point. I’ve been a Katie Holmes fan since Dawson’s Creek though, so maybe I’m biased.

Overall, I’d say it was an excellent showing, and hope they can come out with some more Batman stories of this high caliber.

Sipura SPA-841 Problems

I’ve started playing with DIY VOIP installations recently. Last time I was back in the US, I picked up a hardware IP Phone and an Analog Telephone Adapter (ATA) to experiment with. For the hardware phone, I picked the Sipura SPA-841 based on features and reviews.

Yesterday I took it out of the box and started playing with it. First, I got it working with Free World Dialup which went OK once I figured out that STUN is broken in the firmware I had, 0.9.1. I upgraded the phone to the new 3.1.3a firmware and after that it was fine. Then I configured it to use an Asterisk (Linux PBX software) server I’d set up. Had some problems with that, but it turns out it was because I hadn’t applied my changes on the Asterisk server. Oops.

That’s when things started going downhill fast. First the microphone started getting flaky. When making calls, I could only be heard if shouting straight into the microphone. While debugging this, I was dialing an FWD number when the phone just froze up completely. When I power cycled it, it came back up but froze again less than a minute later. After a few rounds of this, it started booting up less and less frequently. I was able to do a Factory Reset once, but that didn’t help any.

Worried that it was the new firmware that was flaky, I downgraded to an older version, 0.9.5. (I couldn’t find my original firmware version available for download, so that’s as close as I could get.) The phone was getting increasingly flaky now, but I was able to just squeeze in a successful firmware downgrade. That didn’t help either. At this point it has degraded to the point where it rarely boots up anymore.

While looking around the web, a saw that this guy and this guy have had similar difficulties with this model. The latter actually performed a postmortem autopsy which shows the fairly low quality of the phone’s manufacture.

Sipura refers support requests to the reseller, so I’m waiting to see what the place I bought it from suggests. Regardless, it’ll probably involve international shipping to send it in for repair which will be expensive and slow.

Sipura was recently bought by Cisco, so hopefully quality will start to improve, but for now it’s probably best to avoid this model.

Now That’s What I Call Customer Service

On my main desktop and my laptop I use Grisoft‘s commercial anti-virus product AVG SoHo Edition. On my video capture box I use the very popular AVG Free Edition, a stripped down version without support. (If you don’t have anti-virus software on any of your Windows systems, take a moment to download the AVG Free Edition now.) I’ve been pretty happy with it so far. I’m pretty careful about opening email, but other people also use my computer and occasionally they will not be so careful.

Today I got a popup that a file had been identified as infected by a trojan PSW.Banker.ASO. I opened up the Virus Vault and found that a total of nine files had been detected as that same trojan horse over the past 12 hours. Looking into it some more, I became suspicious that there was any actual infection. The supposedly infected files were all legitimate existing files of various sizes, and there were no other symptoms of this type of infection present. Also, the file was pronounced clean by ClamAV.

Since this was on a system with support, I sent off a technical support request to Grisoft. They promise that they have support available 24/7, but I’ve heard that before and still had to wait a day or two for response. To my surprise, 35 minutes later a response came back from a support person. And to my further astonishment, he didn’t suggest stupid things like rebooting my computer or clearing my browser cache. He actually said they had found the problem. And to completely flabbergast me, he went on to say that they had pushed out a new update to fix the problem. All I had to do was hit the update button on the software (or wait a few hours for it to automatically be picked up) and the problem was solved!


That’s some seriously excellent customer service. Next time you need to buy anti-virus software, consider Grisoft.

Wiring project

For everyone who asked, I’m fine now. The illness only lasted about 24 hours and once I had enough sleep, I was OK.

Our house in Taipei is on floors 5 and 6 of our building, the top two levels. Our phone lines come into the 5th floor and then there’s a cable that connects up to the 6th floor phone jacks. My computer room is up on the 6th floor where the fax/adsl line goes. The cordless phone base station is in the study area off of Emily’s room on the 5th floor. I have a VOIP account with Packet 8 as well, and it connects to the network upstairs and then was routed over the house wiring to the phone downstairs.

That worked OK, but there was a little bit of noise on the line. It wasn’t much at first, but it got worse over time, until sometime in May it got to the point where it would be unusable at times. So I needed to find out the problem and fix it. The first problem was finding out where the cables were routed. I finally figured that all out, and found that almost every pair between upstairs and downstairs was flaky. It’s amazing that the ADSL line managed to keep working under the circumstances.

That meant having to run a new line between upstairs and downstairs. While I was at it, I decided to put in an ethernet line as well so that I could put network stuff downstairs in the future. (There’s already an ethernet drop running to the front of the 5th floor for wi-fi, but the back of the house didn’t have any network drop.) This involved going to the SL store to get cables, jacks, cable ties, and a monster drill bit to make holes in the walls. For the phone lines they had four conductor cables, and I got some cat 5 cabling for the ethernet drop. I planned to run two phone cables and one network cable, which would allow for one network drop and up to four analog phone lines.

I decided to have the cables take a fairly direct route from the computer room through the wall to the stairwell, down the wall, and through the wall again into the study area. Drilling the holes went remarkably smoothly, as did feeding the bundle of three cables through. The hardest part of that was getting the cables to lie neatly and then get the cable ties nailed down.

I got the main house line and the adsl line going up through the new cables, and once the adsl line was over on that line, I cut out the link between the 5th and 6th floors on the inside wiring. I routed the VOIP back down over the other line and hooked it up to the phone, and when I tried it out, the sound was crystal clear! Success.

Of course, it wouldn’t be that easy! Getting the network cable working was another matter. Though I bought what looked like two identical RJ45 jacks, they turned out to have completely different layouts for the connects inside. I wired things up with identical color schemes to match the labels on each end, then plugged a patch cable from one end into the switch, and on the downstairs end another patch cable to the laptop.

On the laptop, I disabled the wifi port and enabled the ethernet port, and then sat staring while it waited at “Acquiring network address”. Suspecting something wrong with the DHCP server, I set it up in debug mode and found that it was seeing and answering the requests correctly. That seemed not to be the problem. Then I replaced the switch upstairs with a different one and that worked a bit better. It was able to get an address sometimes, but then it was a bit erratic accessing the network.

With ping, I was able to see there was some amount of packet loss. Not too bad for small packets, but up around 8k packet size it was losing about 20%. Not good at all. Suspecting that the cable might not be to spec, I set the laptop to 10mbps instead and that worked just fine. In case it was a bad pair, I inverted from using the orange and green pairs to using blue and brown. (Ethernet cables use 8 conductors, but normally only 4 are used.) That didn’t work any better. But by hooking up only two pairs at a time, at least I was verifying that I was at least wiring the jacks correctly.

The cable I was using on the laptop end was kinda old, so suspecting it next, I swapped that one out. The problem got worse! But this turned out to be the crucial clue into what was going on. Between the upstairs end and the switch, I’d installed a new cable right out of the bag. When I replaced the downstairs cable with the same brand of cable right out of the bag and it got worse, I finally realized that it was those patch cords that were the problem. Though the package said they are Cat 5e rated, the cable itself didn’t have Cat 5e written on it. I suspect someone cheaped out and used out of spec cable and hoped nobody would notice.

Swapped those bum cables out with another set of brand new cables straight from the bag (this time verifying that the cable itself has CAT 5 stamped on the jacket), and things worked beautifully! Still had to rewire the cable again back to the proper color coding and tested again, and now it’s all working great.

Just goes to show that sometimes the thing you expect the least (a brand new cable straight out of the bag) is the one thing that was causing all the problems. Anyways, now we have the phone lines in better shape than ever, plus a network drop to the study downstairs, so I guess it was all worth it.

Unhappy Birthday

Saturday was my birthday. Unfortunately I spent most of it cowering in bed and finally going to the emergency room in the middle of the night. This is another one of those stories that needs a ‘put down your sandwich’ warning.

It all started around lunch time with a painful bowel movement involving a bit of blood. Not a good sign, but other than that I seemed fine at that point.

Around 2pm I started feeling a bit tired and run down.

By 3pm I noticed I had a fever. It was 38C at this point. I took a Naproxen and took a rest.

By 4pm I was having bad chills and fever was up to 39C. This was after taking Naproxen which usually works well for fevers. I was drinking lots of water and since I had no nausea, it was staying down, so I wasn’t worried about dehydration.

Somewhere after this I took a second Naproxen. This eventually got things down to 38C or so, and I proceeded to do some sleeping.

I was able to get up and eat a bit of bagel and some more water in the evening and go back to bed still at around 38C. Around 2:30am I woke up again and back up to 39C, and very sore all over. Tried some more Naproxen and my wife gave me an icepack, but it just wasn’t enough, so we headed off to Mackay Hospital’s emergency room.

I was admitted with fever and high pulse rate with suspected dehydration. They took some blood to test, gave me a jab with some fever reducing medicine, and hooked me up to an IV. After just over a liter of saline and a few hours, I was feeling better so they gave me some medicine and sent me home. Been pretty much fine since then, thankfully. Blood test came back normal, so they aren’t exactly sure what it was.

Two steps forward, one step back

So while I was out getting the couple of odds and ends to complete the new computer case, I also picked up a kit to replace the fan on my video board. I had kludged up a fan on it after the original one died, but it was kinda dorky and didn’t even have a heat sink, just a fan blowing on the chip. Still, it worked ok. Still, might as well get something with a real heat sink, cause it’s only gonna get hotter here over the next month or so.

I get it home and it’s exactly the right size except for one problem… The little plastic knobs to hold the fan on are just *slightly* too small to fit in the holes on the video board. Now, the safe thing to do would have been to whittle down the knobs or replace them with a nut and bolt or something like that. The stupid thing to do is to get out the drill and enlarge the holes just slightly with the next drill bit size up.

Yes, I proceeded to do the stupid thing.

The drilling went very smoothly, and the knobs snapped perfectly into place. I popped the card in the computer and powered it up. Checked that the fan was spinning and it was doing fine. But… nothing came up on the screen. Switched over from the DVI port to the VGA port and finally got some output… except that while half of the screen was fine, random columns of characters were blank, randomized, or shifted to strange colors. Oops.

So back to Guanghua for the 3rd time this week, to pick up a new video card. I’m not much of a gamer, so my needs are modest. I landed on a Elsa FX 534 which is based on the Nvidia GeForce FX5200 chipset. This model uses the 128-bit instead of 64 bit memory, has 128mb video memory, DVI, VGA and TV outputs, and pretty reasonably priced. I’m sure edpark is going to taunt me for getting such a weak-ass card, but it’s fine for my needs, and it’s better than the Nvidia Ti4200 it replaced.

In other news though, got the extra drive cover, and also a black floppy disk drive, so now the whole front panel is nice and uniformly black. Fortunately my old memory card reader was already black, so I didn’t have to replace it. Also I got some IDC10 connectors, male and female, and borrowed some ribbon cable from an obsolete 40-pin IDE cable (current IDE cables are 80-pin for ATA66 and higher). Hooked that up between the front audio connector and the case cable and now the front panel ports work. I didn’t see any Firewire cables with IDC connectors on them, so for now I’ll just use the rear connectors for the few times I use Firewire.