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March 2008 Archives

Fix Something Annoying

In Time Management for System Administrators, I write about setting up periodic processes: Things you want to do once a day, week, or year. My friend Joe recently pointed out something he does periodically:

Every week, find something that annoys you. Not "needs to be done" but annoys you. Honest to god, every time you do this you make your life better. And after a few times doing it, you feel stronger about it... and you start doing a better job of identifying the things you want in your life, and the things you don't.
That's excellent advice.

That's how I recently came to fix my home WiFi network. My network has a few components that didn't seem to be working right. At first I could work around the problems with an occasional reboot. However, the reboots were getting more frequent and eventually I was rebooting the router daily without even realizing how annoying it had gotten. I even had an Ethernet cable run across the floor (how ugly!) to one machine that I used frequently. My SO was rebooting the router too, which meant I was no longer able to track how frequently the reboots were needed.

There were other problems related to the fact that the DHCP server lost the list of DHCP allocations at each reboot and some of my home appliances didn't like being assigned a different address now and then. Sometimes this resulted in IP address conflicts any time the router rebooted.

Finally I canceled plans for one evening and replaced the router with a Linksys WRT-54GL. The "GL" model is hackable... you can replace the firmware with a Linux-based systems. There are many to choose from. I used the Tomato replacement firmware from PolarCloud (cost: free!) and it worked on the first try. (If you want something that provides a captive portal, I recommend CoovaAP). The web-based UI is excellent, with AJAX'y little features like being able to click on the IP address of a device instantly brings you to the page for giving that device a static DHCP assignment. Within a few days I had static assignments for both of my Tivos, both iPhones in the house, our WiFi-based HP printer, and, oh yes, and our computers too. I enabled some QoS settings and was delighted to find that the defaults are exactly what I needed (what? open source software with defaults that make sense? amazing!).

Today I realized I hadn't mucked with any WiFi system in a week... exactly my desire. One less annoying thing in my life. Thanks for the reminder, Joe!

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in Time Management

Do you speak a language that is outside of the usual "top 40" languages spoken internationally? More importantly, do you know the locale-specific issues like how date ranges are written (May 3-5, 2008)?

You may have heard of Unicode, the replacement for ASCII that lets you type in hundreds of languages. Did you know that the same organization maintains the Common Locale Data Repository, which includes machine-readable definitions of how dates are represented, words are sorted, and so on. The latest update is going to attempt to include even more attributes: not just the date format, but the format for date ranges; not just how to alphabetize words, but the alternate sorting rules used in that country's phone book, ...

The Unicode CLDR Project has set up a web site where people can review their current data and submit updates.

I think it is great that they are opening the project and searching for volunteers. A project like this can only be done with the power of the open web.

The project's homepage:

Anyone can view the data. You only need to create an account to report updates or make suggestions.

If you are interested in what kind of bugs are being reported, view the recent submissions here.

If you know a particular language or culture very well, please volunteer!

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in Misc

The Complete April Fools RFCs (edited by myself and Peter H. Salus) includes one RFC that, it turns out, was not a joke. The book reprints all the April Fools and various "funny" RFCs and includes commentary not available online. And, err, umm... we recently learned that it includes on RFC that was not meant to be funny at all. We apologize if this has created any confusion.

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in Funny

April Fools Day is only 2 weeks away. I've seen some well-executed pranks played at work, and some that ended up in people getting fired.

The times people got fired often involved violating corporate policies, such as forging email from important people. I once saw a person forge email from a manager... oh, I won't finish the story, that's enough of a "no no" at most companies. Of course, if they had warned the manager he could have been involved and it would have been even funnier.

We once convinced a manager to email out a new data storage policy: Since the voice mail system deletes messages that are more than 10 days old, why not do something similar on our NFS servers? Certainly a file that hasn't been used in 10 weeks can't be too important. Imagine how convenient it will be to have your home directory automatically cleaned this way? Most everyone thought it was funny, except one person that was very embarrassed when he took his complaint to the VP, who had a much better sense of humor.

The RFC documents that define how the internet works includes many fake documents that are hilarious. www.rfc-humor lists them all. This includes the famous RFC for how to send TCP/IP packets over carrier pigeon.

Peter H. Salus and I compiled all the funny RFCs and put them into a book. Why sell something that you can get for free online? Well, first of all we added commentary, some of which is written by famous industry folks. Secondly, it's nice to have all the RFCs in one place. It looks great on a coffee table or in your office. (Oh, and you get to see the brilliant cover design that I did.)

You can still order it in time for April 1st. Makes a perfect give for the geek that has everything. Order today!

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in Funny