2002

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Merry Christmas to one and all

Wednesday, December 25th, 2002

Here’s wishing that you (whomever you may be) have a wonderful Christmas (or Xmas, or Kwanza, Solstice, etc.) and that 2003 will bring you joy, prosperity and peace.

With that greeting-card-formula now out of the way, the only other quick update I have for now is that I’ve been spending some fairly quiet time at my parents’ this past week, doing a bit of reading and catching up on the additions to my dad’s DVD collection (see sidebar). I’ve not much planned for the next couple weeks, other than a trip to Toronto to celebrate the New Year with some friends from from my Waterloo days.

Woohoo!

Wednesday, December 18th, 2002

A first defeat of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA). Mind you, I look down upon software and music/media piracy as much as any copyright advocate but I absolutely despise all these new copy protection technologies that interfere with my ability to enjoy the content that I buy.

Extinction

Thursday, December 12th, 2002

The last of my ghost shrimp died earlier this week. As far as I could tell it was from natural causes (as opposed to predation by my fish). Given how poorly the shrimp have fared I’m not going to re-stock them; maybe I’ll add some cory cats to add some life to the bottom of my aquarium.

They all sound the same after a while

Monday, December 9th, 2002

Started writing Christmas cards yesterday. The thing about writing a couple dozen cards (I’ve only done about half a dozen so far) is that after a while they all start to sound pretty much the same—some permutation of a small set of greetings (e.g. happy/merry/joyful/wonderful Christmas, prosperous/happy/peaceful/successful New Year, etc.)—and I begin to worry that I’ll end up sending someone a greeting that’s almost exactly the same as last year’s. I mean, I do my best to personalize each message but what if two recipients were to compare notes and find the form-letter-like nature of my greetings?

Oh well, I suppose that’s the same dilemma everyone else faces. Furthermore, I always send out a lot more cards than I receive so from the greeting-card-karma standpoint, I’m way ahead on the count. At least all my greetings are hand-written (complete with the occasional ink smear and/or patch of Liquid Paper™), so no-one can accuse me of sending out generic printed form letters…

No longer “under construction”

Sunday, December 8th, 2002

Got sick of seeing the “under construction” message every time I opened this page so I got rid of it. The truth is that any good website is always under construction, lest it become a “cobweb site”

Not quite as “unsinkable” as I’d thought

Thursday, December 5th, 2002

In hindsight, I made some pretty foolish assumptions that led to my failure to interpret some early warning signs…

Last night I finally pinpointed the exact cause of the problems that have been keeping my dual-Athlon workstation PC down for the past 4 months. I ran a copy of Alexander Grigoriev’s MemTest utility (which was recommended to me by some of the chipset engineers at work, and has proven to be a really excellent piece of software for test memory) on “Aki” (have I mentioned my computer’s name is Aki?), and sure enough it found a huge chunk of completely trashed memory. Further testing allowed me to isolate the problem to one DIMM module, and there you have it: one of the memory modules had flaked out and was the reason behind all (?) the instability I’d experienced.

I’d foolishly assumed that because I’d set up an ECC (Error Checking and Correction) memory subsystem that the memory itself was unlikely to be at fault. But ECC can only fix single-bit memory “glitches” (which can occur occasionally due to “cosmic radiation” and other causes)—I’d overlooked the fact that it was entirely possible for a whole memory module to go bad. Which turned out to be the case.

Secondly I’d assumed that because of the ECC system, the system would inform me in some obvious way if something was wrong with the memory. And in a way it had tried—I’ve long heard the occasional POST (Power-On Self-Test) beep code emitted by the system, but had figured it to be due to some poorly seated memory modules (because I re-seated the memory and the problem had seemed to go away). And I suspected the “STOP 0x8E” failure that I kept seeing in Windows to be somehow related to the memory subsystem. But my false sense of confidence in the memory had prevented me from leaping to the obvious conclusion. Robust, the memory could be (if it was good to begin with—which it wasn’t); “unsinkable” it could not.

Anyway I removed the bad memory module (lowering the total memory to 768 MB) and the system has been running perfectly since. The situation had become increasingly critical as for the past months I’ve been unable to access some important E-mail that I have archived on that system, in addition to various programming projects and other stuff.

What’s ironic about this whole affair is that this is the first time memory problems have been a serious issue in any computer system that I’ve built, yet the ECC and buffering I built into the system should have made it the most reliable memory in any system I’d built.

What’s even more ironic is that shortly before discovering the problem last night, I’d started ordering parts for a system to supersede Aki. My reasoning was that it being likely that the motherboard, CPU(s) or memory had gone bad I might as well replace the whole lot, rather than wasting any more time trying to diagnose the exact problem.

Anyway I’m still going to build a new replacement system, with a new philosophy that I’ve mentioned: smaller and simpler. That way, next time something goes wrong it won’t take me months to diagnose the trouble.

Someone has been stealing my newspaper

Tuesday, November 26th, 2002

The San Francisco Chronicle usually arrives on my doorstep around 5 in the morning, but I don’t usually get out the door to pick it up until 10 or so. For the past couple weeks I’ve noticed increasing incidents of the paper being missing by the time I get out.

However, given that the paper is bagged in an opaque yellow bag (to protect it from the winter rain), I’ve devised a plan to discourage the thief. Let’s just say it involves a rubber toy snake…

High tech, low tech, no tech

Friday, November 22nd, 2002

It was something of a relief that we finally launched GeForce FX this week. I say “relief” because for the weeks following the the chip samples, up until Comdex launch on Monday, NV30 (as we engineers prefer to call it) was basically all that many of us worked on, night and day, almost every waking hour. While it’s certainly cool to be working on the latest-greatest chip months before most people will even see it, it’s good to be working on a variety of different tasks and projects again. And I’m feeling the pressure ease off a bit now that I no longer have to send out daily status reports to (amongst others) the CEO.

On a totally unrelated note, I bought a nice, fancy Aurora fountain pen last weekend, in preparation for another round of holiday card-writing. Since then I’ve been practicing my cursive handwriting, which I’ve rarely used since grade school. What’s mainly wrong with my cursive hand is that it’s unevolved; i.e. it doesn’t display much personality, since its evolution has stagnated with disuse. Otherwise it looks fine (if I dare say so myself)—but very much the same as it did some fifteen years ago. Anyway, whenever I have a few spare minutes (and usually, minutes are all that I have) I’ll pick up a decent sheet of paper and write—usually random words and passages, typically song lyrics…

I’ve also been spending some time trying to revive my main workstation computer. So far I’ve figured out that the problem does not lie in the hard disk, nor the SCSI controller, nor any one of a number of peripherals. If it turns out to be the mainboard or one of the CPUs, I’ll probably build a new computer, re-using what parts I can… This business is proving to be something of a lengthy ordeal, though, leading me a new philosophy for building future computers: simpler is better. Fewer parts, less bleeding-edge technology, and simpler configuration should translate to fewer things that can go wrong. I do still enjoy building and working with my own computers but I think I’ve now seen how it can become as much of a chore as anything else.

My office aquarium’s ghost shrimp population is now down to two, but there have been no new casualties in the past couple weeks so I’m hoping that means that either the two survivors have somehow adapted to whatever threat that killed the others, or that population has dropped down to a sustainable level (depending on what theory you believe with regards to what was killing them in the first place). Actually, “two” is not an accurate count because it appears that there are a number of tiny baby shrimp hiding and swimming around in the java moss. I’m not sure how long they’ve been there but I first noticed them today, when I saw a tiny speck move around in a manner contrary to any possible water currents. I’m not sure how they will grow to adulthood, however, as any that venture outside the java moss will almost certainly be gobbled up by my ever-hungry fish. In that matter I will elect to let nature take its course—not that I have much of a choice since the baby ghost shrimp are too impossibly tiny to see, much less catch.

100 (plus 1) entries

Sunday, November 10th, 2002

Hey, according to GreyMatter that was entry #100. Not much of a meaningful milestone now that I think about it… and now there are 101.

What, November already?

Sunday, November 10th, 2002

[Remembrance Day poppy]

So much for blogging entries more regularly. This eve of Remembrance Day gives me pause to reflect… Interesting how it’s called “Veteran’s Day” here in the USA, the emphasis being on those who have survived wars, rather than those who have not. Some may point out that the US has Memorial Day, though myself I’ve seen little if any memorializing on or around that day, and nary a poppy to be seen on either days. Maybe it’s this collective amnesia on the cost of war that explains why so many in this country seem so eager to embark upon another one…

Anyway, that’s enough soapbox time for me. I’ve hardly had time to stay current with world events—or anything else for that matter—for the past month, as we’ve been insanely busy here at work. When I put in for a two-and-a-half week Christmas vacation last week my manager knew that it wasn’t negociable. Nevertheless I’ve managed to do a some non-work-related things these past few weeks:

  • Saw Baz Luhman’s (of Moulin Rouge and Romeo + Juliet (1996) fame… or notoriety, as the case may be) production of Puccini’s La Bohème last week. This is first opera I’ve ever been to, though being a Baz Luhrmann production it had to it more of a feel of a modern-day musical. It was an excellent show though I’m left with the feeling of not “really” having been to an opera; I’ll have to make a point of going to an opera of the more conventional sort sometime…

  • My friend Jae has been trying to introduce me to a friend of hers for the past couple weeks. I say “trying” because due to illness (hers and her friend’s) the date has been postponed thrice now. So I remain hopeful and patient, though the latter may simply be a side effect of the week going by in a blur—one of the benefits of being constantly busy is that you don’t have any time left for boredom or impatience.

  • Got some ghost shrimp for my office aquarium, about four weeks ago. Originally had 11, now only two remain. It’s unclear why they are dying off at such a high rate. Occasionally one just “disappears”; ghost shrimp hide well and are difficult to spot at best, so this observation is only conclusive after one has been missing for a few days. One possibility is that my fish are eating them. Rather, there’s no question that the fish eat them—the first few that died simply didn’t survive the handling and trip from the store, and I did manage to see their remains shortly before they were scavenged by the fish—but the question is if the fish are killing off the shrimp. I’ve observed some of my serpae tetra intimidating some of the shrimp in order to get the latter to drop their food, but I’ve never actually seen any fish attack a shrimp. It’s possible the water conditions are simply inhospitable and that the shrimp are dying off as a result. Now I’m looking for hardier shrimp that will survive the somewhat-high temperatures in my aquarium.