December, 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.