Hello? Is there a problem with the line?

Jun 3, 2006 / 0 comments

My E3 is currently sitting running KPhone/Pi under OPIE. Annoyingly I currently have to have a USB mouse attached due to lack of a suitable pointing device on the E3, but I'm sure that's solvable in time.

More disappointing is the fact that it doesn't really work. :( I can successfully SIP register with my local Asterisk instance, and dial voicemail successfully. I only hear a fragment of the "Chameleon mail" prompt and attempting to send DTMF to choose a mailbox doesn't work either - I don't know if this is because I leave it too late or if they don't get sent at all.

OpenEmbedded doesn't have any other OPIE based SIP or IAX clients, nor anything text mode that I can see. I found ZiaxPhone but it seems to be closed source so I can't rebuild it. Guess I'll have to find a text mode client and try to work out if it's KPhone, the audio driver or the E3 not being fast enough that's the problem.

Silver vs White Gold vs Platinum

May 17, 2006 / 0 comments

So I need to get a wedding ring. Given I hope to wear it for the next 50+ years and that I've worn a ring in the past I figured something more interesting than a plain band would be nice. Many years ago Kathy bought me a silver Celtic style ring I was fond of, but unfortunately I lost it a while ago, which was upsetting, so I thought it would be nice to get a wedding ring that was similar to the lost ring.

However. I don't like gold. So the logical choice seemed to be white gold. Until a jeweller told me that it was plated which would wear over time and require replating every few years. Which is a bit offputting. Anyone any experience of this? I've seen mention of getting it replated with a thicker than normal coating, which makes it less likely to require regular updating?

The other options seem to be silver or platinum. Does anyone have silver wedding rings? Does it last well enough? It's a lot cheaper; is that the only reason why they're not common or is there something more fundemental? Platinum is more expensive than white gold, but that's not a huge issue for the last ring I plan to wear. Is it harder to work though, making it less likely that I'll find what I want?

I found a ring at Ortak that I like, but no platinum option and I'd want to see it before buying, so online is out. Can anyone suggest a decent jeweller to talk to in Norwich? I've had a look around but not seen anything matching what I want. Alternatively I guess I can look in London.

Sort of stranded at my parents'

May 15, 2006 / 0 comments

I went back to Northern Ireland for the first week of May. Vicky and Branwell were getting married on the 5th, so I figured I'd go home the weekend before (with the bank holiday), work a 3 day week, then come back on the Monday. Plenty of time to see my folks, some friends, and relax.

I did end up feeling a little stranded at points. My parents live in Newry, and I don't know anyone there any more. Public transport in NI is dire and I didn't have access to a car (even if I'd been insured for Mum's she's far too busy for me to be able to borrow it for any length of time). Kathy was in Banbridge (15 miles away) and there were people in Belfast (40 miles away) but it wasn't like I could just pop out and see them.

However, what I did realise is that there's a social system in place back "at home" that I could easily slip back into. I spent the Bank Holiday afternoon pottering round Belfast with Jake, Paddy and Peter, ending up in The Kitchen. It was, as it always is, good to see them. Later I went out with Kathy, Mal and Miranda for dinner. At Vicky and Branwell's wedding I saw a bunch of people I probably haven't hung out with in 5+ years, all of who were chatty and friendly; the wedding was a good day/night. I didn't have time to see ct, though it would have been good to.

I'm sure I could slot back into a similar setup in Oxford, but I found it surprising and comforting to realise I still have that in Northern Ireland.

E3 booting without help.

May 14, 2006 / 0 comments

I've been quiet for a couple of weeks now; I went home to my parents for just over a week at the start of May (more on that later), then last week was spent catching up with various bits after being away, and then the past few days I've had a cold (just in time for the weekend, yay!). Meh.

Anyway, as such I haven't been fiddling a lot with the E3; still stuck at the point where I could get it to load my second stage loader from NAND, which would then load u-boot, which would then load the kernel, but not getting anything from the kernel after decompression. Whereas if I loaded the second stage loader over the serial port it all worked fine.

Figuring that Amstrad's PBL must be doing something different depending on which method you use (NAND/serial) I had a look at the config registers to see if anything was different. Nothing obvious. I enable the low level kernel debug output and find it is booting ok, but that it freezes as soon as it tries mutex_lock in clk_register. Odd. So I disable CONFIG_DEBUG_MUTEXES and all of a sudden it works. My E3 boots into Linux unattended. Woooo. I think.

Xinit considered harmful.

May 4, 2006 / 0 comments

Last year Black Cat decided they wanted to be more organised about offering dedicated servers. We already had a rackful but they were all in use. So we looked around for a suitable supplier. Originally Dell were the front runner; although they have a bad reputation we already had a bunch of machines from them and they'd been reasonable reliable, did serial BIOS properly and were competitively priced.

Dom pointed out that having hotswap drive bays would be a really good plan; we'd already specced the machines with dual drives to enable RAID1, but if they were hotswap then we could easily move drives into a spare chassis in the event something went wrong, meaning the customer could be back up and running again quickly while we investigated the old machine. Good plan. This started to push Dell into ridiculous pricing, so we had a look around. We had some machines from Xinit, which again we hadn't had issues with. They were able to give us a price that wasn't that different to the non hotswap Dells, so we decided to go ahead with them.

Bad move.

On September 6th I informed them we wanted to go ahead. They'd quoted us a 10-14 working day lead time. As we didn't have a credit account already set up with them and it was likely to take a while to sort out we said we'd pay up front in the interest of getting things moving as quickly as possible.

By September 22nd we still hadn't heard anything from them, like even confirmation that payment had been received and an ETA for delivery. So I contacted them, received confirmation they'd received full payment by September 13th and was told we should see systems by September 30th or October 3rd at worst.

On September 26th they emailed to say there was a problem with their shipment and we'd be receiving a part shipment with the rest to follow.

4 servers were delivered on October 12th. It turned out none of them had been configured as requested (serial console, 9600 8n1, all set to auto power on after power failure), so I ended up having to plug a monitor and keyboard into each machine before connecting it up to the serial console server and power cycler.

I chased Xinit again on 24th October. They'd claimed a 5th server was to be delivered before that and still hadn't told me anything about the remaining 15. I was not impressed. A new contact got back in touch and made all manner of apologies and promises about keeping in better contact and keeping me up to date with what was happening. Suffice to say this didn't happen, and calls to the main Xinit number were of no use as no one could help, and the mobile number I'd been given for this contact was unanswered more often than not.

On 1st November we received another 11 machines. These were at least configured as requested, but during our testing we discovered they had been misassembled. 5 machines had CPU heatsinks put on incorrectly; visually misaligned and such that any load caused a machine crash. Very unimpressive from a company who supposedly does full burn in tests on machines before shipping them (and indeed used this as an excuse for not shipping us machines sooner on occasion).

Further chasing didn't have much effect, but we eventually received the remaining servers on December 5th. Nearly 3 months after we initially placed the order.

While Xinit have happily provided many platitudes they have failed to address the numerous failings in their organisation. They are appalling at responding to phone calls or email. They continuously fail to make good on any of the promises they make. They can't provide realistic delivery dates and don't have the decency to get in contact and let you know when they're going to miss them. They have proved unable to assembly machines to any level of competence; most of what they do is buy in chassis and fit parts to them - this is not complicated and yet they managed to get it wrong on several of the machines we ordered. We were promised a machine or two in compensation, but of course these never arrived. In addition, they're so badly organised that in the middle of March we received a spam from one of their sales people who was completely unaware we'd been customers of them!

I cannot stress how much you should never consider using this company. I've spoken to others who've bought machines from them or had dealings with them and I know I'm not alone in this. Really. Don't do it. You'll regret it. I suspect it would have taken less of my time and energy to buy all the parts and assemble the machines myself. I wish I'd done so instead.

This does leave me lacking a hardware supplier however. We're in the position of needing more machines, but given recent power pricing increases Xeon LVs (the new Sossaman cores) look like the way forward. Except no one appears to have any stock. And even if they do, how do I know I won't get my fingers burned again?

subscribe via RSS