02/12/2001

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Keyboards; Optimizing Windows

Sweet! In Optimizing Windows, I lamented that no one had made a hardware RAM disk. Leave it to the Aussies, someone did it. I found a reference to Platypus Technologies ( www.platypus.net ) on Storage Review’s forum. It’s pricey–a half-gig disk will run $1,500, while an 8-gig job runs into five figures–but you’ll never find anything faster. It’s a plug-in PCI card that uses SDRAM DIMMs. Whether it’ll take off-the-shelf DIMMs or just Platypus-manufactured DIMMs, I’m not sure.

I’d love to see this catch on and drive the price down. The size seems a bit small, but keep in mind that for, say, a Web server, speed is much more important than size, and a half gig will hold an awful lot of HTML. And there was a time when operating systems and a reasonable number of apps easily fit in half a gig, if you’re thinking workstations.

I’d say I think I’m in love, but that’s not true. This device is 100% Grade-A lust. Now the question becomes how do I convince Computer Shopper UK that they’ve really got to do an in-depth look at this killer device, and that I’m absolutely, positively the guy they have to have do it…?

One-button Linux shutdowns. Here’s a great idea.  A lot of people run headless Linux boxes for firewalls or routers or Web servers or other things. But that once or twice a year you need to shut the machine down–due to power failures, for instance–becomes a real pain without a keyboard or mouse. You have to telnet or ssh in, issue the command… Or keep a monitor and keyboard handy, which just wastes space most of the time.

Here’s a solution: a case-mounted pushbutton with a pair of LEDs. Push the button, the PC shuts down. It plugs into a serial port and needs a small daemon to monitor the serial line.

And it occurs to me that nothing stops you from using the PC’s reset switch and its power and HDD LEDs–or turbo LED if it has one–and with that slight modification, it would require no modification to the case. Just put connectors on the PCB for the switch and LEDs and mount it somewhere inside.

Also, I looked at the source code for the daemon, and it would be extremely easy to mofify this project to do any other task–just go to the runshutdown() function and change the system(“/sbin/shutdown -t2 -h now”); command to execute any other Unix command. The C source code is so simple, even a journalist like me can modify it.

If I were building another Linux-based Cable/DSL gateway, I’d probably pull that line and replace it with these two:

   system(“kill -9 $(pidof -x pumpd)”);
   system(“/etc/rc.d/init.d/network restart”);
  
That way, with the push of a button, the gateway could go grab a new IP address.

And if you have multiple serial ports, nothing stops you from building one of these switches for each port and modifying this daemon to run additional commands. A throwback to the Imsai and Altair days, to be sure.

Too bad you don’t see much of this kind of stuff anymore.

Samba. Speaking of Linux, that was one of the weekend’s projects. My church ran out of IP addresses, so I took an old P166, threw a pair of NICs in it, and set up IP masquerading on it (Mandrake 7.2 makes this so nice–just run DrakConf, run Internet Connection Sharing, answer its questions, and you’re in business), then I started assigning 192-net numbers to the PCs that didn’t have addresses. It worked great. Since I had a Linux box with an 8-gig drive just sitting there, I decided I also wanted to set it up as a server. So I tried to configure Samba as an NT domain controller and fell flat on my face. It showed up in Network Neighborhood, but I couldn’t authenticate against it no matter what I tried.

I decided yesterday I was being too ambitious. I reformatted my P120, installed Mandrake 7.2 on it, and configured Samba to just look like a plain old Win95 box. It worked great. They’re not used to having a big network at church, and they’re all on Win98 boxes anyway, so I think I’ll just configure Samba to do user-level authentication, create a few shares, and let it go at that. The primary convenience of the server is the AV booth; one of the staff puts together PowerPoint presentations for the service, which are then loaded on a pair of PCs up in the AV booth for projection on Sundays and Wednesdays. The server will allow them to edit in their office, then go to the AV booth without shuttling around Zip disks. Chances are the DCE, who also serves as the resident PC expert, will also use a share there to store device drivers and other downloaded stuff he finds himself using often. Other than that, the server probably won’t get a lot of work, so trying to create an NT domain with hardcore security probably isn’t a good investment of my time.

So I’ll probably just create an AV share, create a public share that’s read/write accessible to anyone, then I’ll share out home directories and show him how to create user accounts. That way if anyone else wants to use a network drive, it’s there, but not mandatory.

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Keyboards; Optimizing Windows

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