But it works on my PC!

The random thoughts of Richard Fennell on technology and software development

Analysis tools not to be without

Maybe it is just my background in network analysis, but I do feel any developer working with remote servers needs a protocol analyzer; in just the same way as you need the SQL profiler when working with a Microsoft SQL server, especially with auto generated code. Without tools like these how can you work out what is actually being sent on the wire? And if the data on the wire is wrong what hope is there for higher levels in the application|

So two new versions of old favorites both now supporting Vista

Update on my old Dell

I posted in the past about all the problems I had with my overheating Dell 5150, and with the problems trying to Vista Betas working on it. Well an update on both....

  1. After putting new thermal grease on the CPU heatskin it never overheated again
  2. With the release version of Vista every bit of hardware (bar the modem which I quickly found a driver for) was detected and worked first time and I have seen no problems with the PC since.

So I have a healthy, three year old laptop running Vista with the Aero interface (and the 5150 does have a nice high res. screen) perfectly adequately.

This all said I have still moved onto one of our new company standard Acer 8210 Laptops with a Core2Duo running Vista.

Follow up on our nVidia RAID problems

I had posted on problems with the nVidia Raid on our SunFire servers. Well I think I now have the root cause of the problems: not the Sun hardware, the nVidia RAID, or Windows 64 bit drivers.

All the problems we had were when we used mirrored pairs of Western Digital 500Gb SATA drives that we had bought in a single batch of four drives. Identical drives bought on another day were fine, as were 500Gb drives from Maxtor and Hitachi.

After testing these four drives we found three of them kept developing low level unfixable bad blocks, irrespective of the PC, Sun or any other brand, they were used in. It seems when one of these bad blocks was hit:

  • the nVidia RAID caused the mirrored pair to loose their sync and the server hung, when rebooted the server had two drives and the mirror had to be recreated.
  • if Windows Software Mirroring was used we just lost the mirrored pair, at least there was no server hang. The mirror would try to recover - with mixed success, usually failing at the same point each time. However, sometimes working, hence all our confusion in finding the root cause of the problem.

Given this experience we are staying with Windows Software Mirroring as at least the server does not hang.

Now in twenty odd years in this business I have never had three out of four drives fail in single batch, in fact I don't think I have ever had a 'dead on arrival' hard disk from any of the big name brands.

My guess is these four drives were dropped at some point after they left the factory QA department and before we bought them. The faulty three are off back to WD under warranty, I wonder if the fourth will survive? It is certainly not going into any system that is critical.

An extreme hour

I went to the Yorkshire Extreme Programming Club last night, the meeting included an Extreme Hour. An interesting experience; the idea is that in an hour you go through a number of 10 minute XP iterations, doing 'development' by drawing the solution on a white board.

Yesterday we had three separate groups of six; each with two customer, two developers (pair programming i.e. with one pen) and two QA/testers, and all had to design moon cheese harvesting solutions. 

So did I learn much new about XP? well not sure, but the exercise does show the importance of communication within the group. The problem with running the exercise in a social setting (a pub) is the beer is not condusive to structured thinking, and a subject of moon cheese gives huge scope for fights of fancy - my group ended up on a discussion of whether to out source the production of killer robots (to protect the cheese mine from Clangers - don't ask how we got to this point) or if the actual robot manufacturing was a task our developers should do (they were not keen to draw 10,000 robots, I cannot think why).

What I would say if you are thinking of running such a sessions is:

  1. Be tight on the time keeping - like a scrum sprint an XP iteration should finish on time, even if features are cut
  2. With six people in a group I would be tempted to have one customer, two teams of pair programmers (four people) and a single tester. This I think would help show the issues of interteam communications 

If nothing else this was a good social evening, so if you are in the area pop along to the next meeting see the web site for details

When the server just stops

Today I rebuilt a PC with new drives and all seemed OK, but after 15 minutes or so it kept stopping (no nice shutdown), irrespective of what the PC was doing. I even swapped back the old disks all to no avail, hence I was stumped for a while.

The problem turned out to be it was a somewhat full case and a wire was stopping the system fan turning, so the CPU was going into thermal shutdown and leaving no event log messages. Also the motherboard was not complaining as the am was still drawing current.

I should have spotted this one earlier, as it has happened before, so it goes on my blog of stupid things you forget to check for!

Problems removing McAfee ProtectionPoint 1.5.0 Agent

When your try to remove the McAfee ProtectionPilot 1.5.0 agent using the command

frminst /remove=agent

you get an error "can't stop service mcafeeframework" if you are using VirusScan 8.5.

This is because VirusScan 8.5 has a new option under Access Protection that stops the McAfee services being stopped. So if you want to remove the agent you first have to go into the VirusScan Console and on the access protection properties page uncheck the Proect McAfee Services, then disable Access Protection for good measure. Then run the remove command andall should be OK

Microsoft in SCIAM

There seems to be a good deal of Microsoft stuff over the past few editions of Scientific American (SCIAM), and before you ask yes I do live in the UK, but I find Nature a bit too academic for me and New Scientist has too many job adverts. SCIAM is just 'popular' science enough to read over breakfast.

The March edition has two such articles, but not on mainstream  Microsoft products:

  • One is on the Microsoft Theory Group of Microsoft Research and is called  Graph Theory and Teatime. This looks at the team of top flight mathematicians choosing to work at Microsoft Research, as opposed to a more traditional career in academia, in much the same way as AT&T Bell labs operated in the past.
  • The other on Digital Life, the current research and possibilities of using computers as external memory. It is written by Gordon Bell and Jim Gemmell again of Microsoft Research who are working on the www.mylifebits.com research project. Raises some interesting issues of security and archiving.

Both of these are every interesting and I think still available free on the web via the links above. I think they show a move by Microsoft to make their more academic and blue sky research known to the general public (or at least the ones who read pop science magazines!)

There was also an article by Bill Gates in the January edition A Robot in Every Home, now is it me or has this been promised to be about 10 years away since the 1960s - usually by Raymond Baxter on Tomorrows World. I will just have to wait and see.