Hardware Issue

So, I am a professional system administrator. It says it on my business cards and everything. Every couple of months, when I have to explain to the receptionist at the London office that yes, I do work here, and so yes, I should be allowed in. Yes, even though I mostly work from home. I do so by them asking what my job title is, and saying it’s System Administrator. (My email signature doesn’t say System Administrator, it says Lead DevOps Engineer (MIS), but that is a factor of the intersection between global organisation pay grades and job roles in modern tech, and it’s not the subject of this article. Except this subparagraph, obviously).

But all this should be taken with the understanding that my job is to teach servers how to teach other servers how to server, basically.

Last month, the power supply in my gaming PC, Graupel, started making a funny whirring noise. It was out of warranty, but I threw Corsair (who made it) an email asking if this was a known problem, and they sent me a new one, because they are awesome.

When the new one was installed, the CPU started reaching kettle-esque temperatures, and the CPU cooler was making noises like a distressed jet engine. I’ve never really trusted the CPU cooler – it’s an enclosed water cooling system and I fear it – so I got a decent heat sink and everything has been okay since. This week was payday, so I decided to make an upgrade.

My gaming PC has been running out of disk space on the main drive for a little while. It’s got a 256gb SSD, and you’d think that would be enough, but once you have an SSD, and you know how much faster things run if they’re on the SSD, there’s a tendency to put things on it. And while Windows is huge now, and Office is even more stupidly disk space heavy, it’s the games that take it up. (My first hard drive for the Amiga 600 was second hand from my dad’s old laptop. It was SIXTY MEGABYTES. It held DOZENS of games. I would need over EIGHT HUNDRED of those drives to hold a 50Gb World of Warcraft install).

Also, I want an SSD for a different server, so I bought a new 500Gb SSD (for around £80), plugged it in with a USB SATA enclosure, and used some cloning software to exactly clone the old 256Gb drive to the 512Gb one. Took about an hour. Turned off the machine, and went to play Spiderman on the PS4 for a bit.

Later that evening, I decided I needed to check on my Warcrack dailies, and dabble a bit in the new Bard’s Tale game, but realised I’d left this job semi-arsed. So I swapped the drives over and booted the computer back up again.

BIOS error. No bootable drives. Bugger, must have screwed up the cloning.

So I swapped the drives back again.

At which point, Reader, I discovered that I had not screwed up the cloning, for the old hard drive, being a perfect clone of the new one, failed to boot also.

Fortunately, I have a solution to this problem. I have created a Windows 10 USB Recovery Drive, which is Custom Built to Save The Day when the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune reign pointedly and with carefully carved malice on my parade. I created this on a spare USB stick, and placed it in a safe location for just such an occasion as this. 

And one day, I will find it again, but that day isn’t this one.

So after mucking around on a Linux boot drive that I *could* find, I discovered that it wasn’t – as I’d automatically assumed – the MBR having gone weird (Honestly this was a surprise. It’s right up there with “Is SELinux enabled” and “Has SystemD corrupted it?” in my system debugging steps). So I downloaded a Windows 10 ISO (from Microsoft’s own site, because modern advancements are occasionally good) and burned it over the Linux boot disk in some act of GNUTreachery.

The Windows recovery system has been good to me in the past. It has detected startup failures caused by broken drivers, it has fixed the (Fucking) Master Boot Record, it has even rolled back bad updates on occasion. On this one, however, it was as much use as a chocolate heatsink. It could not fix the problem.

And so, at 10pm on an otherwise busy Thursday, I found myself reinstalling Windows. Now, I have a shaky history with the Windows setup system at the best of times, and 10pm on a Thursday isn’t one, but even I was surprised to see in the drives list not one, but two 500Mb SSDs. Identical in form and function, save one was by Seagate, and the other by Crucial. At some point when my last media centre had failed, I had transplanted the drive into my gaming PC and then… forgotten about it.


So this evening I have spent mostly setting up a clean Windows install, in order to fix a drive issue caused by an upgrade that I didn’t even nearly need to do.

How was your evening?


The Cure For Diabetes

A number of people wanted me to see this yesterday, and I can understand why. A couple of hot takes on this:

The Junior Woodchuck’s Guide To Diabetes

Diabetes is a series of conditions linked by the major effect, that the body does not produce enough insulin. Insulin is what the body uses to break down glucose in your blood into energy, so if you don’t have enough insulin, a) your body doesn’t get enough energy, and b) the glucose builds up in your blood.

In some of these cases the body doesn’t produce any insulin at all, but in Type 2, it is usually that either the Pancreas can’t produce enough for the amount of body you have, or the insulin is not of sufficient strength to get through the fat around your organs.  (This is a Very Simplified Explanation, and is therefore Importantly Wrong in some respects on the details)

Your Pancreas Doesn’t Work As It Should, is the big takeaway.

The treatments are varied depending a lot on exactly what your body is doing or not doing correctly, but generally start with medication that reduces the sugar in your blood by adjusting how it’s absorbed during digestion, and then advance to further. Alongside this, you are advised to adjust your diet to attempt to lose any extra weight you’re carrying, because that will reduce the problems the insulin has getting to the right places if that’s the problem, and also by reducing the amount of insulin your body needs, simply because there is less of you for it to have to go to.

In fact, on average, if you can lose 15% of your body-weight from the time your diabetes starts to become an actual issue, it can go into remission, because your shitty pancreas is now producing enough insulin to do all it needs to.

Second takeaway: Eating sugar doesn’t cause diabetes, overloading your pancreas does, and some people’s pancreas isn’t that great to start with.

A) You’re not cured, though. It’s remission. Your pancreas isn’t going to get any better. In fact, the likelihood is that as you get older, it’s going to fail – along with everything else. Also if you put on weight again – as people who lose weight quickly tend to do – it’s going to come back again.

B) The symptoms of diabetes can range from pissing a lot, through feeling tired, being bitten more often, more skin infections (because your sweat has sugar in it which bacteria feed on), more bug bites (because same) and escalate to heart problems (because you have sugar syrup for blood). Or it could look like nothing at all for a long time. Unless you’re getting blood tests every few years (and, if you have a family history in it, you should) (I am not a good example in this respect), it’s hard to catch early. By the time you know, the losing weight goal may have already passed.

The cure is diet and exercise!

So this is why I think Tom Watson’s advice is dangerous. 

First, good on the chap. Losing that amount of weight is hard, because you’re fighting against your own model of how food works as well as your body’s expectations of energy levels. It’s an impressive achievement.

I did the NHS Diabetes Education session (Diabetes2Gether) last week

But generalising it isn’t great. An emphasis on diet is already in the NHS education training for people newly diagnosed, and while it was fantastically useful once I got on the course, because it explained in simple terms exactly what the problem was, it still ended up mixing the concepts of “Things that are bad because of the disease you have” and “You should avoid these things because they’re bad for your health”. For example, Carbs turn into glucose. It’s not _sugar_ that is bad, but they are the “worst” kind of carbs. So in a perfect world, cutting out carbs completely would be the solution. Sadly everything else contains stuff that’s also bad for you without moderation, and the eduction pieces have to mention that, so you end up with a message of “This is bad for your condition, but these things are bad for you anyway, and don’t do this (for condition), don’t smoke (for health), eat five portions of fruit and veg a day for health (but not too much fruit because of the condition).

And the public announcement that Mr Watson has “reversed” his diabetes with a strict diet and new exercise regime is something to be congratulated, but it’s also something that, in his position on a decent salary with a job that gives him a lot of freedom over his own schedule, is not available to everyone. It’s a lot like the apocryphal TED talk by a multi-millionaire who did it by winning the lottery, recommending everyone give up working and buy lottery tickets instead. It worked for them, it’ll work for some people, but it’s advice as part of a general set of solutions.


So I’ll stick with my stack of mediation and my lower calorie diet – plateaued though it is – and the advice of my doctor. Which is, incidentally, that congratulating yourself overmuch for rapid weight loss makes it a lot harder to admit when you can’t sustain it long term.


The unrelenting tyranny of always being there

Last week, my computer stopped working. After a few months of threats, the fan on the PSU got to the point where I replaced it (Corsair let me RMA it, even though it’s out of warranty) and when I replaced it the water cooler on the CPU started buzzing like an angry beehive and the CPU temperature climbed into values better associated with tea than electronics. 

After ordering a new cooling unit and some thermal paste to attach it to, I realised I was out of cleaning alcohol to remove the old thermal paste first, and so – after some brief googling to make sure it wasn’t a _really_ dumb idea, got to work with some cotton swabs and a small bottle of vodka.

I’m a professional server manager, really I am.

Worked like a charm, the thermal paste attached, the new heatsink went on, the machine’s running quietly again, and no longer can I cook very small bits of bacon on the tiny electrified rock at the heart of one of my hobbies.

That hobby is computer gaming. I’ve been playing a lot of Warcraft lately, especially with the new expansion having come out. I’m still missing a lot of the cool-factor from the end of the last expansion, but I’m gearing up for the brand new raid content with the aim of this being the first expansion I can track in real time, rather than catch up with later on.

Also there’s Destiny 2, which I’m enjoying a lot, and Two Point Hospital, which is a “Spiritual Sequel” to Theme Hospital. It is, in fact, more of an updated remake with the serial numbers filed off, but to be honest that’s fine by me. Lots of nostalgia there.

But mostly, last week I quit Facebook.

There are a few reasons for it, mostly to do with a building dependance – I like having my friends in my pocket, but the habit of checking in so often was bad for my ability to do other things, and shovelling text into the maw of it was getting to be an over-reliance. For various reasons, my inability to stay away plus a few things that were going on left me feeling like I was constantly living under a dark cloud. This built up until I had a… somewhat spectacular failure of democracy and grace, at which point, hating myself a lot, I deleted the main & messenger apps from my phone and the shortcuts from Chrome, installed a thing that blocks the site on my primary browser profiles, and went away.

Since then the dark cloud has lifted quite a bit. I’ve not been able to close or suspend my account – I’m admin for some pages and apps, and you can’t do it until you’ve passed them off – and while I’ve been feeling a bit disconnected in general, enough people have used other methods to contact me that I’ve generally been fine. I went in today to check for messages and see if anything massive had gone down, and I might try to keep to that weekly for a bit.

Plus, I’m a little more likely to update here, I suppose.