Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Brother HL-2070N Review

Last Friday I installed a Brother HL-2070N monochrome laser printer in my home office. I ordered it from CDW.com and received it in 3 days.

The 2070N gives you the option of connecting it to a computer using a USB or parallel cable, or directly to your LAN via a 10/100 Ethernet port. It was this ability to connect directly to my LAN that sold me on the printer. I need to be able to print to it from Windows and Mac OS, and I'm sure that eventually Linux and BSD will find their way back onto my LAN, and I didn't want to deal with cross-platform printing issues. (Note: The documentation on the driver CD does include info about Linux compatibility, though I haven't delved into it yet.)

Setup required that I first install the driver on each machine; I started with my PC running Windows XP Professional. Along with the driver there's a printer management utility that's installed. Among other things it allows you to change the printer's IP address from DHCP (the default) to a static IP.

When I first installed the printer on the XP box it was still a DHCP client. The static IP that I specified was different from the dynamic IP, so I had to re-run the installer so that the TCP port was correctly setup. Under XP, the Brother is installed as a network accessed LPR printer.

With printing from the PC working, I moved the driver CD to my iBook. Driver installation required one reboot, after which I opened Applications > Utilities > Printer Setup Utility.app. I told PSU.app to scan the local network for Bonjour-compatible printers and the Brother came right up. It installed the Brother as my default printer, and I then printed a document as a test. It worked perfectly, spooling the job and sending it off to the Brother.

The Brother's paper tray hold 250 sheets, fine for this class of device. It warms up quickly and once it starts printing, spits out pages at a claimed 20 pages per minute. It seems faster than my old Samsung ML-1710, which was rated for 17 PPM. Text quality is good. Image quality is OK, but nothing to rave about. For my needs the output quality is just fine.

Aside from the aforementioned Windows-only management app, the HL-2070N can be managed over the network through a browser. It seems to work fine in Camino. The Brother can also be configured to email alerts to an administrator, or be managed via SNMP using the Windows management application.

I read a few online reviews where people complained that the paper curled on output. I haven't seen that so it may just be the paper that people were using. I suspect this may be an issue with cheap copier paper, but the HP laser printer paper that I'm using doesn't curl.

Based on the ease of setup, multiple platform compatibility, and good output, the Brother HL-2070N is worth strong consideration for use in a small or home office when you need an inexpensive monochrome laser printer.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Slippery Slope

I ran across this comment by "Manedwolf" over on THR, and felt it was worth repeating:

Do you think that one day in, say, 1935, groups of German villagers suddenly just woke up and said "Hey! I know! Let's be EVIL! That'd be cool!"

No. They followed a path from wanting security to giving up civil liberties to scapegoating to blind, nationalistic fervor and mob mentality excusing atrocities. It's a road to hell, and it's the duty of EVERY American to watch that we don't go down it...because it's a slippery slope, and by the time you'd noticed it had happened, most people either don't want to see it, while the others are helpless to stop it.

Figured out my Postfix Problem

The other day I posted about how the new mail server I installed at a client site wasn't listening for SMTP connections on the network. As I'd susprected, it was a little too locked down. I had to go into the /etc/postfix/main.cf config file and change the "inet_interfaces" value to "all".

After doing this I wanted to make damn sure that I hadn't inadvertantly created an open relay. I wasn't too concerned, since the box is setup to require SMTP authentication before allowing a user to send mail via the box, but complacency isn't something I can afford here. I tested this three ways:

  1. Attempted to send mail through the box using my test account, using Mail.app. The unauthenticated SMTP session was rejected, while the authenticated session worked.
  2. While logged into the box via SSH, I telnetted to relay-test.mail-abuse.org, which runs a script that attemtps to relay mail through the box. All attempts to do so failed.
  3. Ran SpamHelp.org's web-based test on the box's IP. It came up negative.

Now all we need to do is schedule a time to migrate them over. It looks like we'll be recyling the old box into a secondary mail server, to be located at their other office. I'll create a clone of the new box on the old one, with appropriate changes such as hostname, etc.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Goodbye, Samsung ML-1710

I've mentioned in the past the aggravation I've had with my Samsun ML-1710 laser printer. Most of the grief stems from the fact that it's a GDI printer, AKA a Winprinter. I had it working under SUSE using a PPD file for the ML-1210; the Samsung Linux driver sucks. After I rebuilt Bagend as an XP box, for a time it worked over the network when I printed to it from my iBook. That mysteriously stopped working awhile ago.

In an effort to see if I could get network printing from my iBook working again, I tried the instructions found here. No dice. Now, not only does it still not print from the Mac, it plain doesn't print. I tried deleting it, reinstalling it, running Crap Cleaner, reinstalling the Samsung drivers, nothing worked.

Arrrrgggghhhh! I have HAD it!

So, tonight I did some searching for low end Macintosh-compatible printers. I don't need much: a basic monochrome laser will suit Judith's and my needs just fine. But, it has to be available over the network, either attached directly, shared from Bagend, or hanging off a print server. We don't print much, less than 100 pages per month, but when we need to print something it's damned inconvenient to have to wrestle with goofy printer problems.

It looks like I found my solution in the form of the Brother HL 2070N. The interesting specs include:

  • Interfaces: Parallel, USB, 10/100 Ethernet
  • System requirements: Windows, Mac OS (Bonjour is supported), Linux (Red Hat, SUSE, Debian)
  • Emulation: PCL6, IBM Proprinter, Epson FX
The MSRP is $149 but I found it for $99 on a limited time offer at CDW. Sweet! After reading the mostly-positive customer reviews at Amazon (who has it for $109) I ordered it from CDW. It should ship tomorrow and I should have it this week. Full report when I do.

CentOS Live CD

I've mentioned in previous posts how I've been favorably impressed with CentOS as a server OS. Last night I decided to take it for a spin as a desktop OS, using their new live CD.

My test box was Bagend, my Althon XP 2200+ system, which normally runs XP Professional. By today's standards it's a modest system -- 1 GB of RAM, an ATI Radeon 9200SE video card, and an 80 GB ATA-133 hard disk. I booted from the CD and let it autodetect everything but when it tried to start X, the screen went black. CTRL-ALT-DEL had no effect so I used the system reset button. Upon reooting, this time I specified that it use the VESA video drive, which worked fine, bringing me to the CentOS graphical logon screen.

Networking came up fine using DHCP.

Unlike Knoppix, the CentOS live CD requires you to set a password for "centos_user," which is the same as the root password. For this kind of a system this is unnecessary, IMO. Once logged in, I was presented with the standard GNOME dekstop. It's surprisingly responsive and includes both Firefox and Konqueror in the Applications menu. Both worked well, but what really shocked me was just how responsive Firefox was. It seemed to run better off the live CD than it does in a hard drive install in XP. Konq was set up nicely and rendered the few pages I went to well. Flash wasn't installed so a couple of pages I went to didn't work, including trying to view a Youtube video.

Gaim is included for IM and worked just as well on the live CD as on any other platform that I've used it.

OpenOffice.org is included, although live CDs are best used for demo systems or recovery CDs, rather than as a regular desktop OS.

GParted is included for partition management, and ClamAV is present for disinfecting Windows partitions. (I didn't try out either, although I may give ClamAV a whirl just to see how usable the CentOS CD would be for a system recovery tool.)

I briefly logged in with KDE and found it similar to most other KDE setups.

The CentOS Live CD is worth trying if you're in the market for a live CD for demonstrating Linux or for use as a recovery disc.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Fun With Servers

I had a heck of a day today at a client's site. I wasn't able to fully complete either goal I'd wanted to get done.

The first thing was installing the new mail server. It's online but the SMTP service isn't listening on the network. I'm sure it's a simple Postfix config item but I obviously need to resolve it before I can migrate them off of their old box. I didn't have time to finish tinkering with it, because of job #2. (I can SSH into it from home and have a test account for myself on it, so I should have it squared away soon.)

The second goal I had was to extend the size of the RAID 5 array on their web server by adding two more disks. This will require breaking the array, adding the disks, and recreating the volume. Obviously, we need a good backup that we can restore from before doing this.

Unfortunately, their Dell PowerVault 124T tape loader decided to go tango uniform last night. So, no current backup. The PowerVault's Remote Management Unit is not recognizing the existence of a tape drive in the box, and the autoloader is stuck at "Initializing." I spent an hour and a half on the phone with Dell Enterprise Support this afternoon troubleshooting the problem. In the end, my client is going to get their money's worth out of their Gold Support plan. Dell is sending out a tech to repair or replace the tape loader. By the time we reached that determination, I'd been there for most of the day.

Note: If you have one of these PowerVaults, connect it to your LAN before calling Dell, so you can access the management web page. The factory default IP is

Their main reason for going with a tape autoloader was so that they could do backups of large amounts of data, and easily take tapes offsite. Considering how you can now buy 500 GB USB hard disks, I wonder how long it'll be until you can get a 1 TB USB hard disk. At that point it may make sense to switch over to disks rather than tapes. That's assuming that you don't give anything up in reliability, of course.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Back From Chicago

The SCTE conference wrapped up yesterday morning. Overall, I think it was very worthwhile to attend.

My flight wasn't until 4:10 Chicago time but hotel checkout was noon, so I wound up getting to O'Hare with plenty of time to spare. I made it through the TSA gauntlet without having to submit to the anal probe, then wandered around looking to find somewhere to grab lunch. I would up getting some McDreck and camping out at a relatively quiet gate.

O'Hare doesn't have free wifi but I had enough time to occupy that I deemed it worthwhile to buy access from Boingo; $6.95 for a 24 hour period. I used it for an hour or so, enough to check email and a couple of forums. The speed ranged from OK to dreadful, probably depending upon how many people were trying to use the connection simultaneously. That, or someone was downloading some massive PowerPoint presentation.

After awhile at my gate, I began to wonder if I was at the correct gate. There weren't any updates on the board behind the counter, and I saw that the monitors operated by United showed that my US Air flight was departing from a different gate. After going to that gate I found that the stamp on my boarding pass was correct. I ran into a few other people who did the same thing. I subsequently spoke to a US Air rep, they know about the problem, and United refuses to correct it. This is emblematic of the "customer last" attitude of US airlines. If United won't fix it then someone at US Air needs to go up the food chain at O'Hare and get them to kick United in the butt.

Once in the air things went a lot more smoothly. Even though we were late in boarding and taking off, we had enough of a tailwind that we made up enough time to actually arrive early. Even better, once we debarked I got my bag in about 15 minutes, a record for Philadelphia, where up until know it has usually taken nearly an hour.

Monday, October 16, 2006

TSA Rant

Since I'll be flying out to Chicago for the SCTE conference this afternoon, I had to go through my laptop bag and remove all the contraband. The major items were my Gerber Multiplier and Victorinox CyberTool 41, along with a few other assorted things. And to comply with the new TSA rules regarding bringing fluids on planes, I put my allergy meds, eye drops, etc. into a single one quart Ziploc bag.

I feel so much safer knowing that nobody on the plane will have any knives or unbagged toothpaste. {/sarcasm}

The TSA's rules are fucking bullshit and I will rant about them every time I need to fly. Taking away potential weapons from all the passengers makes nobody safer. The bedwetter's mantra to always cooperate with hijackers netted us the loss of two airliners and the WTC on 9/11/01. Only the heroics of the Flight 93 passengers that grim day saved lives -- obviously not on the plane but on the ground. More recently, that line of "thought" has facilitated gunmen being able to take over schools.


Predators are deterred ONLY by knowing that their aggession will be resisted. Why is this so hard for most liberals to understand?

Saturday, October 14, 2006

From servers to sushi

Today started out very frustrating but it got better.

This morning I was down in Wynnewood, PA at a client's office to install a new UPS and fix a misbehaving backup job. His "server" is a PC running Windows XP Pro (plenty for the 3 or 4 people in his office) and we'd been using SyncBack to backup his data partition to a Maxtor USB drive. The problem was that apparently SyncBack would to start recreating ghosts of directories that had been moved. I was baffled by this behavior, so I decided to just zap SyncBack and install Dantz Retrospect Express, which came with the Maxtor drive.
I was able to set it up to do a backup each night at 10:00 PM.

I was planning to get to a second client's office today to add a disk to their RAID 5 storage array, but didn't want to get started in the afternoon. I think I'll need to break and rebuild the array, then restore from backup, so that's something I'd like to start early on a Saturday.

Another project I'm working on for this client is a new mail server. Naturally, I wanted to build it using FreeBSD as described in my TechBuilder article. Unfortunately, trying to install FreeBSD 6.1 on a Dell SC430 is a good way to give yourself an ulcer.

Dell eliminated the PS/2 ports on the SC430, so you must use a USB keyboard. (It would've been nice of them to specify that on their website.) I tried using a PS/2 to USB adapter with my keyboard but the Dell only recognized it intermittently, even when poking around in the BIOS. And unfortunately, while FreeBSD supports USB keyboards, it only does so after you've installed it and made the appropriate entry in rc.conf. Grrrr.

So, I tried adding an Adaptec SATA card to Bagend -- which has PS/2 ports -- so that I could temporarily put the Dell's SATA drive in it, install FreeBSD, then move it back. Windows barfs when you try something like this but BSD and Linux can often handle it.

However, when I tried doing this the FreeBSD install kept hanging, repeatedly.

F*ck it, I give up. I did some googling and it looked like the SC430 is compatible with CentOS Linux, so I downloaded the Server Install CD for CentOS 4.4, burned it to disc in Nero, and installed it on the Dell without any difficulties. Yay. I'd stopped at MicroCenter on the way home from my first client to pick up the SATA controller card, and while there also grabbed a cheap Micro Innovations USB keyboard, which appears to work fine.

I have to say that while I remain a fan of FreeBSD for use on supported hardware, so far I'm quite impressed with CentOS. It's been several years since I last used a Red Hat-derivative and it doesn't seem as crufty as I'd remembered. I'm setting the box up in a manner similar to my FreeBSD article, using Johnny Hughes' guides. I'll still be using Postfix, Dovecot, and Squirrelmail, but may use Mailscanner in lieu of amavisd-new. I haven't decided yet.

A major reason I'm a fan of FreeBSD is the ports/packages system, which allows you to install and update software with a few commands in the shell. Created by Yellow Dog, yum serves an equivalent purpose on the modern Red Hat derivative Linux distros (e.g., Fedora and CentOS). It does a lot to keep you out of dependency hell, assuming that the app you need is in the yum repositories.

I want to get the box finished tomorrow since Monday I'll be flying to Chicago for the SCTE Business Services Symposium, and returning Wednesday evening. My current plan is to install it on site next Saturday.

Finally, I packed it in little after 1700 and went to dinner with Judith, the girls, and my MIL. We went to Minado, a Japanese buffet nearby. Holy moly that place is good. Excellent sushi and udon, along with a good selection of Japanese salads. We'll be back.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Screen Spanning Doctor

This is cool. Apple's older consumer-oriented iBooks and iMacs don't support extended desktops when using more than one monitor. This functionality was restricted to the higher-end PowerBooks and PowerMacs. No more. Screen Spanning Doctor unlocks your PPC Mac's ability to span your desktop, instead of just mirroring the display, and it's free. (Yeah, it's been out for awhile but I just discovered it today.)

Don't forget to check if SSD is compatible with your Mac. The list of supported machines is here.

Note that the currently produced MacBooks enable desktop spanning from the factory.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Eric Clapton Concert Report

Last night Judith and I went to the Eric Clapton concert at the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia. This is the third time I've seen him live and Clapton still rocks.

The lights went down a few minutes before 7:30 (imagine that, a rock concert starting on time) and the Robert Cray Band came on for the opening set. Robert Cray is a well-known, excellent blues guitarist and singer, and was warmly received by the crowd. Cray has written a couple of songs for Clapton, e.g., Old Love on Journeyman, and played on Journeyman and From the Cradle (he may have played on other Clapton albums but I'm not sure). Cray played about half dozen songs.

After Cray left the stage there was a 10 – 15 minute break while the roadies redid things for Clapton and his band, who came on stage a little before 8:30.

Clapton led off with Pretending and I Shot the Sherriff, then dove into some deep cuts like Got to Get Better in a Little While, and Anyday. He did a few acoustic numbers including Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out, and Living on Faith. Cray joined Clapton's band on stage to play Old Love, something I'd be hoping for. Towards the end of the main set he played Layla and Cocaine. There's a full set list here.

For the encore, Cray again joined Clapton and band on stage for a neat version of Crossroads, in which he sung the first verse.

Throughout the show Clapton's playing was top-notch, starting with his first solo. His singing was good, but the guys handling the sound mixing had everything cranked up so loud that except for the sit-down set he sounded distorted.

Clapton's band was interesting. Overall they were really tight. Aside from him, he had Willie Weeks on bass, Steve Jordan on drums, guitarists Doyle Bramhall II and Derek Trucks, pianist Chris Stainton, Tim Carmon on Keyboards, along with Michelle John and Sharon Weeks singing backup. I was very impressed with Bramhall, Trucks, Weeks and Stainton. Jordan is quite competent but I'm not a fan of his style, and while Carmon's good I thought his solos were a bit over-long.

As a side note, Bramhall is the son of Texas bluesman Doyle Bramhall and previously played with the Fabulous Thunderbirds. Derek Trucks' uncle is Butch Trucks, one of the two drummers in the Allman Brothers Band; the influence of Duane Allman is readily apparent in his playing. Derek has actually played with Allmans on recent albums.

I'd hope to hear more Cream songs, especially Sunshine of Your Love and White Room. One thing I disliked was how loud the show was. It may have been where we sat but last night's show was even louder than The Who a couple of weeks ago in the same venue (and that's saying something). Aside from being uncomfortable sometimes, it distorted the vocals.

Volume aside, I really enjoyed the show.

Monday, October 09, 2006

New Article Online

My latest article for TechBuilder.org, Turn an Old Laptop into a Portable Network Troubleshooting System, is now online.

Further Developments

Work has been a bit slow so I haven't had much to write about lately.

Last week I did become a floor captain, as I'd mentioned in my last post. I'll be getting a Blackberry, which will help me keep apprised of what's going on the next time we have an emergency. I already have the floor captain's emergency kit, which I need to inventory and make suggestions to HR about. It's fairly minimal, which is fine, but there are a few things that should be added, in my opinion. One good change going forward is that batteries for the flashlight and megaphone will be replaced twice a year, when the clocks are changed to go on daylight savings time and back off of it. Just like you should do for your smoke detectors.

I was off on Friday because Amanda had her adenoids removed and new ear tubes put in. Hopefully, this will take care of the recurring sinusitis she's had to endure. She bounced back very well from the surgery and in the hour and a half after waking up from the surgery, she ate 11 Oreos and drank three 8 ounce cups of apple juice. She hasn't needed any painkillers since Saturday night.

Yesterday I managed to throw my back out while playing outside with Amanda. It's still stiff today but the Percocet I took yesterday loosened it up enough that I was able to come to work today. That stuff is some good shit.

Tonight my parents are coming over to babysit while Judith and I go see Eric Clapton at Philly's Wachovia Center. I saw him twice way back in college and I'm really looking forward to the show. The Robert Cray Band is opening, so we'll make sure to get downtown in time to see him as well.