Monday, December 20, 2010

Anything that can fail will fail... and at the worst possible moment

I am facing a crisis of sorts, both in the personal realm and at work. Fortunately, only one of them is Linux-related. Unfortunately, that problem is at work and is creeping in to the personal.
I have been spending a lot of time recently grappling with mail. Mail in the sense that mail is clogging the queue every morning. All sorts of mail are being held up. Seems that one of the mail servers I oversee, running Scalix, is causing problems with a mail server running sendmail. Seems the scalix smtp daemon is dying and sendmail keeps on hammering the scalix server, locking the message. Problem is, the scalix smtpd is not dead but dying. It responds just enough to keeps the sendmail server interested and not return an immediate error. A few mails like that and it starts to tie up resources.
But that is not the story. Mail is the no 1 app at work. So, anything is second. I am now spending my dawns watching mail start to pile up and soon enough it starts to pile up. I have a VPN into server so in theory I can work over a wireless connection. I have a 3G phone which links up nicely to my HP mini running Mandriva. It link to the phone via Bluetooth.
The morning starts ok enough. Then the mails start piling up in the queue. No problem, I started flushing the queue. Then, I go where I needed to be. Once there, there was a long line. So no worries, I thought. Let's fire up the HP and link to phone to check on work.
Except Bluetooth wasn't there. I panicked. It wasn't on the task bar. It was there just a few days ago! Usually it's there saying its disabled. I looked at the dmesg info. I looked for bluez. Used the radio on-off button to force it off and back on again. Restarted Mandriva. Still no luck. In desperation I tried Wifi but found no open system.
Finally, I remembered what worked and started  doing that. Start Windows and turn on bluetooth from there. The agony. Waiting for Windows to startup. Waiting to log in. Waiting to show me the icon on the taskbar. Even more waiting for it to shutdown. Curse you, windows-specific hardware!
Restarted Mandriva and it was there. There is the problem with my hardware: Sometimes it just doesn't work. Network card plug and play doesn't work. Mine has a Marvell chipset which can only be detected if it is pluggged into network at bootup. Plug in the cable later had no effect. Even dmesg shows no change when i plug a cable in.
Lesson: Don't rely on having things run during an emergency

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

OpenOffice and Java: A case of VBRUNs?

There was a time when most software on Windows was written in Visual Basic. Some programs or development houses tried to hide it or make the lineage obscure. And why not? The image they wanted to project was that they devoted a quality programmers and time in crafting complex but useful code. Not that they were using the same tools as the casual developer or the one-man operation who sometimes wrote shareware. But one look under the hood and the evidence was clear. Look for a file called VBRUN.dll and there was the smoking gun pointing to Visual Basic. This is jack-of-all-trades dll. It was so tied in to VB, developers packaged it together even though they complied the libraries into the final program instead of linking the libraries. Just in case one of those libraries called it.
Now VBrun had a peculiar thing about it. It was incompatible across different versions of VB. So MS named the VRUN file according to version of VB. Soon, it was common to have 2 or 3 version of VBRUN.dll lying around in the hard disk somewhere used by 2 or 3 programs each. Some poorly written and compiled programs counldn't even tell the difference between versions. Remember those who tried to hide the fact they were running VB? They tried renaming VBRUN.DLL and installing it during the first time but the program reverted back to looking for VBRUN.DLL after an update, causing all sorts of havoc.
And you even had to put in a particular directory or else all those programs can't find it.
OpenOffice has or is trying to build a similar relationship with Java. The problems I have when Java or some libraries that OO uses is updated is sort of a deja vu but not exactly. Somethings breaks after the update. I used an OO extensions] called OpenCards to create flashcards from OO Impress files. After an update, it broke. I could use up to a certain number of cards and then it'll crash. Fortunately, OO has a solution. Go to Tools --> Opton --> Java. You can select the version of Java OO uses based on what is installed. If there are no entries press Add and then Cancel and the list of installed, detected Java versions will appear. Choose an older one and you are good to go.

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