I don’t need no SIMMpathy

Our server is seven years old now. I initially snapped up the HP Proliant N40L MicroServer for £165 back in 2013 after someone spotted an on-line offer with Box.co.uk that worked with a £100 HP rebate promotion. Ridiculously cheap, even allowing for the machine only having 2GB of RAM and 256GB hard drive.

I mentioned to Sue that the Windows Home Server 2011 operating system that our server ran was no longer supported by Microsoft so we were no longer getting hotfixes and updates. As all our data is on there, she found this rather concerning so it is now time to bring the system more up to date.

Rather than replace the box with another and just move the four hard drives across, I’ve decided it will be cheaper to just upgrade to Windows Server 2019. Luckily, the hardware has the required level of Alphabetti Spaghetti to run the new operating system (i.e. NX, DEP, SLAT, CX16 and a bunch of other initialisations I don’t understand) so maybe I should look at adding some more RAM.

The 2GB has been perfectly adequate for what is just a file server although OneDrive has started to become a demanding service since I upgraded to, and subsequently filled, 1TB of cloud storage. I’ve read some discussions online of people trying to squeeze 16Gb into the motherboard with varying results due to some timing issue in the architecture (which officially only supported 8GB) – usually the machine would need to be rebooted multiple times before both memory slots would be recognised. A few people reported that having a USB drive plugged in seemed to magically solve the timing issue which seemed worth a shot so I went shopping.

Shopping attempt #1

There seemed to be a dearth of 8GB available with most places being out of stock. One eBay seller offered multiple combinations of sizes for the type I needed and some were in stock so I ordered 2 lots of 8GB. A few days later and 16 (sixteen) x 1GB DIMMs turned up in a Jiffy bag (!).

Shopping attempt #2

Paying more attention to what the seller was actually offering, I returned the 1GB DIMMs and ordered 2 lots of 4GB as the best combination available. (Still amazed how they just send DIMMs in little anti-static bags inside jiffy bags with no sensible protection. I assume losses due to breakages are less than the cost of proper packaging.)

The efforts that go into designing the accessibility of the innards of a computer are usually impressive. The N40L is no different.

  1. Switch off and unplug external cables
  2. Move the server to another room where there’s some space to work comfortably.
  3. Open the door
  4. Unlock two rubber-coated, easy-grip bolts
  5. Remove the six cables from the tidying clips on the sides.
  6. Unplug the cables from the motherboard (only the power socket being tough)
  7. Slide the motherboard out
  8. Swap DIMMs and make sure you hear that satisfying clunk as the clamps move into place.
  9. Reverse process

So, no screwdriver needed although pliers were handy just to encourage the bolts to start moving from their factory-tightened positions.

The new DIMMs snapped into place easily and I started up the server. POST reported 4Gb which wasn’t what I was hoping to see. Windows reported that 8GB was physically there but over 4GB was “hardware reserved”. To avoid taking the motherboard out again, I tried a few futile fixes first. For example, running MSCONFIG.EXE and unchecking the ‘Maximum memory’ checkbox, leaving it specifically set to 8GB, did nothing.

Another was to upgrade the BIOS. You never know, it may fix it, and some of the listed updates sounded potentially useful for the replacement version of Windows anyway. So, I grabbed the 2013 update from … wait … the Internet Archive (web.archive.org) as getting it from Hewlett Packard is no longer an option. Thanks, HPE. The update comes with a HP utility to build a bootable USB drive for you … which doesn’t work as it complained my Cruzer Blades were read-only. So over to Rufus to build the drive instead and manually copy the BIOS update files.

Now I’ve been working remotely over RDP as the server has no monitor but the BIOS update will boot up into a DOS session which I won’t be able to see. So, the server is now on the dining room table where the Acer wide screen is set up for the work laptop. BIOS update process works perfectly but, not surprisingly, makes no difference to the amount of RAM available. Time to check the purchased DIMMs actually work.

  1. Take out 4GB DIMM from left bank and replace with original 2GB DIMM – server sees 6GB. That 4GB DIMM seems good.
  2. Swap the 4GB DIMMs round – server again sees 6GB. Hmmm….
  3. Take out 2GB DIMM and return to having 4GB DIMMs in both banks – server sees 8GB. Bastard.

Maybe I shouldn’t have ignored one of the first troubleshooting recommendations you see online – “make sure all memory is seated securely”.

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Home Cooking – Meatloaf

Looking through the Waitrose free newspaper, I spotted an interesting recipe: Quince-glazed meatloaf. By coincidence, I already had the bulk of the ingredients – minced pork, minced veal, streaky bacon – in the freezer so this looked worth a shot. Popping out to the shops to get pistachio kernels seemed inappropriate so I went with what was in the house.

  • Leeks were replaced with onions.
  • Whole milk replaced with semi-skimmed – who buys whole milk these days?
  • Spelt or sourdough replaced with this week’s bread from the bread-maker machine
  • Sea salt flakes replaced with … salt
  • Membrillo paste replaced with Tonkatsu sauce – I have no idea what Membrillo paste tastes like but Tonkatsu sauce is amazing stuff
  • Decided pistachio kernels could take a hike this time.

Preparation of the ingredients was easy enough but the baking trays in our kitchen do not appear to be big enough. So here are the meatloaves glazed with Tonkatsu sauce. Have I mentioned how nice Tonkatsu sauce is?

Maybe I should have kept an eye on the oven rather than just setting a timer. Kept the juices for gravy.

Meatloaf was perfectly moist and tasted great. Next time I’ll chop the onion (or leak) smaller and maybe try adding pistachio kernels. Definitely keep the Tonkatsu sauce.

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Home cooking – Paella

Lots more opportunites for home cooking these days. Today I have decided to have a paella. Thankfully, the larder has all I need. Will need to restock a bit now, though.

  1. In a large saucepan on a medium heat, soften the chopped onion with the olive oil
  2. Add the chorizo until the colour starts to come out
  3. Stir in the turmeric and rice
  4. Add a litre of stock (4 cubes)
  5. Add the can of tomatoes
  6. Simmer for 15 minutes
  7. Add the peas
  8. Simmer for 5 minutes
  9. Add the chicken and prawns
  10. Simmer for 2 minutes to heat the meat through

Tastes amazing. I expect the flavours from the ready-cooked chicken and prawns added some depth. Had to resist the temptation to gorge myself stupid in one sitting.

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Reiner Knizia’s Decathlon

Where I work has a regular lunchtime board game session which I’ve signed up for. Unfortunately, I only started a few weeks ago and, before I managed to play a single game, staff were recommended to work from home to avoid possibly picking up COVID-19. Luckily, there is Skype so we’re playing Reiner Knizia’s Decathlon remotely with the honesty option enabled.

All we needed was a copy of the rules (kindly made available by the designer) and eight six-sided dice.

If you’ve played Yahtzee before then you should be able to pick up this game pretty quickly. The principle is that there is a mini dice game for each of the 10 decathlon disciplines: 100/400/1500 metres, hurdles, pole vault, high/long jumps, shot put/javelin/discus. Each mini game is different and the overall winner is determined by totalling the points earned in each.

For example, for the 100 metres, you score points for the total value of all eight dice but any 6s are subtracted. Four dice are rolled (and re-rolled) until you are happy with the total showing (i.e. no 6s showing) then you roll (and re-roll) the second set of four in the same way with the limitation that there are only five re-rolls available overall. Like the track event, a pretty simple race with the hope that you don’t trip or pull a muscle.

The shot put is another simple affair. Roll all eight dice but one at a time (no re-rolls). If a 1 turns up, it’s a foul and you get nothing. Luckily you get three attempts at this event and keep the highest score. You don’t have to roll all eight dice as the longer you go, the more likely is that a 1 will turn up. Only the brave would try and roll all eight dice (unless they already had a good score banked from an earlier attempt) as the chance of not getting a foul is 500:1.

Slightly more complicated is the long jump which is split into ‘run-up’ and ‘jump’. The ‘run-up’ involves trying to squeeze up to five dice under (or equalling) a total of 8 pips. So five 1s would mean an excellent run-up but you may have to put up with only three dice showing 3-3-2. The ‘jump’ is then made using the qualifying dice so the more the merrier.

I blew one event completely and went from 10 points ahead to 10 points behind with a bleak outlook for the remaining stages. It’s a key consideration for any game, though, that you don’t lose before the end. You really need to feel that luck could turn in your favour at the death to help you snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. In this session of Decathlon, the whole game hinged on the last few dice in the final 1500 metres event where, like in the 100 metres, every 6 counted against your score. So close…

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What to do?

Recently found some scribblings in an old pad, written maybe twenty years ago? Very few useful points-of-reference in the text to fix a date.

What to do?

“Here, have a blank piece of paper and a pen.”

“Oh, thankyou…”

This is where you find you have a website all your own and nothing to say. I envy Michael Bywater of the Independent. Each week he pushes out half a page of waffle and gets paid for it. Last week was a commentary in not being able to throw away years of junk despite a house move. Nothing earth-shattering, very ordinary, but it read well and made you think “that’s me!”. Well, ahem, it made ME think “that’s me!”  The rest of you probably can’t relate to the write but then he wouldn’t be able to hold the slot if a lot of you couldn’t.

But now I’m highlighting a problem with writing – I find it easy to write about other people’s thoughts and ideas but end up with a nice, clean sheet when I want to describe my own.

My brain is an empty vessel waiting for the input of other so it can make the most noise. Interest by association. Maybe that’s the skill of biographers, people who spend all their time stuck in libraries researching people who lead much more interesting lives. Well, they did according to the biographers who became famous through the fame of their subjects.

Look at me, I work for Microsoft, I have my own webpage, I study at university. Wow, I must be something special. Or not.

So what do you do in your spare time, John. Sit in front of the PC wondering what to do with my spare time, of course.

Have you ever been to a concert and though “hey, I can tell everybody I saw X in concert”? Interesting by association. “Did you enjoy yourself. Though?” “Well, not really. It went on too long, I couldn’t hear the lyrics clearly, and I had to stand all the time.”

So why go? Why not buy the concert video for the same cost as going on the night? Well, anybody can buy a video – that’s not very interesting is it? I’m not trying to say that I’d only go to a concert just for the cachet – there are a few bands I would genuinely want to see, such as the now defunct magnum, a band that could make you feel glad that you went.

Maybe I need to learn how to have a good time. Maybe I should get out more and stop being so morose.

“Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.”

Those who enjoy, do. Those who can’t enjoy describe how you should!

I can recommend what to watch, read, listen to or eat but does that say anything about me as a person? I suppose so, but it just devolves into basic labelling. Or am I expressing my personality like everybody else through their activities? Should I be happy that I write about what somebody else does? Is a journo on the NME just as important as the band they report on? Is shopping at Waitrose a statement of my desired position in society or have I just set an expected quality level for the food I eat?

Hey, I feel better about myself already!

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Still Led By Donkeys

“Led By Donkeys” is a lovely book detailing the grass roots activism which tried to highlight the hypocrisy of those leading the Brexit campaign.

James O’Brien summarised it really well (March 2019):

For me, the single biggest journalistic failure of the last three years has been the refusal to remind politicians of their own words. It’s such a simple thing to do and seems so important. @ByDonkeys, who are neither journalists nor politicians, have put us all to shame.

If you are somebody that thinks the problems facing the country/world/etc. are too big for individuals to have any impact on then give this book a read. And then prepare to work really hard.

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Is it time to buy a new scanner?

We have a really useful portable USB-powered Canon flatbed scanner.

Recently, it’s been making squeaky noises when scanning so I’ve been concerned the bearings were wearing out. Yesterday, the scanning bar didn’t move properly during it’s normal power-up process and made unappealing clunking noises. Eventually, after various attempts to fix it (shaking the scanner, rebooting, trying new cables, etc.), I decided to order a replacement from Curry’s. Picked up the new one today; really quick service.

Took the box out of the delivery bag and thought “must make sure I disable the transit lock on the new one”. Transit lock. Oh.
Yes, I had accidentally slid the lock on the old scanner into place without realising.

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