April 1, 2002
By Scott Lewis
We had a lot of fun this month. (Note: actually this month means last month. I write this column as the month progresses then publish it on the first on the month. Since this is the April edition everything in here happened during March.) Our Oracle server crashed, my web site took a major dip, and we got a new laptop... again.
Oracle Server Crash
A quick background is in order. The main server I am responsible for is a two node cluster Oracle server. We have two 800 MHz Intel PIII based servers clustered with a combination of Microsoft's Cluster software and Oracle's Fail Safe software. Attached to these servers is a drive array comprised of 26 drives. These drives are setup in a RAID 1 configuration, meaning they are mirrored, providing 13 drive letters for the servers to use.
Audible alarms went off in the server room one night. One of the drives in the array had a red light on. The operator called a number of us on a conference call. Oracle was not accessible. It was finally decided to "pull the plug" on the active node/server. Apparently the server was up enough (it could be pinged) that Oracle's Fail Safe software wasn't kicking in. When we turned off the server Oracle's software kicked in and the database came back online on the other node. Very cool!
Alas this only lasted for a little while. About half an hour later Oracle came down again. When everyone showed up (this all started around 3:00 AM while all but the operator were home in their pajamas) we decided to try and restart the enter server. When we powered the drive array up 5 red lights showed up. We boot the server and used utilities to check the drives. We rebuilt the 5 drives from their mirrors. After this another drive (the original drive to get a red light) needed to go though a diagnostic of some kind. Once that was complete we restored Oracle from our combination of hot backup files and archive log files.
With the redundancy we have (two nodes and mirrored drives) we were able to recover from a major catastrophe in a few hours. Without that hardware it probably would have taken days to recover. Until further diagnostics could be performed I suggested we use our test/development server to act as a backup to the production server. With the development server in a "standby" mode I could reduce the down time from hours to minutes in the event of another major failure.
Oracle has a Standby feature. It would have been a bit too time consuming to implement this solution so we came up with an alternate in quick time. We already have backup procedures to backup the Archive Log files Oracle generates. These log files contain all changes to the database and can be applied to a hot backup of the database for recovery purposes to provide near point in time recovery of the database. I added a script to force a log file to be generated every 10 minutes, then copied that file to the development server and had the log file applied to the copy of the database there. This left us with no more than a ten minute loss of work in the event of a major failure. Not Bad.
A little over a week later when we could schedule a long window of down time we had the engineers look over the server. The main problem was a bad controller to the drive array. This controller was replaced as well as some other maintenance issues taken care. Now all is well and after about a week of time to feel totally safe I took my development server out of the loop and restored it to a test/development environment.
Web Site Problems
Normally I go into painstaking detail when I discuss problems. I am not really in the mood to do that here, so I will TRY to be brief. I had problems with my web site. After updating the site for March all the FrontPage components vanished. All I had was a text only web site.
In the end it turned out to be a number of issues that collided. I have been editing my site on both my desktop computer (under both Windows XP and Windows 98, see last month's Feature Article for information on Win XP) and my laptop running Windows ME. I don't know when the problem actually happened, but at some point when switching between machines FrontPage changed a very large number of files and directories in my site to UPPER CASE. My hosting service uses UNIX (or Linux) with the FrontPage extensions.
Well the case sensitive nature of the *NIX environment did not go well with what FrontPage had done. I tried to delete everything off my web site with CuteFTP, but ended up delete the FrontPage components. Oops! So I had to have the FrontPage extensions reset buy my hosting service.
Fixing the problem on my own machine was more difficult. I kept finding uppercase files and directories. In the end I had to rename all the files in Windows Explorer for the operating system, as well as in FrontPage. This was a nightmare. FrontPage has a number of directories that hold versions of your files that it uses for various reasons. I had to rename these versions too. In the end I had to rename about half the files in my web site 3 times. Then I still noticed a number of files still did not "take" the renaming and had to rename a bunch of files again, and delete some leftover files on the server (Note: on UNIX Image1.gif and image1.gif are two different files). Then I had to use FrontPage's global search and replace feature to change filename references in all my HTML to the proper case of the files.
That was a lot of work, but it did give me a chance to fix a couple of problems... such as some broken links that still pointed to my old dialup ISP's server.
A New Site?
Now all it working properly. But for a time I thought I would take this opportunity to redesign my web site without using FrontPage's themes (a lot of the files I had to rename were FrontPage generated files for the theme). I designed a template for the pages of my site in ColdFusion Studio. I like the look of my site, so I mimicked many of the small graphical elements with just minor changes in color. I have not decided if I want to spend the massive number of hours it will take to copy all the content of my site (I have over 80 pages in the archive section) to a new format. I have done that in the past and it takes so much time that I never added all my archive pages from the last time I redesigned my site.
I am still using FrontPage to maintain my site. I like the ease with which I can publish changes, and it handles copying and moving files around quite well. I will take a more cautious approach to editing from more than one computer or operating system, but I am considering an alternative. Does anyone know of a tool that is GUI based that can handle a simple site like mine and is relatively inexpensive?
Finally, I am getting unusual file usage reports from my web site. It shows I am using over 20 MB of space... the limit my hosting service provides to me. When I look at the directory on my drive it totals just under 10 MB, but Explorer reports that the site is taking up over 50 MB of actual space. Each file uses at least 32 KB of space due to the cluster size in the FAT32 file system on my 60 GB drive.
I wrote a quick program too add up all the size of all the files in a directory, and report the disk space it requires under 512 Byte, 4K, 16K & 32 K clusters. Windows 2K uses 512 bytes, Linux/UNIX (my Hosting Service) uses 4 K and my two drives with FAT32 are using 16 K and 32 K clusters.
Using this program I was able to determine that my site should take up only 13+ MB of space, not 22+ MB. I will have to do some more digging to see why there is that much difference.
Another New Laptop
Background: We originally bought a HP laptop last year. After it developed a series of problems we took it in. They replaced it immediately with a Compaq laptop. After 5 days the LAN port went out on the Compaq. With Compaqs Best Buy sends them out for repair. Three weeks later we had the laptop. Two weeks later the A/C plug fell INTO the computer. About 3 to 4 weeks later we had it back. We were told that they will fix it three times before replacing it.
In early February the A/C plug came OUT. They sent it in to Compaq for repair. They reminded me from their records that the next repair would get a replacement. When the laptop came back some of the keys had a funny feel, and the F1 & F2 keys did not work.
Finally, repair 4 were they should replace it. Well, they lost the records of the first two repairs. Apparently they keep records based on phone number. When they changed my number they also deleted my old records. How convenient. They sent the laptop in with instructions to find the old records at the Service Center. No such search took place and it came back still broken. Now on repair 5. I had to call Compaq myself and get their records showing the repairs based on the serial number of the laptop. Finally after about 5 weeks of dealing with un-helpful Best Buy employees, they agreed to exchange it.
We got a Sony GR390 laptop. It has a 1.2 GHz Mobile PIII, 30 GB drive, 512MB memory, DVD-ROM/CD-RW combo drive, etc., etc. This is almost twice as fast as the original laptop of 700 MHz, with 4 times the memory and three times the disk space.
So far the laptop is very nice. But I would like to reserve judgment until I have had more time with it. I thought the Compaq was a good deal better than the HP it replaced, yet it had a bad LAN port after only 5 days. I will report on the speedy little Sony in a month or two when I see it work reliably.
I can tell you this much, I picked the Sony over an HP laptop when Best Buy finally gave the exchange permission. I went with the Sony because it looked a little slicker and had a neat looking jog dial. It is a small scroll wheel at the base of the laptop behind the touch pad. It works with a custom application. I thought this would be better than the little MP3 button the HP offered as a special feature. I was wrong. The jog dial isn't very user friendly. Also, the Sony comes with Word 2002 instead of MS Works which my wife used to edit her weekly newsletter. Word 2002 on the Sony lists Works 4.0 & Works 2000 as files it can open. Well it doesn't open the Works files my wife created. BTW, the HP laptop came with MS Works. Oops!
I tried to download Microsoft's Works to Word conversion utility. It worked for two of the three files my wife had. Unfortunately the one that could not be converted was the most important one. I think the file may have gotten corrupted since it causes errors when we try to open it under certain conditions. Anyway, I am try to get my wife to use Publisher that is with Office 2000.
The Return of Windows XP
The new laptop came with Windows XP Home edition. I would prefer the Professional edition, but at this point I don't think it will matter. I had a bear of a time getting the Internet working. I have a Linksys BEFSR41 Cable/DSL router/hub. After playing with Windows XP's settings for a while I was able to get it to see my other computer and see the router. But it would not connect to the Internet. I tried a bunch of things over and over again. From my prior experience with Win XP I had to set the Control Panel to the classic view. I tried everything. I searched the Internet to see if anyone had problems with XP and the Linksys. Nothing. I finally called Sony technical support. They told me that they were only responsible for getting a ping to ensure the hardware was working. They told me that my ISP might have information on XP and their service.
Just before I contacted my ISP I decided to see if the laptop could use the cable modem without the router. Lo and behold it worked. Prior to this the only way I could get the laptop to see the router was if I assigned it a fixed IP address that was in the range of addresses the router used. When the laptop was set to obtain an address it grabbed some way out there number that didn't make any sense. When the laptop was connected to the cable modem directly it obtain an appropriate address for my ISP. I put the router back between the cable modem and the laptop and the laptop grabbed the first available address in the routers range.
Now everything is working. I am still testing a couple of things. The laptop came with Word 2002 (from Office XP). I have Office 2000. I installed all but Word from my Office 2000 discs. We will see if this ever causes a problem. So far I only had to recreate some shortcuts. Also the Sony comes with a bunch of software. My guess is that it is mostly worthless, but I will spend a little time looking it over.
When the Sony first booted up there were 9 icons on the desktop, and 11 icons in the system tray (by the clock in the lower right). Holy cow! And the desktop was supposed to be getting cleaner. The Sony has so much stuff installed I don't know what is needed and what isn't. I will be trying to remove stuff that is not need over time.
Living With Windows XP Part II
No, not yet. I will be taking another in-depth look at living with Windows XP. My previous experience with XP was cut short when trying to get Return to Castle Wolfenstein working. I plan to revisit the topics that I didn't get to finish. CD-Burning is the one I am most interested in since the CD-RW in the laptop should be about twice as fast as teh one in my main computer. However, since the laptop is primarily my wife's computer I won't do things that could cause me to reformat the drives. I will take a slightly more conservative approach, and will take it more slowly than before. Expect something in a couple of months or so.
That about covers it for this month. A lot happened. I don't know what is coming next month, we will just have to wait it out together. Read my Feature Article this month, I am going to try and squeeze the funds to try and upgrade my computer and build a mini-server from spare parts. Money is very tight in the new house, so I don't know.