Digressions & Diatribes

by Kort E Patterson, Editor

New Opportunities, Moving, Networking

We continue to need a volunteer for Regional Director. The only requirement outside of a desire to get involved, is you've been a member in good standing for the last two years.

The launch of our Intertel Server (ilian1) has created new opportunities for the region as well as for members of the region.

One of the objectives of the Intertel Server Project is to provide the infrastructure for members to create informal networks and virtual communities.

The initial step has been to get our web, mail and list servers running. At this point we only have "public" websites, but will soon also have a private members-only area where we can safely post things like social calendars. I expect the members-only area to quickly become the more interesting - both from the technical and member/user perspectives.

Each region can now create its own website - and several already have. Our URL would be www.intertel-iq.org/r7/, and we have a pretty free rein over website design. Ilian1 supports a variety of open source scripting languages (php, perl, python, etc.) and SQL databases if we want to build a dynamically generated interactive website.

On the public side of our regional website, we'll probably want some kind of "brochure" promoting the interesting aspects of our region, and reasons to join both Intertel and our region. Port of Call has had a website for over a decade, but our newsletter is only part of what our region has to offer. It would seem logical to incorporate POC's website into a proper/parent regional website.

Most viewers enter our main Intertel website through internal pages they find through search engine results. More visitors get to our main welcome page from inside the website than come in through the "front door". There are literally hundreds of interesting articles on POC's current website that are well established in search engine indexes. Ideally, interesting articles would attract viewers to the regional website, which would in turn lead potential members to our main Intertel website.

We can also create one or more email discussion lists, each with its own on-line archive viewable with a web browser. Announcement lists for local social events would be a good application. Each local area could create its own local announcement list, with membership limited to just those interested in attending.

These new expansions of "regional expression" open up at least two more informal regional positions - Regional Webmaster and Regional Email List Administrator. These could be individual or collective positions to suit the preferences of the participants. I think it would be appropriate for the Regional Director to handle appointments to these positions...if we had a Regional Director.

Shifting to a very different topic, I was recently informed that I had to move. I'm now writing this in my new place - not that I'm completely moved in yet. It will take months to get "fully" moved in - possibly years. The last load of stuff, mostly cleaning gear and supplies, is still in the car. I'm moved into my new place just enough to be able to function while catching up on all the other "non-moving" tasks that have been so rudely interrupted. I've shuffled boxes of stuff around enough to set up the servers and workstations, but at this moment, my Internet services aren't reestablished yet.

My new place is supposedly 100 sq. ft. larger than my old, but so far it doesn't appear to be as efficiently laid out. But then I had 14 years to optimize and fill my previous space, and I shouldn't be surprised that there will be some adjustments required to make the best use of this new space.

I refer to my decorating style as "early industrial submarine", with racks of equipment climbing up the walls, and webs of multi-colored cables providing just the right accent. My taste in furniture tends toward metal shelving units and 6'x30" tables. My desk is assembled out of two 6' tables clamped together in an "L" shape, elevated to a 41" surface height. The tables stand on a solid foundation of dot-matrix paper boxes filled with the required number of inches of old magazines, bridged across with unpainted lumber that provides both footing for the tables and an "under the desk" platform for the various computers and printers.

One interesting adjustment I'm going through is that my desk and much of the rest of my new place is "other handed" from what I've become accustomed. My desk now "L's" to the right where it previously "L'd" to the left. In the bathroom, the sink is on the left where it was previously on the right...

I've also come to appreciate what a complex telecommunications system had evolved as a result of years of tinkering, adding piece by piece. Disassembling the whole system and reassembling it in a different place, forces a more complete perspective.

Simply separating, coiling, and boxing the rats nest of cables left after removing the computers and desk furniture, took close to half an hour. (The secret is to remove the least snag prone cables first, and leave the ethernet and telephone cables with their fragile little plastic tabs for last.)

For the last couples of years I've been using an Asterisk PBX on my Internet gateway/firewall server as telephone answering machine and telemarketing filter. If I don't pick up my extension, it records a voice message and sends me an email. The PBX has worked well, but the downside is it doesn't work at all unless the server is running - and the servers couldn't be set up until the move was nearly done.

My only conventional answering machine is broken - worn out by the shear volume of telemarketing calls it filtered before I set up the PBX. I was without any phone for a day or so, and then could only receive calls if I happened to be close enough to hear the phone ring. I was surprised at the extent being able to leave a message has become a solution to mismatched schedules.

One of the downsides of regressing to the techno-primitive state of directly answering a "manual" telephone, was that as soon as I was home enough to receive phone calls, I started getting offensively intrusive telemarketing calls. It wasn't too many years ago when a telephone was my only connection to the outside world. I even intentionally went for a time in the late 1970's without a phone. I was living in a small town and could walk to a pay phone for the few calls I wanted to make - and no one could call me and demand my attention at their convenience.

Now I find the phone is rapidly being depreciated in favor of various forms of communications over the Internet. Most of my phone use during the last couple weeks as been focused on getting my Internet services transferred, and checking on other utility service requests that had been initiated over the Internet but interrupted by the failure of the phone company to restore my Internet access in a reasonable period of time.

The only "legitimate" incoming call I've received since getting my phones working in the new place has been from a business associate who needed some information. Of course, in order to get to the information he needed, I had to jury rig one of my computers so that it could run just long enough to read the disk containing the needed information, then call him back and dictate it over the phone. Here again, the matter would have been handed much more efficiently with email if Verizon wasn't holding up connecting my Internet service. Come to think of it, if my Internet service was working, he would have been able to get to the server that had the information directly, and not had to bother me at all.

I'm a bit surprised at the extent to which I've shifted my focus from the individual stand-alone computer to a network-centric perspective. My local computer has been to a significant extent downgraded to just a means to connect to the remote computers where I'm actually doing something.

For example, first on my list of tasks as soon as I have Internet access is to fix a problem on a mail server in Las Vegas. I should be able to diagnose and fix the problem over a secure ssh (secure shell) connection in less time that it would take simply to get through the security ordeal at the airport. Certainly in less than than the time it would take to get to the airport and fly to Las Vegas.

To be fair, one of the cluster of Linux servers I shipped to Las Vegas did arrive crippled. A PCI card had shifted in transit, and required someone physically opening the case and pushing it back in its socket - hard to do from a thousand miles away. The server ran in this crippled condition for over a month until we had someone going there anyway who could fix it. In the interim I was able to remotely shift the crippled server's critical functions to another server in the cluster - and back again once it was fully functional.

I often have multiple terminal windows open on my desktop, each connected to machines that are "somewhere else" - from the next room to the other side of the globe. Copy and pasting something from one window to another on my local screen in reality moves data between remote machines that could be thousands of miles apart in the physical world.

My "local computer" is itself an old obsolete machine that's been converted into a diskless workstation networked to a desktop server where my "local" activities are actually taking place. The desktop server also serves as my entertainment center with a MythTV personal video recorder that can capture broadcast or C-band satellite TV, and over 500 albums and CDs "ripped" into high bitrate ogg-vorbis files. (And yes, I still have the original legal source albums and CDs.)

I then use this terminal server network to interact with my private local area network (LAN), and through the LAN's gateway server connect to other remote networks via the public Internet. Layers of networks interacting with other layers of networks.

At least that's what I typically do on a daily basis when my Internet access is working. While at the moment I'm pretty much dependent on my working from my local machines, it would in theory be possible to accomplish much of what I do from a friend's computer, or a computer at a public library. The primary obstacle in using a borrowed computer and network access is that most available desktop machines are running windoze, and the networking capabilities of that abusive market manipulation masquerading as an operating system are grossly inferior to Linux. The frustration and aggravation of dealing with the phone company pale to insignificance compared to the frustration of trying to get windoze to do the kinds of advanced networking that Linux makes so easy.

My networking problems should be solved in a couple of days. Ultimately, even the gratuitously abusive paper-pushers in the phone company know that they can't bill me outrageous fees if they never get around to connecting the service. (The middle-aged female phone company field technician, on the other hand, was efficiently competent, and fixed in minutes all screw-ups the incompetent paper-pushers had made in my voice service order.)

As you might have been able to detect, the forced trauma of moving is still very much on my mind at the moment. But I think I'm going to be glad I moved here after I get settled in...

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