Wandering Thoughts archives


I should keep and check notes even on my own little problems

I mentioned yesterday that I had a serious issue when I installed a VMWare Workstation update, going from 12.1.0 to 12.1.1. I wound up being very grumpy about it, disrupted the remaining part of my work day, filed a support request with VMWare, and so on, and eventually VMWare support came through with the cause and a workaround..

It turns out that I could have avoided all of that, because I ran into this same problem back when I upgraded to Fedora 23. At the time I did my Internet research, found the workaround, and applied it to my machine. This means that I could have proceeded straight to re-doing the workaround if I'd remembered this. Or, more likely, if I'd kept good notes on the problem then and remembered to read them this time.

We try to make and keep good notes for problems on our production systems, or even things that we run into in testing things for our work environment; we have an entire system for it. But I generally don't bother doing the same sort of thing for my own office workstation; when I find and fix problems and issues I may take some notes, but they're generally sketchy, off the cuff, and not centrally organized. And partly because of this, I often don't think to check them; I think I just assume I'm going to remember things about my own workstation (clearly this is wrong).

So, stating the obvious: I would be better off if I kept organized notes about what I had to do to fix problems and get various things going on my workstation, and put the notes into one place in some format (perhaps a directory with text files). Then I could make it a habit to look there before I do some things, or at least when I run into a problem after I do something.

Also, when I make these notes I should make them detailed, including dates and versions of what they're about. It turns out that I actually had some very sketchy notes about this problem from when I upgraded to Fedora 23 (they were some URLs that turned out to be discussions about the issue), but they didn't have a date or say 'this applied when I upgraded to Fedora 23 with VMWare 12' or anything like that. So when I stumbled over the file and skimmed it, I didn't realize that the URLs were still relevant; I skipped that because I assumed that of course it had to be outdated.

(I'm sure that when I wrote the note file in the first place I assumed that I'd always remember the context. Ha ha, silly me, I really should know better by now. Especially since I've written more than one entry here about making just that assumption and being wrong about it.)

sysadmin/KeepAndCheckNotesOnMyProblems written at 23:32:46; Add Comment

A story of the gradual evolution of network speeds without me noticing

A long time ago I had a 28.8Kbps dialup connection running PPP (it lasted a surprisingly long time). A couple of times I really needed to run a graphical X program from work while I was at home, so I did 'ssh -X work' and then started whatever program it was. And waited. And waited. Starting and using an X program that is moving X protocol traffic over a 28.8K link gives you a lot of time to watch the details of how X applications paint their windows, and it teaches you patience. It's possible, but it's something you only really do in desperation.

(I believe one of the times I did this was when I really needed to dig some detail out of SGI's graphical bug reporting and support tool while I was at home. This was back in the days before all of this was done through the web.)

Eventually I finally stepped up to DSL (around this time), although not particularly fast DSL; I generally got 5000 Kbps down and 800 Kbps up. I experimented with doing X over my DSL link a few times and it certainly worked, but it still wasn't really great. Simple text stuff like xterm (with old school server side XLFD fonts) did okay, but trying to run something graphical like Firefox was still painful and basically pointless. At the time I first got my DSL service I think that 5/.8 rate was pretty close to the best you could get around here, but of course that changed and better and better speeds became possible. Much like I stuck with my dialup, I didn't bother trying to look into upgrading for a very long time. More speed never felt like it would make much of a difference to my Internet experience, so I took the lazy approach.

Recently various things pushed me over the edge and I upgraded my DSL service to what is about 15/7.5 Mbps. I certainly noticed that this made a difference for things like pushing pictures up to my Flickr, but sure, that was kind of expected with about ten times as much upstream bandwidth. Otherwise I didn't feel like it was any particular sea change in my home Internet experience.

Today I updated my VMWare Workstation install and things went rather badly. I'd cleverly started doing all of this relatively late in the day, I wound up going home before VMWare had a chance to reply to the bug report I filed about this. When I got home, I found a reply from VMWare support that, among other things, pointed me to this workaround. I applied the workaround, but how to test it? Well, the obvious answer was to try firing up VMWare Workstation over my DSL link. I didn't expect this to go very well for the obvious reasons; VMWare Workstation definitely is a fairly graphical program, not something simple (in X terms) like xterm.

Much to my surprise, VMWare Workstation started quite snappily. In fact, it started so fast and seemed so responsive that I decided to try a crazy experiment: I actually booted up one of virtual machines. Since this requires rendering the machine's console (more or less embedded video) I expected it to be really slow, but even this went pretty well.

Bit by bit and without me noticing, my home Internet connection had become capable enough to run even reasonably graphically demanding X programs. The possibility of this had never even crossed my mind when I considered a speed upgrade or got my 15/7.5 DSL speed upgrade; I just 'knew' that my DSL link would be too slow to be really viable for X applications. I didn't retest my assumptions when my line speed went up, and if it hadn't been for this incident going exactly like it did I might not have discovered this sea change for years (if ever, since when you know things are slow you generally don't even bother trying them).

There's an obvious general moral here, of course. There are probably other things I'm just assuming are too slow or too infeasible or whatever that are no longer this way. Assumptions may deserve to be questioned and re-tested periodically, especially if they're assumptions that are blocking you from nice things. But I'm not going to be hard on myself here, because assumptions are hard to see. When you just know something, you are naturally a fish in water. And if you question too many assumptions, you can spend all of your time verifying that various sorts of water are still various sorts of wet and never get anything useful done.

(You'll also be frustrating yourself. Spending more than a small bit of your time verifying that water is still wet is not usually all that fun.)

tech/HomeInternetSpeedChanges written at 02:18:23; Add Comment

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