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Failures at Work

Thursday, April 10th, 2008

This has been a bad week for computers at work. First the librarian brings me a laptop with all the keys in the wrong order. One of these spoiled rich kids felt it necessary to rip every key off the keyboard and put them back on in the wrong spots. Not a huge problem, just annoying.

Then on Tuesday I'm sitting in my office eating lunch watching a youtube video when the video suddenly stops playing. So I wait a little bit and let it buffer, but it doesn't start up again. Then I start to notice a very distinctive odor, that of electronics on fire. Ok, not really on fire, but when capacitors get too hot and explode, they have a very specific scent. So I start sniffing all the servers in my office and find the culprit: the one that routes our internet connections. I thought it was just the power supply, so I changed that out, but it still didn't work. Finally I had to find a spare similar piece of hardware, install Linux and set it up as the router again. All together it was about 2 hours of down time.

The next day I find more fallout from the dead server. Apparently years ago a policy was set that changed everyone's IE homepage to a page on that server. This was for displaying custom alerts and messages to faculty and staff. Since then almost everyone has changed their homepage to something else. The few who did not however got the "This page cannot be displayed" message when opening IE. So they naturally thought the internet was down. I told them to change their homepage and all would be fine. Then I disabled that policy since it really wasn't in use anymore. My expectation in disabling it was that all homepages would stay the same and it would simply stop forcing the local page for new computers. I was wrong. When it was disabled it reset EVERY domain computer's homepage to whatever the default was (MSN or Dell's site). Any time anything changes, users freak out; imagine opening IE and not seeing what you're used to seeing. So another email to everyone went out telling them to just change their homepage and all was well.

Then I noticed a blinking amber light on my Oracle database server where there is usually a solid blue light. I yanked off the bezel and saw one of the six disks announcing its impending death. Luckily this disk was part of a RAID1 array (mirrored, so all the data on this disk is on another disk) and this particular array only holds the operating system, the Oracle data is on a different array of disks. I didn't have any spare disks for this machine so I ordered a few; they should be arriving this afternoon.

Failing hard drive in a 2850

I can't wait to see what breaks later today or tomorrow.

Comments (16) Subscribe

#1 - Apr 11, 2008 at 7:46 AM
Those stupid rich kids...
#2 - Apr 11, 2008 at 6:53 PM
Don't get me wrong, most of them are great. There are a few however who have this sense of entitlement that really needs to go. Just because they're sitting in front of a computer doesn't make it their property and give them the right to install software, vandalize it, rip stickers off, change settings or anything else other than simply use it. All of you know better (I'm including you because you posted from inside Harley), but a few don't act like it. Hopefully they'll grow out of it.
#3 - Apr 12, 2008 at 1:20 PM
He is the all seeing Joe!
#4 - Apr 16, 2008 at 2:07 PM
I think they're on to you! Silly internets...
#5 - May 12, 2008 at 12:06 PM
What about Portable Firefox? IE on school computers is not configured to erase all private data, but my copy of PF is.
#6 - May 12, 2008 at 4:35 PM
PF doesn't obey active directory policies, so it wouldn't be affected. It would only have an effect on IE.
#7 - May 13, 2008 at 6:40 AM
So you don't mind students using portable software?
#8 - May 14, 2008 at 6:47 PM
Meh, it doesn't really matter what I think since they're going to run portable software whether I like it or not. But I'm sure Dr. S wouldn't be too happy knowing you're posting comments using laptop20 in the middle of your history class.
#9 - May 17, 2008 at 6:42 AM
Have you looked at the AD policies that block all plug and play hardware of a certain type? MS keeps pushing that you can block all USB keys to prevent people from stealing data or running portable software. It wouldn't work for us because we can't standardize on 1 type of key across 5 continents, but it might work in a smaller environment like you've got. Do the kids have a legit reason to use USB keys at school?

Is there a way to block firefox at the router/firewall based on the user agent string or something? If not I think there's an AD policy that allows you to blacklist certain applications.
#10 - May 19, 2008 at 7:46 AM
"Do the kids have a legit reason to use USB keys at school?"

Absolutely. They have shared file storage on the network, but where it's balanced as far as cost, availability and recoverability it's still possible (although not likely) to loose documents, so having a backup of all their documents in their possession and control is good thing. Also many (if not all) students work at home and at school on the same documents, so they need a way of transporting. Some use email, some use USB keys.

I actually have no problem with using firefox, I'm using it right now on my laptop to post this comment. Previously it was just handy to use IE since it gets settings from AD; I could (and did) have a policy to set the proxy settings to make sure content was being filtered. Now with our new Barracuda web filter, it's set up as a transparent bridge, so proxy settings aren't needed, you simply can't get to the internet without the traffic going through it.

The other problem with controlling browsers is simply the fact that I can't control them all. Many kids bring in their own personal laptops and connect to the wireless. The same goes for 802.11 aware cell phones and devices like iPhones and iPod Touchs. You simply can't enforce a browser policy on random devices the kids bring in.
#11 - May 19, 2008 at 8:17 AM

It looks like it's not just wired and 802.11 devices, all Harley issued blackberries (ones connected to our blackberry enterprise server) also get filtered.
#12 - May 19, 2008 at 6:54 PM
While we're on the proxy, why is YouTube and Facebook blocked on some computers but not others?
#13 - May 19, 2008 at 7:21 PM
Facebook and myspace are blocked at the request of the school heads. I think there was an issue with cyber-bullying back in the fall that ruined it for everyone. Facebook should be blocked everywhere, which machines have you recently seen it on? It was probably open for the last month because of the filter switch; we were test-driving the barracuda and didn't want to spend too much time customizing it if we weren't going to keep it.

Youtube shouldn't be blocked anywhere. It was for about an hour sometime last week when I changed some rules around. Apparently according to Barracuda, youtube is a "social networking" site rather than a "streaming media" site. Go figure. Which machines have you seen youtube blocked on?
#14 - May 20, 2008 at 6:27 AM
The SSP computers, and the older machines in the library. Facebook has been blocked since I last saw it used.
#15 - May 22, 2008 at 7:25 AM
YouTube seems to work everywhere now.
#16 - May 22, 2008 at 8:38 AM
That's good but interesting since I haven't actually gotten up to the library yet to see about it. Oh well, sometimes these things work themselves out.

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