It would be a shame if something happened to it…

I have finally gotten around to documenting the Salisbury approach to building an Active Data Guard set-up (that is, 2-node RAC replicating to a 2-node RAC, with the standby in open read-only mode), thereby protecting your data from anything that might unfortunately befall your production RAC.

The article is here.

The article concludes with ARCH doing the log shipping, which isn’t actually the best way of going about things, though it does achieve a high-availability objective. I’ll follow up shortly with altering protection modes and configuring data guard broker… but the article was so long as it stands that I felt compelled to relegate those subjects to follow-up articles rather than the main billing itself.

Keen eyes will note that the screenshots in the latest article are distinctly different from those in the build-a-2-node-RAC one: it’s what happens when Fedora is wiped from your laptop and Windows 8 replaces it part-way through!

Hyper-V Hundone

Oh well, that’s that then. Had to remove Hyper-V from my desktop today, because it seems incapable of running a 4-node RAC without crashing one or more nodes at random. Ah, you say: that could just be because Oracle software is flakey and RAC is as stable as a pile of teflon-coated jellies at the best of times. To which I retort merely that the 4 nodes seem to have no problem staying up and working as expected on exactly the same PC when they are run as VMware Workstation VMs.

Bit of a shame: I had hoped to be a fan of Hyper-V. But I need to finish off my 2-node RAC + 2-node Standby before the mid-year Solstice and sticking with Hyper-V isn’t going to get me there. I wish I could provide eloquent diagnostics and explanations. But stuff it: uninstalling it just seems a whole lot simpler to me.

Thanks, Toshiba

Fairness dictates that I follow up on my recent travails trying to get Toshiba to send me recovery disks for my laptop, preferably without trampling over my privacy concerns as they do so. For they have responded superbly to my complaint and, in the process, quite converted me back into the Toshiba fan I was of old.

First things first, then: having emailed them a reluctantly-scanned copy of the receipt for the laptop, I rang the next day at 8.01am… and was immediately answered by a charming, polite and efficient bloke. After a quick 20 seconds calling my details up on screen, he simply asked for my credit card number, the address to which the disks should be shipped… and that was that. No hassles, no being kept in a queue, no strife. Service as it should be, I think.

Second things second: although I had been warned that the disks might take up to 5 working days to arrive, they actually arrived the next day. Efficiency, indeed.

Third, the “Customer Service Team Leader” took the trouble to write a long and detailed reply to my earlier emailed complaint. He stepped through the things I’d mentioned, point by point. He apologised for lines not being open when they were supposed to be, and for the recorded voice message advising incorrect opening times. He said he’d get the voice message amended as soon as possible -and the same thing about the email template that mentions a ‘Windows product key’ that Windows 8 users won’t have.

And then the biggie: he took the trouble to explain why Toshiba asks for the receipt in these circumstances:

For older versions of Windows where the product key has faded or missing from the base of the notebook, it was Toshiba’s process to collect the proof of purchase to show ownership of the notebook. I appreciate your feedback that since customers are willing to provide their payment details and delivery details [when purchasing the recovery disks] that their identity should not be in doubt. With Windows 8 now having the product key injected into the unit, I am currently reviewing our process with recovery disk orders.

You can’t get fairer than that, really: there was perhaps a legitimate reason for it back in the day; he recognises that reasoning doesn’t necessarily apply now; he promises to look into it and see what alternative approach he can come up with for the future.

My kind of customer response, really. And then this was the icing on the cake:

As a gesture of goodwill and thanking you for the time to provide feedback, I would like to refund the cost of these recovery disks to your credit card account.

I don’t think that’s ever happened before: taking the time to complain gets called ‘providing feedback’ and warrants getting your money back! Brilliant, Toshiba, and thank you.

Summing up: I think my complaint was legitimate, and Toshiba has responded to it extremely well and generously. As I say, although it would be great not to have to complain in the first place, you can’t ask for a better outcome when you do. Toshiba return to my good books, then!

Incidentally, my enquiry of the Department of Fair Trading suggests that Toshiba is within its rights to ask to see the receipt (though I remain unconvinced), but that if I couldn’t provide one (maybe because I’d lost it, maybe because it was a gift, etc) then Toshiba would not be within their rights to use that as justification for not supplying the recovery disks.That is, they have discretion in the matter and could well waive the receipt requirement on a case-by-case basis. Anyone for whom the requirement was not waived would be withing their rights to make a formal complaint to the Department, who would pursue the matter directly with Toshiba.

Happily, it didn’t come to that, and hopefully, given the response from Toshiba above, it won’t do so for anyone else in the future.

Windows (&) Me

Hold the front page! Shock, horror! I find I actually like Windows 8! Not your common-or-garden stock Windows 8, you understand: the interface formerly known as Metro (TIFKAM) is definitely a dog’s dinner and I can’t stand it or its applications. Both look ghastly and are, it seems to me, an impediment to productivity (if I ever get a Windows-based tablet, though, I am certain to find TIFKAM a great idea. Just not on my desktop, thanks all the same).

Fortunately, a quick install of Classic Shell immediately after Windows 8 installation makes TIFKAM go away, almost completely. It’s free, too. (There are other Start menu replacements, but most of them cost a few dollars. Classic Shell, though, does all I need it to do for none at all). You may need to do a few ‘open with’ tricks on various file types to stop them being opened with the new ‘Modern Apps’, but otherwise, once Classic Shell is in, it’s pretty much a Desktop Experience a la Windows 7: bearable!

Pro Tip: Classic Shell also works fine on Windows Server 2012, and is a god-send there, too.

Firefox 20 is a better privacy-protecting browser than Internet Explorer (at least in part because https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/adblock-plus/Adblock Plus, Noscript and Ghostery will run in the former but not the latter), so that bit of the Windows experience immediately got a makeover, post-installation, too.

I’m using Windows 8 Pro, and that comes with Hyper-V (I mean that it comes with the ability to install Hyper-V, because it’s not implemented by default). This is not available in basic Windows 8, but the Pro and Enterprise editions include it. The last time I used Hyper-V was back when Windows 2008 (1st release) was new, and I didn’t much like it, largely because on the desktop PC where I tried to use it, the presence of NVidia graphics drivers meant the entire PC stuttered and stammered badly (unable to play a little bit of audio without choking, for example).

Well, that problem is fixed. If your CPU uses Second Level Address Translation (SLAT, or Extended Page Table in Intel-speak; or Rapid Virtualization Indexing in AMD-speak), then that sort of performance stutter is completely gone. Most i3, i5 and i7 processors do include SLAT, and my one, happily, is on the list. So now I can bare-metal virtualize and play Mozart without wincing.

This means I can park my VMware Workstation license where the sun don’t shine; and I won’t be needing VirtualBox in a hurry either. The Hyper-V management tools are slick and well-integrated and a very nice step up from those desktop virtualization offerings, too. I particularly like the way Hyper-V makes displaying a VM entirely separate from running one. It’s true that you can switch a VMware VM to run in the background after you’ve started it; and if you run your VirtualBox VMs from the command line, they can run-but-not-display, too. But this capability is baked-in to Hyper-V and requires no post-startup or command-line shenanigans to get working, so I noticed it and liked it immediately.

“Guest Additions” are available for CentOS/Red Hat/Scientific, too, so those OSes are able to make best use of their virtual environments. Admittedly, there is no support for Solaris on Hyper-V, which might be a problem for me down the track. We’ll see.

In short, there’s a lot of Windows 8 hate about (the comments on this article are a nice snapshot of that sort of thing!); but I think much of it is overblown. Stick Classic Shell on it and you have a practically-pure 100% desktop experience, devoid of all Metro taint. On the other hand, you get very nice, very capable virtualization built-in for nothing, which has to be a plus. And to top it all off, it performs nicely, too (rather better than Win7 on the same hardware, I think, anyway).

It’s early days, and it could all end horribly in tears any moment now… but so far, at least, the trip back to Win8 has been ‘not bad’.

Camera Joys ….and Windows Woes

In January 2014, I turn 50. Rather more significantly, in November 2013, Benjamin Britten would have turned 100, if he hadn’t been unlucky enough to die in 1976. But whatever: the end of this year, one way or another, turns out to be of great personal significance… and, as a result, me and ToH will be travelling back to the UK in late November, to celebrate both occasions with family, friends and any strangers that want to take pity on a couple of wandering Aussies.

Yes, we are both completely bonkers, and fully understand that we are facing average maximum day-time temperatures of around 8 degrees Celsius (46 Fahrenheit for old-timers and American readers). But we will be in Aldeburgh on November 22nd, standing in the graveyard and paying respects to one of the great composers of our time. So it’s worth it.

I have also wangled a lifetime-desired trip to Bletchley Park (where we won the war by decrypting German Enigma traffic, happening also to invent computers along the way, just in passing). I’m looking forward to that a lot.

The trip comes with some costs attached, however (and I’m not talking about the unheard-of amounts that Aldeburgh’s White Lion hotel wants to charge us!). Specifically, ToH says that a new camera is needed since the last lot of London photos were a tad disappointing, and thus last Thursday we shelled out around $3000 for the Nikon D600 you see above. I coughed a bit, but since I’ve only just recently splashed out $2000 for a new Toshiba laptop, it’s difficult to complain much!

In fact, of course, there is no need to complain at all, because ToH’s former Nikon D80 gets handed down to me (definitely the ugly step-sister when it comes to matters photographical), and I accordingly take a rather large step up from the little Lumix DWC-FH20 I’ve been using for the past 4 years. The last time I used an SLR, digital or analogue, was back in the 1980s, when my trusty (built like a Soviet tank, in fact) Zenit did me duty in the likes of Bulgaria, Zimbabwe and Botswana… so it’s going to be a learning curve for me.

Of course, this means having to deal with RAW images and learning to stitch and crop them as the mood takes me -and thus I feel compelled to renew my hitherto fleeting acquaintance with Photoshop. And Photoshop, of course, means Windows (for Wine will let Photoshop 3 just about pass muster, but cannot cope with Photoshop 5, which we use chez Dizwell). And thus it is that only a fortnight after having purged the house of the last non-ToH-owned Windows machine, I have felt compelled to dump Fedora from my desktop and reverted to Windows 8. After 6 months uninterrupted Linux loveliness, I somewhat regret the move, but no way, no how am I going to try to wrestle GIMP into submission!

I hasten to add that it is not all ToH’s fault, since work is asking me to pick up some SQL Server administration duties, thus making domestic installation of Server 2012 and SQL Server 2012 look like a sensible proposition for career prospects. Time to wipe CentOS off my two HP Proliant Microtower servers, then, after 9 happy months of just sitting there and working beautifully…

Some updates about Windows 8, Windows 2012, Hyper-V and SQL Server to come, too!

Colour me unhappy with… Toshiba -(

My new laptop (Toshiba p870) has been doing nicely of late, but I decided I’d like to get the factory-settings re-installation media after all, just because it seemed like a good idea at the time. I knew I’d have to pay for these disks, but it seemed like a worthwhile investment (though it would be an even better idea if Toshiba shipped a couple of 30cent disks with a $2000 laptop).

Little did I reckon with Toshiba.

First, there’s nowhere on their site you can request the re-installation media. I had to visit their site, poke around for half an hour and then give up and send a web-based general enquiry instead. No matter, I suppose: slightly inconvenient, but the message got through, since the next day brought a welcome response: please ring this phone number between 8am and 6pm, have a credit card, your laptop serial number and your Windows product ID handy.

No worries. At 8.01am this morning I rang…and got told that “the lines have now closed. They re-open 7am to 7pm”. Well, I’m guessing that since it’s past 8am and they’re not open for business, the reference to 7am is just a mistake. No problem: hang up, retry later.

Actually, I re-tried 8 times, between 8.01am and 8.08am. Only then did I get through.

No matter: at least I’m finally talking to a human. Ah, I say: I notice your earlier email to me mentioned I’d have to have a Windows product ID. Trouble is, the bottom of my PC shows a laptop model and serial number, but no Windows number. Yes, the Toshiba representative says: things have changed with Windows 8 and Microsoft don’t now have product numbers on the outside of laptops and PCs. (So, I ask myself, why did your email say I’d have to have one if that’s no longer true: time to update your automated email boilerplate with the reality of the Win8 world, instead of the old Win7, perhaps?)

Well, no worries: I have my credit card, my laptop serial number and I’m ready to do business anyway. Not so fast, says the Toshiba guy: we need to see the receipt you received when buying the laptop.

Now, I bought the laptop at the local JB Hifi store. That’s a transaction between me and JB Hifi. I used my credit card, so that’s a transaction between me and Visa. But nowhere, notime did I transact with Toshiba, and I don’t see why they get to see receipts of transactions between me and third parties. Ah, says Toshiba Guy: we have to establish proof of ownership. It’s a Microsoft requirement.

Well, I say, Microsoft wasn’t party to my transaction with JB Hifi either, so they’re no more entitled to my transaction records than you are. Somewhat less, I’d say, given that I wiped Windows off my laptop within a day of buying it!

I change tack: how do I get this receipt to you? Just email a scanned image of it, he says. But what if I don’t have a scanner, I say. Take a photo of it with your camera, he says. I point out that’s assuming quite a few things. Oh well, just fax it over, he concedes. I point out that that’s assuming quite a few things, too! (Does anyone still have a fax machine?!)

I point out that the laptop might have been a gift, and that as a result I might not actually have a receipt at all, despite having legitimate ownership of the laptop. I don’t believe he answered that one.

As one of my recent commentators moronically pointed out, these are all first world problems: but I’m nevertheless mightily and legitimately annoyed that it’s impossible to purchase re-installation media without having your privacy trampled on in this way. Since when did Toshiba (or Microsoft, according to them) get granted police powers to investigate issues of legitimate ownership of laptops? Don’t they just sell you the software to run on them, wherever you got it from??!

Even if one concedes that they have an interest in servicing requests from only legitimate owners, it’s all just pointless security theatre: I could knock up an impressive-looking receipt with a word processor and a bit of imagination, after all.

I’ve written to Toshiba to complain. I’ve also written to the Department of Fair Trading, since it seems odd to me that the question of my legitimate ownership of the laptop can be raised by my simply asking to be able to perform a factory reset, should I want to. I’m paying for the installation media, after all (or trying to!): it’s not being provided by Toshiba out of the goodness of their hearts.

I await a reply from them, and I’ll probably just email a copy of the receipt anyway… but Toshiba sucks on this one and I won’t be buying any more of their kit as a consequence.