Tuesday, September 23, 2003

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At the moment, I'm in the Fishbowl, the main computer lab on campus. Half of the room is filled with Apples, half is PCs, and in the corner are three lonely Sun boxes -- mainly for use by students needing certain statistical packages. At certain times of the day, all of the Macs and PCs are occupied and you can see people wandering the aisles looking for an open computer. That never happens with the Sun boxes. Usually their big grey/lavender cases and 21 inch monitors scare most people away. That, and the big Do Not Turn These machines off! sign sign, to protect people that are logged in remotely. This means that 90% of the time I can walk up to a machine and immediately login. Plus these things login like a flash, whereas Macs take almost a minute and the PCs take even longer.

There are a few downsides, though. The Suns can't print to the lab printers, and the key in the upper-most right-hand side of the keyboard is not the backspace key, but the backtick, which is hecka annoying. Too often do I try to correct a mistake and end up with a string of backticks in my document.

Another downside is that these computer do weird things, both due to Solaris' user-unfriendliness and due to my unfamiliarity with the OS. For example, sometimes Netscape will stop displaying the pages it loads. Today that happened, so I quit Netscape and tried relaunching. No luck. I pulled up a terminal and killed all processes with 'nets' in their name: ps -u msittig | grep nets | awk '{ print $1 }' | xargs kill. Unfortunately, this didn't work and Netscape still wouldn't launch. At that point, I knew that if I logged out and logged back in, the problem would be solved. But was there another way to do it? In the same menu as "Log Out" was the "Restart Window Manager" option. Satisfying my curiosity, I chose to restart the window manager. That sent me into a blank screen, with nothing happening. At that point I started to worry: I had always had doubts about using the Suns for web surfing and e-mail, so I would rather not talk to the support staff. Luckily, the solution was not so hard. The notice to not turn off the machines said that the admin would be able to solve the problem remotely, so I set off to do that myself. I logged into another Sun (strudel), and ssh'ed back into the first one (pita). I then killed all of my processes in pita, at which point the blank screen disappeared and the login window popped up. Big relief, and a sense of victory -- enough to make me post to blogger about it.

Lieberthal is giving a talk today at the CCS, so I gotta run.

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