Thursday, May 27, 2010

Experimenting with VMWare

I've been a Microsoft Virtual PC user for more than 4 years now. I mainly use it to run Windows 2003 Server on my XP which is required by the Microsoft Windows Media Digital Rights Management SDK. We used WMDRM for our online music service, Fliptunes. Since the Virtual PC software came with my MSDN subscription, it was an easy choice.

I've been hearing for a long time that VMWare does a better job of virtualizing PC's than VPC. It was bought out a couple of years ago by storage giant, EMC. Its a very logical move as storage and server virtualization go hand-in-hand. The first time I've used VMWare was during my CEH training. We used VMWare virtualized PC's to test different hacking tools.

Since I'm currently looking at a project which requires running several servers for scaling, I've been thinking of implementing it as multiple virtual PC's on a single powerful box. I decided to give VMWare a try. The fact that they made several versions of their flagship product FREE did not make the decision that much harder.

VMWare provides the VMWare Player, VMWare Server and the VMWare ESXi available for free download. Each one is a great product by itself. It seems that VMWare is focused more on selling the management tools to manage the virtual PC's so they don't mind giving away the basic virtualization software for free.

VMWare ESXi is the top-of-the-line among the three. It allows you to run virtual machines on a bare-metal PC. The ESXi provides the hypervisor functionality without the need for a host operating system to be running. So it supposedly provides the best performance and stability. Unlike other versions that require a host OS, it will not crash the virtual PC's even if the host OS go haywire. I will most likely use this version in my final implementation. But since I don't have a spare high-powered PC right now, I'll test with the others first.

VMWare Player and Server seem very similar at first glance. I tried to google for answers on what makes the two different. Various posts keep mentioning that Player is limited to loading pre-setup virtual machines (VM's), whereas Server lets you create actual VM's. This was true several years ago but VMWare has already lifted this limitation in 2009. VMWare Player can already be used to create VM's from scratch. So what is the difference between Player vs. Server?

The best explanation I've seen is that Player runs as a user mode application. This means that you have to login as a normal user in XP first; run Player; start the VM. With VMWare Server, you can automatically run the VM's as a Windows service making it ideal for a more unattended setup that does not require user login. According to docs, Player and Server cannot be installed on the same machine. So I'm just experimenting mainly with Player.

I created a VM using Player and an ISO image of the Windows 2000 Server installer from my MSDN disc. The installation went unattended and was faster than installing Windows 2000 Server on a real, physical PC. A lot of the prompts were skipped by the installer somehow (or auto-answered by VMWare). The best part is, unlike Virtual PC, VMWare does not pre-allocate the disk space for the VM. Instead, it grows it dynamically as needed.

VMWare suggested that the minimum recommended setup Windows 2000 Server is 8GB HDD and 384MB RAM. I followed the suggestion, but the actual VM files that it created was only about 2GB (not 8GB). So it will just grow it as my storage in the VM grows. The VM can be configured to have a live static IP address and it can be bound to the physical NIC so that the NIC can respond to different IP addresses. Or it can be configured for DHCP and the host PC will just do NAT for it.

Another really neat feature of VMWare is its library of pre-configured/pre-built virtual appliances. There is a wide category of pre-built VM's ranging from basic OS to specialized applications like ERP, CRM, file server, network backup, content application, etc. I downloaded a pre-built CentOS 5.4 server "appliance" and just ran it under Player. Voila! Instant server without any installation hassle. I also downloaded Turnkey's pre-built Wordpress appliance. Runs in Player "off-the-shelf".

Looking forward to trying out the ESXi once I buy a Core i5 or i7 box for my next project.

Mysterious Phone Bills from PLDT and Globe

While viewing the details of our PLDT wireless landline billing, I noticed 2 calls that looked unusual. They were both NDD calls supposedly from Paranaque to a Cebu landline. It was strange because we never call Cebu, and the dates seem very unlikely that Cols would be in Paranaque.

I called up PLDT to complain. The call center lady readily admitted that their wireless landline service has been experiencing a lot of these types of erroneous billings. She just asked me to pay in full and that they will just adjust it in the future. I find the incident very strange considering the wireless landline is just like any other Smart GSM mobile phone except its prefix is not '09xx'. This makes one really wonder whether Smart is also mis-billing us for our mobile service.

Perhaps coincidentally, our store Globe landline bill also has suspicious calls to Sun and Globe/TM. After talking with our store managers, and making actual calls to the suspicious number reveals that the calls could not have originated from the store. So I also called up Globe call center to complain.

Unlike PLDT, I was really turned off by the answer of the Globe contact center person. She said they could not do any adjustment (assuming they even will) because we're in the middle of a billing period and that their system does not allow any adjustment until cut-off. Otherwise, their system invalidates any adjustment requests. So she asked me to call back again in about 3 weeks after the cut-off and make a complaint again. How weird!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Mushroom Burger @ Katipunan

Just came home from dinner at the newly opened (well, about a month ago) Mushroom Burger branch along Katipunan, in front of Ateneo Gate 2. The place seem to have a good dining crowd since its opening considering its standing toe-to-toe with the big one -- McDonalds right next door (whose red-and-yellow color scheme and the Golden Arches resembling Mushroom Burger's color scheme and "M" logo as well).

I had the basic mushroom burger with cheese that came with fries and Pepsi. I've tasted mushroom burger once or twice before at their flagship Tagaytay branch. The fact that their mushroom-based patties taste like regular beef patty is a bit of a novelty, I guess. And I would assume several people come here just to try it out.

But once you've tasted it, you'll come to the conclusion (at least to me) that nothing still beats those fatty, cholesterol-laden, lard-fried, all-beef patties. I think unless you are really a vegetarian, I can't think of a compelling reason to prefer these mushroom-based patties over good-ol' succulent beef. I'm not really referring to the burgers of McDo or Jollibee since they are just about at par with this. I'm referring more to the "gourmet burger" industry that is popping up including Army Navy, Wham Burger, Bite Club, Crave Burger, and the original, Brothers Burger.

As for Mushroom Burger's fries, nothing special at all. In fact, I would say its below par compared to the other mainstream burger fast food joints.

The overall "ambiance" and look-and-feel of the place falls short of expected global fast food standards. The floor looks dirty and unmopped. The tables and chairs look like those from a cafeteria. The kitchen crew, cashier and service crew just don't look "right". I'm not saying they are bad people, its just that they look much older than what one would expect from a fast food chain which normally hire younger people because they cater to a younger crowd. :P

Saturday, May 22, 2010

3D is here to stay

I was reading a newspaper article the other day about James Cameron and his take on 3D. He believes that 3D is here to stay; that it is no longer a novelty but a part of the evolution of movie-making. Its hard to argue with him now that Avatar has beaten Titanic (another Cameron movie) for the title of highest-grossing movie of all time.

Some interesting facts that he quoted during the interview was that Avatar was shown in both 3D and 2D formats with 60% of the moviehouses showing it on 2D and the 40% on 3D. But amazingly, 80% of the gross ticket receipts came from the 3D screens, while only 20% from the 2D. Its hard to say whether there were really a lot more moviegoers who watched the 3D version, or its just because the 3D screens were selling tickets at double the price.

That probably explains why studios are now scrambling to convert even regular 2D movies like Clash of the Titans into 3D in post production. Personally, I find such movies fall short of the true 3D potential as they were not really meant to take advantage of the 3D effect. Same with Alice in Wonderland. Cameron is supposed to re-release Titanic in 3D in the next couple of years.

Here's hoping Hef gets better mileage out of this 3D technology with his flagship Playboy magazine circulation dropping from 3.5 million in 2006 to just 1.5 million today. :)

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Crave Burger @ White Plains

I tried out Crave Burger along Katipunan Ave. in White Plains. Tita Maricar is all praises for it. Its a burger franchise that actually traces its roots from Iloilo (maybe Tita Car knows the owners).

The place is small but all the tables are full. Not bad considering its only lunch hour and its not exactly an office area. I ordered a basic burger with additional toppings of caramelized onions. It did not take long for the food to be served.

My verdict -- mmmm.... the bun was nothing special. It tasted like regular bread bought from a supermarket. I did not think there was any special preparation done on it. Just sliced it open and stick the patty in between. The burger patty was quite generous (it better be for a P100++ burger). But again, nothing particularly fantastic about the taste. And the caramelized onion -- certainly nothing to write home about. It pales way in comparison to Bite Club's caramelized onions.

As for the motif or "ambiance", I did not particularly feel that it had any distinct character. Eric Puno's Army Navy Burger and Burritos is a much better thought-out concept. Incidentally, I think Army Navy's burgers tasted better than Crave's, although the patty is a bit thinner for about the same price. The Crave at White Plains also doubles as a small office on the side. And the wash room and sink is on the office side. So while you eat at the restaurant, you find yourself entering the side office to wash your hands. Something's very wrong with this scenario.

Overall, I am not really impressed with the food nor the concept.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Peace and Quiet with my New Power Supply

My office PC's power supply has been really annoying me for the longest time. Whenever I cold boot my first thing in the morning, it emits this really loud fan sound. I have to slap the power supply a couple of times everytime to lose the sound. Once that loud sound is gone, what remains is the high-pitched whining sound (kinda like a small jet engine turbine) which drones on for the rest of the day.

Well, that high-pitched sound has made me reach my limit today. I really could not think straight with that annoying sound. I was suspecting that perhaps this sound is from my CPU's fan. So I called our tech guys for help and they diagnosed the problem to still be related to my power supply.

The guys replaced my generic power supply with a branded one from HEC. This power supply costs about Php3k, but let me tell you -- its worth every peso! I don't recall my office room to ever be this quiet! Its like there's no PC running. Sure, a generic power supply costs only between Php500 to Php1k. But the lost productivity is probably worth more than the Php2k differential.

Monday, May 10, 2010

RCBC Lookalike

Filipinos have this penchant for copying popular brand logos and "customizing" it a bit to suit their requirement. Local and foreign brands have not been spared. McDonalds, Jollibee, etc. -- all these brands have been copied in various forms.

While driving along Concepcion, Marikina, I saw these business signages side by side. To the left is the bettern known logo of Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation (RCBC). To the right, using a similar font with the same size is "RGBC". I'm not sure what business they're in, but I can imagine the RCBC bank manager must be irritated by their next door copycat. :)

National Election Day

Amidst the spectre of a failure of election due to the complete failure of the PCOS machines in tallying the votes in the first ever computerized polls in the Philippines, election went on today with much anticipation. Cols and I went to the LGV community center around 9am to cast our vote. It was very orderly. We waited for about half an hour outside underneath the tents for our turn. Then when our numbers were called, we went into the air-conditioned area to fill-up our ballots and cast the vote.

I filled-up my president and veep candidates (of course, I voted for Noynoy Aquino and Mar Roxas) by shading the ovals. Then I merrily shaded my senators. I did not prepare a list so I just went through the names and started shading those I like. After several shadings, it suddenly hit me -- I've shaded way too many! I counted back, and yikes, I was already on my 17th senator (we're only supposed to vote for 12)! Ay caramba!

I went to the polling people and told them I made a major boo-boo and asked what to do next. The girl (the one in the photo) said that my ballot will be completely invalidated. Arrgghh! The first ever computerized poll in history and I blotched it! D'oh! and double d'oh! I tried clarifying it to the guy behind the desk (partially hidden in the picture) and he said that as far as he knows, only my senatorial line-up will be disregarded while the rest should be ok.

After filling up the party list and local mayor, vice mayor, councilors and congressman candidates, I submitted my form to the PCOS machine and it did not complain. So the guy says that confirms that my vote for the other posts should be ok. Phew! At least, its not a total disaster.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

RFID @ Greenhills North

While the general populace is still arguing with LTO/Stradcom over the implementation of RFID on all vehicles, some of the more progressive (and rich) subdivisions like Greenhills North have already gone ahead and implemented their own version of the RFID system -- for purposes of automatic gate entry.

You will see a big black box in the photo mounted to the pole. Its a big RFID reader. It scans for the RFID sticker which is mounted behind the rear-view mirror of the car. When it detects and validates that the RFID is valid, it opens and gate and lets you in! This allows for a completely unmanned system.

The system does not come cheap. Greenhills North charges P1,000 per RFID sticker. The reading distance is respectable. My estimate is about 3 meters at least. And it can read through the windshield. From my experience, certain windshield material or angle can distort radio waves. Our automatic gate antenna, for example, has problems receiving signal from the remote control when I'm inside our Toyota Altis. I usually have to open the window and stick out my hand so that the antenna can detect the signal. The same is not true for the other cars.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

How to Disable the Dumprep in Windows XP

Oftentimes, when a Microsoft Windows application encounter an unexpected problem, it seems to freeze and manually terminating it via Task Manager does not seem to have any effect. It remains as "not responding". A view of the processes running will reveal something called dumprep.exe.

This internal program basically dumps a state of your system and sends it to Microsoft for further analysis. I assume it takes a snapshot of your memory and internal Windows configuration. Not that it is of much use. With millions of PC's worldwide generating these dump reports, I'm sure nobody at Microsoft actually bothers to analyze the data.

Therefore, to make your PC run faster, you can tell Windows not to bother with the report and just immediately terminate the offending application. To disable dumprep in Windows XP, do the following:

  1. Right click on “My Computer,” choose “Properties” from that menu.
  2. Click on “Advanced tab,”
  3. Click the “Error Reporting” button.
  4. Check the “Disable error reporting” box.

That's it! Crashing and restarting should be faster after that.