Archive for April, 2007

Amazon/CHASE Bank humor for the day

I have an Amazon/CHASE credit card with a decent credit limit. I use it when I need to make higher-dollar purchases, or risky purchases where I might need to return the item (damaged goods) or dispute the charges (online purchases).

Amazon/CHASE Credit Card

For this “service”, I get a $25.00 Amazon.com gift certificate for each $500 I charge on the card, as well as accrue “points” which add up to miles and other pseudo-gifts.

I was knocking down that balance recently via their web interface and tracking all of my expenditures in Microsoft Money 2007, and wanted to use the new “Budgeting” feature of the software to track my budget.

As I was filling out my bank information for this particular card in the system, it asked what my APR was. I had no idea, so I called Chase Bank to find out. When I reached an English-speaking operator, she said that my APR on the card balance was 29.24% (NOT a typo!)

I asked if they could lower that APR, and they said no… they don’t offer any lower rates. How can you possibly NOT offer a lower rate than 29.24%?!

Since they would not lower my APR, I asked if they could increase my credit limit to keep my existing balance under 30% of the total limit on the card. This is recommended to achieve a high credit score. The operator said they’d submit my request to raise my credit limit, but it may take a few days before I receive a response.

A few days later, I receive a letter declining my request to raise my credit limit on the card, which I immediately put in my “Credit Reports” file in my office. My history on that card has been strong, and every payment I’ve made has been 6-10x what the normal payment was supposed to be. Not only did they raise my rates to an astronomical amount, but they wouldn’t increase my limit to keep my balance under 30% of the total.

I check my credit score almost every month, depending on my level of activity. I bury it in the “cost of doing business”, and it helps. When I first started checking it, I noticed a LOT of erroneous activity and charges, which I immediately wiped out. My credit is now pristine, clean and rising up fast, as it should be. I highly recommend anyone who doesn’t check their credit at least 2-3 times a year, to get on the ball and start.

If I was in financial hard-times, wouldn’t it be counter-intuitive to raise my credit limit like this? If I already can’t keep the balance low, won’t raising my interest rate only make it harder and harder to pay it off? So instead of lowering my rate, increasing the chances I’ll pay it off, they raise it, increasing the chances I’ll default on the card balance or claim bankruptcy. In either case, Chase Bank loses. Luckily for me, I’m not in financial hard times, and I can pay this balance down quickly.

I don’t understand the logic here though, other than a money-grab for them.

I immediately decided to initiate a balance transfer of the entire Amazon/CHASE card balance to my Bank of America credit card at 1.99% APR, bringing the Chase card to $0.00 balance. Now I’m paying 1.99% on the Chase balance through B of A, and 13.99% on the remaining balance ($62).

I won’t close the credit card because closing $0.00 balance cards is VERY BAD for your credit score, but I will be cutting it up and not using it until I receive a new card via the renewal process in a year or two.

I can’t say enough about Bank of America and how amazing their customer service, hardware, policies and flexibility is. At one point when paying for my daughter’s daycare electronically via the B of A website interface, the check that daycare was supposed to receive, went missing.

Not only did B of A offer to send out a new check, they also offered to eat the cost of the Stop Payment fee AND the daycare late payment fees. They also assigned a human being to follow the process through until it was fixed. That person called the daycare here in CT and sorted out all of the issues, and it turns out the check was mis-directed to the wrong daycare building by mistake.

I can’t speak highly enough about B of A. They are simply amazing, and they should be the model by which other banks look up to.

Closing the Gates… Bill Gates, that is.

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I’ve been thinking a lot about power and power-consumption over the last six months to a year or so. I have already replaced every single bulb in the house and office with CFLs. We went from 60W and 70W bulbs in the house to 11W, 13W and 23W bulbs inside and outside (our exterior spotlights were 100W+, and are now brighter, whiter, 23W bulbs).

I’ve replaced my ageing servers with AMD64 dual-core machines and their PSUs with Antec NeoHE 550W power supplies, and I’m very conscious about turning off bulbs in rooms I’m not in when I’m not there.

My last post touched on some power consumption issues, and I just found this Slashdot article, which talks about making the s3 suspend/wakeup work better on on all machines… and then I stumbled upon this email from Bill Gates (marked as Plaintiff’s Exhibit 3020 in Comes v. Microsoft). It states:


One thing I find myself wondering about is whether we shouldn’t try and make the “ACPI” extensions somehow Windows specific.

It seems unfortunate if we do this work and get our partners to do the work and the result is that Linux works great without having to do the work.

Maybe there is no way to avoid this problem but it does bother me.

Maybe we could define the APIs so that they work well with NT and not the others even though they are open.

Or maybe we could patent something related to this.

This was penned on Sunday, January 24, 1999 at 8:41am. I can’t believe the gall of Bill Gates, to even suggest such a thing, given our already-stressed power grid.

I’m going to get a Watt’s Up power meter to measure the consumption of some key devices in the house and office, or one of the Kill-a-Watt products that do the same thing.

I’m so happy I continue to run Linux, for so many reasons other than the Freedom it affords me (liberty as well as financial). Windows just can’t even come close anymore, even with Bill Gates actively trying to stifle our ability to evolve.

Are you Folding(@Home) on your PS3?

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All Playstation 3 Models

Today I decided to fire up the Sony Playstation 3 again to get some more Linux hackery done, and noticed there was an OS update on the PS3 side which adds the new Folding@Home Playstation Client to the default GameOS firmware.

In a word: Nice!

As you can see from the statistics, the PS3 is outperforming all of the other systems out there, by several orders of magnitude. I decided to fire it up and see.

The first thing you notice is the very spiffy interface to the Folding@Home client on the PS3 side… it has a real-time 3D globe with all of the active nodes lit up like little dots of light on the map (which you can rotate/zoom with your game controller), and a real-time protein “carbon-chain” configuration zipping and zooming through its calculations.

I’ve only started a few hours ago, but I’m already almost 1/3 of the way through my first work unit. Its beating my AMD64 machines by about 300%. Its very impressive!

Speaking of AMD64 machines, there’s a small problem: Folding@Home doesn’t provide a client for AMD64. They have Intel and Intel SMP clients, which will run on FreeBSD and OpenBSD, but not without a little help.

On AMD64 Linux, you’ll need to install the ia32 libraries (ia32-libs, appropriately enough, on Debian and Ubuntu). If you don’t, you’ll just get a “File not found” error when you try to run the ‘fah5’ binary. This binary lists itself as:

$ file fah5
fah5: ELF 32-bit LSB executable, Intel 80386, version 1 (SYSV), for GNU/Linux 2.0.0, 
dynamically linked (uses shared libs), for GNU/Linux 2.0.0, stripped

On AMD64 FreeBSD, you can’t run the SMP Linux client, even in Linux emulation, because it outputs a binary called ‘FahCore_78.exe’, which FreeBSD then cannot parse or execute. That binary lists itself as:

 $ file FahCore_78.exe
FahCore_78.exe: ELF 32-bit LSB executable, Intel 80386, version 1 (SYSV), for GNU/Linux 2.2.5, 
statically linked, stripped

You’ll need to install the client from the port in ‘/usr/ports/biology/linux-foldingathome’ and run it as “FoldingAtHome”, which (oddly-enough), tries to write to /usr/local/share/foldingathome/. This means if you install this as root from ports (which you probably will), you won’t be able to write to this path as a normal user. You can fix that with some chown(1) mojo, or just run the client as root. Your choice.

But there’s a downside to all of this wonderful Folding@Home CPU crunching… power consumption.

As Carl Nelson details, the PS3 running 24×7 crunching WU for Folding@Home is eating about 138KWh of power. Where I live and work in New London, CT… we’re paying about $0.13 USD for power. If I was to keep this PS3 running 24×7, that’s going to cost me $17.94 extra per-month, just to fold with the PS3. That doesn’t take into account the other power and servers I have running here (several of them also recently added to the team).

But this thing runs VERY hot, especially when folding.

For that problem, there’s a whole new market of PS3 cooling products. This one seems to be the best I’ve seen so far. 4 separate, parallel cooling fans in a mountable bracket that draws the air out of the PS3 and keeps it cool, prolonging its life. It will eat some more KWh, but its probably worth it in the long run.

PS3 Cooling Fan

The irony here, is that you’re not really being eco-friendly by eating 138KWh per-month of the local power grid, but you ARE helping to cure cancer and other ailments… so it can’t be all bad, right?

TrueCrypt on Ubuntu Fiesty Fawn (or later)

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In a previous blog entry, I described how to get TrueCrypt working on your Linux machine with ext2/ext3 or XFS filesystems.

If you’ve upgraded your kernel, you may run into trouble with the kernel module. You might see an error like the following:

$ sudo truecrypt /dev/sdi1
Enter password for '/dev/sdi1': 
FATAL: Module truecrypt not found.
Failed to load TrueCrypt kernel module

Here’s how to fix it..

If you fetch the latest TrueCrypt source, unpack it, and go into truecrypt-${VERSION}-source-code/Linux (I’m using v4.3 here), and edit ‘build.sh’ in your favorite editor. In this file, you’ll see a check for the kernel source’s .config, that looks like this:

if [ ! -f "$KERNEL_SRC/.config" ]
then
        if [ -f /proc/config.gz -o -f /boot/config-$KERNEL_VER -o -f /boot/config-$(uname -r) ]
        then
                echo -n "Configure kernel source according to the system configuration? [Y/n]: "
                read A
                if [ -z "$A" -o "$A" = "y" -o "$A" = "Y" ]
                then
                        echo -n "Configuring kernel source in $KERNEL_SRC... "
                        
                        if [ -f /proc/config.gz ]
                        then
                                zcat /proc/config.gz >$KERNEL_SRC/.config || exit 1
                        else
                                if [ -f /boot/config-$(uname -r) ]
                                then
                                        cp /boot/config-$(uname -r) $KERNEL_SRC/.config || exit 1
                                else
                                        cp /boot/config-$KERNEL_VER $KERNEL_SRC/.config || exit 1
                                fi
                        fi
              
                        make -C $KERNEL_SRC oldconfig /dev/null || exit 1
                        echo Done.
                fi
        fi

        if [ ! -f "$KERNEL_SRC/.config" ]
        then
                error "Kernel not configured. You should run make -C $KERNEL_SRC config"
                exit 1
        fi
fi

The outermost test is what we need to remove in this file. Simply comment out the first two lines of that block, as follows (unified diff, you can apply this with patch(1) on your Linux system). I’ve bolded the appropriate lines above. Just comment them out, or apply the diff below to patch this file.

--- build.sh.orig       2007-04-15 14:15:10.000000000 -0400
+++ build.sh    2007-04-15 13:25:18.000000000 -0400
@@ -72,8 +72,8 @@
        exit 1
 fi
 
-if [ ! -f "$KERNEL_SRC/.config" ]
-then
+# if [ ! -f "$KERNEL_SRC/.config" ]
+# then
        if [ -f /proc/config.gz -o -f /boot/config-$KERNEL_VER -o -f /boot/config-$(uname -r) ]
        then
                echo -n "Configure kernel source according to the system configuration? [Y/n]: "
@@ -104,7 +104,7 @@
                error "Kernel not configured. You should run make -C $KERNEL_SRC config"
                exit 1
        fi
-fi
+# fi
 
 if [ ! -d "$KERNEL_SRC/include/asm" ] && grep -q modules_prepare $KERNEL_SRC/Makefile
 then

On most machines, you won’t have the full kernel source tree installed… let’s fix that first.

I’m running 2.6.20 here, and the numbers below will reflect that. Replace your running kernel version with that below:

sudo apt-get install linux-source-2.6.20
cd /usr/src/
sudo tar jxvf linux-source-2.6.20.tar.bz2
sudo ln -s linux-source-2.6.20 linux
sudo cp /boot/config-2.6.20-12-386 /usr/src/linux/.config
cd linux
sudo make oldconfig

Now you need to go back into your TrueCrypt source directory and type ‘sudo sh ./build.sh’, and follow the prompts. It may take a long while to build, but let it run and do its work. You should see the following output (your own output may vary, but it should compile the kernel modules and userland tools cleanly.

$ sudo sh ./build.sh 
Checking build requirements...
Configure kernel source according to the system configuration? [Y/n]: 
Configuring kernel source in /usr/src/linux-source-2.6.20... .config:1390:warning: trying to assign nonexistent symbol SATA_INTEL_COMBINED
.config:3548:warning: trying to assign nonexistent symbol RTL818X
Done.
Building internal kernel modules (may take a long time)... Done.
Building kernel module... Done.
Building truecrypt... Done.

Once it builds correctly, you can run the install script:

desrod@purity:/tmp/truecrypt-4.3-source-code/Linux$ sudo sh ./install.sh 
Checking installation requirements...
Testing truecrypt... Done.

Install binaries to [/usr/bin]: 
Install man page to [/usr/share/man]: 
Install user guide and kernel module to [/usr/share/truecrypt]: 
Allow non-admin users to run TrueCrypt [y/N]: y
Installing kernel module... Done.
Installing truecrypt to /usr/bin... Done.
Installing man page to /usr/share/man/man1... Done.
Installing user guide to /usr/share/truecrypt/doc... Done.
Installing backup kernel module to /usr/share/truecrypt/kernel... Done.

That’s it.. you’re done. You should now be able to run TrueCrypt to mount your encrypted drive using my other instructions.

Good luck!

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