The Joys Of Bit Rot

Well, after a couple of days of R & R from the marathon drive, mostly spent unpacking and finding where things have “gone off to”; I’m more or less functional again.

Both me, personally, as I’ve actually gotten some sleep, and me as a technical entity as I’ve been rediscovering the joys of “bit rot”. For anyone not of the geek persuasion, bit rot is what happens to your electronics as time passes and they don’t, quite. “Things change”, and that often means something that worked before is now broken.

So first off, I found that the power to the power strip that had my network gear in it was unplugged. Then, that the GFI for that outlet set was tripped. Folks had “cleaned up” the space some and it looks like they were unclear on the concept of “leave it alone” and “don’t unplug anything”. (They were, however, willing to inform me that “the internet is down” when I was on the other coast, and were unable to take the direction of “find where the power plug goes and make sure it is plugged in all the way to the wall and that the wall socket has power…)

That, however, would not have been quite enough. You see, I had a three level network set up. The ISP router (with passworded WiFi), an internal passworded WiFi with my servers on it, and an open no password WiFi that had “controls” but let you to the internet. It was that “internal passworded” WiFi router that was the issue. It had died. Likely in a fall to the floor when folks were “cleaning”… It was also the center of the internal universe of services. Sigh.


But, the “open internet” was also shut down.

After some amount of new configuring, I had basic internet back up. Then came the joy of bitrot. The most major, really, was finding that several old systems could no longer get to web pages. TLS upgrades have spread through the internet as folks discovered it was better to have a secure new version of security than be backwards compatible with “old browsers”. Fine, unless all you have on those boxes is “old browsers”. So I set out to upgrade the browsers.

No joy. First off, things were bog slow. Second, it’s hard to download a new browser when your old browser isn’t supported anymore…. Finally, some of these systems were set up a decade or two back and apparently are not thought of as worth thinking about. I am presently typing this on a Windoz- 2K box. Attempts to install a newer Opera or Firefox gave me a 32 bit exe to do the install, but attempts to run it gave ‘this is not a valid executable’. Sigh. No, I’m not going to buy a new MS license when I really don’t want to use it anyway and Linux has now gotten “compatible enough”. So a conversion of stuff off of the box is on the cards… Add “Convert everything on W2k box to Linux after building Linux server” to the ToDo list.

But wait, there’s more…

This box had been dual boot Windows / Red Hat (it’s also the GIStemp box du jour). But it has decided to only boot directly to Windows now. OK, another ‘update conversion’ on the ToDo list. Figure out how to get GRUB to show it’s face so I can choose which to boot… This is a ‘way old’ Red Hat, so will not solve my browser modernity issue. It is dedicated to a working GIStemp service only, really. With custom compiler installs and such.

Booting from a SliTaz CD lets me see both disks, so “it’s all there”, just the boot has gone a bit off…

My “boot from CD and screw security it is read-only while browsing” CDs are all now too old to have a browser that is acceptable to the world, so “make new CDs” is a ToDo as well. Except it is hard to make a CD when the drive is in use running the OS, so back to that make Windoz go… It looks like my older Opera is “good enough”, though with a couple of quirks it didn’t have before (like edit postings in WordPress now is ‘jerky’ as they have updated something to not-quite-compatible land), but may be good enough to let me at least download and burn new Disposible Linux CDs. I hope. (I think it has a r/w drive in it and not just a reader… maybe… I used the laptop last time. I’d use the new Mac my spouse uses, except it doesn’t do ‘media’ and has no drives for such things…it’s all about the cloud, you know…)

So downloading a copy of Knoppix started. And took a very long time. Seems that the boundary router is slowly retraining to know what frequencies work best on this wire (normal) and that can take a few days to get to full speed (or so the telco claims…)

Then I found that any page loads with multiple ads and such were awful slow. DNS issues. Found and got started my Raspberry Pi DNS server (in the process discovering one of the two boards was now toast… order more Raspberry Pi boards on the ToDo list…) and set it up. That then lead to DNS Wars…

OK, often folks think the “internet” is slow or the “network” is slow when it really is just that their DNS lookups are slow. In this case the telco DNS servers are not always the fastest. I built a local cacheing DNS server on a R.Pi so as to make that issue go away. Setting it back up was a bit of fun, and I found that a couple of the DNS upstream servers it had pointed to were now gone. Sigh. More bit rot. It is now up, and my tablet pointed at it and it is a nice improvement. But the Windoz box doesn’t like it as it does not have a network name when a reverse lookup is done (that MS seems to think is essential) so it will not use the DNS server as configged. “Add MS garbage to DNS server” added to ToDo list… Looking into the settings on the W2K box showed one interface with hard coded addresses for the dead internal router. Sigh. Changed it to the “open” router (add security to “open” router on ToDo list… Get longer paper for ToDo list added to ToDo list…) and all was sort of good.

Except Opera and other browsers were timing out on things and having “issues” and… well, not good. Looking into it, the hard coded DNS servers in the W2k box were essentially dead and MIA. So it was falling back through a list to things to eventually using the boundary router. I’ve temporarily fixed that via making one interface point to OpenDNS and the other point to GoogleDNS with each having a secondary of the boundary router. Now it’s much much faster and the timouts look to be gone.

And just think, I’ll get to do all this again on the Red Hat side when I get it to boot again…

But for now, I’ve got the “open” WiFi working (it’s a slow link for anyone visiting) but need to find the PW for it to make sure it is handing out sane DNS servers (IIRC it just looked up stream to the boundary router, but the ToDo list has ‘check it’ now…) and I’ve got the direct secure WiFi going with Telco DNS as served from the boundary router directly, and I’ve got my internal DNS server working for everything but Windowz2k. I’ve also got a ‘good enough’ browser / keyboard combo for making some postings, though with questionable security. (Add “make secure workstation” to the priority ToDo list… Linux CD with internal DNS server).

For now, this will do, even if this old version of Opera is a bit quirky with the WordPress editor (and down right freaks out on the ‘new’ beep bop boop crap editor).

One brick at a time the office rises from the ashes of a few years of neglect and comes back to life, as the rotted bits (like rotted ice?) melt away and are replaced with more workable bits. Oh, and Silicon Valley has lots of computer fixit places, so getting a new fan in the old HP Laptop is now on the ToDo list too.

I’m happy to have (now) reasonably fast and stable internet browsing and “good enough” article entry as I work on making the whole thing more sturdy and secure (again). Though maybe a bit less complex this time. Maybe I don’t really need three levels of WiFi and routing ;-)

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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12 Responses to The Joys Of Bit Rot

  1. Oliver Manuel says:

    The UN was formed on 24 Oct 1945 and adopted terms like “renewable” and “sustainable” in UN’s Agenda 21 to obscure the UN’s basic mission:

    To deny society benefits from Albert Einstein’s 1905 discovery that mass (m) is stored energy (E) –

    E = mc^2

    As one British politician now realizes

  2. E.M.Smith says:

    Well, this is a nice improvement . Knoppix 6.4 has a working CD with a working IceWeasel browser and a decent interface. Running in the Evo with lots of memory and relatively fast. Just a bit of noise / vibration when the CD spins up and lacking a dictionary in the browser.

    But at least now I have a “good enough” and secure “disposible system” from which to do things like browsing and posting. (Go ahead and try to hack it, it’s a Linux, and it is on a CD… and I reboot it every time I use the system…)

    Now to get that cannonical list of “someday I ought to post about this” things in hand so I can start posting them and clearing tabs / bookmarks ;-)

    One More Brick put into the wall… As soon as I figure out which system has a CD Writer in it (and I think this one does at a minimum) I can make a newer Knoppix and see what I think of it. I’ll likely also put SliTax on a USB bootable system just because it can be made live but lockable that way. Easily customized, yet secure in its own way.)

    In any case, progress…

    So why bother with all this instead of just buying a new laptop?

    First off, I want security to some degree, and thanks to the Prisim program you must ‘roll your own’ if you want that. I’m also not so keen on anything Micro$oft as it is expensive, slow, and buggy. Finally, it helps to keep my Unix / Linux skills current and I find it somewhat fun and satisfying to do anyway. Or, perhaps, really finally… it also doesn’t cost me any money as I already own this hardware and the software is “free” (both “gratis” and “unecumbered by bogus license terms and malware…”)

    OK, now that I have not just an emergency workstation (the other Windoz-2k box) but a secure and workable workstation; I think I’ll move on to “other things” and leave the rest of the tech build / repairs for a lower priority queue. (That is, one or two a day and not “bang on it until you are functional, order more coffee and forget sleep… ;-)

    Essentially, I’ve got “workable” and “secure” and can let “improve features like spell checkers” and “make more robust” for times when more pressing things are out of the way.

  3. Ralph B says:

    I was going to make a WA comment about how Hillary has a similar set up since her and Bill installed theirs back in 2000 or so…but I won’t ;-)

  4. p.g.sharrow says:

    @EMSmith; Lol Must be something in the cosmos has flipped! I too have spent much of the last week fighting old boxes and new software. At the present bringing up a Pi to learn on that I thought would work on my Tv screen , They are supposed to do that. But NO, the new software for them is HDMI default and the must be forced to composite drive. My grandson and I are working with a handful of Pi-V2s to make an array as well as other uses and the other old windoz boxes are going to be demoted as soon as possable. I refuse to upgrade my brain again to microsoft bloat ware. pg

  5. E.M.Smith says:

    @Ralph B:

    I’d like to know who did there sys-admin work and how they had backups set up …

    @P.G. Sharrow:

    Nice to know about that default to HDMI. Means I don’t order a new one until I have an HDMI monitor / TV. I need a new TV anyway ( we have a wonderful old Sony that is the ‘classical’ shape and resolution, but having lived with a nice HDMI large screen for a couple of years it’s hard to go back to the low res… and having become addicted to Netflix, that’s better on HiDef too…)

    Saw a financial news blurb that Microsoft was not showing the expected growth and the assertion was that folks were not buying new PCs. Quelle Suprise… Between Apple having a much better experience and iPhone integration, loads of folks just using their phone or tablet for everything ( like email and web – which is all many folks do) and whole countries going to Linux, I think the days of Microsoft calling the tune are on the way out. They still own the U.S. Workplace desktop, but that’s about it.

    I was sitting at my desk at work (a few months back) and realized that the SD card in my machine had a tiny Linux in it, the phone used Linux, my cell phone was Linux based, the tablet I used was Linux based (Android) and would eventually have a full Linux as I make it dual boot, and that the back end servers of our operation were Unix / Linux machines. Only the corporate supplied desktop was MicroSoft… It’s a trend…

    I have a workable set up now, with the Knoppix CD, but it does not have a spell checker on the Firefox browser by default. I’m missingt that… so a bit more to do. But generally I’m in the functional land… Not too bad for a quick fix.

    One of the joys of Linux / Unix is that things get added, but the old ways are still there. Most of the command line stuff I learned in the ’70s and ’80s is still the same. Yes, minor variations (for some reason folks can’t resist screwing around with where system admin commands and files are located….) and yes, there are the two major flavors ( BSD like and System V like), but it’s nice to not have to relearn all of it every couple of years. When I had to learn where MS had moved all the widgets (AGAIN) on word and Excel just to do basic things, it was very much a “never again” feeling for me.

  6. Larry Ledwick says:

    The company I work for has recently finished a switch over to linux (CentOS) from Solaris. Nice thing about Solaris was it was a blending of the BSD/AT&T Unix Sys V flavors. Most all commands from both flavors would work pretty much as expected. The switch to Linux has been interesting. Since it was nurtured by geeks in the Open Source community who thrived on efficiency and speed we have seen significant increases in performance with the switch not to mention the reduced costs compared to the old school licensed OS model. I think that is also going to be the death of the Microsoft dominance. The consumer class linux desk tops are getting very close to being “plug and play” for non-advanced computer users where they can just do a default install and all their stuff works. The final nail in the coffin will be when the commercial software giants see the light and port major software packages to run equally well in a MS windows environment or a generic Linux variant. When that happens the reason to standardize on windows OS environments to get software compatibility goes away.

    The only reason I run windows on my desk top at home, is I have a couple of software packages which will only run in a windows environment and I have just not been inclined to see if I can get them to run in emulator mode. A former co-worker tried to go 100% Linux at home but had fits getting a couple things to work on linux that were required for work. For the basics like browsing the web email and such they have all been taken care of, it is only proprietary software packages that are keeping MS windows alive right now, (along with its brand recognition in the accounting department).

    When major commercial packages like CAD or Photoshop have native ports to linux in a 64 bit architecture, Microsoft will be done, and those programs will see major performance improvements.

  7. E.M.Smith says:

    Well, that was “fun”… This morning, after working for several days just fine, the Evo gives beeps on startup. Those “hardware failed” kind of beeps. No screen activity at all. Oh Joy…

    I’ve spent most of the day trying other OSs on other HW and have another potentially workable solution (while I get this HW to go again, maybe…) Tomorrow I’m going to hit the local computer junk shop and see what they have. (Often it is a couple of year old PCs of decent quality from some company or other upgrading or going out of business. More than enough for Linux… Typical price is about $20, no monitor. We’ll see…)

    At any rate, despite a couple of days of whacking on things, I’m not on anything better than the notepad for any reliable use. Did get BSD on a USBdrive only to find that the Vectra won’t boot from USB… But have a working Bittorrent on a CD based Linux so I can get downloads.

    Such is the joy of bit rot… Maybe, just for fun, I’ll stop of Fry’s (the Geeks Store…) and see what a new White Box PC runs…. historically about $200 but more for faster and bigger…

  8. p.g.sharrow says:

    @EMSmith; Such are the tribulations of the local “mechanic” . A shop load of obsolete non-dependable equipment that you have to spend more time patching then using. ;-( Maybe time to contemplate a rebuild of things from the ground up. That seems to be my direction, I’m getting tired of temporary fixes that have to be redone later. For the last 30 years every time I got a system working well something would die and the replacement would require upgrades that became nearly unending.
    I need a good quality multi input monitor as the old analog Tv is dieing, as we are on satellite there is no need for broadcast capability and the Rpi screens are too hard to read on it. My desk top is even less capable then the Rpi, so I too will be doing a major upgrade while trying to keep the old crap running a while longer.
    The last two desktop upgrades that I did for me wound up at my wife’s business :-( and she “gave” me her very obsolete or dead cast offs. Ain’t love wonderful :-) GOD smile on us this last year, so, MY Turn!
    One other thing I see needed is to settle on a long term storage system that is long lived both in media and likely equipment to read it. This constant disintegration and can’t be replaced equipment is not acceptable.
    You really need a good Internet machine with a solid Keyboard ;-) we will pray you get lucky and just the thing will pop up at Frys and be too cheap to pass up, Good Luck today. pg

  9. E.M.Smith says:


    It’s not that bad… Just a matter of “some machines break sometimes”. In many cases I’ve had older machines that kept working much better and longer than newer ones.

    For now, it looks like the worst of it is over.

    Two trips to Fry’s (you can never make one trip… details below) and I’ve got a $4 adapter that lets the Chrombox (HDMI) talk to my ViewSonic very nice (but slightly older) 22 inch or so flat panel monitor. So I’m now using my newest box, with all the bells and whistles just like before. (Got a nicer Dell keyboard on it now too…)

    Why two trips to Fry’s? Because whatever you get the fist time will be the wrong:
    [ size, type, gender, length, release level, mod level, color, goesinto, goesoutta, incompatible, DOA, doesn’t boot, etc. etc.] and you will go back to exchange it… Their exchange policy expects this and lets you pretty much freely return / exchange as long as what is being returned is complete with packaging and suitable for resale.

    So I wanted an HDMI or Display Port at the computer end, and either a DVI or VGA at the monitor end. They didn’t have it. They had a slot for it ( $17 cable) but were sold out. But for $18 I could get an HDMI to DVI and DVI to VGA adapters and plug them together… Got home.

    No Joy. Turns out there are DVI-A and DVI-D types (adapter not labeled…) and one has 4 pins around a spade lug while the other does not. I had the 4 pin male version, but the female DVI had no socket holes there…. Back To Fry’s…

    Went to a different Fry’s for the return. This one had a Male DVI-D to HDMI adapter for $4 … Hoped it was monitor compatible (it was) and swapped with money back… Got home…

    The adapter plus HDMI cable end almost don’t fit between the socket and the pedestal mount opposite. A bit of force, and it fits… “Someday” list now includes “get right angle HDMI connector ;-) but this is fine for now.

    Also stopped at “Weird Stuff” who is the Silicon Valley technical attic… For about $75 got another Windoz XP PC to replace the EVO (with included better keyboard and mouse right now being used on the Chromebox) and I’m one disk swap away from having all the EVO data transferred to the same environment, different HW. ( nice 64 bit AMD CPU…)

    So all up I’m into it under $100 and have both my new box running and my old box ready for memory transplant surgery ;-)

    That, and 1/2 a day of driving back and forth to Fry’s (and the car mechanic and the bank and…) so not all that bad, really.

    OK, Right Now I need to clean up all the tech bits I’ve left scattered around the living room as the spouse has showed up and is looking, er, well, looking… So back a bit later after I’ve tidied up now that “things work” (again…).

  10. E.M.Smith says:

    Progress is a good thing… even if too slowly…

    I’ve recovered the Evo. A memory card was partly unseated. After a cleaning and reseat, it works fine. This box matters to me as it is my only multi gigabyte memory system. (soon to be a weather data processing and archival system with an eventual addition of a database system for A/B data compares easily…for some degree of “easy” :-)

    I’ve also made progress on recovering the Windows OS on it that had died some years back during a install of Mepis Linux. Copying the data now (including a load of temp data graphs and such from then as seen in that era postings) and will move that to the 64 bit Asus box I recently bought with Windows on it.

    Next after the data dump is to install Debian over the Mepis and see if the Windows partition can be booted now that it has a non-empty boot.ini file… If not, then the Evo will just be Debian only and all Windows stuff will be just on the Asus.

    Also going to fix another dual boot box where the Red Hat disk isn’t seen at boot time. That’s the one that was the GIStemp box and worked fine dual boot… until one boot of Windows decided to change the boot process. All the Red Hat is still there and I have been using a boot CD to get to it, but it is time to fix the boot process. The R.H. build has the FORTRAN compilers and such needed for a GIStemp build, and it is time to revisit their latest code base and “data”.

    With luck, by Saturday I will have both a clean working Windows box with temperature data graphing on it and a clean booting GISStemp box. And a new Debian for future primary desktop.

    Why go through all that? First to recover the data and software, then do the simplification once all is duplicated, knowing the boxes work. Yes, most all of it is on some kind of backup, but just recovering the system is the better and faster approach. Why have they sat so long? Other things mattered more. (GISStemp was pretty much shown stupid and the data all graphed, so little reason to keep flogging it, for example. But now things have moved on, so looking at the delta matters. I also want a newer clean Linux as my daily driver and have tired of the limited feature set in ChromeBox land and the straight jacket of Microsoft. Finally, it is a skill refresh on my Linux / Unix set since I’m going to flog my resume at that area.)

    Just in case folks were wondering what I was up to lately…

  11. p.g.sharrow says:

    Nice to see you have not been “wasting” your time. ;-) Confusers are such a blessing.
    I think you should avoid Duel Boot, as it is always a crap shoot if Windoz gets the upper hand. pg

  12. E.M.Smith says:

    yes, it is better . But as a Linux guy I like having the skill set demonstrated. Though now that I have excess hardware I will likely make 2 dedicated Boxes and be done.

    At one company I had to make a quad boot Box for an engineer…
    IIRC it was Win Win NT and 2 UNIX / LINUX flavors.

    BTW just did a SW update on the Samsung pad and it added handwriting recognition to the browser . Much more usable!

    oh and the windoz on EVO is working too. It is just a matter if remembering The password now! Sigh.

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