Killed by SpamAssassin

Today I had to reboot flotsam, my server and the machine that gets my email, runs DNS and all my web services. It was a strangely traumatic experience. The machine had been up continuously for two years (586 days to be precise) and the hardware is sufficiently questionable that there's a chance that it won't come up after a reboot.

However, in addition to the expected dread of having to figure out why the flaky PCMCIA ethernet card wasn't being recognized and the sadness of losing the cool long uptime count, were the chills down my spine and the complete complement of fight-or-flight reflexes. It was the classic feeling of being naked on the inside, like when you can't find something that you've grown attached to and it felt strangely visceral and scary (and was followed by an equally-inappropriate level of happiness when the thing rebooted with no problem).

That led me to thinking about how physical distance and dependence are not necessarily related. Sure, a lost cell phone or watch makes you feel naked, but my mail server sits in a hutch in the hallway and I interact with it physically only every couple of months. The relationship seems more akin to that with another person, rather than a service and that seemed odd (although describing it this way it seems a lot less odd--people get attached to all kinds of stuff, but it was still interesting to see it happen in my own attitudes).

Anyway, now everything is back up and running. Whew.

(oh, and to the title of the post: I had run the SpamAssassin Bayseian network learning utility on my many-meg personal inbox, which caused it to suck up a ton of memory, which in turn caused it machine to thrash so hard that not even the login process worked)


I read this and immediately knew what you were talking about. I experienced it when I was 12 years old. It was about 1 week after my 12th birthday party. I had received the object of my utmost desire and had not parted with it since. (No, not a female. That would have been the object of my ultimate fantasy.) I slept with it above my head. I even built a small stand for it and moved my bed away from the wall so it could reside there. When the first set of batteries finally died in that pathetically small jam box, I nearly panicked.

I don’t recall for certain, but I think I had chest pains. I do know for fact that my feelings were very disproportionate to the situation. I felt like I was watching some living and loved thing die in my arms. And, I felt stupid for feeling that way.

Once I found another set of batteries I was flooded with satisfaction and an overwhelming sense of well being. I also continued to feel stupid.

A few months ago I was discussing a similar phenomenon in gaming. We came to the conclusion that as humans we are hard-wired with a “nurture” button. We have a need that is filled by helping to make something more than it originally was. We develop relationships with whatever these things may be - human, animal, or other. In the case of “other”, things become more than things. We live to some extent vicariously through them. When those things fail or become troubled, we become troubled.

I think it’s a very normal reaction, but we devalue inanimate objects so much (even in a materialistic society) that when we encounter a reaction like this it makes us acutely aware of the “absurdity” of our feelings. Except, I’ve come to believe it’s not absurd at all. We have things in our lives because those things increase the quality of our lives. There’s a point where desire of material possessions becomes unhealthy, but I think ignoring or downplaying that importance is unhealthy too.

Congratulations on such a phenomenal uptime! Thanks for sharing the experience.

Yeah. It's actually an old-ish laptop hanging off of a small-ish UPS. Laptops make great lightweight servers, since they're tuned to use little electricity, stay quiet and have a built-in battery backup and a console. Moreover, since web/mail/dns servers don't have to do all that much work, older laptops are actually perfect for the light computation work that's required. Where they suffer is expandability, but that's a reasonable tradeoff for the other benefits, especially if you start out with a decently-big hard disk.

That said, I'm moving everything to a rackmounted, colocated server in a couple of weeks, mostly because it turns out that bandwidth is cheaper if I do that and get ADSL for the house. The laptop had a good run, but now it doesn't make economic sense anymore to run all of my Net services from a cabinet in the hallway. ;-)

i'm assuming you had some sort of battery backup/surge protector on this server the entire time. thats an amazing run.




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This page contains a single entry by Mike Kuniavsky published on August 20, 2003 8:21 PM.

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