Sunday, October 19, 2008

Apple Store Visit

Yesterday I went over to the Apple Store in King of Prussia, PA with a friend, mainly to check out the new MacBooks and MB Pros.  The new machines are nice, though IMHO the deletion of the FireWire 400 port from the MacBooks was a mistake.  I also would like to see two FireWire ports on the MacBook Pros (Rohan, my almost two year-old MBP has FW 800 and FW 400 ports).  The MBs have two USB 2.0 ports but IME, FW400 provides better sustained throughput than the supposedly faster USB 2.0.

The new trackpads are nice and address one problem (IMHO) that Apple needed to.  Namely, the lack of a two button mouse.  The entire trackpad acts like a mouse button, even down to the click.  But if you go into System Preferences > Trackpad, you can configure either the lower left or right corner as a secondary mouse button.  Voila, you now have a two button mouse.  Sweet.

The other reason for taking a trip to the KoP store was to get a new power supply for my wife's G4 iBook.  The iBook was issued to her by the School District of Philadelphia about 2.5 - 3 years ago and it's been great.  A few days ago she noticed it wasn't charging and Friday night, I discovered that this was because the cord was frayed near where it plugs into the iBook.  It was delivering enough juice to slowly charge the machine when it was off, but not nearly enough when the box was powered on.  Worse, it's a fire hazard.

Luckily, I was able to use the power supply from the G4 iBook I used as my primary machine before buying Rohan.  That box gets occasional use by my daughters, and the Apple power supply design could be more robust, so I didn't want to share it between the two iBooks.

Unfortunately, the school district is strapped for cash and the odds of getting a replacement power supply through it are about nil, so I reluctantly coughed up the cash for a new one.  If and when Judith has to return the iBook to the school district, I'll keep the new power supply as a spare.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

OS X Server

I've spent the past couple days at work setting up one of the two Apple XServs that we received last month.  So far, I'm liking the GUI admin tools included with Leopard Server, though I am also doing some tweaking via the command line accessed via ssh.  Also, to add some flexibility, I installed X11 and the XCode Developer Tools.  For one thing, I need gcc.

Specifically, I want to run Cacti on the box to provide SNMP monitoring of devices in our lab network, e.g., routers, switches, and CMTSes.  Cacti is basically a graphical front end to RRDTools, providing a web interface using PHP.  I installed MacPorts to simplify installing Cacti and its dependencies.  Unfortunately, the MacPorts install of net-snmp bombed so I wound up installing it by hand.  (This wasn't a big surprise.  I've had ports fail to install using MacPorts before on other boxes.)  With net-snmp installed I was able to get RRDTool installed, including the MySQL dependency.  Being an MySQL n00b, I'm working my way through getting that configured.

Aside from the Xserv providing network management and monitoring, I'm using it as a web server to provide a portal for our lab management group.  The initial version of the portal is based on a simple, static HTML page with links to forms and informtational documents.

However, OS X.5 Server includes a wiki server to build workgroup intranets.  I've managed to create a pretty decent looking wiki for our group.  I still need to figure out how to enable read-only access for people not in our group, so they can view our procedures and download forms.  The default workgroup wiki settings require users to authenticate before they can view the pages we create.

Future services on the box will also include file sharing, once I get an XRAID connected.

Monday, October 13, 2008

New Blackberry Curve

My employer issues me a Blackberry 8330 Curve since I am one of the floor captains in our building.  We have an unlimited data plan and I've never gotten any complaints about using it to surf the web outside of normal business hours, though I didn't feel comfortable putting my personal email accounts on the device.  It does have a few disadvantages, though:

  1. The camera is disabled for security purposes.  Nevermind the fact that plenty of personally owned camera phones are allowed in the building.
  2. Tethering is disabled, so I can't use it to get my laptop online.  Even if tethering was enabled, T-Mobile just lit up their 3G network in Philly and my device supports only their EDGE network, which is much slower.
  3. Our carrier is T-Mobile.  We used to have Sprint, who has decent service in the Philadelphia area.  T-Mobile's network coverage is much spottier.
Last week I became eligible for Verizon's "New Every 2" promotion on my personal cell phone.  This is a promo wherein they give you $49.99 credit towards a new phone every two years.  Verizon also has the best cell network in this area, IMHO.

So, yesterday I went to the local Verizon store and bought a Blackberry Curve 8330 pretty much the same as the T-Mobile one from work.  Aside from the $49.99 credit, there's also a $79.99 mail-in rebate, so the final cost of the phone, belt case, car charger, and a 2 GB Micro SD card will be only $100.

The T-Mobile phone is configured to use wifi connections when available.  The Verizon Blackberry doesn't have that capability, but it doesn't really need it due to Verizon's better network coverage.

My employer has a deal worked out with Verizon for a 20% discount on cell phone plans, including data plans.  So I got the 5 GB/month data plan and the $15/month tethering plan, with the first month's tethering free.

Since my laptop is a MacBook Pro I specifically asked about Mac support tethering and syncronization.  The Verizonbot told that both are supported but that I'd need to download the PocketMac sync tool from  The tethering software would be included on the CD in the phone box.


After inserting the CD and finding Windows-only tethering software, I hit Google.  I found two ways to tether the Blackberry to Rohan:

  1. Via Bluetooth, which requires no additional software.
  2. Via USB, which required me to download Verizon's connection manager software for one of their EVDO cards.
This was a PITA, to put it mildly.  Although I was able to get tethering up and running pretty quickly, a non-technical Mac user would have been in a real bind.  Is it really that hard for Verizon to include at least the tethering app on the Blackberry CD?

Oh well, bitching aside, I'm able to get about a meg down using the USB connection to Verizon's EVDO network.  Bluetooth speeds are about half that.  Web browsing speeds using Opera Mini are better than the T-Mobile Blackberry.  Accessing my Gmail account, using Google's downloadable app, works much more smoothly.  So far I've made only a couple phone calls but call quality was better than my old Motorola Razr.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Gun Show Loophole

Clayton Cramer comments on the so-called "gun show loophole:"

Most gun owners know that there is no loophole. Federal law does not currently prohibit two private parties transferring a firearm. Some states have laws about this, but the federal government does not. There is no more a gun show "loophole" than there is a newspaper advertisement "loophole" because newspapers accept ads for guns for sale.

As Clayton details, there is no correlation between gun shows and increased crime.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Red Hat Training

The Red Hat Linux training class I took this week wrapped up early on Friday, allowing me to leave and work from home the rest of the day.  I'm currently on the back porch with Rohan, a glass of water (booze will wait for later), and an H. Uppman Vintage Cameroon cigar.  May as well take advantage of a beautiful Fall day, before they're gone.  ;-)

Overall the class -- Guru Labs GL250 Enterprise Linux System Administration was pretty good.  It could have been a bit more organized the first day or two.  E.g., the server in room needed the full Fedora Core 6 repository setup but otherwise it went well.

The exercises in our lab book were geared towards Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5 or Fedora Core 6.  This was my first time working with FC and it seems decent (I am aware that FC9 is the current release).

I'm considering going for RHCT and maybe RHCE certification.  I figure with the current state of the economy the more certs I have the better.  That means I'll need to setup a lab here at the house.  What I may do is rebuild Bagend -- currently sitting sans hard disk -- with additional RAM and a bigger disk than I had in it, loading CentOS 5.2, and installing a couple of different virtual Linux boxes under VirtualBox.  Earlier this week I did setup FC6 in VirtualBox on Rohan but for the purposes of lab exercises more machines would be beneficial.  Since I have limited physical space virtualized servers makes the most sense for me.

Bagend, which I build back in the Fall of 2004, currently has 1 GB of RAM, an AlthonXP at around 2 GHz, and had an 80 GB disk in it.  I have some old IDE disks I could add for additional space but recently, Microcenter advertised a 1 terabyte drive for about $129.  What I'll probably do is put the 80 GB disk back in and leave its XP Pro install alone, then add a large secondary disk and install CentOS on that, so I have a dual boot setup.  Then I'll add another gig or so of RAM and it should be good to go.

Friday, October 03, 2008

The Bailout Mess

So far I haven't commented on the bailout proposed by Bush and is working its way through Congress. Two people who's opinions I respect, Jerry Pournelle and Robert Bruce Thompson, have differing opinions (both are linked in my blogroll if you want to see what they have to say).

Jerry supports a bailout and Robert opposes it. In the end, I have to come down on Robert's side in this debate and oppose the bill in its current form, or in any form for that matter. It is a disaster waiting to happen. At best, a bailout will prop up the house of cards a bit longer, merely delaying the necessary correction. I am concerned that by doing so, the eventual collapse will be made worse.  Much worse.

It is the nature of capitalism for bubbles to happen and then pop. The market needs a serious correction. Now. Actions must have consequence. The proposed bailout seeks to take private errors of judgement and socialize the poor consequnces, shifting the burden of poor decisions by investment bankers onto the backs of taxpayers.

Worse, by intertwining the Federal government even further into the market it lays the ground for fascism* or socialism. Both ideologies flourish in hard econimc times. Whether or not a completely laissez-faire capitalist system is the best can be debated among reasonable people. But fascism and socialism lead to tyranny.

Unfortunately too many useful idiots would welcome total goverment control over the market. Not me. Surely, the same people who brought us the IRS (renowned for customer service, and who couldn't run a profit at the Mustang Ranch when they seized it for back taxes), Amtrak, and No Child Gets Ahead Left Behind, couldn't possibly fuck up the economy beyond repair, could they?

* One of the biggest con jobs of 20th Century was the success of socialists and communists in getting fascism painted as a right-wing ideology. It's not. Fascism is more accurately described as socialism with a nationalist twist. Mussolini started out as a socialist. The formal name of the Nazi party in Germany was the NSDAP - the National Socialist German Workers' Party.

New Security System

Yesterday I got to work from home while an experimental home security and monitoring system got installed.  It's broadband-enabled, so that instead of using a phone line to contact the monitoring service, it uses my cable modem connection, with a cellular backup in case the cable modem connection goes down due to a system outage or tampering.

Included in the system are some door and window sensors, a motion sensor, a couple video cameras capable of streaming live video, a controller which can be used to automatically turn a lamp on or off, and a touch screen control panel.  Everything connects back to the central hub via wireless and the door/window sensors are battery powered with an ~5 year battery life.

Overall it's pretty slick and I look forward to exploring its capabilities.

Some Lab PC Upgrades

Roughly six months ago I submitted a request for various items for our lab.  E.g., some video cables and RAM upgrades for a few PCs and two G5 Power Macs.  The request finally made its way through my employer's bureaucracy and we got the items earlier this week.

Three of the PCs which we use for evaluating software and networking hardware in my lab are boxes that we got a couple years ago from Intel.  They have 2.66 GHz Core 2 Duo CPUs, 120 GB SATA hard disks, and DVD burners.  Graphics and sound aren't anything special, but they are solid, well-built boxes.  Unfortunately, they only had one gig of RAM eachs.  So, I upgraded two of them with an additional 2 GB of RAM, bringing them to a total of 3 gigs.  This is the most that 32 bit XP will recognize, so maxing the boxes out with 8 GB (the maximum supported by the hardware) would be pointless.

I added another 4 GB to the remaining PC, however, for a total of 5 GB.  That box will get a fresh install of 64 bit Vista Enterprise.  I currently have 32 bit Vista Ultimate on it and with only 1 GB, it runs like a dog.  It's currently being used for some browser testing by another groups. Installing Vista x64 will have to wait until their current project is finished, however.

The G5s only had 512 MB of RAM each.  One is running OS 10.4.11 while the other has 10.5.5.  Tiger was OK on 512 MB but Leopard was pretty pokey.  Both boxes are noticeably snappier with 2 GB of RAM.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Updates at Obama Exposed

Just a reminder to check out my other blog Obama Exposed.  Plenty of recent updates.