Technical, Technology

It Wasn’t That Bad

Link: https://dannyman.toldme.com/2016/12/29/it-wasnt-that-bad/

Friend: Dang it Apple my iPhone upgrade bricked the phone and I had to reinstall from scratch. This is a _really_ bad user experience.

Me: If you can re-install the software, the phone isn’t actually “bricked” …

Friend: I had to do a factory restore through iTunes.

Me: That’s not bricked that’s just extremely awful software.

(Someone else mentions Windows.)

Me: Never had this problem with an Android device. ;)

Friend: With Android phones you are constantly waiting on the carriers or handset makers for updates.

Me: That is why I buy my phones from Google.

Friend: Pixel looks enticing, I still like iPhone better. I am a firm believer that people stick with what they know, and you are unlikely to sway them if it works for them.

Me: Yeah just because you have to reinstall your whole phone from scratch doesn’t make it a bad experience.

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News and Reaction, Technology

Tool for Generating Isochrones: Mapzen Mobility Explorer

Link: https://dannyman.toldme.com/2016/11/24/tool-for-generating-isochrones-mapzen-mobility-explorer/

Via Steve Vance, Mapzen has a new tool, Mobility Explorer, which can generate isochrones for walking, biking, driving, and transit. I have previously used tools provided by Walk Score, but Mapzen seems more accurate, and the transit shed can be calculated based on a time-of-day.

Here is how far you can get on public transit from Sunnyvale at noon on a Wednesday in 15, 30, 45 and 60 minutes.

Here is how far you can get on public transit from Sunnyvale at noon on a Wednesday in 15, 30, 45 and 60 minutes.

The colors on the web site color scheme are not that great. On Steve’s blog you can see he’s generated his own map via an API call.

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FreeBSD, Linux, Python, Technical, Technology

VMs vs Containers

Link: https://dannyman.toldme.com/2016/08/24/vms-vs-containers/

I’ve been a SysAdmin for … since the last millennium. Long enough to see certain fads come and go and come again. There was a time when folks got keen on the advantages of chroot jails, but that time faded, then resurged in the form of containers! All the rage!

My own bias is that bare metal systems and VMs are what I am used to: a Unix SysAdmin knows how to manage systems! The advantages and desire for more contained environments seems to better suit certain types of programmers, and I suspect that the desire for chroot-jail-virtualenv-containers may be a reflection of programming trends.

On the one hand, you’ve got say C and Java … write, compile, deploy. You can statically link C code and put your Java all in a big jar, and then to run it on a server you’ll need say a particular kernel version, or a particular version of Java, and some light scaffolding to configure, start/stop and log. You can just write up a little README and hand that stuff off to the Ops team and they’ll figure out the mysterious stuff like chmod and the production database password. (And the load balancer config..eek!)

On the other hand, if you’re hacking away in an interpreted language: say Python or R, you’ve got a growing wad of dependencies, and eventually you’ll get to a point where you need the older version of one dependency and a bleeding-edge version of another and keeping track of those dependencies and convincing the OS to furnish them all for you … what comes in handy is if you can just wad up a giant tarball of all your stuff and run it in a little “isolated” environment. You don’t really want to get Ops involved because they may laugh at you or run in terror … instead you can just shove the whole thing in a container, run that thing in the cloud, and now without even ever having to understand esoteric stuff like chmod you are now DevOps!

(Woah: Job Security!!)

From my perspective, containers start as a way to deploy software. Nowadays there’s a bunch of scaffolding for containers to be a way to deploy and manage a service stack. I haven’t dealt with either case, and my incumbent philosophy tends to be “well, we already have these other tools” …

Container Architecture (CC: Wikipedia)

Container Architecture is basically just Legos mixed with Minecraft (CC: Wikipedia)

Anyway, as a Service Provider (… I know “DevOps” is meant to get away from that ugly idea that Ops is a service provider …) I figure if containers help us ship the code, we’ll get us some containers, and if we want orchestration capabilities … well, we have what we have now and we can look at bringing up other new stuff if it will serve us better.

ASIDE: One thing that has put me off containers thus far is not so much that they’re reinventing the wheel, so much that I went to a DevOps conference a few years back and it seemed every single talk was about how we have been delivered from the evil sinful ways of physical computers and VMs and the tyranny of package managers and chmod and load balancers and we have found the Good News that we can build this stuff all over in a new image and it will be called Docker or Mesos or Kubernetes but careful the API changed in the last version but have you heard we have a thing called etcd which is a special thing to manage your config files because nobody has ever figured out an effective way to … honestly I don’t know for etcd one way or another: it was just the glazed, fervent stare in the eyes of the guy who was explaining to me the virtues of etcd …

It turns out it is not just me who is a curmudgeonly contrarian: a lot of people are freaked out by the True Believers. But that needn’t keep us from deploying useful tools, and my colleague reports that Kubernetes for containers seems awfully similar to the Ganeti we are already running for VMs, so let us bootstrap some infrastructure and provide some potentially useful services to the development team, shall we?

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Technical, Technology, Testimonials, WordPress

Testimonial: SSLMate

Link: https://dannyman.toldme.com/2016/07/19/testimonial-sslmate/

I recently started using sslmate to manage SSL certificates. SSL is one of those complicated things you deal with rarely so it has historically been a pain in the neck.

But sslmate makes it all easy … you install the sslmate command and can generate, sign, and install certificates from the command-line. You then have to check your email when getting a signed cert to verify … and you’re good.

The certificates auto-renew annually, assuming you click the email. I did this for an important cert yesterday. Another thing you do (sslmate walks you through all these details) is set up a cron.

This morning at 6:25am the cron got run on our servers … with minimal intervention (I had to click a confirmation link on an email yesterday) our web servers are now running on renewed certs …. one less pain in the neck.

So … next time you have to deal with SSL I would say “go to sslmate.com and follow the instructions and you’ll be in a happy place.”

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Linux, News and Reaction, Technology

Ubuntu 16.04 Reactions

Link: https://dannyman.toldme.com/2016/04/21/ubuntu-16-04-reactions/

Xerus: an African ground squirrel.

Xerus: an African ground squirrel. CC: Wikipedia

I have misplaced my coffee mug. I’m glad to hear Ubuntu 16.04 LTS is out. “Codenamed ‘Xenial Xerus'” because computer people don’t already come off as a bunch of space cadets. Anyway, an under-caffeinated curmudgeon’s take:

The Linux kernel has been updated to the 4.4.6 longterm maintenance
release, with the addition of ZFS-on-Linux, a combination of a volume
manager and filesystem which enables efficient snapshots, copy-on-write
cloning, continuous integrity checking against data corruption, automatic
filesystem repair, and data compression.

Ah, ZFS! The last word in filesystems! How very exciting that after a mere decade we have stable support for it on Linux.

There’s a mention of the desktop: updates to LibreOffice and “stability improvements to Unity.” I’m not going to take that bait. No sir.

Ubuntu Server 16.04 LTS includes the Mitaka release of OpenStack, along
with the new 2.0 versions of Juju, LXD, and MAAS to save devops teams
time and headache when deploying distributed applications – whether on
private clouds, public clouds, or on developer laptops.

I honestly don’t know what these do, but my hunch is that they have their own overhead of time and headache. Fortunately, I have semi-automated network install of servers, Ganeti to manage VMs, and Ansible to automate admin stuff, so I can sit on the sidelines for now and hope that by the time I need it, Openstack is mature enough that I can reap its advantages with minimal investment.

Aside: My position on containers is the same position I have on Openstack, though I’m wondering if the containers thing may blow over before full maturity. Every few years some folks get excited about the possibility of reinventing their incumbent systems management paradigms with jails, burn a bunch of time blowing their own minds, then get frustrated with the limitations and go back to the old ways. We’ll see.

Anyway, Ubuntu keeps delivering:

Ubuntu 16.04 LTS introduces a new application format, the ‘snap’, which
can be installed alongside traditional deb packages. These two packaging
formats live quite comfortably next to one another and enable Ubuntu to
maintain its existing processes for development and updates.


Further research reveals that they’ve replaced Python 2 with Python 3. No mention of that in the email announcement. I’m totally sure this will not yield any weird problems.

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Technical, Technology

Technology Journey Back in Time

Link: https://dannyman.toldme.com/2016/03/24/technology-journey-back-in-time/

It started when Tom Limoncelli shared a link to teens reacting to Windows 95.

In my mind, what is most unfortunate about that setup, is they did not get to experience Dial Up Networking via a modem. I think they would have been truly blown away. Alas, the Internet contains wonders, like this guy getting a 50 year old modem to work:

What could be more amazing than that?  How about this guy, with a 50 year old modem and a teletype, browsing the first web site via the first web browser, by means of a punch tape bookmark?

You’re welcome, nerds!

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Linux, Technical, Technology

Windows 10

Link: https://dannyman.toldme.com/2016/01/02/windows-10/

The other day I figured to browse Best Buy. I spied a 15″ Toshiba laptop, the kind that can pivot the screen 180 degrees into a tablet. With a full sized keyboard. And a 4k screen. And 12GB of RAM. For $1,000. The catch? A non-SSD 1TB hard drive and stock graphics. And … Windows 10.

But it appealed to me because I’ve been thinking I want a computer I can use on the couch. My home workstation is very nice, a desktop with a 4k screen, but it is very much a workstation. Especially because of the 4k screen it is poorly suited to sitting back and browsing … so, I went home, thought on it over dinner, then drove back to the store and bought a toy. (Oh boy! Oh boy!!)

Every few years I flirt with Microsoft stuff — trying to prove that despite the fact I’m a Unix guy I still have an open mind. I almost usually throw up my hands in exasperation after a few weeks. The only time I ever sort of appreciated Microsoft was around the Windows XP days, it was a pretty decent OS managing folders full of pictures. A lot nicer than OS X, anyway.

This time, out of the gate, Windows 10 was a dog. The non-SSD hard drive slowed things down a great deal. Once I got up and running though, it isn’t bad. It took a little getting used to the sluggishness — a combination of my adapting to the trackpad mouse thing and I swear that under load the Windows UI is less responsive than what I’m used to. The 4k stuff works reasonably well … a lot of apps are just transparently pixel-doubled, which isn’t always pretty but it beats squinting. I can flip the thing around into a landscape tablet — which is kind of nice, though, given its size, a bit awkward — for reading. I can tap the screen or pinch around to zoom text. The UI, so far, is back to the good old Windows-and-Icons stuff old-timers like me are used to.

Mind you, I haven’t tried anything as nutty as setting up OpenVPN to auto-launch on user login. Trying to make that happen for one of my users at work on Windows 8 left me twitchy for weeks afterward.

Anyway, a little bit of time will tell .. I have until January 15 to make a return. The use case is web browsing, maybe some gaming, and sorting photos which are synced via Dropbox. This will likely do the trick. As a little bonus, McAfee anti-virus is paid for for the first year!

I did try Ubuntu, though. Despite UEFI and all the secure boot crud, Ubuntu 15.10 managed the install like it was nothing, re-sizing the hard drive and all. No driver issues … touchscreen even worked. Nice! Normally, I hate Unity, but it is okay for a casual computing environment. Unlike Windows 10, though, I can’t three-finger-swipe-up to show all the windows. Windows+W will do that but really … and I couldn’t figure out how to get “middle mouse button” working on the track pad. For me, probably 70% of why I like Unix as an interface is the ease of copy-paste.

But things got really dark when I tried to try KDE and XFCE. Installing either kubuntu-desktop or xubuntu-desktop actually made the computer unusable. The first had a weird package conflict that caused X to just not display at all. I had to boot into safe mode and manually remove the kubuntu dependencies. The XFCE was slightly less traumatic: it just broke all the window managers in weird ways until I again figured out how to manually remove the dependencies.

It is just as easy to pull up a Terminal on Windows 10 or Ubuntu … you hit Start and type “term” but Windows 10 doesn’t come with an SSH client, which is all I really ask. From what I can tell, my old friend PuTTY is still the State of the Art. It is like the 1990s never died.

Ah, and out of the gate, Windows 10 allows you multiple desktops. Looks similar to Mac. I haven’t really played with it but it is a heartening sign.

And the Toshiba is nice. If I return it I think I’ll look for something with a matte screen and maybe actual buttons around the track pad so that if I do Unix it up, I can middle-click. Oh, and maybe an SSD and nicer graphics … but you can always upgrade the hard drive after the fact. I prefer matte screens, and being a touch screen means this thing hoovers up fingerprints faster than you can say chamois.

Maybe I’ll try FreeBSD on the Linux partition. See how a very old friend fares on this new toy. :)

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About Me, Technical, Technology

IT Strategy: Lose the Religion

Link: https://dannyman.toldme.com/2015/10/29/it-strategy-lose-the-religion/

High Scalability asks “What Ideas in IT Must Die?” My own response . . .

I have been loath to embrace containers, especially since I attended a conference that was supposed to be about DevOps but was 90% about all the various projects around Docker and the like. I worked enough with Jails in the past two decades to feel exasperation at the fervent religious belief of the advantages of reinventing an old wheel.

I attended a presentation about Kubernetes yesterday. Kubernetes is an orchestration tool for containers that sounds like a skin condition, but I try to keep an open mind. “Watch how fast I can re-allocate and scale my compute resources!” Well, I can do that more slowly but conveniently enough with my VM and config management tools . . .

. . . but I do see potential utility in that containers could offer a simpler deployment process for my devs.

There was an undercurrent there that Kubernetes is the Great New Religion that Will Unify All the Things. I used to embrace ideas like that, then I got really turned off by thinking like that, and now I know enough to see through the True Beliefs. I could deploy Kubernetes as an offering of my IT “Service Catalog” as a complimentary option versus the bare metal, hadoop clusters, VM, and other services I have to offer. It is not a Winner Take All play, but an option that could improve productivity for some of our application deployment needs.

At the end of the day, as an IT Guy, I need to be a good aggregator, offering my users a range of solutions and helping them adopt more useful tools for their needs. My metrics for success are whether or not my solutions work for my users, whether they further the mission of my enterprise, and whether they are cost-effective, in terms of time and money.

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Technical, Technology

AWS: Glacier Restores Can Get Pricey

Link: https://dannyman.toldme.com/2015/04/08/aws-melt-glaciers-slowly/

I have been working with AWS to automate disaster recovery. Sync data up to S3 buckets (or, sometimes, EBS) and then write Ansible scripts to deploy a bunch of EC2 instances, restore the data, configure the systems.

Restoring data from Glacier is kind of a pain to automate. You have to iterate over the items in a bucket and issue restore requests for each item. But it gets more exciting than that on the billing end: Glacier restores can be crazy expensive!

A few things I learned this week:

1) Amazon Glacier restore fees are based on how quickly you want to restore your data. You can restore up to 5% of your total S3 storage on a given day for free. If you restore more than that they start to charge you and at the end of the month you’re confused by the $,$$$ bill.

2) Amazon Glacier will also charge you money if you delete data that hasn’t been in there for at least three months. If you Glacier something, you will pay to store it for at least three months. So, Glacier your archive data, but for something like a rolling backup, no Glacier.

3) When you get a $,$$$ bill one month because you were naive, file a support request and they can get you some money refunded.

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JIRA, Religion, Technical, Technology

HOWTO: Develop Software Agilely

Link: https://dannyman.toldme.com/2015/03/06/howto-program-agile/

There seems to be some backlash going on against the religion of “Agile Software Development” and it is best summarized by PragDave, reminding us that the “Agile Manifesto” first places “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools” — there are now a lot of Agile Processes and Tools which you can buy in to . . .

He then summarizes how to work agilely:

What to do:

Find out where you are
Take a small step towards your goal
Adjust your understanding based on what you learned

How to do it:

When faced with two or more alternatives that deliver roughly the same value, take the path that makes future change easier.

Sounds like sensible advice. I think I’ll print that out and tape it on my display to help me keep focused.

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Sundry, Technical, Technology, Testimonials

Windows 8 Is a Horrible Horrible Operating System

Link: https://dannyman.toldme.com/2014/11/22/windows-8-wtf-microsoft/

I had the worst experience at work today: I had to prepare a computer for a new employee. That’s usually a pretty painless procedure, but this user was to be on Windows, and I had to … well, I had to call it quits after making only mediocre progress. This evening I checked online to make sure I’m not insane. A lot of people hate Windows 8, so I enjoyed clicking through a few reviews online, and then I just had to respond to Badger25’s review of Windows 8.1:

I think you are being way too easy on Windows 8.1 here, or at least insulting to the past. This isn’t a huge step backwards to the pre-Windows era: in DOS you could get things done! This is, if anything, a “Great Leap Forward” in which anything that smells of traditional ways of doing things has been purged in order to strengthen the purity of a failed ideology.

As far as boot speed, I was used to Windows XP booting in under five seconds. That was probably the first incarnation of Windows I enjoyed using. I just started setting up a Windows 8 workstation today for a business user and it is the most infuriatingly obtuse Operating System I have ever, in decades, had to deal with. (I am a Unix admin, so I’ve seen things….) This thing does NOT boot fast, or at least it does not reboot fast, because of all the updates which must be slowly applied.

Oddly enough, it seems that these days, the best computer UIs are offered by Linux distros, and they have weird gaps in usability, then Macs, then … I wouldn’t suggest Windows 8 on anyone except possibly those with physical or mental disabilities. Anyone who is used to DOING THINGS with computers is going to feel like they are using the computer with their head wrapped in a hefty bag. The thing could trigger panic attacks.

Monday is another day. I just hope the new employee doesn’t rage quit.

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Linux, Sundry, Technical, Technology

VMWare Fusion: Fixed Resolution Across Different Screens

Link: https://dannyman.toldme.com/2014/05/15/vmware-retina-thunderbolt-constant-resolution/

Apple ships some nice hardware, but the Mac OS is not my cup of tea. So, I run Ubuntu (kubuntu) within VMWare Fusion as my workstation. It has nice features like sharing the clipboard between host and guest, and the ability to share files to the guest. Yay.

At work, I have a Thunderbolt display, which is a very comfortable screen to work at. When I leave my desk, the VMWare guest transfers to the Retina display on my Mac. That is where the trouble starts. You can have VMWare give it less resolution or full Retina resolution, but in either case, the screen size changes and I have to move my windows around.

The fix?

1) In the guest OS, set the display size to: 2560×1440 (or whatever works for your favorite external screen …)

2) Configure VMWare, per https://communities.vmware.com/message/2342718
2.1) Edit Library/Preferences/VMware Fusion/preferences
Set these options:

pref.autoFitGuestToWindow = "FALSE"
pref.autoFitFullScreen = "stretchGuestToHost"

2.2) Suspend your VM and restart Fusion.

Now I can use Exposé to drag my VM between the Thunderbolt display and the Mac’s Retina display, and back again, and things are really comfortable.

The only limitation is that since the aspect ratios differ slightly, the Retina display shows my VM environment in a slight letterbox, but it is not all that obvious on a MacBook Pro.

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Sundry, Technical, Technology, Testimonials

New Phishing Scam: Call Toll Free to Refresh Your IP Address!

Link: https://dannyman.toldme.com/2014/05/14/new-phishing-scam-call-toll-free-to-refresh-your-ip-address/

I reported the following to the FBI, to LogMeIn123.com, to Century Link, and to Bing, and now I’ll share the story with you.

Yesterday, May 12, 2014, a relative was having trouble with Netflix. So she went to Bing and did a search for her ISP’s technical support:

Bing leads you to a convenient toll-free number to call for technical support!

Bing leads you to a convenient toll-free number to call for technical support!

She called the number: 844-835-7605 and spoke with a guy who had her go to LogMeIn123.com so he could fix her computer. He opened up something that revealed to her the presence of “foreign IP addresses” and then showed her the Wikipedia page for the Zeus Trojan Horse. He explained that she would need to refresh her IP address and that their Microsoft Certified Network Security whatevers could do it for $350 and they could take a personal check since her computer was infected and they couldn’t do a transaction online.

So, she conferenced me in. I said that she could just reinstall Windows, but he said no, as long as the IP was infected it would need to be refreshed. I said, well, what if we just destroyed the computer. No, no, the IP is infected. “An IP address is a number: how can it get infected?” I then explained that I was a network administrator . . . he said he would check with his manager. That was the last we heard from him.

I advised her that this sounded very very very much like a phishing scam and that she should call the telephone number on the bill from her ISP. She did that and they were very interested in her experience.

I was initially very worried that she had a virus that managed to fool her into calling a different number for her ISP. I followed up the next day, using similar software to VNC into her computer. I checked the browser history and found that the telephone number was right there in Bing for all the world to see. She doesn’t have a computer virus after all! (I’ll take a cloer look tonight . . .)

I submitted a report to the FBI, LogMeIn123.com, Bing, and Century Link. And now I share the story here. Its a phishing scam that doesn’t even require an actual computer virus to work!

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Free Style, Technology

Elevated Trains

Link: https://dannyman.toldme.com/2014/05/09/elevated-trains/

Forney engine pulls Lake Street Elevated Railroad train over Lake Street in Chicago, 1893.

Forney engine pulls Lake Street Elevated Railroad train over Lake Street in Chicago, 1893.

Thanks, Chuckman!!

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News and Reaction, Technical, Technology, Testimonials

FAQ: Should I Change All My Passwords!!??

Link: https://dannyman.toldme.com/2014/04/11/faq-should-i-change-all-my-passwords/

As a SysAdmin, people ask me how much they need to worry over the heartbleed vulnerability. Here’s my own take:


Google were known to be vulnerable. They co-discovered the vulnerability and deployed fixes quickly. I like to believe they are analyzing the scope and likelihood of user password compromise and will issue good advice on whether Gmail passwords should be updated.

For everything else, my small opinion is “don’t panic.” Not every web site would have been affected. The Ops folks at each site need to patch their systems and assess the extent to which credentials may have been compromised, then take appropriate steps to mitigate compromised data, which might include asking users to set new passwords. But if they’re still waiting on some patches, then submitting a new password could actually put both passwords at risk.

For other important passwords, like your bank, check up on what they’re recommending that you do. If a site is important to you and they offer two-factor auth, go for it: that typically means that if you log on from a new computer they’ll text a one-time pin code to your mobile phone to double-check that it’s you.

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