Leap: an early halting step….

I’m a technology junky and if it’s new and shinny I just have to have it. I ordered the leap as soon as pre-order was available. Now like all technology junkies I could hardly wait for this particular small shinny object. The down side of pre-order is the longer you wait the more you expect the tech to be. After countless views of Minority Report and Iron Man I was going to finally have the coolest setup in the world. It was going to be awesome. My productivity would sore. If only I could find transparent displays or holograms to go along with my Leap.

Well there is lots of time for me to find those cool transparent displays and holographic displays. Leap has a ways to go. I have my tiny little toy. It is a toy after-all because the software is so marginal in use you can’t realistically use it in your normal workflow for anything approximating productivity. Now don’t get me wrong I use much like you’d use a clapper. I can shut my computer down at the wave of a hand and that’s pretty cool. No more unexpected shutdowns while cheering for my team.

I think Leap is an interesting view of what may be possible; while at the same time showing how truly difficult a non-tactile experience will be. It reminds me of watching a weather forecast on TV. Does he know where the clouds are for sure, because he does not seem to be pointing at them….

I look forward to updates to the Leap. Until then I’ll use it only to shut down my computer.

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JUD500 / J5Create Just how many screens do you need?

Every now and then as a laptop user you find yourself having screen envy. I don’t mean the kind associated with a 90” TV screen, I mean having a spare large screen connected to your laptop. Now I think everyone will agree; if they are being honest, there is no such thing a too much screen real-estate. This leads me to two technologies that results in my MacBook Pro late 2009 laptop having a total of four screen simultaneously. Now the second screen is a freebie since you only need to plug in a nice 24” screen into the spare port and you’re done. You’ll see why in a minute I didn’t go with a 27” cinema display. Now the third screen, my trusty road-warrior screen — generation 2 IPAD — is integrated with “Air Display”. The fourth screen, another 24” screen is integrated via the USB2.0 port using the J5Create JUD500.

The reality is; there is some screen lag on the IPAD and JUD500 connected screens. So this is a great place to place a document you’re referring to or chat windows. A lousy place for a movie, but I have two other screens perfectly suited to fast moving content. The big question is does it actually help? The nerd in me so oh yeah baby; no one can have too much screen real-estate and it’s way up on the nerd scale. Seriously a MacBook Pro with four screens using three different technologies. The reality is; the ability to have reference materials directly at hand without any screen flipping is massively productive. You may not realize it until it’s gone.

So what about the JUD500. It’s a neat little port extender. I bought it primarily for it’s ability to give me a fourth screen until I realized that it can actually give me five. It has this nifty “worm-hole” capability that allows me to by simply sliding my mouse to the edge of the screen transition both keyboard and mouse to a second computer. An HP laptop. Now I know for those who know me that sounds outlandish; a windows based laptop? Well sometimes just like the right place to put a reference document is a slow refresh screen, when you want an application to run slow ;} or you just have to have Internet Explorer for some bizarre reason there is no better tool than the original.

So how many screen; the more the better.

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UA2000 Dual Antenna USB Wireless Adapter; an example of frustration

I’ve been known to travel; well actually I travel quite a lot spending well over a third of any year on the road. One of the banes of my existence is ever present low powered WiFi. Sure it’s everywhere, but it’s almost always so weak that it’s like sucking a too thick milkshake up through a too small straw. You get little bit’s of satisfaction; just enough to keep you at it but you get more frustration than you bargained for. Enter the UA2000 by Amped Wireless. It’s suppose to give you substantial range, dual band, and be MAC/OSX compatible. It goes so far as to indicate so on the box. Now in all fairness new versions of OSX seem to roll of the presses nearly every year I realize that’s a break neck speed; hardly. Yet there were not drivers that supported the Amped UA2000. Some places seemed to indicate that the 10.7 drivers would work but take it from me, that’s definitely not the case. It’s a great way to spend a couple hours fiddling around assuming it’s you that’s having the problems as it seems to sorta work. Thankfully I had a PC laptop lying around to validate hardware wise the unit worked perfectly; therefore, it had to be a driver issue.

After more time than I’d like to indicate; I finally found another good samaritan that had posted that workable drivers could be found on the chip manufactures site rather than Amped site. He must have been quite the sleuth to figure that out and thankfully he did(Joe’s Blog: Using the Amped UA2000 Directional Antenna in a Noisy Office Environment). Because of all the fiddling I did, half a dozen reboots, two kernel panics later I have the UA2000 working and I’d like to say that it’s awesome, but the funny thing is it show’s no more hotspots in my neighbourhood than my “built-in” airport wireless adapter :(. I’m not sure if that’s because there are no more local WiFi access points in my densely populated neighbourhood (perhaps but doubtful) or it’s just not that much better if at all. Time will only tell. The next time I’m at a hotel in a hotel meeting room; where you have to pay for WiFi (Lord knows why, wasn’t it free 20 yards aways in the same hotel) I’ll see if it can reach back out to the lobby for the sacred although slow WiFI.

To sum up my frustration; if you’re going to print on your box that you support an OS, have the integrity to at least be somewhat current in it’s support. If you’re supplier has a current driver don’t re-invent the wheel, just give me a link an promise to have a “branded” driver soon.

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Arduino…. Let the Fun Begin

The is nothing like re-inventing the wheel when it’s so darn fun. Having just received a Arduino starter kit for Christmas (nothing like getting toys, no matter how old you are) I’ve been spending a number of hours looking at all the useless projects I can create. Can’t wait!

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The Great Conversation

It’s been a while since I’ve spent some dedicated time working my way through the “The Great Conversation”. I have read, in bits and pieces, a great deal of the books comprising the “The Great Books” but never in a consistent way. I’m going to launch an whole section in this bog associated with the reading of the Great Books: The Great Conversation in the hopes that it will motivate me to keep going.

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Personal Disaster Recovery

The unthinkable happened; total hard-disk failure on my MacBook Pro. Besides occurring exactly 1 month past the warranty at least it had the decency to occur while I was at home and on a day when the local computer store had a more than suitable replacement.

I spend time everyday talking about RTO’s and RPO’s (recovery time objective’s and recovery point objective’s) yet nothing brings this home like suffering a hard-disk failure. The dreaded tink tink thunk sounds of the last gasp of failing drive ushered in true appreciation of RTO/RPO’s and the sheer volume of data we all collect day to day. I knew in many ways that it was coming or at least I knew something was amiss because my trusty laptop was getting terribly slow. Being paranoid of this very circumstance I of course had two options for recovery, since I backup using two different methods, however having the data and recovering the data are two very different things.

Immediately upon failure I realized that a task on my ToDo list was now of much higher interest; update and create a “Mountain Lion” boot and recovery disk. The only DVD in my tool kit is a 3 year old version of Mac OS (Leopard). This means I have to build a laptop on a version of the OS that is 3 years old and painfully go through at least two OS upgrades. The second thing I realized; all of my data is backed up on a drive that employs full disk encryption and is only accessible by the most recent release of the OS. Obviously a chicken and egg scenario. The license keys I need are contained on a fully encrypted drive that is only accessible after I’ve already managed to recovery. So begins the long painful process of recovery. I know precisely what I’m doing, by in large I have a workable solution, albeit not recently tested. Is it even fair to say a Disaster Recovery procedure exists if it’s never been tested? Ok, realistically how many of us actually do a regular DR test for our own laptops. I wish I could out-source this now that it’s 2am and I’m babysitting a slow recovery.

With the operating system fully restored I run headlong into restoring my applications and data. I’m discovering that my workflow is dependant upon a great many unique and very specific modifications of the default OS and applications. The one aspect I never considered from a DR perspective is email. Even though I have my email directories included in the backup process it turns out that it’s entirely impractical to simply restore the directory. So begins the slow resynchronization of the 100k+ email messages spanning my numerous email accounts. So far this has been running in excess of 48hrs.

What I’ve learned in a very succinct way is one can never underestimate the time it takes to re-synchronize a significant volume of data from a web-based service. This is definitely going to make me question not only my own DR process (I’m finally going to update my DR images to include the OS); but, also the processes I recommend to organizations. 400Gb of data does not sound like very much information until you try and download it from a web service. After-all though storage is cheap bandwidth and latency are still the same realities.

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Who’s teaching who

Okay, the court is still out in terms of DragonDictate friend or foe. I’m not sure if I’m learning how to speak so that Dragon can understand me or it’s learning how to understand me as I normally speak. When it works it’s amazing, when it does not it’s a whole new level of frustration. It’s a bit like golf, you’re one great drive out of 18 and for the next season you keep recalling that perfect drive you just can’t quite get it. That doesn’t stop you from trying, it just keeps you trying.

I’m convinced, that there are some applications are the just work perfectly with Dragon and others may be by virtue of how they were created just don’t work that well. The kiss of death is when you have the audacity to touch the keyboard mid-dictation. This is when frustration will set in. First you will attempt to corrected through voice commands and it is at this point that will take a document that was mostly correct and insert a pile of incomprehensible text. Eventually you will give up and resort to the keyboard at which point it will no longer know where it is. If you have to resort the keyboard it’s all over it a mulligan.

I have not given up yet simply because I’m too stubborn, plus I’m still convinced that if I can get it to work most of the time it will be quicker to dictate then to type.

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Dragon Dictate friend or foe

It has probably been 3 or 4 years since I tried Dragon Dictate. Given that they offer 30 day money back guarantee and my previous experience was okay I figured it was time to try again. I spend all day typing seems. That’s probably true of most people today. I can’t help think that there is nothing cooler than being able to dictate to your computer and have it do the typing. Of course nothing is perfect. But as I’ve heard a comedian Louis CK say; “everything is amazing, but no one is happy”.

Okay so I’m putting in the time to learn how to speak to my computer. And that isn’t a sign of a nerd, I don’t know what is. Sometimes people and technology have to meet in the middle.

So far I can’t decide if it’s saving me time or taking more time. But I feel that if I give it time and work with it, it will save me time in the end. So far I have found it forces me to think in advance what I’m going to say whereas had been typing I would’ve just kept revising. So perhaps in the end will help not only my writing but my speaking. After all I’ve been told more than once that I mumble. What’s interesting is Dragon Dictate concurs with that assessment, and is happy choose to spew out pure mumble.

I’m going to attempt to work with it for the next 30 days, while let’s make that 20 so that I have a chance to decide whether or not I’m going to return it. Given this is evening to, the court is still out.

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Application Dependency Mapping – The Crude Approach

A topic that is not often talked about, maybe because it’s discounted as unnecessary is application dependency mapping. We only have to go back a few years to located the point at which things started to get more complicated than we really thought. More and more software is being written to automatically detect existing software/applications/services and make use of those services. This is the point and click era, where it’s assumed if the information has been entered anywhere else it should auto-magically exist in a fully reference way everywhere else in the enterprise. This creates some very interesting dilemmas when it comes to two key elements of managing an enterprise infrastructure, specifically change control and disaster recovery. Specifically evaluating the impact of a change, what will be affected or could be affected and disaster recovery in a corresponding fashion.

I routinely run into environments composed of hundreds of servers. The thought that anecdotally the inter-dependancies are know is almost laughable but surprising thought to be true. Now I’ll grant if there is traffic between to disparate VLANs and there is any security at all, the interdependencies between VLANs is if not know at least documented in a crude fashion as a result of the Access Control Lists (ACLs) and or explicit NAT/PAT mappings between the VLAN’s. This can though still be obscured by effective names space (DNS) mapping of those services which is increasingly more common in an enterprise. There are some great tool suites that create these dependency maps, however these tools are not free by any measure. There are however crude ways to get at this information using tools generically available or freely available.

Now I’m not implying that this is the most effective way to develop a dependancy map, but in a pinch or to achieve a 80/20 rule of accuracy the following crude approach has sufficed. For linux/unix there are not tools required. If a windows only environment you’ll need to obtain a compiled version of tcpdump. Every admin should of course be armed with tcpdump given it’s the TCP/IP utility knife of choice. One such tool (tcpdump) can be obtained at: http://www.microolap.com/products/network/tcpdump/download/. The other useful unix/linux equivalents for windows can be found at: http://unxutils.sourceforge.net/ .

In linux/unix;

sudo tcpdump -i {interface of choice}

e.g.: sudo tcpdump -i en1 | grep ‘who-has’

In windows you won’t need sued, since there is no concept of security regarding privilege access to the network interfaces.

The output will be similar to the following;
10:50:00.408525 ARP, Request who-has 192.168.1.103 tell 192.168.1.103 length 50
10:50:03.153795 ARP, Request who-has 192.168.1.106 tell 192.168.1.1 length 28
10:51:01.336871 ARP, Request who-has 192.168.1.103 tell 192.168.1.103 length 50
10:51:17.723448 ARP, Request who-has 192.168.1.106 tell 192.168.1.1 length 28

Import this file into excel using both command and spaces a delimiters and you will have a tidy file that looks like the following;

50:00.4
ARP
Request
who-has
192.168.1.103
tell
192.168.1.103
length
50
50:03.2
ARP
Request
who-has
192.168.1.106
tell
192.168.1.1
length
28
51:01.3
ARP
Request
who-has
192.168.1.103
tell
192.168.1.103
length
50
51:17.7
ARP
Request
who-has
192.168.1.106
tell
192.168.1.1
length
28
52:02.4
ARP
Request
who-has
192.168.1.103
tell
192.168.1.103
length
50
52:17.7
ARP
Request
who-has
192.168.1.106
tell
192.168.1.1
length
28
53:03.1
ARP
Request
who-has
192.168.1.103
tell
192.168.1.103
length
50
Using a pivot table will create a nice map of the traffic between hosts and crude measure of how interactive they are between each other. Of course you’ll have to dig into what is going on between hosts.

Count of 192.168.1.1032
Column Labels

Row Labels
192.168.1.1
192.168.1.100
192.168.1.103
192.168.1.106
192.168.1.107
192.168.1.110
169.254.255.255

8
4
192.168.1.1

1
2
3
192.168.1.100
1
15

192.168.1.103

16

192.168.1.106
18

192.168.1.107

3
192.168.1.110

2
In this particular case, the default gateway is 192.168.1.1 and I can see quite quickly that only two hosts are really using the default gateway. Now the question is whom are they talking to? This can be derived from those hosts themselves once again using in this case tools that exist within the native OS, namely netstat. The challenge is of course netstat is a point in time tool. However, given we are trying to map application dependancies I find this tends to be accurate enough. It’s certainly not accurate enough as a forensic tool but in this case accurate enough.

using your approach of choice execute near continuously for a period of time netstat specifying your primary network port(s). This will give you output of the following flavour depending on the OS.

Active Internet connections

Proto Recv-Q Send-Q Local Address Foreign Address (state)

tcp4 0 0 192.168.1.106.50594 yyz06s06-in-f6.1.http CLOSE_WAIT
tcp4 0 0 192.168.1.106.64711 17.172.34.30.imaps ESTABLISHED
tcp4 37 0 192.168.1.106.64633 v-client-1b.sjc..https CLOSE_WAIT
tcp4 37 0 192.168.1.106.64632 ec2-184-72-255-2.https CLOSE_WAIT
tcp4 0 0 192.168.1.106.64628 st11p01st-courie.https ESTABLISHED
tcp4 37 0 192.168.1.106.64592 a184-28-200-224..https CLOSE_WAIT
tcp4 0 0 192.168.1.106.64586 17.172.34.34.imaps ESTABLISHED

This is in essence showing you who this host is talking to in any active way. If it’s generally involved in an inter-application data flow you can be assured it’s dependant data/service sources are going to be listed unless they are extremely infrequently called. If you execute the command repeatedly over a period of time you’ll pretty much capture any recurring connections. Now this will generate a tonne of repeating information for which we are only interested in the unique conversations.

Using awk / gawk depending on the OS and the utility sources above create the awk command file uniq.awk;

/^tcp/ || /^udp/ {

if ( $5 !~ /localhost/ )

if (!($5 in unique)) {

print $5;

unique[$5] = 1;

}

}

if you captured netstat into a simple text file such as;

netstat >> ~/netstat.out.txt (linux)

netstat >> ./netstatout.txt (windows)

then,

awk -f uniqu.awk netstat.out.txt is going to give you the servers being utilized by this host over the period of time you were capturing the data….

e.g. in a more interactive way;

BLACKHOLE:~ rmcilmoyle$ netstat | awk -f uniq.awk

yyz06s06-in-f6.1.http

17.172.34.30.imaps

v-client-1b.sjc..https

ec2-184-72-255-2.https

st11p01st-courie.https

a184-28-200-224..https

17.172.34.34.imaps

17.172.34.29.imaps

qy-in-f109.1e100.imaps

lpp01m01-in-f109.imaps

Using these two crude tools I can develop a dependency map for the LAN or LAN segment by host without having to purchase a host of expensive tools. Generally speaking map from the most restricted hosts first, such as a database server and you will quickly derive who’s using it and there will be little need to map individual all the hosts on a LAN segment to establish a fairly reliable inter-dependency map.

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Memory Upgrade, Best $50

Sitting around and trying to figure out what to do on what appears to be a cold fall day I happened to be browsing the web, go figure. When I discovered for a mere $50 I could upgrade my MacBook Pro to 8Gb. Why not? Now when I both this laptop in late 2009, I just couldn’t make head nor tails of spending the hundreds of dollars necessary to get 8Gb of Ram. Even today of the Apple store it will set you back a solid $400.00, but here I am enjoying blazing speed now that I have no page swaps and wonder what the heck $350 at apple would have got me?

I figured no page swaps would be nice but it can’t make that much difference. Wrong again it’s my lion cub just grew a pair of wings. Better than a can of red bull, it will give you wings.

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