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Security & Hardening Guidelines

Monday 30 October 2006 at 4:08 pm Some well thought out security guides from the Universty of Texas:

Also if you're looking for guidelines or templates to formulate your own IT Policy they have some excellent documents:

MediaMan - Catalog Your Collection

Monday 30 October 2006 at 1:41 pm We have accumulated lots of cd's collected over many many years. A rough estimate was 'about' 600.

After upping our home & contents insurance policy we decided we needed to figure out exactly how many we actually had and what they were.

There are a bunch of ways to do this - I have a Rateyourmusic (free online web-based music catalog) profile with almost 300 CD's in it; we could also just manually put them into Access or Excel. Thats pretty painful for so many CD's and it also doesn't give you all the goodies available nowadays via internet database lookups.

I'd heard about a few different media management applications - I was keen to try Delicious Library on my MacBook and there were a few tools available for Windows too (that didn't look quite so nice but offered the same functionality).

A key requirement is to be able to use a handheld barcode reader to enable a data lookup on the scanned CD. We popped down to the local gadget store and picked up a cheap $90 hand scanner - it was PS/2 only (there was a passthrough for the keyboard) so we also bought a USB keyboard/mouse adaptor.

Unfortunately the USB adaptor seemed to munge the input on both a PC and Mac laptop - oddly the keyboard and mouse work fine through it. Turns out theres a super special USB adaptor that is specifically designed for use with the scanner - we ended up returning the adaptor and just using the scanner on a desktop with a PS/2 port.

Since it didn't work easily via USB (although I could have used the MacBooks built in camera too) we needed to find a decent PC media management application. We found MediaMan which was surprisingly similar to Delicious Library. After trying out a few CD's to verify it worked with the scanner we paid the shareware fee and put it to use.

So far we have 550 CD's in the database and about 50 which weren't recognised (the scanned barcode is cross-referenced to Amazon USA/UK) and will have to be manually entered. We also added 110 DVD's - the vast majority of these had to be manually looked up - I suspect the barcodes on the back are region specific. We also started adding some books into the database - every single one was properly identified.

If an item isn't detected via barcode you can search by artist, author, title etc and select the item from a picklist. The great advantage of having the item referenced from Amazon is that the database is automatically propogated with a cover picture, title, artist, author, track-list and reviews. Putting that information in manually would take at least 15 to 30min per item.

There are some excellent export options (csv, rtf, html and even png for a rendered media shelf) but unfortunately no import options (you can't import from csv).

Between manual data entry and the barcode scanner we managed to do almost all our CD's and DVD's in about three hours. The rest of our books we'll leave for a rainy day :-)

Of course the really scarey part is when you export a csv, pull it into excel and add up the amount of money (each item from Amazon is imported into the database complete with its price field) spent on little silver discs . . .

The Guerrilla Guide to Interviewing - Essential Guide to Interviewing Candidates

Friday 27 October 2006 at 12:45 pm Yet another Joel Spolsky guide to hiring - The Guerrilla Guide to Interviewing v3.

Amusing quote regarding a programmers ability to properly handle recursion & pointers:

I want my ER doctor to understand anatomy, even if all she has to do is put the computerized defibrillator nodes on my chest and push the big red button, and I want programmers to know programming down to the CPU level, even if Ruby on Rails does read your mind and build a complete Web 2.0 social collaborative networking site for you with three clicks of the mouse.

I think I fall into the unhireable quiche eater category when it comes to programming. I can barely get by in Pascal and I can tweak other peoples code but pointers and recursion are things that drove me nuts.

Joel writes some of the funniest articles on developers & development I've ever read.

Procrastination: Political Compass

Friday 27 October 2006 at 11:52 am Try the Political Compass.

I come down kind of in the middle of Left/Libertarian. On the same side as Nelson Mandela & The Dalai Lama.

Nice to see I'm in good company :-)

DailyWTF + More

Tuesday 24 October 2006 at 06:41 am Brilliant - Daily WTF. Catalog of IT failures - the Virtudyne series reminds me of a company I used to work for.

How Joel Spolsky does an initial Phone Screen for prospective hires.

A good review of FreeNAS. Looks good - some reservations about using it in a commercial environment though (as per the comments at the end of the article).

I could only ever get two sides - Solve the Rubiks cube.

I'm not sure how they'll cope - USA bans Vegemite due to folate. I can never remember wether I prefer Marmite or Vegemite.

You can never know enough about knots - Animated Knots.

Interesting - Six Examples of Odd Sympathy. This is explored in more detail in Steven Strogatz 'Sync: The Emerging Science of Spontaneous Order.

Poderosa is a tabbed terminal emulator for Windows - Poderosa Project. I'll give it a try but a shell that requires the .Net subsystem seems overkill. I suspect they'll have a hard time displacing putty.

Some inspired advertising - Great ads from around the world. Beware its a loooong page - can take awhile to load.

Richard Dawkins - Why There Almost Certainly Is No God.

"We cannot, of course, disprove God, just as we can't disprove Thor, fairies, leprechauns and the Flying Spaghetti Monster. But, like those other fantasies that we can't disprove, we can say that God is very very improbable."

Blasphemy - of course there is a Flying Spaghetti Monster!

Project Blackbox

Friday 20 October 2006 at 09:43 am Sun previewed its latest prototype - Project Blackbox. Essentially a shipping-container datacenter. Google beat them to the punch last year.

However it still looks pretty impressive. Working with a room full of Sun servers I do wonder about the ability to shift the truly mammoth amount of heat pumped out by their Sparc processors - maybe its just a perception thing but they seem to run hotter than Intel boxes. Giving organisations the ability to plonk down one of these beasts anywhere they like with suitable power and water does provide pretty impressive flexibility.

I wonder if, like racks and sans, you'll be able to buy a bare-bones container you can add your own stuff into ?

Bulk storage (I'm thinking of old-fashioned physical warehouses here) suppliers might be able to find a niche by offering facilities to datacenter-containers to clients . . . Actually in NZ hydro electicity providers could do something similar - they'd be able to provide plenty of water cooling and power beside their dams . . .

[Updated 31/10/06 - a Sun engineer works out how much power & cooling you need for a container]

McAfee SiteAdvisor

Thursday 19 October 2006 at 12:24 pm Nifty browser tool (IE & Firefox) - McAfee SiteAdvisor - installs and tells you wether a site is 'good' or 'bad' based on the amount of mail you'll get if you sign up for its services along with the sites affiliates, downloaded cookies and reviews. It also parses search engine results and provides a summary for each hit relating to wether its a good or badly behaved site.

Pretty cool. Possibly a must-have for all home and corporate browsers.

You do wonder if it reports back on your browsing habits to McAfee ? Also how long will it remain free ?

This week I have mostly been listening to . . .

Thursday 19 October 2006 at 11:47 am (On my iPod Shuffle for the week ending 19/10/06) Come, Codiene, Minor Threat, John Coltrane, Godflesh, Bjork, Sleater Kinney, Chills, Napalm Death, Sonic Youth, Tom Waits, Spacemen 3, Spirtualized, Nick Drake, Bailter Space, Mogwai, Thelonius Monk, Tindersticks, Boris, Mastodon

This week I have mostly been listening to . . .

Thursday 19 October 2006 at 11:47 am (On my iPod Shuffle for the week ending 19/10/06) Come, Codiene, Minor Threat, John Coltrane, Godflesh, Bjork, Sleater Kinney, Chills, Napalm Death, Sonic Youth, Tom Waits, Spacemen 3, Spirtualized, Nick Drake, Bailter Space, Mogwai, Thelonius Monk, Tindersticks

YouTube Music Video - Kyuss (Live)

Thursday 19 October 2006 at 11:46 am Sporting a stupid moniker is probably the biggest problem facing Kyuss. You can't help thinking about Gene Simmons and Kiss which means you can't really take them seriously when flipping through the 'K' section of any music store. I only cottened onto them after hearing Queens of the Stone Age - Kyuss was their precursor. I picked up 'Blue for the Red Sun' and was immediately hooked on their melodic stoner groove. The audio and video quality is pretty ropey - you'll probably have to turn it up to hear anything. It looks like something captured by VCR in the late 80's and then digitised. The song is 'Asteroid' - looks like it was performed live for a tv show. Starts slow and quiet, builds to a crescendo before going into a spacey interlude and then picking up pace and volume towards the end. Love the shaggy bass player - like a real live version of Super Furry Animals 'Golden Retriever'.

Cracking the Open Channels: Some Thoughts on the Dead C (Update 02/02/07)

Wednesday 18 October 2006 at 09:35 am Looks like there is a Dead C retrospective Vain, Erudite, and Stupid. Theres a great review of it (and a nice insight into their sound and aesthetic) over at Dusted Magazine and Outerspacegamelan. I first heard the Dead C back in 1993 via their 'pop' Flying Nun 'Eusa Kills' LP. It was a work of genius. After that their releases moved more and more into improvised free-noise territory (think a fuzzier 'Sonic Death' style Sonic Youth). Bit of an acquired taste but there are some real gems in their sound. I've seen them live once - they opened for Sonic Youth (circa 'Goo' & 'Dirty') in Wellington. Completely blew SY off the stage and had the vast majority of the SY 'kids' dazed and confused by the volume and ferocity of the performance :-) A review of the compilation just appeared on Pitchforkmedia.

Meet Like Google + More

Monday 16 October 2006 at 08:23 am I hate meetings - How to run a meeting like Google. Especially the interminable 'lets go round the room and tell everyone what you've been up to' ones. Definitely better to have short meetings based around action points, minutes, information and deadlines - then stuff gets done and the meetings are mercifully short. Anything deep can be discussed offline and bought back to the next meeting. A few environmental links - * Breathing Earth shows carbon emissions and births/deaths by country * New Scientist article on Earth without people and the same information presented as a timeline. Sobering stuff. Amusing - Fifty ways a manager can get employees to quite. Its very Office Space / Office. Via Jeremy Zawodny - 'Dilbert' deserves the economics Nobel - Scott Adams financial advice. Nine point plan to financial security. I've only got two of them :-( As seen on Slashdot - Dr Dobbs Journal article on Chris Crawfords new Interactive Fiction company StoryTron. Looks fascinating. It will be interesting to see what type of stuff comes out of such a tool. Must drink more tea - Why green tea helps you lose weight. I need to apply these changes to my install now - Tweaking Firefox for better memory management. A more useful error page for Firefox ErrorZilla. Looks like another must have extension. See some of the interesting stuff coming from Adobe Labs. The Kircher Society blog is having a roundup of death related strangeness. Pretty fascinating stuff. A couple of good reasons why the Mac is a much more 'fun' platform than either Windows or Linux - * A new twist on burning a CD - Disco. I love that blowing on the mic will make the smoke move. * For Mac Laptops with a motion sensor - Skip Checker. Tap the side or move up/down to kick off an action or script. My ThinkPad T43 has a motion sensor but all it seems to do is protect the disk and add a silly coloured icon to my tray. Runs like a dog too. Sigh.

Solaris Patch Management + More

Wednesday 11 October 2006 at 11:55 am Useful for Solaris admins - PCA - Solaris Patch Management Tool. Its a perl script that will patch Solaris 8/9/10 - SPARC & x86. Retro gaming goodness via this web-java app - Virtual Nintendo. Jason Kottke points to some Interesting Google Code Search hits. Wikipedia article on last weeks South Park in World of Warcraft piss-take. The episode is a work of genius and I'm not entirely sure of the Wikipedia article writers realise the irony of spending time and effort documenting it ? In light of the trailer for 'The 300' heres a slightly less fanboyish look back at The Battle of Thermopylae. Its a shame the movie is based on Frank Millers comic rather than Steven Pressfields 'Gates of Fire'. The comic is good but is limited by the medium; the book is brilliant. Wonderful scanned magazine article from the 1950's of miracles you'll see in 50 years. New York Times article - Long Zoom: Will Wrights new game Spore. Will Wright is the genius behind 'SimCity' and 'The Sims'. Why marketing should create documentation - Creating Passionate Users. Amusing - Iggy Pop's concert rider funniest in rock history?. The Gustbuster Umbrella. They'd make a killing in Wellington - the rubbish bins in town are filled with destroyed brollies after a rainy southerly blows through town.

Run Book

Wednesday 11 October 2006 at 11:54 am A new job brings new challanges. One of the things that helps a new comer get a handle on what does what is a run book (and an up to date LAN / WAN diagram). A Run Book should contain -
  • Hostname + Aliases
  • Function
  • Hardware details (make, model, serial number/tag)
  • Hardware config (disks, ram)
  • Installed OS + patch level
  • Installed applications (if its an application server)
  • Special startup/shutdown procedures (if any)
  • Location (server room, rack and geography if you have multiple sites)
  • Basic change log - eg when important changes were made to the system - you may want to add a simple service history too
  • System Owner / Business Owner (eg the responsible systems admin and the person in the business who looks after the application on the box)

A runbook lends itself to a simple database (we used to use a simple Lotus Domino database which worked well) - absolute worst case use a book in the server room or a text file at the root of the system drive on each server to track basic config and change information. Another advantage of a database is that you can age the information and chase updates (eg every 6 months mail the Helpdesk to ensure someone checks the system configuration and updates the run-book details).

The key is to try and keep it as simple as possible while ensuring the vital information is available to admins when they need it. No one likes entering data into an overly complicated tracking system - it ends up actively discouraging use rather than encouraging it. In fact if the run-book can draw upon information already in an asset management system that would save on duplication - or if the asset tracking system can flag systems as 'special' so you can extract the equivalent of a run-book from within the asset database that would be even better.

Networking Tidbit

Monday 09 October 2006 at 12:52 pm I can't for the life of me find the reference but (apparently) in terms of the new generation of high speed network interfaces (Gigabit and 10 Gigabit NIC's) - a rule of thumb is that 1Mb of networking speed requires 1MHz of CPU speed to process). For example putting a 100Mb NIC into a 100MHz PC will overwhelm the processor. So if you're thinking in terms of plonking high-speed NIC's into older hardware be aware of that the CPU is likely to be the bottleneck rather than the NIC. This is why TOE's are becoming popular. A TOE is a TCP Offload Engine - it handles the network overhead while the CPU can get on with doing whatever it was doing. Its becoming more important as people start to see the potential in iSCSI as a storage transport mechanism.

Tumbleweed Tiny Houses

Wednesday 04 October 2006 at 10:59 am I'm sure I've pointed to these guys before but it took me two days of googling before I found them again (even on my own site) - shows the importance of metadata and keywords. So if you're after a tiny (small) cabin (cottage, house, home) then the Tumbleweed Tiny House Company have plans for some wonderful ones.

iAlertU + More

Tuesday 03 October 2006 at 06:39 am Cool - iAlertU is an alarm for your MacBook - it will even take pictures of the would be thief using the built in camera. Amusing - RAID for the layman. A fair proportion of the Top 100 International GDP's are now generated by Corporations. NZ is waaaay down the list at 81 below Nissan. Be nice to your family or they'll have the final say on your tombstone. Interesting insight into some of the design decisions surrounding the Nintendo Wii. Also via ArsTechnica - Email is for old people. I read something about this regarding texting/IM culture in Japan and South Korea a few years ago - looks like the 'yoof' of the west are catching up. View Flash media files using QuickTime player - Perian expands upon the number of media codecs the player will natively handle. This means you can view them in FrontRow too. After a long posting-break GUIdebook is back with some historical scans and articles about the Apple Lisa (circa 1983). Interesting - The Saga of Sagi Society. If its in Japan now I guess it will be in the rest of the world in a couple of years too. Bit depressing to think that technology is spawning new and innovative ways to blackmail people (granted the marks seem extraordinarily naive and/or stupid).

Server Room Air Conditioning

Monday 02 October 2006 at 1:37 pm Dealing with environmental alerts from your server room (it is monitored 24x7 right ?) is a major PITA. A properly designed server room should take into account proper cooling and venting. Unfortunately most people don't have the luxury of designing their server room from scratch and have to deal with adhoc cooling solutions. We have a secondary server room that runs very very hot (30+ deg C) - luckily theres nothing super critical in there. Some digging has revealed that the 40+ devices in there pump out 70000 BTU. The BTU (British Thermal Unit - the wikipedia article is pretty fascinating - eg 12000 BTU is the amount of heat required to melt a ton of ice in 24hrs) seems to be the de facto standard for measuring server room cooling capability even though its been superceded in the metric world by the Joule. At the moment the single ceiling mounted unit seems to be capable of handling 30000BTU and its running at 16 deg C. Running it this cold is pretty pointless as it will never achieve that temperature and trying to run at the units maximum capacity 24x7 is pretty unhealthy. We're looking at getting a portable unit in to handle an additional 20000 BTU - it won't handle the total load but it will take some of the strain off the primary unit. To find out how many BTU's of cooling capacity are required: * You need to calculate the size (assuming a 2m ceiling) of the room - length x width x 330BTU = heat from space * You need to calculate the amount of heat generated by each device - total wattage (I guestimated 400w per device which is a little high) x 3.5 = heat from equipment Then just add up the figures. You can also figure in heat from windows, lights and people but unless its a big datacenter or the room faces the sun and has large windows its probably not going to be a huge amount - if you do want to work out the extra capacity to allow for these factors take a look at the calculations here. Note that 1 Watt is 3.4 BTU when you check out cooling system specs - kW seems to be more common in NZ and the UK for cooling systems. Thats the amount of cooling capacity your server room needs. Don't forget to allow for growth when you add gear and also redundancy in case you have a unit failure. In an old server room we had three wall mounted units - one big and two small; we could take a loss of one of the smaller ones but if the big unit went the temperature skyrocketed pretty quickly. Also be sure to have good rack placement to provide airflow and ensure your racks have built-in fans to properly vent the heat away from the equipment.


Yet another blog about stuff.

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