Capclave Wrap

Capclave 2014 is a wrap. I was not involved. I was just an attendee who had a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful time.  It’s not nearly as much work to attend as to be celebrated, though…

Capclave 2014 GoH Signing Table

Capclave 2014 GoH Signing Table

At the Capclave 2014 GoH Signing Table last night Genevieve Valentine, Paolo Bacigalupi, and Holly Black. These folks (along with many others) worked hard at this literary Science Fiction and Fantasy convention. I commented to Paolo last night that clearly, being Guest of Honor at a con is a lot harder than previously assumed. I wondered aloud if it was much like a goose being the Guest of Honor at a Christmas Dinner? I got a fair laugh out of that one.

But these folks, along with about 75 other program participants and the talented hardworking team from WSFA that put on the con, worked hard on panels, in workshops, and in the hallways, putting on a good show for the fans and current/aspiring writers who attend this show. I attended the following panels, readings, etc:

  • “Holy Shuftik!” he cried. (partial)
  • The League of Substitute Heroes and the Inferior Five (partial)
  • Dealers Room (spending money)
  • Fast Forward TV interviews GoH Paolo Bacigalupi
  • The 2013/14 and 2014/15 TV Seasons
  • Don’t Go There. Unless You Really Want To.
  • The Charms of Dystopia
  • Interview with GoH Genevieve Valentine
  • DC in 17 Worldcon Bid
  • Reading (Genevieve Valentine)
  • Best Short Fiction of 2014
  • Author Table / Dealers Room (spending money)
  • I Hate His/Her Politics But I Love His/Her Books
  • Creating Religions for your Secondary World Fantasy
  • Mass Signing
  • Awards Presentation and GoH Gifts
  • Beyond Sword, Spear, and Shield: Exotic Weapons for Fantasy
  • Astronomy Through the Ages
  • Bookstores: RIP or Not Dead Yet?
  • Why So Many YA Dystopias?
  • Even Hard SF Uses FTL

Finally, with two sessions left in today, I ran fully out of steam. But as you see, I sat in on a lot of interesting material in two and a half days. I came home each night, and didn’t stay for the late night parties and filking – I don’t have all of the energy I once had… But I did come away with some wonderful memories of a great small con, I met a great number of smart, eloquent people, and I have a nice, shiny stack of reading material. WIN!*      *      *DoD has reported no new casualties in the last 7 days.

Six Days of LISA ’13

Howdy. My name’s Brian, and I’m a tired SysAdmin…

So, six days of tutorials and talks at the USENIX LISA ’13 conference are done. And it was good. My behind is, however, glad to be shut of those hotel conference chairs.

Sunday, 3 November

Sunday’s full day tutorial was called Securing Linux Servers, and was taught by Rik Farrow, a talented bloke who does security for a living, and is Editor of the USENIX ;login: magazine on the side. We covered the goals of running systems (access to properly executing services) and the attacks that accessibility (physical, network) enable. As always, the more you know, the more frightening running systems connected to networks becomes. We explicitly deconstructed several public exploits of high-value targets, and discussed mitigations that might have made them less likely. User account minimization and root account lockdowns through effective use of the `sudo` command were prominently featured. Proactive patching is highly recommended, too! Passwords, password security, hashing algorithms, and helping users select strong passwords that can be remembered also were a prime topic. Things that Rik wished were better documented online are PAM (Pluggable Authentication Modules) and simple, accessible starter documentation for SELinux.

Monday, 4 November

Hands-on Security for Systems Administrators was the full-day tutorial I attended on Monday. It was taught by Branson Matheson, a consultant and computer security wonk. Branson is an extremely energetic and engaging trainer who held my attention the whole day. We looked at security from the perspective of (informally, in the class) auditing our physical, social, and network vulnerabilities. In the context of the latter, we used a customized virtual build of Kali Linux , a Debian-based pen testing distro. I learned a lot of stuff, and for those things that I “knew”, the refresher was welcome and timely.

Tuesday, 5 November

Tuesday, I took two half-day tutorials.

The first was presented by Ted Ts’o, of Linux kernel and filesystem fame. Our tutorial topic was “Recovering from Linux Hard Drive Disasters.” We spent a couple of hours covering disk drive fundamentals and Linux file systems. The final hour was given over to the stated topic of recovering from assorted disk-based catastrophes. My take-away from this tutorial was two-fold. I think the presentation be better named “Disks, Linux Filesystems, and Disk Disaster Recovery,” which would be more reflective of the distribution of the material. Additionally, it’s worth stating that any single disk disaster is generally mitigated by multi-disk configurations (mirroring, RAID), and accidental data loss is often best covered by frequently taken and tested backups.

The second tutorial I attended, on Tuesday afternoon, was on the topic of “Disaster Recovery Plans: Design, Implementation and Maintenance Using the ITIL Framework.” Seems a bit dry, eh? A bit … boring? Not at all! Jeanne Schock brought the subject material to life, walking us through setting goals and running a project to effectively plan for Disaster Recovery. IMO, it’s documentation, planning, and process that turns the craft of System Administration into a true profession, and these sorts of activities are crucial. Jeanne’s presentation style and methods of engaging the audience are superb. This was my personal favorite of all the tutorials I attended. But … Thanks, Jeanne, for making more work for me!

Wednesday, 6 November

Whew. I was starting to reach brain-full state as the fourth day of tutorials began. I got to spend a full day with Ted Ts’o this time, and it was an excellent full day of training on Linux Performance Tuning. Some stuff I knew, since I’ve been doing this for a while. But the methods that Ted discussed for triaging system and software behaviour, then using the resulting data to prioritize diagnostic activities was very useful. This is a recurring topic at LISA ’13 – go for the low-hanging fruit and obvious stuff: check for CPU, disk, and network bottlenecks with quick commands before delving into one path more deeply. The seemingly obvious culprit may be a red herring. I plan on using the slide deck to construct a performance triage TWiki page at work.

I was in this tutorial when Bruce Schneier spoke (via Skype!) on “Surveillance, the NSA, and Everything.” Bummer.

This was also my last day of Tutorials. In the evening I attended the annual LOPSA meeting. Lots of interesting stuff there, follow the link to learn more about this useful and supportive organization. Yep, I’m a member.

Thursday, 7 November

Yay, today started with track problems on Metro, and an extra 45 minutes standing cheek-to-jowl with a bunch of random folks on a Red Line train.

This was a Technical Sessions and Invited Talks day for me. In the morning, Brendan Gregg presented Blazing Performance with Flame Graphs. Here’s a useful summary on Brendan’s blog. This was followed in the morning by Jon Masters of Red Hat talking about Hyperscale Computing with ARM Servers (which looks to be a cool and not unlikely path), and Ben Rockwood of Joyent discussing Lean Operations. Ben has strong opinions on the profession, and I always learn something from him.

In the afternoon, Brendan Gregg was in front of me again, pitching systems performance issues (and his new book of the same name). I continue to find Brendan’s presentation style a bit over the top, but his technical chops and writing skills are excellent. This was followed by Branson Matheson (who was training me earlier in the week) on the subject of “Hacking your Mind and Emotions” – much about social engineering. Sigh, too easy to do. But Branson is so enthusiastic and excited about his work  that … well, that’s alright, then, eh?

The late afternoon pair of talks were on Enterprise Architecture Beyond the Perimeter (presented by a pair of talented Google Engineers), and Drifting into Fragility, by Matt Provost of Weta Digital. The former was all about authentication and authorization without the classical corporate perimeter – no firewall or VPN between clients and resources. Is it a legitimate client machine, properly secured and patched? With a properly authenticated user? Good, we’re cool. How much secured, authenticated, patched is required is dependent on the resource to be accessed. This seems a bit like a Google-scale problem… The latter talk, on fragility, was a poignant reminder of unintended dependencies and consequences in complex systems and network.

The conference reception was on Thursday evening, but I took a pass, headed home, and went to bed early. I was getting pretty tired by this time.

Friday, 8 November

My early morning session had George Wilson of Delphix talking about ZFS for Everyone, followed by Mark Cavage of Joyent discussing Manta Storage System Internals. I use ZFS, so the first talk held particular interest for me, especially the information about how the disparate ZFS implementations are working to prevent fragmentation by utilizing Feature Flags. was also discussed. I didn’t know much about Manta except that it exists, but I know a bit more now, and … it’s cool. I don’t have a use, today, but it’s definitely cool.

The late morning session I attended was a two-fer on the topic of Macs at Google. They have tens of thousands of Macs, and the effective image, deployment, and patching management was the first topic of the day, presented by Clay Caviness and Edward Eigerman. Some interesting tools and possibilities, but scale far beyond my needs. The second talk, by Greg Castle, on Hardening Macs, was pertinent and useful for me.

After lunch, the two talks I attended were on “Managing Access using SSH Keys” by the original author of SSH, Tatu Ylönen, and “Secure Linux Containers” by Dan Walsh of Red Hat (and SELinux fame). Tatu pretty much read text-dense slides aloud to us, and confirmed that managing SSH key proliferation and dependency paths is hard. Secure Linux Containers remind me strongly of sparse Solaris Zones, so that’s how I’m fitting them into my mental framework. Dan also talked to us about Docker … a container framework that Red Hat is “merging” (?) with Secure Linux Containers … and said we (sysadmins) wouldn’t like Docker at all. Mmmmmm.

The closing Plenary session, at about an hour and 45 minutes, was a caffeine-fueled odyssey by Todd Underwood, a Google Site Reliability Manager, on the topic of PostOps: A Non-Surgical Tale of Software, Fragility, and Reliability. Todd’s a fun, if hyper, speaker. He’s motivated and knows his stuff. But like some others in the audience, what happens at the scale of a GOOG-size organization may not apply so cleanly in the SMB space. The fact is that DevOps and NoOps may not work so well for us … though certainly the principles of coordinated work and automation strongly apply.

Brian’s Summary

At any given time, for every room I sat in, for every speaker or trainer I listened to, there were three other things that I would have also learned much from. This was my path through LISA ’13. There are many like it, but this one is mine. This conference was a net win for me in many ways – I learned a lot, I ran across some old friends (Hi, Heather and Marc), made some new ones, and had a good time.

The folks I can recommend without reservation that you take a class from, or attend a talk that they’re presenting: Jeanne Schock, Branson Matheson, Rik Farrow, and Ted Ts’o. These are the four people I learned the most from in the course of six days, and you’d learn from them, too!

My hat’s off to the fine staff at USENIX, who worked their asses off to make the conference work. Kudos!

Capclave 2012 #FTW

I had an AWESOME time at Capclave 2012! I got to spend quality time with a number of superb authors, experts, and fans. Among the former were John Scalzi, the Author GoH – as a “Guest” he sure had to work his butt off, but since we all benefit from his work, I’ll not whinge on about it. I got him to sign The God Engines (his “cheerful one”), and I had him inscribe Redshirts to Marcia. Thanks, John! I also stumbled across Edward Lerner, Alan Smale, Allen Wold, Jean Marie Ward, Neil Clarke, and many more brilliant, articulate, wonderful people in the panels, around the tables, and in the halls at this superb small con. I recommend Capclave highly, and I’ll be back for more next year. Kudos to the volunteers who ran the con, and the WSFA, the local organization that sponsored it.

*      *      *

The penultimate class is complete, as of this evening. The grade should drop sometime during the coming week, and I’m hopeful (but not entirely positive) that the 4.0 will survive the experience. The final course of my first degree starts next Sunday. I’ve gotten confirmation from the school that what I’m taking this session puts paid to the requirements, and I’ll be graduating as of 30 December 2012. The skin which is not from a sheep shall arrive 6-8 weeks later (does that come with Ginzu knives?) So, I CAN do an eight week course on web technologies standing on my head, right?

*      *      *

Our condolences to the families, friends, and units of these fallen warriors.

  • Culinary Specialist 2nd Class Milton W. Brown, 28, of Dallas, Texas, died Aug. 4, from a non-combat related incident in Rota, Spain.
  • Sgt. Thomas R. Macpherson, 26, of Long Beach, California, died Oct. 12, in Andar District, Afghanistan, from small arms fire while on patrol during combat operations.
  • Sgt. 1st Class Ryan J. Savard, 29, of Sierra Vista, Arizona, died Oct. 13, in Khanabad District, Afghanistan, from small arms fire while on patrol during combat operations.
  • Cmdr. Joel Del Mundo Tiu, 49, of Manila, Philippines died Oct. 12 as a result of non-combat related injuries.

Married in Atlanta

We travelled to Atlanta for a wedding this weekend.

Our friend Jennifer married her beau Kris in an evening ceremony on Saturday, and everyone had a great time. We’re really happy for both of them!

Our flight down was good – we got out of town before the storms hit late Friday afternoon, forcing a ground stop on all the DC area airports. We had the excellent company of a Marine officer who was just home from an eight month deployment to Afghanistan, managing health-care financial teams doing knowledge transfer to their Afghani counterparts, as well as investigating and keeping track of the money we spend in that arena to help those folks. This Marine was really glad to be home, and looking forward to her new posting in Dallas, and seeing her husband and four kids. You, ma’am, rock!

We got into ATL without difficulties, and hared across town in a Dodge Charger, getting to the church in time to crash the rehearsal! Saturday was a quiet, uneventful day spent resting up and preparing to be up and about late. After the ceremony, the reception was at Aunt Sarah’s gorgeous home, then about half the crowd went on to a popular alehouse near by the hotel. We bailed out “early”, and got back to our room a bit past midnight. Others were several hours later than that.

This morning we swung by the new (to them) house that Jen and Kris just moved into a few weeks ago – they’ve been putting a lot of work into it already, it’s a very nice place in a quiet little neighborhood north of Atlanta. Finally, with Kris’s mom in tow, we went back to ALT, and got on our plane home.

It’s good to be home … and I’ll pick Lexi up from the kennel tomorrow morning.

*      *      *

Our condolences to the families, friends, and units of these fallen warriors:

  • Spc. Vilmar Galarza Hernandez, 21, of Salinas, California, died May. 26 in Zharay, Kandahar  province, Afghanistan, when enemy forces attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device.
  • Spc. Tofiga J. Tautolo, 23, of Wilmington, California, died May 27, in Bati Kot, Nangarhar province, Afghanistan, of wounds sustained when his vehicle was attacked with an enemy improvised explosive device.
  • Capt. John R. Brainard, 26, of Dover-Foxcroft, Maine, died May 28, in Kabul, Afghanistan, of wounds sustained when his helicopter crashed.
  • Chief Warrant Officer Five John C. Pratt, 51, of Springfield, Virginia, died May 28, in Kabul, Afghanistan, of wounds sustained when his helicopter crashed.
  • Sgt. Julian C. Chase, 22, of Edgewater, Maryland, died May 28 while conducting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan.
  • Lance Cpl. Steven G. Sutton, 24, of Leesburg, Georgia, died May 26 while conducting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan.
  • Cpl. Nicholas H. Olivas, 20, of Fairfield, Ohio, died May 30 in Zharay, Afghanistan, when enemy forces attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device.
  • Petty Officer 2nd Class Sean E. Brazas, of Greensboro, North Carolina, died May 30 while conducting combat operations in Panjwa’l, Afghanistan.
  • Staff Sgt. Roberto Loeza, 28, of El Paso, Texas, died May 25 in Charkh, Logar province, Afghanistan, when enemy forces attacked his unit with indirect fire.
  • Staff Sgt. Alexander G. Povilaitis, 47, of Dawsonville, Georgia, died May 31, in Kandahar province, Afghanistan, of wounds sustained when the enemy attacked with an improvised explosive device.
  • Spc. Kedith L. Jacobs, 21, of Denver, Colorado, died May 27, in Chak-E Wardak District, Afghanistan, when his unit was attacked by enemy forces.
  • Pfc. Leroy Deronde III, 22, Jersey City, New Jersey, died May 27, in Chak-E Wardak District, Afghanistan, when his unit was attacked by enemy forces.

No guilt at all

Last night was fun – in between the chores we got to visit with Marcia’s friend and former manager Judy, who was in town for a Peace Corps event. Out to supper at Mi Hacienda, then the girls had a nice chat while I finished up the trash and did some school work.

We were up at 0530, and Marcia ran Judy down to the train while I confused the dog by walking her early on a working day.

What I’m not feeling guilty about is schooling some of my fellow students in the Social Gerontology course. At least one of them took exception to my language in my posts and responses last week. Frankly, it isn’t my problem if their vocabulary isn’t up to snuff. And if they want to have attitude about what I say (as opposed to the words I use to say it), well, that’s their right. But assholes with attitude rarely get useful constructive criticism from me, later in the class.

Of course, on occasion, I am the asshole with an attitude, but I strive always to use the “I” rather than the “you”… but the difference is lost on some of these kids. So be it.

Another Week Down

A very social day today – a company picnic this afternoon, and Linda Rose brought Mike over for pizza and an episode of BAB5. I only wish I felt good … but I don’t. Not sure what ails (I probably ate too much!), but I’m not going to let it slow me much.

*     *     *

Our condolences to the families and units of these fallen warriors:

  • Staff Sgt. Daniel A. Quintana, 30, of Huntington Park, California, died Sept. 10 in Paktika province, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when insurgents attacked his unit using small arms fire.
  • Staff Sgt. Keith F. Rudd, 36, of Winder, Georgia, died Sept. 10 in Parvan, Afghanistan, of wounds sustained while supporting combat operations.
  • Sgt. 1st Class Danial R. Adams, 35, of Portland, Oregon, died Sept. 13 in Wardak province, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when insurgents attacked his unit using mortar, machine-gun and small-arms fires.
  • Sgt. Rodolfo Rodriguez Jr., 26, of Pharr, Texas, died Sep. 14 in Kandahar province, Afghanistan of injuries sustained when insurgents attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device.
  • Sgt. Chester G. Stoda, 32, of Black River Falls, Wisconsin, died Sep. 2, from a non-combat related incident.
  • Sgt. Mycal L. Prince, 28, of Minco, Oklahoma, died Sept. 15 in Laghman province, Afghanistan of injuries sustained when insurgents attacked his unit using rocket-propelled grenades and small arms fire.
  • Cpl. Michael J. Dutcher, 22, of Asheville, North Carolina, died Sept. 15 while conducting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan.
  • Staff Sgt. Michael W. Hosey, 27, of Birmingham, Alabama, died Sept. 17 in Uruzgan province, Afghanistan, of injuries suffered when insurgents attacked his unit using small arms fire.


Mmmmm, steak!

Supper at the Chesapeake Grille & Deli tonight, with friends Linda and George. I had the Sirloin steak dinner, medium rare, and they cooked it perfectly! Good stuff. The others had assorted seafood and it was all good. Recommended. Now it’s time for school work, followed by some remote office work sometime after 2200. Ciao!

Byte? SRSLY?

First off, Byte is back. Yeah, SRSLY, Byte. Talk about your basic reincarnation myth, remixed about 5 times over the last 10 years. And equally fully of #FTW, Jerry’s involved. Huzzah!

*    *    *

Also, Jerry’s got a column out, having finally battle his way past nearly four months of creeping crud. I just finished the editing pass and got the column posted for him within the last hour. There’s still kinks to shake out of CMR at the new hosting site, but we’ll get them licked, one way or another.

*    *    *

Nothing else going on, work and such. Remind me someday – I *still* really want  to build a Solaris 11 box. Can I do everything I do here (on Linux) with that? Do I want to try? The answer is “Probably”, but it sure ain’t this week. Maybe after summer session, and before fall classes start. I can’t just wing it, because I don’t have spare hardware, and no budget for any right now.