11 Dec 2016

G’day. What a lovely day. Well, not temperature-wise, as it was 24F when I got up and walked the dog this morning, and had barely crept up to the freezing point by noon. But, still a nice day. We took Linda and Mike to see the matinee showing of It’s A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play, staged by the Annapolis Shakespeare Company. It’s running through Christmas Eve, so you have plenty of time to go see it yourself! This is the second year we’ve enjoyed this production. While some might say it’s not the cheeriest of stories, it is indeed a wonderful show. And there’s plenty of humor in the actors interacting in their “radio studio” as the play goes on. And as usual, towards the end, something manages to get into my eyes. Sally Boyett and her team put on a great show, and you’d love it. Go. GO!

Beyond that, a busy work week behind, another one in front. Other than roasting a pound of Honduras coffee yesterday, there’s not much to report.

*      *      *

A moment of silence to mark the passing of John Glenn.

He was heroic, in the best sense of that word. He flew and fought in two wars. He went to space and into orbit, in a tin can perched atop a tube of high explosives in 1962. Then did it again in 1997 (at age 77!) on the space shuttle. He was a US Senator from Ohio for a quarter century. He’d been a hero of mine for decades, and the world is a poorer place without him in it.l

Our condolences to the family and friends of Sgt. First Class Allan E. Brown, 46, of Takoma Park, Maryland, who died on Dec. 6 at Walter Reed National Medical Center, Bethesda, Maryland, of injuries sustained from an improvised explosive device in Bagram, Afghanistan, that occurred on Nov. 12.

10 Oct 2016

A day late, but a full weekend nearly behind me, so that’s a good thing. Not much on the exercise front last week though, sad to report.

I had a wonderful time at Capclave this year. Y’all may recall that I missed last year entirely due to food poisoning. This year I met new authors, discovered new works, and really enjoyed myself. The Guests of Honor were Sara Beth Durst and Tim Powers – talented writers both, expressive about their craft and the passion they have for their books. Lovely, lovely weekend. And as we were asked in at least one panel, “If you’re not writers, why are you here?” I find it fascinating to see how this particular sausage is made. So there you go.

And for the icing on the event-filled weekend’s metaphorical cake, my brother and his wife were in town for the Annapolis Boat Show (Sail), so we got to see them for a while and go out to supper. Excellent!

Books I picked up this weekend: Cherie Priest’s The Family Plot, Unidentified Funny Objects 4 and 5, edited by Alex Shvartsman, Find the Changeling by Greg Benford and Gordon Eklund, Tales of Time and Space by Allen Steele, A Legacy of Stars by Danielle Ackley-McPhail, and the first bits of Backstage by Joan Wendland. I’ve already started reading The Family Plot (I’ve been waiting for this one).

Coming up on the entertainment dance card: We’re seeing Poe and Twelfth Night this month at Annapolis Shakespeare. They’re running the latter play from this upcoming weekend through mid-November, and Poe is playing from tomorrow through late November. If you’re in area, or going to be visiting, this company is superb: you should get tickets and enjoy one play or many! For us, we’re seeing the shows back-to-back before Marcia’s hip replacement surgery late this month. That gives her several weeks of recovery time before we’ll be attending It’s a Wonderful Life in December.

Today is a Federal holiday, so I’m off work. That means that I slept in a bit, relaxed this morning, and now it’s time to plow through the email and tickets so that my workday tomorrow isn’t ruined. I’d best get to that, in just a moment…

*      *      *

Our condolences to the family and friends of Staff Sgt. Adam S. Thomas, 31, of Takoma Park, Maryland, who died on Oct. 4 in Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan, from injuries caused by an improvised explosive device that exploded during dismounted operations.

 

2 October 2016

A good week: At work, I got several long-term tasks completed. Things went well enough that I took Friday off. To celebrate that banner event, I spent the morning cleaning the main floor of the house, then went out to lunch with a friend from NFR days. It was great to see Sharon, and we had a nice chat while enjoying an excellent meal at Woodmont Grill. From there, she went back to her office, and I headed up the road to the Apple Store in Columbia. I now have a new small tablet, and it’s ALSO a phone! The 7+ is working well for me so far, and given my common use cases, the larger screen is better.

I got some further household chores done over the weekend, including replacing the screening on a few windows. In my spare time, I’m mucking about with node.js. It’s pretty cool, and seems like a reasonable tool for rapidly building small web applications, of which I have a few in mind. Also, Fitbit says I got five days of exercise in. I say that I got three. Oh, well. An exciting life, I know!

Fun stuff coming up this month, though, so stay tuned…

Recent Listening: Dresden Dolls Live from Coney Island and lots of Pink Floyd from my collection

Recent Reading: Iain M. Banks: Consider Phlebas, Smithsonian magazine, assorted ACM and IEEE publications.

*      *      *

DoD announced no new casualties in the last week. Ciao.

12 Sept 2016

Welcome back, us. We hared off to Atlanta for the weekend to visit our friends Jen and Kris. We’ve not visited since their wedding, four or so years back, so this was lovely! We drove down on Friday (12 hours door to door). Saturday we went to the Chihuly in the Garden exhibit at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens.

Chihuly in the Japanese Garden

Chihuly in the Japanese Garden

The installation in the Japanese Garden was my personal favorite. I’ve always had a soft spot for the suprises to be found in meticulously kept tiny gardens. Sunday we wandered around quaint downtown Roswell. There was shopping for some, and dogs to meet, and snacks to be had. That evening we watched Young Frankenstein, and bid Gene Wilder farewell.

This morning we were up well before dawn, and on the road by quarter to six.  Picked up the dog and home before six this evening. So, tired, but fun! Tomorrow, back to work.

*      *      *

Our condolences to the family and friends of 1st Lt. Jeffrey D. Cooper, 25, of Mill Creek, Washington, who died on Sept. 10 in Kuwait, from a non-combat-related injury. Also not forgotten, our continued condolences to the families and friends of those who died fifteen years ago yesterday in New York City.

10 April 2016

A good week, overall. I was on-call for the first half, which is tiring, even when nothing happens. Yep, I sleep a lot more lightly when responsibility requires it. But one week out of every few weeks ain’t bad – and our monitoring and remediation are in a state of continuous improvement, so we get far fewer alerts and calls than in years past. All to the good.

I also executed terminal retirement on a stack of former virtualization hosts. Spin down, uncable from last network connections and from the SAN, spin up again with a DBAN disk in the optical drive: boom. No more data. Some may be repurposed as a lab environment, but the decision hasn’t been taken yet.

*      *      *

It was a fairly relaxing weekend, since the house is fairly clean, and it’s too darn cold to do any yardwork … Hey, did I mention that we had sleet, graupel, and snow on Saturday morning? Did I also mention that four days in the last week started off below freezing? So much for Spring. It had been warming up, and everything started to bloom, then BOOM: be cold and die, little plants! Good thing I’d not planted any veg in the garden yet, eh?

So we had Linda and Mike over to supper last night. Marcia made a wonderful, hearty, chicken stew, complemented by Asiago wheat bread and a green salad. Desert was a shortbread laden with blueberries. A good game of Ticket to Ride followed … good because against all odds, I won.

Both weekend days, I gave a few hours to playtime in the world of The Talos Principle (which I finished), and the Road to Gehenna DLC (which I started). Fun puzzle game: Recommended.

*      *      *

I’m currently reading Cordwainer Smith’s The Rediscovery of Man collection, along with last month’s Strange Horizons. I finished up the April edition of Clarkesworld earlier in the week, too. And I’m continuing to work my way through Learning Ruby the Hard Way, 3E. I’ve been spending years getting just enough knowledge to get the job done, but I want some more depth on something, anything. So, before I work on a substantial project, best to begin at first principles. That’s what I’m doing.

*      *      *

DoD announced no new casualties in the last week, for which we are grateful. Ciao!

LISA15

The LISA 15 conference is in full swing. I was up at 0600, and on the road at 0630. People to see and things to do before two half-day tutorials today: Go for SysAdmins, and Software Testing for Sysadmin Programs. Both were interesting and potentially useful and applicable to my work. Tomorrow, I’m doing the System Internals course, but if there is too much overlap with Ted Ts’o’s course from last year, then I’ll bail at midday and attend the Systemd tutorial in the afternoon. Tuesday I’ve got a couple more tutorials on tap, followed by three days of conference talks, BoFs, and evening meetings. Busy, excellent week ahead. I’m tired already, just thinking about it.

Yep, I’m going to learn a lot,  but really, the best part for me is seeing all these wonderful folks that I only cross paths with once a year at best. I’m quite thankful for that part of this event.

*      *      *

DoD announced no new casualty reports during the last week, for which I am grateful. Ciao!

A Princess and her Pea

Lexi, protected from peas

Lexi, protected from peas

There’s better be a pea under there…

*      *      *

Dragonfly

Dragonfly

Last night, when all was quiet, I finally got a around to putting together the Metal Earth Dragonfly model that I picked up from Amazon weeks ago on a whim, inspired by Jenny’s 1000 Ferris Wheels post. It’s good to have a focused distraction from time to time. The work took me away from myself for a double handful of minutes, and reminded me that I can focus when I make the effort. There’s been so much going on that I’m spending more time putting out fires than planning and tending what is needed, long term. But all will come right again.

*      *      *

Yesterday: more plumbing – I replaced the last of the original faucets in the house. The master bathroom was the sole holdout with a builder-grade piece of crap. But now I’ve got a shiny new two-handle Kohler in its place, and I replaced the drain as well, since that was past due, too. Today: shopping, harvesting tomatoes, making salsa, and attending a birthday barbequeue for a friend was the fullness of the day.

*     *      *

DoD announced no new casualties in the last week. Ciao!

Vacation Over

So… the big deal is that we were in California for purposes of vacation and only vacation – 15 days worth. We visited family in the SF Bay Area, in San Diego, and near Sacramento. We visited friends in Saratoga (SF South Bay) and Dillon Beach (North coastal Marin). What a wonderful, wonderful trip. Oh, oh – AND I got to make it to Maker Faire Bay Area 10th Anniversary. That was fun and awesome, too. I could give you the full rundown on the trip, but it’s a lot like inviting you over and showing you slides, so I won’t. But it was a pleasant trip, and great to see everyone on one fell swoop. Here’s one glimpse of beauty – fog rolling east in the early morning, over the Berkeley hills:

Fog over the Berkeley hills

Fog over the Berkeley hills

We got home in time for two things:

One – The seventeenth anniversary of our wedding. That was yesterday. Seventeen years and I’m still giddy in love. Joy.

Two – A desire to have applied a fast-acting popular herbicide to my entire yard before departure. Yeah, I’ve been doing yardwork for three straight days. Mowing, weeding, pruning, weeding, etc. Both flower beds and garden beds. All my relaxation up in a puff of 90 degree days and high humidity, doing yardwork. Any weight I gained on travel is long gone.

The veggie garden is doing nicely, though:

Bilbrey Veggie Garden - 31 May 2015

Veggie Garden – 31 May 2015

That garden picture from “two weeks ago”? Yeah, that was a three-week old picture. I don’t like talking about travel until it’s done. I don’t do foursquare, either.

*      *      *

On the subject of Science Fiction, I’ve managed now to get my Site Selection Voting Fee paid, and I’ve got my envelope set to mail in – Go DC17! See http://dc17.org/ and http://sasquan.org/site-selection/ for details. Paying and voting also gives you a supporting membership in the 2017 WorldCon, which, should it be in DC (Go DC17!), you could convert to an attending membership with the addition of more funds, and join in all the fun. It’d be a blast, and if it comes to DC (Go DC17!), I’ll be there, too! The least of attractions, surely, but I’d enjoy meeting any of y’all there.

Further, I’ve gotten the Hugo Nomination packet, and am working my way through the nominees. It’ll take me a while to read and vote. If I could trivially do so, I’d try to manage a blind reading and rating (no names attached), then vote the way my heart desires. But some things can’t be unseen, sadly. I’ll do my best to vote the work and not the personalities and politics. That’s what the Hugos are for.

Other factors can’t be ignored, either. For example, ESR is up for the Campbell this year (Note – the Campbell Award is NOT a Hugo). As Eric notes in his post Me for a Campbell Award? Huh? : “I’d probably say something encouraging about it being a solid, craftsmanlike first effort that delivers what its opening promises and suggests the author might be able to deliver quality work in the future.” I can but agree with that. Eric Raymond is one of my role models in a number of ways. But I’ve been reading a lot of science fiction over the last few decades, and much as I approve of Eric breaking into this field of endeavor, he’s not leader of this pack. OTOH, he’s not going to succumb to the politically popular “No Award” either, at least from me. On the gripping hand, I’m glad I read his story, and I’m looking forward to his future efforts.

*      *      *

No new casualties have been announced by DoD in the last five days. Ciao!

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. OpenZFS.org 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!