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Dec 27, 2006

Inkless Metal Pens + More

Awesome - Inkless metal pen.

Useful - Turning off un-needed OS X services.

Handy Windows tool - Driver Collector. Lets you collect all the drivers from a running system before a rebuild - particularly useful if you no longer have the original driver installers.

Interesting - Early history of computer role-playing games.

Linked before but its still great for procrastination - Optical Illusions.

Rudy Ruckers webzine - Flurb. Features sci-fi short stories from people like Charles Stross. Rudy also has a series of blog entries relating to a recent trip to NZ.

Handy - Forty tips to improve your grammer.

Interesting historical contrast - Genghis Khan: Law and order. How the Khan handled his 13th Century invasion of Iraq.

Excellent - Twenty Four web tips. Nate Koechelys article on easy fluid CSS layouts looks like a great time saver.

I haven't had much luck with Windows desktop managers but the freeware Dexpot looks like it has potential.

New Scientist - Just can't get e-nough. Problems associated with to much technology.

[/links/2006] | [permalink] | [2006.12.27-19:25.00]

Dec 21, 2006

Solaris ZFS Tips & Tricks

Configure the /devices directory to make physical disks available for use:

# drvconfig

Creates /dev entries for hard disks attached to the system:

# disks

List available disks and format them:

# format

You can activate the ZFS web gui:

# /usr/sbin/smcwebserver start

Access it via your browser:


Create a mirrored disk:

/usr/sbin/zpool create -f testfs mirror c0d1 c1d1

Replace device in mirror:

/usr/sbin/zpool replace -f testfs c1d1

Create the snapshot:

/usr/sbin/zfs snapshot testfs@test_snap

Access a snapshot through the .zfs/snapshot directory at the root of the filesystem.

Excellent ZFS cheat-sheet over at Unix Admin Corner.

A useful step-through for adding disks to Solaris over at KernelTrap.

Great blog with tips on using Zones with ZFS and securing your Solaris system - Clingan.

[/tech/unix/solaris] | [permalink] | [2006.12.21-22:24.00]

Data Visualisation

A couple of really interesting data visualisation blogs -

* Infosthetics - look for the Information Cocktail which mixes a drink based on events (in this case a Netherlands/Germany soccer match).

* Datamining - interesting charts based on publicly available data - check the GIS section for some 3d mapping comparisons between Google Earth, Microsoft Virtual Earth, Yahoo Maps etc

[/misc] | [permalink] | [2006.12.21-21:22.00]

Taxes + More

Looks like we may get a $10 a week tax cut. Rod Dury (of Aftermail/Archivemail fame) points out that from a business perspective giving some tax breaks may improve the economy as it would increase spending/saving and provides an interesting chart which indicates NZer's work harder but are less productive than their OECD counterparts (debunked in the comments). Rod also links to an amusing tale of the way taxation works in terms of dis-enchanting high-income earners. I always thought once you got to a certain income level it just meant you ended up getting an accountant who could do some creative tax avoision (smash together avoidance & evasion) so you pay less tax anyway ?

Handy - 10 Good Unix Habits.

Interesting - How Microsoft deals with network attacks.

Classic - You Park Like An Asshole. Someone needs to come up with some of these sites in NZ so people can send pxts of moronic behaviour - / / / I wonder when cars will come with built in cameras to record trips ?

Definitely need to get a decent turntable - Walt Mossberg reviews two Vinyl to CD turntables. Bet they're direct drive (evil) rather than belt (good) . . .

Interesting - Brian Eno - 77 Million Paintings. Looks like a great way to use a plasma screen while its idling :-)

[/links/2006] | [permalink] | [2006.12.21-00:06.00]

Dec 19, 2006

Music - Best of 2006

The 'best-of' lists for 2006 are starting to appear -

* PopMatters Best of 2006 also their Best Re-issues of 2006

* Pitchfork to 50 Albums of 2006 and the Top 100 Tracks of 2006

* Stylus top 50 Albums of 2006

Flicking through the lists I quite enjoyed singles by The Knife, Yo La Tengo & The Pipettes.

[/music] | [permalink] | [2006.12.19-22:27.00]

YouTube Music Video - Husker Du (Live)

Melodic hardcore and the birth of alternative rock from Husker Du - Girl Who Lives on Heaven Hill + I Apologize. The audio is a little 'blown-out' not sure if the clipping is a result of volume or just the transfer to video.

YouTube also has them doing a pretty faithful cover (after 'Love Is All Around') of the Mary Tyler Moore theme - 'You Can Turn The World On With a Smile' and a frankly appalling version of the Byrds '8 Miles High'

Without Husker Du there would not have been the Pixies or Nirvana. Personally I'm a fan of their mid-period work - on New Day Rising & Zen Arcade they added a strong dose of melody and psychedelia to their previous hardcore efforts (their 'Land Speed Records' & 'Metal Circus' EP's crammed a lot of songs into a seriously short period of time). After 'Zen Arcade' they signed to a major label (Warners) and released the slightly tepid (but still good) 'Candy Apple Grey' and 'Warehouse Songs & Stories' before calling it quits in 1988.

Full marks for bassist Greg Nortons cool handle-bar 'tache & Bob Mould anti-punk flying-v guitar :-)

[/music] | [permalink] | [2006.12.19-19:41.00]

Dec 08, 2006

Great Kiwi Ad

One of many decent ads on telly at the moment -

This one is for a Kiwi fave L & P (Lemon & Paeroa) and concerns one of the great male institution of the 70's - 'stubby' shorts.

Watch, grin & cringe at the fashion and haircuts of the era :-)

Still - L & P is a wonderful soft-drink to partake of on a hot summers day ;-)

[/humour] | [permalink] | [2006.12.08-04:46.00]

Dec 06, 2006

Procrastination Fodder + More

Like I need more procrastination fodder - Best blogs of 2006 you aren't reading.

Also check out the finalist and winners of the 2007 Independent Games Festival.

From there I checked out Indexed. Both funny, sad and strange.

Genius - History of the button. My friend used to have a Merlin - I was super envious.

Handy - 30 essential free applications for windows. I use Firefox, Notepad2, FileZilla (occassionally), KeyNote, VLC, TrueCrypt and Handbrake. They're missing Putty and Windows Media Player Classic & Real Alternative though.

Interesting - Google System Blog. See what Google has planned for the future as well as useful tips on their services.

Useful - ABC's of IPv6.

Destruction caused by the new Wii controller - Wii Have A Problem. Looks like Nintendo are really onto a winner. A negative take on the Wii from Slate - claims the controller and sensor system makes so many compromises that it doesn't matter about the quality of the motion so much as any kind of motion at all.

Interesting - 33 Names of things you never knew had names. Also check out these strange words at Snopes. Some of these were on the tip of my tongue but for the life of me I couldn't recall them (peen, tang & ferrule).

Interesting - 50 Ways to use RFID tags.

Wonderful - Writers Resource of information organised by decade - starting with 1650.

Great resource for scientific bits and pieces - American Science Surplus. The Wanna Smash Stuff book looks great for kids :-)

Thoughts on Unstructured Storage. It would seem only 15% of data is managed the rest is not. Describes a three way tussle between database vendors, storage vendors and dba's - who will win ? As the article says - most people on the business side don't really care until it affects the bottom line - when that happens it'll be interesting to see who suffers :-)

Useful step by step guide to setting up ssh keys with Putty.

Nifty - Map of the internet by IP address allocation.

[/links/2006] | [permalink] | [2006.12.06-18:21.00]

Dec 05, 2006

NetApp Simulator

Some discussion on how the NetApp simulator came to be and how it is used.

The latest simulators even come as pre-built VMWare images you can use via VMWare Player.

You also get demo keys for the majority of the add on modules you're likely to use so you can try before you buy.

[/tech/storage] | [permalink] | [2006.12.05-20:08.00]

Dec 03, 2006

Idea for an Open Source Application - Simple Visitor Management System

So I've been putting in place a small scale Visitor ID System ('System' seems overkill for something this simple) from Dymo. Dymo also have another system - GuestGaurd which does something similar.

It does the basics very very well and its ideal for a small organisation - you just need a Windows PC capable of taking a Dymo USB label printer. The software acts as a simple kiosk which people can sign in and out of at reception (instead of filling in a Visitor Book). You can also hook up a USB camera and the application will allow you to print a picture to include on the label. Visitor reports can be printed at any time (on a normal printer). The printers are thermal which means you only need to keep it fed with labels rather than worrying about ink/toner.

The software can work in networked mode and it will allow someone at Reception to administer the system from their own PC as well as notifying staff when a visitor arrives - this mechanism was a little clunky to implement (relied on file shares rather than a standard windows messaging interface or email) and most IT people would be a little reluctant to network a system that was publicly accessible.

Still the basic configuration works really really well - Reception and their Visitors no longer have to mess around with the Visitor Book or its little labels.

This is kind of a long winded way of saying it would make a fantastic Open Source product idea - a LAMP based system (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP) with a Firefox front-end (in Kiosk mode). Visitors fill in a simple form when they arrive (some basic customisation could be carried out in the admin/reporting interface) - a list of who they're visiting could be pulled from an LDAP source with type-ahead auto complete and a simple email message could be sent to whoever they're visiting to inform them that their guest had arrived.

The back-end database would keep track of peoples comings and goings (and if you're a frequent visitor the system wouldn't make you sign in all over again) and let Reception print out visitor / fire-evacuation lists.

The admin / reporting interface would also just be a web form accessible to anyone supplying the appropriate username / password.

Enhancements could include a simple SMS gateway to text people when guests arrive or automatically call and inform them their guest is waiting for them. Then you could get really fancy and have modules that would integrate with CRM's to track client site visits.

You could get really fancy by allowing normal staff to 'pre-book' their own guests and automatically generate visitor labels which Reception could present to them when they arrive and send a reminder email when they're due to show up.

The LAMP advantage would be that you could install the entire system to a PC via bootable CD, configure it via the admin interface and then you're all set. As its all open source stuff it would be pretty simple to customise.

[/tech/software] | [permalink] | [2006.12.03-23:46.00]

Dec 01, 2006

Voice Over IP

More and more people are using Voice Over IP (VoIP) - it seems to work well and removes the hassle involved in leasing a PABX or having contractors come in and make updates to the phone system.

From an admin standpoint it means almost anyone can manage basic PABX admin (eg directory management). You also get the joys of being able to plug 'n play your phone (no more repatching every time someone moves desk) and reset voicemail pins along with a wealth of other functionality previously hidden away in the heads of PABX admins. Most VoIP vendors also have cool stuff in terms of messaging integration (eg with Outlook or Notes) and software phones.

We use a MiTel 3300 which is been ticking along quite happily for a few years now with about 340 users (it'll easily handle twice that) - admin is primarily web based and pretty straightforward although it helps to have some basic PABX familiarity before you go poking around with some of the more esoteric options. As its all software based you can just upgrade your PABX to support new generation phones - stick in the MAC address of the phone and it'll boot up with the appropriate software image.

What you need to utilise all of this VoIP goodness is a solid LAN with Quality of Service (QoS) capable switches and VLAN's to isolate your VoIP traffic. We use Cisco kit and its interesting to note that not all of their gear is created equal - implementing QoS on a Catalyst 3550 is much simpler than the 3500XL (slightly older model).

Another essential to save on cabling is Power over Ethernet (PoE) capability in your switches. Some will transparently power your phones and other devices (the newer 3550's and 3560's) while others will require dongles on your phones (the 3500XL's). For older switches (like the 3500XL's) you can also use a PoE 'booster' like a PowerDSine unit and not have to use a dongle.

In terms of basic troubleshooting be very wary of putting your phones through cheap switches and watch the quality of your patch leads. Most VoIP phones share your PC LAN connection - your patch lead goes from the wall into the phone and then from the phone into your PC. The phone itself acts as a QoS switch controlling what your PC does such that it doesn't adversely affect your voice communications - probably not something you'd notice unless you have some other real-time type apps running on your PC (eg intensive Citrix sessions).

Be careful implementing VoIP across a WAN - it can be done but if you don't have the expertise in-house you *really* need to be able to trust that your comms provider will allocate appropriate bandwidth (we allow about 80kb per call so if you have 10 people in a remote office set aside about 1Mb) for a real-time queue and properly honour the QoS DSCP tagging (44 - 46 seems common in NZ).

If you run into choppy voice calls while copying data across the WAN or when more than one or two people use their phone simultaneously then the circuit/routers haven't been properly provisioned and/or your switches aren't properly handling the QoS tagging (your comms provider will point the finger back at your LAN config so you need to be able to show end to end QoS so you can point the finger right back at them :-)

Still - its all worth the pain - being able to plonk a phone down anywhere and use it as an extension of your primary office is a truly great thing.

[/tech/network] | [permalink] | [2006.12.01-03:27.00]