Mark Turner : Vagus nerve stimulation – Business Insider

July 06, 2015 02:20 AM

Vagus nerve stimulation might help relieve symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome and other immune system disorders.

Luckily, she would not have to. As she was resigning herself to a life of disability and monthly chemotherapy, a new treatment was being developed that would profoundly challenge our understanding of how the brain and body interact to control the immune system. It would open up a whole new approach to treating rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune diseases, using the nervous system to modify inflammation. It would even lead to research into how we might use our minds to stave off disease.

And, like many good ideas, it came from an unexpected source.

Source: Vagus nerve stimulation – Business Insider

Magnus Hedemark : State of the Nerd Report / Homelab Update

July 04, 2015 05:15 AM

The last few months have been quite a ride. I’ve been busy, both at work and at play. And both influence one another. Of course, if I were going to write about work tonight, I’ve got another outlet for that. So let’s catch up on what I’ve been up to in my personal nerding.

I’ve largely pulled back from photography. This isn’t so much on a permanent basis, but long enough for me to catch up on some other geekery. My home office was looking like something out of hoarders, though, so I took drastic action before my family could stage an intervention.

The part that hurts the most is that I’ve liquidated almost all of my darkroom equipment. I can still process exposed film in 35mm and medium format, but no longer have the trays for sheet film processing. All three enlargers are gone, safe lights are gone, enlarger timer is gone. In a nutshell, I can no longer create analog enlargements. This reflects the reality of how poorly my darkroom setup was. Quite literally, it involved crawling around on the floor of my downstair bathroom with an enlarger propped up on the toilet lid, trays in the bathtub, other supplies scattered on the floor around me. My knees can’t take it anymore, and I’m not making a significant upgrade in my house to accommodate a permanent professional type darkroom, so off it went.

A lot of old computer junk went off to the recycling center. I still have a bunch of hard disks to drill out, but this also freed up a lot of floor space.

But I didn’t just spend my time getting rid of stuff: there are new toys, as well.

  • Force10 S50 switch – 48 managed gigabit ethernet ports. This was much-needed. The Cisco SG300-10 was moved upstairs to the living room. I’ve now got a wired connection between upstairs and downstairs, which fundamentally changes how my whole house network functions now… especially since the internet connectivity comes into the house from upstairs, and all of the real infrastructure is downstairs.
  • Many upgrades to the N40L. The ZFS pool was upgraded from 4x 2TB disks to 4x 6TB disks, which will now give me room for a backing store for virtual machines. 2x 128GB SSD’s were added as boot disks, so the OS could be changes from SmartOS to OmniOS. I did this mostly because I felt what I needed was more of a general purpose OS on that machine, and I also wanted the better IPv6 support that OmniOS provides. I added a third 128GB SSD as a slog device. Yeah, it’s way too big. But I didn’t want to partition a reach cache device for this. I’m saving the final 2.5″ disk slot for an L2ARC SSD.
  • ZFS-backed network Time Machine backups for my Macbook.
  • WiFi upgrades – The Apple wifi gear is gone. This is great, because the Apple Airport Extreme would fall over when placed under heavy load, sometimes multiple times per day. I split the router/firewall role out to a pfSense machine, and moved the WiFi duties to ubiquity gear. Remember how I told you how to create a Tor-only VLAN with a Raspberry Pi last year? Well, that VLAN is still running. And now it finally has something to do: it’s the basis for my WiFi guest network.
  • Desk – I really hated my old desk. I never liked it. Not even a little. I got a small bump in cash from recent events at work, and put some of it towards a nice desk upgrade. I’m now writing this while standing up at my carbonized bamboo GeekDesk Max.

I feel like I’ve been super busy and not getting a lot done. But I have gotten a lot done. I just have a lot more to do.

Some of the things I want to get done soon:

  • Get my private cloud bootstrapped.
  • Spend some time really learning and putting to use a programming language like Ruby, Go, or Python.
  • Get more involved with contributing to the Tor community. Somehow. See the bit above about learning a new programming language.
  • Speaking of Tor, one of the moderators at /r/tor just up and banned me with no warning or conversation or anything. The explanation didn’t seem to make sense. Given I’m going to be spending more time writing about Tor, I’d hate to be closed out of this part of the community. Stretch goal: figure out how to be allowed back in through the front door. I don’t have interest in sneaking through the back.
  • I’ve got a lot of ideas around automating orchestration of a bunch of Tor relays “in the cloud”. And I plan on budgeting some $$ every month towards deploying and maintaining such a hive of relays.
  • Beaglebone Black. I’ve got one. I just need to find a cool project for it.

Magnus Hedemark : locked out of Twitter for using Tor

July 03, 2015 09:59 PM

If anybody finds themselves missing my tweets, note that Twitter decided to lock my account for accessing it through Tor. I thought I’d post a little bit about it, because I’m sure this has got to be a problem for people in parts of the world where they must use technology like Tor to connect and enjoy some freedom of speech.

Screen Shot 2015-07-03 at 5.50.28 PM

They even sent me a nice note right away with a temporary code (reswizzled here). Shame the temporary code didn’t work.

Hi Magnus H.,
We noticed that someone recently tried to sign in to your Twitter account (@Magnus919) from an unusual device or location.
If this wasn’t you, change your password now:
If this was you, confirm your identity by using this temporary code: abcdefgh
You can also enter this code where you would normally enter your password when you sign in. Once you confirm your identity, you can continue using your current password.
If you’re having trouble, you can report a problem.
Thank you,
The Twitter Security Team

Note that I use Tor pretty extensibly for mundane things, including using Twitter. Note that even Facebook is making substantial effort to figure out how to let people use its services through Tor. Twitter, please do this.

Tarus Balog : 2015 Dev-Jam: Day Five

July 03, 2015 05:23 PM

Sorry for the week delay on this post, but this happened.

The last day of Dev-Jam is always bittersweet for me. I’m sad that it is over, but I also get to see all the wonderful “new shiny” people have been working on. Friday we do demos.

This year we made an attempt to record each demo. Just click on the picture to see it on the YooToobz. Videos, yay!

First up was Ben. Ben is the architect of our new mobile app, OpenNMS Compass. Available for both iOS and Android, it may even turn into our next overall user interface. To do that, it needs graphs, so Ben demonstrated how you can now display graphs in Compass. You can even set “favorites” so they show up on your main screen.

Dev-Jam Demos: Ben

Markus von Rüden spent the week working on something fun: digitizing our mascot and kiwi overlord, Ulf. He demonstrated this work in a game. While it wasn’t completely finished, when Ulf died would he split in half to reveal a kiwi (fruit) center. Cute. Unfortunately, no video and no wiki page (yet).

Dev-Jam Demos: MvR

Christian presented a new way to represent issues within OpenNMS, a “heat map“. It works with both alarms and outages.

Dev-Jam Demos: Christian

Jesse presented something that literally gave me goosebumps. Using our new integration with Newts, you can search for similar data within OpenNMS. So if there is say, a spike, you can search through all the other metrics to see if there are other data sources that spike at the same time.

Dev-Jam Demos: Jesse

David S. presented a new northbound interface for sending alarms to other systems via JMS. He used ActiveMQ as a proof of concept.

Dev-Jam Demos: David S.

Ron created a couple of new features. The first was the ability to see polls as events, including how long each poll took (if available). He also added the ability to create a consistent color scheme across performance graphs.

Dev-Jam Demos: Ron

Umberto created another real exciting feature – the ability to export in real time OpenNMS events to Elasticsearch. Since OpenNMS can handle thousands of events a second, sending them to a system built to analyze such data could be very useful. Umberto was sponsored to attend by the OpenNMS Foundation.

Dev-Jam Demos: Umberto

A second OpenNMS Foundation attendee was Marcel. He worked on improving data collection for Fortinet devices.

Dev-Jam Demos: Marcel

Another cool feature was Dustin’s custom data collection script tool. Sometimes OpenNMS gets criticized for not using SSH to collect data and perform montoring. The reason it doesn’t is rather simple: it’s a stupid idea. It usually requires that you set up keys with null passphrases, and often they connect as root. Despite the security issues, it is also a resource hog and can’t scale. We have always recommended using an extensible SNMP agent like Net-SNMP, but it can be some effort to set up.

Dustin’s feature allows you to put collection scripts in a special folder on the server, and OpenNMS will automatically collect the data. All you need to do then is to add a graph definition and you’re done.

Dev-Jam Demos: Dustin

Ronny discussed running OpenNMS in Vagrant and Docker containers. Neato.

Dev-Jam Demos: Ronny

DJ was frustrated in how long it can take to compile OpenNMS if tests are enabled. OpenNMS is heavily instrumented with software tests. These can be broken into “unit” tests and “integration” tests. Maven (the build system used by OpenNMS) can be configured to separate them. Since unit tests should be small and quick, they can be run every time with the integration tests only run for regression.

Dev-Jam Demos: DJ

Finally, Seth presented the work he did this week which was focused on changes needed to support OpenNMS Minion. Minions are little, stand alone processes that can perform basic monitoring and data collection, which is then forwarded up to an OpenNMS Dominion instance.

Dev-Jam Demos: Seth

While the last Dev-Jam always seems to be the best Dev-Jam, I think it was true this year. This work will go along way toward positioning OpenNMS for the coming Internet of Things, and as always it is amazing to see what brilliant people can do when given the opportunity to work together.

We ended the day at Surly Brewing Company. The beer was delicious and the company stimulating. I only got one non-blurry picture, and unfortunately my pants fell down when I stood up to take it.

Dev-Jam: Surly Brewing


I hope to see everyone at the OpenNMS Users Conference in September. I promise to keep my pants on.

Mark Turner : First Measles Death in US Since 2003 Highlights the Unknown Vulnerables – Phenomena: Germination

July 03, 2015 12:19 AM

For the first time in 12 years, an American resident has died from measles. The victim was taking immunosuppressive drugs which made her vulnerable.

Last week, the CDC reported on a man who contracted measles after passing through an airport gate a full 46 minutes after an infected child passed through the same gate. Learn more about why measles is a scary disease here at Buzzfeed.

Shocking news today out of Washington state: For the first time since 2003, a resident of the United States has died of measles. If you wondered, based on my last post, what happens when measles infects unvaccinated people and travels with them in an untrackable manner, this is the answer: It sickens and kills people who are vulnerable for reasons over which they have no control.

Source: First Measles Death in US Since 2003 Highlights the Unknown Vulnerables – Phenomena: Germination

Mark Turner : Moore’s Law is dead – Business Insider

July 01, 2015 12:54 PM

“Moore’s Law,” the observation that computer chips has doubled in capacity every two years, is hitting the limits of physical matter. This is a fascinating look at the miraculous physics that makes our smartphone-enabled world possible, and where we go from here.

When Gordon Moore wrote his paper, the most complex chip had only 64 transistors on it. Back around 2000, the processor on my home-built PC was made using a 180-nanometer process technology. The one I’m using now, also built out of parts, uses a 22-nanometer technology. The amount of transistors on the chip has increased from 37 million to over 1 billion in only 15 years.

Moore’s law is based on shrinkage. How small can you shrink the manufacturing process? The smaller you can do it, the more components you can fit on a silicon wafer. We’ve been really good at that for over 50 years.

But we’re hitting limits with how small we can make these components. In fact, over the past several years, it’s become harder and harder to shrink the manufacturing process. Some experts predict we’ll hit the end of the line by 2020. Some say it will be 2022. Either way, it’s going to happen pretty soon.

Source: Moore’s Law is dead – Business Insider

Original article from Daily Reckoning.

Mark Turner : Past Gas, literally

July 01, 2015 02:44 AM

A backhoe digging in this ditch ruptured a gas main this morning

A backhoe digging in this ditch ruptured a gas main this morning

This morning I got to play hero, ironically driving our electric car with our “Past Gas” license plate.

I was driving to work as usual when I turned off of Hillsborough Street onto Ashe Avenue, a spot where a new apartment building is going up. As I go by, I see a construction leap off a backhoe and race across the road. Others scurried away as well, eyes wide with fear. It was then that I smelled natural gas and realized the deafening roar I was hearing was the sound of a busted gas main. Yikes!

I rolled down the road for a moment or two while frantically fumbling to unlock my phone to dial 911 (I temporarily forgot I can do this from the locked screen, but whatever). I blurted out what I saw and heard to the dispatcher and gave my name and number. Though the dispatcher told me they were already sending someone out, I didn’t see or hear any first responders so I took matters into my own hands. I figured I might not be trained in how to direct traffic but any idiot can block traffic, so I pulled my car across the oncoming lane and got my geeky yellow safety vest and my emergency light out from the trunk.

Many confused and sometimes angry drivers passed by. Many asked for detour directions. Some asked what was going on. A UPS driver was considerably pushy, blocking other traffic until he was allowed to deliver to a nearby building. One dude in a red pickup truck blew right by me, only to be told to turn around at the next intersection (dumbass). Buses, dump trucks, and bulldozers passed disturbingly close to my car as it sat in the other lane. I began to sweat in the rapidly warming sun.

About 20 minutes into my adventure a Raleigh Police officer drove up. He briefly looked me over before stopping to receive instructions from his radio.

“Who are you with?” he asked offhandly.

“I’m just a volunteer,” I responded, “but I am a police department volunteer.”

He nodded his head. “Well, thanks for being here.”

“Now that you’re here do you still need me around?” I asked.

“Maybe not,” he said. “But I might need you down there.” He pointed to the intersection closer to the leak.

He moved his cruiser to the intersection closer to the leak and returned on foot, saying it was okay to open up this part of the street and inviting me to join him. I drove down and stood with him for a bit as traffic weaved around us. Soon I was pointing at clueless drivers, trying to direct them away from us and towards the detour.

“Don’t waste your time,” the officer said. “They’ll figure it out. If you go pointing to them that’s all you’ll ever be doing.”

The jerk UPS driver, having gone to this apartment, now found himself blocked in. He inched his truck up behind us.

“The UPS guy wants to come through,” I mentioned to the cop.

“He can wait,” came the droll reply. Yes! That asshole driver gets his comeuppance! The officer eventually got around to letting him through but I was secretly pleased at how long he took!

The officer eventually noted that my car, parked (legally) on the side street, might be better off somewhere else as drivers were having to drive around it. I took the opportunity to depart, shaking his hand as I walked away. The leak in the line, said to be as big in diameter as a softball, was plugged about 20 minutes later.

It was an exciting way to start the day, and fortunately no one was hurt. Including me. I like to think that the emergency training I was given a few years back in my CERT classes kicked in, especially the part where if you come upon a scene and no one is doing anything, be the one who does something. Like my CERT training taught, I elected myself the “Incident Commander” and worked the scene until someone more qualified came along.

The day was hot enough without a natural gas fire.

Mark Turner : NSA can track everyone’s phone calls again — for a while – CNET

July 01, 2015 02:08 AM

Who needs the Patriot Act when a judge can simply extend NSA’s domestic spying with the stroke of a pen?

When did you last call your mother? Don’t worry if you can’t remember — the National Security Agency can once more keep track of that for you. That is, for the next 180 days.

After briefly suspending its bulk collection of phone call data, the NSA now has the authority to start it up again, a federal judge ruled on Monday.

Source: NSA can track everyone’s phone calls again — for a while – CNET

Mark Turner : Daily Mail invents critics of Facebook’s “Celebrate Pride” feature

July 01, 2015 02:00 AM

A friend shared a story on a website called the “Conservative Post” called “Everyone Who Changed Their Facebook Photos To Rainbow Just Got DUPED.” I’m always curious of what gets my righty friends all worked up so I read it.

Conservative Post got duped

Conservative Post got duped

Over a million people changed their facebook profile pictures to a rainbow filter in support of gay marriage.

New reports reveal that the “Celebrate Pride” tool may not have been the best idea…

According to Daily Mail, this tool was actually Facebook’s way of performing psychological testing on their users.

Cesar Hidalgo wrote on Facebook yesterday. “The question is, how long will it take for people to change their profile pictures back to normal.”

Experts say that by setting up the tool, Facebook was able to get an unprecedented insight on how to influence their users.

Nowhere does the Conservative Post tell us who Cesar Hidalgo is (he’s with the MIT Media Lab) and what “the question is” that he’s quoted as asking. Short on facts, I clicked through to the original Daily Mail story. The story by Ellie Zolfagharifard was even more bombastic:

Daily Mail dupes its readers

Daily Mail dupes its readers

Did YOU change your Facebook picture to a rainbow flag? Critics claim ‘Celebrate Pride’ tool may be another psychological test

Your Facebook feed is probably looking a little more colourful this week.

In celebration of the Supreme Court’s approval of same-sex marriage, the site is offering users a tool to overlay their profile photos with a rainbow filter.

And it’s proved hugely popular. Within a few hours of the ‘Celebrate Pride’ tool launching, more than a million people changed their profile photos.

But while it may seem like Facebook’s intentions are noble, some people have accused the social network of carrying out another psychological test on its users.

‘This is probably a Facebook experiment!’ said the MIT network scientist Cesar Hidalgo on Facebook yesterday.

‘The question is, how long will it take for people to change their profile pictures back to normal.’

By setting up its own tool to let people filter their profile picture, the concern is that Facebook is able to get an unprecedented insight into how to influence people.

Well, no. This premise sounded seriously fishy, so I took the initiative to look up Mr. Cesar Hidalgo myself. Just as the story said, he has a Facebook account and, lo and behold, here’s the post from which he was quoted:

Cesar Hidalgo jokes about Facebook's Celebrate Pride feature.

Cesar Hidalgo jokes about Facebook’s Celebrate Pride feature.

This is probably a Facebook experiment! The question is how long will it take for people to change their profile pictures back to normal. :)

You’ll note that later in the comment thread, in response to a reporter’s question, Mr. Hidalgo clearly states that he was joking:

Sure. I assume, you understand I am joking :)

So there we have it. The Daily Mail twisted what Mr. Hildago said, knowing it was a joke. It artfully turned this newly-created “critic” into the plural “critics” and then paired this fiction with two-year-old news reports of research Facebook has done in the past. Not only was Mr. Hildago never interviewed, he didn’t express “the concern Facebook is able to get an unprecedented insight into how to influence people.” In fact, it’s not clear whose concern this is, as for all the reader knows the author made it all up.

Voilà, a manufactured story sure to delight anyone embarrassed to have been caught on the wrong side of marriage history this week. At best, shoddy reporting. At worst, passing pure fiction off as fact. Not sure which I find scarier.

As of this writing, the Conservative Press post has been shared 22,605 times. Perhaps it’s not the rainbow-tinted Facebook denizens who’ve been duped?

Magnus Hedemark : quicktip: console cables

June 28, 2015 11:47 PM

Whether you’re an operations or network engineer, or a hobbyist tinkering in the homelab, there’s a good chance that you’ll have need of a console cable at some point in your efforts.

Way back when I used to keep a lot of old Sun hardware around, this was pretty easy. I had what was known as a null modem cable with a DB9 serial connector on both ends. I also had a DB9 to DB25 serial converter. This pretty much had my bases covered.

That was in the 20th century. Today the landscape has changed just a little bit. Thankfully, it seems that most vendors have standardized on the RJ45 connector. What they haven’t standardized on is the pinout. I’ll give you a combination that will work for most modern equipment, though.

Since most of us have laptops now, and all laptops have some flavor of USB, we’ll forget about the old school DB9 and DB25 connectors. What we’ll go with is USB on one end, RJ45 on the other, and is known as a rollover cable. This configuration will get you into most modern Cisco hardware, and anything else that wants a rollover cable. But what about other hardware that wants a straight through cable? Easy: attach a rollover converter to a rollover cable and you’ve got a straight through cable.

I’ll give you an easy shopping list:

Using this is super easy. If you ls /dev/tty.* you’ll see something that looks like /dev/tty.usbserial-AL00B27G (and any paired Bluetooth devices) as a result. I use this on my Macbook with a command line tool like screen or minicom as the terminal emulator. screen should have come with your Mac or Linux laptop, so it’s the easiest to get started with. screen /dev/tty.usbserial-AL00B27G should get you connected. The <CTRL>+<A>, <CTRL>+<\> key sequence will quit out of screen.

Magnus Hedemark : devices have different sector alignment

June 27, 2015 09:40 PM

[root@dogface ~]# zpool replace zones /dev/dsk/c0t50014EE2072AB3D4d0 /dev/dsk/c0t50014EE2B66D775Ed0
cannot replace /dev/dsk/c0t50014EE2072AB3D4d0 with /dev/dsk/c0t50014EE2B66D775Ed0: devices have different sector alignment

And that’s where things went wrong.

Oh, it all started as a really great weekend to be in the homelab. Four new Western Digital Red WD60EFRX 6TB disks had arrived, and I was ready to replace my four 2TB disks with them. I’d replaced the first two of four disks without a hitch. They were Western Digital Red WD2002FAEX 2TB disks. I’d been assuming for some time that I had four identical disks in this zpool, but forgot the compromise that I’d made way back when I first set this machine up: I’d used two Red disks and two Black disks (Western Digital Black WD2002FAEX 2TB). So when I tried to replace disk #3 of 4 in my zpool, things didn’t go as smoothly.

devices have different sector alignment

This changes everything. Those WD2002FAEX disks have a 512b sector alignment, while the new WD60EFRX disks have a 4k sector alignment. This fundamental difference in geometry was a tech debt landmine waiting for me to step on it.

I’m in the midst of a shell game right now that’s going to take days. I’m performing a recursive zfs send to a temporary pool that can handle the full contents of the zpool, and will rebuild the pool from that backup. There are ways to get by with no downtime, but this is okay as it’s a home server with nothing more critical than some DVD backups and a minecraft server on it (so far).

As part of this restructuring effort, I’m switching this HP Proliant N40L Microserver from SmartOS to OmniOS. I’ve already replaced the onboard SATA controller with an LSI 9211-8i SAS host bus adapter. The 5.25″ optical disk bay is going to be repurposed with a 4×2.5″ disk cage. 2x Samsung 850 Pro 128GB SSD‘s will be used as the root pool mirror (where the OS boots from). One more of the same type of disk will be used as the ZFS separate intent log (slog) device. I’m saving the fourth bay for a Samsung 850 Pro 1TB SSD (which I haven’t procured yet) to act as the ZFS cache (L2ARC) device.

Why put such an investment into such a silly little potato of a server if it’s just going to host a minecraft server and some DVD backups?

Because its mission scope is expanding. This server will host the backing store for a number of virtual machines that I’ll be running on several much more CPU and Memory equipped hypervisor systems. I’ll be writing more about that later.

Mark Turner : Calming Signals – The Art of Survival – Turid Rugaas – International Dog Trainer

June 27, 2015 11:22 AM

A glossary of signals dogs use to calm each other down. Very interesting.

For species who live in packs it´s important to be able to communicate with its own kind. Both in order to cooperate when they hunt, to bring up their offspring, and perhaps most importantly: to live in peace with each other. Conflicts are dangerous – they cause physical injuries and a weakened pack, which is something that no pack can afford – it will cause them to og extinct.

Dogs live in a world of sensory input: visual, olfactory, auditory perceptions. They easily perceive tiny details – a quick signal, a slight change in another´s behavior, the expression in our eyes. Pack animals are so perceptive to signals that a horse can be trained to follow the contraction in our pupils and a dog can be trained to answer your whispering voice. There´s no need to shout commands, to make the tone of our voice deep and angry – what Karen Pryor refers to as swatting flies with a shovel.

Source: Calming Signals – The Art of Survival – Turid Rugaas – International Dog Trainer

Mark Turner : Why mosquitoes bite some people and not others — and the surprising non-toxic way to avoid bites

June 27, 2015 02:38 AM

Here’s an insightful read on what attracts (and repels) mosquitoes. Science for the win!

Why are some people so much more attractive to mosquitoes than others? And what can you do about the pesky little bloodsuckers, especially if you don’t want to resort to DEET? (DEET, while effective, is also weakly neurotoxic in humans.)

To start, there are some 150 different species of mosquitoes in the United States, and they differ in biting persistence, habits, ability to transmit disease, and even flying ability.

Source: Why mosquitoes bite some people and not others — and the surprising non-toxic way to avoid bites

Mark Turner : Supreme Court On Gay Marriage: ‘Sure, Who Cares’ – The Onion – America’s Finest News Source

June 27, 2015 02:32 AM

Love won today, as the Supreme Court ruled marriage is marriage for everybody. I’m thrilled for my LGBT friends (and everyone, frankly) who are no longer denied the fundamental right to love whom they choose.

It reminded me of this article from the Onion a few years back, which pretty much sums up my thoughts about the whole matter.

WASHINGTON—Ten minutes into oral arguments over whether or not homosexuals should be allowed to marry one another, a visibly confounded Supreme Court stopped legal proceedings Tuesday and ruled that gay marriage was “perfectly fine” and that the court could “care less who marries whom.”

Source: Supreme Court On Gay Marriage: ‘Sure, Who Cares’ – The Onion – America’s Finest News Source

Mark Turner : What makes your eyes red in the pool? It’s not the chlorine –

June 27, 2015 02:25 AM


“When we go swimming and we complain that our eyes are red, it’s because swimmers have peed in the water,” says Michele Hlavsa, chief of the CDC’s healthy swimming program. “The nitrogen in the urine combines with the chlorine and it forms what’s known as chloramine and it’s actually chloramine that causes the red eyes. It’s not the chlorine itself. It’s chlorine mixed with poop and sweat and a lot of other things we bring into the water with us.”

Source: What makes your eyes red in the pool? It’s not the chlorine –

Tarus Balog : Review: Dell XPS 13 (9343) Ubuntu Edition

June 26, 2015 08:10 PM

Okay. When it comes to tech, I want the latest and greatest. To me, the “greatest” must include as much open software as possible. As an ex-Apple user, I want the same experience I used to get with that gear, but with free and open source software.

It can be hard. Rarely is the open source world involved in new hardware decisions by the major vendors, so we learn about new devices after the fact. Thus there is an inevitable delay between when a product is announced and when it properly works with FOSS.

Such was the case with the new XPS 13 laptop from Dell.

Now, I vote with my wallet, so back in 2012 when I needed a laptop I bought the second edition “Sputnik” Dell XPS 13, which shipped with Ubuntu. It served me well for many years and currently runs Linux Mint 17.1 with no problems. When the latest edition XPS 13 was announced, I immediately ordered it, but it didn’t work out so well.

When I discovered that the other option from Dell, the M3800, wasn’t for me, I decided to wait until they officially supported Ubuntu on the new XPS 13. I didn’t have to wait long, and I placed my order the day I learned it was available (I was happy to learn that they had to fix some kernel-level issues and it wasn’t just me).

Why didn’t I wait longer? The XPS 13 is gorgeous. I haven’t felt this strongly about a laptop since my 12-inch Powerbook back in 2013. Others seem to agree, with even Forbes praising this machine.

Anyway, the order process was simple. I got the XPS 13 with the i7 processor, 8GB of RAM, 512GB SSD and the HiDPI touchscreen. The laptop arrived about a week before it was scheduled. Go Dell.

Now for the obligatory unboxing pictures. The outer box arrived undamaged:

Dell XPS 13 Unboxing Pic 1

The laptop itself came in a separate box:

Dell XPS 13 Unboxing Pic 2

with the accessories shipped in a cardboard “square tube”:

Dell XPS 13 Unboxing Pic 3

While the small power supply came with a longer power cable with a “mickey mouse” connector, the XPS 13 comes with a small adapter that gets rid of the cable entirely (like the Apple laptop power bricks).

Dell XPS 13 Unboxing Pic 4

The laptop pretty much fills up its box:

Dell XPS 13 Unboxing Pic 5

Like with my original XPS, there is a cool little intro video that plays when you first start it up:

Please note that it only runs on the first start – you will not have to wait 40+ seconds to boot your system (usually less than 10).

The XPS 13 Ubuntu Developer Edition ships with 14.04, but I had some issues with it. First, it didn’t have the option for encrypting the home directory. I’m not sure how or why that got removed. The system also crashed when I attempted to make a backup image to a USB stick. Finally, there are apparently still outstanding issues with 14.04:

Ubuntu 14.04 includes kernel 3.13. The touchpad will run in PS2 mode and the soundcard will run in HDA mode. Currently (4/15) out of the box the HDA microphone will not work, and you will need some packages from the factory shipped image to make it work properly.

While I knew I was going to base the system, I logged in to the stock image to check out the apt repository. There really wasn’t anything outside of the vanilla Ubuntu (the few Dell packages seem to be just for recovery) so I felt fairly safe in reinstalling.

I immediately went to my default distro, Linux Mint 17.1, but found that a lot of things, especially the touchpad, didn’t work as expected. It did handle HiDPI screens just fine (you could actually see the mouse pointer increase in size when logging in). I figured I’d wait until 17.2 comes out and try it again.

On a side note, I don’t know why it is so hard to get a decent touchpad under Linux. We’re getting closer, but still, it tends to be the weakest point of the Linux laptop experience.

In search of a solution, I found Barton’s Blog and read the following:

With BIOS A00 or BIOS A01 the touchpad will run in I2C mode and the sound will not function. Please update to at least BIOS A02 and the touchpad will run in I2C mode and the sound in HDA mode. (4/15) All of the relevant patches have been backported and all functions will work out of the box.

I really liked the “will work out of the box” bit, so I installed Ubuntu 15.04.

It had been awhile since I’d used Unity, and it has really matured. I especially liked the little touches. When I changed my desktop background, the background of the Dock changed color to match it. Neat.

Where Unity still has some way to go is in HiDPI support. There is a scaling factor you can set, but it only applies to a small part of the UI. I still ended up having to customize many of my apps. For example, if you look at the settings page with scaling, a lot of the text under the icons are cropped:

Dell XPS 13 Ubuntu Text Cropped

Not a show stopper, and I used it for over a month without getting too annoyed.

Last week I saw that the release candidate for Mint 17.2 was out, so I dutifully backed up my Ubuntu install, based the system and installed Mint. Things seems to work better (although HiDPI support was not working by default), but I ran into a weird problem with trying to click and drag.

While everyone seems to deal with trackpads differently, the way I click and drag is to use the index finger of my left hand to click and hold the lower left corner of the trackpad, and then I use the index finger of my right hand to move the mouse pointer. This works fine under most desktop environments, but under Cinnamon it seems to interpret it as a right click (which usually causes a menu to drop down). If I just used a single finger to click on the window header and then move it, it worked as expected, but I couldn’t get used to it enough to continue to use it.

Oh well. I’ve posted a question on the Mint forums but no one has been able to help.

Anyhoos, since my system was based I decided to try out some other 15.04-based distros while I had the chance. I had heard great things about the new Plasma interface in KDE, so Kubuntu was next.

I can’t say much about Kubuntu since its HiDPI support is worse than Unity. Everything was so tiny I couldn’t spend much time in the UI. Oh well, what I saw was pretty.

And I should stress that this was a recurring theme in my experiments with desktop environments. Every UI I’ve tried has been beautiful and more than able to compete with, say, OS X.

By this point I decided to punt and just search on “Linux Desktop HiDPI”. Several of the results touted that Ubuntu Gnome was the best desktop to use for HiDPI systems. So, before going back to Unity I decided to give it a shot.


I haven’t used Gnome 3 in awhile, but I was encouraged in that even the install process handled the HiDPI screen well. It has become really mature, and so far has provided by far the best experience with the XPS 13. I’ve had to do little to get it to work for me.

Is it flawless? No. There is an issue with the touchpad where it occasionally translates touches into click (kernel patch approved). If you sleep the system, the touchscreen will stop working (but you can reload its module). Sometimes, the system doesn’t sleep when you close the screen, which can cause the laptop to get really, really hot.

But these are minor issues and I expect them to be addressed in the near future. I am confident that I’ve found a great combination of software and hardware, and that it will only get better from here.

I have just a few more notes to share. The battery life is outstanding – I can get 6-7 hours of use without recharging. The “infinity screen” is beautiful and bright, but by having almost no bezel they had to move the camera to the lower left corner, which creates a slightly odd viewing angle.

Dell XPS 13 Camera Angle

In closing, here are a couple of shots comparing the XPS 13 with the M3800.

Dell XPS 13 vs. M3800 Pic 1

Dell XPS 13 vs. M3800 Pic 2

Dell XPS 13 vs. M3800 Pic 3

Tarus Balog : 2015 Dev-Jam: Day Four

June 26, 2015 03:06 PM

Since I sincerely doubt even my loyal readers get to the bottom of my long posts, I figured I’d start this one with the group picture:

Dev-Jam Group Picture

That antenna behind Goldy’s head is part of Jonathan’s project to use OpenNMS to collect and aggregate FunCube data from around the world. Can I get an “Internet of Things“? (grin)

There is this myth that just by making your software open source, thousands of qualified developers will give up their spare time to work on your project. While there are certainly projects with lots of developers, I am humbled by the fact that we have 30-40 hard core people involved with OpenNMS.

Unless you’ve gone through this, it is hard to understand. At one time, OpenNMS was pretty much me in my attic and an IRC channel. Luckily for the project that didn’t last long. My one true talent is getting amazing people to work with me. Then all I have to do is create an environment where they can be awesome.

It’s why I love Dev-Jam.

I also love pizza. Chris at Papa Johns was kind enough to send us some free pie for dinner:

Dev-Jam Pizza

Today we spent time talking about documentation. Documentation tends to be the weak point of a lot of software, and open source software in particular. The Arch Linux people do about the best job I’ve seen, but even then it is hard to keep everything current. For over a year now a group of people has been working very hard to improve the documentation for OpenNMS, and the new documentation site is most excellent.

It does take a little time to understand the navigation. The documentation is included in the source and managed on GitHub, so there is a new version for each release. But just as an example, check out the Administrator’s Guide for 16.0.2.

Written in AsciiDoc, it is now the best place for accurate information on how to use the software. We also want to extend a special thanks to the Atom project for creating the editor used to create it.

One of the things we discussed was how to deal with the wiki and the .org website. It’s not practical to duplicate the AsciiDoc information on the wiki, so the plan is to include the relevant part from the documentation in something like an iframe and use the wiki more for user stories. The “talk” page can then be used for suggestions on improving the documentation, and once those suggestions are merged they can be removed.

I had suggested that we make the wiki page the default landing page for the .org site, but Markus pointed out that we need to do a better job of marketing OpenNMS, and the landing page should be more about “why to use OpenNMS” versus “how”. I had to agree, as we need to do a better job of marketing the software. My friend Waleed pointed out in Twitter this weakness:

Twitter Comment 1 from Waleed

Twitter Comment 2 from Waleed

To better educate folks about why OpenNMS is so amazing, we are considering merging the .com and .org sites and using the .com WordPress instance for the “why you should use OpenNMS” with a very obvious link to the wiki so people can learn how to use OpenNMS. Part of me has always wanted to keep the project and commercial aspects of OpenNMS separate, but it then becomes really hard to maintain both sites.

In case you haven’t guessed, we do spend a lot of time thinking about stuff like this. (grin)

Dev-Jam Thursday

A lot of other cool stuff got done on Thursday. DJ announced that he had separated out the unit tests in OpenNMS (for features) from the integration tests (for regression). OpenNMS has nearly 7,000 junit tests (and growing). It’s the main way we insure that nothing breaks as we work to add new things to the software. But with so many tests it can take a real long time to see if your commit worked or not. This should make things easier for the developers.

It’s hard to believe that Dev-Jam is almost over. Luckily, it sets the stage for the next year’s worth of work. Since our goal is nothing less than making OpenNMS the de facto network management platform of choice, there is a lot of work to be done.

Tarus Balog : Review: Nexus 6

June 25, 2015 08:24 PM

As most of my three readers know by now, I was a big fan of the OnePlus One handset until I experienced their customer support (which seems intent on covering up a major defect in the touchscreen of their devices).

So, it was time to get another smart phone. Andrea had been using a Nexus 6 for awhile, I thought the phone might be too big for me. The phone is huge.

David pointed out that the OnePlus was huge compared to my previous HTC One, and it only took me a day or so to get used to that size change, so I’d probably feel the same way about the Nexus 6.

He was right.

I ordered it from the Play Store and it showed up a couple of days later. The name of the phone was actually on the bottom of the box:

Nexus 6 Unboxing Pic 1

and once I cut the “tape” I flipped it over so I could open it.

Nexus 6 Unboxing Pic 2

The phone sits in a little cardboard cradle

Nexus 6 Unboxing Pic 3

and if you remove it you can see a little packet with documentation.

Nexus 6 Unboxing Pic 4

Under that is a high amp charger and that’s about it.

Nexus 6 Unboxing Pic 5

The phone has a gorgeous display and its six inch screen is big enough that I can watch movies on it, so I loaned my Nexus 7 (that I used to use when traveling) to Ben so he could play with OpenNMS Compass on Android.

Nexus 6 Specs

It’s also blazingly fast, but all that power does come with a price: battery life. With the OnePlus I could easily go a day, even with playing Ingress to some degree, the Nexus 6 needs a little more juice. It is in no way horrible, and is much better than the HTC One, but it is still a factor. I just ended up buying a TYLT wireless charger for my desk so I can sit the handset there all day and it stays charged (yay wireless charging).

I did buy a case for the phone but that pushed it over the size limit for even my large hands. Caseless, I was worried about dropping it, so I bought a “grip” pad that sticks to the back and makes it feel less like a slippery bar of soap. So far so good.

The best thing is that, thanks in large part to Jake Whatley, I can now put OmniROM on it. It was a pretty simple process to unlock the phone using adb, install TWRP and then flash the latest OmniROM nightly. I was surprised at how much my Android experience was truncated by the stock ROM. I couldn’t shake my phone to dismiss an alarm or augment the power menu to add options like a reboot instead of just powering off. So far no problems.

The size of the Nexus 6 will be off-putting for some, but it is about the same size as an iPhone 6 Plus, so perhaps not.

Nexus 6 vs. iPhone 6+

As I was investigating alternative ROMs for the Nexus 6, I thought it was funny when I found out the code name for the device. Nexus devices tend to be named after fish.

The code name for the Nexus 6? Shamu.

Tarus Balog : Review: LG Watch Urbane

June 25, 2015 05:35 PM

Even though I am no longer a user of Apple products, I was eagerly awaiting the release of the Apple Watch. Why? Because Steve Jobs had a way of making stuff for me that I didn’t know I wanted. While I’ve owned an LG G Watch R for awhile now, the experience hasn’t been life changing (unlike using an iPhone was) and so I was looking for Apple to really “wow” me.

My friend Ben (who knows more about Apple products than anyone I know) thinks I’m more critical of Apple than the fiercest “fanboi” and he’s probably right, so I want to make sure to expressly state that I haven’t used an Apple Watch so anything I say about it needs to be taken in that context.

However, Matthew Inman, another person whose opinion I respect, recently did a comic on his experience with the Apple Watch, and his experience is very similar to mine with Android Wear. It’s interesting, it has potential, but it isn’t life changing … yet.

To me, my watch is like having a second screen on my phone. Remember when people first started getting dual monitors? It’s like that – it makes me more productive when using my phone but it is more of an extension than a feature in and of itself.

The main thing my watch gives me is a socially acceptable way to keep up with notifications. If I’m in a meeting, or at a meal, or in any other social situation where pulling out my phone and looking at it would be rude, I can glance at my watch and see if I need to address that text or e-mail.

The main difference between Wear devices and the Apple Watch is that the latter has a crown that spins and can be used scroll the display. Inman points out that he doesn’t use it, and so you are pretty safe choosing the smart watch you like that works best in your digital ecosystem.

The main thing I want from a watch is a stylish accessory that actually looks like a watch. Enter the LG Watch Urbane.

Urbane Watch Face

After my horrible experience with the OnePlus One phone, I was shopping for a replacement handset when I came across the Watch Urbane. I fell in love immediately.

I got the G Watch R because it looked like a watch and not a slab of glass. The Urbane takes that experience to a new level by adding a rose gold bezel and a nice leather strap. The display is amazing. The default watch faces are amazing. In short it is the perfect evolution for my favorite smart watch to date.

It’s a powerful watch with great battery life. While I tend to charge it overnight, I can get over two days of normal use out of it easily (I’ve had to test that when flying overseas).

Urbane Specifications

I bought it on Amazon, and it showed up protected in a rather easy to open plastic cover:

Urbane Unboxing Pic 1

The box was similar to other mechanical watches I have bought:

Urbane Unboxing Pic 2

and opening it immediately revealed the watch:

Urbane Unboxing Pic 3

The band was a little stiff at first, but after wearing it for a day or so it softened up a bit.

Urbane Unboxing Pic 4

It came with a number of accessories. Like the LG G Watch R it requires a charging cradle that is powered via a microUSB connector.

Urbane Unboxing Pic 5

The Urbane was one of the first watches to ship with the Andoird Wear 5.1.1 update that allows for such things as talking to the phone over Wi-Fi, but about a day after I got the watch the update was generally available for other devices, including my G Watch R.

Urbane vs. G Watch R

The Urbane is a little smaller, and while I liked the “tick” marks around the outside of the G Watch R, so many watch faces include them due to the popularity of the Moto 360 that I was happy to see them removed on the Urbane (having two sets of tick marks is a little cluttered).

While I still wear the G Watch R if I’m going to be active (i.e. sweating), the Urbane is my go-to wrist accessory. I am constantly getting compliments on it, and I think the biggest problem LG has is that no one has heard of it.

Perhaps this post will help.

Tarus Balog : 2015 Dev-Jam: Day Three

June 25, 2015 03:47 PM

It’s hard to believe that this year’s Dev Jam is half over. It seems to take forever to get here and then it is over too soon.

Lots of cool stuff going on. David Schlenk has written a Java Message Service (JMS) northbounder interface. While targeted at Apache ActiveMQ, it should work with any JMS provider, and it is another great tool to have for the OpenNMS platform.

Christian did a cool little hack using a Blink(1) USB light. If you have a Blink(1) you can plug it into your laptop and then run a little Java app. The app will connect to your OpenNMS instance and then the color will change based on the severity of alarms. Cool.

Dev-Jam Key Blink(1)

I also participated in my first GPG key signing. Jeff organized it to increase our “web of trust” and once I got into it, it was kind of fun.

Dev-Jam Key Signing

He promised cake, and for once the cake wasn’t a lie:

Dev-Jam Key Signing Cake

The cake went well with dinner, which came from the always amazing Brasa:

Dev-Jam Key Brasa

Most of us ate out on the deck. This is the view looking out toward the Mississippi:

Dev-Jam View

While we have held Dev-Jam in locations other than UMN, it has become a lot harder to do so since we get treated so well here. While most attendees have been to previous Dev-Jam events, we always have a few new people, and many of them end up staying off campus in a nearby hotel. There is something about staying in a dorm room that bothers them – perhaps it was a bad experience in college.

So I thought it would be a public service to actually show the rooms we get at Yudof Hall.

Each person at Dev-Jam gets their own room. While these rooms tend to hold at least two students when classes are in session, during the summer they are singles. You get a sink and a little kitchen with a microwave, two burner stove and refrigerator.

Dev-Jam Dorm Kitchen

There is a single bed, desk, an armoire (closet) and a chest of drawers.

Dev-Jam Dorm Bed

You even get to control the temperature in the room. I like mine on the cool side and the air conditioning works quite well.

Each room shares a bathroom with a toilet and a shower with one other person from Dev-Jam. While these rooms might be a little close with two people, they are perfect for one. Plus they are incredibly convenient since the event is held in the downstairs Club Room.

So, if you ever decide to come to Dev-Jam, don’t hesitate to stay on campus.

Mark Turner : Motorcycles and HOV lanes

June 25, 2015 03:00 PM

While waiting for traffic to move on I-95 in Springfield, VA this week, I wondered why motorcycles are allowed in the HOV lane? This makes no sense to me.

  • Motorcycles are not high occupancy vehicles, instead they almost always carry a single person.
  • Motorcycles are not good for the environment. While they may burn less fuel, they generate far more pollution.
  • Motorcycles do not take up less space on the road than cars.

So, what exactly do governments gain by giving motorcyclists a free pass to the HOV lane? Whatever it is, I’m not seeing it.

Update: According to this page on the website, federal law allows motorcycles in HOV lanes:

Motorcycles are permitted by federal law to use HOV lanes, even with only one passenger. The rationale behind allowing motorcycles to use HOV lanes is that it is safer to keep two-wheeled vehicles moving than to have them travel in start-and-stop traffic conditions. States can choose to override this provision of federal law, if they determine that safety is at risk.

I don’t think this is reason enough, since it’s better for the safety of everyone to avoid start-and-stop traffic, but that’s just me.

Mark Turner : Drones not yet cleared for takeoff

June 25, 2015 03:30 AM

An Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) or "drone"

An Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) or “drone”

After having had such fun with the Structure Sensor I borrowed through the N.C. State Libraries Technology Lending program, I suggested that they consider lending quadcopters like the DJI Phantom 3. Drones like the Phantom 3 are so cutting-edge that they are far ahead of Federal Aviation Administration regulations, so much so that many common-sense uses of drones (or as the FAA calls them, “unmanned aircraft systems” or UAS) are currently banned outright.

Like other university libraries, N.C. State Libraries would love to lend out drones but the present legal limbo with the FAA prevents that from happening. You see, what many people don’t realize is that the FAA is in charge of the nation’s airspace from the ground up. Not just 500 feet and above but starting at the ground. Public property, private property, it doesn’t matter. If you fly anything, anywhere, the FAA makes the rules.

And the FAA takes its rules very seriously. They’ve been known to scour YouTube and contacting drone operators who’ve been violating Federal law (though they’ve since stopped the practice). The easiest way to do this is to fly a drone for commercial work. Under the current rules, any commercial flying requires a full-blown pilot’s license. Yes, the kind you spend thousands of dollars to obtain. Only personal use (“hobby and recreational”) is currently allowed. And all flights are restricted to stay below 400 feet above ground.

The FAA was obviously caught off guard by the lightning-fast appearance of tiny, sophisticated flight platforms anyone can afford. FAA regulations meant to cover manned, fuel-laden aircraft weighing thousands of pounds are ill-suited for battery-powered, unmanned drones weighing 5 pounds or less. Aircraft this small are impossible to see on radar (whether below 500 feet or above), leaving the FAA with few tools for enforcement. It sounds like the proposed new rules might be its best opportunity to get some kind of regulation in place.

The proposed new rules were published for comment in February and, from what I’ve read, appear to be quite reasonable. Until they take effect, however, drones that universities hoped to lend to their members are likely to remain grounded.

Mark Turner : Scanning 3D objects with the Structure sensor

June 25, 2015 02:12 AM

This is a 3D rendering of me

This is a 3D rendering of me

As an employee of a company located on N.C. State’s Centennial Campus, I have access to the tech lending program of the N.C. State libraries. One of the more interesting devices I found there two weeks ago was a 3D scanner kit consisting of an iPad Air and an Occipital Structure 3D Sensor device. Not knowing much about it I thought I would take it home for a week and see what it could do.

The sensor integrates with the iPad by using the iPad’s built-in camera in conjunction with the Structure sensor. The sensor paints the scene in front of it with infrared grid points. The sensor then detects how this grid is bent by the object in the field and, together with the iPad’s sensitive accelerometers, computes the dimensions of the object. All of this happens in seconds and it’s quite amazing to watch!

Here’s how it works. Looking through the eyes of the app, you are given a virtual box which you adjust using finger swipes to encompass your object. Once the object is in “focus” (i.e., painted red in your image), you click the start button. Magically, the object’s image becomes coated with what looks like grey modeling clay as the software captures the object’s dimensions. As you slowly wave the iPad up and down and around the object, the gaps fill in to where the object appears thoroughly “coated” in the screen. After about 2 minutes or so (if your subject is a human, for instance) all the visible gaps are filled in and you hit the stop button to complete your scan.

The software then presents you with a three-dimensional rendering of your subject. Another button adds color captured by the iPad camera to present a frighteningly-detailed representation of your subject. You can then manipulate your subject on the screen in every which way using finger swipes. Saving the resulting model, though, can only be done by emailing it from the iPad. I could not find any way to download it through Bluetooth, USB, or the like.

The Structure 3D scanner, clipped to an iPad

The Structure 3D scanner, clipped to an iPad

After playing with the scanner for a week, creating representations of my home furniture, my family, my dog, and other interesting subjects, I came away impressed. The sensor runs about $400 and does a good job of creating models. The detail of the camera, however (as opposed to the scanner) leaves much to be desired, with detail of 640×480 pixels from what I understand. This color overlay, known as textures in the 3D model world, winds up looking less detailed than one would like. Also, the software is rather crude at this point. It’s still freakishly cool, though!

I can see all kinds of uses for such a device. For instance, whenever a crook might wander up to my door, a scanner could capture the exact dimensions of his face in seconds, without his knowledge. In fact, several scanners, placed in a public location, could quite quickly and accurately scan the faces of the general public without their knowledge. The resulting 3D models could be used in all kinds of scenarios, some good and some not so good.

Am I concerned? Not really. By now so many photos of me have been tagged on Facebook that anyone who wants it already has enough fodder to build a 3D model of me. But it is important to consider how this technology might be used in ways we aren’t yet considering.

I hope to borrow the Structure again soon to add more models to my collection. Then when my Blender skills improve I’ll have some quick and dirty familiar objects with which to stock my scenes.

Tarus Balog : Linux on the Dell M3800

June 24, 2015 04:38 PM

I am way behind on a number of tech reviews, but I’m hoping to catch up soon. Please bear with me.

Earlier in the year I had a disappointing experience with the new Dell XPS 13 and Linux. It was especially hard because I really loved that hardware – not since my first Powerbook have I felt such an attachment to a laptop. I was happy to learn later that there were kernel-level issues with the hardware that had to be addressed, so it wasn’t just my lack of ability in dealing with Linux.

While that story is not over, I did send it back and decided to check out Dell’s other Ubuntu offering, the powerful M3800.

I dutifully placed an order for the Ubuntu version of the laptop, and since it is much larger than the XPS 13 there were more options. I liked the fact that I could get an SSD as well as a standard HDD, so I chose the 256GB SSD option and a 1TB HDD. I travel a lot and thought it would be cool to carry more media with me while still having a fast primary drive.

The order process was pretty painless. Still not as streamlined as the Apple Store, but not too bad.

Then I waited.

My expected arrival date kept slipping. This went on for several weeks until I got an e-mail that, due to a misconfiguration, my order was canceled.


Considering that the website pretty much walks you through the ordering process and indicates any kind of impossible combination (such as a larger battery and an extra drive, since they can’t both occupy the same space) I was confused and a little torqued off.

After a few days to calm down, I decided to retry the process. It turns out that the “misconfiguration” was due to the extra drive, which was surprising. Order it with Windows? No problem. Check Ubuntu and it fails.


I did some investigation and was led to believe that the M3800 Ubuntu version ships with a vanilla 14.04 install. So I decided to pay the Microsoft tax and order the hardware I wanted, and then to base it and install Ubuntu.

This time the process was much smoother, and the laptop even arrived about a week earlier than they told me it would. It was a pleasant surprise.

The shipping box was a bit dinged up:

Dell M3800 Unboxing - Picture 1

But they did a good job of protecting the actual laptop box:

Dell M3800 Unboxing - Picture 2

There were actually two boxes, one holding the laptop and one holding accessories:

Dell M3800 Unboxing - Picture 3

All in all, it was a decent unboxing experience:

Dell M3800 Unboxing - Picture 4

The accessories included the power brick, a restore USB stick and a USB Ethernet adapter.

Dell M3800 Unboxing - Accesories

I liked having the Ethernet adapter since I’ve found installing Linux on a laptop works best when wired. While a lot of modern distros ship the proprietary wireless drivers needed, many times they aren’t enabled during install.

I got the HiDPI touchscreen option (3840×2160) and so I decided to install Linux Mint on it. I figured that if Ubuntu worked on it, I should be able to get Mint to work, and I prefer Cinnamon to Unity, plus Mint handles HiDPI screens much better than Ubuntu. Ubuntu has a scaling factor but it doesn’t really apply across the board, so you end up seeing things like clipped text under icons, etc., and sometimes the selection boxes can be very small. I believe Mint does what Apple does and just doubles everything (i.e. represents system graphics with four pixels instead of one).

This system is screamingly fast (I got the Quad Core 3.3GHz CPU and 16GB of RAM) and the display is solid, but as someone who uses desktops primarily, I wasn’t used to using such a large laptop (although it was quite thin).

Dell M3800 - Mint Login Screen

Mint worked pretty well, but there was a frustrating issue with the clickpad. Sometimes I was unable to select a piece of text on the first try. On a second (or sometimes third attempt) it worked fine, but I could never get the behavior to go away entirely. I have found hints on the Intertoobz that suggest it is a known issue with Cinnamon, so perhaps it will be addressed in 17.2.

My main issue with the unit, outside of the size, was the battery life. I could sit and watch the battery percentage drop, about one percent a minute. This was in light duty mode, such as writing e-mails and browsing the web. While 100 minutes of battery life isn’t terrible, it is less than half of what I am used to.

I took a guess that part of the problem could be in the weird hybrid video controller setup they use. There is both an NVidia card and an Intel card in the unit. I installed bumblebee and that seemed to help some, but it didn’t make the power issue go away.

[Note: as an aside, many thanks to Arch for having such amazing documentation]

Dell M3800 - Mint desktop

Overall, if I was looking for a laptop to replace my desktops, I would have tried to stick with it longer. But the size coupled with the battery issues made me send it back. I was still in love with the XPS 13 so I decided to just wait until they supported Linux on it.

Tarus Balog : 2015 Dev-Jam: Day Two

June 24, 2015 03:03 PM

I should mention that so far the weather in Minnesota has been outstanding. Highs in the low 80s (mid-20s for those of you in the rest of the world) and low humidity.

Too bad I spend most of my time indoors.

When we did our first Dev-Jam back in 2005, we learned a lot. The main issue was that people have different schedules, so being able to come and go whenever was important. That also applies for things like meals. While we strive to be together as a group for dinner (which often involves catering or pizza), everyone is on their own for breakfast and lunch. Since we want to cover all the expenses for the conference as part of the conference, we usually find some way to give people money to spend on food and sundries.

At UMN they have something called “Gopher Gold” which allows students to use their access card to buy things on campus. This works really well, but the problem is that if the funds are not used by the time the conference is over, they are gone. This usually resulted in a mad dash to the student store on the last day.

This year I got the idea of getting a custom pre-paid debit card. With the artistic talents of Jessica, we came up with Kiwi Kash:

Dev-Jam Kiwi Kash

So far it has worked out pretty well.

Day Two of Dev-Jam, for me, was spent working with a client. We don’t stop support during this week and I needed to get one of our customers up on Meridian. As it is a migration and not an upgrade, it took a little longer than usual, and we had to do some database optimization which took longer than I would have liked.

Everyone else, however, seemed to be having a lot of fun. Jesse did a presentation on some of the graphics work he’s been doing.

Dev-Jam Jesse Presentation

This includes the OpenNMS integration with Grafana as well as a new library written in Javascript to generate RRDtool-like graphs. This will help us get graphing into Compass as well as other things.

In the evening we all went to see the Minnesota Twins lose to the Chicago White Sox. The Twins are now 1-3 on OpenNMS Project night (sigh).

Dev-Jam Twins Sign

But everyone seemed to have a good time. I spent part of the evening trying to explain the game to the Europeans, and the stranger behind me pointed out I was doing it wrong, but still is was a great night to be outside with friends.

Dev-Jam Twins Gang

Mark Turner : The Confederate monument has no place on the State House grounds

June 24, 2015 11:03 AM

The N&O’s Josh Shaffer wrote yesterday about keeping the Confederate monument on the state house grounds. I’ve mentioned before how garish I think the monument is so I disagree with Shaffer.

Perhaps we should retire the towering, out of place Confederate monument from the state house grounds to a place of honor in the Confederate portion of Oakwood Cemetery. Perched prominently on the state house grounds, it stands as a giant middle finger aimed towards equality.

North Carolina was a reluctant successionist, even then a Vale of Humility between Two Mountains of Conceit. This helped persuade Sherman from burning Raleigh to the ground. In light of our state’s lukewarm support for the Confederacy one has to wonder what the monument really celebrates.

It’s rare that I agree with conservative N&O columnist J. Peder Zane but even he has called for the monument to be removed. Because the N&O’s website has never figured out how to preserve historical links to its content, I am reposting his column here (as seen on

A Public Monument to an Ugly History

Raleigh seems poised to write a new chapter of its history as the City Council considers creating a dedicated funding stream for public art.

The proposal would require that one half of one percent of the capital construction cost of new projects fund public art. It would be a bold step in remaking the look and feel of the city. This may be a baby step — many comparable cities fund at one or two percent. But I have no doubt that one day soon we will be walking, running and, in the process, taking flight.

Public art is not a luxury. It is a mirror that reflects a community’s values and ambitions, its sense of itself. The grand monuments of Washington, the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor, the Eiffel Tower in Paris — all capture the best spirit of those special places.

Here in Raleigh, we can take pride in the beautiful Cree Shimmer Wall that adorns the new convention center. Depicting a spreading tree that moves and gleams in the roiling winds, the Shimmer Wall captures the exuberant energy that is transforming our community while paying homage to its tradition as the City of Oaks.

As we create the future of public art, we should also look to its past. The time is ripe to reconsider the most prominent piece of public art in Raleigh: the Confederate monument that guards the State Capitol.

Since it was erected in 1895, the 75-foot-high statue has been the city’s signature symbol. Like the best works of public art, it long reflected the values and attitudes of the community — of most white citizens, that is, who ruled the city through laws that disenfranchised African-Americans.

In 2009, this monument honoring the Lost Cause no longer reflects the feelings of North Carolinians. If we held a statewide referendum, I believe a majority of residents would vote to remove it from its singular place of privilege.

The common argument defending Confederate symbols is that they celebrate heritage, not hate. Even if this were the case, we should ask: Is this the heritage Tar Heels want to trumpet most loudly? Of all the things we can be proud of, does our Rebel past still top the list?

Conceived in toxic times

History shows that the monument was never just a tribute to fallen husbands, brothers and sons. It was conceived, erected and sustained by the poisonous racial politics of white supremacy.

After the Civil War, many Southerners dedicated cemeteries to their dead. In Raleigh, the Ladies Memorial Association spearheaded the push for a Confederate burial ground in 1866-67, racing against the arrival of federal troops dispatched to occupy the South after the defeated states refused to pass the 14th Amendment guaranteeing black male suffrage.

When this period of Reconstruction ended in 1876 and the racist Democratic machine regained power, Confederate memorials across the South took on a more aggressive and public tone. Local and state funds supplemented private donations, and the monuments became potent symbols of the new/old order.

While paying homage to the dead, they reflected the relentless effort to justify the Confederate cause and the brutal push to suppress black rights that ushered in the long era of Jim Crow.

The call for Raleigh’s public monument was sounded in the 1880s and became a drumbeat in the early 1890s. Then it hit a snag. Economic troubles led to the ouster of the Democratic party in the 1894 elections by a coalition of white Populists and mostly black Republicans. Initially, leaders of this new “fusion” government balked at providing the money needed to complete it.

In response, historian Catherine Bishir reports, its supporters used “race-baiting techniques,” criticizing the legislature for passing a resolution honoring the recently deceased black leader Frederick Douglass “while delaying the promised $10,000 loan for the monument.”

Cowed fusionists quickly provided the funds.

Two weeks before the monument was dedicated, Raleigh voters, spurred on by white surpemacist cartoons in the Democratic party’s main organ, The News & Observer, rejected fusionist legislation that would have permitted the direct election of officials. The triumphant N&O headline proclaimed: “The City Still Ours … No Negro Rule in Raleigh.”

That was the backdrop for the ceremony on May 20, 1895. A crowd of perhaps 30,000 people that included Stonewall Jackson’s widow listened as the day’s featured speaker, Alfred Moore Waddell, cast the Confederate dead as American patriots.

Waddell would soon turn those words into action. In 1898, he was a leader of the statewide campaign that used the explicit language of white supremacy, violence and vote-stealing to defeat the fusionists. Waddell became the mayor of Wilmington after the incumbent was forced to resign in the only coup in American history.

A simple symbol

Blacks across North Carolina and the South would not enjoy even the semblance of equality until the civil rights movement of the 1950s and ’60s. During those bleak decades, the Confederate monument was a towering symbol of the state’s oppressive power structure.

Born in hate, the time has come for the monument to die.

We should not erase all evocations of our tortured history, removing every statue or street name honoring those who espoused abhorrent views.

One could argue that Gov. Charles Aycock, an architect of the white supremacist campaign, should not be seen simply through the lens of race. The same might be said for The N&O’s editor at the time, Josephus Daniels.

The Confederate monument offers little such complexity.

Yet it remains Raleigh’s most prominent piece of public art, a signature symbol with an ugly past representing values and ambitions that no longer reflect who we are.

Gov. Perdue, tear down this monument.

Tarus Balog : 2015 Dev-Jam: Day One

June 23, 2015 02:10 PM

Ah, it’s that most wonderful time of the year: Dev Jam. Once again we have gathered at Yudof Hall on the University of Minnesota campus.

Dev-Jam OpenNMS Sign

This year marks the tenth time we’ve gathered together to spend a week hacking on OpenNMS. The first one was held in 2005 at my house, and every year since then (with the exception of 2009) we’ve managed to have another one. I’m being sincere when I say that I look forward to this week almost more than any other.

Plus, I get to wear my “special” Dev-Jam T-shirt:

Kiwis come from T-rex

Our project’s mascot, Ulf, showed up at a Dev-Jam many years ago as a gift from Craig Miskell (who came from New Zealand). That he became our mascot wasn’t intentional, but then again it seems in open source all that is required is to create an environment conducive to great things and great things will happen. This year we have people from the US, Canada, Germany, Italy and the UK, all working to make OpenNMS even more awesome.

I wore that shirt as I kicked off this year’s conference. I also got to announce that Dustin Frisch and Jesse White have been inducted into the Order of the Green Polo. It is important to note that both Dustin and Jesse worked with us in the Google Summer of Code project and now are key members of our team. I also got to formally announce that Jesse is now the Chief Technical Officer of The OpenNMS Group. I then turned the meeting over to Seth Leger (our VP of Engineering) and Jesse as Dev-Jam is more about coding than me running my mouth. My main role is to serve as “Julie” the cruise director.

Dev-Jam gives us, as a community, a chance to work:

Dev-Jam work area

and a chance to share:

Dev-Jam Presentation

Here, Umberto talks about his work integrating OpenNMS with Elasticsearch and Kibana (code available on GitHub).

We also get to play. Here, MvR and Jessica are working on modeling Ulf in 3D:

Dev-Jam MvR and Jessica

and DJ and Mike Huot (my co-cruise director) play with a 3D printer:

Dev-Jam 3D Printer

The first day of Dev-Jam seemed to fly by this year. Now that light rail is available from UMN we can travel more easily about the city. In the evening, some of us went to Mall of America while I and others saw Mad Max: Fury Road (which I highly recommend).

Day Two? Minnesota Twins, baby.

Magnus Hedemark : Homelab Adventures Continue

June 22, 2015 05:08 PM

My updates here have been few and far between, mostly because I’ve been writing for other entities (when I’m in the mood to write at all). But sometimes I’m working on things where my own blog is the most appropriate outlet.

Longtime followers may recall my homelab efforts. My work in the homelab had, until now, largely been stymied by my dependence on Apple’s anemic Airport Extreme hardware, and an Airport Express to bridge my downstairs homelab to my upstairs cable modem. This is no longer a problem.

Over this past weekend, my wife and I ran some CAT6 cable to set up a wall port near the cable modem and another one near my server rack. Now the cable modem’s ethernet out patches into the wall jack, which comes out the other end in my home office. I’ve temporarily put a straight patch cable between the wall jack and the eth1 interface of my Dell PowerEdge 1950 server, which now runs pfSense and acts as my router/firewall. I say this patch is temporary because I’m going to be standing up a new Force10 S50 switch in the server cabinet, and the smaller (now saturated) Cisco SG300-10 is going to move upstairs to the living room. The cable modem will patch into the new Force10 switch, and the firewall will see that network as just another tagged VLAN.

Why put a layer 3 switch upstairs? WiFi. I’ve broken up the illicit partnership that Apple had spawned between routing/firewall functions and WiFi access point. As it turns out, Apple wasn’t great at any of those things. So what am I using now for WiFi?

Ubiquiti UniFi UAP-PRO. Right now I’ve got it sharing two different WiFi networks:

  • authenticated network for my household and our devices
  • unauthenticated network for everybody else (guests, neighbors, etc)

The unauthenticated network has its SSID attached to a special transparent Tor proxied VLAN. Yes, I’m actually using a Raspberry Pi for right now as the Tor gateway. I expect that to be replaced by a very small virtual machine this summer. Anybody who attaches to this network will have their traffic transparently proxied through the Tor network. Fringe benefit: you can directly access .onion hidden services without any special client-side configuration if you attach to this wireless network.

Right now I’m really loving the Ubiquiti gear. My Mac Mini is currently hosting the configuration daemon, but I expect to migrate that to a Docker container soon. It’s giving me a lot more control over my wireless networks. I can see what the traffic trends look like, who are my most active guests, what sort of traffic volume are they passing, etc.

pfSense was up and running in minutes. I pretty quickly added a transparent Squid proxy without any issues, and bootstrapped IPv6 without too much trouble (though this is one thing Apple did do a better job of).

Alan Porter : Thunderbird keyboard hack

June 20, 2015 03:32 PM

I’ve used Mozilla Thunderbird to read my email for years, and for the most part, I think it’s a pretty nice email client. But lately I’ve developed an itch that really needed scratching.

I tend to use the keyboard to navigate around through applications, and so in Thunderbird, I find myself using TAB to switch between the list of mail folders on the left and the list of messages on the right.  The problem is that a few years back, when they added tabbed views, they changed the way that the TAB key works.  (I’ll try to be clear about the tabbed views and the TAB key, which unfortunately share the same name).  After the addition of tabbed views, the TAB key no longer toggled between just the (1) folders pane and (2) messages pane, but now it toggled between (1) folders pane (2) messages pane (3) tab selector widget.  So that means I had to re-train myself to press the TAB key once to go from folders to messages, and twice to go from messages back to folders.  But it got worse.  If you turn on something like the Quick Filter, the TAB key toggles between (1) folder pane (2) messages pane (3) tab selector widget (4) the Quick Filter.

Basically, the TAB key works like it does in a web browser, which is pretty much useless when there are so many widgets that can accept focus.

Today I discovered that what I was really looking for was the F6 key.  It strictly changes focus among the visible window panes.  For me, most of the time, that’s (1) folder pane (2) messages pane, but if I turn on message previews (rarely), it expands to (1) folder pane (2) messages pane (3) preview pane.

THIS MAKES SENSE.  Within the main window (tab) that I am looking at, the F6 key moves between the major window panes.  Awesome.

However, wouldn’t it be cool if I could use the TAB key to do this focus-switching, instead of lifting my fingers off of their pseudo-home position to get way up to F6 (which I can’t find just by feel — I have to look down at it)?

A little bit of searching led me to extensions, such as the very old but still usable “keyconfig”.  This is a pretty opaque tool that lets you insert some sort of arcane code into the prefs.js file.  Basically, it did not help me do anything, but it did help me understand how keys are mapped.  Deeper searches led me to the “DOM Inspector”, which lets you view the document that is being rendered (apparently, views in Thunderbird are pretty much HTML documents, which I suppose was hip at the time).  That led me to some of the arcane codes that are mapped to certain keys.

So here’s what I tried.  I looked at the arcane code that is mapped to F6, and I looked at the way “keyconfig” inserted some mappings of key names and their arcane codes. And I mimicked it.  I just added this line to prefs.js:

user_pref("keyconfig.main.xxx_key75_SwitchPaneFocus(event);", "][][VK_TAB][SwitchPaneFocus(event);][");

And wouldn’t you know… it worked! Now the TAB key does what the F6 key normally does… it switches focus among the main window panes in the active tabbed view. Yay, lazy fingers cheer!

Mark Turner : William Rivers Pitt | Don’t Believe the Hype: Candidate Clinton’s Sudden Populism

June 18, 2015 02:39 AM

William Rivers Pitt of Truthout compares the donor lists of Hillary Clinton and her would-be Republican challengers and finds little difference.

For reasons some may argue are not entirely fair, the Post article about those preposterous people helped crystallize a few things as I encompassed the rhetoric contained in Secretary Clinton’s big campaign speech this past weekend. Despite her long history of association with these kinds of people, Mrs. Clinton on Saturday deployed the sort of populist bombast that one might have heard at an Occupy Wall Street rally not so long ago.


Interesting, that … especially the stuff about hedge fund managers and CEOs and billionaires and fair compensation. Heady stuff; she sounded for all the world like Elizabeth Warren, or Bernie Sanders.

Yet a peek at her donor list is revealing. The roll-call of Mrs. Clinton’s top twenty campaign donors is topped by Citibank, and includes Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch and Credit Suisse Group … basically, a cohort of the worst people in the United States, the ones who gamed the system by buying politicians like her and then proceeded to burn the economy down to dust and ash while making a financial killing in the process.

Source: William Rivers Pitt | Don’t Believe the Hype: Candidate Clinton’s Sudden Populism

Mark Turner : Public education

June 18, 2015 02:21 AM

Little_Greenbrier_School.-1936I have a confession to make. At one point, fifteen years ago, I was on the verge of being a Libertarian. Up until then I was a left-leaning independent raised in a Republican household. My friend and roommate Scott sang the virtues of libertarianism and some of it appealed to me. I like the idea of personal responsibility and wasn’t too fond of the massive growth of government. The idea of Al Gore as President didn’t wow me and I’ll never forget the deer-in-the-headlights look George W. Bush showed during a debate when the question of foreign intervention was raised.

So I voted for the Libertarian Harry Brown. Ever since, I’ve blamed my miscast vote for the subsequent Presidency of George W. Bush, Iraq, and the current drift of America. But that’s a post for another day.

But back in my pre-kid days, libertarianism sounded intriguing. Why shouldn’t everyone do things for themselves? AFter all, I was successful. If I could do it anyone could do it, right?

Then slowly I began to consider the enormous advantages I’d had growing up, with a loving family, a decent education, a safe home, and little want for anything. I realized that not everyone shares the same advantages. No one ever really makes it on his own. Not in this world, anyway. We all stand on the shoulders of giants.

My thoughts then turned to those less fortunate. There are still children in America who arrive at their school hungry. Think about that! Here in the land of plenty, America’s sons and daughters go to school with empty stomachs. How in the hell can a kid learn if she’s starving?

This is something many on the right don’t seem to comprehend. Many of those who profess to be “pro-life” couldn’t give a shit about a kid after it’s born. This boggles my mind. The other day, I shared news on Facebook about Baltimore County Schools making meals free for all school kids. No kid should ever go hungry, I said, to which one of my conservative friends responded:

Free. No such thing. How about parents be responsible. We cannot raise people’s kids

And this illustrates the hole in libertarian thinking that I could not get around. I’m not the kind of guy who suffers at all from White Guilt. I consider myself more race-agnostic. Still, I can’t deny the huge advantage I had over others by growing up in a happy, fairly well-off family.

The bottom line is that we should not punish children for the choices their parents have made. Kids don’t have any say in those decisions. It’s not their fault they have to go to school hungry. A student constantly distracted by hunger will keep falling behind until he is hopelessly lost in his studies. That’s a damn shame, and totally preventable.

This same conservative friend blew a gasket when the Wake County Board of Commissioners recently voted to raise taxes to pay for schools.

“Thanks, dipshits,” he fumed. “They need to lean out their spending. WCPSS is out of control.”

I responded with the quote from Derek Bok, former president of Harvard University:

“If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.”

… and followed up with a quote from John Greene:

“Let me tell you why I like to pay taxes for schools even though I don’t personally have a kid in school. I don’t like living in a country with a bunch of stupid people.”

The point is that education is the key to making people self-sufficient. If people can’t be self-sufficient, they either go on the welfare rolls or into the prison system. So, we either pay for them now by providing a sound education or we pay for them later through welfare or prison time. It’s that whole “teach a man to fish” thing but it’s not just a cute saying. It’s true.

Not only do kids deserve to be free from hunger, they deserve an equal chance at success through education. Not everything will be equal or can be equal, of course, but we’re the dipshits if we aren’t committed to providing every kid a sound education.

Some parents make bad choices. Education is the key to rising above family circumstances and making something of oneself. We are all better off with more wisdom and less ignorance in our world.

Mark Turner : Cheap Thoughts: variable-current EV charging

June 17, 2015 02:07 PM

I’ve been mostly happy with our Siemens Level 2 EV charger. It’s simple to use with only two buttons, which I rarely need to press. Still, there is one feature the Siemens does not offer that I wish it had: the ability to adjust the current used based on my electricity rate plan’s Time of Use schedule.

Duke Energy offers a Time of Use – Demand (TOU-D) electric plan (which I’ve discussed in-depth before), meaning an electric customer gets socked with high fees based on how much electricity gets used at the same time.

Here’s where a more clever charging station becomes useful. Let’s say my usual monthly peak demand is 8 kW. I pay roughly $4 per kW demand so I have a powerful incentive to stay within my electric “budget.” My AC uses 3 kW and my stove uses 1 kW, leaving me 4 kW of my 8 kW monthly budget to play with. Now, with my Siemens charger I get all or nothing: it’s either pumping 7 kW into my car or it’s offering a trickle of juice. When I’m paying off-peak rates at night, I’m fine with 7 kW being sent to my car. But what if I need a quick charge during on-peak times? I have two choices: either I give my car a full-blown 7 kW charge (Level 2, 220 volts) or a 1.5 kW trickle charge (Level 1, 110 volts), which takes forever. If I add 7kW to my 3 kW AC and 1 kW stove, I’m up to 11 kW and I blow out my electric bill.

If I could get the charger to automatically offer only up to 4 kW during on-peak times and save the full power until the cheaper rates kick in, I get the best of both worlds: I can get a quicker charge than the lowly Level 1 and still stay within my demand budget. This could shave $20 or more per month from our electricity bill. More importantly, I would no longer have to worry about what electricity rates are in effect at the time I plug in my car – the charger would adjust its charging rate for me.

To my knowledge, the only charger I’ve found that could handle this kind of setup is the open-source Open-EVSE charger. It’s an Arduino-based, do-it-yourself charger kit with full source code available.

It would be good to see more commercially-available electric charging stations have more flexibility in dealing with changing electricity rates as the one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t match the market. Once again, open source leads the way!

Mark Turner : National Archives mailed me sensitive records of other veterans … twice

June 17, 2015 02:22 AM

Pvt. Hardy's DD-214 (redacted)

Pvt. Hardy’s DD-214 (redacted)

Starting in February, I decided to enroll in the Veterans Administration healthcare system. In order to review my health history, I submitted a form to the National Archives and Records Administration to get a copy of my military medical records.

A packet soon arrived from NARA and I marveled at how quickly it had arrived. My pleasure quickly turned to disbelief, though, when I saw the name on the record was not mine!

A DD-214 form is one of the most important military service records a veteran can have. It is proof of military service, listing service dates, locations served, awards earned, and (most importantly) whether one’s discharge was honorable or otherwise. Anyone filing for veterans benefits better have their DD-214 because nothing happens without it.

But veterans aren’t the only ones who value their DD-214. So do identity thieves! On this record you can find the veteran’s social security number, date of birth, service number, signature, and other important personal information. And here I was, holding the sensitive records of PVT Hardy, US Army, Vietnam veteran.

The shock had barely worn off from this when another packet arrived from NARA. Could this be my long-lost military records?

PFC McAdams's DD-214

PFC McAdams’s DD-214

Well, actually no. Instead of my records, I received the records of PFC McAdams, who was discharged in Europe in 1967 after nearly two years of service. Twice, NARA sent me the sensitive information belonging to two other veterans. If I was an identity thief I would be sailing the Riviera by now.

A logo on the cover letter read “We Value Our Veterans’ Privacy. Let us know if we have failed to protect it.” I decided that was a good idea, so on June 10th I called up the National Archives.

DD-214 cover letter

DD-214 cover letter

Ade, the rep who took my call, was apologetic. He quickly took down the information for the other veterans and promised that he would report the errors. He also promised me he would see to it that my records were sent to me. He also gave me the option of sending the errant records back or shredding them, which I intend to do.

Incidentally, six days have passed and I have not yet received my own records. It makes me wonder if, like the others, my records got sent to another veteran, or perhaps to someone who planned to use them for nefarious purposes. There’s really no telling.

When news of the recent hack of the Office of Personnel Management broke I traded comments with some shipmates, expressing relief that the hack didn’t include military records. In light of the poor way the National Archives and Records Administration safeguards military records, I guess I shouldn’t feel too smug!

The takeaway is that your personal information is not safe. No agency or organization will put the emphasis on protecting it unless we make them. Society must demand better measures of protecting our private data or it will never happen.

Mark Turner : Surfing into Adolescence – The New Yorker

June 16, 2015 09:53 PM

The budget for moving our family to Honolulu was tight, judging from the tiny cottage we rented and the rusted-out Ford Fairlane we bought to get around. My brother Kevin and I took turns sleeping on the couch. I was thirteen; he was nine. But the cottage was near the beach—just up a driveway lined with other cottages, on a street called Kulamanu—and the weather, which was warm even in January, when we arrived, felt like wanton luxury.

Source: Surfing into Adolescence – The New Yorker

Tarus Balog : 2015 SELF – Day Three

June 16, 2015 03:12 PM

After a rather active night on Saturday, Day Three of SELF was more sedate. I took some time to take pictures.

As a sponsor we had a room named after us, which was cool:

SELF OpenNMS Classroom

The project booths/tables were set up in the hallway around the meeting rooms. There was a table staffed by Google:

Google at SELF

and I was able to get a “Google Cardboard” kit which I plan to review a bit later. The Ubuntu folks were there as well:

Ubuntu at SELF

and Spot was there representing Red Hat with his 3D printer. Mini-Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy seemed a popular choice.

Spot at SELF

Overall, while this conference wasn’t as heavily attended as, say, SCaLE, the average knowledge of the attendees was much higher and we had some great conversations. The people who stopped by the booth seemed genuinely interested in learning about OpenNMS versus gathering swag, although we managed to give most of the stuff we brought away.

OpenNMS Booth at SELF

Since we were monitoring the show network, we decided to leave when the number of associated devices dropped below 60, which turned out to be about an hour before the show was supposed to end. I always feel bad if I leave early, but we’ve been pretty slammed lately, so being able to get home a couple of hours early was nice, and now I have next year’s show to look forward to as well.

Mark Turner : The Pulitzer Prize In Bullshit FUD Reporting Goes To… The Sunday Times For Its ‘Snowden Expose’ | Techdirt

June 16, 2015 01:47 AM

Rupurt Murdock’s Sunday Times published a whopper on Sunday in an effort to smear Edward Snowden and was promptly shredded by other journalists for its fabrications and shoddy reporting.

Let’s start with this. Soon after Daniel Ellsberg was revealed as the source behind the Pentagon Papers, White House officials started spreading rumors that Ellsberg was actually a Soviet spy and that he’d passed on important secrets to the Russians:None of it was true, but it was part of a concerted effort by administration officials to smear Ellsberg as a “Soviet spy” and a “traitor” when all he really did was blow the whistle on things by sharing documents with reporters.

Does that sound familiar? Over the weekend, a big story supposedly broke in the UK’s the Sunday Times, citing anonymous UK officials arguing that the Russians and Chinese got access to all the Snowden documents and it had created all sorts of issues, including forcing the UK to remove undercover “agents” from Russia. That story is behind a paywall, but plenty of people have made the text available if you’d like to read the whole thing.

Source: The Pulitzer Prize In Bullshit FUD Reporting Goes To… The Sunday Times For Its ‘Snowden Expose’ | Techdirt

Mark Turner : Why the “biggest government hack ever” got past the feds | Ars Technica

June 16, 2015 01:44 AM

Ars Technica takes an in-depth look at the “biggest government hack ever,” the OPM hack that exposed over 4 million records of federal government employees.

As I posted to Twitter, while the NSA was busy monitoring Grandma’s phone calls, the Chinese made off with 4 million federal government employee records. Tell me again why we are spending billions on the NSA?

n April, federal authorities detected an ongoing remote attack targeting the United States’ Office of Personnel Management (OPM) computer systems. This situation may have gone on for months, possibly even longer, but the White House only made the discovery public last Friday. While the attack was eventually uncovered using the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Einstein—the multibillion-dollar intrusion detection and prevention system that stands guard over much of the federal government’s Internet traffic—it managed to evade this detection entirely until another OPM breach spurred deeper examination.

Source: Why the “biggest government hack ever” got past the feds | Ars Technica

Mark Turner : Tom Apodaca: Senate’s enforcer uses muscle, humor to deliver GOP agenda | The Charlotte Observer The Charlotte Observer

June 14, 2015 11:12 PM

Nice profile of North Carolina Senate majority leader Tom Apodaca.

In another life, Tom Apodaca chased knife-toting bail jumpers and once found himself in a cheap motel staring into the barrel of a shotgun.
The conservative Republican used to be a Jimmy Carter Democrat. And for a long time, Tom Apodaca wasn’t even Tom Apodaca. But now the Hendersonville Republican is the North Carolina Senate’s enforcer, the muscle for President Pro Tem Phil Berger of Eden.

Along with Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore, he’s one of the state’s three most influential lawmakers. As Rules Committee chair, he’s the ultimate gatekeeper. At one point last month, more than 460 House and Senate bills sat parked in his committee. Few measures become law without his blessing.

Source: Tom Apodaca: Senate’s enforcer uses muscle, humor to deliver GOP agenda | The Charlotte Observer The Charlotte Observer

Tarus Balog : 2015 SELF – Day Two

June 14, 2015 12:57 PM

Day Two of SELF was a bit of a whirlwind. While I love going to conferences, “booth duty” can sometimes be a bit tiring, but for some reason the time just seems to fly at this conference.

Speaking of booths, I got to stop by the Rackspace table. I have a soft spot for Rackspace since they were our first major customer at OpenNMS and if it weren’t for them we probably wouldn’t be here.

They have a reputation for hiring top-notch people, and at the show they have a little “break/fix” challenge. You are given ten minutes to complete eight tasks, and like Spinal Tap the score goes to eleven.

I was a little disappointed with my score of seven, but I can always claim I was distracted by a couple of people coming by to say “hi” while I was taking the test. Not that it would have made any real difference, but what is a day without at least one good rationalization.

I asked Jesse to give it a shot and he score a more respectable nine, and I didn’t hear of anyone getting it completely right, but it was fun to do.

Monitoring the SELF Network

Speaking of fun (well, if you are a network management geek) we set up some more data collection on the show network. We added graphs for the number of people connected to each SSID, as well as the max and average association time between devices and APs. It was cool to see a dip around lunch time as a number of people left to get food, and then it came back up as they returned.

I often talk about how important it is to not only be able to collect data about the network but also to understand why the data is what it is, and it was cool to be surrounded by other geeks who liked to look at the output from OpenNMS and to understand it.

SELF Cards Against Humanity

That evening there was a social gathering sponsored by Linode. I was able to hang out until a little after midnight and everyone seemed to be having a good time. There was the obligatory Cards Against Humanity game going on, and it was one of the largest I had seen. Not sure the game play works that well with so many people but those playing seemed to enjoy it.

Tarus Balog : 2015 SELF – Day One

June 13, 2015 01:26 PM

As I am fond of mentioning, I really like regional Linux conferences. This weekend we are proud to be a Platinum sponsor of the SouthEast LinuxFest (SELF) which is being held at the airport Sheraton in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Usually the first day consists of classes with the weekend reserved for presentations, but this year my talk was on Friday afternoon. As I’ve been suffering from a sore throat for about a week, this worked out well, since I doubt my voice will make it through Sunday (hard to believe, I know).

I did my “Open Source is Dead” talk from SCaLE with a few revisions, and I was happy that only one person had seen it before. I made a few changes to the slides (Red Hat’s market cap is up a few hundred million from February and I removed my slide promoting the OnePlus One handset since I can no longer recommend them due to horrendous product support). I think the talk was well received. Christine Hall from FOSS Force wrote about it and even included my “Ché Stallman” graphic in her post.

OpenNMS Booth at SELF

We have a booth staffed by Jesse and Jessi (and me), and it’s right next to the GlobalVision table. GlobalVision is providing the network for the show and they are also a VoIP service provider. They had a cool phone from Ubiquiti. It looks like a sleek executive phone:

Ubiquiti Phone

but what’s cool is that it is based on Android. They’ve replaced the default phone app with a SIP client, but otherwise it is similar to any other Android device, and so it can do things like play YouTube videos:

Ubiquiti Phone and YouTube

Day One was a lot of fun and I’m looking forward to the rest of the weekend. Hats of to the organizers, including Jeremy Sands, who needed a little break come Friday afternoon.

Jeremy Sands Napping

Mark Turner : City council dodges patio bar hot potato

June 12, 2015 02:48 PM

I don’t know what the Raleigh city staff was thinking. Honestly, this recent attempt to ban patio seating for bars was bound to blow up in their faces. Anyone who’s worked in city government and played the political game should’ve seen it coming, yet staff happily tossed this hot potato right into the laps of the Raleigh City Council.

In an election year. Yes, an election year.

Of course, a huge groundswell of bar owners and their fans spoke out against this draconian measure and Council wisely backed down, but it all could’ve been avoided.

Me? I don’t see much difference between a bar’s patrons clogging the sidewalks and a restaurant’s patrons clogging the sidewalks. Both businesses’ patrons are likely swilling alcohol and both businesses are contributing to the economy and lifestyle of the City of Oaks. If the city allows one, I see no reason why they should not allow the other.

As for people who moved downtown to enjoy a lively downtown scene and then complain that the lively downtown scene keeps them awake at night, I don’t know what they’re thinking, either.

City staff should’ve known better than to spring this on the public with little warning and on Council during election season. It wasn’t that long ago that the Council took the city staff’s bait and outlawed garbage disposals. Yeah, that went over well. Some staffers apparently didn’t learn the lesson.

I remember the ghost town Raleigh’s downtown used to be not that long ago. The fact that there’s controversy over the sidewalks being too popular is almost laughable. As far as problems go this is a nice one to have. I’m glad the city is taking another approach to this and I’m glad the Council didn’t fall into the trap of approving this.

Mark Turner : A Look Inside Reynolds Renovations | NC State News

June 12, 2015 12:56 PM

Here’s a fun look at the hidden history of Reynolds Coliseum, recently brought to light by the university’s renovation work. Andy Williams! Ermahgerd!

There have been a few surprises. Nothing completely out of the ordinary, of course, though the decades-old box of uneaten peanuts kind of threw the contractors off for a few seconds.Three months into the first major renovation of Reynolds Coliseum since it opened in 1949, everything is on schedule. Ductwork in the hallways of the upper concourse has been removed, prepping for the first permanent air-conditioning system the old building has ever had.

More than 3,000 original seats have been removed from the north end, and are currently on sale as souvenirs through the Wolfpack Club.

There were a few interesting finds in the old air ducts: newspapers from the 1950s, receipts from Ice Capades shows and an Andy Williams concert in the 1960s, a program for a gay and lesbian rally in 1979 and a few more current ROTC brochures.

Source: A Look Inside Reynolds Renovations | NC State News

Mark Turner : Glorious Church building meets less than glorious end

June 12, 2015 12:49 PM

Glorious Church gets demolished

Glorious Church gets demolished

By the time you read this, there will likely be nothing left of the old Glorious Church, the building at the corner of Glascock and N. State St where Bishop Spain’s Apostolic congregation met for years. Demolition crews are whacking down wall after wall, turning it into a pile of bricks and memories. I snapped a few photos yesterday morning of the building while it was still intact, not knowing that hours later it would be demolished.

I’m somewhat sad to see the church go, actually, though the loud services often flared the tempers of surrounding neighbors. The building has been a church since the 1950s, as far as I can tell, and now the building is rubble. It was uninsulated and not much for beauty but it served as the home of a loving congregation. I don’t feel bad about the congregation, though, as I’m sure the sale price has provided them with money to build a new church, finally completing their dream interrupted years ago by what I heard was a dishonest contractor.

The Glorious Church building is an empty shell now

The Glorious Church building is an empty shell now

I knew about the building’s fate months ago through some real estate friends. Their plan is to raze the church building and the vacant daycare building just north of it and build three luxury homes in their place. The expected asking price for these homes is lofty and will certainly boost our property values but it will also accelerate change the surrounding neighborhood. In the end, though, I look forward to welcoming more good neighbors to the area.

Mark Turner : Microsoft acqui-hires, shuts down startup BlueStripe – Business Insider

June 11, 2015 12:22 PM

Microsoft has acquired a startup called BlueStripe Software today and shuttered it. It will take BlueStripe’s technology and add it into some of Microsoft’s major enterprise products like System Center.Most of the small BlueStripe team will be joining Microsoft. Microsoft would not confirm the number of employees involved, but according to LinkedIn, about 25 people worked there. When we asked for details, Microsoft sent us this statement:

“Core members of the BlueStripe team will be transferring to Microsoft. Microsoft is not sharing further details on BlueStripe personnel. BlueStripe brings both a talented set of personnel and a strong set of products.”

Source: Microsoft acqui-hires, shuts down startup BlueStripe – Business Insider

Mark Turner : Stepson of Stuxnet stalked Kaspersky for months, tapped Iran nuke talks | Ars Technica

June 10, 2015 02:38 PM

A fascinating, in-depth account of how security firm Kaspersky was infected by (and later discovered) one of the world’s most powerful hacking tools.

“These guys are so confident to develop their entire platform based on this zero day it means if they get caught and this zero day is patched they probably have another one they can use, which I would say is a pretty scary thought,” he said. “Nobody develops an entire malware platform based on just one simple assumption that this zero day will work forever, because eventually it will be discovered and patched. And when it is patched your malware is not going to work anymore. I think that’s also very scary and quite impressive.”

Source: Stepson of Stuxnet stalked Kaspersky for months, tapped Iran nuke talks | Ars Technica

Mark Turner : Iceland put bankers in jail rather than bailing them out — and it worked – Vox

June 10, 2015 02:26 AM

Yesterday, Iceland’s prime minister, Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson, announced a plan that will essentially close the books on his country’s approach to handling the financial crisis — an approach that deviated greatly from the preferences of global financial elites and succeeded quite well. Instead of embracing the orthodoxy of bank bailouts, austerity, and low inflation, Iceland did just the opposite. And even though its economy was hammered by the banking crisis perhaps harder than any other in the world, its labor didn’t deteriorate all that much, and it had a great recovery.

Source: Iceland put bankers in jail rather than bailing them out — and it worked – Vox

Mark Turner : Cheap Thoughts: God and consumerism

June 10, 2015 02:24 AM

It occurred to me this evening that God and consumerism are diametrically opposed in at least one way. God tells that we’re perfect just as we are, while consumerism tells us we need that new car, house, or shiny new toy to be complete.

Funny how when we do get that new car, house, or toy, there’s always another car, house, or toy that will really complete us. Anyone whose God is the almighty dollar is doomed to be perpetually disappointed.

Mark Turner : Stepping aside as PTA president

June 10, 2015 02:18 AM

I decided a few weeks ago to complete my term as PTA president of Ligon. Leading a PTA is an enormous amount of work and a good deal of stress, in addition. Right now I need to be reducing the stress in my life, so I opted to hand the reins over to someone else.

Was I a perfect PTA president? Hardly. I made a lot of mistakes and learned some hard lessons in the process. Still, I was the best PTA president Ligon had. I was willing to step up when no one else did.

Overall, it has been incredibly rewarding to do the job, though. I might not have heard much from the parents but I did get a huge round of applause from the Ligon staff today during their staff luncheon. The assistant principal told me he’s seen a lot of PTA organizations during his career as an educator and Ligon PTA’s by far the best he’s ever seen. It meant a lot to hear that!

I leave the PTA leadership in good hands with the incoming president, Terri Hart. I wasn’t able to pull off a PTA election at the end of the year, so I’ll stay on as the official president until the first meeting when we can make it official for Terri. She will hit the ground running over the summertime, though, with me showing her the ropes.

I also plan to continue playing a role – after all, how could I not? We’ll have both kids at Ligon next year and I will continue to play a role in the education of my kids and their classmates.

Volunteering gets into your blood, you know. It’s not easy to give it up.

Tarus Balog : 2015 Users Conference and Bad Voltage Live

June 09, 2015 07:30 PM

Just a quick post to let everyone know that registration for the 2015 OpenNMS Users Conference Europe is now open.

As in past years we’ve opted for a four day format. The main conference will happen on Wednesday and Thursday, and will feature presentations from OpenNMS users from around the world on how they use the software. It will also have the usual “State of OpenNMS” keynote which will cover a lot of the new shiny that has been recently added to OpenNMS.

If you want a more in-depth look into the new stuff, come a day early as on Tuesday we will offer a full day of advanced training, including the Grafana integration, Newts, and the Minion distributed poller architecture.

For those of you new to OpenNMS come on Monday and I’ll personally try to squeeze a week’s worth of training into a single “Bootcamp” day. I’ll be sure to hit all of the concepts you need to get started with OpenNMS.

We have been having the OUCE conference for several years, and this will be the third year the conference has been organized by the non-profit OpenNMS Foundation. You can find information about last year’s conference as well as the one from 2013 on the website.

Since this is the third year, we thought it would be cool to bring in three fourths of the Bad Voltage team in to do their second ever Bad Voltage Live show, which I’m kind of thinking is more like “Bad Voltage: European Vacation“. We’ll be missing Bryan Lunduke, at least in person, as the next iteration in the Lunduke family is expected that week (plus, I think he secretly hates me) but Jeremy, Stuart and Jono will be there to deliver their own special brand of open source and technology commentary and humour.

And there will be beer.

The conference is not free, but it is reasonably priced and it is the main way the Foundation is funded. The Bad Voltage show is open to anyone, not just conference attendees, but since space is limited we did ask for a token 5€ registration fee which is cheap at three times the price (okay, twice the price). And did I mention there will be beer? The Bad Voltage team will be in Fulda for the entire conference, so for conference attendees there should be ample opportunity for you to meet the guys outside of the show.

We are also working on a live stream so that those of you who can’t make it can still watch, and as before it will be posted it to the YooToobz for posterity and maximum embarrassment.

Hope to see you at the OUCE, and if you missed the first Bad Voltage Live show, here it is:

Mark Turner : How Joe Biden learned to work with Jesse Helms, who should’ve been his nemesis – Quartz

June 07, 2015 01:45 AM

This May 17, vice-president Joe Biden address the graduates of Yale University at their Class Day. He spoke about the personal tragedies in his life, losing his wife and daughter to a car accident at age 30, which has been covered following the news of his son Beau’s death less than two weeks later. Beau and his brother survived the crash, and Biden almost resigned his newly won Senate seat before being talked out of it by Ted Kennedy, among others. Biden instead turned into an Amtrak commuter, coming home from Washington to Delaware every night to care for his sons as they recovered, and then to raise a family with his new wife, Jill.

But Biden also spoke about how he learned to work with someone who should have been his nemesis, the conservative senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina.

Source: How Joe Biden learned to work with Jesse Helms, who should’ve been his nemesis – Quartz