From the blog.

Managing Digital Racket
The more I tune out, the less I miss it. But that has presented me with some complex choices for a nuanced approach to curb

No Sound In Exported Video – Final Cut Pro X 10.3.2

Ran into an issue today where audio was working normally in Final Cut Pro X 10.3.2, but the exported video had no sound. The video and sound were originally recorded using a Canon G7X Mark II.

The fix was to delete Final Cut Pro X preferences, as detailed by Apple here. In short…

  1. Quit FCPX.
  2. Press Command-Option when re-launching FCPX. You’ll be given an option to delete your FCPX preferences.
  3. Delete your preferences.

That will definitely result in some interface trauma for you, as FCPX won’t remember where your libraries are. I’m not sure what other settings you’d invested in that might also be forgotten — probably a lot of things. I’m still relatively new to FCPX, so the hit wasn’t too hard to handle. But still. Yuck.

Yuck or not, that worked. Once I pointed FCPX at my libraries and built a new project for my simple video, exporting rendered not just video, but audio too. And all was right with the world.


Ethan Banks writes & podcasts about IT, new media, and personal tech.
about | subscribe | @ecbanks

IPv6 Q&A For The Home Network Nerd

I was a guest on the Daily Tech News Show, episode 2957A. We chatted about the news of the day, then had an IPv6 discussion aimed at folks who are curious, but haven’t had a chance to work with v6 yet. My goal was to dispel FUD and spread the gospel of IPv6 to the nerdy public.

For those of you that listened to the show, here’s the text I’d prepped. We didn’t get to all of this when recording, so you might find more information here to inspire your IPv6-related Google-fu.

What are the benefits to me as a general consumer of IPv6? (beyond having fifteen bajillion addresses)

In a certain sense, there is little tangible benefit for consumers. Addressing is largely transparent to general consumers. I think many consumers don’t know or care about the IPv4 address assigned to their gear. They care whether or not they can access the Internet resource they are trying to access.

For the more tech savvy, IPv6 does indeed bring fifteen bajillion addresses, so to speak. And while that doesn’t seem like a big deal, it is. For example, most of us at home have gear obscured by NAT. This makes us feel more secure — all these addresses hidden behind a single address feels like a bit of anonymity, and we like that. But private address space and network address translation are features that were created because the Internet was quickly running out of address space. Not because the powers that were felt that a layer of indirection was required to make us more secure.

IPv6 gives us back the address uniqueness we and many of our apps need going forward. This will allow carriers to do away with carrier grade NAT, a system of hierarchical double-translation that has been problematic for certain Internet applications, including some games. NAT and CG-NAT is fine for outbound, client-side traffic, but painful for inbound server-side traffic, when a home consumer is acting as a source of traffic, such as happens in gaming and voice apps.

IPv6 also means that the world can remain in contact with one another everywhere. There are parts of the world, Asia most notably, where new public IPv4 address space has been unavailable for some time. That means certain new network segments have been and are being deployed as IPv6 only. This is perhaps less interesting to the home user, but increasingly interesting to the business user who does global commerce.

Performance is another interesting issue. As a side note, IPv6 has done away with header checksum calculations, presuming them to be redundant, since other parts of the network stack perform checksums as well. More interestingly, when performing an address lookup, hosts with IPv6 capability will query the DNS system for an IPv6 address, the quad-A record specifically, before a regular IPv4 address. With many operating systems that are IPv6 enabled, you’ll find that the OS will try to do whatever task it’s doing via v6 first, falling back to v4 only if v6 fails. So going all IPv6 can, in certain circumstances, result in better overall performance for a complex transaction, such as retrieving a busy web page over HTTP.

Can IPv4 and v6 coexist peacefully on the Internet (can both parts talk to one another)? What about for a single device like a phone or laptop?

IPv4-only hosts and IPv6-only hosts don’t talk to each other without a translation of some kind. There are schemes that perform v4 to v6 address translation and back. There are devices that can act as a proxy between v6 clients and v4 servers. However, those sorts of schemes are usually confined to the enterprise or service providers, where network operators could implement such a scheme if appropriate.

I think the real-world answer is that the global Internet, for the most part, runs dual-stacked. That is, there are both IPv4 and IPv6 addresses that allow both kinds of traffic to access hosts. The coexistence is not only peaceful, but very real, as it is going on today.

A different way to answer the question is that no, the two address systems don’t talk to each other directly, but most devices speak both languages, so it’s okay.

This is also the case for a phone or laptop. For example, on your iPhone, you can download the Hurricane Electric HE.net app from the app store. It’s free. This tool will tell you the IPv4 and IPv6 addresses assigned to your iPhone underneath the “Interface Information” section. You’ll find that you’ve got not only IPv4 addresses, but also several IPv6 addresses as well. On your Mac, you could type “ifconfig” and get a report of your interfaces. You’ll see IPv4 and IPv6 addresses, even if you haven’t rolled IPv6 out to your network. “Ipconfig” on Windows offers the same sort of information.

These days, dual-stacking is the rule, not the exception. Coexistence is expected. Communication between IPv4 and IPv6 is managed in this manner, where for now, most systems speak both languages.

What do I need to know about the transition for my end-use devices? Do I need to do anything?

If you’re a home user, the answer is most likely very little. There are a few things to keep in mind, however.

1. Your ISP needs to support IPv6. A call to their tech support should answer that question. In the US market, more and more providers are supporting IPv6 all the way to the home. The largest national carriers especially support IPv6. Smaller regional carriers might not yet support IPv6, meaning that if you were to send IPv6 traffic towards the Internet, you won’t get an answer back.

2. Your Internet gateway needs to support IPv6. The vast majority do, and have for some time. However, you will likely need to enable it.

3. From there, assuming you’ve got a flat home network (i.e. you haven’t broken your network up into routed segments, something you’d have to do on purpose), your local devices should start picking up routable IPv6 addresses from your gateway using the neighbor discovery and router advertisement processes. This serves the purpose of providing IPv6 addresses to your end-use devices, and also lets them know where to send their traffic headed for the Internet.

4. Realize that your operating systems are already using IPv6, unless you’ve gone out of your way to shut it all off.

5. Even if you don’t think you’re running IPv6 at home, fire up a packet sniffer like Wireshark, let it run for a minute or so, and take a look. You’ll see plenty of IPv6 traffic on the wire, guaranteed. It’s very possible that you’ll have devices on your network talking to each other with non-routable local use only IPv6 addresses without you having configured a thing!

6. Another important point to realize is that your devices will have multiple IPv6 addresses assigned to them, even on the same interface. This is normal in the IPv6 world. Different addresses are used for different purposes. This is different from IPv4, where you more typically see a single IPv4 address assigned to an interface.

For an enterprise, many of the same ideas hold true, only you’re going to want to do a bit of address planning. Your enterprise will have multiple segments of IPv6 addresses, a more complex firewall configuration, etc. But you want to take control of that environment, own it, and then maintain it.

Do I get any immediate benefits from making sure all my devices support IPv6?

This is hard one for me to answer. On the one hand, I want to say not really, in the sense that so much trouble has gone into making sure that IPv4 and IPv6 co-exist. There is also a presumption on the part of the industry that IPv4 is around for the long haul. We’re planning a period of co-existence as opposed to a transition. There is no roadmap for sunsetting IPv4. Therefore, if you have some older devices hanging around that only support IPv4, you’re going to be okay for a while. In fact, there are still a few vendors making networking products today with limited or no IPv6 support at all, using the excuse that customers aren’t asking for IPv6.

On the other hand, the global Internet has deployed IPv6. IPv6 is the new normal. IPv4 might be around for a long time simply because it’s so entrenched, but that doesn’t mean it’s better. All of us, both consumers and manufacturers, should be making an effort to get IPv6 done. There isn’t any reason not to.

That’s not an answer to the question exactly, but I think that’s because the IPv6 benefits that end users will appreciate are elusive. Yes, IPv6 is the right thing to do. But the clear & obvious motivation to get it done, i.e. immediate benefits that the average person will care about, isn’t so clear and obvious. The end result is roughly the same as IPv4 today. Your address talks to some other address, which is really pretty boring.

Is there a downside to moving all my devices to IPv6? (maybe some devices won’t work as well together if one is v4 and the other v6?)

I guess it depends on what you mean by “moving,” as what you’re more likely to be doing is enabling IPv6 alongside of IPv4 as opposed to doing a hard cut. In that context, there is no obvious downside, no. This goes back to my earlier points about dual-stacking, quad-A DNS records, and Happy Eyeballs. (Did I mention Happy Eyeballs?) These mechanisms have been in place for a long time now. Many operating systems will choose to communicate via IPv6 by default anyway, given a choice.

I, personally, am on a broadband provider that does not offer IPv6 as yet. Rumors are they are in beta. And yet, inside my perimeter firewall (the gateway router I run at my house), I see IPv6 traffic all the time. For example, my Mac was performing a Time Machine backup to a Synology disk array. With no configuration on my part, the two machines were using locally scoped IPv6 addresses to get the job done.

Again, the mechanisms are in place, and have been, for a dual-stacked Internet.

Let’s not forget that IPv6 itself has been around for a long time now. The first IETF RFC for IPv6 was number 1883, published in December 1995. That document is obsoleted by other RFCs now, but my point is that we’re dealing with an addressing system that has had over 20 years to bake. Although Internet engineers keep making minor tweaks and adding features here and there, IPv6 isn’t cutting edge technology in any way. Global adoption is, depending on your point of view, either complete or long overdue. The barriers to adoption have been largely financial ones as opposed to technical ones.

In summary, there’s no real downside. Using IPv6 has been largely de-risked.

What about NAT? Can ISPs now charge me per device if they want to?

Assuming NAT goes away in an IPv6 world, which I strongly advocate, then sure, it becomes easier for ISPs to charge you by device for network access if they want to. And cynics are fair to point out that service providers have a track record of charging for anything that they can think of. But I don’t think charging per device is likely to happen.

My opinion is that individual devices are not interesting metrics when compared to bandwidth utilization. Bandwidth consumption has been the hot button, and will continue to be. Bandwidth monitoring is a way to control what you are doing on the Internet, specifically about what you are watching. I believe streaming is the big thing here. Entertainment is the big game in town.

Bandwidth is what large network operators have finite amounts of. Bandwidth is the thing that’s precious. In a sense, they want as many of your network devices consuming the network as possible, chewing up that bandwidth…which they meter…and then can charge you for. Or give you free amounts of, assuming you’re watching streams they control and are able to make advertising revenue from in some way. Net neutrality, anyone?

Notice all the press lately about unlimited data plans – they are going away, and grandfathered plans are becoming more costly. And then big providers are getting more serious about enforcing data caps. You know how easy it is to blow through a terabyte of data in a month if you’re a cord cutter who streams a lot of HD content? No problem at all.

A better question is ask is what good comes from doing away with NAT. I think there are benefits here.

1. Doing away with address obfuscation means that compromised hosts can be clearly identified. Security is an increasing problem on the Internet, and IoT devices are shipping with awful security. IPv6 deployed without NAT makes it easier to pin down these compromised hosts.

2. When bandwidth charges are assessed by an ISP, they should be able to point to exactly the IPv6 addresses that were consuming the network. That takes the guessing out of whether it was the teenager’s tablet or Dad’s Roku.

In conclusion…

For those uber-nerds who really want to get into the nuts and bolts, IPv6 is a big topic. There are some behind-the-scenes protocols you can learn. There are different behaviors when compared to IPv4. For instance, did you know there’s no such thing as broadcast traffic in IPv6? There are the different types of addresses and their uses to learn. There are IPv4 to IPv6 transition technologies, such as IPv6 over IPv4 tunneling.

A great place to learn about IPv6, especially if you are a v6 “have-not” is through Hurricane Electric’s free TunnelBroker.net service. Hurricane Electric can get you connected to the IPv6 Internet, assign you a block of your own v6 addresses to work with, and help you learn by giving you educational tasks to perform.

Another good jumping off point is ARIN’s IPv6 Info Center. And then, of course, just Google around as you run into terms you’re not familiar with. There’s tons of great information out there.


Ethan Banks writes & podcasts about IT, new media, and personal tech.
about | subscribe | @ecbanks

All of Ethan’s Podcasts & Articles for January 2017

Packet Pushers Community Blog

Packet Pushers News

Packet Pushers Weekly Podcast

Datanauts Podcast

Citizens of Tech Podcast

Video

NetIntro Book

  • I’m contributing to a book along with Jeremy Filliben and Russ White explaining fundamental networking problems and their solutions. In January, I began work on a chapter on QoS.

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Ethan Banks writes & podcasts about IT, new media, and personal tech.
about | subscribe | @ecbanks

The Harsh Reality Of Audience Supported Podcasting

Every now and then, podcast listeners tell me that they’d gladly donate a few dollars each month, if only the ads would go away. I get that. It’s a nice thought that listeners would support the content they find valuable and subscribe. It’s also a nice thought that the sum total of subscription revenue would pay the bills.

Sadly, neither of those things are true.

In my experience, less than 1% of listeners will financially support a podcast in any way. That might be through affiliate programs such as Amazon’s. That might be through Patreon patronage. That might be through Paypal donations. That might be through a regular subscription. Whatever the way is, it just doesn’t matter. Almost no one that listens to your show is likely to become a direct source of revenue.

How much money needs to come in for your show to do away with advertisements? That depends on your goals, and I’ll assume you’ve got one of two.

Goal 1. The podcast paying for itself.

One goal is for your podcast to simply pay for itself. You’d like the audience to pay for a mic upgrade, hosting services, a mobile recording rig, your move into vlogging, and maybe some coffee now and again. If the show earned perhaps $3K a year, you’d be ecstatic.

$3K a year is $250 a month. If 1% of your audience donated $1 a month, you’d need an audience of 25,000 to meet that $250 a month goal. Hmm. A 25K audience is hard to build. Very hard, indeed.

As we reflect, $3K in donations is taxable income, categorized as “self-employment” income in the US. So, from your $3K, you’ll get to keep roughly $2,100. You could funnel all the donation money through an LLC you’d have to create, and then track expenses, etc. That might help you keep some more of that money and pump it back into the podcast, if you’re generating expenses directly related to what has now become a small business.

Did you mean to be running a small business?

Goal 2. The podcast paying for your life.

The second goal some podcasters aspire to is podcasting as a career. In this scenario, how much do you need to make so that you can live, podcasting being your primary source of income?

Let’s use a round number of $96K as a desired annual income, which perhaps sounds like a lot of money. But again, after self-employment income tax in the US, you’ll be left with around $67K to live on for the year. Oh, and you might need to pay for healthcare for at least yourself if not your family, which isn’t cheap even under the ACA. My point being that $96K isn’t nearly as much as it sounds like when you’re working for yourself.

Maybe you need more money. Maybe you need less. Adjust the math to your specific situation. In our example here, you need $8K each month in donations. We’ll assume 1% of your audience donates $10 each month. That’s a generous amount for an audience member to donate by podcasting standards, but we’re trying to make the numbers work.

That means 800 listeners would donate $10 a month to bring you up to that $8K threshold. Based on my “1%” experience, you’d need an audience of 80K to support you.

Let’s face it. For most, advertising is here to stay.

If you want to podcast for fun and make enough to cover the bills, sure. You can maybe work that out. For a minimal effort show running barebones, the costs are low enough that you can afford to pay for it out of pocket anyway. Donations you get are nice little bonuses. That trickle of dollars won’t add up to much, but it’s fantastic encouragement when your audience cares enough to spend a little cash.

Making a living from your show is a different challenge, however. I acknowledge there are exceptions, but most podcasters will quickly discover that the audience just doesn’t care enough to meaningfully donate. They might subscribe, make comments on your site, send you email, and interact with you social media. Maybe. But donating money is unlikely.

If the audience won’t monetize you, you’ll have to monetize the audience — the standard business model for media of all kinds for decades if not centuries. Advertisers will pay to have their message shared with your audience, and those advertisers are willing to part with far more of their money than the audience is. Therein lies a podcaster’s business model. (Of course, you have to actually have an audience…)

A topic for another day is how to run the inevitable advertisements in a way that engages, rather than repels, your audience.


Ethan Banks writes & podcasts about IT, new media, and personal tech.
about | subscribe | @ecbanks

Starting A Podcast Is Easy. Continuing Is Hard.

Just how hard is it to start a podcast? It isn’t. Starting a podcast, especially for someone with a bit of technical aptitude, is easy. The actual problem is keeping up with the podcast. Podcasting is a major time commitment that busy people struggle to keep.

For many, I think there’s a romantic notion about podcasting. “Hey, I have all these ideas to share, and I’ve got a creative streak. I think I’ll start a podcast. Fans and money will rain from the sky!” The thought of getting your show with some cool intro music, snappy patter with interesting guests, hijinks with your friends, offbeat humor, or maybe deep content hard to find elsewhere is stimulating and exciting. Your own show! How cool will that be?

You will find moments of joy and wonder as a podcaster. But, podcasts produced regularly and worth listening to are a lot of work — a job. If you don’t love it, you’ll find yourself easily distracted. You’ll skip a week. Then another. And the next thing you know, you haven’t put out a show for over a month, and you’re wondering why you should bother picking it back up.

I’ve seen this cycle happen to folks at least ten times over my seven years of podcasting. And I think I know why it happens. When you strip away the romanticism, podcasting is a grind.

The podcasting grind.

Show planning is the first major challenge. Let’s say you’ve committed to a weekly podcast schedule. Assuming a couple of breaks for vacation, that means you need 50 show ideas for a year. 50.

Just how hard it is to come up with show ideas depends a lot on your format. If you cover the news or perhaps new releases in some product niche, then the shows tend to write themselves. Even in this sort of format, you have hours of work reading the news, checking out feeds, and monitoring social media to see what’s going on and choose your subjects. You’ll be constantly reviewing and sifting, and deciding how to put your own unique stamp on the stories once you record. It’s a lot of work.

If your show is serial fiction or otherwise completely original content, then you’re writing a completely original script. Good luck keeping up with that at a weekly cadence if you have a day job, unless sharing your creative work with the world is a passion that drives you.

If your show is deeply technical, you have the challenge of making sure your facts are correct. There’s always room to be wrong, and invariably you’ll be wrong here and there in a tech-oriented show. My point isn’t that you need to be perfect as much as you need to have enough correct to be considered worth listening to on your technical topic. And that requires research. That research might come in the form of a project you’re doing at work, and therefore not seem so difficult. But it’s all a required effort, nonetheless.

Writing your show is the next step once you’ve decided what, exactly, you’re going to talk about. You don’t have to write a complex script. You probably don’t want a word-for-word script for fear it won’t sound natural when recorded. (Unless you’re good at voiceover work, but that’s a different discussion.)

Just an outline will do. That outline might contain points you want to make, or questions you want to ask your guest. But you need that script to keep your episode on track. Very few people can record a random conversation and end up with a result other people will be interested in listening to.

Script writing takes time. Even composing a simple outline to guide the conversation is an effort requiring you to truly think through your episode and the flow.

Recording is another critical piece of the puzzle. Let’s assume you’ve got the mechanics of recording down. Your choice of microphone, capture device, etc. is all sorted. Great! You still have to do the actual recording. Every. Week. If you’re solo, I suppose that’s not too hard if you’ve got the self-discipline. But if you’ve got a co-host and/or guests, you have to get the time on the calendar coordinated, sort out the conference call or meatspace meetingplace, get together, and record.

The more people involved in a recording, the more complex it is. Each person participating in a show is a potential weak link that can force a reschedule. People get sick. They go on vacation. They get called into work unexpectedly. Life intrudes. A rescheduled recording session makes it very hard to get a show out the door on time.

Even with everyone on the line and ready to go, you’re in for about 75-90 minutes to get a 60 minute show recorded. On remote calls, it can take time to get everyone’s mic sorted out, explain logistics to your guests, and so on. And even in person, there’s a process to get everyone settled and get the recording going.

Editing is the next challenge. Let’s assume you’ve settled on an hour-long format, a common choice. Now, you need to edit what you recorded. Fix the talking over the top of one another, the pregnant pauses, and the misfires. Add the bumpers and the bookends. Add the ads, assuming you’ve monetized. Depending on how OCD you are and how smooth you are as a host, this will take you roughly 2-4 hours for every hour of content, once you’re competent with your editing software.

Of course, you could take a minimalist approach to editing. Some do, and their shows sound…well, hrm. The end result sounds like little time was invested in editing. If the content is just that good, maybe you can get away with skipping an edit…but I’d bet against it. Unedited podcasts tend to abuse their audiences.

Publishing isn’t too challenging, but it does draw on your time. Although not strictly required, many podcasts have a website that anchors the show. This provides a landing page for the podcast, and a place for listeners to focus and discover older episodes. A common tactic is to write a short blog post that accompanies the episode. The post will contain a show summary, along with interesting links referred to in the show. Some include a show script, or even an entire transcript.

Along with the optional blog post, the finished audio file itself must be tagged and uploaded to your hosting provider. An RSS feed with the audio also has to be updated so that iTunes and other podcast aggregators are notified about the new show. The RSS feed updating is usually automatic, but it’s another one of those things you have to keep track of. If your RSS feed stops working, subscribers won’t see your new show when you’ve published, and you’ve got a troubleshooting task on your head.

Marketing your show is another major time suck, if you intend for your show to grow. People are unlikely to find your show just because it’s available in iTunes. You need to evangelize your show. You need to interact with listeners of your show. You need to manage social media around your show. You need to cross-pollinate your show with other podcasts. You need to advertise. While this can be automated to some degree, there’s still a human touch required for your marketing to work most effectively. Fans are made one at a time, and you have to work for each of them.

The quality of your podcast will be the best marketing, because listeners will tell other people about excellent shows. Thus, you will see organic growth if the show is solid. But if you are counting on word of mouth alone to grow your show, you probably won’t grow as quickly as you want to, if at all. Your show has to be filling a unique gap with a large potential audience to see that sort of success. Other than that, you’re going to have to slug it out.

Marketing is not a one-time event, either. Marketing is a constant effort to generate awareness of your show to those who have never heard of it before. It’s also a reminder to those who have heard of your show that you’re still there. Not everyone who hears about your show once is going to subscribe and become a fan. Humans don’t work like that. You have to keep after them. Most folks won’t act until after repeated exposure.

Can you keep going?

The easiest way to cut down on the logistical burden of podcasting is to reduce your frequency. Many folks shoot for a weekly show, when bi-weekly or even monthly is more realistic.

Another option is to minimize the backend burden as much as possible. Services like podbean.com make it both cheap and easy to get your podcast out the door. I only mention Podbean because I’ve used them as the lowest barrier of entry to get a show off the ground. There are plenty of other podcast hosting services around when you exercise your Google-fu.

Working with a co-host spreads the load of creating and producing episodes. A podcast with two hosts also has the advantage of vocal and perspective variety that might help keep listeners engaged. Of course, you have to share the glory if the show is successful, but that shouldn’t be a problem if you can keep your ego in check.

This post might seem like I’m going out of my way to discourage prospective podcasters. I’m not. Just the opposite is true, in fact. I’m hoping that armed with insight into what’s really involved, more folks will be ready for the challenge. I say go for it! Make a great show that your fans will love as you steadily release new episodes, each better than the last.


Ethan Banks writes & podcasts about IT, new media, and personal tech.
about | subscribe | @ecbanks

Reading Tech Books Via The All-At-Once Method

I was recently asked by a friend to read and review a book his publisher had just released. This was a technical book on a topic I was keenly interested in, so I was happy to oblige.

I tackled the book in the way that I normally tackle technical books — a chapter a day, or maybe two chapters in a day. Technical books aren’t recreational fiction for me. I want to grasp the contents of technical books to best make use of the information. This often leads to slow reading. I mull over paragraphs and digest.

This time, I broke that habit. I wanted to get this book done quickly. I wanted the information immediately. I didn’t want to take a few weeks to get through it. Thus, I tried reading the book all at once.

Surprisingly, this worked out well. I ended up getting through the book in four sittings, which perhaps doesn’t sound like “all at once.” Bear with me. The first sitting was a single chapter. The second sitting was a single chapter. Then came the holidays and a complete disruption to my workflow. And then came the epiphany as I stared at the book post-holidays. It stared back at me.

Not this time. Not this book. No. This is happening. I’m reading this book right now. ALL OF IT.

The third sitting took me through several chapters. On the following day, the fourth sitting allowed me to complete the book.

I got as much if not more out of the book as I would have gotten spreading the book out over weeks. There was a distinct advantage in maintaining mental continuity across the chapters. Concepts I had read just a few hours or a day before were brought more readily to mind. I did much less flipping back to reference earlier sections of the book. The flow was more linear than my normal technical book consumption process has been.

What about my inbox, social media, other projects, and all the rest? Didn’t I pay some horrible penalty for mostly ignoring them for two days? Not really. I saved an hour at the end of the day as my mind was fatiguing for messaging tasks. And my other projects were, for the most part, okay to be ignored for a little while.

The payoff was enormous. The book is read and understood. While I don’t know the contents of the book at the “I could pass a detailed exam” level, I know enough to be literate on the content and perform related lab work. I also know what I don’t know, which goes a long way towards removing the shroud of mystery obscuring unexplored technology.

Consuming the book all at once was definitely worthwhile and oddly addictive. Despite having read a technical book in this manner only once, I find myself eyeing other tech tomes with the intent of additional “all at once” sessions soon.


Ethan Banks writes & podcasts about IT, new media, and personal tech.
about | subscribe | @ecbanks

Ubiquiti EdgeRouter Lite ERLite-3 Board Detail

I ran a Ubiquiti Edge Router Lite as my home firewall for a couple of years. The box had a nice GUI with CLI option, and had no problem keeping up with my > 100Mbps Internet connection. The box died after a lengthy power failure that drained the large UPS buffering electrons in my basement equipment rack.

I’m not sure what happened to the ERLite-3, but it’s as dead as the bird in the Python parrot sketch. The firewalls appears to boot. The lights come on, etc. However, the box passes no traffic and responds to no ARP requests. I can get no serial console output from it. I even tried a full factory reset, to no effect.

Until its early death, the little firewall had a trouble-free two year run. For $99 spent according to my Amazon order history, I don’t feel too badly about the loss.

Before throwing it in the bin, I decided to open it up and take a look at the mainboard. Here’s a notated picture for you. Enjoy.

Click image to BIGGIFY and see cropped text.

UPDATES

  1. My thanks to @williamhulley for correcting the first version of this diagram.
  2. @Brownout suggests that the firewall might have bricked due to a problem with the USB key. “Usually it’s the USB key, there’s a procedure on the forums to reinstall EdgeOS on a new one.”

I exercised my google-fu based on Brownout’s input, and came up with this link, “EdgeMax rescue kit (now you can reinstall EdgeOS from scratch).” Seems promising if you want to try to rescue your ERLite!


Ethan Banks writes & podcasts about IT, new media, and personal tech.
about | subscribe | @ecbanks

Stumbling And Fumbling Into Video Blogging

I’m used to writing and to podcasting. I know what the content creation and publication process looks like for written and audio media. The increasing popularity of video has had me and my business partner scratching our heads, wondering how we can best leverage the medium. Or if we even should.

And so, we’ve begun our video adventure the way we’ve always done things. Just go for it. Try it. Hit publish. It won’t be perfect, but that’s okay. Learn and improve.

My first video was a good bit of work, taking roughly eight hours to write, shoot, produce, and publish a ten minute video covering some tech industry news. That’s not scalable, but it was a learning experience. Here was my process.

Write

I get press releases from dozens of marketers and public relations firms, usually several per day. I chose some that I thought folks might be interested in. And then I wrote copy. I know from past projects that many written words translate to many spoken minutes. You have to keep copy tight if you’re writing to a time limit.

I managed to do that, writing just under a thousand words of copy. I did ad lib a bit, but overall, I didn’t stray far from the copy. In fact, you can watch the video and track the words here if you want to see just how close I kept it.

There’s a point of reference for you. A thousand words of copy plus a bit of ad-lib resulted in ten minutes of video.

Shoot

I shot with a green screen background I’ve rigged up in my office. It’s not great, but it is good enough. In the actual shoot, the screen was hanging with no tension. I’m adding clips to give the screen a stretch so that there will be a flatter result that will light more evenly. I need more clips. If you see the right top clip, you see the wrinkle formed. More clips will help.

The point of the green screen is to allow me to insert whatever background I want to in its place. This is easily accomplished with Final Cut Pro X, my video editing tool.

I shot in 4K at 30fps using an iPhone 6S+. I’m only going to publish in 1080p, but shooting in 4K means I can crop, use the highest res graphics possible, etc. and minimize loss of image quality when rendering to 1080p.

I use the same principle when recording audio. I usually record podcasts at 48kHz/24-bit mono for what will ultimately be a 64Kbps mono MP3 when distributed – more bits to work with in editing means plug-ins have more zeros and ones to act on, and presumably makes for a better end result.

I don’t have a good lighting solution yet. For this shoot, I lit my face with a diffused LED panel lamp with a mix of cold and warm LEDs. The light was mounted straight ahead of me. The nature of my office means that I also have a strong side light coming from the south-facing window during the day. In the video, this ended up casting a shadow on the left side of the video behind my head. It looked a little strange. You can see the side-lighting in the green screen shot above as well.

In any case, I need more lighting in the right places to fill shadow behind me. My office is small, so I’m looking into how I can get this done without filling what little floor space I have with box lights, etc. But, box lights might be where I end up anyway.

Another issue in the video is that I’m looking off-camera to read copy. That leaves the video feeling disconnected. However, there are many teleprompter solutions available. Teleprompters like the ones I’m researching use beamsplitter glass. This special glass acts as a mirror for the teleprompter text, while at the same time allowing the camera to shoot you, but not see the text.

Thus, with the right teleprompter, I can read my copy while looking straight into the camera. I’ve done some video work in the past for a large media company using a teleprompter. I know it would work well for me.

Image from Caddie Buddy, one of the teleprompter solutions I’m looking into. Great reviews and a low price. Of course, I need a tablet…

Produce

I produced the video with Apple’s Final Cut Pro X running on loaded iMac Retina 5K model with 32GB of RAM and an Intel Core i7 running at 4Ghz. Sounds like a beast of a machine, eh? Sigh. Not so much. I wish I had more cores, or maybe a Mac Pro. Video rendering (the part you do when you’re done editing the video) takes a long time.

I won’t go into the specifics of FCPX here. If you care about that, go to YouTube and search. The sheer volume of FCPX instructional videos borders on profligate. I will summarize the tools I used, however.

  • Titles for lower thirds, plus a date in the upper left hand corner.
  • Several transforms to move my headshot off-center, to size and place graphics, etc.
  • Video animation with compositing opacity so that graphics would fade in and out instead of suddenly appearing and disappearing.
  • Chroma keying to make the green screen disappear.
  • Secondary audio track inserted, with primary audio track muted. I used the audio from the lapel mic you see in the shot instead of the audio captured by the iPhone.

Another thing I didn’t do that I wish I had done was use a visual flag to signal each segment. That meant I had to go through the entire video carefully to insert the graphics and lower thirds in the right spot.

This was my first project using a Contour ShuttleXpress, a USB rotary dial that makes getting to just the right spot in the video much easier. I use it with my left hand and a trackpad with my right.

Much of my time spent in editing the video was in simply figuring out how to get around in FCPX. For example, if you’ve never done chroma keying, you have watch a video that explains it to you. It’s not hard, but you won’t figure it out just by clicking around if you’re a video editing n00b.

I found this to be a pattern with every FCPX tool — the first time out will take a while. For instance, using transforms drove me a little nuts, because I couldn’t grok how to get the handles to appear consistently on the object I was manipulating. Then I figured out to click on the Transform tool itself when the handles weren’t showing up, and I stopped losing minutes fumbling around in confusion.

The last thing I did when done stumbling and fumbling with FCPX was to add a brief top and tail. Both were the same video clip — a pre-rendered video my business partner made with Apple Motion.

Final rendering takes an enormous amount of time. Every added effect, every title, every graphic, etc. all has to be turned into video frames. FCPX renders in the background constantly with spare CPU cycles, but even so, the final render took dozens of minutes with my iMac cooling fans whirring away.

Publish

First time out, I rendered from FCPX directly into YouTube. Once FCPX is authorized to use your account, you can set YouTube as a sharing target.

I learned a couple of important things about YouTube.

  1. YouTube is going to render in its own way what you upload. This takes a while. You aren’t simply “uploading a video to YouTube.” The process is more involved.
  2. While YouTube is working on your video, the video will only be available at 360p. This is a brief, temporary situation.

The 360p issue was a surprise. I reacted by deleting what I thought were 360p renders, assuming I’d done something wrong that resulted in 360p, and not 1080p. But, the only mistake I made was not waiting long enough. After just a few minutes, the video was available in a variety of resolutions up to 1080p.

However, since I didn’t know about this “360p at first” issue, I deleted my first video. Then I re-rendered the video locally at 1080p, watched it to be sure it was what I expected, and then uploaded that to YouTube, only to have the same 360p result. I executed some google-fu, discovered my blunder, waited, and then the glory of 1080p washed over me.

The next time…

  • I need to sort out a teleprompter. I have a plan.
  • I need to improve lighting. I have a plan here as well.
  • I will flag the end of segments with a piece of colored construction paper, then edit those bits out.
  • Video editing & publication will go much faster. I learned a lot during the initial round of n00bery.

Ethan Banks writes & podcasts about IT, new media, and personal tech.
about | subscribe | @ecbanks

After Two Years, Do I Find Self-Employment Worthwhile?

In March 2015, I started working for myself exclusively. That is to say, I went from working for someone else full-time while also operating my own company full-time to working strictly for my own company. How am I feeling after nearly two years of self-employment?

Fulfillment

Working for myself has proven to be fulfilling. I like the correlations to be found among opportunity, effort, risk, reward, and failure. I can weigh all of those things, make a decision of how to proceed, and benefit (or suffer) directly in accordance with my decisions. That is fulfilling to me.

Suffering, by the way, isn’t a bad thing. We could all stand to do a bit more of it today, so that we do a bit less of it tomorrow.

Process

I am free of silly processes that cripple my ability to get things done, not that I believe process is inherently bad. With my own company, I still have to define processes, but I can keep them both streamlined and fluid. I’m also free to let the people that work with me define their own processes, with me providing only the input required to achieve the desired result.

Balance

When working for other employers as an IT professional, I labored long hours, well beyond the normative forty. I was often part of a 24×7 on-call rotation for which I was typically not compensated. Depending on the employer, I was required to be reachable at any time no matter where I was, i.e. lunch, family vacation, a trip to the mountains, etc. For some employers, I was even required to carry a tetherable phone and laptop on backpacking trips — just in case. Some employers were more caring and considerate in this regard, allowing IT staff to truly disconnect from the office. Most were not.

The nature of IT operations work is that production-impacting projects are to be done outside of regular business hours. I do not miss these sorts of projects. Hovering over a laptop, pasting in pre-built configuration changes while sitting on the floor of a droning, freezing data center at 2am is never a good time.

My wife was always supportive of my late night projects and on-call disruptions to our personal lives, but it wore on her. She covered for me at social events or with the kids when required, and never complained about the long hours I was frequently gone. But still.

After twenty years of that lifestyle, I’ve found a much better balance between work and my personal life working for myself. My schedule is more predictable now. I can break away from the office without the nagging fear of being called or having to lug a laptop everywhere I go. I can take a day off whenever I need to. Yes, I find myself at airports more often due to my work, but that’s predictable now. I usually know months ahead of time where I’m going and can plan accordingly.

Balance is important. It’s taken me almost two years to get to the point that I can sleep consistently. I no longer dream about some crisis or other at work that might demand my attention. I haven’t been awakened by a manager asking me to take a look at an issue for a long time now. I no longer obsessively monitor infrastructure status screens, seeking dead canaries.

These days, when I’m at work, I do my work. Yes, I have a schedule. I have deadlines — lots of them, in fact. I have meetings. I have a busy calendar. But when I leave for the day, I’m done. As a company owner, I could obsess and fret over any number of details, but I’ve found that I’m much more effective when I take time each day to step away. Working for myself allows me to maintain that balance.

Complexity

Running a company, even a small one, is complex. I have employees and contractors. I have a business partner to make joint decisions with. I have customers. I have city, county, state, and federal governments that collect taxes from my company, me, or both. I have cash flow to monitor. I have payrolls to fulfill. I have insurances that require periodic review. I have bills to pay. All of this comes in addition to doing my work as a content creator.

While I farm as much of this back office operational work out to other companies as possible and automate where I can, it’s still ultimately my responsibility as a business owner to make sure all goes well.

But, returning to the point about fulfillment, I don’t mind the extraneous work. I’ve become increasingly efficient at it over the last two years. As the people that support our back office learn our company better, they, too, have become more efficient. The complexity of running a small business has gotten easier over the last couple of years — not harder.

Stress

There is a manageable amount of stress in my life as a small business owner, related to the complexity itemized above. I can summarize my stress points thusly.

  • Taxation is complex. I lack the legal expertise to comprehend what is required of me and my business. To relieve this stress, I retain a tax accountant at a reputable accounting firm.
  • Payroll is similarly complex. To relieve this stress, I have farmed out payroll to a company that specializes in paying not just my employees, but also the various groups that take deductions from the paychecks of my employees. They also handle the quarterly filing and reporting related to payroll.
  • Cash flow is a jagged line, not a straight one. To cope with this stress, I maintain a larger than ideal cash balance in business accounts. This irons out the lumpiness of accounts receivable.
  • Forgetting deliverables bothers me. To reduce the stress of deliverable fulfillment, all contracts live in a job tracking system. We also have a weekly meeting to be sure all obligations to our customers are being met. With this system, very little falls through the cracks.
  • Losing track of leads also bothers me. Sales cycles can be long, and we’ve learned to be persistent to keep up with inbound queries. Conversion takes time. Keeping track of sales conversations using a leads database has relieved the stress of keeping the sales pipeline full.

In summary, putting systems in place is critical to reducing the stress of running a small business.

Beyond the systems themselves are the people operating those systems. For example, the Project Manager position is the hub around which my small company revolves. As a company owner focused on content creation, I lack the time required to properly manage projects. I rely heavily on my project manager to make sure we’re on track. Thankfully, she’s gifted in this role.

Reward

I’m glad I didn’t move to self-employment in the hopes of getting rich, because I am not on a fast track to wealth. That said, the paycheck is fine, the net outcome being similar to what I was earning as a network architect. Plus, I own part of my company. That could be worth something someday.

Might I go back to working for someone else?

Yes, perhaps, but that’s not a situation I’m looking for right now. Even so, working for someone else once again is not a scenario I dread, either. If I need to do that someday, I will be just fine. But I find the fulfillment, balance, and reward of working for myself outweighing the stress and complexity. At least on most days.

There’s a key element to all of this, though. That is that the business I’m in makes financial sense. We are able to pay the bills without worrying from week to week whether or not we can keep the lights on. That’s at the root of why self-employment is working out for me. If I was constantly anxious about whether or not we’d land sufficient business, I don’t believe my psyche would tolerate it. I’d de-stress by going to work for someone else so that I didn’t have to be concerned as much with a paycheck.

However, as it happens, we don’t have that challenge. If you’re thinking about taking the self-employment plunge, that’s a big consideration you’ll need to reflect upon seriously. How well can you tolerate lumpy cash flow and long sales cycles while your business is ramping up?

In my case, business ramped up for over 5 years as a side project. Only then was it de-risked enough for my personal tolerance levels. That slow ramp-up scenario is different from taking a headfirst plunge into unproven waters.


Ethan Banks writes & podcasts about IT, new media, and personal tech.
about | subscribe | @ecbanks

How To Wade Through 100s Of Articles Weekly

The writing masses in addition to professional media generate tons of articles each week. What’s the best way to keep up? My strategy is multi-pronged.

TL;DR.

Filter quickly and mercilessly. Read only the most interesting articles.

  1. Know why you read. Ignore content that doesn’t align with your personal consumption goals.
  2. Ignore content with clickbait titles. These articles are purposely designed to drive traffic, generating salable ad impressions. Most of the time, they are content-free and safely ignored.
  3. Have no fear of declaring amnesty. Missing out doesn’t matter.
  4. Read it now; you probably won’t read it later. Don’t let articles pile up for when you have a better time.
  5. Use tools effectively. You can get through content more quickly and share or save the best stuff easily.

Know why you read.

Keeping up with technology is a big part of my business. Therefore, I subscribe to feeds about emerging tech from news organizations, independent tech writers, and technology vendors. From these sources, I monitor trends and hype, picking out what strikes me as useful or at least thought-provoking for IT practitioners. Articles that match this criteria inspire articles of my own as well as podcast scripts, and spawn research projects. My overarching goal is to bring to the attention of readers and listeners technology that might impact their life.

When articles, in my estimation, don’t match this goal, I delete them from my feed unread. I feel no obligation to read everything. I filter mercilessly by title. Vendor blogs tend to be spammy, emphasizing quantity over quality, pushing product agendas while adding no value to the reader. Some tech writers go into niches that are too narrow for my tastes. News sites cover topics that I often don’t find all that interesting or newsworthy. I estimate that I read between 5% and 10% of articles that hit my feeds.

Your personal goals will likely be different from mine, but know what those goals are. When you do, they will define which feeds to pay attention to, and which articles in those feeds are worth your time.

Ignore content with clickbait titles.

Every platform and author wants your attention, or at least your clicks to generate ad impressions. However, most professional writers with a daily quota don’t have enough to say to keep you coming back simply due to the overwhelming quality of their every word. To make up for the deficit in content usefulness, some writers and editors resort to clickbait titles.

Clickbait titles go after your baser nature through titillation or by sensationalizing a topic. If you feel perversely tempted to click on a link even though the title promises a content Twinkie, it’s clickbait. “Top X” articles, aka listicles, are also often time-wasters. (Yes, I’ve written them.)

Avoid these wastes of your time. There are ever more of them to be found, especially in vendor blogs and from old media organizations.

Declare article amnesty without fear of missing out.

Sometimes, real life takes over, and you don’t have time to read your feeds. That’s fine. Declare article amnesty by marking everything as read and starting over. If there’s anything so good that you might regret missing it, you’ll hear about it later from other people that tweet it or tell you about it. Fear of missing out is a pointless phobia in a world where it is impossible to keep up. You will miss out. Accept it.

In the spirit of hearing about content from other people and shameless self-promotion, we Packet Pushers offer the free Link Propagation newsletter covering the IT industry broadly. Greg, Drew and I “drink from the firehose so you can sip from a coffee cup.”

Read interesting content now.

I have learned over time that bookmarking an article to read it later means the article doesn’t get read. In analyzing myself to determine why I resist reading a piece immediately, I’ve determined that I’m worried I’ll spend too much time trying to “get it,” whatever it is.

This comes from reading lots of tech articles over the years where content occasionally gets into theory, deep science, or some arcane corner of the world I’m unfamiliar with, requiring careful focus. “Oooh, that title sounds provocative…but deep,” I’ll think, “so I better save it for a better time when I can really focus and wrestle it to the ground.”

Well…no. For me, this almost never works out, because “a better time” is mythological. If I’m spending time right now to read, then right now is the best time to go after that bit of meat and get chewing. Remember that the goal is NOT to get through your feed. The goal is to digest something new that furthers your goals — the reason you’re reading to begin with.

Therefore, prioritize reading right now. I’ve often found that the more I force myself to do this, the easier it becomes to absorb content, even meatier topics. It’s also true that article titles which seem initially intimidating often head content that isn’t all that difficult to get a hold of, assuming the writer can express themselves well.

Use tools effectively.

My system for reading starts with RSS. If a site doesn’t have an RSS feed, I don’t follow it, at least not closely. I might catch an interesting piece on Twitter or Reddit and click through, but the first thing I do when ending up at a new, interesting site is add it to my RSS aggregator.

Ah. The aggregator. I use Feedly, and pay for the Pro upgrade. Feedly Pro lets me…

  • Subscribe to more than 100 feeds, which I require.
  • Integrate with IFTTT, Zapier, and Buffer, all of which I use.
  • Backup to Dropbox, which I do.
  • Many other things which are less important to me, but might interest you.

Within Feedly, I organize my feeds into four main categories.

  1. Fodder. In this group, I keep mostly news media feeds that I’ll use for research, writing, or podcasting. These tend to be the most active feeds I follow as they are populated by professional journalists who do little but file articles all day. Therefore, I’m selective about which media feeds make the cut. Each feed covers a unique aspect of the tech industry, so that I minimize duplicate content. I cull feeds if the quality becomes too poor. 17 busy feeds.
  2. Fun. Believe it or not, sometimes I read recreationally. 39 not-so-busy feeds.
  3. Humans. This category contains independent writers, or at least writers producing content from an independent perspective, even if they happen to be employed by technology vendors. I name each feed according to the actual human writing the content, which makes the content far more personal to me. Most of these folks are friends or people I’ve interviewed. This is the least busy category, as independent writers tend to have paying jobs that occupy most of their time. However, this is what makes their content among the best technology reading on the web. 71 sparse feeds.
  4. Spin Zone. These articles are official vendor blogs or open source project announcement feeds. These tend to be awful, written by marketers whose chief aim is gaming Google search results. In addition, they are sometimes busy feeds, covering technical minutiae of interest only to a select few. However, useful product announcements or thoughtful engineering articles make it through the cruft from time to time. 22 busy feeds.

It’s possible to over-organize your feeds. Don’t fall into this trap, or you’ll find yourself wasting a lot of time moving feeds into categories, deciding which category to sift through at any given time, etc. I’ve made that mistake. Keep it simple. Don’t invent work for yourself.

I use Feedly mostly on my phone. I can quickly swipe away uninteresting articles, which is most of them. If I happen to be using Feedly on a big screen in a browser, I will do the same weeding by clicking the X to dismiss the content that doesn’t match my reasons for reading.

Winning content is read. I will read in their entirety articles that are genuinely interesting to me. Optionally, I will tag and/or share those interesting articles.

Tagging an article in Feedly is called “saving to a board.” These tags can be acted upon in IFTTT or Zapier. For example, I have an IFTTT recipe that posts articles with a specific tag into a Slack channel for me. This is an efficient way to keep track of the most interesting articles I’ve seen recently and share them with others in my Slack teams. We often build podcast scripts and newsletters in this way.

My other major use for Feedly tags (boards) is when I’m researching for a whitepaper, book, or presentation. Presentations, etc. are usually temporary projects that last a few months or a year. Therefore, these tags come and go. When the project is done and the articles all referenced, I’ll delete the tag to keep my Feedly interface as uncluttered as possible.

For sharing, I use Buffer, which pushes my shared articles to Twitter on a schedule. There are many ways to get content into Buffer, but I use the tight integration with Feedly the most.

Outside of Feedly, I mentioned that Twitter and Reddit are a part of my content discovery process. Twitter rarely offers articles, but sometimes. The Twitter timeline is so noisy, that it’s easy to miss articles that someone might be sharing. If I get lucky, I get lucky, but frankly, hours and days go by in between my checks of Twitter. My odds of catching all of the interesting content shared on Twitter isn’t high.

Reddit is still a new tool for me. I monitor several subreddits for interesting content, but most of it is for personal entertainment and not serious research. The quality is all over the place on Reddit. Moderators are usually not that active, and the articles shared are all too often clickbait, content-free, or spammy. Interestingly, I discovered today that if you feed reddit.com/r/subreddit into Feedly, you can monitor the subreddit with RSS. I am going to see if that is a more efficient way to go through subreddits than using the Reddit app on my phone.

A parting thought.

To keep up with dozens or hundreds of feeds, reading needs to be part of your daily routine. For the feeds I monitor, there is an average of roughly 125 articles per weekday. The weekends slow down a bit, as do holidays. But if you don’t keep up, you’ll be overwhelmed with articles. I usually read first thing in the morning and late at night, taking me anywhere from 1 to 3 hours total each day — usually closer to 1.

As I said, there’s no harm in declaring amnesty. Fear of missing out is pointless. Almost nothing on the Internet is going to change your life. However, if you’re declaring amnesty all the time, you’re oversubscribed. If you’re in that situation, pick the best feeds and forget the rest. You want your reading to be profitable — not a burden.


Ethan Banks writes & podcasts about IT, new media, and personal tech.
about | subscribe | @ecbanks

Get Out While You Still Can

For years, this blog has mostly been about enterprise IT with a focus on networking. I’ll spare you the entire history because no one cares. But in short, if you dig through the archives, you’ll find content going all the way back to the beginning of 2007 when I was writing for my CCIE study blog.

Ten years, hundreds of articles, and millions of words later, I am a full-time writer and podcaster covering enterprise technology for engineers from behind a microphone and keyboard. But I don’t do that here anymore. I do that at PacketPushers.net.

Before Packet Pushers became the thing that put food in my mouth, I’d split my enterprise tech writing between this blog and that, but splitting the content just doesn’t make sense now. Thus, I’ve been putting all my enterprise tech writing under the Packet Pushers flag. Packet Pushers Interactive is my company that I co-founded, and I’m proud of it. There is no reason to straddle the fence.

So, what of this blog?

EthanCBanks.com will be where I write about…

  • General technology. For example, I’m into the Garmin & Apple ecosystems. I read a lot about alt-energy. I cover many other nerdy topics with my friend Eric Sutphen on the weekly Citizens of Tech podcast (not a Packet Pushers show, just a side project). I like cars, particularly Subarus. I’m into science. Body hacking through fitness and nutrition is interesting to me, too. Data, data, data. If there’s actual data behind it, I might write about it.
  • Fiction. I have a lot of nerd-oriented fiction ideas, and this blog is a good place to try them out. You know, fake stories. Like what you get on most cable news channels, only I won’t pretend the fictional stories are real.
  • The business of new media. I have opinions based on experience on how to make new media work. I believe I can address both content creators and marketers delivering messages to wise consumers who reject spammy content. (You won’t believe what happened next!)
  • Other stuff. I’m not limiting myself.

This blog change has been coming for a while. Depending on how you consume ethancbanks.com, you might have noticed a new theme a few months ago. I’ve stripped it right down to the bare essentials.

  • No ads.
  • No comments.
  • No multi-column format with circular Web 2.0 icons and waterfalls of articles & graphics that dim the power when the page finally loads.
  • No menu bars showing you a bunch of options you don’t care about.

Just the text, plus a single icon in the upper left containing the one menu on the whole site. If you want to search or navigate to older content, click the icon.

The whole idea of the new theme is to get in, load the article quickly, read, and get out. Or read the entire article via e-mail. Or RSS. Your choice. No more feeds with only excerpts to drive page view statistics or banner ad impressions.

Get out while you still can.

You’re on notice. Now is your chance to get out while you still can. You can unsubscribe from the e-mail delivery service. You can disconnect the RSS feed. It’s okay. I won’t be upset. We can still be friends. I’ll see you over at PacketPushers.net.

But if you choose to stay, I’ll do my best to keep it interesting.


Ethan Banks writes & podcasts about IT, new media, and personal tech.
about | subscribe | @ecbanks

Auto-Adding Routes When Mac PPTP Connection Comes Up

Before you read this post, understand that PPTP is insecure. Don’t use PPTP to create a VPN to anything you care about. Really. Apple has even pulled PPTP support from macOS Sierra. Read all about PPTP’s Apple death here, and thanks to @scottm32768 for letting me know about it.

TL;DR

Skip to Solution #3.

Problem

When successfully making a PPTP connection to a remote VPN server with the built-in Mac OS X client, you find that you can’t connect to hosts on the other side of the VPN tunnel. You can still connect to the Internet and LAN hosts.

The root issue is that, by default, OS X has no reason to send traffic across the VPN tunnel. A reason must be provided.

Solution #1 – Setting Service Order

In System Preferences > Network, perform “Set Service Order” (the drop down gear icon), and move the PPTP connection to the top of the list.

This means that when the PPTP tunnel is up, traffic will flow through it before other network connections. This will gain you access to hosts on the other side of the VPN tunnel. It will also break everything else, unless the network on the other side of the PPTP tunnel can also service your Internet traffic. This is going to be a function of the VPN termination device as well as the firewall configuration at the remote site.

The issue here is that ALL traffic, even your Internet traffic, will be routed through the tunnel. Thus, Internet traffic on your system is tossed into the tunnel, pops out at the remote site, gets hairpinned back around right back out through the remote network’s firewall, hits the Internet server you were trying to get to, comes all the way back to the remote network, where it finally gets popped back into the tunnel to you. Not all firewalls or VPN termination devices will be configured to support this hairpin routing.

If you choose this method, remember to set a DNS server in your PPTP connection profile that can be reached via the VPN tunnel. Something public like Google’s 8.8.8.8 and 8.8.4.4 might work. This is important because there’s a good chance your local DNS server will become unreachable as soon as the tunnel comes up, leaving you without name resolution. You might have connectivity, but without name resolution, it will feel like you don’t.

Solution #2 – Disabling Split Tunneling

By default, OS X will “split tunnel” when using the built-in PPTP client. That is, traffic will follow OS X’s routing table. Networks on the other side of the tunnel flow via the tunnel, assuming there are routes that send appropriate traffic that way. Other traffic, such as local LAN or Internet, flows via the wifi or Ethernet connection directly – no tunnel. Therefore, traffic is “split” between the tunnel and physical network interfaces. You can check OS X’s routing table via netstat -rn.

The catch here is that bringing up a PPTP tunnel doesn’t automatically add routes to OS X’s routing table, which is why your PPTP tunnel doesn’t seem to be working and you’re reading this article. There’s a tunnel, but nothing instructing OS X to forward any traffic across that tunnel. Therefore, you’re going to check a box that defeats split tunneling, forcing all traffic into the tunnel.

In System Preference  > Network, select the PPTP connection profile. Click the “Advanced…” button. Check “Send all traffic over VPN connection”. In this case, the service order doesn’t matter.

All the same caveats about hairpin routing and DNS as mentioned in solution #1 hold true.

Solution #3 (and my favorite) – /etc/ppp/ip-up

The script /etc/ppp/ip-up will automatically fire after a PPTP tunnel is brought up. This appears to be default behavior in *NIX kernels, based on this.

Once the PPP link is established, pppd looks for /etc/ppp/ip-up. If this script exists and is executable, the PPP daemon executes the script. This allows you to automate any special routing commands that may be necessary and any other actions that you want to occur every time the PPP link is activated.

This is definitely the behavior of OS X. When the PPTP tunnel comes up, the /etc/ppp/ip-up script fires. Therefore, you can use this script to add routes to the OS X routing table.

1. Create /etc/ppp/ip-up as sudo. If you aren’t a sudo-er on your Mac (i.e. not an admin equivalent), this is going to be an issue for you. You have to have root equivalent to edit this script. I use vi as my editor. Thus, sudo vi /etc/ppp/ip-up.

2. Let’s say there are two networks I care about on the other side of my PPTP tunnel: 10.10.10.0/24 and 10.10.20.0/24. An /etc/ppp/ip-up script to add them to the routing table could look as follows.

#!/bin/sh
/sbin/route add -net 10.10.10.0/24 -interface $1
/sbin/route add -net 10.10.20.0/24 -interface $1

3. We’re using the explicit path “/sbin/” to be certain that the script can find the route command.

4. The $1 is a variable representing the name of the interface used by PPPd.

5. Make sure root is the owner of /etc/ppp/ip-up. It should be by default. sudo chown root /etc/ppp/ip-up

6. Make sure the script is executable. It will not be by default. sudo chmod 755 /etc/ppp/ip-up

The next time you bring up a PPTP tunnel, /etc/ppp/ip-up will run, adding those two routes to the OS X routing table. Don’t forget that you can validate that the script ran by looking at netstat -rn.

With the routes added to the routing table, OS X knows to send traffic for those networks across the tunnel.

This isn’t a perfect solution, as the script is a blunt hammer that doesn’t distinguish between tunnels. This particular script will add those routes to the OS X routing table, no matter what PPTP server you access. You’d need a smarter script to support multiple PPTP sites, which is beyond my scope here. Maybe in a future post.


Ethan Banks writes & podcasts about IT, new media, and personal tech.
about | subscribe | @ecbanks

Managing Digital Racket

I read this article, long by today’s standards of fleeting attention. TL;DR. Information bombardment addicted the author with negative effects on his life. And while he’s not done making changes in his life, he has broken the cycle.

I’ve had similar challenges to him, and continue to hone my approach to managing digital racket. I know I’ve written about this before, but the art is evolving for me. Chronicling progress, however minor, is cathartic.

I mute nearly all notifications. This cuts down tremendously on mental intrusions, improving my focus and reducing FOMO. While you’d think turning off notifications would increase FOMO, you realize over time that you aren’t actually missing anything substantial. Once you believe this, the anxiety borne of FOMO fades away.

The only notifications I currently receive are as follows.

  1. Phone calls. I don’t get many, and most of them are directly related to my business.
  2. Direct messages from my immediate family.
  3. Direct messages from my three co-workers and a few close collaborators.

I have deleted most social media apps from my phone. I have a few for the sake of convenience when abroad, but rarely access them. With notifications turned off, the temptation is practically nil. Twitter is my greatest temptation, and therefore do not keep it on my phone at all except at conferences. Buffer allows me to queue tweets without having to interact with Twitter directly.

The most notable social media app that remains on my phone is Reddit. However, I don’t use Reddit for work, so it’s not a distraction during my working hours.

On my Mac, I use the multiple desktops feature. The main desktop is my working screen. Here, I have my Chrome browser, research documents, and terminal consoles. In one Chrome tab, I have my company’s Slack group, as it’s a critical part of my workflow along with Trello and Buffer. Wunderlist keeps me focused. Scrivener organizes my writing projects.

The secondary desktop contains social media and other distracting things. For instance, I have Safari running Tweetdeck and LinkedIn. I also have the Slack app with the myriad non-company groups I’m in running as a separate window.

To access the other desktop, I must deliberately perform a 4-finger swipe up, and then choose the other desktop with a point-and-click. I have disabled the “Swipe between full-screen apps” feature that allows for quick 4-finger swiping between desktops with my trackpad. This means that switching to the secondary desktop is a conscious choice that puts me in a different mindset. Am I willing to give into temptation and look at that other desktop? Or is it easier to actually stay in the zone and keep working? The swipe, point, and click gives me just enough time to avoid losing my productivity mojo.

Couldn’t I just, in a moment of weakness, open Tweetdeck on my primary, working desktop? Of course. But there’s something that chafes in my brain when I try it. After a couple of weeks of segregated desktops, looking at Twitter on the main desktop feels like an unwelcome intrusion.

I have regular screen moratoriums. Lately, this comes in the form of a weekly outdoor excursion. Assuming I’m not on a plane and weather permitting, I’m outdoors every Saturday, usually hiking a lot of miles in the mountains. I have a GPS watch I use as a tool. I have a phone with me for safety reasons. But for the last several weeks, I haven’t used my phone, even to take a picture. The phone stays in my pack.

While I can’t prove this, my feeling is that putting the screen away for the several hours I’m in the woods each week is important to my mental health. The complete screen disconnect somehow hits a reset button that allows me to function with a clearer brain the next week. Again, this is anecdotal. I can’t prove this yet. But I do know that for the last few weeks, thinking and producing has been easier for me.


Ethan Banks writes & podcasts about IT, new media, and personal tech.
about | subscribe | @ecbanks

In Chicago on October 26? Come think about SD-WAN with me.

On October 26, 2016 at 5:30p, I’m speaking to a couple of Chicago-based MeetUp groups banding together to hear me discuss implementing SD-WAN. Sign up here. Or here.

The talk will be held at Cisco Systems Building – SkylineATS, 9501 Technology Blvd. 3rd Floor, Rosemont, IL.

This SD-WAN discussion is aimed at network engineers and other technologists who need to understand and recommend technology solutions for their organizations, as well as those who need to make the silly things vendors sell us actually work.

My goal is to make sure you’ve got plenty to think about as you explore SD-WAN. The talk will take away some of the, “You don’t know what you don’t know.”

I’ll cover the following.

  • An overview of what SD-WAN really is.
  • Integrating WAN optimization and SD-WAN.
  • Managing existing private WAN contracts.
  • Managing your own internal SLAs.
  • Relating SD-WAN to XaaS you might be using.
  • Considerations for multi-tenant environments.
  • Handling deep packet inspection requirements.
  • Leveraging TDM and other non-Ethernet circuits.
  • Bandwidth scaling.
  • WAN circuit design recommendations.
  • Integration with your existing routing domain.
  • A list of SD-WAN vendors & their products.

I hope to see you there.


Ethan Banks writes & podcasts about IT, new media, and personal tech.
about | subscribe | @ecbanks

Presenting Technical Topics To Technical People

Fred writes, “I’ve got a conference coming up in December that I’ve been invited to speak at. This is something I’ve wanted to do for sometime. However, having never done it, I’m looking for some tips on how to get started.”

Q: What’s the best way to find a topic that is new enough to be interesting, but relevant enough to be useful?

People go to conferences hoping, among other things, to gather information that they didn’t have before. What that is will vary by audience member. Designers, architects, and C-levels who are trying to stay ahead of the curve will want to know about the future — what tech is coming and the likely impact to their business and operations. Engineers and operators — the people down in the blood and guts of IT — will be more interested in hard skills.

By “hard,” I don’t mean difficult. I mean useful tools and techniques that they can bring back to their job with them and put to use.

  • When addressing an engineering audience, the most engaging talks will be technical ones that go into specifics. The catch here is that most talks are in the 30 to 60 minute range. Therefore, the speaker must balance technical specifics with getting through a useful amount of material. If that balance can be struck, there’s a good talk to be delivered.
  • Hardcore techies also like skills that can keep them ahead in their career. Skills related to techniques or products that are growing in demand will garner a lot of attention. For instance, networkers have been excited about programmatic network automation over the last couple of years.

Everyone likes topics that will bring value to their business. For instance, a talk that compares both the soft and hard costs of running a private vs. public vs. hybrid cloud will be a thought-provoking chat. Why? Quantifying such things is difficult, and a talk that breaks down costs of such complex architectures often puts the audience in a situation of, “I would not have considered that on my own.”

Understand the difference between media buzzwords and real-world usefulness. Buzzwords take on lives of their own in media. All of a sudden, everyone is talking about devops, serverless, microservices, and containers. Yes, those terms have a real meaning and are useful to certain organizations. But are they useful to your audience? Or just a trendy curiosity? Don’t chase hype in the hopes of having a well-attended session. Place delivery of value above all else.

Q: How do I prepare? I’m a horrible procrastinator.

Procrastination is the enemy of an effective presentation. The day of delivery is not the deadline. Rather, you need time to prepare your slides, learn your talk, edit the talk, and perfect your delivery. Time is not on your side. Therefore, start now. Only if you realize what’s truly ahead of you will you find the motivation to get started.

This doesn’t mean you’ll have a perfect presentation a few weeks before you head to the podium. If you are the fretful type, you might end up tweaking your deck until moments before you speak. But getting going means that you have a solid starting point. The plane ride should be a time for relaxation, managing the general stress of travel, and locating the nearest Auntie Anne’s or Jersey Mike’s during connections — not stressing out about slides.

Practically speaking, block out a few hours on your calendar. Sixty minutes here. Ninety minutes there. During those times, remain distraction free. Crank through version 1.0 of your presentation as quickly as possible. Don’t stop. Deep work. Get it all out there, even if it sucks. Version 1.0 might be a turd, but it’s the hardest one to push out. Once you’ve got it in front of you, you can get to work polishing.

Q: What are strategies that work well for presentation preparation and delivery?

Preparation

First, get over imposter syndrome. While there’s no need to be an egomaniac, recognize that you were asked to speak for a reason. Stop with the “I wonder if they’ll like me” inner monologue and get on with it.

Now, onto the content itself.

1. Don’t boil the ocean. You will be tempted as a technical person to explain and justify everything. You can’t. You don’t have time. You must assume a certain baseline of knowledge for your audience.

2. Deliver the right content to the right audience in the right way. When proposing your talk, there was a working title and an abstract — a summary of what your talk will cover. Keep that in mind. Your presentation is a implied promise to deliver certain information. So deliver.

When deciding how to deliver your information, one approach is to think of it like a story. Your presentation has a beginning, middle and end. This perspective will help you with flow.

If your presentation is meant to be persuasive, then it has a main point — a thesis you want your audience to remember when they leave. All points must support that main thesis point, or they belong to another talk. Don’t assume technical talks are not persuasive. Tech talks very often are persuasive, or could be structured in such a way.

Finally, know your audience. Nerds have different buttons to push than C-levels. Structure your content to meet your audience where they are at, and then take them a little higher.

3. Do not start your presentation prep by opening PowerPoint or Keynote. Instead, write out your main points, text, or notes first using an editor of your choosing.

Your slides are not your talk. Rather, slides should have a minimum of information that act merely as a reference point or visual aid for the audience. If your presentation has detailed information, refer people to a URL where they can download a comprehensive companion document.

Remember — text walls suck. Your audience can read your slides or listen to you talk, but they can’t do both. Credit to Slide:ology.

Slides must be necessary. Diagrams must be necessary. Or skip them. You don’t need a lot of them. Most of the world’s public talks were given before screen projection and slides. YOU are the object of your live audience’s attention.

4. Give your talk and time yourself. You must know if you’re too fast or slow, have enough material or too much. Know which slides you can skip if you run short of time. If you’re an experienced speaker and know your own cadence well, you might be able to get away without this. Otherwise, plan on a couple of dry runs.

5. Know your equipment, both hardware and software. You should know how to deal with secondary monitors, and you should know exactly how your presentation software works in a dual-monitor setup.

For example, PowerPoint has a Presenter display + audience display that works with dual outputs. You’ll see a Presenter display on your screen with a timer, your notes, the current slide, and the upcoming slide. The projector screen viewed by the audience will have the actual slides.

6. Include the extras. If you send your slides to a handler who will stage them for you, make sure you include special fonts or other supporting templates, etc. Fonts matter greatly to the overall look and feel of your presentation. Some templates rely on specific fonts to render icons that will render as generic squares or odd characters if the font is missing. A missing font can result in a deck that’s ugly at best and unreadable at worst.

Alternatively, you might export your presentation to PDF or JPEG to ensure that your deck appears exactly how you intended. I have had handlers build decks on their own platform for me using the PDFs or JPEGs I sent to them. In a pinch, it can be done. Just ask.

7. Check out the venue before it’s your time to speak. Talk to the A/V staff ahead of time if you can. You want to know the stage, the screen or screens, and the size of the room. You should also sort out how to hook up your laptop and prove that it works with your connectors and setup. You want to know how you’ll be mic’ed. That could be simply you standing in front of a podium with an attached mic, or via a wireless lavalier mic. 

Be prepared to interface your laptop with anything. VGA, DVI, and HDMI are all common. If you want to use your own laptop, then it’s on you to be able to interface with whatever is at the venue. Have those cables and adapters ready, just in case.

Practice mic technique if you’re not used to being amplified. Hearing your own voice booming over the house sound system can be a little strange at first. If you can work with the mic and get comfortable with how you sound before you start speaking, that can take away some anxiety.

Realize that an empty room will sound loud and boomy compared to a room with fifty or a hundred people in it. From an acoustic standpoint, people are sound-absorbing meatbags. The more bodies in the room, the higher the contrast will be between your empty room practice and live presentation delivery.

Delivery

1. Do not use “slide builds.” These are slides that use animations or transitions, and build over time as you click. These building features are rarely helpful to the audience, more often serving as distractions. Stick with static slides.

This is also helpful for exports of your deck. By eschewing slide builds, the live audience gets the same product that someone watching your presentation on SpeakerDeck.com or other slide archival site will get.

2. Wear something that makes you feel confident. Attire that makes you look your most attractive builds confidence in front of others. But before you pick your favorite Marvel t-shirt…

3. Wear something appropriate. Your clothes need to fit, and should match or exceed the “dressiness” of your average audience member. You are sending a message with your appearance. You might also be live streamed or archived on YouTube in HD. 1080p HD leaves nowhere to hide. So, try to care a little bit.

Most of you reading this will not have the level of notoriety that will give you a pass on your personal appearance. While I might listen to Steve Wozniak deliver a talk in his very finest underpants, there’s no chance I’ll listen to you in yours.

If you’d like more specificity, then I recommend the following.

  • For a west coast / SanFran / Silicon Valley crowd, dark wash jeans paired with a collared shirt works fine. But you can get away with just about any level of nerdy eccentricity that strikes you. I’ve seen multi-colored hair, tattoos, nerdy t-shirts, sockless, shoeless, and bare footed presenters.
  • For an east coast / NYC crowd, consider going upscale. A two piece suit without a tie would not be overkill. Young east coasters are dressing up these days, particularly those working in finance.
  • Las Vegas conferences are a melting pot. I’d go with your west coast vibe. Being sober with most of your body covered is likely to be adequate in this context. It sounds like a low bar to set, but I have sat through sessions where the presenter clearly believed in better presentations through chemicals.
  • Consider that lav mics clip to button-up shirts more easily than t-shirts.

You should also consider vendor logos. Wearing vendor-branded attire could be an implied endorsement. The same concern follows for laptop stickers if that laptop will be visible to your audience or to cameras. Sure, you might love Juniper. But do you want to be that person wearing a Junos hat while delivering a vendor-neutral presentation on layer three campus network design? Or wearing your employer’s shirt when you’re not representing your employer while giving your talk? Maybe you do. Maybe you don’t. It’s worth thinking about.

4. Be yourself. For instance, don’t try to be a comedian if you’re not one — very few are. Lame jokes fall flat and can make people feel awkward. Don’t get me wrong. Humor is fine! Be sarcastic, poke fun — those are good things. But don’t use your presentation as a chance to channel your inner stand-up comedian.

If you’ve never studied how stand-up comedians perform their craft, it’s with a lot of trial and error, as well as practice of fledgling material in front of live audiences. Unless you give this one talk so much that you practice delivering comedic lines to get your wording and timing just right, most punchlines are better left to the pros.

5. You might get introduced. You might not. You might be asked to deliver a “house” message. You might not. Just roll with it. Be a pro. Don’t let the little things throw you.

6. Choose whether to have Q&A during or after your presentation. It’s trendy to set up your talk as if you’re about to start a dialogue. “Let’s keep this interactive,” I’ve heard several presenters say as they open a session. I grasp, and even applaud, the spirit of that, but accepting questions during your presentation is a little bit dangerous. You must keep control of the room, or you’ll never get through your talk.

On the other hand, holding all questions until after you’re done can be dangerous. If you are a talker, you might go right to the end to get through your material. That leaves no time for Q&A in conference settings where folks have to scramble to get to the next thing on their schedules.

7. Repeat audience questions. If someone is asking questions and they are not mic’ed, you need to re-state the question for the audience before answering. This keeps the room together, which is absolutely critical especially as the session wears on. People are easily distracted by their screens, so you need to keep attention focused by making sure everyone knows exactly what question is being answered.

8. Be ready for the afterglow. After the talk, the microphone will turn off, and most folks will disperse. But a few people will want to chat with you. Be ready for this in several different ways.

Anticipate weird questions. Some questions might have had something to do with your talk, but maybe not. Don’t feel like you have to fake an answer right then and there. You don’t. Humbly offer your best opinion if you have one, but don’t be upset if you don’t. Just tell the person honestly that you’ve not been in their situation before.

Remember, you’re not there to give away free consulting. You want to be polite and helpful in the way that all non-sociopaths do, but you have no specific obligation to solve their problem. Even so, if the question is interesting and you’re available, you might be able to engage them as a consultant after the event. Which reminds me…

Have business cards handy. A few folks might want to follow up with you after the event. The easiest way to facilitate this is with a business card. You can get a box of more than you’re likely to ever need for $10 or so. Hand them the card, and they can get on their way to their next event while still being able to get a hold of you later on.

Be ready to say, “Thank you.” Some folks might just want to express their gratitude for your talk. Smile, nod, and thank them. If it gets weird after that, ask them where they work or what they do to de-fuse the awkwardness.


Ethan Banks writes & podcasts about IT, new media, and personal tech.
about | subscribe | @ecbanks

Slack. Less Bad Than The Rest.

A topic I complain about with some regularity is my inability to keep up with incoming messages. I’m too busy creating something for someone else to consume to bother trying to keep up. That’s the way of things. If I successfully keep up with all the input, I never achieve useful output.

In this world of message misery, Slack is my friend. I find that Slack is better at managing input than most other forms of communication.

As Slack groups form (I’m in 8 now), it allows me to interact with people in a private or semi-private manner in a way that’s less intrusive than Google Hangouts or an iMessages chat room.

Slack groups are far better for me than e-mail. I have a passionate dislike for e-mail, although I’ve gotten better at managing it with process and tools. E-mail remains useful to me because it’s the lowest common denominator of communications. If nothing else works, then I can probably send the person an e-mail.

At the moment, Slack is the “least worst” way to manage communication for me.

  • I can mute as well as tune notifications. I often mute entire channels that do not require real-time interaction. I can also set do not disturb times. I can also tailor notifications on mobile differently from notifications on my desktop. I find real-time notification disruptive, so I tend to shut them all off with a few exceptions for co-workers who likely need my attention immediately.
  • I can organize the messages. This is a function of how Slack works. There is a natural hierarchy of groups, public and private channels, private group chats, and one-to-one chats.
  • I can search the messages. Message search is absolutely critical for any message database where the data contains action items. Slack has never failed me. My inbox search has been great with web-native Gmail, which I never use. Airmail, my current favorite IMAP client, does search reasonably well, but I’ve found message search to fall short on all other IMAP clients I’ve tried.
  • I can set reminders. This simple feature is a valuable aid to not forget an action item.
  • I can integrate with other apps. Slack has an API, and there is a good bit of integration with other tools that makes Slack my one-stop shop for keeping up with what’s going on in my company. For instance, Trello activity can be reflected in a Slack channel.

Therefore, Slack becomes chat with the benefit of e-mail search, and without the cryptic clumsiness of IRC. Since I deal with a company team as well as peers spread all over the world, Slack fits. IMO, it’s the best way to deal with a bad problem.


Ethan Banks writes & podcasts about IT, new media, and personal tech.
about | subscribe | @ecbanks