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

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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Interview: Dr. Pat McCarthy Of The Giant Magellan Telescope

On the Citizens of Tech Podcast #43, we interviewed Dr. Patrick McCarthy of the Giant Magellan Telescope project, currently under construction in Chile.

The GMT is in a new class of “extremely large telescopes.” Featuring a custom glass formulation, seven asymmetric mirrors being polished in Arizona, and software that will correct in real-time for atmospheric distortion and physical alignment, the GMT will gather images too dim for us to have ever seen before.

Among the anticipated advances is the ability to see planets orbiting distant stars, allowing us to get that planet’s spectrographic signature. That data will help us find planets with the chemical signatures of life. We’ll also be able to look ever further back in time as we observe across light years, clarifying our understanding of the universe’s opening moments.

Pat was an outstanding spokesman for the GMT, clearly explaining the project’s worth to science, construction challenges, and relation to other extremely large telescope projects. He also helped us understand the pros and cons of terrestrial vs. space-based telescopes.

MacBook Battery Replacement Requires Admin Credentials?

Over the weekend, I investigated the possibility of Apple replacing the tired battery in my four year old rMBP13. Yes, they can do it. It’s $199 for that particular model. But they also require an admin-level username and password for the device. Here’s an excerpt from the chat session.


Apple support rep:

What is the Admin Name and password for your Mac?

Me:

Will not share. Definitely should not be required for a battery replacement.

Apple support rep:

It is required. When the Mac goes to the repair depot that is required. You can remove that information so there is just an automatic log in. And you can set it up again when you get it back. We do not ask for any information that is not required.

Me:

Okay, then we’re done here. Thanks very much for your help!


An automatic log in, while an improvement from a certain point of view, isn’t a fix. No, you don’t have to know the user/pass now to access the system now, but you’re still on the system with admin-level credentials. Anyone with admin equivalent credentials to the system can, with a minimum of effort, get into whatever part of the file system they might like, make changes to the system, etc.

No one should give these level of credentials to anyone, let alone Apple over a chat session. Not even a properly-encrypted-with-a-valid-cert chat session that makes me believe I was, in fact, speaking to an official Apple representative.

Battery replacement in a compact laptop chassis such as a modern MacBook is an arduous affair, which is why I’m happy to pay someone else to do it. But the price of admin equivalency, even temporarily, is a price too high. Whatever the technical reasons might be for this current requirement, Apple should do better. I suggest a service mode that could be used to verify that the replacement battery installation was successful. No doubt it’s not that simple. Nothing ever is.

I’ll try a meatspace Apple store and see if there’s a way I can get the replacement done without having to hand over the admin credentials.

Connecting Python To Slack For Testing And Development

The scripting language Python can retrieve information from or publish information into the messaging app Slack. This means you can write a program that puts info into Slack for you, or accepts your queries using Slack as the interface. This is useful if you spend a lot of time in Slack, as I do.

The hard work of integrating Slack and Python has been done already. Slack offers an API, and there are at least two open source Python libraries that make leveraging these APIs in your Python code a simple task. I chose slacker after a bit of googling, but it’s not a preference borne of experience. The community seems to be behind slacker as opposed to Slack’s own python-slackclient, so I went that direction.

Steps

  1. I’ll assume you’ve got Python installed already. My environment is Ubuntu Server 16.04 with Python 2.7.12.
  2. Install the python package manger pip, if you don’t already have it.
    sudo apt install python-pip
  3. Install the slacker python library.
    pip install slacker
  4. Generate a testing and dev token at the Slack API web site.
    https://api.slack.com/web
    Slack_Web_API___Slack
  5. The token will be everything required for authentication to your Slack group. Protect it like a password.

Armed with the token and slacker library, your Python installation is now Slack-capable.

Example

I took this code right from the slacker github page to make sure things were working without having to read any documentation. I created a channel called #exp to run my test in.

from slacker import Slacker

# Replace abcd-etc. with your testing and dev token
slack = Slacker('abcd-*****-*****-*****-*****')

# Send a message to #exp channel
slack.chat.post_message('#exp', 'Python was here.')

I ran the test using python slack-test.py.

The result looked as follows.

slacker-test

Chicagoans: TECHunplugged Is Coming October 27, 2016

TECHunplugged is a one-day event where end users, influencers and vendors come together to talk shop. At the Chicago event on October 27, 2016, I’ll be speaking on the following big idea.

How The Network Automation War Might Soon Be Won

Here’s the abstract I proposed to the TECHunplugged team.

Automation in the virtualization world is a long-established feature. A plethora of excellent tools exist to help stand up server infrastructure, operating systems, and applications. This has helped bring much of the IT stack together in a way that makes system deployment a repeatable, predictable task. By contrast, network automation is a struggling, emergent technology. Why is it that the automation of network provisioning has proven so challenging?

Ethan Banks, 20 year IT veteran and co-host of the Packet Pushers podcasts, will explain the network automation challenge from a practitioner’s point of view. He’ll also discuss recent advances in network automation tooling from both the open source and commercial software worlds. Network automation might feel rather behind other IT silos, but there’s significant progress that will change network operations sooner rather than later.

To set context, I’ll explain why automating the network is so hard.

  • No standard way to describe a desired outcome.
  • Proprietary interfaces.
  • Snowflake architectures.
  • Unpredictable ways of measuring results.
  • A surfeit of choice.

And then we’ll talk about what’s being done to enable network automation.

  • Intent.
  • Abstraction.
  • Telemetry.
  • OpenConfig.
  • The simplicity movement.
  • Vendors like Anuta, Apstra, and Glue.

If you’re in the Chicago area, register. You’ll hear me speak along with several other folks. I’ll also be at an “ask me anything” roundtable.

For Your Ears: Citizens of Tech Podcast 40

In this show, we get into what expiration dates on packaged food and drugs really mean. How should you react when the date expires? If you assume, “Throw it out to be safe,” you’d be wrong.

We also chat about dealing with password expiration policies. They must be super complex and changed frequently, right? Maybe not. Super complex and frequently changed means hard to remember, which studies show can lead to less security, not more.

IBM has manufactured an artificial neuron, which isn’t so interesting by itself. We’ve been here before. The interesting bit is the material used to behave like a neuronal membrane. A genuine advance.

Microsoft has announced a smaller XBoxOne S, now with 4K capabilities. Just not gaming 4K capabilities.

Blackberry is on permanent deathwatch now, as they have begun the, “All else has failed, so let’s litigate,” phase of operations.

All that, plus our regular “Content I Like” and “Today I Learned” features.

Expiring Stochastic Passwords – Citizens of Tech 040

I’ll See You At Cisco Live 2016 Las Vegas

I will be at Cisco Live 2016 in Las Vegas. So far, my calendar has me scheduled to attend some Tech Field Day presentations, visit with vendors, hang out in the Social Media Hub, and host a CloudGenix SD-WAN mixer event (free food and drink for all, plus fellow nerds to network with, just register).

I’m just at CLUS on a social media pass, so I won’t be at all of the Cisco-specific events. That pass doesn’t get me into all the things I don’t think, but at least I’ll be around.

If you’re a vendor who would like to brief me at CLUS, I’m happy to chat. Please schedule me. If you like the podcast, I’ll have Packet Pushers stickers for you to decorate your lanyard or laptop with.

At the end of the day, I just like hanging out with nerds, so I hope to see you there. Come up and say “hi.”