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All Of Ethan’s Podcasts And Articles For February 2017
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It’s Personal

<soapbox>

One of the odd things about my job is that I often get to meet people I or someone in my company has written or podcasted about. That might be via a direct mention or an indirect one. For example, my company might cover a product and offer some commentary on it–indirect. We might mention a specific company in a positive or negative light, depending on our opinion–indirect. We might mention specific people if there is a good reason to do so–direct.

Meeting people we’ve talked about, directly or not, brings a poignant perspective to creating content for a wide audience. It’s personal. Somebody made a decision to create the product that way. Some group of humans worked on that standard. Real people decided on that process.

Is it appropriate to cast those people in a negative light and share that opinion with an audience? Sometimes…yes, at times even crucially necessary, if unfortunate. Sometimes…maybe not. Sometimes it’s okay to shut up. To show restraint. To chain the snark monster.

Stirring the pot can be fun. Yelling into a righteous megaphone about where the nasty thing hurt you feels empowering. But it’s only half of the equation. It’s the half that you see. You had a bad experience. You went through this time of stress because of this thing. You’re cynical as an outsider looking in who can’t imagine why something turned out badly from your point of view.

The other half of the equation is the rest of the story–the people involved in creating the thing you don’t like.

Do you create content that you make available to the general public? Think about your creation before hitting publish. Again, I’m not suggesting people and products are beyond criticism. Far from it. But make sure that what you’ve said is accurate, fair, balanced, defensible, and considers a broad spectrum of viewpoints.

If you don’t make certain of these elements but publish anyway, you’ve strayed into the realm of narcissism. You’re keen to get your opinion out there and gain some attention from your audience, but not so keen to do the homework required to come to a responsibly informed point of view.

There are real people involved. You might meet them someday.

</soapbox>


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

Supplemental Melatonin For Improved Sleep Quality

For years, my sleep has been hit or miss. Stress and projects are the big drivers that impact my sleep. If I have a lot on my mind, it’s hard to settle into steady sleep. If I wake up in the middle of the night, it’s hard to get back to sleep.

For me, quality sleep is the difference between a productive day where I move projects ahead and a terrible day where I take power naps around lethargic staring at my inbox while feeling guilty about what I’m not getting done.

Enter melatonin.

Melatonin, “is a hormone that is produced by the pineal gland in animals and regulates sleep and wakefulness,” according to Wikipedia. In other words, we make melatonin in our bodies, and it prompts us to sleep.

As I understand it, the body’s natural inclination is to release melatonin in response to night/day cycles. For instance, I have noticed that I fall into a sleep/wake cycle matching sunset/sunrise when I am on long-distance backpacking trips. When indoors with artificial light, screens holding my attention, and a work schedule that doesn’t care about what the sun is doing, melatonin production, in theory, isn’t as consistent.

Technologies like Apple’s Night Shift for iOS are supposed to help avoid sleep disruption when viewing screens after dark. I find that I can’t stand the look of the screen when the colors have been altered by Night Shift and related applications. That’s a personal preference.

In an attempt to bring sleep regularity to my electronic world, I’ve begun experimenting with a melatonin supplement, taking 3mg about 30 minutes before I want to be asleep. I couple this with a reduction in screen time. A disciplined evening looks like this.

  • 8:30pm. No more Mac, iPad, or TV.
  • 8:30pm – 9:30pm. Reading, probably on my Kindle. The Kindle is backlit, so is that hurting my melatonin production? I’m not sure.
  • 9:30pm. Take 3mg of melatonin.
  • 10:00pm. I’m starting to feel very sleepy, so I shut down the Kindle and drift off.
  • 3:30a – 5:00a. I might wake up to answer the call of nature or to hurl a cat across the room that opted to walk on my head. When on supplemental melatonin, I will fall back asleep. Without melatonin, I rarely fall back asleep.
  • 6:00a – 7:30a. Somewhere in here, I’ll wake back up naturally.

How long I actually sleep depends in part on my workout routine. I find that the gym puts a load on my body that I need extra sleep to fully recover from. I work from home with a flexible schedule and mostly grown-up kids, so it’s rare that I have to be out of bed or at my desk at a specific time. Therefore, I can afford to be flexible with my wake up routine.

How much melatonin is effective?

There is debate in the scientific community about whether melatonin as a sleep aid is effective or not. As a sporadic melatonin user for a few weeks now, the anecdotal evidence I offer is that yes, melatonin supplementation is effective. While this could be due to the placebo effect, I have three data points that clinch the efficaciousness question for me. When supplementing with melatonin…

  1. I get sleepy within 30 minutes of taking the pill every single time.
  2. I fall asleep directly after getting sleepy.
  3. I can fall back asleep if my sleep is disrupted in the middle of the night.

I started with a 10mg supplement, using the American perspective that if some is good, more is better. But upon further consumption of Internet wisdom, I have dropped back to a 3mg supplement instead.

On 3mg, I wake up more easily with less of that oppressed “I’m still sleepy” feeling. 10mg is, for me, too heavy of a dose. This correlates with the Internet wisdom that suggests 0.5mg – 3mg should be effective for most people.

There is some discussion about “pharmaceutical grade” melatonin. I have no opinion here about whether pharmaceutical grade is necessary or not, but the issue seems to be tied to whether or not your body can actually made use of the dose. As there isn’t a meaningful increase in costs, I went for the so-called pharmaceutical grade melatonin in the hopes that such a designation is important.

In the US, melatonin is available on Amazon for short money. I understand that melatonin is regulated in some other places, where it is not available without a prescription. I am currently using this Douglas Laboratories brand of melatonin. 180 tablets is $34.20 as of this writing. That’s a six month supply, even if you use it every single night.

Is melatonin addictive?

My understanding is that, no, melatonin is not addictive. Melatonin is not a drug. Rather, melatonin is a hormone your body produces naturally. In theory, there’s no way that it could be addictive.

In my admittedly short-term experience, melatonin does not create a dependency where I can’t fall asleep without it. I don’t take melatonin every night, and I do indeed fall asleep without it. I just revert back to my lousier levels of sleep when I have not supplemented.


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

A Million Steps With The Garmin Fenix 3

The Garmin Fenix 3 is a GPS fitness tracker with limited smartwatch functionality. I bought it in May 2016 to be my constant companion when I hike, trail run, Crossfit, and sleep. Here’s my review after tracking over a million steps with the device.

TL;DR.

I adore the Fenix 3. The watch was an expensive technology purchase, but I feel the money was well-spent. The Fenix 3 has met or exceeded my expectations in every area. Despite my ardent adoration, the F3 is not perfect.

Folks shopping the Garmin product line should know that there is now a Fenix 5 line out. There was never a Fenix 4. However, I’ve not seen anything in the F5 line that makes me want to upgrade from my F3.

How is the Fenix 3 form factor to live with?

The Fenix 3 is big and bulky. I knew this going in, and so I don’t mind. I especially don’t mind because part of that bulk is due to the battery. However, the bulk does make it difficult to wear under cuffed shirts. The watch stands tall, so if you try buttoning a shirt cuff around the Fenix 3, you’re in for a tight fit.

The bulk also catches when putting on or taking off a backpack. It’s very easy to catch a pack strap between the watch and your wrist. It’s also easy to accidentally bump a button during the pack on/off/on manuevers. That’s annoying if you don’t notice, because you can interrupt your GPS track on the trail in that way. I’ve adjusted for this problem by changing how I wriggle in and out of my packs to minimize the chance I’m going to get a strap caught or bump a button. Admittedly, this problem is not unique to the Fenix 3.

The bulk can also be a challenge during weightlifting, particularly moves involving front rack position. When your wrist is cranked all the way over gripping the bar, it’s possible to bump a button accidentally. I’ve gotten in the habit of taking off the Fenix 3 and putting it off to the side during strength work. All I really need the watch for is tracking heart rate anyway, and I use a chest strap. Taking the watch off is no problem, as it still picks up the signal from the strap even when several feet away.

The buttons on the Fenix 3 are large, raised, and easy to press, even with gloves on. I have gloves on for much of the year, so this is a big deal for me. Garmin got this right. Again, even with gloves on, the buttons are easy to press, have a strong rebound, and never get stuck. They are also far enough apart to avoid hitting two buttons at once. I’ve also had no issue operating the buttons when the Fenix 3 was wet or covered in snow.

The Fenix 3 straps are sturdy, serious business. Most F3 models come with a rubber strap by default. This is my favorite strap choice thus far. The rubber strap is comfortable and has fine adjustments. Generally speaking, I can always find a comfortable circumference for the Fenix 3 when wearing the rubber strap.

The rubber strap comes in a variety of colors from Garmin, which can matter depending on your use case. My strap happens to be a bright lightish blue I bought as an add-on. Bright blue stands out against snow as well as the forest floor. My logic is that if I drop the watch with a brightly colored strap when out in the wilderness, I’ve got a better shot of finding it on the ground.

I bought a black leather strap in an attempt to dress up the Fenix 3, but it didn’t make it look like a fashion accessory, honestly. The Fenix 3 supports many different faces available via their app store, and some of them are nice and clean — what you’d think they’d look like when trying to dress the watch up. But even a nice face paired with the leather strap doesn’t make the Fenix 3 look like a dressy watch. It still reads “GPS sportswatch” no matter how hard you try. Besides that, the leather strap isn’t as adjustable as the rubber strap, and I never could get it to sit at the right tension on my wrist.

Changing straps on the Fenix 3 is easy. Garmin-branded straps come with two star tools needed to unscrew the strap pins. The pins are serious business. They are not spring loaded, but rather are held in place with the two aforementioned screws that bolt the strap right to the chassis of the watch itself. The fit is confidence-inspiring. I graduated to the Fenix 3 from a Forerunner 305. The FR305 was knocked loose against tree branches while hiking several times. I never lost the FR305, but I had some close calls, where I looked down and saw the FR305 hanging by a pin on the velcro wrist strap I had it mounted to. No such fear with the Fenix 3. It’s hard to imagine what could knock it off your wrist.

The screen of the Fenix 3 is described as “transflective” by Garmin. Being interpreted, that means the F3 screen is a color LCD that doesn’t need to be backlit to be visible. As long as some sort of light is shining on it, you’ll be able to read it. I find that during the day and anywhere that’s lit — say a room with the lights on — I have no trouble reading the F3 screen.

At night, I use the lowest backlight setting — 5% — and find it sufficient to read the screen.

How is the Fenix 3 as a GPS watch?

The Fenix 3 has both GPS and Glonass receivers. Overall, my tracks are similarly accurate to the FR305. That is, not perfect, but good enough for my purposes.

I hike in mountainous terrain, and the nature of that terrain means that the watch might only be able to see a limited number of satellites in the sky. With GPS, more satellites equates to better accuracy. Starting a hike in a valley or ravine and heading up towards a ridge might mean that the F3 isn’t getting enough GPS input to be overly accurate. But, I see this as a potential problem with any GPS watch, not a problem unique to the F3.

Many of my routes are out-and-backs, so I can compare GPS to and from, knowing I was on the exact same trail. This reveals the margin for error, which is on the order of many feet either way.

If you expect to use the Fenix 3 for navigation, you can, within those constraints. Don’t expect it to pinpoint your location on the Earth down to a meter. It can’t be relied on for that degree of accuracy, especially if the local topography is working against you. On a ridge with good views of the horizon, I’d expect it to be more accurate, since the F3 would have unobstructed views and be able to receive more GPS information with which to calculate position.

I have had a couple of treks where the GPS track clearly lost its mind, which was a little disconcerting. Not a huge deal, in that I was traveling on well-marked trail, but odd results nonetheless. In these two cases, I could see wild variations in the track where nothing was quite right. Elevation as well as lat/lon position was simply too far wrong to attribute to poor satellite reception. However, that seems to be tied mostly to software. Garmin updates the F3 regularly. In recent months, I have had no strange tracks.

There are various online discussions about the GPS accuracy of the Fenix 3 — much rage on the part of some people who, in my opinion, ask a little too much. I stand by my opinion that it is, on the whole, good enough.

I don’t have an opinion of the Glonass functionality. I’ve run with it both on and off, and don’t seem to get a more accurate track. I shut it off a few months back, and haven’t bothered turning it back on. My theory is that shutting it off might conserve a bit of battery life. From what I’ve seen thus far, I would not make a future decision on whether or not a GPS watch also offered a Glonass receiver. “All hat and no cattle,” as far as I’m concerned.

There is a breadcrumb screen. There’s also a “trackback” function. There’s a way to load in tracks and navigate using them. The breadcrumb screen is handy, especially on loop hikes. I’ve never used the trackback function, although I see it’s usefulness, especially for bushwhackers. I have not loaded a track into the F3 although that’s something I might try when heading off-trail at some point in the future.

The Fenix 3 pairs with ANT+ sensors, right?

Yes. I use a Garmin heart rate strap I’ve had for years, which works great. I also use a Garmin Tempe sensor clipped to the outside of my pack when hiking. The Tempe is awful. It works, but it’s slow to react to temperature changes. For example, expect at least 15 minutes to pass before the Tempe adjusts from the warm car to the cold ambient temp of the trail on a winter hike. The Tempe is also going to read falsely in direct sunlight, climbing far higher than the actual ambient temperature. I’ve clipped the Tempe to a strap that’s just under my pack’s “brain” compartment to help with the sunlight problem, but I’m not sure yet how much it might be helping.

As frustrating as I find the Tempe is, it’s better than the F3’s built-in temperature gauge that’s always reading too warm because it’s so close to your body. The Tempe is also good on winter days to detect just how cold it’s getting as you climb. If it’s out of the sun and had time to fully acclimatize, it seems to have some connection to reality. There have been hikes were I’ve felt that we’d ascended through a layer into a colder zone, and sure enough, the Tempe would show that we’d bled off 5 or 10 degrees. Therefore, the Tempe is not useless. Just don’t plan on doing science with it.

Is the Fenix 3 battery life as good as they say?

I have not actually taken field measurements against the Garmin claims. However, the battery life is, by my standards, astonishing. During hiking activities, I set the F3 to take GPS readings on 1 second intervals, more aggressive than the default of 5 seconds. This uses more battery life. Even so, I can go out for a 10+ hour hike, which is a pretty long day, and have plenty of battery left over.

I find that GPS activities are the most draining to the battery. If I do a Crossfit workout where all I care about is tracking heart rate, an hour plus of activity barely impacts the battery. The same is true just walking around wearing the watch. My F3 is usually Bluetooth connected to my phone, and usually on my wrist. The F3 is doing something almost always. It tracks the time, it tracks steps, it auto-syncs activities to the Garmin Connect cloud via my phone over Bluetooth, it tracks movement during sleep cycles, it estimates calories burned, etc. But none of that causes noticeable battery drain.

In a normal week where I’m wearing the F3 almost constantly and doing 3-4 Crossfit workouts, I might use 50% of the battery. Maybe. To be honest, that seems like a high estimate. The battery life is that good.

Not only is the battery life good, the F3 charges back to full power incredibly fast. If I dock the watch, it will be back to 100% charge in less than 30 minutes. I’m guessing as to the time. My normal habit is to dock it once a week or ten days when I think of it. I’ll wake up, dock, and do my morning routine. By the time I’m ready for the day, the F3 is, too.

How is the Fenix 3 as a smartwatch?

How good the functionality is here depends on what you want to do with it. You can’t make calls with it. You can’t store music on it. You can’t run social media apps on it. You can’t read or respond to e-mail with it. All you really get are a few basic features, many of which rely on a Bluetooth connection to your phone.

1. You get an app store. There is a Garmin app ecosystem called the Connect IQ Store. Developers using the Garmin Connect IQ SDK can make applications, watch faces, widgets (apps, more or less), and data fields (special fields you can configure to show up in your activity screens). Most downloads are completely free. Some downloads offer a level-up if you pay money.

I can’t say I love the app store especially. It works, but there are limitations to this ecosystem. Many of the fancier watch faces don’t work right depending on what version of software you’re running on the watch. Alternatively, upgrading your watch (a good idea to keep up with bug fixes and core functionality) can break something you downloaded from the app store. Overall, I’ve gotten a bit bored playing with apps. Too many of them don’t work at all or eventually break. Therefore, every app you load incurs some technical debt. If you like to fuss, go for it. If you just like things to work, stick to Garmin-branded apps, as they seem to work more reliably overall. Core Garmin functionality is the safest bet.

A niggling complaint is that Garmin really, really needs an app aimed at hikers. I have customized my own screens for my “hike” activity, but therein is the issue. I don’t want to have a bunch of screens to cycle through to get at all the information that might be interesting. Garmin limits activity screens to a maximum of 4 fields. I’d like the option of as many as 8. I want to be able to glance down at my wrist while powering up a trail and see all data fields that interest me. There’s enough pixels for it, and there are some “data fields” available in the Connect IQ Store that offer this functionality. I.e., it can be done.

2. You get notifications. On my iPhone, if a notification pops up, I can see it on the Fenix 3. About all that’s good for is checking my wrist to see the message, rather than popping my phone out of my pocket to check. And if I’m in my office, it’s utterly pointless as I can get notifications on any screen I choose. To be honest, the F3 notifications feature is defeatable, and I’m considering turning it off. I have almost all notifications turned off on my phone already. It’s hard to imagine the importance of any notification where checking it on my wrist would be especially important.

3. You get a few apps that do clever things. The Fenix 3 has a weather widget that depends on the phone to get the update. There is a music controls app that does…I don’t know what it does. Nothing useful for my specific use cases, which are Spotify and Overcast. The controls on the watch seem to be limited to working with specific apps only, and I just don’t care that much. I thought it would be useful to be able to play/pause/skip if my phone were in my backpack, but I almost never listen to audio on my phone when I’m out in the woods unless I’m camped…at which point I don’t need the convenience of the watch. There’s a Google Calendar app I downloaded from the app store that doesn’t stay synced unless I use one of my heavier hammers, so it’s essentially useless.

In summary, don’t buy the Fenix 3 because you want a smart watch. It does a few basic things, but they are superfluous to what the watch really is.

You didn’t talk about exercise apps and stuff.

There are many detailed reviews of the F3 that talk about its usefulness for running, swimming, golf, walking, skiing, indoor rowing, and so on. Yes, the F3 can track all of those things and more. Mostly, they work. I have nothing to add to the many sports and fitness aficionados who’ve wet themselves silly writing and vlogging about these functions. Draw upon your very best Google-fu to fill in those blanks.


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

All Of Ethan’s Podcasts And Articles For February 2017

Packet Pushers Community Blog

Packet Pushers News

Packet Pushers Weekly Podcast

Datanauts Podcast

Priority Queue 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 February, I continued a chapter on QoS, writing about CBWFQ, AQM, and CoDel.
  • I also drew QoS illustrations…badly. Some arty person is going to take my scribblings and make them presentable.
  • I also began outlining chapters on VNF, IoT, hyperscale and data analytics, and cloud fabric.
  • Note that I do not have an exceptionally clear idea of what “cloud fabric” is (assuming anyone in the industry does), but I will after I’ve written this chapter. Odd how book writing works in real-life. You don’t start out an expert necessarily. Some modicum of knowledge is presumed, of course, but you become the expert you need to be via the research required to write authoritatively on a topic.
  • Spending many hours writing about QoS forced me to re-read a lot of material I was familiar with, and well as unlearn a few points I’d gotten wrong along the way in my years as a network architect and QoS workshop presenter at Interop. Even with all of that, there’s room to get things wrong, even if it’s a subtle nuance. As the book is going through a technical review, I’m keen to find out just what other folks think is good and bad about the chapter. I’m sure I have a lot of editing ahead of me yet, which is too bad. The silly chapter is 8,500 words, and I left topics out. Had to. It’s an introductory text. So, for example, I chose to cut ECN as well as Ethernet PAUSE frames. They are relevant, but this book has nearly 30 chapters already. The thing is going to be a thousand pages the way we’re going. And I’m the SLOW writer in the group thus far!

Newsletters

EthanCBanks.com

Other

  • I guest host for Drew Conry-Murray on Packet Pushers’ Network Break 121.
  • I am a guest on Software Engineering Daily for 13-Feb-2017.
  • I make a guest appearance on NetApp’s pop-up tech video series. My friend Amy Lewis drives those and caught me walking around at Cisco Live Europe. I suddenly found myself on camera. Link forthcoming if/when it gets published.
  • I’m working on a fun podcast for Subaru enthusiasts. In the planning stages right now.

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

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.

Newsletters

EthanCBanks.com

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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