Friday, September 26, 2008

Thrown Under The Bus

I've been accused of "Throwing someone under the bus". And this was before Wright, the clergyman often connected to Senator Barack Obama.

In the "best" sense, this phrase refers to trying to hold someone responsible for something that's not their responsibility. It's to make someone a scapegoat. (Remember, the goat didn't hold any responsibility before the hands were laid-on by the priest.) Newsweek's article says:

In general, "thrown under the bus" is a metaphor for what happens when someone takes a hit for someone else's actions. But unlike its etymological cousins, "scapegoat" and "fall guy," the phrase suggests a degree of intimacy between the blamer and the blamed.

But it bugs me because often I'm just expecting somebody to fulfill their promises. Often that just means expecting them to do their job.

E.g., a vendor says that his equipment has feature X. Then later I ask you how to configure feature X, in front of the customer, because the customer needs feature X. They're depending on Feature X, because the vendor promised feature X. It turns out the vendor didn't even really understand my question in the first place, but he still committed to provide feature X. And I'm guilty of throwing him under the bus.

Alcohol and the "Executive User's Conference"

I attend a yearly autumnal "Executive User's Conference". It's a source of some business, and I learn some things.

But one of the frustrating parts is all the alcohol. I guess it reminds these people of their college days. The saddest part is when we actually try to talk about business and technical issues. Many of these "executives" don't need anything to make them less competent.

The dinners at these events are some of the worst. Yeah, the food can be OK -- if you get there early enough. And they have ample waiters, but often they run out of food. And no amount of wait staff makes up for missing meat: you're not allowed to slice up one of the waiters and put them on the barbeque. Maybe I'll skip the dinners this time.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Palm ChatterMail

2008 Sept 21 -- I have a Palm Treo 755p. My company has provided it to me. Several of my colleagues have migrated over to the iPhone, at their own expense. But I'm still a Treo user. I've mentioned before that I have several applications that I want to keep using that are written for the Palm. Now that Apple lets people write other tools for the iPhone, it will surely accumulate a good library of tools.

Email applications on the Treo have been decidedly old-school. Versamail came with my Sprint Treo. It could successfully send and receive messages, usually, but for some reason the auto-synchronize feature really didn't work.

ChatterMail seems to be a much more modern tool. It can successfully synchronize email while I'm doing other things. It has some settings that make the battery life acceptable, even though it's constantly online. I have the Sprint unlimited plan, so the data doesn't cost any more.

I haven't bought it yet; I'm in the 30-day free trial. After two weeks of trying it, my Treo started rebooting. I noticed that it would reboot shortly after ChatterMail would connect. It didn't reboot if I didn't let ChatterMail connect. I just re-installed the files on the Treo, and that seemed to resolve it.

UPDATE 2008 September 24 -- ChatterMail/ChatterEmail stopped working for me recently. It would connect to the server, login, then my phone (Treo 755p with Sprint) would reboot/reset. Apparently resets are a common problem with ChatterMail users. "JoshM", the site administrator for, seems to represent the software. In one long and active thread about resets, he seems to have finally given up late one night:

Sorry you are having issues with Chatteremail - I would recommend that you contact your place of purchase and request a refund.


But why should software work fine for so long, then suddenly break? ChatterMail had worked for about two weeks before it died.

I deleted ChatterMail from my Treo, then re-installed it (i.e., copied the PRC and PDB files back over to the Treo). I was storing my mailboxes on the SD card, so the newly-installed ChatterMail detected that, and imported the mail. When it connected, the phone rebooted.

I considered doing a hard reset, then re-installing ChatterMail. But I'm not that committed: if that's the sort of maintenance required, then I don't care to use it. So I wanted to find a way to use it that doesn't require that sort of maintenance.

Now I'm on this theory: what if there's something wrong with using an SD card? Perhaps there's a critical bug that breaks when the SD card file size for the mailbox goes above 8 MB or some such. So I un-checked "Store mail on SD card", and now I'm testing it. At the present, it's working fine.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Anonymizers and Copious Logging

The purpose of an anonymizer, I suppose, is to hide your location on the Internet.

This is from a story about the person who logged in to access Sarah Palin's Yahoo email:

Gabriel Ramuglia who operates Ctunnel, the internet anonymizing service the hacker used to post the information from Palin's account to the 4chan forum, told Threat Level this morning that the FBI had contacted him yesterday to obtain his traffic logs. Ramuglia said he had about 80 gigabytes of logs to process and hadn't yet looked for the information the FBI was seeking but planned to be in touch with the agents today.

He runs an anonymizer, and he keeps logs.

You can't subpoena something that doesn't exist. So if you're going to run an anonymizer, and you're actually trying to help people keep secrets, then don't log it! It's almost as if Ramuglia's "Ctunnel" is akin to entrapment.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

From tape backup to live standby systems

Short version:Purple

Instead of just backing up to hard drives,

let's make the backup version actually operate!

Long version:

Just a few years back, I was using tape backup to protect against server loss and accidental deletion. Of course, hard drives are much cheaper now, and I can afford to archive several copies of our important files on ordinary HDs.

Somebody on this list once said, "nobody cares about backup -- they only care about restore". And many have noted that to know you have a good backup, you have to test restoration of the data.

At risk of channeling the spirit of Extreme Programming: if testing your Restore process is good, then let's do it constantly! Instead of just storing our files on disk, let's make our backup server provide the function of the primary server. Let's call it just Poor Man's Redundancy (PMR).

My assumption here is that I'm restoring files on the backup server in the same way they were presented on the source server, using rsync, for example.

We use RT3 --'s fine open-source ticket tracking system. I take a backup of its MySQL database, and its source code including our customizations. The idea would be to make this ordinary application run on the backup server.

Or our subversion archive, used for source code development, major documentation projects, etc. We enable subversion on the backup server.

Or our email server; we could setup this box to be an email server, with all of the same accounts, domains, settings, etc.

Or our ordinary WebDAV-based file server; we'd just enable DAV on the backup server pointed at the latest snapshot of files from the primary server.

Let's evaluate this PMR idea:St Matthews Lutheran Church

-- What happens if data changes on the backup server? E.g., what if somebody logs in to RT and updates a ticket on the backup server? A simple approach would just be to throw away those changes on the backup server.

-- How much more work is this going to take? If my backup process is working, then the necessary data replication should already be working. It'd be additional work to get those settings into the right place; e.g., the config file for Apache that enables RT3 needs to be actually setup for Apache -- not just stored somewhere.

-- What do I really get? If I actually use the services on the backup server, then I can test to see if things are restorable. And in effect, we run the Restore process immediately after completing each backup.

-- What kinds of things can I combine on the backup server? In my case, I could easily restore and operate subversion, WebDAV, ordinary web sites, RT, email, and DNS. It would be harder to replicate our VoIP servers, though, since they all listen on udp/5060.

-- Is relocating an installed application really practical? RT, for example, requires tons of perl modules.

-- How does this idea compare to using (a) a good external RAID with a SAN and (b) putting each service on a separate filesystem, and (c) just re-mounting the separate filesystem elsewhere? The approach I described above (PMR) would work on any hardware, and it would easily let you use the backup system running while the active system is still running.

-- What about moveable virtual machines? E.g., setup each server as a VM; then take a snapshot of the VM, and restore it to a backup server in a replica network. This gives you the ability to test the Restore process while the primary system is still running. Migrating conventional servers to VMs is not necessarily easy.

If anybody would be interested in reviewing these and other approaches to modern backup/restore for a Usenix/LISA Paper or some such, let me know.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Refine, or Redesign?

The salesman in the Sears electronics department groaned. "I keep telling them that they need to replace this thing," he said of the cash register system. He was frustrated that it had strange behavior when handling the US Government issued discount cards for a digital TV set top box.

You can often make a thing better by modifying it somewhat to suit your needs. For example, you might move around items in your kitchen to make them more convenient. Or maybe make a few changes on your network to alleviate congestion or simplify the management. Or add a few new features to some software, or fix a bug/remove a limitation in the software.

But you can also get good results by restarting from scratch, and designing anew. The kitchen may be far too small to be practical. The network may be hideously complex, or the software laden with features that are no longer needed and having requirements that are hard to meet. (Banking software runs on as/400 systems. When is it best to provide one of those, and its staff, versus move to software that runs on more popular platforms?)

The Sears system has got to be at least a decade old. But it knows about a government program that started just a few months ago. Certainly it's being tweaked and maintained.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Magnolia's Restaurant, East Bay Street, Charleston SC

For a late lunch, we went to Magnolia, a restaurant on East Bay Street in Charleston. It was listed in our Frommer's book as "kid friendly". We usually like those places more then the haute-snobberi places.

Oren would have been fine there, but the white tablecloths make me wonder how many high chairs they actually own.

We just got two appetizers and a salad: they were home-made potato chips topped with green onion and bleu cheese, and home-made pimiento cheese.

The potato chips were a huge mound, and tasted and crunched great. The bleu cheese was good, but very strong. I'd never had the opportunity (outside of France) to tire of cheese at a meal. Eventually, both Hayden and I were looking for chips with no bleu cheese. This dish was good, though.

What can you say at a duet of lute and trumpet? The lute sure looks nice. The pimiento cheese was somehow overpowered by the flavor of the bleu cheese. It's hard to judge that dish.

Overall, Magnolia's was quite pleasant and had good service. We'd go back for a full meal.

Charleston Visitor's Center

The staff at the Charleston Visitor's Center were quite friendly. They gave us some maps. We also saw a nice 40-minute film (in an air-conditioned theatre). It's a good place to go if you're feeling a little overwhelmed.

The Center is north of the old historic district. It's in an old railroad warehouse.

Hayden found a Charleston patch,
then we headed to Magnolia's on East Bay Street for lunch.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Treo 755p, Tomtom One XL, and Sprint

The TomTom can use the phone to connect to the Internet to get weather, download Points of Interest, and potentially other nifty things.

But I had never gotten it to work. Hayden was driving through a long stretch of South Carolina, and I had time to kill, so I decided to explore the options.

So I just got my Treo 755p working with my TomTom One XL using Sprint as my cell phone service provider. I have the unlimited voice and data plan with sprint.

I started the wireless connection setup on the TomTom. Then on the Treo, I turned on Bluetooth, and had it search for devices. It found the TomTom, though it only showed it as a MAC address.

I had tried to pair the TomTom to an older Treo 700p, but had no success. To make the TomTom forget the old 700p, I reset it to factory defaults. (I wish I knew a better way.)

On the TomTom, I set up the wireless data connection like so:

Device Type: other

Service Provider: other

Set it up manually? Yes

Phone number to dial: #777

Username: engineersconsulti01

Blank password (this is important)

Blank script

Note that this username is what I got from Preferences - Network - Modify. It had been set on the phone automatically via Sprint's provisioning system.