At work I’ve been thinking about cloud sync services, something like Dropbox without actually using Dropbox, because it’s non-kosher around these parts. I thought about OwnCloud so I went investigating.
OwnCloud is neat, it’s a PHP script that will set itself up on a web host, and then provide you with a web interface like Dropbox and access to clients like Dropbox which mirror the function of Dropbox completely. This was a possible route to satisfy our legal people and maybe leverage cloud sync at work. As it turns out, it didn’t work. OwnCloud is a lost cause. I installed it on my iPage host and got it to work all up until I tried to connect the Mac desktop client to it. It got files perfectly well, but when I put a file in the owncloud folder to be synced back up to my host it all fell apart. The error was “errno 22″ and ended up being shown to me as “Bad Request” – so that was a no-go. Then I thought maybe I could install OwnCloud on my Mac Pro server at work, keep it in house maybe. That also was a failure, the web side was fine, but the client just couldn’t connect no matter what I tried.
So I’m going to abandon the pursuit of OwnCloud. I’ve tried it and found that it just won’t work on what I’ve got. It was something that could have possibly worked and been great, but it’s got too many moving parts and it was a total failure when you tried to get all the parts to spin up and run. Oh well, at least now I know I can abandon OwnCloud and move forward.
This video, adapted from a character on Cartoon Network’s Harvey Birdman animated series. Asks the most fundamental question that exists and is at the center of my issues with workplace communications.
“Did you get that thing, that thing, THAT THING, … that… I sent ya?”
It happens a lot, I do it, and a lot of other people do it too and it’s so annoying, irritating, and upsetting. You send a message to someone else and if it’s email, it can be like it flew into a black hole. You don’t know if they got it, if they read it, if they don’t care. Did they file it? Did they laugh when they got it? Dunno. When will whatever it is get attention? Dunno.
It’s the not knowing that irks me. We used to use GroupWise which made this particular issue somewhat of a non-event because it would record the fate of the message and you could get read receipts automatically sent back to you. Generally, this isn’t a problem either with SupportPress as we get emailed when a ticket comes in and the system enforces a receipt structure whenever we get tickets and manipulate them. It’s just, well, everything else. And it’s not something you want to include with every email because it should be a matter of common courtesy to acknowledge that you got a message and that you are working on it, or whatever is really going on with it.
Then again, my experience is that much like verbal arguments, nobody is really listening. In email, nobody is really reading. Time and time again I notice people who only pick out keywords from a cursory scan of what I send and reply to the things they feel they want to reply with, ignoring the actual message itself.
When asked, “What is the biggest stumbling block for you professionally?” The answer can be only this: Basic human communication and the lack of it. How can anyone get anything accomplished if we aren’t listening or reading or even paying attention to each other? Thank god for cognitive dissonance. It’s an absurd life if it is this way and obviously it isn’t because things get done, somehow, so it can’t be that bad, not really. But I think it is bad and I fear that it’s just getting worse.
If you get an email, maybe it’s a good idea to form a new habit and immediately reply telling the other party that you got it. At least when everyone knows, it’s one less little chunk of mystery floating out there.
Lavabit and Silent Circle have given up when it comes to providing encrypted email communications. Mega plans on providing something to cover the gap and in general the only real way to deal with privacy-in-email is end-to-end encryption. There was talk that at some point email might give way to writing letters and using the US Postal Service but there as well you’ve got Postmasters writing commands taped to mail about how everything has to be photocopied and stored – so even the US Postal Service is full of spies, the only thing the US Postal Service can be trusted to carry is junk mail.
What is the answer? Pretty Good Privacy. PGP, or rather, the non-Symantec version of it which is the GNU one, the GPG. If you really want to keep what you write private when you send it to someone else, the only way to do that is for everyone to have GPG installed on their email system so you can write email using their public key, which converts your email to cyphertext, secure from even the NSA’s prying eyes, and requires your recipient to unlock the message using their secret key, which they have.
I’ve been playing with PGP and GPG now for a very long time and I decided I would at least make a route available if anyone wanted to contact me with privacy intact – my public keys are on my blog, they are also on all the keyservers including the one hosted and run by MIT and the GPG Keyserver as well. To send me a private message via email all you need to do is get GPG, set it up, create your secret and public key, get my public key, use it to write me an email and only I’ll be able to read it. The NSA will just flag the encrypted contents for later analysis and thanks to AES–256, they’ll be hard pressed to get to the plaintext in your message.
That’s the way around all of this. GPG for everything. GPG public keys for email, for chat, for VPN, for files, and HTTP-in-GPG. Everything pumped through GPG. Since the government won’t stop spying on us, it’s our duty as citizens to secure our own effects against illegal search and siezure, and technology exists to do so.
Several days ago, while pondering an issue we’ve had at work an epiphany struck me. The problem we ran into was that our local network is a box of question marks. We don’t really know how it’s assembled or really what the rules are for using it, we just plug cables into wall jacks and if things work, they work. Until they don’t.
Enter NetInstall and NetRestore. These are the two imaging technologies for Macintosh and I’ve assigned my coworker to explore and develop images. Frankly he self-started it and I encouraged his exploration. We tried it first and both actions use a lot of bandwidth on the network and we eventually ran into a lot of problems. Not only did the machine we were working on take forever but it bogged down the server and caused huge headaches for everyone. We came to the conclusion that our local network just isn’t designed to carry any payload of appreciable size. It’s not really a complaint, but more of a characterization. It’s kind of fragile and wimpy.
So, was there a way we could still use ethernet technology without having to depend on our “provided” fragile and weak network? I sat in my chair pondering all of it, knocking some options out of the park instantly because of the machines we have. We can’t really depend on IP-over-Firewire as we have plain-jane MacBooks in the mix, they don’t have FireWire ports, just ethernet ones. As I looked across the way at all the server technology I had in the rack it struck me, each one, including the lowly Drobo had two Ethernet ports. Huh. Two. Only one was really being used to connect each machine to the network so each one had an available secondary port available. I then started to root around in my junk bin and found an old unused Netgear ethernet switch, five ports model, no fuss, no muss. I then grabbed a gaggle of short ethernet cables and started hooking all my servers and such to this little spare switch. Everything worked out magnificently well. In each server I configured these ports to conform to 192.168.0.* and assigned manual IP addresses for each of them. Then I found a unused Apple Express Wifi Access Point, plugged it in, set it for bridge mode and now I can extend this custom network into Wifi using 802.11N which is nice and fast. Just like that, cake and eat it too! What’s great about this setup is that my coworker and I can move large batches of data all over between these machines without having to worry about clogging up the network for all the other users who are trying to use these servers for their real work. Their files are small and their use sporadic, our use is large and nearly (sometimes) constant. The parts are just a few more blinking lights in the rack and just a little bit more spaghetti wiring hither and yon, but I don’t care, it works and it was free with the parts I already had on hand. The only part of all of this that upsets me is that I didn’t think to do it sooner. I suppose I should take some solace that it’s better late than never. Having this private access to all the systems makes both of our lives much better. We don’t have to complain to central networking anymore because we’ve abandoned their fragile wimpy thing for a far better solution in-house, and because it’s unroutable, we didn’t break one single rule, mind we don’t know what the rules are, but still.
It’s a good Friday.
A few days ago, of course right before the “Money Back Guarantee” expired on our G-RAID 8TB Time Machine drive at work both my S3 and I were battling with a rather nasty pernicious bug that was plaguing this device on our new fancy Mac Pro Server running OSX Mountain Lion.
The problem was this, you plug the drive in, using Firewire 800 and Time Machine sees it and starts backing up files. That works just fine. After say 1TB of files get backed up Time Machine works gamely for about three or four hours and then the drive suddenly goes deaf. What I mean is that the drive is still connected, the icon is on the Desktop, but you can’t do anything with it. It gives you a fusillade of meaningless errors, vague ones like “Unspecified error with file system” and the like and Time Machine is stuck and can’t do anything at all with the drive. It’s not really a headache for us currently because the server is brand-spanking-new, but still, it’s a concern for us. You have to eject the drive, and not a plain eject either, but a Force Eject. When you move it to another computer and plug it in and do a fsck on the drive everything pans out fine. Everything is hunky-dory, journal is fine, structures are peachy, the works. So annoying.
So off to Google we go. Turns out there MIGHT be a bug in the “Turn off Hard Drives when possible” in the Energy Saver preference pane in System Preferences. This strikes me as a wee bit of bullshit, the drive should go to sleep and wake up elegantly like anything connected to a Mac should (and almost always does!) so, fine, turn that off. Testing. Ah, failed. So next stop was to try to irritate the drive with constant actions. To that end I created a script:
So what this script does is touch, which is a Unix command in the Mac that just runs out and accesses a file, it’s size is zero, it just runs the most basic of file operation on a drive. If you touch a file on a sleeping drive, it should wake it up. If the drive is counting down until it goes to sleep, this operation will reset that counter. Then the entire thing takes a nap for a minute and does it again, and it does it over and over forever.
We tried that, and still ended up with a failed Time Machine backup and a drive that’s gone deaf. The exact error you get in Time Machine is “com.apple.backupd: Error: (22) setxattr for key:com.apple.backupd.HostUUID … ” So, still no solution to our problems. We finally figured out what the silver bullet was, and it came from an unexpected source. We added the G-RAID drive to the Privacy pane of Spotlight in the System Preferences on the server and voilà! Magical solution!
Since I did that, the drive has been working happily since I made the change, it’s been about a week. My working theory is that mds (which runs the Spotlight service) either locks a file or does something sneaky with this extended attribute on the HostUUID object and that, somehow, ruins access for the entire file system on that drive. It’s not that the file system is damaged, it’s just not working.
So, where’s the bug? Is it in mdsworker, mds itself, backupd (Time Machine), Firewire 800, the Firewire 800 cable, or the G-RAID drive? The answer is a definitive YES. Somewhere. Something is causing it and the only solution seems to keep mds’s muddy hands to itself and pester the drive every minute with a meaningless file operation via touch.
The upside is the damn thing works, so we’ll keep going with it until it stops working. I wish there was something clearer than this Error 22 from backupd to go on, but alas, this seems to be a valid workaround and frankly I don’t really need Spotlight to go futzing about on the drive anyways. There won’t be any searching done on it anyhow, just the indexing that Time Machine needs and that’s it.
I guess in the end, all’s well that ends well.
Several days ago, on May 24th I left work and headed home, on my usual path which takes me right through the center of Kalamazoo. I drive down East Michigan Ave headed east towards Eastwood, towards Kalamazoo Township where my home is. I’ve taken this path countless times and on a lark I had the roof of my car wide open and I was stopped at the light where East Michigan and Edwards Streets meet, waiting for the signal to turn. While I was waiting in traffic I idly looked up through the roof and I noticed a building, 275 East Michigan Ave. It was a plain building, tan with red highlights and I didn’t think anything of it until I noticed something unusual about it:
Wha? Hugh J. McHugh 1885. He was someone important as his name was etched into the façade, on a nameplate of all things. This started me thinking. I knew that there were several notable McHugh’s, they had migrated to Chicago and I had a hunch that that family started MCHUGH construction which has been a part of several roadway projects in the city of Chicago. Just the idea that there might be someone with my last name in Kalamazoo isn’t really a huge surprise. Is he a relation of mine, other than his last name? I don’t know. But I did some research on him anyways and added him to my MCHUGH tree on Ancestry.com just for shits and giggles. He’s just an island at the moment as I can’t connect him to anyone in my family tree at all, at least not yet.
This is what I know of Hugh. He was 45 years old in 1880, he was in the US Federal Census in 1880 in Kalamazoo Michigan. He worked as a stone mason and later on he was appointed or elected to “Alderman” in Kalamazoo. I don’t know if the aldermen were elected or appointed. He was also the subject of a Michigan Supreme Court decision, thanks to some documents I found at UMICH online. Something about a law in 1885 and a bond for mechanical something or other. He was married to Ann McHugh (Willson), she was 53 and was a Housekeeper. Rosa, their eldest child and daughter was 17 and worked as a “Servant”, Thomas was 15 and a Painter, Joseph was 11 and listed as “At Home” and they all lived with their maternal grandmother Sarah Willson who was 84 and stayed at home.
One curious little extra bit which I found remarkable was that in the Michigan Supreme Court case, a name shows up, Oscar T. Tuthill. I saw the name and just giggled. Tuthill is a name on my maternal grandfathers side of my family. So, we’ve got McHugh’s and Tuthill’s in Kalamazoo (or Lansing probably for Tuthill), something interesting to knock around at least.
It’s a surprise to see your family name carved in stone and on a building that has been there for 128 years.
I’ve gone as far as I can with Ancestry as I don’t have a paid account. It’s interesting and when I have some spare time maybe I can find the archivist at WMU and make some inquiries there. They’ve got stuff dating back to this period and more.
“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” – the White Queen, Alice in Wonderland.
What are the six impossible things you believe in? (If you can only manage one or two, that’s also okay.)
I have lived too long and witnessed too much inexplicability to not believe in astrology, Tarot cartomancy, and the subtle presence of magic in our world. It’s always a soft arrival too, if you try to force it or put it under a spotlight it evaporates as if it was never there. I don’t think that any of it will ever be in any way “explainable” by science. These things really can only be apprehended by faith. When I write of faith, I don’t really mean religion. I’ve always found religion to be stultifying and so I try to live without it as much as I can. The faith for these impossible things has been borne out by event after event where upon reflection the accuracy of all of it, any of it, is utterly remarkable.
I even run into it in my workplace. I have lost count of the number of times I have received notices from my coworkers that the systems that I support have failed them. When I walk in, even just walking by, the problems appear to evaporate. It’s just my presence that seems to do it and after a while you start to notice this remarkable phenomena and after a while I got to thinking that one possible explanation is that my office is beset by gremlins, brownies, manitou, or domovoi, or they are all there and acting in collusion with each other. I fancy that my presence scares them off and so the technical systems that I support, when I use them, work perfectly fine for me pretty much all the time, but when my coworkers try to use them, it’s a crapshoot for them. Until I appear, and then it’s back to being perfectly fine. I suppose there might be a more rational explanation about why this is, perhaps something to do with my bioelectric field or something subtle and clever and measurable like that – but I prefer to live in a world where everything is slightly tinted by the mayhap of the hidden world of magic. I select to live with a world that is enriched by tiny mysteries, because living in a world where everything is a field, particle, or wave is just too banal and bankrupt for my ability to endure such a stark emptiness. I think, for me, it comes down to the hidden pleasure that comes from the doubt that we may all live in a world more complicated and wonderful than we can ever possibly know and more complicated and wonderful than we will *ever* be able to know. I find value in that little layer of maybe that hides right underneath the surface of our mundane world. Skeptics and debunkers would claim that all of this is so much fantasy and magical thinking and that it doesn’t serve any purpose other than to encourage ignorance and the folly of a false make-believe world. In response to them, I embrace the bunkum. If you can’t prove it really isn’t there, then what is the harm of belief? Wouldn’t it be a right hilarity that the world is exactly the way I think it is, a mechanical universe with a touch of mystery overlaid on top of it. You could swap out magic with God and then Voltaires comment that there is no proof for God doesn’t mean you shouldn’t believe in him, on the off chance that he does really exist. Perhaps magic really does exist.
Impossible things are important.