Monthly Archives: November 2004

Network KVM shopping

A KVM (keyboard-mouse-video) is a little device that you plug the aforementioned ports into from your server computer. This can either be used as a switch so that one local system controls several machines within local cable-range, or a network system which transports those signals over a distance.

I’d think that by this day and age you’d have another kind of device, one that does all the KVM-like things but that lets you connect to it with VNC. Indeed some preliminary looking at the Mac world makes me think that day is already there for there. (Update: the Adderall box does do this – see the blog comments).

We’re shopping, I’ll fill in details when I have them.

Cyclades: IP based KVM/Net looks too pricey – 16 ports minimum.

Raritan: 4-port “branch office” Dominion KVX

Digi: 8 port Digi CM

the other approach is to use a very, very small 1-port network KVM as a front end to a local KVM, which means you have a few more cables to manage but the flexibility to go from 4 to 8 to 16 just by putting in a bigger local KVM.

AMI: MegaRAC K-1 1-port (tiny, 0U). A good MegaRAC K-1 product review

gives the dirt – it’s IE only for control, which is not ideal, but they’re said to be working on Firefox remote controls. On sale at the AMI site for $449.

ATEN: KVM on the NET – Model #: CN6000– bigger than the AMI. This one has a Java console for Mac/Solaris/Linux, and native client software for Windows. Similar price to the AMI box.

Adderall: see blog comments for their VNC controlled solution.


You are invited to join the Vacuum mailing list

Some long-time readers of this weblog have no idea that it’s really only an offshoot of a much longer running project, a mailing list that I run for about 150 people. It’s moderated, relatively low volume, and has consistently good discussion. I wish I could neatly define what it’s about, but then again you found this weblog, so I suppose you might find the mailing list equally interesting if you’re interested in this. Most folks on it I’ve run into in person, online, or are long-suffering family who listen through the tech stuff in order to catch occasional family news.

Subscribe at if you are interested – there are archives there going back almost to the beginning, which are pretty readable. The subscription process will ask a question or two before I add you in.

For a long time I had it set up as an announce-only list, which was good for keeping the tone and list posting volume consistent, but lousy for a busy moderator. Since then I’ve opened it up for anyone to post to who is on the list. That said, I do moderate it, and will without hesitation delete a posting or delay it until more voices have come online.

Some other lists I’ve used as models for this are Dave Farber’s interesting-people, Rohit Khare’s “fork” list, and Elizabeth Zwicky’s “foez” list.

Thanksgiving 2004, Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh PA

Late night in Squirrel Hill. We’re staying at Alice and Tim’s house, just down the street from Annette’s old place – very generous of them to lend us their house. It’s in the same row of houses where we’ve stayed before, so we get to experience the wonderful effect of seeing what someone else has done with a space and layout that we’re pretty much used to.

It’s very quiet out on the street at 10:30pm – everything is closed except for the brand new big Rite Aid and for a bar or maybe two. No cafes are open. That meant for a brisk walk through the evening.

Wherever I go I hope for free anonymous wifi – I haven’t seen it here yet, the three networks visible from the house are closed.

Dinner was wonderful, a nice big meal to sit down to after a 6 hour drive through Michigan, the Ohio Turnpike, and Pennsylvania. Roadgeeks note that the Penna Tpke toll collectors have a labor action going (says AM 1640, the voice of management broadcasting from tollbooth micro-radio) so we sailed through Pennsylvania free of charge where it would usually cost us $1.50. I’m sure that EZ-Pass toll transponders have cost some jobs and will cost more before the years are out.

Some fotos will be on Flickr – if you’re not in my “friends and family” group let me know and I’ll add you in.

Found the open wifi – I have to sit in the front room, not the dining room, and from there I pick up two open nets.

At Starbucks the next day there are two pay networks, one from t-mobile, one from Telerama broadcasting from across the street at Pittsburgh Knit and Bead. Further investigation found a free network visible from one window, so I did finally get online.

Back home. Ohio Turnpike busy but not bad except for one jam-up near Toledo. We stopped at the Maumee Friendly’s on the way back.

RSS newsreaders for Mac OS X for password-protected feeds

OK, so I’m trying some out.

The target feeds are private feeds – one feed from RT (see an earlier blog posting about that) which uses cookies for authentication, plus a batch of feeds from Socialtext.

NetNewsWire displays things nicely. It handles the RT case through an external program that it calls to wrap the login cookie handling. Adding feeds from Socialtext is harder than it should be, though, since it doesn’t have any native support for feeds that require passwords.

Shrook looks a lot like iTunes in its interface, which is convenient for keyboard-based browsing. I haven’t yet figured out how to get it to deal with RT’s cookies. Password-protected feeds are very easy, though, since Shrook uses Safari’s web keychain for keeping password information.

More reviews welcomed.

RT: Request Tracker trouble ticket system

It’s hard to have great weird ideas when you’re busy closing trouble tickets.

We’re using RT from Best Practical as a trouble ticketing system. I’ve heard basically good things about it from a few people who use it, it seems to be quite stable, and there’s an active developer base for it.

RT can feed out results of stored queries as RSS feeds, so that you can track things in your news aggregator. It’s a little bit awkward unless you have something like NetNewsWire, though, since they use cookie-based authentication. Chris Dent wrote a tiny app that caches cookies, then uses the rss-from-a-program feature inside NetNewsWire to pull things down.

It’s a bit of a challenge to sort through trouble queues, as anyone knows who has ever had too much to do. Do you do the easy stuff right away, even though it’s not that important, just so that it gets in and out of the queue quickly? Do you always tackle the hard stuff first? When do you mark something as closed, even though there’s still a bit more work you can do on it? There’s a certain discipline akin to managing throughput through an industrial process, like pumping sludge through a treatment plant. All the while, you need to keep something resembling like a human voice on things so that people don’t get the sense that they’re talking to a disembodied computer.

A really good ticketing system would mostly get out of your way in the process. RT is so “powerful” that sometimes it takes 5x longer to report on the solution of a problem than it does to actually do the fix.

Sweetwaters, Saline MI – getting away for a weekly report

I thought I’d take a break from the usual routine and visit nearby Saline, MI, where one of my favorite cafes has a branch. Sweetwaters, on Ann Arbor St near the center of town, has a full deli menu and the usual crop of coffee and tea drinks. There’s a banner up in their window advertising ice cream but it’s not very seasonal for that – grey and rainy is not my idea of ice cream weather.

Wireless from here is spotty – there’s an open wifi network available, but packet loss on it is at least 60%, and round trip times vary wildly from 30ms to 7000ms. It’s a good argument for having offline clients for composing, saving drafts, and reading archives. I have been using ecto and NetNewsWire to good effect, and with those two and a cell phone I’m about 80% effective even with a net connection too crappy to sustain a ssh or IRC session.

The project of the week was getting our trouble ticket tracking system, RT, plugged into modern toolsets. Chris Dent put together a little application to let NetNewsWire read RT RSS feeds, dealing with RT’s cookie-based authentication. That means problem reports show up in my aggregator just like any other feed. It’s not perfect yet – I’m not getting as much problem detail as I need – but it’s a good start. Next steps involve getting all of the various feeds I watch on a regular daily basis turned into blogs or wiki categories so that catching up on what’s new is easy enough and so that my inbox is not full of computer-generated crud.

One of the hard things about doing operations is the need to be online to deal with problems as they happen. We’re using IM and IRC for that, and to be frank it’s really difficult to be in a situation where at any moment someone might ping you expecting you to do what looks easy (and what might be 30 minutes of concentrated work). It’s hard to have great weird ideas when you’re closing trouble tickets. I’m experimenting with a couple of different techniques for managing interruptions – one possibly promising system on the Mac is called Growl which mediates applications that want to put up a dialog box on your screen to notify you that something is going on.

Washtenaw LUG: Asterisk VOIP PBX, Greg Boehnlein

running notes.

free for the asking: Fedora Core, Knoppix CDs.

nothing in the news?

copyright bill to regulate CD-R?

illegal to skip DVD commercials?

wireless user group forming.

tivo is going to sell banner ads on your fast forward button.

tivo is uploading data on what you are watching (and skipping).

mythtv: free version of tivo. mythtv how to. hard to build from source.

then, to the asterisk talk.

I ended up not having time to grab URLs and transcribe here, so I linked what I could on delicious – see

The asterisk talk was interesting, and I suppose if I spent more time in front of a desk with a phone on it that would be super. But when I am off at a cafe or somewhere with just a cell phone I really want to be connected too. asterisk is a superduper powerful software PBX for Linux, programmable, etc. I’ll have to explore Mac OS X softphones, so far I’ve found X-Lite (SIP only) and some funky ugly IAX2 softphone. There’s a $99 Digium ATA, probably less if you shop, that should also work too.

If I get this right, I can *probably* port the second phone line in the house to be VOIP only, save some money every month. The hard part of justifying that is the equipment expense, especially since I can get $0.02/min calls outbound through Skype already anyway.