Sysadmin by day, developer by night

I need to run some powershell scripts to do some monitoring. We have some active/active failover clusters in our environment and I want to make sure that resouces are running on their preferred node.

I wrote a script that would do that for me, but then I when I started running it through NCPA it was failing. Couldn’t impor the failoverclusters module. Finally tracked the problem down to that module isn’t available to 32 bit powershell.

So, here’s how you get NCPA to launch the 64 bit version of powershell. Find the line with the ps1 extension to launch powershell and change it to point explicitly to the 64 bit executable.

.ps1 = c:\windows\sysnative\windowspowershell\v1.0\powershell.exe -ExecutionPolicy Unrestricted -File $plugin_name $plugin_args

Been a while since I did a blog post. Currently waiting on 123GB to transfer through several hops on my network so thought I’d pop in and say what’s going on.

I’ve volunteered, then withdrawn my offer, to work on tornadoauth. Tornado does need a better auth system, separate for the current tornado.auth library. So why am I not doing it? Well, I’m not really using python for apps any more. At the point where I need a web server I’ve pretty much settled into using Go. Tornado does need it though. I would be glad to brain dump, help test or offer other services to anyone who wants to take that project on.

Speaking of Go, my biggest Go project Unscatter is currently getting a makeover. I’m not going to go into much detail yet as I’ve just started breaking ground on it. The main goal is to make results for the various sources better. For example the lack of comments for Google+ and the seemingly random result from clicking on a Reddit link is maddening.

I’m also changing infrastructure. I give up, I’m going with Amazon. As a part of this redesign I’m going to move everything over to AWS. So long and thanks for all the fish Rackspace. Great organization, and the $50 charge they’re eventually going to tack on for support is a good deal if you need it. I’m good at what I do, sorry Rackspace, but I’m good enough I could work for you guys, I don’t need to pay you for services you want to offer me. I wouldn’t use them. For the record, I wish I was in the position I could vote with my wallet. If I was, I’d continue to use Rackspace. I still believe they are the best cloud infrastructure provider. Their system is way simpler to use. I’ve had 1 instance of downtime, measured in minutes, from a hardware failure, in the years I used Rackspace. Really, if you’re a “business” guy, go with Rackspace.

Strongly considering taking a look at Cloudflare. Also, Postgresql seems like the thing to learn these days. It’s SQL, NoSQL and rudimentary message queue with tons of language support? Hmmm….

After I finish up Unscatter I have a couple new ideas popping up that could use a data store.

I have some other distractions as well. My oldest is 7 now and getting into Minecraft. I’ve set up Minetest and have been playing it myself. By the end of the week we’ll have a Minetest server running in the house for me and her to play with. Gaming with my kid with something other than Dance Central… I forsee a lot less productivity in the future. There hasn’t been much in the first place. Well, unless you count the fact I’ve raised 2 awesome kids to the ages of 7 and 4 so far, one is almost a black belt and both excel at their schools.

Mark Walberg was right in Transformers, our kids are our best creation.

Just a quick announcement with some links. I’m working on new package for tornado called tornadoauth. It will supplant the auth library in tornado. Something Ben Darnell has been looking for someone to do for quite a while.

tornadoauth will support server as well as client implementations. Current scope is I’m working on oauth1 and oauth2 implementations using oauthlib.

For now, until I have something put together the github repo can be found here:

The trello for the project is here:

If you have any questions or want to volunteer to help out, let me know here or on github. I’m going to be moving slow, my youngest just turned 4 so I’m just now getting time to dive back into working on projects in my small amounts of spare time. I have some other motives for picking python back up so I am committed to getting this live.

Writing this up so I can remember it. And if it helps anyone else, great.

We use a Juniper VPN at work and it’s always been a bit of pain to use with my 64bit ubuntu workstations. By 13.04 I had it pretty much down, so of course Canonical would make a change to break it. The breaking change was they remove the ia32-libs package. Here’s how you do it now.

Note: My method doesn’t involve a working 64 bit solution as well. It may or may not work, I’m not sure. I don’t use java for anything else.

So start by getting the list of 32 bit libraries we need installed.

sudo apt-get install libstdc++6:i386 lib32z1 lib32ncurses5 lib32bz2-1.0 libxext6:i386 libxrender1:i386 libxtst6:i386 libxi6:i386

First, go to Oracle and download the latest 32bit version of Oracle Java 7.

You want the tar.gz version.

Now, install it

sudo bash # or su or however, just be root
mkdir -p /usr/java
mv ~/Downloads/[JAVA FILE] .
tar zxvf [JAVA FILE]
ln -s [JAVA DIR CREATED] jre
update-alternatives --install /usr/bin/java java /usr/java/jre/bin/java 1

I’m mainly posting this in the hopes that Google will index it and this will be simpler for people to find. Took me way too long to find this.

When working with systems like say, nagios, which can have it’s configuration broken out into multiple files and directories, you may want to just have a directory inside your cookbook that you manage with all those files. Then simply push that directory to the nagios server with chef, when you deploy nagios with chef.

It’s actually really easy, just figuring out how to do it will take some time when you start googling. That’s mainly because the resource you use to do it has what I believe is a confusing name, remote_directory.

You might be familiar with cookbook_file, put something in the files/ subdirectory of your cookbook and then use cookbook_file to deploy it. Well, remote_directory, imho, should be called cookbook_directory. That’s what it is. It has a couple extra settings, mainly for managing file vs directory permissions. It does follow the same directory name rules as cookbook_file, ie: say you have and

You can have the structure


objects would have your contacts.cfg, timeperiods.cfg, etc etc. Stuff that’s global whereas the rest of the config is often pretty server specific. You can deploy this way

remote_directory “/usr/local/nagios/etc” do
source “etc”
files_owner “nagios”
files_group “nagios”
files_mode 00640 
owner “nagios”
group “nagios”
mode 00750

remote_directory “/usr/local/nagios/etc/objects” do
source “objects”
files_owner “nagios”
files_group “nagios”
files_mode 00640 
owner “nagios”
group “nagios”
mode 00750

Super simple.

I’m not looking for a job, I’m especially set right now and have so much on my plate for the next couple of years, looking for a new job would probably make me go crazy.

However, I get lots of unsolicited emails from recruiters. My Linkedin profile seems to be a part of this. Plus they find my resume from like 8 years ago, I don’t know. I’m not getting more than average, I’ve asked around. Lots of people are getting hit by recruiters.

I’ve seen the blog posts, some complain about it. Others do funny things to the recruiters along the lines of what people might do to the telemarketer calling at dinner time. Lots just ignore them.

I respond every time. I thank them. Why? Well, I never know when I might need them. I’m a lucky guy, I’ve worked for 2 companies my entire career. Over 8 years each. However, the truth is a job is like the Dread Pirate Roberts, “Good work, sleep well, I’ll most likely fire you in the morning.”.

Should that happen, well I got a whole slew of recruiters who appreciated my resume in the past enough to reach out to me. They may even recall the fact I responded with appreciation and behaved professionally. As a sysadmin, I’m supposed to have good support skills. Respond and behave in a professional manner is a requirement for good support skills.

I’m busy. Just like a lot of other people. I work hard, just like a lot of other people. Recruiters are busy and work hard too. Cold calling and contacting people can’t be the greatest job in the world. Remember they’re people too, and hey, one day they might even help you out.

Sometimes I run across a little gem like this one.

Why SysAdmin’s Can’t Code

It covers great little tips about how System Administrators can write better code. Gee, thanks.

Now let me tell you why we don’t code. We can do it, we choose not to.

First of all, if we wanted to be a programmer, we would be programmers. The amount of effort we put into doing ops well could just as easily be applied to learning to program. But, we want to do ops, not sit and write code. Ops provides us the experiences we prefer. Whether it’s infrastructure architecture or saving the day when things go kaput.

You’re right, scripting isn’t programming. We know that. We script to get stuff done. Our scripts are to make repeatable processes more efficient and less prone to operator error. Us devops guys cross the line somewhat, using tools like Chef written by programmers to provide a framework for our scripts. I don’t know about a lot of other people using Chef, but I know most of my Chef scripts are basically just Bash.

We don’t want to learn the latest IDE and develop best practices for working with a version control system with other developers. Code reviews, strategy meetings, QA reviews… what? No thanks, let the programmers get that stuff done. They have 7 hours to commit to this project today, I have 45 minutes and that’s only if all my KLO goes well.

The programmer is working on some fancy algorithm to do something amazing in the program they’re working on. I’m trying to parse 20 days of apache logs to answer a question my manager asked me for an answer to in the next 20 minutes. cat access.log | cut | grep -v | grep -v | grep….

It’s never been we can’t code. Some of us are actually pretty good at it. It’s we don’t have time to code, it’s not what we get paid for.

By now, if you’re reading this, you’ve probably heard about the recent NSA scandal. A systems administrator, who was a contractor, at the NSA recently started releasing secure information about the NSA’s practices in information gathering that could be considered unconstitutional. This post is not about discussing the specifics of that, I’m sure you can find plenty of other people talking about it.

What I want to discuss is some things that I think most systems administrators have known for a long time, that’s become obvious to more than just us now. Before an event like this, we could talk about the risks of data in the cloud and at hosted providers all we want. Most people would assume the risk is minor.

Now though might be a good time to assess what is the value of your data, and is it secure enough? My understanding is Snowden was a well paid ($200k a year) contractor living in a paradise known as Hawaii. He was willing to throw that away.

Now, maybe you hire your own Systems Administrators. You have what you believe is a rigorous hiring process and you don’t hire someone you don’t feel comfortable giving root access to. Makes sense, you’re not going to give someone the keys to all your data without trusting them, right?

Well, if you’re hosting that data in a remote data center or on a cloud, you’ve actually done just that. Sure, ok they don’t have root access to just log in to your server or image (or do they?). They still have access to the data though. In the data center, all they have to do is go grab one of your disks. If you’re doing RAID1 mirroring of all your disks, you may not even catch this ever happened if they swap it in. Unless you got monitoring down to the level of getting an alert when a single drive goes down. In the cloud, heck all the data is on their disks, they can copy what ever they want.

Much like the NSA (according the Snowden) there are policies that exist that say those employees can’t do that. So you’re trusting your hosting provider to hire people that won’t be tempted to sell your data to someone else. Those people probably make a lot less than $200k and unless you’re hosting Hawaii, aren’t living there.

Systems Administrators know the first and best layer of security is the physical security of the disks. That’s why we put locks on the doors. A lot of us put cameras up. Once you’ve put your data outside of that locked door, you’ve suddenly opened up your circle of trust very wide. In most cases the only thing keeping people from doing things with that data you don’t want them to do is their word. Something to think about.

Recently I read a sad tale about a startup by a couple of designers that suffered a complete loss of data due to hard drive failure and no backups. You can read the story here.

The author obviously wasn’t happy handling the infrastructure and admitted he didn’t have a lot of experience in this area.

“In practice it was very painful. I had to compile nginx, install SSL certificates, open ports, tweak config files all over the place. I did some math and I found out that using a third party email delivery would be more expensive than the server itself, so I set up the infrastructure for delivering and receiving emails. I was overwhelmed. Just so much stuff to learn.”

They also appear to not have had time to focus on operations.

“The fact that I didn’t have backups was in the back of my mind the entire time. When we soft launched I thought I would have enough time to learn how to properly back up the server, but in practice that time never came.’

But what really strikes me about the whole thing is that after a failure to manage their infrastructure, they appear to be more focused on hiring a programmer than someone with operations experience.

“What comes next

We need to get programming talent on-board. We believe in owning your product and make it happen with your own means”.

Honestly, in 2013, this isn’t too shocking. With Heroku, Amazon and Rackspace I think a lot of people with great startup ideas have the impression ops isn’t as necessary anymore. Supporters of this idea will likely point out in this case the designers specifically chose not to use those services and ran a dedicated server. To some extent they’re right. But even in these environments you still need to manage your data on some basic operations principles.

Are you relying on Heroku to back up your data? Are pushing snapshot backups to s3? Great. Are you testing that a restore actually works? You’ve made some changes to the code of your application, does it work with the revision you had running last week? If a subpoena for email of one of your employees happens, do you have the procedures in place to choose to comply or not? Is there a single account that can be accessed which can delete all your data and backups?

My suggestion to anyone starting a business is to at least get a consultant to help manage their infrastructure (virtual or otherwise) and compliance before they end up in scenarios like the above.

This post was originally going to be about how happy I was with Kubuntu 13.04. However, I encountered a problem with kwallet that eventually made me look for alternatives.

I read about gnome 3.8 and thought to myself that I hadn’t looked at gnome in a long time. I installed v3.8 via extra repositories on my Kubuntu 13.04 laptop and played with it a bit. I liked it, so I downloaded gnome ubuntu. This has version 3.6 on it and I’ve decided to stick with it for a while rather than installing the 3.8 repositories.

Over all, I’m pretty impressed. I knew there was some things I was going to like from the start. Being back to using a file manager running on top of gvfs of course was going to make live easier when dealing with samba files at work.

The default desktop experience is nice. Very nice. So nice in fact I’m still using the default background. Pretty neat how it changes through out the day. When I fire up a new KDE desktop I usually have about 5 minutes of customizing widgets and panels ahead of me.

Big surprise is Evolution. That time I normally spend tuning a KDE desktop can be spent installing add-ons like evolution-ews. I don’t need davmail anymore. Evolution still isn’t the prettiest application, but man does it ever just work*. I added my google calendar and now when I click on that time display in the top bar I really do have a nice overview of my schedule.

* experienced an evolution crash shortly after typing that. uh?

Multi-display was simple to set up. I did change one keyboard shortcut, activities overview was changed to Super-A. That’s what it was on the 3.8 desktop I played with for a bit. Easier to remember. Speaking of which, the activities overview screen is great. In other desktops I’d have a shortcut I’d use to launch applications, ie: ALT-F2 in KDE or Ctrl-` in e17. Then there would be the various expose shortcuts. In gnome it’s all the same thing. I get a nice expose and the search menu is focused to find applications. Virtual desktop handling is on demand. Sure I’m going to miss the cube, but really, not that much. I liked this virtual desktop with Cinnamon.

I only had to install icedtea-7-plugin to get my juniper VPN working. Note though, that’s because I installed a 32bit version of Linux. I gave up on trying to get it to work with 64bit a long time ago.

It’s not all unicorns and rainbows (sorry, both my daughters are on a My Little Pony kick).

I can’t get HDMI audio to work out my display port. Extensive googling has me hoping that there is a kernel patch coming which may fix this.

Evolution did crash on me when I got a ton of alerts all at once while writing this. Sysadmins can get a whole lot of emails at once when something goes wrong.

It’s sluggish sometimes. I click on the time in the top panel and sometimes there is a noticeable delay before the pull down occurs.

What’s with the 2 online accounts in the system settings?

I can’t get guake to show up on my monitor. It’s stuck to the laptop panel. I liked how I could configure yuake to open on which ever display the mouse cursor was on.

Over all, especially with the kwallet bug it’s more usable that Kubuntu 13.04 right now. There is still a bit of polish missing to the experience though. Hopefully a lot of this will be improved as 3.8 rolls out and the 13.04 version of Ubuntu matures. I like the look and feel.

I did notice that pretty much everything is working. Birghtness and volume keys. The touchpad… I haven’t installed the sputnik kernel for my XPS Ultrabook. I may have to check out some other Gnome distros and see if everything just works with the 3.8 kernel.

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