Neologism: Tumbleweed mode

Jan 10 2020

tumbleweed mode - noun phrase - The phenomenon in which all official support forums for something are either abandoned (no activity for a protected period of time), or any posts that aren't lowball questions (such as "Where's the FAQ?" or replies to release announcements) are utterly ignored (meaning, actual technical support questions).

The overall state of telecommunications.

Dec 08 2019

I'm writing this article well before the year 2020.ev starts, mostly due to the fact that Twitter's search function is possibly the worst I've ever seen and this is probably my last chance to find the post in question to refer back to.

Late in November of 2019.ev a meme was going around birbsite, "Please quote this tweet with a thing that everyone in your field knows and nobody in your industry talks about because it would lead to general chaos."  Due to the fact that I was really busy at work at the time I didn't have a chance to chime in, but then an old friend of mine (and, through strange circumstances, co-worker for a time) told an absolute, unvarnished truth of the telecom industry: "Telecommunications as a whole, which also encompasses The Internet, is in a constant state of failure and just in time fixes and functionally all modern communication would collapse if about 50 people, most of which are furries, decided to turn their pager off for a day."

I don't know of any words in the English language to adequately express how true this statement is.  He's serious as the proverbial heart attack.  For a brief period of time, one solar year almost to the minute in fact, I worked for a telecommunications company in Virginia that no longer exists for reasons that are equal parts fucked up and illegal.  The company was bought out and dismantled roughly a year after I escaped by Zander's employer at the time, and seeing as how this was about fifteen years ago as you read this, I guess I can talk in public about it.

tl;dr - If you value your physical and mental health, don't work in telecom.

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2020.ev

Jan 01 2020

Well, Happy New Year, everyone.  It's now 2020.ev, we're into the third decade of the twenty-first century.

I'm not sure what we're supposed to do now.  Hell, I'm not even sure of what to do with myself this afternoon.  I guess grab whatever downtime we can get before going back to work/school/whatever.

There have been quite a few people joking about bringing back the roaring 20's, with all sorts of memetic payloads (some silly, some not).  Personally, I wouldn't mind seeing the the Invisibles' take on the 1920's make something of a comeback, but what do I know.  Me being me, of course the first thing I thought of was embracing a little more of the cyberpunk in our world because, hey, why not, anything to stay afloat in a world where getting sick for a week can make the difference between having a roof over your head and destitution.

I know, I'm on a bit of a downer right now.  One part being at loose ends, one part feeling age in my hearts, one part... how in the hell did we make it to 2020?

I don't know.  I don't have one of those "best of 2019" or "best of the 201x's" playlists that folks have been passing around.  I don't have any sort of brilliant evocation to give, or inspirational words to say.  No major announcements to make.  I don't even have any public wishes of "please don't let this year suck" because those do about as much good as thoughts and prayers.  I'm just some schmuck trying to figure out what to do with my life, and maybe make the world a little better in the process.

Happy New Year, everyone.  Let's try to do things a bit better.

Neologism: Evolving situation

Dec 29 2019

evolving situation - noun phrase - A situation where, if all hell hasn't broken loose yet it's well on its way.

Well, there's your problem...

Nov 30 2019

UPDATE: 20191230 - Uploaded a copy to my Peertube account.

From time to time I carp about how generally lousy our bandwidth is out here.  Verizon (our CLEC in the Bay Area) has all but given up on maintaining their infrastructure out here, aside from the bare minimum to keep the copper from turning to verdigris.  They gave up on deploying fiber some years ago (local mirror) some years ago, and from the poking around I've done on their side of the fence, their general stance in the Bay Area appears to be "Get everyone on celllar so we can ignore the rest of the network."  Which sucks and does nobody but Verizon's shareholders any good in the long run.

Anyway, after yet another afternoon wasted on the phone with tech support because our speed fell to pre-dialup speeds for reasons unknown, I decided to take the bull by the horns and put some old skills to work.  Out came the fox and hound and my old lineman's test set, and I set about figuring out which lines in the fist-sized morass of ancient wiring outside, if any, were actually hooked up.  The way a fox and hound works is, you clip or plug a tone generator (the fox) into the line you want to trace, and you use a matching inductive probe (the hound) to listen for the sound.  Telephony cables are almost never insulated so you don't need to touch the copper directly, the faint EM field around the wire is sufficient.

I was able to trace the line successfully, but in so doing I found out why our bandwidth was so terrible.  Thankfully, after demonstrating the problem to the contractor that Verizon sent out, we were able to work together to not only rip out the dead cabling outside, but mostly resolve the interference.

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Retro-futurist museum exhibit, SFO, 2019

Nov 29 2019

A common feature at the main terminal of SFO is a museum exhibit of some kind.  My last time through that particular airport they had a retro-futurist display of artifacts that dated back to the Space Age, all rounded corners and brass fittings and suchlike.  Definitely an aesthetic, if that's your sort of thing.

Anyway, pictures.

Pictures from my trip to San Diego, summer 2019.ev

Nov 29 2019

Last summer my day job sent me down to San Diego, CA to attend the Linux Security Summit and report back.  Unfortunately just about all of the content there intersected in no way, shape, or form with anything we're working on so it was largely a dog wash.  I probably won't attend again because, balancing the cost against the information gotten it just wasn't worth it.  I did, however, take a couple of engineers from Oracle for their first good sushi dinner ever, took an amphibious boat tour of San Diego Bay, and hiked along the waterfront for a couple of hours.

Pictures.

Cult of the Dead Cow book signing, 22 June 2019.

Nov 29 2019

If you were part of the hacker scene in the 1980's or 90's (or you played a certain tradition in Mage: The Ascension around that time) you undoubtedly have come across the weird, wonderful, bewildering, and occasionally insightful antics of The Cult of the Dead Cow, a crew of hackers originally based out of Texas who were well known for their periodic text file releases.  What isn't well known until very recently is that many cDc alumni have gone on to do great things, from starting one of the first security companies to ascending to C-level status at some well known megacorps to overseeing government security initiatives.  Earlier this year one Joseph Menn (nice guy, by the bye) wrote a book about them which is extensively researched and fun to read in general.  Menn's book tour happened to bring him to the Internet Archive along with some cDc alumni.

Bask in the presence of the C0w.

Using Ansible to restart a bunch of services running under systemd in --user mode.

Dec 02 2019

Let's say that you have a bunch of servers that you admin en masse using Ansible.  You have all of them listed and organized in your /etc/ansible/hosts file.  Let's say that each server is running a system service (like my Systembot) running under systemd in --user mode.  (Yes, I'm going to use my exocortex-halo/ repository for this, because I just worked out a good way to keep everything up to date and want to share the technique for everyone new to Ansible.  Pay it forward, you know?)  You want to use Ansible to update your copy of Systembot across everything so you don't have to SSH into every box and git pull the repo to get the updates.  A possible Ansible playbook to install the updates might look something like this:

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