October 2009 Archives

links for 2009-10-30

Wild Cowboys on the IRC


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Now that I've nearly completed my Asterisk setup on the shiny new OpenBSD box. I must discuss the journey. Part of the reason of dismantling my previous Trixbox setup was to take full advantage of a installing Asterisk without the aid or hindrance of a GUI. After peeling the onion, I discovered that Trixbox generates a ton of configuration files and it creates many superfluous macros. I also learned that you cannot simply restore a Trixbox config file to a new Asterisk install, as there will be a fair amount of tweaking required.

Over the years, I have learned that when you're working with Free Software, you must be willing to read, read, read and read even further. There really is no substitute for this type of learning. I always refer to it as a floor exercise, strengthen your skills by repetition, fatigue and humiliation. This has been the way, learn by doing and not watching. However, there are times when you simply have to ask someone for help. Yeah, even the more experienced headz ask for help. The sad truth is that I often get into tasks which not many people in my close network of friends really understand, so you cannot ask them for help.

So you find substitutes, sometimes GOOG, othertimes IRC. In this particular case, #asterisk was a logical choice for me. I spent a great deal of time watching the type of questions placed on the channel. Many ranged from nOOb to medium level of difficulty. I would say that I'm in that nOOb to medium level of understanding. My struggle was primarily with dialplan(extensions.conf), though I also needed to make a some modifications to my sip.conf
file. There must be thousands of sites which describe the various incantations of dialplans and strategies. It should also be noted that many of these sites are laden with errors. You simply cannot cut and paste, you need to understand well defined contexts within both sip.conf and extensions.con. Perhaps most importantly you should really make an intelligible flow chart to help organize your thoughts which will also mitigate many errors.

Well as I stated earlier, I spent a substantial amount of time chatting on the IRC and getting constructive and not so constructive feedback from #asterisk channel. There was one admin who really seemed rather agitated. In his defense, I suppose that he is a grizzled veteran who simply loathes questions from people who really have not bothered to read any docs. Secondly, it is very difficult to diagnose technical problems from nOObs who cannot articulate the issue very well. While pastebin is a very helpful tool, sometimes a very active channel makes it quite challenging to get your message to the appropriate person.

What annoyed me was the tone from this guy. He assumed that I didn't understand networking 101. He insisted that I didn't know the difference between two clients and an asterisk server behind a Nat'd router vs setup which did not require a nat'd router configuration. There are not many SOHO based setups that do not make use of NAT (Network Address Translation). I'm not interested in paying for a static, publicly routed IP address. Despite my explanation and fairly descriptive summaries I couldn't convince him that I wasn't an idiot. I began to believe that he was in fact the idiot. To make matters worse, I often believe that people take many liberties that would not normally be afforded to them because they have ultimate comfort and safety of the keyboard, nondescript alias and possibly spoofed FQDN/IP address. I wonder if they would be so snarky and rude if we were in the same room having an adult conversation? Methinks if you're going to be a channel admin of a very popular software project you ought to realize that people using the software make your existence on the channel necessary. Whether you are getting paid or not (I would imagine the latter is more true), be a good sport and answer the questions as they are posed. Do not assume that you are omnipotent and everyone else are unworthy subjects who are begging for your mercy ;-)
If you do not like serving in this volunteer capacity, quit and give the responsibility to someone else.

Nonetheless, I was able to get my dialplan functional(it at least rings the extensions now), just need to configure the IVR and customize the voicemail features. Actually, I am rather proud of myself considering that I just started playing with Asterisk one year ago.
I still have a fair amount of work left, but the journey has been satisfying and I am sure that I'll never use Trixbox again.

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It's Seminar Time Again - Tang Soo !

It has been awhile since I talked about my martial arts training. To be clear, I am still working out, but not nearly as much as years past. This is due in large part to life changes and the dearth of new students entering our dojang. It really is much more fun to teach willing students. I suppose the bigger problem is student retention. Because I would like to think that I will be a lifelong student, I will always be on the look out for a new challenge.

There was a time when I would seek out schools and play the role of visiting student. This was always alot of fun, as people would sometimes as questions about the midnight blue trim and belt. These days, I do not get many opportunities to do so, but I miss it immensely.

Well today, I will get a chance to participate in our bi-annual seminar and Dan testing.
As I've mentioned previously, the seminar typically last roughly 2 - 3 hrs then after a short break, the Dan or black belt testing ensues. Our federation president, Grandmaster Saul Kim, leads the training session. I look forward to the nuances that he gradually adds to our training. Ho Shin Sul or self defense and the focus drills are my favorite. Unfortunately, I missed the previous seminar in March due to other traveling obligations.
I'm looking forward to our work out today. I have noticed that the economy has played havoc on attendance at our previous seminars. Hopefully, there will be new faces and better attendance. I will post pics as they become available.

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Scintillating October

As I sit here watching AJ Burnett yield four runs in the first inning of the Game 5 of the ALCS, I still have to marvel at the play of my beloved Yankees (aka Murderous Row Bx Bombers). Before I wax poet and appreciate what a difference a year makes (see NY Yankees 2008 campaign). I have to comment on the very poor performance of the umpires. For those who do not follow baseball, the umpire crew is basically hand picked for post season play. So, you're not watching a group of meatballs. It just begs the question of instant replay and its place in major league baseball.
While I do not appreciate poor officiating, I am not quite sure how the game stoppage would play out within baseball. Clearly the flow of a baseball game is quite different than that of football. The NFL seems to have mastered instant replay, but I am not so sure that MLB will know how best to implement it. Nonetheless, the umps have really been an embarrassment for MLB.

Regarding the Yanks, they have been dominant this post season. Everyone likes to talk about high payrolls and money ball, but at the end of the day you must have players that execute. It does appear that they are doing just that. The play of C.C Sabathia and Alex Rodriguez have been particularly remarkable. The pitching staff has a collective 1.91 ERA in the post season. Very impressive stuff. Sabathia signed a huge contract during the off-season, and in the words of Mike Lupica, he has accepted the responsibility of winning in NY without any hesitation. Actually, the Bombers have lacked a "lights out" ace in their rotation '96-'98 seasons. As good as Chien-Ming Wang has been, he was not an ace. He could not pitch on short rest, nor could he win big post season contests on the road. Sabathia has been "all that" and then some. Without question he has set the tone for the Yankee rotation. I do not believe that he has any fear whatsoever.

For the moment, Rodriguez has quieted the critics and has delivered All-Star caliber performance. I have noticed that his batting stance is a bit different. He has given up on the leg kick prior to swinging the bat through the zone. Obviously he is very relaxed at the plate. There is only one Mr. October, but A-Rod is certainly earning his pinstripes at the best possible time.
The Yankees are building the type of momentum that will make them difficult to beat. The quest for 27 World Championship titles will be an exciting one indeed. The Phils await a very hungry NY ballclub. It should be a fun World Series. Yanks in 6.

Joe Girardi is clearly a manager who loves to make decisions, I also understand that he has an engineering background (Industrial Engineering - Northwestern), so it stands to reason that he will use tons of data to make a decision. The trouble with this approach is that the game that is being played before your eyes usually holds all the evidence you need. Moreover, Girardi has a ton of tools at his disposal, which could also be his undoing. I generally have liked our skipper's decisions; however, I do believe he over-managed Game3. Another curious move was leaving journey utility man Eric Hinske off the ALCS roster. Girardi opted for speed Guzman over power Hinske's bat. I do hope that Girardi reverses his decision against the Phils.

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Brand CampU '09

I spent the majority of my last Saturday at LTU. I was there to partake in a homegrown 1-day conference called Brand CampU. BCU is the brainchild of my buddy Hajj Flemings. In fact, the 2009 conference was the 2nd in a series of annual events. In truth, I had wanted to attend the '08 event, but I simply could not get away from previous obligations.

Nonetheless, I was able to attend this year and was quite glad that I did so. In a nutshell BrandCamp is social media discussion with a slant towards entrepreneurship. Hajj is very passionate about building the personal brand. There was also a fair amount of inspirational conversation which served to cajole people on the proverbial entrepreneurship fence. I am sure that I came away with a firm belief that I could also achieve greater heights. The only limitation is fear of the unknown or paradigm shift.

I was able to observe three talks:

  • Ken Brown - McDonalds Franchisee
  • Scott Monty - Global Digital and Communications Manager
  • April Holmes - 2008 Paralympian Gold Medalist

Ken Brown's conversation was very down-to-earth. He reminded me of an ordained minister. Certainly was a crowd favorite, and really wanted to impart memorable one-liners. The use of acronyms was hysterical. I really appreciated is personal story of struggle and triumph.

Scott Monty's discussion centered around large companies engaging non-traditional media outlets. For obvious reasons, I found this topic very intriguing. What troubled me most about the dialogue was the persistent use of transparency. While I understand that large Fortune 100 have "discovered" the value of social media, very much in the way they discovered the World Wide Web (aka global interweb). I still think discovery does not translate to competence. Flavor of the month thinking is not sustainable in the long term. Regarding the use of transparency.. Methinks that for a company to be truly transparent, you must risk being unpopular. Some might even suggest that you must be unafraid to "lift up your skirt" and share the dirty laundry. I'm not sure that people really understand this fact. Though it's cool for a CEO to understand that Twitter exists. However, it is a totally different matter to have customers share design ideas with Product Development engineers. This is the place where true discovery takes place. More on this later. When I think about this particular discussion, I like to reference a very good text entitled, "The Cluetrain Manifesto - The end of business as usual". I remember Doc Searls talking about markets as conversations. If folks are unwilling to have meaningful and frank discussions about what is right and wrong about their business, no progress will ever be made. I could talk about this ad-nausea, but I will hold my tongue in cheek :-)

The last talk was perhaps the most inspiring. April Holmes is a world class athlete who happens to be a paralympian. She shared a tremendous a painful story that was quite poignant. If there was a means to move folks to action, I believe her Olympic dream was a classic.
Aside from her supreme struggle, I was also very impressed with her use of the crowd sourcing. Specifically utilizing her brand which is two-fold. The gold medal that she earned at Beijing is very much part of her successful personal brand. For instance, she purposely shared her gold medal with all of the conference participants. Clearly, most if not all of the attendees had neither wore nor been photographed with an Olympic gold medal. Of course, while medal was being passed around the conference hall people were taking photos or capturing a quick video for YouTube of their 5minutes of fame with an Olympic gold medal. In a clever use of social networking, her personal brand was advertised for free via flickr, Twitter, and whatever other social media conference attendees were utilizing during their stay at BrandcampU 2009. Very impressive indeed. I was happy to learn that she also collaborated with the Air Jordan brand. It will certainly help cement her status as mainstream business woman. She is clearly well-coached and very astute business person.

Definitely, enjoyed my first BrandCampU, it helped me understand the idea of personal branding in the context of social networking. I am clear that I could be doing more for my personal brand. First matter is defining where I wish to take my brand. Where is my digital footprint most popular? Who recognizes my expertise?

Additionally, it also helped me observe that while large companies might be "getting it", there is a fine line between adoption and true transparency. I like to think that you can't put on an afro and slacks and then say you've got soul. It takes hard work and much substance to really embrace social networking. In my mind blogging will always be the cornerstone, well after Facebook and Twitter disappear. I also think blogging and IRC will be the most functional and grassroots aspect of social networking (at least for me).

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Neuros OSD

Neuros OSD

Originally uploaded by AG_

I purchased this device roughly a year ago and it collected dust for nearly six months after purchase. I just never seemed to have the time to set it up. One day after listening to an episode of TLLTS, where Neuros OSD project founder Joe Born expounding on the OSD (Open Source Device) and its successor (Link), I figured that I would take it out the box.

For whatever reason, I had problems getting my TV to play nice with it. The remote worked fine, but I could not get the video out working. After spending a bit of time sending email to the mailing list and the ubiquitous GOOG searching. I decided that I would send an email to Joe Born.

Mr. Born was very happy to help me. In the true spirit of an Open Source, he was willing to share solutions. Even when my own hubris got in the way, Joe always took the position that the device should just work. I got the feeling that he assumed a personal responsibility to make sure that neither he nor Neuros Technology would leave any customer behind. A very refreshing perspective indeed. Particularly since the OSD is a first generation device for the Neuros company. It has already been superseded by their next model hardware. The Link. So, he really did not have to help me.

Well, I did get it working. As it turned out the Sony TV would display the OSD menu system on the DBS TV display option and not Video 1 output. The OSD is serving the role as a video extender, so it can play all of my video that is served up via NFS on my Promise NS4300n NAS.

I have only encountered a couple of problems. From the photo, you can tell that I've got every port occupied. The 16GB compact flash houses the Arizona firmware which of course runs Linux (2.6.x kernel).

It would be great if their was a means to reliably handle video using Wi-Fi. The CAT5 connection looks hideous, as I have to run a very long cable run to the device. This is more of an aesthetic problem and not a technical one.

After I setup the network settings and flashed the device, I was able to grab roughly six firmware updates. As I stated earlier, it had been sitting in a box for quite awhile. I like the ability to grab YouTube videos and play them on my TV. Only problem is the GOOG continues to change the manner of which videoclips are streamed or at least stored on their servers. Moreover, I am not sure if their are any Neuros developers still working on Arizona firmware updates. I would imagine that people simply have become weary of the moving target that is YouTube / GOOG video storage. Nonetheless, python scripts like 'youtube-dl' work just fine and I have been able to grab files from YouTube. Who knows, I'll have to visit #neuros or their mailing list to see if anyone has a solution.

Bottom line, I luv the device and it simply just works.

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links for 2009-10-06

Ohio Linux Fest 2009

Having missed OLF last year, I was determined to make the 3.5hr drive to Columbus, OH this year.
Though I arrived much later than desired, I enjoyed the following talks.

  • Fedora, OLPC Lessons Learned and Where Do We Go From Here - David Nalley
  • Open Source Telephony in an Economic Downturn - John Todd

It was interesting to learn the perspective of the value of OLPC some 5yrs after the project was realized. Nalley addressed a range of questions that touched upon XO deployment, global politics, education, and the problems created by Negroponte's choice of accepting the prospect of using M$ XP on the XO. Some people from the audience were disappointed in the dearth of XO availability in the US. The pervasive argument is that we have developing "villages" on US shores. What about our own children?

The G1G1 program is an on again off again program which does provide a means to get your hands on the neat XO hardware. Of course, the main crux is delivering these machines to developing nations. IMHO the entire netbook market was spawned by the OLPC project. Obviously, this was not Negroponte's intent. Nonetheless, OLPC has leveraged free software and also raised the ante in the computer manufacturing sector. OEMs must now begin to rethink their software design principles and of course deal with slumping sales which have led to razor thin profit margins.

I got an opportunity to meet John Todd, Digium Community Leader. It was fun giving him a hard time about his running OSX at a Linux Conference :-) Somehow we got into mobile handsets and I then learned that he had a compliment of 4 or 5 handsets. That deserves a wow. His talk was quite appropriate since we are in the midsts of one of the worst economic downturns of record. I particularly appreciated how he explained how Asterisk and other free software could provide economic freedoms not recognized by using proprietary software.

The stick figures he used in his presentation were also popular with the crowd.

Lastly, the keynote was especially satisfying, as it capped the entire, "Celebration of 40yrs of Unix" theme for OLF 2009. Dr. Doug Mcilroy provided the audience with an excellent account of the virtues as well as the vices of the venerable Unix operating system. One particularly humorous highlight was the SSH reference. He noted that there were at least 64 different switches (CLI options) that could be used to solve various problems using SSH. Certainly a far cry from the small tools used to perform one job well, which incidently has been the mantra of Unix users for a number years. Yes, of course Unix is user friendly, it is just particular about the friends it keeps :-)

It was fun chatting with Dr. Mcilroy after his talk, he made many contributions to Unix while working at AT&T Bell Labs. I asked him about his role in the development of the '|' (pipe) command. He modestly stated that he did not invent it, but he was the muse for its invention. Quite cool indeed. Heh, perhaps I'll meet Kernighan and Ritchie one day too.

Though, I got to OLF later than desired, I really enjoyed meeting all of the TLLTS guys. Of course were great too. This was my second OLF experience. I do hope to attend many more.

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