CactiView

It’s been a while coming and I apologise to those who have been waiting but finally I have publicly released CactiView.

CactiView

All the details are in the README inside the tar.gz, but here is a quick description for those who do not know:

CactiView gives you a clean and simple view of one graph from Cacti at a time. You can
name the graphs, and set the automatic rotation duration.

The display includes one main large graph for the last 12 hours, 3 smaller graphs with longer time periods and a couple of other bits and bobs of information.

Please let me know what you think.

CactiView is available for download here: http://denness.net/downloads/cactiview-0.1.tar.gz

Or on Github here: http://github.com/lozzd/CactiView/

Nationwide Discontinues Support for Microsoft Money Syncing

I would consider myself to be “fairly good” with money; I like to try and save, I obsessively check my bank balance, and I use Microsoft Money 2005 to keep track of where it goes.
Microsoft Money is a fantastic little tool, even though I use very little of it’s capabilities. The ones I use mainly involve graphs and trends, and if you know me at all that won’t surprise you. It will learn that transactions with Sainsbury’s are food, and Shell is diesel. Over time it will provide me with graphs to tell me “Hey, your spending on food has increased 13% to £X” or “You realise you never spend anything on computer games but you do now?”

Of course, most people cannot be bothered with the sheer boredom of entering every transaction into Money. Some people can’t even be bothered to open a browser, log into to their online banking, download the CSV, import it, make sure it all makes sense… I am one of these people.

Until the 22nd of October 2009 Nationwide were the only bank in the UK to support completely automatic downloading of all your banking data and statements into Money. They were the only bank to EVER support it. Whereas it’s very common in the US for banks to do so, for some reason it never got a lot of interest in the UK which I think it a shame; I’ve been using it for at least 5 years through different versions of Microsoft Money and it’s worked flawlessly since then. I open Money and it instantly downloads all my new transactions, and all I have to do is approve them. It will even understands the difference between savings accounts, current accounts and credit cards, and what you get out is quick and easy to understand graphs and if you want, tips on saving money/paying off debts etc.

But now, all this is no more. Tonight I was only greeted with an error. A quick search on the Nationwide site reveals that just 4 days ago Nationwide shut off this service for good. I suppose I can’t be all that surprised, given that Microsoft hasn’t released a new version of Money for quite some time. Some Googling presents a quote supposedly from Nationwide:

“The decision to stop the Microsoft Money service, after so many years
is primarily due to the provider stopping their own support for the
product. As they assist us with any technical issues and licence us to
provide a dedicated server for this system and we will no longer be able
to do so from 22nd October, the service is no longer available. Please
note this software does not access our main online bank, as you do from
our homepage, it uses a special server designed and maintained under an
agreement from Microsoft they are no longer providing.”

These words are oh so familiar and makes the cut-off even less surprising: special server, license, support… I’m sure there is a lot of good reasons behind the scenes for the cut-off and with Microsoft powering the backend the end date was always going to come.

I do wonder, however, just how many people this affected. There was no communication at all from Nationwide or Microsoft; and searching for the issue online provides many blogs and forum posts of disgruntled users, who no longer have quick and easy access to their data. I do half wonder whether I could find out the file format of the system (OFX is a standard, if it does indeed use that) and write my own proxy that logs in and turns the data into something Money can understand. This is made even more necessary because apparently Money won’t accept a CSV, it will only accept OFX (which seems reasonably given OFX is an open standard for financial data exchange) and Nationwide won’t/don’t provide this. If they did, making the few extra steps to import my data wouldn’t be such a big deal, but as it stands it’s a huge pain.

Sennheiser CX550 Style II In-ear headphones review

I am currently in a position where I’m commuting to my job in London from the far away countryside of Hampshire. It’s a 2-3 month thing… And so far I’ve quite enjoyed it. More than anything it gives me a good 2 hours a day to listen solidly to music, whereas if I try and listen at work I get a lot of interruptions.

I had my Sony Fontopia MDR-EX71 in-ear headphones for at least 3 years and they had served me well; pretty good sound, quite bassy and comfortable. But as I was listening more and more I thought I would treat my ears, having a gift certificate for Amazon leftover from Christmas and them being in stock at a 40% reduction of the RRP. (Link goes to Amazon)

Enough rambling more reviewing. The box is very nice, and comes with a really nice carry case which I actually decided to use, a cable extension (also in use; far too short for me otherwise), a clip (not used yet) and 6 pairs of ear buds. The last item is the most confusing; I was familiar with the fact that in-ear headphones have the best sound when they have a perfect fit. However, the only instructions (printed on the back of the box) merely suggesting  that you should pick the buds that fit; they did NOT indicate what the difference between the two types of buds are. One set of 3 sizes are a standard rubbery dome, the other set are the same but with a ridge halfway down. I couldn’t work out what this was for, so I’ve settled for the non ridged variety. In the end I started with the smallest pair, which ended up being a tad small, so I moved onto the medium… Which are a tad big, but fit fairly well. I couldn’t tell any difference in sound quality between the two.

Let’s move on to the pressing matter of how they sound. I read so many reviews of in-ear headphones and which were the best for my budget, and it just made me terrified whether it was worth it at all! But in my opinion, it was totally worth it. I have a set of full size Sennheiser headphones at work, and the EQ set on my media player accordingly. I like bass. A lot. I plugged in these instead of my full size cans, and my ear drums almost exploded with bass! It sounded absolutely awful! With the EQ disabled things sounded… Perfect. (Röyksopp – Happy Up Here)

First train journey home and into the iPod (Classic), the main device these things will be powered by, and the first thing I noticed was the volume level.. Previously, I quite often had the volume turned up very close to all the way or all the way; with these I can only hit 3/4 before my ears start to hurt. This of course means a lot less distortion coming from the iPod (I still use the EQ on there to get the desired amount of bass) as it doesn’t clip.

Bass is impressive: I’ve had a mainly electronic week since purchasing simply because it sounds so great, full, deep, powerful. Kosheen, The Crystal Method, Goldfrapp, Leftfield, all sounding wonderfully full and bassy, with absolutely no distortion; the high frequencies still clear and crisp, without being harsh and thrashy. On the rockier side of things, Muse were sounding great too; beautifully balanced and once again providing equal volume without having to turn it down because of overly tinny cymbals. I haven’t found something that I didn’t enjoy to listen to yet, and having the extra volume is a plus since I have some tracks that were previously ripped at a low volume which I couldn’t enjoy listening to before because they were so quiet.

In terms of isolation, they work as expected; loud train announcements are 95% gone, everything else is a distant blur, fantastic for switching off. Actually, it freaks me out a bit much and I don’t use them all that much when walking around because I find the lack of sound a bit disconcerting, but that’s standard with these type of headphones.

Another thing that commonly harms in-ear headphones is the cable noise. A lot of the reviews of the Sennheiser CX95 (the predecessor of these) were put off by the cable noise; I personally don’t see that much of a problem when I’ve walked around with them, perhaps I listen to music louder than others; you do get a shirt clip included though, which some reviewers noted fixes the problem.

There is one other thing that lets these down; For some reason they do hurt my ears a bit after 45-50 minutes of use, which never happened with my Sony’s. This doesn’t happen every time, so I think it’s because they’re longer and you can wear them at different angles. Something to experient with. It’s the plastic hurting the exterior of my ears rather than the rubber parts inside the ear, so I think it’s probably my problem rather than the headphones.

It’s a real shame the nature of these type of earphones means you can’t really try before you buy; at least in this case the packaging could probably be resealed in a way that made them look unopened (none of that horrible plastic stuff here), but I wouldn’t want to receive a pair of headphones that someone had already had in their ears!

I would definitely recommend these to someone who was looking to purchase some headphones. Whether it’s worth upgrading from a pair worth £30-40? I wouldn’t call myself an expert, and there is no scientific test here; but I think they’re worth it. 4.5/5

Any questions, please feel free to ask in the comments.

If you’re considering buying this product, and I can recommend Amazon for their excellent service, please use the link below.

Setting up a DRAC card using Debian

Today I was faced with the problem of setting the IP address of a DRAC (dedicated Dell Remote Access Card, which are super by the way, and a lot lot quicker than Sun’s effort) in a Dell server that was powered on, running something production on the Debian OS, and I had no physical access to the server, so no rebooting for configuration was possible.

Now, if you have an idea of what IP address is on that card already you can talk to it remotely which isn’t a problem. The problem was, I had no idea what the IP address was currently set it to and it wasn’t DHCP. Even so, I had no copy of the racadm command, the Dell tool to control the card. (omconfig is available on Debian now which is nice, but omconfig bmc is a deprecated command and indicates to use racadm!)

Let me tell you how to set the IP address with just a simple install of Debian and little effort. (I’m sure this on the internet somewhere but I had difficulties finding it. I expect my Google-fu was weak today.)

Install IPMItool from apt:

apt-get install ipmitool

Load the IPMI driver into /dev/ so we can talk to the card:

/usr/share/ipmitool/ipmi.init.basic

You can now print the current config of the card:

ipmitool lan print 1

Set the new IP address up, if you want to configure it manually:

ipmitool lan set 1 ipaddr 172.0.0.10
ipmitool lan set 1 netmask 255.255.255.0
ipmitool lan set 1 defgw ipaddr 172.0.0.1
ipmitool lan set 1 ipsrc static

Or set it to DHCP if you want:

ipmitool lan set 1 ipsrc dhcp

Check your settings:

ipmitool lan print 1

Reboot the DRAC; You may not have to do this, I did (and/or I’m impatient)

ipmitool mc reset cold

Within a minute the card should be up and responding to ping. Hurrah!

Note: I tried these on a DRAC4 card, and whilst it looked like it was accepting my instructions, it seems it was infact completely ignoring me. I had to configure this one manually in the BIOS. These commands work fine on a DRAC5 though.

Finding a Web Browser for constant page reloading

One of the things I have done whilst working at Last.fm is create a simple system whereby critical monitoring is displayed on screens that we have hanging from the ceiling. There is one in each corner of the room, and opposite monitors display the same thing (e.g. two monitors display our key Cacti graphs, and two display Nagios monitoring output, so everyone in the room can see it). This is achieved through a simple dual output graphics card, and a couple of two-way monitor splitters (and a lot of cable!)

The software itself is simple: The data is displaying using some PHP scripts written by myself specifically for output on these 22″ screens, and are hosted on our servers, so all that is required to display them is a web browser.You can see these two pages in action here (Naglite2) and here (CactiView)

Very simple, or so you would think. The problem is, with the nature of this data, it needs to be refreshed constantly. The graphs are in a rotation controlled by a Javascript frame that changes to a new URL every 20 seconds, and the services/host up/down notification screen updates with a meta refresh every 5 seconds. Again, sounds pretty simple. Here are my findings:

Initial Configuration – Ubuntu Linux with Firefox 3

Being my browser of choice anyway, I set everything up in Firefox to start with. We figured Linux desktop would be more stable for hosting this rather than Windows. F11 to fullscreen mode on both the monitors, and off it goes. We didn’t notice it too much at the time, but it’s pretty annoying the way it deals with the refreshing of the images.. It clears the page, and loads the images one by one, leading to a noticable flashing of the screen every time it reloads the page. Not only that, it was the worst browser we used, leading to 90% RAM usage (on a 2gb machine) after just a day. At this point, not only did it become very sluggish, but it would stop displaying the graphs randomly, and eventually ending up in severe corruption of all the images, mixing them together in an interesting fashion. Connecting via VNC every day and restarting Firefox became a bit of a chore, so we decided to give up and try something else.

Second configuration – Ubuntu Linux with Opera

Straight away Opera was performing much better than Firefox. It seemed to almost pre-load the images for the next set of graphs before it refreshed the page, leading to no flickring of the screen, just seamless re-loading of the page. It also managed a week before showing any signs of slowing down, but after that point the graphs started disappearing again. Opera had suffered the same fate as Firefox… Using all the memory available on the machine.

We also had another little problem.. We have the time printed in the bottom right of the screen (as text rather than an image) and even by forcing cache control headers, Opera was caching the pages. The clock would move between 5-10 minutes as each graph appeared. I discovered that Opera has some advanced preferences that lets you disable the cache completely. Whilst this fixed the problem with the clock, it meant that it then only survived 2-3 days before exhausting the memory usage. We put up with this for a number of months, before deciding to move on.

Hello Webkit

At this point, Russ and I thought it was about time we gave a Webkit based browser a shot. Konquerer seemed a good choice.. We installed kubuntu-desktop, and got Konquerer running, but had trouble getting it in a proper full screen mode. Eventually we managed to hide the tab bar, but the status bar was still there. Although we found some hacks to remove it, we wanted to try something in particular, which ended up with a radical change…

Current configuration – Windows XP and Google Chrome

We really wanted to give Google Chrome (Chromium) a go on Linux, but unfortunately it’s not quite at it’s prime yet… More than anything, we couldn’t get the pages to load at all because the HTTP Auth dialog has yet to be coded. (it simply doesn’t appear. As a side note, using the user:password@ url notation makes it crash!)

After a quick hour of installation, drivers and updates, we had the screens back up and running with XP and Chromium. The nice points so far have been:

  • Turning the two different pages we use into their own Apps using the Google Gears “Create application shortcut” menu option. Now we have a single icon to click to open one window, and another for the other.
  • Separate processes – Now we can monitor which tab is using the RAM, and just restartthe offending process if it becomes a problem
  • The biggest win by far – It leaks very little memory. So far after using it for a week, the process running the text only Nagios view has not used any more RAM than it did when we started it (35mb). The Cacti graphs screen, reloading graphs 24/7 for a week every 20 seconds has used just 80mb (40mb when it started). The reason for this is obvious; if you watch the usage, it loads the page, the memory increases by 5mb. After a few secnods, it drops by 5mb again. So there is a small memory leak somewhere but it seems Chrome is cleaning up after itself almost immediately, something which the other 2 browsers failed miserably at.

The overall functionality of the system is much the same.. I have compiled a couple of exe’s so that one switches off the displays and one turns them back on again (This combined with Task Scheduler means we save the planet whilst we’re not at work!) and VNC server functions actually better on Windows than on Linux (for some reason the secondary monitor displayed as a black screen on Linux, so you could control but not see it).

Downsides

The only downside of the Google Chrome based solution is: Webkit doesn’t support “text-decoration: blink”! In the image linked above, you can see we use the text CRITICAL for a service that is broken, and DOWN for a host that is having an issue. These used to blink, which was a nice touch to draw your eye to the issue. This is about the only valid use of “text-decoration: blink” I can think of, but unfortunately the webkit developers have chosen not to support it. Any support on this ticket would be appreciated!

We’re currently using the bleeding edge dev version, simply because it was the only version that had F11 Full screen mode in. This works very well, and it’s also very stable for a bleeding edge release (although obviously we aren’t using it like a regular browser).

Fin

If you’re after a browser that can handle sitting there all day and night happily refreshing a page, and you don’t mind running Windows (for now, anyway) then it seems Google Chrome may be your best bet. I will continue to evaluate it’s performance and maybe one day we can find something even better.

Any comments are welcome and we’re still open to suggestions, although I’m pretty happy I won’t have to restart Chrome for a few months if this trend continues!

Really stop Vista from waking you up in the middle of the night

I posted something a little while back about my troubles with getting Vista to stop waking up randomly in the middle of the night.

Enough was enough, so I decided to go for a clean install to see if that fixed it and a number of other problems I had. And what do you know, it STILL woke up randomly, and the wake cause was still “unknown”. Extremely frustrating considering it was a completely new installation.

I dug around a little more and in the end had to settle for this handy tip: If your computer keeps waking up (and it might be my motherboard/OS combination it appears, it looks like an Asus thing…) run these commands and it will completely disable ACPI wakeup:

1. powercfg -setacvalueindex scheme_current sub_sleep bd3b718a-0680-4d9d-8ab2-e1d2b4ac806d 0
2. powercfg -setdcvalueindex scheme_current sub_sleep bd3b718a-0680-4d9d-8ab2-e1d2b4ac806d 0
3. powercfg -setactive scheme_current

This way, whether on AC or on DC, the Vista will refuse to wake up if the motherboard sends a call asking for it. This is good if you get random wakeups, but it does of course mean that if there is a legimate reason that your computer should wake itself (e.g., Windows Media Center waking to record a program) it will no longer do it. However, you can re-enable it if you need this functionality for, say, a day or two, by simply swapping the 0’s for 1’s in the above commands. For me, it’s far more attractive to have a sound night sleep without your machine coming out of sleep for no reason!

Ever think your Dell XPS M1330 is a bit whiney?

After a few CPU overheating issues (note: I love my M1330, would recommend to anyone.) this evening I happen to notice my laptop has a particularly loud whine. Not sure if it was ever that bad, I had heard it before but thought nothing of it. A quick Google found this gem:

Start> Control Panel> Device manager>

– Click on the Bluetooth radio’s node (the plus sign)
– right click on “Dell Truemobile 355 Bluetooth + EDR”
– Go to properties
– Click the Power Management tab
– UNCHECK: Allow the computer to turn off this device to save power.

The second I clicked OK, the whining stopped. Fantastic stuff! Perhaps this is because I have Bluetooth on constantly or something, and Windows and the BIOS are trying to fight to turn it on or off. I have no idea, but it worked.

Automatic Bluetooth Sync for Windows Mobile 6

Current Mood:Happy emoticon Happy

My housemate dragged out his old Windows Mobile 2003 PocketPC and got it all hooked up for ActiveSync to our corporate mail server, and whilst doing it he found this awesome hack that lets you assign a single button to a) connect the bluetooth port and b) start an ActiveSync.

Handy, I thought, since at the moment with my Vista laptop and Windows Mobile 6 device you have to open the ActiveSync application and then right menu then “Connect using Bluetooth…”

I failed on the first step, however, when if you go to Menu in ActiveSync on WM6, then connections, you can only choose to automatically connect to “`USB”, not Bluetooth. D’oh! So the “replog.exe” hack kinda worked.. It was triggering ActiveSync but it wasn’t really sure what do. I tried editing the registry key (HKEY_CURRENT_USER\ControlPanel\Comm) to “`BlueToothActiveSync” which is how it worked on WM2003 to no avail.

After some Googling I found HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Comm\Rasbook.. A list of all your connections. And in there, voila, the name of my laptop. Windows Mobile 6 obviously handles it slightly differently and allows many different Bluetooth AS connections. I gave it a shot, and changed HKCU\ControlPanel\Comm\Cnct to the name of my laptop, and voila! It started the Bluetooth port, and then start the ActiveSync. The only thing is doesn’t do is disconnect again, which it does on WM2003, but no matter; it’s not too bad hitting the disconnect button 🙂

On a completly seperate note, I wish the rain would go away. I don’t like getting soaked walking to and from work! 🙁

IRC and BES and You

Current Mood:Cool emoticon Cool

I got this wonderful Blackberry device courtesy of work, since I’m on call and people want emails answering quickly etc, etc.

The miracle of BIM and Google Talk is fantastic.. lots of ways to talk to my fellow operations coworkers, but there was something missing. We use good old IRC at Last.fm to communicate, so when something goes a bit wrong its nice to be able to jump in and see what’s gone on (or whether no one is fixing anything and its up to you..!)

On a first search there was plenty of good IRC clients around. Unfortunately I couldn’t get any to work… They just said disconnected from server. Using MidpSSH I telnet’d to the server and got a connection refused.. Then I changed the connection method to “TCP” and it worked fine. Great! But no such option exists in any IRC client (Mobilirc is the best one at the moment it seems).

So, the BES won’t forward the traffic, the BES isn’t even managed by us, and both apps are open source. Let’s delve into the code!

else if ( spec.blackberryConnType == SessionSpec.BLACKBERRY_CONN_TYPE_DEVICESIDE ) {
conn.append(“;deviceside=true”);

References to “deviceside”… basically it proxies via the BES, so that’s deviceside=false, which is the default if not specified. Funnily enough. Mobilirc doesn’t specifiy this, so I jump in and add the line, so it now looks like this:

connector = (StreamConnection) Connector.open(“socket://” + host + “:” + port + “;deviceside=true”, Connector.READ_WRITE);

After a couple of hours of trying to get the Blackberry Development Environment working for me, I managed to get a .jar, .jad, .alx, .cod, and using javaload, got it on my device and SUCCESS! IRC running, backgrounded, highlights, always on. Hurrah!

I don’t know if this affects anyone, or if anyone else really cares, but if you do, let me know and I’ll send you the stuff. At least we’re happy now 😉 and I’m happy that I still vaguely understand Java! 😀