Introducing YippieMove '09. Easy email transfers. Now open for all destinations.

(Warning. This is a quite complex article that requires fairly sophisticated sysadmin/unix-skills. If you don’t have this, this article will probably make you really confused.)

Often when working for small companies, the IT-budget is very limited. Therefore you can probably forget about those awesome gadgets you drawl over in the sysadmin-magazines. Well, I’ve been working like this for years. Running Linux or a similar open source operating system on the servers is a good start in cutting costs, but there’s more you can do.

One of the companies I work for is located on the other side of the world (literally), which makes it hard to access the servers physically. SSH works fine most of the time, but what happens when you have a network error? Maybe the server fails to boot up properly after a power-failure, or maybe you messed up the network-settings and locked yourself out.

If you’re on an unlimited budget this is not a big problem. Then you just order one of these fancy $7,000 IP-KVM switches and this problem is long gone. But what do you do if you don’t have that money to spend on such equipment?

Here’s two different solutions that will work (almost) as good as an IP-KVM, but it takes a bit more work for you as a sysadmin. Remember, all these solution are based on the assumption that you only have Unix/Linux servers in your farm.

Option 1 – If you can afford spending $250-$350 per server.

There is a really nifty product available that is called PC Weasel. This product looks like a graphic card (PCI or ISA), but with a keyboard connector on the outside, and instead of a VGA-connector you’ll find an RS-232 (serial) port. So what this product does it that it emulates a graphic card, but spits out all the graphics to an RS-232.

What this enables you to do is to hook up a null-modem to either a computer or an RS-232-server (such as the ones available here (note that some of the RS-232-servers have SSH-support, making it almost identical to a real IP-KVM-system)). With this all hooked up, you can simply just connect to the serial-port on a different computer and you would see the same as you would see on a regular monitor. You can even access the BIOS – which is the biggest advantage with this solution.

Option 1 or 2 with a RS232-switch.

Option 2 – If you’re really on a tight budget.

This is what I ended up doing. I didn’t feel like paying the $350 or so per server, so I went for the budget solution – plain null-modems.

This solution will take you some more time to get running (if you’re not a hardcore unix/linux expert), but will cost you close to nothing. Once again, this will only work in a unix/linux environment.

The trick here is that we will be using the Linux-kernel’s (or BSD-kernel) serial-console feature to output to a null-modem. It’s not that complicated, but I’m not going to go into details in this post. You simply compile the serial-console module into your kernel, add some settings to your bootloader and your inittab and you’re set.

You can either do this between two servers (and take a chance that they won’t break at the same time), or you can dedicate an old box to be your RS-232-server. You can then just SSH into the box that is receiving the signal and use minicom to control the other box. Note that the big disadvantage with this solution is that you cannot control the servers on BIOS-level. However, it costs you close to nothing, and it will give you more control over the server than with regular SSH.

Option 1 or 2 without a RS-232 switch.

If you have more than two servers, you can build a chain-like system where server one is connected to server two, server two to server three etc., until you close the circle.

For further research I’d recommend the following sources:

Linux Serial Consoles for Servers and Clusters
Remote Serial Console HOWTO

Happy Hacking!

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Introducing YippieMove '09. Easy email transfers. Now open for all destinations.

Yesterday our first non-government paper was received.
It was from Capital One.
They offered us a credit card.
We rejected their offer.
We do not need to purchase anything on credit at this point.
In particular not on those terms.

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Introducing YippieMove '09. Easy email transfers. Now open for all destinations.

This article is going to teach you how to get out the big guns against information theft on your Apple OS X machine. ‘But,’ you say, ‘I don’t have secrets and besides no-one cares about my stuff.’ Think again! If you are a normal computer user it doesn’t take long before you have plenty of very interesting information on your laptop, digitized and ready to be stolen in seconds.

A picture of Abraham Lincoln.My secret politically sensitive picture – out in the open and ready to be stolen.
  • Your website passwords
  • Those handy digital bank statements
  • Your accounting information
  • That picture from the office when you were really drunk
  • Your other girlfriend’s or boyfriend’s phone number

Then think about how quickly someone can make a complete copy of all that data: it can take seconds or minutes. And what’s worse, once the cat is out of the bag, it’s likely you won’t manage to get it back in because it will be plastered over half of internet and stored in a database before you know it. We live in the beginning of the information age and information theft is real, fast, and internet enabled.

If you use Safari, most of your passwords are already protected within your Apple Keychain. This guide is about how to protect the rest of your stuff using encrypted disk images. An encrypted disk image is basically a protected folder which you can store on your computer. If you haven’t heard of it yet, encryption is a method to warp data so it can’t be recognized without doing the same process again backwards. In OS X 10.4, this encryption is not toy encryption either. The standard used, AES-128, is the encryption used for ‘SECRET’ level classified information of the American government.

It is all rather simple; just keep in mind that these tips have been written for OS X Tiger (version 10.4) and that things might be a bit different if you have a different version of OS X.

  1. Spotlighting for Disk Utility.Open up Disk Utility. Normally I’d just spotlight ‘Disk Utility’ – like in the picture on the right – but if you need to find it the old fashioned way, look in Applications/Utilities.
  2. Click the ‘New Image’ button in the upper left part of the main window, or go to File>New>Blank Disk Image in the menus.
  3. Type in a nice name for your new disk image. I’m going to call mine ‘My Eyes Only’. I’m also going to make it 40MB big by selecting that from the size drop down.
  4. Set Encryption to ‘AES-128′. Don’t forget to do this or you’re not protecting your data at all!The Disk Utility interface for creating a new disk.
  5. Click create. You will be asked for a password. Make sure you enter something that you won’t forget, because else your data will be gone forever. No-one will be able to get your data out if the password is lost.
  6. My Eyes Only.dmg and My Eyes Only opened on the Desktop.Your image will be created. You can close Disk Utility once it’s done. Now, you will have an image file ‘My Eyes Only.dmg’, which if you double click and enter your password, will open up as an extra ‘drive’ on your desktop. Disk Utility will open it for you automatically the first time.
  7. Once you are done putting files into your encrypted drive, you will need to eject it.

That’s all. Everything you put into your encrypted drive, ‘My Eyes Only’ in this example, will be encrypted with industry standard encryption. Without your password (which you made really sure to memorize and keep safe) it would take thousands of years for a modern day computer to unscramble your data. I’m just going to go ahead and move my Secret.JPG file into My Eyes Only. Here it is in the safety of 128 bit encryption: The Disk Utility interface for creating a new disk.
Once I eject this disk the data will be safe and I can rest assured that my picture is a little bit more safe from prying eyes.

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Introducing YippieMove '09. Easy email transfers. Now open for all destinations.

If you’ve been with us from the start, you probably already read our article Building the Base-camp Part 1. If you missed out on that one, I suggest that you go ahead and read it. In this series we talk about software applications that we as young entrepreneurs of the open source-generation use in our daily business-life. If you’re not familiar with many open source applications, you’re likely to find plenty of new tools that you will find useful. However, even if we are using many open source applications, that doesn’t mean that we never use commercial softwares. There are a few commercial softwares we do like as you will discover in this series.

Today I’ll talk about two utilities that might not be very well known to the average user, and therefor deserves some extra attention. The reason why I chose these two softwares is because I use these softwares very frequently, and I love using them.

The first software is not so much of a software as it is a set of Perl scripts. The software isA picture of Awstats for Playing With Wire. called awstats, and is a log-analyzer that creates a nice statistics page from a given log file (such as Apache or your FTP-server). We use this to analyze the traffic to this page, to see where our visitors comes from, as well as what they find interesting. Awstats also gives you other information such as how much time your users spent on your web-site, and what browsers and operating system they are using. If you enable the IP-lookup feature, you can even track down you users, to see from what country are from (assuming they are not using any proxy etc. in another country).

The setup of the software is fairly straight-forward. Just follow the instructions in the INSTALL-file, and you’ll be up running in no time. The only issue I’ve been experiencing with awstats has been related to the log-format in the config file. Make sure the config in you awstats config agrees with the log-config in your apache config file (assuming you’re using apache). By the way, do I need to mention that awstats is open source?

The second software is, in contrast to most of the other tools we use, not an open source application. If there was an open source replacement that could produce an equally good result as this software, I wouldn’t hesitate to switch. Anyhow, the software is called OmniGraffle Professional, and is a great tool for creating outlines, flowcharts and other types of drawings.Screenshot of OmniGraffle. Prior to using this software I always ended up with a bunch of papers laying around with numerous of flowcharts and drawings for every project I was working on. Still I usually start with some drawings on a piece of paper, but then I usually digitize it and throw away or shred the paper. The result is a fabulous looking flowchart or drawing. Not only do the result look better, it’s also much easier to send, print and share it with other people involved in the project.

I know there are plenty of similar tools out on the market to do these kinds of tasks, but I really like this software. Not only is the software easy to work with, it also uses graphics that make you want to show your work to others rather than hiding them from the world.

Nowadays I use this software for every possible usage. It doesn’t matter if I’m designing a web portal, a database or documenting a network or an organizational chart, this is where I begin. Another good thing is that it comes with numerous icons, and if these are not enough, you can download more of them from their website.

Stay tuned for the next article in this series. If you have any comments or suggestions, please post a comment.

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Introducing YippieMove '09. Easy email transfers. Now open for all destinations.
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I know I know. By now you are like, ‘what, another new Cuzimatter feature? Oh my God I don’t know how much more fantastic web 2.0 utility goodness I can take!’

But we had to do it for ourselves. Cuzimatter has been fixed up to generate W3C compatible links. As a bonus we added an ‘icon only’ mode in the advanced settings which we’re going to start using ourselves since our blog writing space is so narrow. Enjoy!

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