Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Sayonara VMWare Hello VirtualBox

I recently migrated my Windows XP virtual machine from VMWare to VirtualBox. I did this because I got fed up with the latest VMWare Fusion (MacOSX product) "upgrade" to their bank accounts. I was perfectly happy with the product, or I thought so. All I wanted to do was continue using it while I upgraded the operating system for my Mac.

No such luck. My version of VMWare Fusion was not compatible with my new version of Mac OSX, the operating system for my MacBook Air. I had to pay up or get off the pot.

I decided to get off the pot.

I had some really good experience with VirtualBox on a Linux host. My mother relied upon a battered Windows VM, an installation that had persisted through three hardware changes without a re-install before I converted it to a VM in 2011 to give her a layer of protection for the malware infections she was having trouble with.

It worked, and it didn't. The host computer ran flawlessly, the VirtualBox VM degraded over time just as any Windows installation will. After many attempts to resolve some thorny USB bidi communication issues with the port emulator and a multifunction printer-fax-scanner-copier, it finally got to the point where the only real solution which would allow her to be independent of my participation in keeping her computer running would be to move her to a low-end Windows 7 business system and put her data (she's a lawyer) in the cloud.

In short, the problem wasn't really VirtualBox, it was Windows XP's handling of bidirectional messages over USB. She needed to go to Windows 7 anyway, particularly as county courts are finally dragging themselves into reliance on electronic filing of documents and are lining up to buy Microsofts's latest attempt to strong-arm a niche market. ActiveX "security" is popular with county governments.

The "upgrade" to Windows 7 was going to eliminate the access to legacy applications that had previously countermanded a re-install of Windows XP over three hardware changes. This was going to be the painful jump away from those legacy document creation apps that were paid for, permanently licensed, and just worked even though the companies that wrote them were long gone, or gobbled up by something like Lexis-Nexis.

But, I digress.

I moved her to the new box, shut down her limping Windows VM, put all her documents in Google Drive and regained possession of the FoxConn net-top I had loaned her in 2011 to host the VM. I have an SSD in that box, and it is still pretty snappy more than three years later and really a solid year or two out of it's life cycle. It's a AMD64 Dual core 1.6GHz CPU, and I dropped 4 GB of RAM in there (supports 8 GB).

But, I further digress.

I want Windows on my MacBook Air so I can use it for working in Microsoft-centric environments. I mainly just need to be able to use a terminal services client and Internet Explorer, but it's kind of a big deal. If this doesn't work I have to carry two laptops, and the second one (my corporate issue laptop) weighs three times as much as the first one (my personal MacBook Air).

I was tired of being VMWare's financial supplicant, particularly when the upgrades i was paying for added zero functionality for my situation. Oracle distributes a version of VirtualBox for MacOSX hosts, so I decided to give a migration from VMWare to VirtualBox a try.

It was surprisingly simple.

MacHeads: control-click the VMWare VM, choose expand package contents, copy this to your target directory for your new VirtualBox VM, profit.

Seriously. All you need to do then is create a new VM in the GUI, point the disk emulator to the root (the un-numbered one) .vmdk file, and fire that sucker up.

Now, I had issues:
  • Windows couldn't find the VMWare mouse driver in Virtualbox by default. It is in the guest additions pack, and you have to do some CLI-Fu to extract it where the plug-and-play system can use it, but it's no big deal.
  • Similarly, Windows XP plug-n-play couldn't find the Network adapter driver from VMware, so I killed that one and installed a new one, telling windows it was a Intel Pro 1000 MT desktop adaptor after I went and tracked down that driver.
    • The Intel Pro 1000 MT is one of the options in VirtualBox, so it just works. I told the VM to install that port, rebooted, pointed plug-n-play where it needed to go, and voila'.
  • Windows needed re-activation (detecting a HAL-layer hardware change), but since I have a good license that was no big deal.
But thats it. Seriously. The MacBook Air has a 1.6 GHz Intel Core i5 and 4 GB of RAM. The Windows VM would take about 75 seconds to boot up under VMWare. It takes 30 seconds in VirtualBox. WTF? Cool.

Need to make a copy? Just rsync the directory. I moved that to a Linux host and it booted up without issues the very first time. I've never had that happen with a VMWare migration. There's always something.

So, VirtualBox is cool. If you're thinking about a move from VMWare, go for it. If you want to migrate a Windows XP system from bare metal to virtuality here are instructions for doing so.

It friggin works.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

This is me when I've "had it."

I am fed up with my habit of trying to be what others expect me to be.  If you sense anger in those words, it's there, but the target of my anger is the ineffective habits I have developed.  The people around me are just people, and while I am angry at some people too, I also see that this anger at individuals is mostly different permutations of this basic frustration.  I may have some information for those people, but little will be solved for me by providing it.  The problem isn't "out there."

I have gotten away from who I am, and what is important to me, in service to other people's agendas.  It's not their fault, I haven't been coerced, or deceived, or manipulated in some unusual way.  I've made bad choices.

I know that's vague, and it's vague because there's too much information to even know where to begin.  I am dissatisfied with my life.  I am not dissatisfied with other people.  I'm not even really dissatisfied with myself.  I am dissatisfied with the results of my actions.  I'm going to change what I've been doing.

For this audience, people who in some part know me online, I do want to announce the following:
  • I am removing the e-mail clients from my telephone.  From now on, e-mail will be the way to send me a message that I will read at my desk when I am ready to answer e-mail.  If you need to inform me of something urgent, use a voice call or a text message.
  • Facebook is a little problem for me the way that it is for a lot of people.  The use of emotionally-loaded words like "Friend" and "Like" as labels for making changes to a database record is emotionally confusing for me, even though I rationally know what is going on.  I'll be writing more about Facebook later, but please do not try to understand anything about our real relationship from our interaction, or lack of it, on Facebook.
  • If our friendship is mostly about me coming to see you, you're going to notice the biggest difference.  I have a number of friends who do make a reciprocal effort.  I'm going to be hanging out with them.  I know I'm part of the problem, you might not have had a chance to reciprocate because I haven't allowed it.  Now you have a chance.
  • If I've offended you and I have not apologized, I don't know that I've offended you.   I want to know.  Just tell me, I'll do the rest.
Thanks for reading this far.  I'll get through this, you will too.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Why my email looks funny these days.


If you get an email from me, unless you are using a privacy-enabled e-mail client like Apple OSX's Mail app with the openGPG GPG tools plug-in plugged-in, or Mozilla Thunderbird with enigmail plugged-in, or K-9 for Android, et al., you may see some strange-looking text above and below what appears to be my message.

Relax, what it means is that it is more likely than usual that this e-mail actually came from my fingers.  I had to use an additional password, which is separate from any other password, just to sign it.

That one above came from my phone.  If I send from my MacBook Air, it might look like this one below:

Again, don't fret, this is just a different blurb of text that your e-mail program is currently not processing.  I hope in the near future that all e-mail programs will be able to just tell you what is going on, which is I used a system to increase the likelihood that e-mail people receive from my e-mail address actually came from me.

A working system on your end then checks that signature text against a database to see if it matches up (after processing with my public "key") with what I have said it should be, if it checks out, it will probably call this something like a "sender-verified" message.

So, why couldn't someone just copy that text and use it to spoof my messages?  Well, if you look closely at these two images, you will see that the validation text (the gibberish) is different.  That's because the text underneath changes with the text in the message, and with some other variables.  it is unique and will only verify this particular message correctly.

This is actually only half of the system.

If you have a GPG key published, and I have a copy, I can scramble the entire message using my private key and your public key.  That then means only you and I can read it (or more correctly, only someone with our independent passwords).  This means we can share private messages using separate passwords.  You use yours, I use mine.

I communicate with a small number of people this way, and our messages, while in transit, look like this:

Really just one short sentence.

This is only readable by myself and the person I sent it to.  The recipient has to be using a privacy-enabled e-mail client (and woefully few people do these days) or I'd send all of my e-mail this way.

Bottom-line:  the extra funny-looking text in my non-scrambled e-mail just means that it is highly likely I sent that message.  You can ignore it.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

35th High School class reunion checklist.

Tell a personal story to someone from your past which reveals that you actually have no idea who you are talking to.

Check.  Done.  And I'm not telling you any more of this story.  Suffice it to say the person in question was gracious, conceded that they did resemble the person to whom I thought I was speaking, and took it all in stride and with humor.

Reflect upon how poor a predictor of people lives you turned out to be.

Done.  Yep, I missed it in both directions.  People I thought were going to turn out to be people whom I would not enjoy later in life actually are quite delightful people, and people I thought were destined for rock-stardom are ordinary.  In other cases, there are still people I enjoyed in high school whom I continue to enjoy today.  I'm sure if I did some statistical testing on my predictions I'd find rolling dice to be just as accurate.   I hope I remember this lesson.

I spotted a couple of people at the door who were in that high school rock-star category.  They were chatting with each other, I knew they had remained friends, and stayed on the fringe of the crowd (which is not what they would have done in high school).  They seemed a little anxious and unsure of themselves.

I felt compassion for them.  I was moved to go over, say hello, and welcome them.  That is a huge change for me.  That never would have occurred to me in high school.  I doubt I would have even seen them enough as real people to recognize that they were nervous.  If I had, I certainly lacked the self-confidence and or self-esteem to do anything about it.

I was much more judgmental as a teen (and at the 20th reunion) than I am today.   This judgmental mind that divides people up into categories, applies labels and acts on assumptions cut me off from knowledge that I have access to now.  Seeing how people "turned out" in contrast to how I predicted they would be makes it really clear to me what the cost of this judgmental mind truly is.  That's a valuable illustration and I intend to learn from it.

Confirm (surprisingly widely-held) theories concerning sex between particular teachers and students.

I went to a Catholic high school administered by professional clergy.  The Catholic church carries all those stereotypes about illicit sex and abuse of authority for a reason.  There's not much else to say, I only have direct knowledge of one incident, but shared observations of developments in the intervening 35 years confirms other hunches, many of which I didn't realize were so widely shared.  It's probably overwhelming how widespread a problem this actually is.  

Get socially shunned in a thoroughly adolescent manner.

Yep, it happened.  It made me sad for that person, and not in a condescending manner.  I've been there, I've done that, and I've got the extremely overpriced t-shirt, too.  Life really is too short.

Move on.

I hung on to my high school social situation for a long time.  I no longer do.  I thought that was the case before this event, but it was nice to have it confirmed.  The people who showed up all had in common that they showed up.  These people both had the opportunity to be here and the generosity of heart to take the risk and go to the trouble so we could all have this unique experience.  I am deeply grateful for that.

There is something about all this that lives on in me, some part of who I am was deeply influenced by this experience I shared with this group of people at my high school in the mid-1970's.  We were a human tribe of about 150 people who moved in unison for a number of very highly influential years.  What happened, my success and losses, were very meaningful in my life for a long time, and not always in a good way.

But the fact that I was socially awkward, profoundly insecure and savagely critical in high school doesn't define my life any more, and it no longer defines my experience of these people whom I've know in varying measures for more than 35 years.   I knew that before this evening, but it was satisfying to see that in action.   With such long periods of time between meetings, some changes are easier to see this way.

I have become the person I want to be.  I hope others did too.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Day 30 of 30: Practice is enlightenment.

I know it is cliche', but

It's only been 30 days?
It's already been 30 days?

Wow.  As I said in the Day 1 post, a substantial part of my interest in doing this was the practice of doing something new for 30 days itself.  Now I know why this deserves a TED talk.  I will not forget a number of the events that have transpired in the last 30 days for the rest of my life.  I can't say that about the 30 previous to that, or the 60 previous, or the 90.  Honestly.  That's shocking.

Of course, part of that was my object of the practice itself, putting myself first.  The way that actually manifested was I resolved daily to stop putting off something I had been putting off in favor of doing things that were more important to other people.  I didn't realize how much of my life is/was given over to doing things for others.

I wish I could give you Rube Goldberg-ish sketch of how pushing over that seemingly innocent domino everyday cascaded into an out-of-left-field introduction to a new social circle, a fantastic professional opportunity (my company is paying to train me for a dramatic break-out of my current salary range), long-overdue resolution issues concerning my financial life, to getting my health screenings and teeth-cleanings back on schedule, etc., but I can't.  I'd be making up a story, and I have other things in my life that need my attention more.  But please, I encourage you to accept on Faith that taking care of yourself is how you take care of the entire world.  It really is.

It doesn't reliably make people happy, not you or others.  You don't get applause.  I have pissed off a number of people, some of whom I don't expect to hear from for a while.  Many people around me think I'm going through a bad phase, some transition time of being an uncooperative jerk.  I made some mistakes.  I did some things I wish I had not.

My most important realization was the extent to which my friendships are imbued with patterns, habits, scripts and roles which rapidly devolve into some version of care-taking.   Care-taking is when one does something which superficially is seen as service to another but the deeper motivation is self-serving.  This is an ongoing edge of personal work in my life, but this practice caused things I had been in denial about to appear in sharp focus once again.

For example, I contacted a friend recently when I was feeling low.  I said I was scared and discouraged and wanted some friendly support.  My friend responded with a well-intentioned lecture concerning why I was in this particular situation.  This was followed-up with examples of successes in dealing with the issue under discussion from my friend's life.

I know my friend means well, but I asked for support, directly, in plain English.  I said something like "I'm scared and I need support."  I never said "I don't understand how I got in this situation."  I'm not sure what my friend's agenda was in all this, but the conversation painted my friend as a stable practitioner of emotional maturity and courage while it left me feeling isolated and angry.

This 30 day practice period got me in the habit of asking. consistently and often, "what am I getting out of this normally?" when something happens that doesn't meet my needs.  It was then, when I was on the receiving end of this well-meaning lecture I didn't want or ask for that I realized that my normal response would have been to return the care-taking!  That is, my friends do this to me because I train them to do this.  I reward this behavior.

That is, I would have dropped my agenda for getting comfort from the encounter and picked up the my friend's agenda.  Why?  To make my friend feel okay for having gone there!  This way, I get to prove (to myself, I guess) that I am the best friend ever!  I can switch gears so that people don't have to be disappointed when they fail to show up for me!  It's okay to ignore the fact that I just asked for a hug when you went to the chalkboard.   It's sort of like when I find the pizza I was looking forward to gone from the fridge and I say to myself...

"It's okay, I shouldn't be eating cold pizza before bed anyway...."  And I congratulate myself on some illusory self-restraint.


Has it only been 30 days?  Wow, a lot has happened.  I have packed a year's worth of living into the last 30 days.  A lot has happened.  In some ways I can't believe it hasn't been much, much longer.

Has to really been 30 days?  Wow, that flew by.  I will start a new 30-day practice period tomorrow.  I have not yet decided what the object of my practice will be, but I have an impulse to do something completely different, in a different area of my life.

Stay tuned.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Mamas don't let your babies give up cable Internet.

I have a data problem that a resident of the USA should not have.  I'm buying bandwidth by the gigabyte.

I convinced myself from my cell phone data usage that I could marginally increase my data plan (giving up my grandfathered unlimited data plan on 3G) and discontinue home Internet altogether.  My home Internet was $99USD/month, the maximum plan with Time Warner.

My usage on my unlimted plan was just over 2GB/month.  I failed to appreciate how much of the actual traffic I was sending over the device was done while connected to wifi (and not using my data plan).  I should have checked this out.  This is where my "expertise" blinded me.

For a $15/month savings, I could get a 8GB/month data plan to share with all my devices!  They threw in a free MiFi (mobile hotspot) device!  What a wise consumer I am!  I'm playing the system and #Winning! If I could give up Time Warner I could save a cool Benjamin monthly!

Plus, 4G LTE in NYC is fast!  I was getting better throughput than I got with the maximum level with cable service from Time Warner!

I made the classic mistake of mistaking the cover for the book.  Speed is not really the issue, in fact, the increased speed just makes it easier to use more bandwidth.  I should watch myself when I use a lot of exclamation points to write about something....

16GB might not be enough this month, and that's after a real trim-back on what I stream online over the data plan.  For what I've had to pay in additional fees to Verizon for my data plan I could have the basic level Time Warner cable service.  I'm not saving money, and the service is far inferior.


Score:  Verizon 1, Time Warner 1, Me 0.

In hindsight, I should have just converted to the basic level of cable Internet, and honestly, I should have done that in the beginning.  Throughput/Bandwidth is the Internet Service Provider equivalent of the SUV.  Yeah, it's big, it's comfortable, and it encourages habits that ultimately lead to greater consumption of metered resources.

No thanks, I don't need any help with consumption of anything.  I do quite well enough on my own.

Having the MiFi is helpful, but I need to buy unmetered Internet access for home.  This will cost me about $30/month in NYC right now (because Time Warner wants me back), and now I see that I can save that much money directly by reducing my data plan at Verizon to pre-experimental levels.

So, here's the lesson.  Occam's razor.  Giving Time Warner Cable more money for greater throughput is not as good a thing for me as it is for them.  Surprise!

I am vaguely aware that people pay for metered Internet in Europe.  If my European readers would comment on such via the G+ post, I would appreciate it.  I'm curious.  Using metered Internet has really had an interesting effect on my practices, but my term under such conditions was self-imposed, and I didn't like it.  Is that a problem elsewhere?

From iPhone to phablet: The chicken is involved, but the pig is committed.

I made the right choice.  Using the Samsung SCH-1605, also known as the Samsung Galaxy Note 2, also known as "that ridiculously huge phone," has changed the role that the phone has in my life.  I enjoy the technical parsimony expressed as a device that I can use as a VOIP terminal, an alarm clock, an Internet terminal, a technical and religious reference library, a music library, a music store, a video library, a video store, a video player for 1080i HD TV, a speaker phone, a camera, an audio recorder, a video recorder, a GPS, a task-list organizer, a location-based reminder system, a digital drawing tablet, and a guitar tuner.  Oh, and it makes phone calls.

Having it has essentially caused me to stop using my Kindle Fire, just as getting my MacBook Air caused me to stop using my iPad.  This is what I like to do with devices.  I would rather use a device that is a slight compromise, such as reading on a slightly smaller screen, when doing so allows me to eliminate another device altogether.  The Android Kindle app doesn't work as well as the OS-integrated system on the Kindle Fire, but it's good enough.  The screen is a bit smaller than I like, but it's a different thing altogether than reading on the iPhone 4.  It's big enough.  As you might can surmise, I use my tablet for reading a lot.  I read a lot.  It's important.

While it is technically true that the iPhone does all these things, doing so requires very tight integration with iTMS (the iTunes Music Service), Mac OSX-based computers, and subsequent engagement in the Apple MacOSX world for media purchase and management.  That used to be more okay with me than it is now.  I am wary of Apple now that Steve Jobs is dead.  They seem to me to be more like Hewlett-Packard and less like Google with their new leadership.  I can't imagine that insights as unique and counter-intuitive as "the customer doesn't know what they want" are being flung around the current boardroom.

Samsung is dedicated to their vision of quality and meeting customer demand.  That's a dangerous road, lots of companies stumble in head-long pursuit of sales and ruin themselves.  Samsung hasn't done that, in my view, yet.  I'm hoping they have some leadership with a larger vision than stock dividends and sales margins. I have a Samsung TV and Microwave, too.  I recommend them both.

Using Android invites tight integration with Google for media management, but it doesn't require it.  The APIs are open, you can do other things, or nothing.  I personally trust Google enough to engage it with my media management and purchases.  I've been giving the company money in one form or another for years, they have never surprised me.  They do what they say they will do, I never find that I missed some important detail in some small print later.  When changes impact me, they are in large print and I have to click check-boxes and provide my password to indicate affirmatively that I noticed the changes and declined getting further information about them to agree.  That's what I want.

I can buy applications and media content for the device from either Amazon or Google.  It is easy to manage my own content that I have converted to a suitable format.  It's very much like any other computer in that sense.  There's about 70GB of space, I can put what I want where I want it.  It's not some black box that I toss items into and use some other filter to view later.  It's a computer.  I have it set-up in a way that makes sense to me.

This is also the "weakness" of Android in some people's eyes, and I fully grant the view respect.  This is where the discussion of "quality" in Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance becomes so relevant.

I have two friends, both of whom I have tremendous respect for as technical professionals.  I active seek their advice in their areas of expertise.  They are in separate industries, in separate roles.  They both regard my preference for Android as politically/dogmatically motivated.  They will both say "I want my phone to work.  It's not my hobby."

True dat.  I'm still working on getting the my new phone set-up the way I want it.  I will probably be tinkering with it constantly for the life of the device.  I didn't do that with the iPhone.  Once I had it set-up, I didn't change it for years.  But, I put it down and picked up my Kindle when I wanted to read, and I used my MacBook Air when I wanted to watch video content.  Now I do all that with the same device, and I tinker with it constantly.  Sometimes, it is not intuitive and I lose patience with it for a moment.  That almost never happened on the iPhone.

To put it succinctly for those who have not read the book, the discussion about quality in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance used two motorcycles as objects.  The author rode a bike which required constant attention and tinkering, but this attention to the bike cause him to experience a sense of connection with his life that he muses he might have otherwise missed.  His companion rode an expensive BMW that went to the shop when something went wrong.  His companion just wanted his bike to work.  He thought he had the better bike, the author thought he had the better bike. One of the reasons the story is so powerful is that these views are never neatly reconciled in the narrative.  Without stating so, the author thus reveals (to me, anyway) that these views can't be reconciled.  They're views, both illusory, both Truth.  Truth is illusion.

One has to get involved with their iPhone for a while to get it personalized.  The stock configuration is okay, but those who don't go beyond it are not as well-served by the device.  The stock deployment of Android is pretty, but not very substantial as a user interface.  Exploiting the full power of Android requires a near-hacker level of commitment to trouble-shooting and tweaking, but the potential is there for this nirvana of technical parsimony I have experienced.

When I have my Samsung Galaxy Note 2 with me, I am in possession of the only device I really need to pull all my technical levers personally (I need a computer for work).   When I had my iPhone with me, I had a way to stay connected, but if I really wanted to do anything other than communicate, listen to music or take pictures I needed another device.  For me, that makes this the better phone.

I can't tell you whether or not the iPhone is better for you.  I had a high school football coach first use this example (which later became almost cliche'), and it lives in my life 40 years later:
"'s like Ham and Eggs, the chicken is involved, but the pig is committed."
The iPhone user benefits from involvement with their phone, the Android user benefits more from commitment.