Aug 21, 2015

The Next Frontier in Space: Necessary Technology

There is a difference between science and engineering. Nothing illustrates this better than the Manhattan Project, where some of the greatest minds of the century turned theoretical physics into an engineering reality. Space travel is currently undergoing the same disruptive shift in technology. Some things sit on the science side and others are now on the engineering side. The new version of space travel needs to be able to sit firmly on the fence between the two.

3D Printers And A Scoop

Carrying all of the supplies that may ever be needed is a problem for space travelers. It gets worse the farther from Earth we travel. A trip to Mars would take nine months one way, making a trip home to grab things that were forgotten out of the question. So manufacturing what we need while away is mandatory for space travel. Engineering has caught up with science in the form of 3D printing.

According to an article for manufacturer Apple Rubber, the international space station will be receiving a portable 3D printer and raw materials that will allow the astronauts the ability to create almost any device that they may need. For longer trips, like a Mars mission, harvesting raw materials from the planet’s surface will let would-be terraformers create structures and machines without needing a propulsion payload.

Field Propulsion

Warping space, faster-than-light travel, and worm holes are all theoretically possible deep space travel methods that are a long way off of the practical engineering front. Field propulsion systems look like they may make the cut into engineering practicality. Following the same idea of using the resources available in space, field propulsion moves a spacecraft by riding the high and low cosmic pressure waves like a surfer on the ocean. This reduces the need for solid propellant which is heavy and non-renewable.

Facebook

Humans are social creatures, so communication is obligatory to tether space travelers to their home planet. We are already accustomed to social media networks to make friends and stay connected with loved ones. The problem is that, as we get farther away, it takes more time for the messages to get to the intended target. An engineering solution is to use quantum communication and a trail of bread crumb style relays. Quantum communication uses paired vibrations between quantum particles to transmit a message at instantaneous speeds and the relays help reduce degradation of the signal.

Somewhere To Sleep

For travel into deep space, some crew may live, breed, and die in space during a normal life cycle. Others may need to sleep for a good portion of the dull travelling part. Hibernation technology is becoming more and more realistic, both for space travel and Earth-bound medicine. Scientists have found that animals that hibernate have built in approaches to prevent bone loss, muscle atrophy, and cardiovascular issues.

A Really Good Doctor

Systems theory is applied over the sciences from psychology to biology to physics. The concept is that we are part of a system and that tweaking any one part will affect all of the others. In a confined space where gravity, environment, and nutrition are altered, there will be natural stresses on the system, especially the organism of communicable disease. Like any pioneer, the greatest technology that we will bring with us is our human ingenuity and the ability to fix problems when they happen.

Aug 14, 2015

How to turn off the annoying Facebook Browser on the Facebook App in Android

If you are like me you find the built in Facebook browser on the Android Facebook app annoying and buggy as hell. It doesn't load pages correctly, and trying to watch embedded videos on it makes me want to kick a cat across the room. Well, it turns out you don't have to put up with it!

If you click on the three horizontal lines on the top right of the app and scroll down to app settings you can set the option "Links open externally".



Once that is on, all links will either open in your default browser, or the appropriate app (Like Youtube for example).

Now if only we could get rid of Facebook Messenger!

Aug 7, 2015

Keep That Off the Cloud: 5 Things That Require Secure Local Storage

From it inception in the 1960s to now, cloud technology has evolved into a ubiquitous beast that few understand but most use. Smartphone packages automatically come with cloud storage and an app to help you upload files and images easily. This simplicity is not always to the user’s best interest. From the advent of central servers, the hacker is born, making some items best kept locally and in paper form.

Star Pics

Intimate pictures and videos have made some people famous but, unless you want this kind of fame, dirty pictures should never be uploaded to your cloud. In an article by the Washington Post on sexting, the moral and ethical ramifications of digital intimacy are pushed aside, leaving only the practical advice on how to send a risqué photo. These kinds of pics should be sent one-to-one using a system that will destroy the image after a period of time and should never be stored on permanent storage like a cloud server. The CoverMe app works well for this purpose.

Jackpot PINs

Storing passwords and personal identification numbers on the cloud is akin to writing your PIN on the back of your ATM card. According to identity theft protection company LifeLock, staying proactive about security breaches is one step to keeping you data safe. A little rational paranoia goes a long way. When uploading files to the cloud, assume that hacking is a possibility. By placing passwords on the cloud, you turn one hack into a very lucrative score. Instead, memorize your passwords, having different ones for various situations, and change them regularly.

A Treasure Trove of Info

Think of the cloud like a bank vault. The vault that is most at risk is the one with the most valuable goods. Account numbers are the diamonds of the Internet world. In a worst case world, the theft of your account numbers and your passwords could strip you of your money and your identity. Account numbers are hard to remember so store them locally one your computer. Make sure that your computer is locked, encrypted, and protected with a strong and up-to-date virus security program.

Anything HIPAA

Medical records can be incredibly damaging in the wrong hands. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was created from the understanding that medical records carry a huge amount of important data, often including a social security number, age, and illnesses that a person may want to keep secret. Cloud facilities are not bound by HIPAA but your doctor is. Instead of maintaining these records yourself, let the doctor’s office hold them as well as the legal ramifications of proper storage.

Things You Need Now

Some of us rely on cloud storage to do business. If your company depends on the information that is on the cloud to do business then make sure to have a backup on hand. Cloud storage services go down from time to time. You can see these online on the cloud research site Cloud Harmony which offers the user real time statistics on cloud server outages across companies. Most servers have a 98 percent up rate but that two percent downtime can kill a business meeting. Always carry a flash drive with mission crucial documents in the event of a cloud outage.

Jul 24, 2015

5 big name websites who use round-robin DNS and their TTL values

There are many ways to make your websites redundant. The best way to do that is by using multiple websites with a load balancer, or with load balancing built in (Microsoft Load Balancing for instance). I've written about using HAProxy in the past for a cheap alternative to something like a Barracuda 340 Load Balancer.

Another popular method for load balancing is round-robin DNS. If you are unfamiliar with it, Wikipedia describes round-robin DNS as:
...a technique of load distribution, load balancing, or fault-tolerance provisioning multiple, redundant Internet Protocol service hosts, e.g., Web server, FTP servers, by managing the Domain Name System's (DNS) responses to address requests from client computers according to an appropriate statistical model.

In its simplest implementation, Round-robin DNS works by responding to DNS requests not only with a single IP address, but a list of IP addresses of several servers that host identical services. The order in which IP addresses from the list are returned is the basis for the term round robin. With each DNS response, the IP address sequence in the list is permuted. Usually, basic IP clients attempt connections with the first address returned from a DNS query, so that on different connection attempts, clients would receive service from different providers, thus distributing the overall load among servers.
In short, instead of adding one IP address for a website in DNS, you add multiple IP addresses for a website.

There are some that don't like this method for load balancing, and rightfully so. For instance, Bob Plankers from The Lone Sysadmin writes:
On paper, round-robin DNS seems like an easy way to spread the load between multiple servers, but if one of those servers is down some clients will see outages as they are told to connect to the unavailable host. Round-robin DNS only works well with protocols and applications that have robust failover capabilities built in, and frankly, that isn’t too many of them.
He is not wrong there, but there is a way to fix, or mitigate that problem by lowering your TTL value. According to Akadia.com:
We set the TTL low (to 60 seconds) to prevent any intervening caching DNS servers from hanging onto one sort order for too long, which will hopefully help keep the number of requests to each host more or less equal.
Setting the low TTL number also makes it so that if one site is down, it only takes a few seconds or minutes for the client to clear their DNS cache and try another site that might be up.

So now you get the idea, you might be thinking that round-robin DNS still might not be a good solution. Well, there are several big name websites that currently use it, and use it effectively. Here are some of them:
  1. Twitter (TTL 30)
  2. Google (TTL 278)
  3. Reddit (TTL 300)
  4. Yahoo (TTL 382)
  5. Outlook (TTL 300)
As you can see above, all of these guys use a TTL value of 382 (~6 minutes) or less.

If you want real redundancy, I wouldn't recommend relying totally on round-robin DNS though. You should have multiple web servers per site and have load balancing configured there. Using that in conjunction with round-robin DNS should give you considerable redundancy, and I'm sure that is exactly what the above sites are doing.

What do you think about round-robin DNS? Do you use it? Why or why not? Let us know in the comments.

Jul 17, 2015

How to hack VMWare ESXi 4.1 to run Windows 2012 R2

Before we get too far, you are probably asking, "Why not just upgrade to VMWare 5.5" or something right? Well, there could be a number of reasons why someone wouldn't want to upgrade from VMWare 4.1 to 5.5. Maybe they have a budget issue. Who knows? Maybe stop judging!

Anyway, we have the need for Windows 2012 R2 virtual servers in my environment, and we're currently running VMWare 4.1 still, and can't upgrade to the latest and greatest until next year. The problem is that Windows 2012 R2 isn't currently supported in VMWare 4.1. If you are in a similar situation, don't dispare. There is a hack that works to make Windows 2012 R2 run in VMWare 4.1.
  • Create a new VM using the Windows 2008 R2 template but don't power it on
  • Download this bios.440.rom file, then upload it to the same directory where your new VM files are located on the ESXi server.
  • Now edit the vmx file for your new VM using your favorite text editor, and add the following lines to the bottom of the file:
bios440.filename = "bios.440.rom"
mce.enable = TRUE
cpuid.hypervisor.v0 = FALSE
vmGenCounter.enable = FALSE
  • Now power on your VM and you should be able to install like normal!
Here is a screenshot from a test VM I made:

Officially this is unsupported by VMWare, but if you need Windows 2012 now, it will work and it's a lot easier than upgrading your entire environment.

Jul 10, 2015

VoIP calls dropping after two minutes over a Fortigate 100D firewall

A Cisco 7960G IP telephone
A Cisco 7960G IP telephone (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
This past week has seriously made me want to drown my sorrows in alcohol. One of the issues we had was all of a sudden users phone calls would drop after 2:30. We just couldn't figure it out. We called our hosted VoIP provider and they double checked that we had SIP ALG and SIP Session Helper disabled on our Fortigate 100D firewall. That didn't help.

Well, after being on the phone with Fortinet support for about three hours the other day my Systems Administrator and Fortinet tech support found out that it was the timeout setting in our traffic shaper for VoIP!

By default the session-ttl timeout is set for 150 seconds (2:30), which is why out calls were dropping out. We increased that number to 14400 (4 hours) and calls stopped dropping!

To configure that from the command line interface (cli) in FortiOS 5.2 run:
  • config system session-ttl
  • set default 14400
  • end
I hope this helps you out because troubleshooting VoIP issues is enough to make you want to kick a cat, drink nine beers out of a funnel then punch someone in the mouth!

Jul 3, 2015

How to force SSL in Ubuntu 14.04 Apache

English: Logo of the Apache Software Foundation.
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Years ago I wrote about a PHP script you can include in your PHP websites to force SSL. Well, It turns out it's easier, more effective and more secure to make this change using a rewrite rule in your Apache configuration file.

In Ubuntu 14.04, you need to enable the Apache rewrite module by running:
a2enmod rewrite
Next you need to edit your website configuration file located in /etc/apache2/sites-available and add the following under DocumentRoot /var/www/yoursitedirectory:

<Directory /var/www/yoursitedirectory/>
RewriteEngine On
RewriteCond %{HTTPS} off
RewriteRule (.*) https://%{HTTP_HOST}%{REQUEST_URI}
</Directory>
After that, save your configuration file and restart Apache by running:
service apache2 restart
After that, not matter what page visitors land on they will be redirected to httpS!

Jun 26, 2015

How to make WordPress custom permalinks work with SSL on Ubuntu 14.04

English: The logo of the blogging software Wor...
English: The logo of the blogging software WordPress. Deutsch: WordPress Logo 中文: WordPress Logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I manage a WordPress server, and the way this particular server works is weird. We have the domain name currently pointing at a Windows IIS site that uses rewrite rules to proxy everything over to Wordpress running on an Ubuntu Apache server. Right now the IIS server handles SSL, so there aren't any weird issues.

Well pretty soon we are going to remove the Windows IIS server from the equation, and we're going to point DNS directly to the WordPress server. The problem is that we still want SSL, and we currently use custom permalinks. The permalinks we use are /%category%/%postname%/.

Ok, well the problem comes down to how WordPress handles SSL, and apparently if you don't use permalinks it works fine with SSL, but if you have permalinks enabled with SSL, then your pages will come up with page not found errors.

To fix this, on Ubuntu 14.04 anyway, you need to edit your SSL Apache config file, and under the line that says:
DocumentRoot /var/www/yoursitedirectory
You need to paste the following:
<Directory /var/www/yoursitedirectory/>
RewriteEngine On
RewriteBase /
RewriteRule ^index\.php$ - [L]
RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} !-f
RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} !-d
RewriteRule . /index.php [L]
</Directory>
After you add that and save your config file, you need to restart Apache to see the changes take effect:
service apache2 restart
You may need to enable the Apache rewrite module for this to take effect, but it should generally be enabled anyway for WordPress. If it's you you can enable it by running:
a2enmod rewrite
Boom! Now SSL will work on your WordPress server without any weird page not found errors!



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