Got into the Groove again

Got into the Groove again

After several years not touching my midi keyboard not my guitar, this is the natural evolution of having bought a new PC, I suppose: I got inspired and wanted to play music again. Sure, I also study and test stuff on it, but I also want to do something that really is for myself. And something that makes me help relax, instead than working around the clock.

It is then that I figured out how much has changed in these few years: cheap soundcards don't come with MIDI interfaces anymore, these days. That's probably because they were shared with the so called "GAME Port"…. but since most joysticks these days are USB…. also the MIDI disappeared.

Therefore I did a bit of research, and I found an interesting external sound card that does everything I want (and more) and (most importantly) has drivers for Windows Vista x64. I am actually using this on Windows 2008 Server, but since Vista and 2008 really have the same kernel – it just works.

I am the Empire

I am the Empire

I have been talking to Ariel last month, asking for a Microspotting T-Shirt since I had mentioned her earlier on my blog.

I have been on holiday in the meantime… but the T-Shirt had arrived and was waiting for me in my letterbox in the office !! How cool is that???

So today I am walking around the Rome office in it… and I am looking at people’s faces: you need to understand that Italian dress code is more or less the opposite of how people usually dress in Redmond… Italy is historically more formal, and it would be the norm to dress fancy… one would definitely look BAD here if he would show up in sandals in the office… and VERY bad going on sandals to a customer… 🙂

Got a new PC (finally)

Got a new PC

So this is a screenshot from my new Quad-Core Intel Q6600, 8GB RAM with Windows 2008 Enterprise x64, running Hyper-V.
I have bought it and installed it a few days ago, and migrated my home Active Directory off the old windows 2003 machine to Windows 2008. Yes, because I have an Active Directory at home. I know, I am probably nuts, but you already knew that much.

Today, I just updated Hyper-V to RTM version. Oh yeah, because Hyper-V has been Released To Manufacturing today! You can get it HERE.

I am having lot of fun with this. I had not bought a new PC in about 7 years and could not really test anything on that old one anymore…
I paid 8GB roughly 100euros, which is not a lot if you think about it. These days even standard "budget" PCs for just doing email and web surfing ship with 2 or 4GB…
With that amount of RAM, I expect it to last several years like the previous one. The one I bought 7 years ago had 512MB when everybody was buying 128 or 256MB. Kinda the same story here.

Wonder what happens to the old PC? That glorious machine that has been my server for years has now been converted to the new kids' PC and will go on for a few more years like that, I hope.

Backup or Store stuff to GMail via IMAP in Ruby

Once upon a time, I used to store some automated small backups into GMail just by having the scheduled backup send an email to my GMail account. At one stage they blocked me from doing so, marking those repeated email as SPAM.

After that, I took a different approach: I kept sending the mail on the SAME server as the backup, and using IMAP I could DRAG-and-DROP the backup attachment from the mailbox on one server to the mailbox on another server (=GMail). They did not mark me as a spammer that way, of course.
So that worked for a while, but then I got tired of doing this manually.

So the following ruby script is the way I automated the "move offsite" part of that backup.
For completeness, I will give the due credits about who set me on the right track: I started off by this example by Ryan.

#!/usr/bin/env ruby
begin_ = Time.now

#includes
require 'net/imap'

##Source Info
$SRCSERVER="mail.muscetta.com"
$SRCPORT=143
$SRCSSL=false
$SRCUSERNAME="daniele"
$SRCPASSWORD=""
$SRCFOLDER="INBOX.Backups"

##Destination Info
$DSTSERVER="imap.gmail.com"
$DSTPORT=993
$DSTSSL=true
$DSTUSERNAME="muscetta@gmail.com"
$DSTPASSWORD=""
$DSTFOLDER="Backup"

#connect to source
puts "connecting to source server #{$SRCSERVER}... nn"
srcimap = Net::IMAP.new($SRCSERVER,$SRCPORT,$SRCSSL)
srcimap.login($SRCUSERNAME, $SRCPASSWORD)
srcimap.select($SRCFOLDER)

#connect to destination
puts "connecting to destination server #{$DSTSERVER}... nn"
dstimap = Net::IMAP.new($DSTSERVER,$DSTPORT,$DSTSSL)
dstimap.login($DSTUSERNAME, $DSTPASSWORD)
dstimap.select($DSTFOLDER)

# Loop through all messages in the source folder.
uids = srcimap.uid_search(['ALL'])
if uids.length > 0
	$count = uids.length
	puts "found #{$count} messages to move... nn"

	srcimap.uid_fetch(uids, ['ENVELOPE']).each do |data|
		mid = data.attr['ENVELOPE'].message_id

		# Download the full message body from the source folder.
		puts "reading message... #{mid}"
		msg = srcimap.uid_fetch(data.attr['UID'], ['RFC822', 'FLAGS', 'INTERNALDATE']).first

		# Append the message to the destination folder, preserving flags and internal timestamp.
		puts "copying message #{mid} to destination..."
		dstimap.append($DSTFOLDER, msg.attr['RFC822'], msg.attr['FLAGS'], msg.attr['INTERNALDATE'])

		#delete the msg
		puts "deleting messsage #{mid}..."
		srcimap.uid_store(data.attr['UID'], '+FLAGS', [:Deleted])
		srcimap.expunge

	end

	#disconnect
	dstimap.close
	srcimap.close
end

total_time = Time.now - begin_
puts "Done. RunTime: #{total_time} sec. nn"

CentOS 5 Management Pack for OpsMgr SCX

As I mentioned here, I have been testing the SCX beta.

Not having one of the "supported" platforms pushed me into playing with the provided Management Packs, and in turn I managed to use the MP for Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5 as a base, and replaced a couple of strings in the discoveries in order to get a working CentOS 5 Management Pack.

CentOS_HealthExplorer01_NEW

I still have not looked into the "hardware" monitors and health model / service model, so those are not currently monitored. But it is a start.

A lot of people have asked me a lot of information and would like to get the file – both in the blog's comment, on the newsgroup, or via mail. I am sorry, but I cannot provide you with the file, because it has not been throughly tested and might render your systems unstable, and also because there might be licensing and copyright issues that I have not checked within Microsoft.

Keep also in mind that using CentOS as a monitored platform is NOT a SUPPORTED scenario/platform for SCX. I only used it because I did not have a Suse or Redhat handy that day, and because I wanted to understand how the Management Packs using WS-Man worked.

This said, should you wish to try to do the same "MP Hacking" I did,  I pretty much explained all you need to know in my previous post and its comments, so that should not be that difficult.

Actually, I still think that the best way to figure out how things are done is by looking at the actual implementation, so I encourage you to look at the management packs and figure out how those work. There are a few mature tools out there that will help you author/edit Management Packs if you don't want to edit the XML directly: the Authoring Console, and Silect MP Studio Lite, for example. If you want to delve in the XML details, instead, then I suggest you read the Authoring Guide and peek at Steve Wilson's AuthorMPs.com site.

Disclaimer
The information in this weblog is provided "AS IS" with no warranties, and confers no rights. This weblog does not represent the thoughts, intentions, plans or strategies of my employer. It is solely my own personal opinion. All code samples are provided "AS IS" without warranty of any kind, either express or implied, including but not limited to the implied warranties of merchantability and/or fitness for a particular purpose.
THIS WORK IS NOT ENDORSED AND NOT EVEN CHECKED, AUTHORIZED, SCRUTINIZED NOR APPROVED BY MY EMPLOYER, AND IT ONLY REPRESENT SOMETHING WHICH I'VE DONE IN MY FREE TIME. NO GUARANTEE WHATSOEVER IS GIVEN ON THIS. THE AUTHOR SHALL NOT BE MADE RESPONSIBLE FOR ANY DAMAGE YOU MIGHT INCUR WHEN USING THIS PROGRAM.

A Rant about Openness

It is interesting to see that a bunch of open source projects written on and for the Microsoft platform grows and grows, and also nice to see that a lot of Microsoft employees are very active and aware of the open source ecosystem, rather than being stuck with only what the company makes. Phil Haack, in a post about an interview to Brad Wilson,  wisely writes:

"[…] What I particularly liked about this post was the insight Brad provides on the diverse views of open source outside and inside of Microsoft as well as his own personal experience contributing to many OSS projects. It's hard for some to believe, but there are developers internal to Microsoft who like and contribute to various open source projects. […]"

In fact, being made by Microsoft people or not, the list of open source software on CodePlex keeps growing too. Mentioning CodePlex and interviews, another interesting one is that of Sara Ford, Program Manager for CodePlex posted on Microspotting. But Microspotting is awesome in general. My favorite quote by her:

"[…] Hey. My name is Ariel and I'm the person you thought would never work at MSFT […]".

In fact, just as I do, she is running that blog on WordPress, posting her photos on Flickr, using a RSS feed on Feedburner and in general using a bunch of things that are out there that might be seen as "competing" with what Microsoft makes. In fact, this attitude towards other products and vendors on the market is what I am mainly interested in. Should we only use flagship products? Sure, when they help us, but not necessarily. Who cares? People's blogs are not, as someone would like them to be, a coordinated marketing effort. This is about real people, real geeks, who just want to share and communicate personal ideas and thoughts. I had a blog before being at Microsoft, after all. Obviously I had exposure to competing products. My server was running LAMP on Novell Netware in 2002 – after which I moved it to Linux. It is not a big deal. And if I try to put things in perspective, in fact, this is turning out to be an advantage. I am saying this, as the latest news about interoperability comes from MMS (Microsoft Management Summit): and that is the announcement that System Center Operations Manager will monitor Linux natively. I find this to be extremely exciting, and a step in the right direction… to say it all I am LOVING this!!! But at the same time I see some other colleagues in technical support that are worrying and being scared by this – "if we do monitor Linux and Unix, we are supposed to have at least some knowledge on those systems", they are asking. Right. We probably do. At the moment there are probably only a limited number of people that actually can do that, at least in my division. But this is because in the past they must have sacrificed their own curiosity to become "experts" in some very narrow and "specialized" thing. Here we go. On the opposite, I kept using Linux – even when other "old school" employees would call me names. All of a sudden, someone else realizes my advantage.  …but a lot of geeks already understood the power of exploration, and won't stop defining people by easy labels. Another cool quote I read the other day is what Jimmy Schementi has written in his Flickr profile:

"[…] I try to do everything, and sometimes I get lucky and get good at something […]".

Reading on his blog it looks like he also gave up on trying to write a Twitter plugin for MSNLive Messenger (or maybe he never tried, but at least I wanted to do that, instead) and wrote it for Pidgin instead.  Why did he do that ? I don't know, I suppose because it was quicker/easier – and there were API's and code samples to start from.

The bottom line, for me, is that geeks are interested in figuring out cool things (no matter what language or technology they use) and eventually communicating them. They tend to be pioneers of technologies. They try out new stuff. Open Source development is a lot about agility and "trying out" new things. Another passage of Brad's interview says:

"[…] That's true–the open source projects I contribute to tend to be the "by developer, for developer" kind, although I also consume things that are less about development […] Like one tool that I've used forever is the GIMP graphics editor, which I love a lot".

That holds true, when you consider that a lot of these things are not really mainstream. Tools made "by developer, for developer" are usually a sort of experimental ground. Like Twitter. Every geek is talking about Twitter these days, but you can't really say that it is mainstream. Twitter has quite a bunch of interesting aspects, though, and that's why geeks are on it. Twitter lets me keep up-to-date quicker and better (and with a personal, conversational touch) even better than RSS feeds and blogs do. Also, there are a lot of Microsofties on Twitter. And the cool thing is that yo can really talk to everybody, at any level. Not just everybody "gets" blogs, social networks, and microblogging. Of course you cannot expect everybody to be on top of the tech news, or use experimental technologies. So in a way stuff like Twitter is "by geeks, for geeks" (not really just for developers – there's a lot of "media" people on Twitter). Pretty much in the same way, a lot of people I work with (at direct contact, everyday) only found out about LinkedIN during this year (2008!). I joined Orkut and LinkedIN in 2004. Orkut was in private beta, back then. A lot of this stuff never becomes mainstream, some does. But it is cool to discover it when it gets born. How long did it take for Social Networking to become mainstream? So long that when it is mainstream for others, I have seen it for so long that I am even getting tired of it.

For some reason, geeks love to be pioneers. This is well expressed in a digression by Chris Pratley:

"[…] some of them we will be putting out on officelabs.com for the general public (you folks!) to try so we can understand how "normal" people would use these tools. Now of course, as we bloggers and blog-readers know, we're not actually normal – you could even debate whether the blogosphere is more warped than the set of Microsoft employees, who comprise an interesting cross-section of job types, experiences, and cultures. But I digress. […]"

But I have been digressing, too, all along. As usual.

Conversation about Blogs with a customer

I usually don't like mentioning specific facts that happened to me at work. But work is part of life, so even if this is mostly a personal blog, I cannot help myself but write about certain things that make me think when they happen.

When I end up having conversations such as this, I get really sad: I thought we had finally passed the arrogant period where we had to spoon-feed customers, and I thought we were now mature enough to consider them smart people and providing cool, empowering technologies for them to use. I also thought that pretty much everybody liked Microsoft finally opening up and actually talking TO people… not only talking them INTO buying something, something – but having real conversations.

I get sad when I find that people still don't seem to be accepting that, and wanting back the old model, instead. Kinda weird.

 

The conversation goes as follows (words are not exactly those – we were speaking Italian and I sort of reconstructed the conversation – you should get the sense of it anyway):

 

[…]

Me: "The SDK service allows you to do quite a lot of cool stuff. Unfortunately not all of that functionality is completely or always easily exposed in the GUI. That is, for example: it is very EASY to define overrides, but it can get very tricky to find them back once set. That's why you can use this little useful tool that the developer of that SDK service has posted on his blog…"

Cust: "…but we can't just read blogs here and there!"

Me: "Well, I mean, then you may have to wait for the normal release cycle. It might be that those improvements will make it in to the product. That might happen in months, if you are lucky, or maybe never. What's wrong if he publishes that on his blog, bypassing the bureaucracy crap, and makes your life easier with it RIGHT NOW?"

Cust: "It is not official, I want it in the product!"

Me: "I see, and even understand that. But right now that feature just isn't there. But you can use this tool to have it. Don't worry: it is not made by some random guy who wants to trojan your server! It is made by the very same developer who wrote the product itself…"

Cust: "It is not supported, what if it breaks something?"

Me: "So are all resource kit tools, in general. written by some dev guy in his free five minutes, and usually unsupported. Still very useful, though. Most of them. And they usually do work, you know that much, don't you?"

Cust: "But why on a blog?"

Me: "What's wrong with this? People are just trying to make customer's life easier by being transparent and open and direct in their communication, just talking RIGHT to the customers. People talking to people, bypassing the prehistoric bureaucracy structure of companies… the same happens on many other sites, just think isatools.org for example… those are just tools that a support guy like me has written and wants to share because they might be useful…"

Cust: "But I can't follow/read all the blogs out there! I don't have time for it"

Me: "Why not? I have thousands of feeds in my aggregator and…"

Cust: "I don't have time and I don't want to read them, because I pay for support, so I don't expect this stuff to be in blogs"

Me: "Well, I see, since you pay for support, you are paying ME – in fact I am working with you on this product precisely as part of that paid support. That's why I am here to tell you that this tool exists, in case you had not heard of it, so you actually know about it without having to read that yourself on any blog… does that sound like a deal? Where's the issue?"

Cust: "Sgrunt. I want something official, I don't like this blog stuff"

[…]

 

I thought this was particularly interesting, not because I want to make fun of this person. I do respect him and I think he just has a different point of view. But in my opinion this conversation shows (and made me think about) an aspect of that "generation gap" inside Microsoft that Hugh talks about here:

"[…]4.30 Hugh talks about a conversation he had with a few people inside Microsoft- how there’s a generation gap growing within the company, between the Old Guard, and the new generation of Microsofties, who see their company in much more open, organic terms.[…]"

Basically this tells me that the generation gap is not happening only INSIDE Microsoft: it invests our customers too. Which makes it even more difficult to talk to some of them, as we change. Traditions are hard to change.

Of different digital expressions and Blogs

Pool

"I have not posted in a while" …well you certainly will have read tons of posts beginning this way, right?
But that's the truth. One of the reasons is that you can follow very well a lot of what I do and write elsewhere on the Internet by using my lifestream RSS feed, which includes much more than just what I post on this blog. Our minds are not stuck on one subject matter only, but our thoughs just go around in many different directions. I mentioned the integrated feed/lifestream in a previous post, but I found that the concept gets explained very well by Yongfook in this post:

"[…] We interact with various websites and create content on them – why should I then have to come to my own website and reconstruct, repost or repackage the same content? It already exists out there on the internet, and it’s grabbable and usable. This is not to say I think conventional blogging is dead. I do however think it is evolving. The pace at which we consume and create content – photos, videos, links etc – is getting faster, more frequent. If we wanted to republish everything manually on our blogs, we’d just run out of time. […]"

So at least even if this SITE does not get updated often you can see I have quite a busy digital public life on the web.

Very interesting to also read this post by Scott Hanselman on the subject. He rather just focuses on twitter/microblogging as an evolved form of blogging which was getting boring and time-consuming to people:

"[…] The rise of blogs brought conversations on the 'net more out in the open. Blogging enabled conversation via essay, but as blogs have matured, posts have gotten longer and longer and threads more difficult to follow. Now, most posts are jumping off points for the more interesting conversations that inevitably move to the comments. […]"

He then goes into more detailed/structured analysis of what you can or could do with Twitter. While his analysis is pretty good about the many ways you could use Twitter as a broadcasting tool (and in fact loads of companies do already), I rather use it as public instant messaging. Or maybe not just. I don't actually know and to be honest I am not too much into classifying things, really. For example, if classifying what this blog is… I really am not sure I know myself what this blog is. It has been very funny when other people have tried to classify it… one said it was about "programming" (that would be nice, if I really was a better developer!), other people said it was "personal", other thought it was just about "IT" in general… Heck, there is no classification possible I am afraid. Therefore, not knowing what this blog is, I at least think that I know what this blog is NOT:

  • it isn't a marketing blog
  • I am not here trying to sell anything
  • I am not promoting anything, anyone, or any brand
  • It isn't just focused on one subject, on one area of interest

…and so are all my other "expressions" on the Net. Just me. Sprinkles of me all around. No special industrial plan for it. Just be myself. You might like me sometimes. You might hate me. You might not care at all. It's all good, anyway. Sorry for wasting your time.

Ca(p)tching Cats and Dogs

I read on Jeff Atwood's blog about most strong Captcha having been defeated. Also, on top of visitors getting annoyed by it, the Captcha plugin I am using has gone unmantained lately. And, one way or another, I am getting comment spam again. Which is something I really hate as you know what I would love to do to spammers

I am seriously considering giving Asirra a try. It is an interesting project from Microsoft Research for an HIP (Human Interaction Proof) that uses info from petfinder.com to let users set apart pictures of dogs from those of cats. There is also a WordPress plugin, in the best and newest "we want to interoperate" fashion that we are finally getting at Microsoft (this has always been the way to go, IMHO, and BTW).

Anyway, what do you think ?