March 2007 Archives

March 27, 2007

Mac OS X Server 10.5: A Nice Setup

June is coming up rather quickly, and that means that the World Wide Developers Conference for Apple is coming as well. Now, while I don't usually get excited about trade shows, this one is different: Mac OS X 10.5 is said to be announced. There are a lot of reasons to get excited about 10.5, but I want to focus on the Server. That, in my opinion is more important than the client upgrades.

But what's so great about 10.5? 10.4 already has a great Directory service, integrated with Kerberos, and has a lot of functionality that can be easily implemented within the service itself. It also supports SMB, AFP, NFS, and FTP natively, allowing for easy file storage both within the network and outside of the DMZ. So what makes the new implementation so exciting for me?

Well, it's best described by John C. Welch from InformationWeek. In his article Inside Apple's Leopard Server OS, he gives an outline based on Apple's own information about their new implementation of server. Here is how it boils down for me:

iCal Server
One of the best products that Apple could have implemented was an iCal server. Not only does it allow for resource and calendar sharing, but it provides the information as part of an open standard set by CalConnect, which pushes for open standards within a calendaring server. It also allows for server clustering out of the box, so there is no additional fees to set up a Calendar server. Add that to no per client fees, and easy setup, and you have one powerful tool in your hand. Once we get the latest upgrade to 10.5, we already plan on setting up a test server with the iCal system running.

Wiki Server
I haven't jumped on the Wiki bandwagon as of yet as far as collaboration, since I don't need to collaborate much in my current position. I did work with a type of Wiki at eBay for an internal knowledge base and document server, but it wasn't anything fancy. But, because the server can be integrated with iCal Server, it can provide details about requirements on a specific date. This would be invaluable for Technology classes, because you can link an existing class requirement entry in the Wiki with the class date. Now the support staff know exactly what needs to be supplied for the class based on a single entry. I could see a lot of educational institutions utilizing this method for their support staff.

iChat Server 2
This new implementation of iChat allows for a hookup to other Jabber services (like Google Talk) without actually signing into Google Talk. It also is rumored to have Kerberos support built in, so single sign-on is more of a reality with a chat service. Why is this significant? Because setting up a single sign on environment is really a pain if everything doesn't integrate with it. So, because chat can be very important, Kerberos integration without special back-end coding makes the internal iChat server that much more attractive.

The Mail server in OS X 10.4 is fairly standard, but 10.5 gives you clustering at no extra charge. While I don't think I'll set up another mail server anytime soon (at least until the Utopia project comes to my area), it's something that I may consider in the near future.

Open Directory 4
Ever since I have started working with Mac servers, I have been very impressed with Apple's implementation of a Directory system. Open Directory integrates well with Active Directory, eDirectory, or any other LDAP implementation. It also allows for a lot of control over access.

But the big news that I like is RADIUS integration with Open Directory. So now, for the price of an Xserve, you could easily set up your own dial-up network connection, integrate services through Kerberos, and provide an excellent connection setup. This also would go for Wireless or Wired networks, which would require some sort of authentication for access. Having worked in that field not too long ago, I think this is perhaps one of the most powerful tools that Apple could have provided.

So what does this all mean? It means that Apple has made it easier for me to implement a well built network in my own home without high-cost software. But why Apple? All these tools are available through Open Source technologies on Linux, right? Well, as much as I like Linux (and I really do, don't get me wrong) and it's enterprise level tools, I'm too lazy to set it all up. Even if it were all through RPM or DEB installs, it would still take a lot of set up time, which I really don't want to invest. Using the Apple tools, I can set up the minimum requirements for these powerful tools in a short amount of time, and then they will just work.

But if I wanted to do a real enterprise setup, I probably wouldn't use the Apple servers as my primary system. Not that it isn't robust enough, but I could do it cheaper with Linux and Blade servers, and higher the support staff to manage the system. Apple allows me to manage the system myself, which is ideal for a small business anyway. One support person, or even a support consultant, can set up your system that looks and acts very professional, without having to have them on staff full time.

March 26, 2007

Weekend Project 2: Preparing for the Foundation

This weekend was quite the weekend, testing the project in an administrative and practical level. How so? Well, I ran into a little snag, which prompted some push-back from my wife.

In order to have a successful cob building, you need to have a solid foundation. Most cob builders use local stone that is fairly flat on both sides, and then dry lay them into place. Well, I can't do that. The stone that is native to West Valley City, or at least the majority of West Valley, is all round stone. This is because we sit in the basin of an ancient lake (Lake Bonneville), and as such have stones that are rounded.

Now, I could just cut the stone into flat shapes, and then work with it that way. But that would be even more time consuming, and I would like to get this project under way. That, and I don't know how to accurately cut stone without expensive tools. So, we took a trip to the local Lowes to estimate various foundation options.

We checked out the flagstone (perfect for a stone foundation), concrete costs (the foundation would be roughly 48 cubic feet of concrete), the cost of brick, and even checked out the cost of cinder block, just in case I got that desperate. All (except for the cinder block) came to about $100 to $200 for the overall foundation of roughly 48 cubic feet. Because of the cost, my wife began to push back on the whole project. I became concerned, and I don't mind saying a little desperate, wondering what I could do in order to keep the project alive.

Now, why 48 cubic feet? Because that is how much a one foot by one foot foundation would be for a 10 foot by 14 foot building. The foundation should be at least 10 inches from the ground if it were to be properly constructed, and one foot made it easier to calculate. Then I started to think, why do I need such a high foundation?

The principle of the 10 inch foundation is based on the need for two things: flooding concerns, and insect control. If there were a flood situation, a high stone foundation would keep the flood from weakening the walls of the cob building. Very important, and practical. But, as I live in a semi-arid region, flooding isn't that big of a concern. Why, even back in the great floods of 1983 when Downtown Salt Lake City had rivers instead of streets, there wasn't a flood concern for the house I am currently in.

Insect control is another matter. Insects are notorious for building nests where they can, whether it be a wood or cob home. In this case, even dry-laying stone doesn't prevent insects, as they can easily navigate between the stones. Most cob builders will place mesh down to keep the insects from burrowing into the walls. Thats easily done with a smaller foundation, as well as a larger foundation.

So, with these two reasons for a taller foundation already resolved, I found a way to save the project: shrink down the foundation. And, because I don't need a larger foundation, I can use the existing bricks I have for the garden. Here is how it has played out so far:

I cleared out the paving bricks from the back yard that was set for a chess board. I'll place them back later, I'm sure, but for right now, I wanted the space to see just how big the new greenhouse would be. I have to say that I'm quite happy with the results! I then set down paving bricks, as they are all one foot by one foot by 2 inches, to see how the interior will play out. Looks nice!

Then I started laying the bricks that I currently have, to see how they will be placed. I calculated that I would need a total of 264 bricks, and I currently have 229. That means I only need about 35 more bricks, which brings the cost down considerably. Of course, I may be able to bring it down even more by using some of the other paving stones around, but putting them in the back of the building where there would be little shown.

So, I have brought the cost of the foundation down, which was roughly 70% of the total cost of the project. All that is left now is to level out the ground (perhaps with sand, or just cutting down the ground itself), digging out a central drainage ditch for heavy rains (should there be any), and then setting down the foundation as a final setting. I hope to get a lot of the leveling off done this week (maybe Thursday and Friday), so that I can dig the trench, lay down some pea gravel for more drainage, and then set down the foundation. At that point, I just need to start mixing the cob, get the wooden framing up for the greenhouse slats, and then put it all together.

Once that is done, I'm going to start putting together the hydroponic system that I want to use for the plants. I'm really excited about that project, because the basic system should be done by June (if all goes well), and in the mean time I can start some of the smaller hydroponic sessions for the traditional out-door plantings.

More on that later, once I have the whole project outlined, but I'm excited to think that by this winter, I can still grow some fresh greens and veggies for year-round consumption.

March 20, 2007

Marathon Bike Ride: U of U to West Valley City

Recently I have been looking for a way to get out of the frustration of trying to find time to exercise. Ever since I returned from my mission to Frankfurt, Germany, I have been slowly getting out of shape (because I don't consider "potato" a shape). Part of it is because I have stopped spending my time walking all over the U campus since graduation, and I haven't had a reason to walk much since. It's also because I have found several excuses that we all tend to make when it comes to finding a way to avoid exercise.

Well, as a way to find the time, I thought I would start riding my bicycle to work. Now, many people that work just a few miles away from their home may think that this isn't a big deal, or that they do it all the time. Well, I live about 20 miles from my office, and a good portion of it is a very steep hill.

That being said, the ride to work isn't that bad. The majority is down hill, and once I get a little more than half way, I can hop onto a Traxx station. From there it's about 30 to 40 minutes to get to the office. The ride to the office takes about 2 hours total, with the Traxx ride up the hill.

But that isn't the worst of it. On the way back from the U on the hill, it takes 2 hours 20 minutes. Why longer? Because the majority of the ride is up hill, and I am really out of shape. Here is the track I took on the way back.

I started up at Fort Douglas, and head down 8th south. I then continue down until I reach the Jordan River. From there, I follow the Jordan river park trail until I reach 17th south, and then continue West. From this point, I get onto the frontage road that passes down to 32nd, and then cross from the North side of SR 201 to the south side. Then, I travel along to 5600 West, and head South. From there I hit 2700 South, and continue West. I then hit travel up 7200 South to get to my home.

Keep in mind that anything from the Jordan River is up hill, so this whole time I'm fighting gravity and I had a nasty headwind from the West. I'm not making excuses, but it sure didn't make it any easier for me.

So, as a word of advice for anyone that is looking to start riding their bike to work, start slow. Make sure you are within at least 10 miles of your work, and that you have a lot of experience riding your bike. The exercise is great, but don't expect to get in shape all at once.

So, that is my experience riding my bike back from work. I'll probably try it again, but only when I get a lot more in shape riding it shorter distances. If you have experiences riding your bike to work, I would appreciate any additional tips or suggestions!

March 19, 2007

The Weekend Garden Project

Hello everyone! I know I haven't posted a lot lately, but I have been preparing for my Search Engine Optimization class which has taken a lot of time. But, I wanted to let you know that the garden project has not been sacrificed, and I had some time to work on it this weekend.

Cleaning the Remains of the Snowball Bush
I started by cutting down the majority of the snowball bush, and then spent the rest of the time on Saturday disposing of the branches. The branches were all still very dry, as I cut them before the sap began to rise from the roots. Because of that, they burned quite easily. They also made a lot of ash, very hot coals, and a perfect opportunity to do some good old fashioned Dutch-oven cooking. The recipe that I used will be posted, so that you can try it as well.

I also talked the family into a barbecue, cooking bacon wrapped turkey bits. Add some mashed potatoes, veggies and greens, and it was a great celebration of St. Patrick's Day, even without the corned beef and cabbage.

The Meal
So, since there wasn't much else done other than cleaning up the back and burning the branches, let's look at the meal.

For Dutch-oven cooking, my parents brought up some frozen chicken. I placed these in the oven with some olive oil, salt, pepper, fresh rosemary, and some fresh lemon thyme. I then buried the oven in the coals from all the branches that were burned. After 40 minutes, the chicken was tender, moist, and amazingly tasty.

Now, the bacon-wrapped turkey was a little different matter. I didn't use the snowball bush limbs for this, because they were not the cleanest of branches. Sure, they are OK as coals surrounding a dutch oven, but I wouldn't want the filth left by flocks of birds on the bush. So, we used other wood available from previous cuttings that were clean and mostly dry.

The recipe is really simple. We took turkey breasts, cut them up into bite-sized pieces, and then wrapped each of the pieces in bacon. Then we pinned each with wooden tooth-picks, and placed them into a wire frame. Then placing the wire frame on the grill, they cooked up really quickly. Within 15 minutes, they were done (some a little more than done with really hot coals and very flammable bacon fat in the equation).

Together, it was perhaps the best meal I ever had for St. Patty's Day, and made me proud of my distant Irish ancestors. Perhaps I will cover that connection to the Fitzgeralds of Ulster in future postings.

Now, all that I need to do to finish my preparatory work on the garden is to move the current layout for the chessboard, and then dig the foundation for the cob project.

Changes to the Cob Project
Speaking of the cob project, I had intended to make a very solid, practically livable little house out of cob. Simple windows, a door, a small heater in the corner, and a wonderfully well-built cedar shingle roof. Well, as I have been going over the project again, I realized that there is a part of the project that I have overlooked, and that I definitely need to complete.

Namely, I need a greenhouse. I have thought about this for a while, and I just haven't been able to find another way around it. The greenhouse would allow me to grow vegetables all year round, as well as tropical fruits. It also would let me build the fish tank that I have been wanting to continue with. So, with water plants, vegetables, fruits, and a small aquarium for growing edible fish, I think it would be worth the change.

Of course, it's necessary to also allow for the change of materials. I can now use the bricks that I have in the back yard as the foundation (there should be enough), and use some redwood or cedar two by fours to frame in the rest, including the roof. Of course, One wall will remain fully cobbed in (the one facing the garage), which is where the heater (probably a rocket heater) will be going.

Well, that is where everything stands now. There will be some work done again this week, and I hope to have some pictures posted rather soon. Stay tuned!

March 12, 2007

Urban Farming: The beginning of the Project

It's now that time of year, the time when planting becomes a priority, and the garden that I have been planning for a while can finally become a reality. In order to do so, I need to start by cleaning up the back yard.

Currently, this is what the back yard looks like (as of October 2006):

There isn't a lot there to be proud of, though I have tilled under the area where the patio, new gardening/storage shed will be going (made of cob, of course!), and the lawn. The garden I didn't till under, because it will all be raised garden anyway, and I was unaware of what the final project would look like until I heard back from the city.

So, I began by clearing out the huge and nearly dead snowball bush seen in the corner behind the bricks. I also have laid down some paving stones over the winter, which will be reset after the sand has been put down. But that's all after the new cob building has been created.

The grassy area that you see in the foreground will be the garden. You can't see them, but there are two grape vines currently growing along the house to the left, out of the picture.

The garden will be a collection of whiskey barrels (because of cost and easy manipulation even when full), and I will probably place some river rocks or pea gravel between them to keep control of the weeds. River rocks will probably look better, and give the feel of a cobbled lane. ^_^

Anyway, that's a quick look at what I have to look forward to this spring and summer. I'll provide more pictures as the project progresses, so stay tuned!

March 8, 2007

Spam Comments: Coming of Age in a Blog

Yes, I feel like I have finally made it! After starting the blog back in September, I finally feel like my blog has made the big time. I got my first spam comment posted! I had wondered why someone would post something so obviously unrelated to the topic, but as we all know, websites are about exposure. Posting your website in another blog that has a higher rating than you do is an old (if cheap) SEO strategy.

So, this means that my little blog with it's average 10 visitors a day has a higher perceived rating than a website that sells software. Based on the grammar, it looks like it's an off-shore company, and that just raises all sorts of red flags. Needless to say, I would highly recommend that you do not utilize the link at all. Of course,considering that I have very few postings about World of Warcraft, that probably wouldn't be an issue. ^_^

Tomorrow I will have a quick update on the design for my little cob house that I will be building in the back yard, and will even post a picture! There's another first for the blog!

March 6, 2007

Cultivating Life: New Show on KUEN

While I was playing with my son and waiting for my wife to come home from work, I started flipping through the channels. Normally I don't like to watch commercial television in the evenings, because nothing seems to keep my interest anymore. But tonight, at 9:00 PM on KUEN (Channel 9), I found a show that really interested me. It's called Cultivating Life, and appears to be a fairly new show on Public Television.

It started with images of ducks and geese walking on a lawn, gardens, beautiful pictures of rubarb plants and other excellent vegetables. Naturally, this piqued my interest. The show seemed to be something of a mix between Martha Stewart, Essence of Emeril, and This Old House. There wasn't a lot that seemed to be relevant to my projects, until they interviewed an urban farmer in the New York area. It was just a quick interview, but it was enough to get me to check out their website.

Once there, I only saw one gardening project that seemed really interesting. That is Vegetables in Containers. It basically takes a tomato plant, an eggplant, and several Basil plants to build up a nice little garden in a pot about the size of a whiskey barrel. The yield was rather good, and I love each of those plants.

Why did this interest me? Because square foot gardening is the best way to get a high yield of food within a small space. And with the loss of my greenhouse, I need as much space as I can get. Whiskey barrels are well suited for this type of gardening, and by seeing the project done elsewhere gives more of a sense of surety of investment in the overall project.

There are a lot of other projects that are there for the more "crafty" person, perfect for a craft night. The gardening projects are also interesting, and I think they can be easily duplicated using more natural materials (i.e., a-frame supports for tomatoes can be made with willow wicker, instead of metal fencing). Anyway, If you are interested in small-scale gardening projects, I recommend you check out the website or watch the show. It's really quite interesting, and the recipes they offer sound really good! ^_^

Apple Certifications: Quick Blurb about Server Essentials

This week I am teaching my Mac OS X Server Essentials class, and it's been going great so far. As such, I will be posting very little, but I wanted to make this post really quick.

For anyone interested in learning the basics about Mac OS X Server, I would nighly recomend attending the class. Granted, it's $2,000.00 (Apple set price), but not only do you get to learn about the server, but you get to create your own server environment at the end of the class. And no one will be yelling at you when you break something. ^_^

Seriously, I think it's the better of the two classes I currently teach. It's more fun to play with the server than to work out how to fix a broken computer. At least, that's my opinion.

And stay tuned for the new Mac OS X 10.5 Server Essentials class! Once the class is prepared by the Training team (after Leopard ships), then we will be offering that class as well. And it will be very different, spending more time on the new technologies, and less time on the Gateway Services (NAT and VPN).

March 1, 2007

Career Fair: What Employers Want

Recently the University of Utah had a career fair for the students, with a number of employers from various industries around the country. Of such, several were looking for Information Technology and Programming students. Just for fun, I thought I would run a quick and impromptu survey with the employers to see what kind of candidate they were looking for. Before I discuss my findings, I want to first address the basics of the survey. Ultimately I was asking about certifications on top of degrees, and then asking the certifications that would be most helpful to those employers.

The Survey
This survey is only limited in it's relevance, as I only had a total of 10 employers that were hiring IT and programming staff. The questions were not standard questions, but were posed slightly differently to each of the employers. Many were aware of the basis of the survey, but were unaware of what the specific departments were looking for in regard to certifications. And finally, I had no control group from which to base the question on (i.e., I didn't ask how many applicants they talked with, and of such how many had certifications and would most likely be interviewed again). But I still think the responses were of use, because the employers were so ready with their replies.

The Results
Most of the employers I talked to were on a one-on-one basis. Each said they were looking for people that were IT professionals, or Computer Science students that had a good grasp on the conceptual as well as the practical. The biggest lament from these employers were that most students had a strong conceptual base, but because they had little practical experience in the regular grunt work, any new hire would need to go through additional training to get up to speed. This took money out of their pocket, and made them more likely to pass by a newly graduated student in favor of a more experienced professional.

So I posed the question: Would certifications help? The first answer I got was Yes!! It would cut down on the training time, and show some practical experience along with the conceptual. Then they started rattling off some certifications that would be of benefit. I won't cover the certifications here, since we are most likely going to offer them in future, but I will say that many were certifications that the Education Technology and Professional Education divisions of Continuing Education offer. But that was just one employer, so I checked with others.

Most came back with a yes, because it shows more dedication to the industry to receive a certification on top of a degree. Others said that they would be fairly open to a degree, and certifications would just be the icing on the cake. But ultimately, all of them were very positive toward the idea of a portfolio from a newly graduated student that included certifications.

The Conclusion
So, based on these discussions, it appears that having a certification program included as an option for graduating students would be of benefit to the employers, and therefore make the student body going into those fields more desirable as a potential hire. While this is not really news to the business world, it may have some impact on various institutions that are looking to become more competitive with the so-called "diploma mills" that focus on the certifications, rather than the conceptual ideas behind the computer world.
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