Wednesday, August 31, 2016
After something of a hiatus, my Cloudy Chat podcast is once again publishing. (iTunes feed. It’s also now on Google Play and available directly from my blog.) My regular co-host had moved onto new responsibilities at Red Hat and with a lot of travel and other things going on, I just let podcasting lapse. But I’ve got a new episode out with Red Hat’s Jen Krieger talking distributed teams, another one mostly in the can, and am partway through refreshing some of the standard audio and graphics associated with the podcast. I also expect to experiment with the format a bit going forward so you’ll likely see (well, hear) some approaches that differ from my standard 15-30 minute straight interview.
With this relaunch, I’ve gotten some questions from colleagues asking how I go about recording and editing podcasts. I’ve written on this topic before, but reading back, I see that I’ve made a fair number of changes to how I do things. So time for an update.
Let me note at this point that I use a number of different approaches depending upon the circumstances.
I’ve written about how I record an interview with a remote guest previously and that description still pretty much applies except that I now generally use BlueJeans rather than Google+. But it really doesn’t matter; the process should be pretty much the same for most video conferencing systems.
If I’m on the road, I try to minimize gear and use one of the iRig microphones plugged into my iPhone. If I recorded this way a lot, I might invest in a dedicated recorder. Note though that some of the high quality ones don’t work well as hand-held recorders because they’re overly sensitive to being handled while recording. (The TASCAM that I describe later on has this property; you have to mount it and/or use external microphones.)
For this post, I’m going to describe how I record interviews when I’m in the office and don’t mind bringing in a (small) bag of recording gear. So this describes a case when your co-host(s) or guests are often in the same location as you are. I’ve fiddled with my kit over the past couple years and I’ve settled on this setup as one that is pretty straightforward once you have it down, can give excellent audio quality, and works to create a natural-feeling interview environment.
My hardware is as follows:
- TASCAM DR-40 4-Track Portable Digital Recorder ($160 as of this writing)
- A pair of microphones with XLR connections. I bought a 3-pack of Behringer Ultravoice Xm1800s Dynamic Microphones ($40 for 3)
- Folding desktop microphone stands
- XLR cables
- Miscellaneous stuff like an SD card, batteries/mini USB for powering the recorder, foam windscreens
Setup the recorder for the external mics. I also use auto levels to try to balance the volume of the microphones but it doesn’t work as well as I would like. But, with my configuration, the mics record on different stereo channels so I can do some manipulation before I blend them. (I also have a USB sound mixing console that I can use to attach more microphones and to directly control their volumes but I’ve found, for most purposes, this adds a lot of complexity without a lot of benefit.)
For editing software, I use Audacity which is Free and Open Source and has far more features than I need or use. It also runs on Linux, Macs, and Windows.
Once I’ve blended the channels, the first thing I usually do when editing is go to Noise Removal under Effect, get a noise profile, and then apply noise removal to the entire recording. I think this capability was introduced in version 2 and, in my experience, does a great job of removing ventilation and other consistent background noises. Of course, the quieter an environment you can find, the better.
After editing in Audacity, I prepare the XML file that’s needed for iTunes and Google Play, splice my standard intro and outro audio onto the beginning and ends of the podcast, and upload the XML and the audio files to AWS. Most of the podcast apps get their feeds from the iTunes API these days, so that’s the one upload that really matters. Even with Google Play, you need to go through the steps to get your podcast into their store, but after that it can draw from the same XML file that iTunes uses. The only separate upload I do is to Soundcloud.
If it sounds kinda fiddly, it is. I’ve written a Python script  to take care of the splicing, the XML creation, and the AWS uploading. (Basically, I fill out a form with the title and description, point it at the MP3 file, and it does the rest. The only manual steps I still have to do are uploading to Soundcloud and writing a blog post for the episode; I also typically get my episodes transcribed by CastingWords for inclusion in the post.)
 It occurs to me that this is probably a good use case for Amazon Lambda but I wrote the original version of the script a few years ago and it generally works fine.
Tuesday, August 30, 2016
MP3 audio (18.21)
OGG audio (18.21)
Tuesday, August 23, 2016
In a recent series of posts on the Red Hat blog, I took a look at virtualization modernization with a particular emphasis on incrementally building off of existing virtualization investments and on the management of, often heterogeneous, virtualized environments.
The first post set the stage for the series, noting that:
Some readers might be thinking that virtualization is yesterday’s news. But it continues to play a major role within just about every enterprise IT infrastructure whether measured by the number of applications it touches, the expense of supporting it, or the number of administrators needed to manage it. At the same time, it’s often not used efficiently. At Directions 2016, IDC Group Vice President for Enterprise Infrastructure, Al Gillen, noted that virtual machine (VM) density is stalling out at about 10 VMs per server and between 30 to 50 percent server utilization. This leaves ample room for improved efficiencies and financial value.
The second post focused on getting things done faster such as by introducing self-service (with Red Hat CloudForms or with Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization itself), automating (e.g., with Ansible), and by simplifying integration.
The third in the series looked at saving time and money—always high on the concerns of IT operations folks. Efficient management is a big piece of this given that, in many cases, the server sprawl that virtualization was often introduced to address simply became “VM sprawl,” a similar problem at even higher scale.
The virtualization platform itself can also save money. For example, performance features in Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization (RHEV) such as KSM memory overcommitment (which allows users to define more memory in their VMs than is present in a physical host) and SR-IOV for the virtual machine network (which increases network throughput while decreasing latency and CPU overhead for near bare-metal performance) enable high VM densities. As of March 31, 2016 Red Hat held the x86 2-socket world record for SPECvirt_sc2013, the standard benchmark used to evaluate performance of datacenter servers used in virtualized server consolidation.
Finally, I discussed how security features and compliance relate to modernizing virtualization. Again, management plays a big role. Red Hat CloudForms provides robust mechanisms for cloud infrastructure with automation, advanced virtualization management controls, private or hybrid cloud management capabilities, and operational visibility. This includes aggregate logging capabilities that let you segregate, log, and allocate resources by user, group, location, or other attributes. Among other benefits, this helps you to find systems that are out of compliance so that you can take quick remedial action.
This complements the foundation provided by Red Hat Enterprise Linux and RHEV. For example, the RHEV security model takes takes advantage of the SELinux and sVirt capabilities in Linux--including mandatory access control (MAC) for enhanced VM and hypervisor security.
(For a broader picture of security and compliance at Red Hat, take a look at the whitepaper that I wrote earlier this year.)
Monday, August 22, 2016
I was out at Gartner Catalyst in San Diego last week and I’ve been trying to mentally sort through what might serve as interesting observations from the event. It covers a broad range of topics relevant to technical professionals, so it’s been a bit hard for me to distill the sampling of sessions that I attended into a single storyline. However, an unrelated piece on IoT that I read this morning—and the graphic that graces this page—got me thinking about some themes both specific to IoT and applicable to emerging technologies more broadly.
At one level, the fact that IoT was prominently on display in a keynote, as well as in a variety of breakouts, is certainly not surprising. There was plenty on containers and container orchestration too. Gartner VP Eric Knipp even highlighted open source as a “cool forever” technology. Well, duh, you may be thinking. Do any of the cool kids not talk non-stop about topics such as these?
Here’s the thing though. How shall I put this nicely? The cool kids tended not to go to Gartner conferences or be Gartner clients historically, Indeed, for many shades of cool, that’s still the case. This isn’t predominantly a startup hub place.
Many of those conservative banks and manufacturing companies and logistics vendors now care about the latest technologies as well. They have to; digital transformation is a thing and the cost of doing nothing is higher than ever. They may adopt new IT approaches slower and more methodically than the Silicon Valley company setting VC dollars on fire. But they’re at least interested in learning about projects, products, and tech that may have not have even existed a couple of years ago. It’s a big change from the days when a lot of these folks weren’t especially interested in anything that wasn’t already in production at a hundred of other sites in their industry.
IoT: The Bad
Scenario from the keynote. Car window gets broken by a thief. The police are automatically summoned. The owner’s insurance company is informed. Repair quotes and automatically generated and a repair is quickly scheduled in time for that evening’s anniversary dinner plans.
Heartwarming. Efficient. A marvel of modern networked communications.
Skip over for the moment all the automagical seamless interaction of communication systems, document formats, and workflows designed to “just work.” At the risk of being a luddite, this degree of autonomous interaction with and between third-parties sets off my creep-meter.
Perhaps I’m overreacting in this specific scenario. But I think it’s hard to argue with the fact that we’re being bombarded with more and more IoT examples in which it seems that someone stopped at the “can it be done stage” without much if any thought given to the “should it be done" question. Whether because it’s creepy. Or even just solves a problem that no one has.
IoT: The Good
Yet, the same keynote also featured an IoT use case from Duke Power that was exemplary on a couple of fronts.
For one thing, it was a joint presentation featuring leaders from both information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) within the company. Driving cooperation between IT and OT was a key theme both in this session and woven throughout the conference as a whole. Reporting from the event, Craig Powers writes:
“At Duke, OT and IT have been apart for many years—we barely touched,” says Shawn Lackey, director of strategy and architecture at Duke Energy. “OT was mainly analog; IT was moving towards digital—we needed to start bringing the two together.”
Lackey was speaking Monday during the opening keynote of industry analyst firm Gartner’s Catalyst Conference in San Diego.
But connecting OT and IT wasn’t necessarily easy, just ask Lackey’s colleague Jason Handley, director of smart grid technology and operations at Duke, who also spoke during the Gartner Catalyst keynote.
“I did not want to talk to IT to begin with,” Handley jokes. “But my attitude has changed. Legacy operations for OT were based on protection and control and nothing else is going to trump that—but now we need to move digital data, and that is only happening by partnering with the IT folks.”
It’s also just a good example of building toward an integrated system that meets genuine business and customer needs. The video goes into more detail but the basic idea is that, using real-time sensor and metering information, the grid will be able to quickly route around certain types of physical damage.
IoT: The Ugly
The keynote didn’t have much to say about IoT security but breakouts dove into considerable detail. For example, Gartner’s Erik Wahlstrom covered “Securing Digital Access in IoT Solutions” while his colleague Erik T. Heidt spoke on “Securing IoT from Edge to Platform and Beyond."
A couple of common themes were lifecycle management and dealing with the diversity of edge devices.
For example, Wahlstrom noted that “sneaker net” is still a common way to provision identity in IoT; the problem is that when things are done this way, there’s no automatic way to provide updates and otherwise manage the device over time.
There is a lot of work going on with IoT security and identity management, including the development of new standards. For example, Enrollment over Secure Transport (EST), is "a new standard (RFC7030) designed to improve the lifecycle management of digital certificates, a key element for secure communications.” However, standards have to cover many different areas—this presentation by James Fedders of Intel gives a sense of just how many—as well as many different classes of edge device: small/smaller, connected always/sometimes, plugged in/low power, etc. For example, the aforementioned EST requires HTTP to work and therefore isn’t a fit for the most contained edge devices.
I’d sum up the security (using the term broadly) conversation is that there’s a general recognition that it’s important. And work is going on. But there’s a huge amount left to be done and, if security is valued in principle, I see far less evidence that it’s universally valued in practice.
 Graphic by http://anandmanisankar.com/posts/IoT-internet-of-things-good-bad-ugly/
At Red Hat Summit in June, Katrinka McCallum and Jay Ferrandini shared their experiences and lessons learned in the process of rolling out DevOps in the Product and Technologies organization. They call it their banana/pickle story, a reference to the pre-DevOps challenge of delivering to users the banana that they asked for instead of the pickle that they didn't want.
This was one of the highest-rated sessions in the IT Strategy track and Summit and is a must watch if you're interested in case studies about how real organizations are implementing DevOps, the challenges they face, and the benefits they gain.
Wednesday, August 03, 2016
Tuesday, August 02, 2016
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