A new telescope: William Optics Megrez 90

Dale Ghent | January 7, 2008

I’ve been really quiet with the astronomy-related blog posts over the past year, but that doesn’t mean that I’ve been straying from the hobby of amateur astronomy – far from it. I’ve signed up with two local clubs and have been brining my scopes out to star parties (or just my back yard) whenever I can.

Up until recently my only two telescopes have been a Orion XT10i, a 10″ dobsonian, and a Coronado PST for viewing the Sun in Hydrogen-alpha wavelengths. This past holiday I treated myself to a new scope, a 90mm apochromatic doublet refractor made by William Optics (WO) named the Megrez 90.

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The Megrez 90, as the name implies, is a high-quality refractor telescope that uses calcium fluoride optics. The objective lens is 90mm in diameter and the scope has a focal length of 621mm, which means it has a focal ratio of f/6.9. When WO brought this scope to market, it took it by storm as it was quickly regarded as a high quality instrument at an astonishingly low price, easily comparable in optical quality, fit and finish to long-standing fonts of quality such as TeleVue and Stellarvue.

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I found the reviewers to be spot-on with their assessment of this telescope’s construction and features. Its dual-speed (10:1) Crayford-style focuser has made me wish I had it on my big Orion XT10i. The stars are beautiful pinpoints with no detectable (to me at least) chromatic aberration. I have only spent a few nights outside with this ’scope so I don’t have a full feel of its capabilities… more on that later. But I will say that I have been impressed so far and would at least offer it as a suggestion to anyone who is looking for a telescope in its class.

Along with the telescope, I purchased WO’s EZTouch alt/az mount and wooden surveyor’s style tripod to put it on, as well as their Red Dot Finder instead of a classic finder scope. I found with my XT10i+Telerad that I prefer to star-hop to my target rather than bungle around inside a restricted FOV.

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I foresee many nights out under clear skies with this fine instrument.

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End of an era, onward to a new one

Dale Ghent | December 8, 2007

With a bit of sadness, yesterday marked my last day of work at UMBC where I spent the past 3½ years learning lots of new things. It’s where I developed my deep interest in mass storage and furthered my Solaris knowledge even more, where I delved into kernel programming by participating in the OpenAFS project.

I learned a lot about people there, too, and how different sectors of the IT industry just have sometime inexplicably different mindsets about how to do things. Coming from the .com world to the .edu world was a bit of a whiplash event for me then having grown up around profit-based and customer service-centric organizations. I know I did leave UMBC with some lasting friendships and deeper appreciation skill sets in other people that I gave barely a thought to before.

Onward and upward, I transition to my new job and re-enter the .com world. On Monday, I start with Salesforce.com and will focus on storage (and Solaris) there. It’s an exciting opportunity for me and I’m sure I’ll be immersed in the technology and tasks I enjoy. I’ll work with a top-notch team in helping to keep SFDC at the forefront if its industry. Good times ahead!

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Server upgrade time – elemental.org gets modern

Dale Ghent | November 17, 2007

After almost 8 years of running elemental.org mail, mailing lists, shell accounts, many websites (such as this one), database servers and essentially being a one-server ISP, the Sun Ultra 2 which ran all those things as lithium.elemental.org was retired and replaced this past weekend with a new server. Say hello to mercury.elemental.org.

Mercury is a Dell PowerEdge 860 with a Intel Xeon X3220 (quad core, 2.4Ghz) and 4GB 8GB of 667Mhz DDR2 RAM. Unlike lithium, mercury’s storage is entirely internal in the form of two mirrored 500GB SATA drives. This is to keep the entire package in 1 rack unit of space to keep colocation costs down.

What really excites me about this new server is that it is running Solaris 10 8/07 (lithium was running a very patched Solaris 8 FCS!). Solaris installed without a hitch and the 860’s onboard BCM5721 NICs are recognized by the bge driver, as are its IPMI baseboard controller by the bmc driver. The chipset on this system is the Intel ICH7 and unfortunately the Solaris ahci driver supports only the ICH6 at the moment, so the drives are running just fine in IDE compatibility mode.

This upgrade wasn’t just a mere update of hardware and OS. I also completely changed how the mail storage works and also make use of ZFS file systems for each user home directory and virtual web site:

  1. Out with uw-imap, in with Cyrus. All mail is delivered to Cyrus, so there are no more maildir-style spools sitting in each person’s home directory.
  2. To take advantage of Cyrus’s features, elemental.org is now operating its own Kerberos realm, ELEMENTAL.ORG. This is my first time running my own Keberos KDC, and I love it. Cyrus and Sendmail, via SASL, now offer GSSAPI authentication. Using Solaris’s pam_krb5_migrate.so.1 PAM module, as people log in with their UNIX passwords, a Kerberos principle is made for them and they are granted tickets. Pine is configured to connect to Cyrus and authenticate with GSSAPI, so shell users don’t have to type in or save their password when accessing their email!
  3. As I mentioned, all user data is now stored on a mirrored ZFS pool. Each user and virtual website gets their own ZFS file system and this will allow me to keep tabs on disk usage (and easily delete a user or site if the need should arise.) The zpool’s net size is 442GB.
  4. All incoming email is goes through greylist, ClamAV, and finally SpamAssassin milters.
  5. I’m more at ease and familiar with Solaris’s SMF facility now, having made a point to write SMF manifests for the services I’m running rather than plain old init scripts.

In addition, I’m now monitoring several aspects and services on the new system using Cacti.

Here’s to another 8 years of hopefully trouble-free operation!

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Verizon FiOS with only a Apple Airport Extreme

Dale Ghent | September 19, 2007

I’ve had Verizon’s FiOS service for about a year now, and by and large I’ve enjoyed it quite a bit. One thing that has bothered me, though, is the big ActionTec router that they supply. It’s a nice router and all and you do need it if you also have Verizon’s digital cable service. But I have just the internet service and I already have a gaggle of Apple Airport Extreme and Airport Express base stations around the house, so this Actiontec router was just a superfluous thingy and I felt that my Airport Extreme base station could be put to better use in its place. Now, the Actiontec router is what the VZ tech installs. It takes the 100Mb ethernet connection coming into the house from the ONT outside. According to VZ support, only it can be used to terminate the FiOS internet, but I doubted this. I wanted this thing out of the picture and was successful at doing so.What you need to do is the following:

  1. Log in to the Actiontec’s web interface (typically by going to http://192.168.1.1/)
  2. Select Network, click on “Ethernet (Broadband)” and its edit icon. Down the page, you’ll see a button labled “Release”. It’s important to release the IP address VZ’s network has given the Actiontec, or it’ll refuse to allot one to your Airport Extreme once you bring that up in its place.
  3. Immediatly turn off the Actiontec. Remove the “WAN” ethernet cable from it, and plug it into the “WAN” port of your Airport base station. Turn the Airport on.
  4. The Airport base station should boot up and request an IP from VZ’s DHCP server. Speaking of which, the “Internet Connection” setting in the Airport should be “DHCP” and not “PPPoE”. VZ no longer uses PPPoE on its FiOS lines.
  5. Configure your Aiport wireless network as you see fit and you’re done. No more Actiontec.

Step 2 is muy importante. If you don’t do that, your Airport base station will be sitting there with a blinking amber light because the VZ network is refusing to give it an IP, simply because it still thinks that your (no longer operating) Actiontec has it.

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Solaris 10 8/07 “What’s New” docs are up

Dale Ghent | August 29, 2007

The first official list of new stuff added in Solaris 10 via its 4th update is available on docs.sun.com now:

http://docs.sun.com/app/docs/doc/817-0547/getjd?l=en&a=view

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My presentation at the 2007 AFS & Kerberos Workshop

Dale Ghent | May 13, 2007

This past week, the 2007 AFS & Kerberos Workshop went on at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC) near Palo Alto, CA. Many people from an array of places eductational, government, and commercial came and presented papers and discourse on a wide range of topics involving AFS and Kerberos.

I was lucky enough to present a slide show on how we at UMBC have been combining OpenAFS with new ZFS and Zones features of Solaris 10 to obtain a more resilient AFS server infrastructure. You can view a PDF of my presentation here.

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Funny Sun bug fix of the day

Dale Ghent | May 1, 2007

So today I was reading over the release notes for patch 126400-1, which is the latest OpenBoot PROM and SC update for the T1000/T2000, and came across an interesting bug ID listed under the Problem Description section:


6510364 “War Mode” in ALOM-CMT is required by the US NAVY which is currently missing

Awesome. I love knowing that my T1000s have a “war mode” now. Perhaps Sun should call it the SkyNet T1000 ;) Hopefully it’s the feature and not the US Navy that was “currently missing.”

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More Linux/Solaris FUD wars

Dale Ghent | April 13, 2007

It’s all too often that I read posts such as this one and can’t help but to think that the writer is a tad on the myopic side of things… so much so that after a paragraph or two it becomes apparent that the writer hasn’t actually used Solaris in its current incarnation. And I don’t mean “used it” as in “I installed it and played around with it for a few hours/days, didn’t like the default GNOME theme, and promptly replaced it with Debian Etch” or some such. I mean “used it” as in implementing it in a real world production environment with an attempt to treat its features as the tools they are instead of toys.

In particular, I take issue with this comment from Mr. Zaitcev:

“This is the problem OpenSolaris is facing today in the nutshell: it has no breadth. It has a very limited number of excellent technologies, such as ZFS.”

No breadth? Care to, well, add some breadth to that statement, Mr. Zaitcev? Making a comment like that doesn’t mean you can toss out just one perceived example and end your argument at that.

It would appear that all of Mr. Zaitcev’s experience with Solaris/OpenSolaris comes from reading 3rd party accounts of the big new features in Solaris. This is exactly what I referred to in my opening paragraph… all these anti-Solaris pundits more than likely have zero hands-on expeience with the stuff they’re harshing on. People like Mr. Zaitcev read anecdotes and stories, come up with their own idea as to how things are based on those stories, and produce comically uninformed jabs posts such as the one linked above.

No breadth? Just what is the breadth that Mr. Zaitcev thinks is missing? Is breadth in this case even quantifiable? Is his supposition based solely on the age old (and aged) driver count argument? Does Mr. Zaitcev think that all Solaris is, is an ancient kernel which happened to have a few new concepts tacked on top of it?

I would bet that if Mr. Zaitcev sat down and tried to use Solaris in a real-world environment, he’d soon learn that Solaris has everything one needs in a data center environment… he just hasn’t discovered them (or read about them, natch) yet for himself. Who knows, perhaps he’d even appreciate them.

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Crying “FUD” doesn’t always mean you’re right

Dale Ghent |

…and it sure doesn’t grant you instant vindication.

It appears that DaveM (Linux networking and SPARC port guru) has gotten seriously wound up in response to a blog post by Jeff Bonwick (Sun’s storage and kernel guru.)

As one can see in Jeff’s post, the suject he wrote about was within the greater context of using Solaris as a storage appliance OS (something I have an interest in) and why Solaris/OpenSolaris can and would excel when it comes to being the kernel of a storage OS.

I’m a storage guy. In the course of my work I have to not only work with Solaris hosts on my SAN, but also Windows and Linux (and soon, AIX). So I have a front-row seat when it comes to witnessing and dealing with how these various OSes deal with storage, from the filesystem to multipathing, to the HBA… and let me tell you, Linux is quite not the joy in this specific area as most people think it is on a general, all-encompassing level.

And that’s what Jeff’s angle was.

Now on to Dave’s rebuttle.

“The implication is that Linux is not rock-solid and that it does break and corrupt people’s data. Whereas on the other hand Solaris, unlike the rest of the software in this world, is without any bugs and therefore won’t ever break or corrupt your data.”

No OS comes without fault, but some OSes have faults that are more glaring than others in their analogous areas. Staying within the storage context of this discussion, I have to say, again, Linux is no shining star here.

ReiserFS is arguably the most advanced fs in terms of features when it comes to the portfolio of Linux file systems, but its issues with stability are such that you’re really walking on eggshells whenever you employ it. I have been personally told too many first-hand accounts and read plenty more on the Internets regarding its tendency to be fine and then fail spectacularly. It has been likened to a time-delayed /dev/null of sorts, and the future of it is in doubt with the legal troubles of its designer and Namesys limbo. Is any version of ReiserFS a viable Linux storage technology for a production environment? I say No. That’s sad because I dare say at one point ReiserFS had some promise.

EXT2 and 3… tried and true. Very stable and moderately fast for most tasks. But it’s an “old guard” file system. As such, it’s not very flexible, and any flexibility it gets comes from using a volume manager underneath of it. In the days where the notion of handing a server a 1TB LUN is nothing to blink at, this inflexibility can be suffocating in a dynamic environment. These “old guard” file systems (yes, Solaris’s UFS is one of them, too) are more like mere utility file systems than practical ones for today’s mass storage needs. It’s good for holding a machine’s OS and that’s about it.

XFS… Of all the file systems in the Linux file system portfolio, this one gets the gold star. Stable, fast, and decently scalable with the large amount of data you can stuff in it… but it still suffers the same problems EXT[23] and other “old guard” file systems do in terms of flexibility. In other words, it’s just a file system. Keep in mind that this critique is coming from a guy who worked with XFS on IRIX often and absolutely loved XLV… back in its the day.

As it stands now, the mainline Linux kernel doesn’t offer anything which embodies the file system triple play: being stable && fast && flexible. Solaris’s ZFS has this. I’ve so far entrusted 30TB of spinning rust to it, and it has yet to let me down. Sure, there are projects here and there that have the eventual goal endowing Linux with a ZFS analog, but as of right now they’re nothing production quality and are definitely not something a admin can call RedHat to get support for.

There are plenty of other aspects to the storage context… the fibre channel stack, for one, and other things such as multipath IO implementations and volume manager and management layers (which Linux has a host of… not necessarily a good thing… LVM, LVM2, MPIO, RDAC… it makes your head spin.)

But as far as this storage-oriented discussion goes, file systems are indeed the make or break aspect. This is why Jeff said what he said. Linux has no ZFS. Windows has no ZFS. It is not that Linux or Windows need ZFS itself in order to compete, it’s that they need to develop and employ the concepts that ZFS implements and do so as clearly and concisely as ZFS has.

Anyway, enough about storage. Now, why is it that the Linux community (let alone a prominent member of it) has to react so violently to any questioning of its perceived superiority? Is it misplaced or excess pride? Have they not tried things other than Linux recently and they’re just flying with blinders on? Is it just the social culture which prevails within it? What ever it is, seeing posts like Dave’s makes my toes curl with embarrassed amazement.

A friendly message to Dave: Chill the ad hominems, mkay? Crying “FUD!” at the mere sight of someone who you perceive as poo-poo’ing an aspect of your interest doen’t typically translate into a well thought-out rebuttle. You took the low road and tried to convey Jeff as being some instrument of some nefarious, Mr. Burns-like person at Sun. Is vilifying instead of cool-headed technical discourse really your desired style? Has anyone come biting at you saying “oh, he’s a Linux kernel developer, so he has an agenda”?

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Sun and Qlogic to open up the source of storage software

Dale Ghent | April 11, 2007

Sun has announced that they will be releasing several of their storage products to the OpenSolaris community!

From their announcement:

  • Sun StorageTek 5800 storage system (Honeycomb) client interfaces along with the Honeycomb software developer kit (SDK) and Honeycomb emulator/server. Honeycomb is a third-generation digital repository solution for data capture and management.
  • SAM-FS (Storage Archive Manager) provides data classification, policy based data placement, protection, migration, long-term retention, and recovery capabilities for organizations to effectively manage and utilize data according to their business requirements. SAM-FS is used exensively in security/surveillance, digital video archiving, and medical imaging data environments.
  • QFS Sun’s shared file system software delivers significant scalability, data management, and throughput for the most data-intensive applications. Well known today in the traditional high performance computing (HPC) arena, QFS is increasingly being used in commercial environments that require multiple host, high speed access to large data repositories.

Also, and pretty awesome yet:

In addition, today QLogic is contributing their Fibre Channel HBA driver code to the OpenSolaris storage community. For the first time, developers have access to an I/O stack from the application through to the operating system.

Now how cool is that? That last sentence says it all… openness from from the app to the HBA. Most excellent. Thank you to Sun and a really surprised thank you to Qlogic!

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