Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A Windows Metric That Most Folks Ignore - NIC Output Queue Length

There's a Windows system statistic that can be an ironclad indicator of resource contention...but most folks never seem to consider it.

Each network interface card (NIC) in your system has an associated output queue; the TCP/IP stack (WInsock) drops packets in this queue, from which the NIC processes them and puts them out on the wire.  Obviously, this number should always be very low; Microsoft states that any value higher than 2 indicates a NIC/network bottleneck.  In recent customer situation, I've seen queue lengths as a high as 8-10; a colleague claims to have seen queue lengths as high as 25!

The first steps in alleviating high NIC output queue lengths is (duh) to ensure that network connectivity (e.g. the local switch/router) is not suffering from congestion.  The second step is to ensure that one has installed the 'latest and greatest' NIC drivers.

Here's where things get interesting, from a system troubleshooting point of view; the LOOPBACK adapter also has an output queue.  This is critical, for two reasons:

  1. Loopback adapters exist only as a construct in RAM, so memory contention can affect loopback adpaters disproportionately, and
  2. Many applications, particuarly server applications, use loopback connections for interprocess communication.

Now, there's no NIC for the loopback, so high output queue lengths on this adapter are indicative of memory contention.  I've seen cases in which high loopback output queues led to "connectivity problems" in the system/application logs, but the root cause was determined to be extremely high paging/swapping and overall memory contention among processes.  Troubleshooting problems here will require examination of overall system memory utilization, paging/swapping, et cetera.

We aren't done, however; if virtualization is involved, our troubleshooting will be pointing us in a different direction.  When running in a virtual machine, what the application "sees" as its NIC is a virtual adapter; all Windows virtualization systems handle these 'pseudo-interfaces' in RAM.  So, we obviously can't go update NIC drivers; instead, high NIC output queue lengths in VM environments usually indicate one of two things: either the physical NIC of the virtual host is so overloaded that it isn't picking up the packets from the various "virtual adapters" of the individual virtual machines, or (since they're all handled via RAM constructs) the virtual host is suffering from memory contention.  Keep in mind that you may not see high CPU/memory utilization on the virtual machine running Windows, since it only 'sees' what the virtual host tells it to see; you need to look at CPU/memory statistics on the virtual host itself!

If you're running Windows systems, take a look at Output Queue Length in Perfmon.

Monday, January 30, 2012

1%, 99%, Whatever - Where Do You Rank?

Taxation is a hot-button issue in the US; political candidates routinely spar, sometimes vituperatively, on the merits of greater or lesser taxation.  In recent months, the various Occupy protests have made strong social statements about the growing dichotomy of wealth in the US.  This is not a new story, but the trends of the last few decades have concentrated a great amount of wealth in relatively few hands.

As you watch the news or listen to the politicians, have you wondered where YOU fall on the income/taxation scale?  Well, the folks over at Kiplinger have put together a good explanation of the distinctions between income, taxes paid, and our comparative standing among "taxpayers."  Give them a read, plug in your number (you only need one - last year's adjusted gross income, or AGI), and see where you stand.

Where Do You Rank as a Taxpayer? - Kiplinger

Sunday, January 29, 2012

MP3Tag - An Indispensible Tool for Managing Music

My digital music library has grown considerably over the last two years; I have well over 20000 tracks, in genres from Russian death metal to K-pop and barbershop quartets.  Since I pick up the bulk of my music online (via promotions and samplers), I find that my MP3s exhibit a wide variety of tags (or, on occasion, no tags at all).  Compounding my difficulty is that fact that I use multiple applications to access/manage my music; it seems that my primary applications--iTunes, Zune and MediaMonkey--don't like to handle tags in quite the same way.  How, then, am I supposed to tag my libraries such that my flock of apps is happy?

Enter MP3tag.  This piece of donationware is worth its weight in gold.  It allows me to effortlessly edit, change and propagate tags across my entire library.  One can even do systemic things such as "in each folder, embed the image folder.jpg in each MP3."  For someone who has spend a LOT of time digging up the proper album art, this latter feature is nothing short of fantastic.

If you're managing a digital music library, take a good look at MP3tag.

Mp3tag - the universal Tag Editor (ID3v2, MP4, OGG, FLAC, ...)

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Non-Menu of the Future? A Different Approach to UI

Most of you know that I'm a fan of Ubuntu Linux, especially on the ThinkPad platform.  You may not know, however, that Ubuntu is getting ready to take a pretty big step in UI design.  It's called the "HUD" (Heads-Up Display, a term undoubtedly borrowed from the Air Force lexicon), and it has become known as an "intenterface" instead of an "interface."

The basic concept is that the HUD will replace the traditional menu system, that it will do fuzzy matching as the user types what they want to do, and that it will remember your most frequent commands and prioritize its display based upon your past actions.  In short, it's close to DWIM - Do What I Mean.

I'm not a UI developer, but I know people who are - so I thought I'd throw this out there for general perusal/comment.

Mark Shuttleworth » Blog Archive » Introducing the HUD. Say hello to the future of the menu.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Blackberry PlayBook - A One-Month Review

I recently won a 16Gb Blackberry PlayBook; this was a Cool Thing on several fronts.  First, I'm an alpha geek, and not having a tablet of any sort just felt wrong.  Secondly, 3 of my kids have iPads through their high school, so I will admit to a wee bit of Tablet Envy.  Finally, I really wanted to see just how much the tablet form factor would help, hinder or change my style.  So, I've had this thing for just over a month, and I took it to Lotusphere 2012 to see how well it would work with my on-the-road style.

I work from home, so I spend most of my days sitting in front of multiple computer systems (namely a docked Win7 laptop, a WinXP desktop and various Ubuntu and Red Hat systems), so having a tablet really hasn't changed my daily work style to any significant degree.  It quickly became apparent that the tablet was really going to come into play as an away-from-my-desk tool, whether "away" meant attending one of my daughters' basketball games, traveling on business or attending a conference.

Having said all of this, let's just jump into some quick likes and dislikes with a few dollops of "meh":

LIKE: The form factor.  I have fairly large hands, and the PlayBook is easy to carry and hold.

LIKE: Clean wi-fi performance.  Even using the highly stressed/congested Lotusphere wi-fi service was a breeze.

DISLIKE: GPS.  The hardware is there, but GPS apps seem to work erratically at best.  Rumor has it that the GPS drivers/API are much-improved in the upcoming 2.0 release of the OS, so we shall see...

MEH: Bing Maps.  Unimpressive.

LIKE: Cameras.  Front- and rear-facing, easy to use, good results for the casual photographer. 

LOVE: Entertainment.  I loaded the PlayBook with 6-8 movies, 500+ songs, and 20+ games.  Whether it's in the car or on a plane, I love it. My one complaint is that it can be difficult to rewind/fast-forward accurately when watching a movie...

MEH: Documents To Go.  Yeah, they're OK, but I was hoping for something more full-featured.

LIKE: Adobe support, and I'm not talking about Flash.  Being able to load my conference slides onto a tablet for use with customers was FANTASTIC..."Oh, I have a few slides on that..."  As a frequent speaker, it's clear that my "past presentations" library will be permanently resident on my PlayBook.

LOVE: True multitasking - keeping Evernote, Word to Go, and the browser up all the time was a definite win during the busy times in the Lotusphere "Meet the Developers" lab. 

MEH: The touchscreen keyboard.  It's ok, but they're all "meh" to me.

DISLIKE: The categorized view of applications in the UI.  There's "All," "Favorites," "Media," "Games," and (if enabled) "Blackberry Bridge."  I'd like to be able to set up my own categories, but I see no means by which to do that.

LIKE: The web browsing experience.  It doesn't particularly scream, but it provides everything I want.

MEH: Blackberry Desktop Software.  It's somewhat cumbersome to sync media with the PlayBook; this UI could be MUCH better.  Props for reading/using my iTunes playlists, though...

DISLIKE: Incomplete Adobe AIR support.  The PlayBook supports AIR 3.0, but only if the application has been 'packaged' for the PlayBook; thus, one cannot simply install a straight-up AIR application like, oh, the AIR version of TweetDeck...

LOVE: Blackberry Bridge. Being able to read email from my Blackberry (via Bluetooth) in the larger form factor of the PlayBook's Messages application is VERY nice.  This also came up BIG as I was working in the Lotusphere lab; being able to spot-check email and calendaring in this fashion was fantastic.  If you have a data plan which permits tethering, you can also use Blackberry Bridge to leverage your Blackberry smartphone for connectivity when wi-fi is unavailable; I haven't had to do that yet, but I'm sure it will come in handy.

I'm very excited by the upcoming 2.0 release of the PlayBook's Tablet OS.  According to reports, it will allow for direct enterprise activation of a PlayBook against a Blackberry Enterprise Server (although I probably won't do that - I'd prefer to keep my tablet free of onerous security policies) and provide an "Android Player" to bring Android applications to the PlayBook.  I'm not a huge app guy, but adding Android apps to the list of existing PlayBook apps is a big step forward for the platform.  I'm looking forward to installing 2.0 next month.

So, in short - for this non-power user, the PlayBook does pretty much everything I need.  There's certainly something of a cloud hanging over the device--on both technical and strategic fronts--but I find it solid, entertaining and useful.

Blackberry - PlayBook

Monday, January 23, 2012

Sametime United Telephony and Windows 7 - One Small Glitch, then Smooth Sailing

Well, I finally found the "right person" who could get me onboard with Sametime United Telephony.  (Of course, I found that person at Lotusphere!)  So, I sat down to enable SUT on my Windows 7 desktop.  All went according to plan until I actually made an inbound test call to my SUT number...it worked once, then everything failed.  It went beyond just SUT; I had no audio in any application, no calls, nothing.

A bit of digging led me to the Technote linked below.  As it happens, Windows 7 makes a distinction between "Default Device" and "Default Communications Device" in its sound configuration.  Since I had not specifically named a default communications device, SUT was grabbing the speakers and microphone of my laptop; this, in turn, created exclusivity problems (which explained why no other apps could use the sound devices).  As far as I can tell, this issue would affect any softphone under Windows 7.  After digging up my Bluetooth earpiece and configuring it as my Default Communications Device in Windows 7, all was well; I'm placing and receiving SUT calls with no issues.  I just thought I'd throw this information out there in case anyone else is being bitten by this somewhat hidden Windows 7 gotcha.

IBM No audio on a softphone call when using Windows 7 - United States

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Optimize your Home (or Business) Wireless--FREE--with NetSurveyor

One of my Twitter friends pointed me to the folks at Nuts About Nets, and there's no doubt that my quick visit to the NAN website has already paid tangible dividends.  One word, folks - NetSurveyor.  You won't find a better FREE wireless network profiler out there; whether you're a bithead by trade (like me) or just a power user of home 802.11g/b/n wireless, you'll love this Windows application.  The first thing I did was check channel usage, and I found that 9 of the 13 home WLANs in range of my home (including my own) were fighting on a single channel.  One quick configuration change moved my WLAN to an otherwise unused (and non-overlapping) channel, and I saw immediate performance improvement in my home WLAN of 20+ devices. (For details of 802.11 channels and channel selection, NetGear has a good, basic explanation.)

Alongside NetSurveyor lies NetStress, an 802.11 benchmarking and stress-test tool.  I'll be using NetStress in the near future, just to see what kind of boundaries I can push with my existing wireless infrastructure.

Get NetSurveyor - NOW.

Free Tools » Nuts About Nets

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

First Time at Lotusphere? Take the Newbie Tour!

(The link for this article lists a goodly number of 'unofficial' events taking place during Lotusphere 2012; they're all great, but I'd like to focus on one...)

If you're attending your first Lotusphere, let me warn you now - it can be a daunting experience.  Sessions fly by, one loses track of time in the Product Showcase, vendor receptions abound...but there's one thing (new this year!) that can help you organize your week.

The 2012 Newbie Tour of Lotusphere is a must-do for anyone attending their first (or first in a while) Lotusphere.  Go to the Dolphin Rotunda at 4pm Sunday afternoon.  Find The Turtle.  Take the tour.  That is all.

Inside Lotusphere, Outside the Agenda - IBM Social Business Insights Blog

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Lotusphere - The Busiest Week of My Year

It's almost here!  Lotusphere begins on Sunday, January 15th (well, the official sessions begin on Sunday, anyway), and 2012 promises to deliver another week chock-full of technical and strategic content.  From Domino to Portal to Sametime and Connections, it's going to be a full-throated chorus of strategic and technical goodness.  Lotusphere is always a busy week for me, and this year is no exception; I'll be presenting the following sessions:

  • JMP201 (R1) IBM Sametime 8.5.2 Architecture and Deployment Workshop
    • Sunday 1/15, 10:30am-12:30pm, Dolphin Southern Hemisphere III
  • JMP201 (R2) IBM Sametime 8.5.2 Architecture and Deployment Workshop
    • Sunday 1/15, 4:00pm-6:00pm, Dolphin Southern Hemisphere III
  • BOF126 Ask the Network Geek!
    • Tuesday 1/17, 7:00am-8:00am, Swan Parrot 1
  • BOF127 Building a Network Toolbox
    • Wednesday 1/18, 7:00am-8:00am, Swan Mockingbird 1-2
  • ID114 Wrestling the Snake - Performance Tuning 101
    • Wednesday 1/18, 1:30pm-2:30pm, Swan 9-10

In between sessions (from noon Monday onward, that is), I'll be in the Meet the Developers lab; MtD is usually located next to the Product Showcase escalators.  If you have time, stop by and say hello!

IBM - Lotusphere sessions: Get your face-to-face fix - Overview

Friday, January 06, 2012

Social Media Meets History - In Real Time

OK, now this is an interesting concept.  These folks are tweeting (and Facebooking) events from World War II in real time, as if this were 1940.  Most of their entries link to photographs or other documentary evidence of the event(s) in question.  Apparently, they plan to keep this up for the next 6 years...

This strikes me a fantastic teaching tool, as well as a "fun follow" for any history/military buff.  Check it out.

WW2 Tweets from 1940 (realtimewwii) on Twitter

Looking for Movies to Fill Your Tablet?

I stumbled across this site tonight, and they offer several hundreds short films and movies for free download.  I did a quick spot check, and everything I checked seems to be legitimately public domain.  If you've been waiting to see 1958's "She Gods of Shark Reef" or 1938's "Shadows Over Shanghai," this is the place...

PublicDomainFlicks.com - Free Public Domain Movie Downloads

Monday, January 02, 2012

Strange Bedfellows - In Which Winter Stirs a Musical Memory

It's snowing outside, and--as usually happens--I found myself humming a song.  Not just any song, mind you, but one particular song that ALWAYS comes to mind when I watch a snowfall.  It isn't "Let It Snow," or even "Winter Wonderland," but allow me to explain...

I grew up in rural Kentucky.  I mean RURAL.  I mean that we defined "neighbor" as "we can see their house," and we had but two "neighbors."  As you might imagine, cable TV had not yet extended its reach beyond the city limits of the small town (pop. 800) outside which we lived, so we had a TV antenna on a tower with a remote-controlled motor; if it were pointed north, we could receive 3 channels from Louisville, while a southward orientation would give us 4 channels from Nashville.  My mother was partial to the Louisville stations, particularly WHAS-TV 11, so that was her source for morning news - and, in the winter, for school closings as well.  WHAS always played the same instrumental piece to accompany the list of school closings; if I heard that music when I awoke, there was a better-than-50% chance that I would not be going to school that day.  Needless to say, I soon knew that song by heart.  It was several years before I learned its name and composer, and I've been a fan ever since.

So, if you ever hear me whistling or humming this piece - now you know why.  Enjoy.

Bellavia - YouTube

Kentucky Basketball Fans - Let's Replace Cupcakes with In-State Games!

So, there's a lot of discussion going on in BBN (Big Blue Nation) about scheduling, early-season games, "cupcakes" and the like.  I understand the rationale behind scheduling "cupcake" games, but it's getting ridiculous; Kentucky's 2011-12 schedule includes games against Morehouse, Marist, Radford, Portland,Tennessee-Chattanooga, Arkansas-Little Rock, Samford, Loyola (MD), and Lamar.  What was once a 'marquee-matchup' game against Notre Dame in Lousiville is now a throwaway game against Arkansas-Little Rock, and UK Coach John Calipari is suggesting that he may move to strike the yearly Freedom Hall game from UK's schedule.  I would like to suggest a partial solution to both problems.

There's a LOT of good collegiate basketball in Kentucky, but much of it goes unnoticed.  Sure, there are the seven Division I schools (UK, Louisville, Western Kentucky, Eastern Kentucky, Morehead State, Murray State and (moving up next year from Div2) Northern Kentucky), but we also have tournament-quality men's teams playing in Division II (Kentucky Wesleyan, Bellarmine and Northern Kentucky are all currently in the Top 15), Division III (Transylvania, Centre), and NAIA (Georgetown College, Pikeville).  Why not feature these lesser-known teams more often?

What if there were a "Kentucky Hoops Showcase" doubleheader that rotated among the state's largest Division I arenas and featured a D2/D3/NAIA matchup alongside a game between two of the state's Division I schools?  Imagine the next four years like this:

  • 2012: Kentucky Wesleyan/Bellarmine opening for UL/Murray State in Freedom Hall
  • 2013: Pikeville/Centre opening for WKU/EKU in Diddle Arena
  • 2014: Georgetown College/Transylvania opening for UK/Morehead State in Rupp Arena
  • 2015: Bellarmine/Kentucky State opening for NKU/Murray State in the Bank of Kentucky Center

Sell one ticket for both games to the general public--season ticket holders get to see enough games, so let them buy these separately if they want to attend--and start raising the public's awareness of Kentucky's D2/D3/NAIA prowess to boot.  Toss in some other same-day features, like collegiate recruiting fairs for all Kentucky colleges/universities and "fan fair" sorts of games/events, and this could really turn into a great tradition.  I'd much rather see something like this than Kentucky playing Arkansas-Little Rock in Freedom Hall.  In addition, splitting the ticket revenues with the "small schools" would certainly give them a financial boost, and that isn't a bad thing.

If UK and UL can both schedule Lamar, there's no reason they can't do this.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Free Books for Science Geeks!

The National Academies Press is the publishing arm of the government's highest scientific organizations - the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, the Institute of Medicine, and the National Research Council.   Those organizations publish dozens, if not hundreds, of titles each year.  Well, in the last year or two, they've made a concerted effort to make their publications available as free PDF downloads.  The most recent statement on the site states that "over 4000" books and reports are now available for free download.  A quick look at the front page offers the following titles:

  • "On Being a Scientist: A Guide to Responsible Conduct in Research"
  • "Macondo Well-Deepwater Horizon Blowout: Lessons for Offshore Drilling Safety"
  • "Surrounded by Science: Learning Science in Informal Environments"

Over in the "Computers and Informational Technology" section, we find:

  • "The Future of Computing Performance: Game Over or Next Level?"
  • "The Rise of Games and High Performance Computing for Modeling and Simulation"
  • "Critical Code: Software Producibility for Defense"

If you have ANY interest in ANY scientific field, it looks like NAP has free PDF books for you.  I'm going to enjoy building a library from this site...

The National Academies Press

A Peek Into the Arms Industry

Every so often, I'll just toss the odd search term into Google and see what happens.  Tonight, I was led to the home page of Rosoboronexport, the state-owned Russian arms agency.  For some reason, I don't think of advertising and marketing as something to be applied to submaries, air defence systems or missiles; I was quickly disabused of such notion.  The Rosoboronexport site is full of hype and glitz, including (if one selects the "Catalogues of Products" link from the "Menu Open" button) full-size PDF catalogs for land warfare, naval, air force and air defence systems.  Interesting stuff...

So, I just knew that America's armament manufacturers wouldn't be missing out on this particular boat, so I quickly found my way to Raytheon's site, which is chock-full of marketing hype for air warfare systems.  AMRAAM, Maverick, Paveway - they're all there.

If you're a military person, or just a Tom Clancy fan, you'll probably find these sites/downloads interesting...


Raytheon -Air Warfare Systems