When POHO isn’t psycho enough – a home network update in progress

If you’ve been around for a while, you will know that POHO, or Psycho Overkill Home Office, is an ongoing theme of this blog. I’ve described it more than twice as “two comma technology on a one comma budget.” It stands to reason that my home network is in the “psycho overkill” range, with three sites connected by VPNs and internal 10 gigabit networking (40 gigabit on its way).

Disclosure: Much of the gear in this post is Cisco Meraki, and much of that was obtained using employee purchase program benefits as a Cisco employee. As a system engineer I was eligible for free renewals on my licenses for the Meraki gear, but the original licenses and most of the hardware purchases were out of my own pocket. Any other gear mentioned was purchased out of my own pocket through mainstream methods (i.e. eBay) unless otherwise noted. Cisco has not reviewed, influenced, or endorsed this post or this blog, and they most likely won’t.

A photo before everything was recabled. There are a lot more ports in use now.

What’s the POHO like today?

In the past two years I’ve been running a somewhat crippled network, despite having pretty good employee purchase benefits at work. Still, with gigabit fiber and 500 megabit cable, I’m at about 2.5x the capacity of my core router.

I’m running a Meraki MX84 as the core of my home network, with AT&T / Sonic fiber as primary, and Comcast as secondary. It downlinks to an MS42p 48-port switch with four ports of 10 Gigabit Ethernet. On the upstream side, it connects via Meraki’s auto-vpn to an MX64 in my shop across town, and to a Z1 Teleworker unit in my garage that keeps some lab gear protected from the world (and simplifies IP addressing).

I have a couple of MS switches around the networks, as well as a Cisco Small Business SG500XG-8F8T, a Netgear MS510TXPP (for mgig POE) and a couple of other brands in use from time to time. Wireless is handled by MR56 and MR34 in the house, MR18 in the garage, and MR16 in the shop.

Unfortunately, the MX84 is limited to 500mbps of stateful firewall or 320mbps of advanced security throughput. I’m getting pretty close to that, but the other half of the uplink is idle unless I switch over to the other side of the MX.

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Quick Take: Is It Too Late To Get Into Crypto?

Short answer: Maybe. But read on.

In January 2021, I refreshed my involvement with cryptocurrency mining, after two years of Ronco-mode Ethereum mining. Set it and forget it worked pretty well, except when a power supply died.

I started a post then, and had told some friends about my calculations for Ethereum mining with the new 30-series from NVIDIA or even my old RX580 cards. A $1500 rig that could pay for itself in six months? Amazing.

But in the week or two after I said that, as James Burke might say, the universe changed. Or at least the crypto and GPU world started to transmute in strange ways.

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Rabbit Launch: Loading up the NUC cluster with a usable operating system

As you saw in my 3D Printing series, after years of pondering a 3D printer, I was finally inspired to buy one when a pile of clusters came up on eBay from the defunct rabb.it video streaming service. In this series, I’ll take you through turning a rabbit door into some useful computing resources.

You can do something similar even after the clusters are sold out; a lot of people have probably bought the clusters and ended up not using them, so you’ll see boards on eBay or local marketplaces… or you can adjust the plans here to other models.

The previous installment, Rabbit Reorganization, can be found here. Stay tuned for more coverage.

Update December 2021: This post languished in the drafts folder for about a year. I’ve updated links, and I’ll be reporting on some changes since the October 2020 launch of this cluster soon.

Let’s NUC this cluster out

  1. Install memory, SATA cable, and SSD
  2. Upgrade BIOS and set some annoying settings
  3. Install your operating system
  4. Set up central control

Install memory, SATA cable, and SSD

This is the least interesting part of the process, but you’ll need to do it before you can install an OS.

Start by loading the SODIMM of your choice onto the board. If you’re using an SSD like I am, you’ll connect the SATA cable to the black SATA connector next to the front USB stack, and the power cable to the beige connector perpendicular to the SATA connector. If you’re using a standard SD card, plug it into the SD slot to the right (as shown with the MAC address label). If you’re going with netboot (local storage? where we’re going we don’t need local storage!), just connect your network cable.

Upgrade BIOS and set some annoying settings

I created a bootable FreeDOS USB drive with Rufus, a common free software product used to create bootable USB media from ISOs (think Linux, Windows, etc). From there, we get the latest BIOS from Intel’s Download Center and place the file on the bootable drive. (Further BIOS instructions available on Intel Support.)

As of December 2021, 0079 is the latest BIOS, released April 20, 2020. You’ll need to search for NUC5PPYH even though the board’s model is PPYB.

Connect a monitor and keyboard, plug in the bootable drive, and apply power (or just reset the board). Use the F7 key to go into onboard flash update and load the BIOS file from the flash drive, or choose to boot from the flash drive and use the DOS-style flasher from there.

When you’ve done the upgrade and the system has rebooted, go into the BIOS with the F2 key and choose BIOS default values. Then go into the menus to enable all the USB ports (for some reason the default is to enable ports 1-3, leaving physical port 4 and header ports 5-6 disabled) as well as the SATA port if you are using that for storage. I’d also check the boot order (move net boot down in preference or disable outright if you don’t plan to use it). You can choose other settings as desired, and then press F10 to save and reboot.

Install your operating system

The easiest way to roll out the NUC side of the door would be to netboot an installation infrastructure like Cobbler. One of the first things I did when I went to work for the Mouse 10 years ago was setting up Cobbler for a deployment of RHEL 5.5.

Sure enough, Cobbler is still a thing, with very recent updates. I was able to get partway there this time and then, after several dozen runs to the garage and back to power cycle nodes, I gave up and installed from local media.

For CentOS 8, I did a manual install booting from a Rufus-created USB drive, with the SSD installed. I configured my storage and network options by hand, as well as user and root credentials. This left an “anaconda.ks” kickstart file on the installed system, which I copied to a second flash drive.

For the additional systems, I plugged both the CentOS 8 installer and the drive with the kickstart file into the NUCs and booted from USB. I ran into some strange storage issues with the drive not being blank, despite having chosen the kickstart option. Ideally, you would boot from the USB installer, it would find your kickstart config, and just roll out the software without intervention from there.

After that, if your DHCP server doesn’t assign hostnames you like, you can go in and set hostnames with hostnamectl or the like.

Set up central control

If you use a configuration management platform like Ansible, Puppet, Chef, cfengine, or the like, you’ll want to set those up at this point.

I’ve gone with the lightweight method so far, with shared SSH keys from a management host (an Intel NUC with CentOS on it, originally intended to be the cobbler server).

Use ssh-keygen to create your key files, and then ssh-copy-id can be used to push out the keys to your hosts. Then look into a more manageable option.

Where do we go from here?

As I finish this post in December 2021, a year after the original build, I’m looking at going back and making a few changes to the cluster to bring it up as a Kubernetes platform.

With the demise of CentOS as many of us know it, I’m planning to replace the installed OSes with Ubuntu LTS. I’m planning to test out some cryptocurrency cpu-based mining, and run Kubernetes platform(s) on it as well, and bring my second door up to speed (the RAM has been sitting in a box in the living room for a year now).

There’s a chance I’ll even do some lightweight Chia farming, using either bus-powered USB hard drives or some of the extra power connectors from the fused expanders for standard Seagate externals.

For those of you who have bought and built up these doors, what did you do with them? Feel free to share details and blog post links in the comments. I’ll put interesting ones into the body of this post as I see them.

Splash Mountain Syndrome – It’s not what you think

A couple months ago my friend Christopher asked his friends about getting comfortable with public speaking. I’ve told this story to small crowds from time to time, but never put it all out there… so here is how I contracted Splash Mountain Syndrome, and what it meant to my public speaking career.

Most of my readers are familiar with Impostor Syndrome, where you doubt you’re good enough to do your job or tell your story, or that there must be someone better out there. Most if not all of us in tech have dealt with this at one time or another, feeling like the turtle on the fencepost.

Splash Mountain Syndrome – It’s not what you think

Image via https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Splash_Mountain_at_Disneyland.JPG (This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.)

We’re going to Disneyland

Well, to explain what I experienced in my speaking career at Cisco, we have to go back to spring 2003. I was between jobs, and had gone down to Southern California to spend a weekend with a lady I was interested in. We went to the grand opening of Amoeba Records Hollywood, and also made my first trip to Disneyland.

She stood in line for nearly an hour with me for the Winnie the Pooh ride, so when she wanted to go on Splash Mountain, I figured I shouldn’t start letting her down quite so early in the relationship. So we went to Splash Mountain. The line was faster there for some reason.

As we went up on the ride to the top, I wondered if it was too late to back out. Maybe hop out at the basketball court and walk down, and probably get kicked out of the park. As we got closer to the mouth of the mountain, it became clear that I had no option but to hold on for dear life and deal with it. And as we emerged into the light, my legs clamped on the log car, I closed my eyes, and dropped.

As we walked away, I asked my companion if she’d heard a noise like a small rodent being strangled. “Yes,” she said. “That was you.”

How this applies to public speaking

I can say that it was more distance than drop ride disappointment that kept that from being a long term relationship, but similar feelings happened almost every time I got ready to travel for a speaking engagement.

I’d be eager to sign up for an event, whether a partner conference or partner sales event, Strata+Hadoop World, or Cisco Live. But the closer it got, even if I already had my presentation pretty much committed to memory, I’d start to think I made a terrible mistake, that I would dread the whole trip, that I’d get my first heckler, or that I should just let someone in marketing handle it.

The dread would intensify as I was packing, probably because even after six years of work travel, I still sucked at packing efficiently (I’m still not that great, despite lots of YouTube videos). But I’d still finish up the packing, with a laptop bag heavier than my clothing and coffee bag, and head off to Seattle or Atlanta or Manhattan or Las Vegas or Denver or wherever.

Of course, I’d do fine, entertain people with the fairly unique mix of facts, experience, humor, cultural references, and sarcasm that I became known for, and get good feedback afterward. We’d find a good restaurant for dinner, and then move on to the next adventure.

But the next time a trip came up, I’d go through the same cycle. At least I didn’t make the noise again.

As Martha Stewart would say, it’s a good thing

I think it was a good thing. I’ve seen speakers who are way too comfortable and lose their edge, their connection with the audience, or even their talk track. We’ve all been in sessions where the speaker is there because of title and clout rather than their scintillating message and delivery; I wonder how many of those people have lost Splash Mountain.

Splash Mountain Syndrome helped keep me on my toes, and definitely made sure that I didn’t get so comfortable with my content that I went into autopilot and lost audiences and credibility. It still led to an uncomfortable hour or more leading up to my trips, but I came out of it stronger and more confident.

Have you experienced anything like Splash Mountain Syndrome? Have any tips for people preparing for pulbic speaking? Share in the comments if you’d be so kind.

Crowdfunding Hits, Misses, and Lessons Learned

Back in November 2020, I wrote about some considerations and dramatics around crowdfunding campaigns. In this post, I’ll give you my top five and bottom five crowdfunding efforts, and maybe a lesson or two to take to the future.

This post has been sitting in my draft folder for a year now, but nothing has changed in it other than the recent time references, which I’ve left as they were in November 2020. I’ll come back with photos later, rather than putting this post off another year.

It was the best of times

My first crowdfunding campaign was the LunaTik and TikTok wrist cases for Apple’s 6th generation iPod Nano (the square one). MINIMAL Design came out with the first huge campaign in 2010, with over $942,000 in backers and a super high quality product that was delivered reasonably. My red LunaTik still sits on my desk, with a functional PRODUCT(RED) Nano in it, and a couple of years ago Scott Wilson, the founder of MINIMAL, mentioned that Apple had used his band/case as part of the prototype design and testing for the original Apple Watch. The watch has come a long way, but the product is still beautiful and functional ten years later. And they’ve come out with more products for the real Apple Watch since then.

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