Fiber Optics Bleg

It’s been some time since I had anything to do with fiber optic cabling, and my experience years ago was with Gigabit Ethernet over good old fashioned OM1 with no run greater than a few hundred feet. Back when I started with that, companies were just getting settled on 100Base-T for their LAN drops and there wasn’t yet any Cat6. Gigabit was something new and exciting.

So here I find myself years later looking to wire up my gun club for cameras, property-wide WiFi, and an access card system.

I know I’ll get people who will say “microwaves!” but we have large berms separating parts of the property, and I’d have to trench a good bit of new cable and clear a good bit of brush to get a clean line of sight to the places I need to go. Plus, I like wires. You can’t jam wires. I don’t have to worry about clearing and maintaining brush with wires. I can also get full GigE speed with wires.

The convention wisdom has been, and if you search the Internet still seems to be: “Multimode for short distances, and single mode for long distances.” Why? Well, cost, and MM is easier to terminate and more tolerant of poor field terminations.

As best as I can tell, the cost difference between a good quality OM3 or OM4 multimode fiber and OS2 single-mode fiber is trivial. Additionally, the SFP transceivers for 1000Base-SX and 1000Base-LX are not terribly different from the vendor I’m looking at. I’m also not planning to do any field terminations: there are plenty of vendors who sell pre-terminated fiber, and I was careful to measure the obsolete or non-functioning copper cables I pulled out of all the runs.

My question to anyone out there who’s well-versed and current with fiber: why would anyone use multi-mode fiber for campus length runs when there’s little price difference? Keep in mind I have a few runs that push the limits of multi-mode fiber at 1Gb/sec (550m) and would be right on the very edge with OM4 multi-mode fiber for 10Gb/sec (400m). So why not use single-mode? I can go 10km with single-mode, and 10Gb/sec is no problem. Am I missing something? It seems that maybe multi-mode has advantages if you’re looking to do field terminations, but the price advantage it might have once had isn’t’ really there anymore.

Addendum question: There are a handful of vendors out there selling pre-terminated cables. Price differences seem to be substantial. Are there any vendors to prefer? To avoid?

Club Management

If posting has been light, one reason is I’m spending nearly all my non-working hours trying to sort out a new membership management system for my club. I consider this part of the “local engagement” I was speaking about earlier.

We largely decided not to go with a cloud-based solution, which is fine with me. Maybe this will be my curmudgeon technology issue, because the young folks seem to love the cloud, and even I have to admit, having worked with Amazon Web Services professionally, and helped a few clients through migrations, Bezos has built one hell of a nice ecosystem. But I like the saying, “There is no cloud. There’s just someone else’s computer.” I don’t like the idea of trusting personal data to an entity I don’t really know or trust, and who only sees me as one of many income sources. Also, AWS is damned expensive. So are most other Cloud solutions.

We have an existing card access system for the gate and for the various doors around the property. The old system worked off an Access database. Recently we upgraded that software, and the new version is backed by SQL Server. The old card access system was a mess. There were people in the system who had been dead for some time and still had active cards. People were missing from the system who were members. I think some of them may be grandfathered lifers who just never bothered picking up an access card. It took another trustee helping me sort that out, and I’m still not sure all the cards are assigned correctly.

Originally I had chosen to put the member database in MySQL. Since I already have SQL Server running, why not just use that? Saves having to run a Linux machine and cuts down on the number of skill sets needed to maintain the system. As long as I’m cutting MySQL out of the picture, I might as well also cut OpenLDAP and set up Active Directory to use with Google Cloud Directory Sync (GCDS). I’m teaching myself a bit of PowerShell to make a script that will push out changes in the member database to the card access system, to QuickBooks (via qODBC), and to Active Directory.

After working with PowerShell scripting a bit, I’ve decided I hate it with a burning white hot passion. At this point I’ll probably stick to it because I’ve already invested the time, but the future of that function will probably be with Python if serious changes are ever required in the future. So in the end the system has ended up being far more Microsoft than I expected going in, because I had no idea what the new card system would look like. Our new card system will even work with an ID card printer to manage and print member badges, so we got one of those too.

I think what I’m coming up with will be a decent platform for the next decade or so. It will certainly make managing dues processing for our 1300 members easier than the old paper process.

Club Membership Management

I don’t often talk about my local gun club on these pages, but in this case I’m seeking some advice. You, dear readers, often have ideas I didn’t think of, or know of products I haven’t come across. I have been the club’s secretary since, I think 2009 at this point, and now I am tasked with rethinking some of the club’s processes. Let me give you some background:

  • For years our club was run by a small handful of dedicated people who did most of the work, including handling dues processing every year. This was a very manual, paper process.
  • Those people have either died, been voted out of office, or stepped aside. The people coming in don’t have that kind of time to dedicate, so we’re going to be much more dependent on process and automation than we have in the past.
  • I am now helping to devise a system for invoicing members via e-mail, allowing them to pay online with a card, and only doing paper invoicing for people who prefer that.
  • Whatever new system I come up with needs to be usable by people with average computer skills for baby boomers. It’s OK if it takes mad skill to set up, but beyond that it mostly has to just work.
  • We need a secure way to back up data. I was thinking maybe using an encrypted S3 bucket at Amazon. Off site storage at my house is another option, and wouldn’t cost anything except the cost of a machine and disk, but we’re trying to move away from the club’s processes depending on single people.
  • We’ve long wanted to use a “members only” forum. I like Google Groups, but I don’t want to have to manage accounts on Google and on club systems.

At the center of this, our new Financial Secretary has chosen to manage his role using QuickBooks. I have managed to enter our membership information into it, but I’m disappointed by how bad some of Intuit’s user interface is. For instance, I can’t sort the customer list by member number. It sorts it alphabetically, rather than numerically. There doesn’t seem to be any good way to change this.

QuickBooks may be a good accounting tool, but it sucks as a way to manage members. I’ve been looking at this product, to possibly sync certain fields in QuickBooks with a MySQL database, using Access as a front end to MySQL. This way membership information can be managed in two places, and it also would offer a means to set up MySQL-backed OpenLDAP for use with Google Cloud Directory Sync so we could set up “members only” Google Groups. I want a single place to manage membership information, and have it automatically update in QuickBooks, LDAP, etc, without someone having to manually update this information in multiple places.

I’m curious if anyone has any experience with this. I know another area club uses Wild Apricot, but our Financial Secretary was worried its QuickBook integration was tedious. I am also a bit wary about cloud applications, both because of security issues, and because if it goes under, or they make a major feature change that we’re not prepared for, we could be stuck up a creek without a paddle. I’m OK with using Google Groups, since that’s not a core function. We could live without it a while. But dues invoicing and managing membership information is critical.

If anyone has done anything like this, or something similar, I’d be curious to hear whether you think my idea is sound, or maybe there’s a better way.

Truer Words Have Never Been Spoken

David Burge on Social Media:

The background of his multi-part Twitter rant is that someone gave him crap for posting hot rod pictures while the world burned. Yeah, that would set me off too. His entire rants speaks to me more than I wish it did. Go to his feed  and start at /1

The perils of going it alone

Commenter Patrick suggests that using “commercial” social media platforms leaves the user subject to being censored by the platform owner, and that to be more free one should use blogs and RSS.

The problem with this is amply illustrated by the recent (temporary) takedown of Brian Krebs’ self-hosted blog. His analysis is here. At least with a commercial hosting solution, you’re at the mercy of one, somewhat predictable, potential censor. One that can be named and shamed, or even sued for breach of contract if necessary. If you go it alone, you’re a lot more vulnerable to attack.

It’s all very well and good to say “well, this shouldn’t be possible.” But when you get down into the nitty gritty, it gets a lot more complex. And the easiest (and therefore cheapest) way for your upstream provider to protect their own interests is to cut you off. Facebook, Twitter, and Google can afford to pay for world-class DDoS protection. And, in fact, their “normal” traffic would look like a DDoS attack to Sebastian’s self-hosted solution.

There is no perfect solution, no magic bullet. But the reason people have gravitated towards Facebook and Twitter (and the rest) is because it makes a lot of the problems of running an internet presence Somebody Else’s Problem.

Science Nerd Post: Reactionless Drive

EM DriveI’ve been very intrigued by this supposed reactionless EM drive. When I first heard of it, I was very skeptical, since it violates every law of physics we think we know. Hell, I’m still skeptical. But the fact is that several teams have built one of these contraptions and have measured thrust being generated. Now in MIT Technology Review, we’re offered a theory by which this drive could legitimately be producing thrust. As much as I think there’s probably something else going on here, I really hope this is true. At the risk of people accusing me of being a Debbie Downer again, this late election season has convinced me the only long term hope for libertarian-minded people is getting the hell off this rock and leaving the world’s troubles behind. I’m becoming more convinced that free people need a frontier, because without one, eventually, the meddlers, swindlers, and sycophants of the world catch-up to us.

The Trouble with Flashlights

Tam has been carrying a SureFire E2D Ultra, and comments that the switch design leaves a lot to be desired. I carry a Fenix LD10, showing here:

Fenix LD10

It’s a bit more worn than that today, and in truth it’s probably out of date. With the Fenix, you adjust the intensity by screwing out the lens a bit. That’s fine when you have both hands, but sometimes you don’t, so I leave it on the highest setting. The big issue leaving it on high is the on switch, which is on the butt of the flashlight, gets switched on when I sit down sometimes. It can either engage furniture or engage the sheath of my Leatherman. Now, give it 10 minutes or so, and I’ll usually notice, “Something feels warm in my pocket, and I know it isn’t that, so the flashlight must have gotten stuck on again.” I’ve had batteries drain completely in this scenario, and it happens often enough I now use NiMH rechargeable, and just change them regularly. I use the flashlight multiple times a day.

Ideally I’d like a flashlight where I can turn on and off, and change intensity using only one hand. The SureFire E2D Ultra looks like it might be a solution. It would seem the solution to Tam’s issue would be to make it a one second double click instead of two. Maybe even half a second. I can double click a switch a hell of a lot faster than I can move my whole body. Perhaps a microswitch could be fitted somewhere inside that allows the user to adjust the double click speed.

Not just gun control

Remember, it’s not just guns they want to control. I find several parts of this whole fiasco disturbing. Right from the beginning of the article, DHS and FAA held a “conference was open to civilians, but explicitly closed to the press. One attendee described it as an eye-opener.” When one of those attendees (who runs a small drone shop) posted a picture and notes from the conference, DHS asked him to take it down (he complied).

Then we get to the meat of the issue – that a drone manufacturer unilaterally chose to add all of DC to their drones’ internal “no-fly” map. First, of course, that their drones have a “no-fly” map in the first place, and secondly, that “DJI is preparing an update that will increase the number of airport no fly zones from 710 to 10,000, and prevent users from flying across some national borders.” This is of course, pointless, as there are other manufacturers as the spokesam for DJI points out. Wired also points out that this won’t prevent terrorism, because there will always be workarounds, legal or otherwise.

Sebastian noted a while back about the wishes of gun-control advocates to be able to erect “no-smartgun” zones at will. It looks like their counterparts in drone control will get that wish. I can only hope that DJI gets what Smith and Wesson got from firearms enthusiasts when they kow-towed to the government.

A different kind of wearable

Inspired by (Disney’s) security theater, Leatherman will be bringing a “wearable multitool” out this year. I feel for the guy who designed this; one of the minor annoyances of being a low-level road warrior (3-5 flights a year) is not being able to bring my own Skeletool with me. I’ve seriously considered buying a pack of the cheap $2/unit in bulk at the local home despot to be able to drop one in my checked luggage and not care too much if it doesn’t make it past baggage handling. This won’t fix that annoyance completely, since it won’t have a blade, but the “cutting hook” would deal with most of what I actually use a blade for (opening packages without having to use my teeth). And, of course, the most important tool, the bottle opener.

OTOH, the fine folks at TSA will probably make something up on the spot to “ban” this…

Google Not Really Doing Anything New On Guns

Thanks to several people who earlier in the weekend had sent the news that Google was about to bring forth greater restrictions on gun advertising. I was confused as to what was new about this, because I was pretty certain Google had restricted these items some time ago. I certainly would be a prime site to place some of those ads on, and they don’t appear. So what’s really new about this? Bob Owens took a look, and the answer is quite frankly, much ado about nothing.” I’m glad to hear that, because Bing sucks. Google is one of those products I wouldn’t frankly be able to boycott. It would be like boycotting roads.