Convert VMware ESX .ova file for use in a VMware Player or Virtual Box VM

.ova Conversion to .vmk and .vmdk

Today I learned that the “.ova” packages provided by some vendor for VMWare ESX are from an open standard (OVF).

There is an existing VMWare tool (OVFTool) that can be used to convert any such “.ova” file to easily runable “.vmk” files.

The usage is simple enough :

ovftool.exe SOME_OVA_FILE.ova NEW_VMKNAME.vmk

I found the original information in this simple how-to.

Virtual box image creation

Note : For some reason, a “direct import” of the .ova file in Virtual Box would always fail… hence this very manual tutorial.

To create a virtual box image:

  • Create a new Virtual Machine.
  • Add all the “VMDKs” (Virtual Disk exported from in the previous section) as virtual disks in the new VM.
  • Boot & Pray™

Favorite Crunchbang admin commands

I found this script and made a menu shortcut to shutdown my netbook screen and fix the resolution for my external monitor. Here are both commands:

# Close my netbook screen and adjust resolution of ext. monitor
# Labels can be taken from "grandr" command
xrandr --output LVDS1 --off &
xrandr --output VGA1 --mode "1680x1050" &

Also, I often need to administrate the network connections as root (ex : to add a permanent static configuration to the wired card).

sudo nm-connection-editor


Display personal goals as QR Poster

I recently had this idea to display my life goals as a poster in my home office underground lair. The design is composed of 4 life goals and 16 proverbs, and displayed in a frame.
Here is the final result:

Please don't scan :-)

The project was relatively simple:

  • I used the QRStuff site to generate codes in both colors.
  • And then used Inkscape and it’s alignment features to create a .pdf
  • My local printing shop was kind enough to print it so it would fit in my Ikea frame

Map a USB drive to one specific location and solve the “S to Skip” bug

… in a few steps ! (On Debian based distros)

1 – Use disk-manager or manually add a line like this one to your /etc/fstab file

UUID=8d7548c6-a4c3-49b1-9c08-82c9b90cdc98 /media/BLUELINE ext3 defaults 0 2

2 – (optional) In my case, the hardrive is slow to boot compared to the computer. I need to replace this special line in /etc/defaults/grub. The “rootdelay” option leaves 15 seconds more to the system before trying to mount devices

GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX_DEFAULT="rootdelay=15 quiet"

then run

update-grub

3 – Reboot

4 – Enjoy ! (Was this simple or what ?)

Upgrade to SSD without reinstalling Windows

It used to be that my first suggestion for a computer upgrade was “Bigger Screen” or “More RAM”.

Not anymore ! I announce that SSD is the next thing ! (If you can tolerate the craziness)

I just got a new Dell XPS 17 with a i7 Processor and 12 Gigs of RAM. I’m planing to use it for testing memory-hungry programs. Since I will use virtualization a lot, I figured I would need to give these SSD drive a try. Dell upgrade hard-drives prices were ludicrous for “no-name” SSDs, so I decided to buy a OCZ Vertex 3 120G drive from a local store.

For the record : SSDs rocks.

But since I forgot/did not bother to ask for a real Windows CD from Dell… I have a problem.

How can I upgrade my classic 500G HD to a 120G SSD without losing the OS ?

First, make sure you have this available:

  • A usb key/CD with Clonezilla installed (CZ)
  • A usbkey/CD with SystemRescueCD installed (SRCD)
  • A “self-made” Windows Repair CD (either 32 or 64 bits) (WRCD)
  • I assume you have access to 2 classic SATA hard-drives. I my case, I also had the good luck to have two SATA drives slots on a laptop. If that is not your case, try to use a USB external drive adapter or enclosure.
  • I assume you are replacing the first drive of a two hard drives system.
    • The main drive is going to be replaced by the new drive;
    • The second drive will remain in place at the end of the process.

Here are the simple, not-at-all-excessive-steps list to follow:

  • CZ: Before booting the system the first time, backup the main drive to the second drive
  • Figure out witch is the main drive (apart from the second drive) (In my case, Dell documentation was helpful)
  • Boot one time using the original main drive
  • SRCD: Resize the main drive so that the partition would fit on the (smaller) SSD drive
  • Reboot Again : Windows will react by a drive test (this is required or the next steps will fail)
  • CZ: Backup one more time (optional)
  • Remove 2nd drive
  • Move main drive to 2nd drive former socket
  • Install SSD drive in first socket
  • CZ: Clone form main drive to SSd drive
  • Remove main drive, and store in safe place (from now on, this will be your backup)
  • Install second drive in second socket
  • Reboot, again . Windows should react by a drive check
    • At this point. you witness your quickest. reboot. EVER.
  • Optional cleanup steps
    • SRCD: Delete “special” and “recovery” partitions
    • SRCD: Resize main partition to maximum size (all disk)
    • SRCD: Set boot flag on remaining “main” partition
    • WRCD: Boot with Windows Repair CD twice
      • First time will trigger an auto-repair feature
      • At second time, ask for “Repair startup” option to repair the OS
  • Reboot, cleanup again
  • CZ: Backup one last time.
  • Done.

The state of Ubuntu as a Netbook OS

Remember netbooks ? Still have one ?

I my case, my Netbook is my primary home computer. This Atom “powerhouse” received HD and RAM upgrades… and the external monitor and wireless keyboard/mouse is really making it a decent workstation.

I find this setup is good for all my needs : Programming (Python, PHP), Web Surfing and MP4 watching.

My biggest problem with this rig is the graphic card. It is fine when the extra screen (1680×1050) is not plugged-in… But the problem comes when I try to find a Linux distribution able to correctly display on the extra screen, that is easy to setup, at that does not suck all the (somewhat limited) power in my setup.

In the last 3 weeks, I tried three : Debian Stable(Lenny), Debian Testing(Wheezy) and Ubuntu 11.10 (Oneiric Ocelot)

Lenny was great while it lasted, but is way too boring

I have great words for Lenny. As I always come back to “pure” Debian when Canonical push it too far (Unity introduction, anyone ?). I been with Lenny for the past 3 months with great results, but as always, the problems are :

  • Having to fight for last versions. (Backports, alternative apt sources)
  • Gnome 2 (almost) stock, nuff said.
  • Stable, vanilla, working, old, plain… (qualities for servers, not desktops)

Then I made a mistake. In my quest for trouble, I decided  the current “testing” version of Debian may feel sexier. I was very very wrong.

Wheezy is still working on is whistle

Wheezy is still very much a testing distribution. 3 hours after upgrading, I decided to give Ubuntu a new try. The bugs with Wheezy (this week) were:

  • Broken Wifi
  • Broken eclipse packages

I know it’s my fault. Expecting the “testing” version to be usable so near of the last stable release was madness… anyway, I’m glad if at least you don’t do the same.

Ubuntu, saving the day (for once ?)

Being tired, needing my wifi… I made a move that was maybe pushed on me by despair. I tried Ubuntu 11.10. Last Time I did, on the very same Netbook, I ended my “relationship” with Ubuntu for the following reasons :

  • They” introduced Unity, and took back the good netbook interface I loved (I assume I was the only one)
    • Unity was not ready, but it was made default for some reason.
  • “They” introduced Ubuntu One… And we were all lab rats. (Heavy integration, syncronisation was releasing odd messages when offline, program and/or website failing)
  • “They” changed the UI radically, going as far as removing nautilus. And while nautilus is not perfect, it is better that M$ explorer, and *WAY* better that the first Unity suggestion.

Boy, they made me hate that OS… And they drove me away for a year or so… But now I F$%@ up my Debian setup, and I am ready to give “Them” (Canonical) another chance.

I did the right thing.

Ubuntu 11.10, my comments so far

So far, I notice:

  • Canonical improved it’s own installer. (yet again)
  • The OS is working faster than before. (after some adjustments, see below)
  • I now have modern version of Firefox, and Libre office, by default. (Debian, this is why you fail me on the desktop)
  • Unity is still there, but nautilus is back. (I’m so grateful by the way)
  • As usual with Ubuntu, Wifi setup and encryption setups went very quickly and painlessly.
  • The new UI now feels simplified, and pure.
  • I still use Synaptic.

I’m overall very optimistic for the future, and can say I am slowly coming back on the orange side.

Small adjustment I had to make for my Netbook

Here is the things I had to do to make the Stock Ubuntu 11.10 more friendly:

  • This excellent list of things to do after 11.10 installation on sudubits.com
  • I installed “synaptic” (# sudo apt-get install synaptic)
  • I rebooted, and choose the “Gnome 2D” option before login. This allow for 2 things :
    • It removed “Compiz” from the picture entirely (see the picture below).
    • It allowed my (limited) graphic card to display at higher resolution.
This is the reason Compiz is no longer a "Netbook friendly" software. I made that screenshot by simply moving a nautilus window around.

You, hour by hour

From the “Crontab-entry-that-is-actually-a-social-sciences-experiment” dept,
today we tinker an easy experiment with the integrated webcam of your [Note/Net]Book.

I stumbled upon this nice CLI utility : fswebcam !

Installation is easy on Debian/Ubuntu (don’t forget su or sudo) :

aptitude install fswebcam

Now that we have the program, let’s try a simple command:

fswebcam -D 5 /some/place/nice/somefile.jpeg

This command does 3 things :

  • Start the webcam
  • Wait 5 seconds
  • Take one picture and save it at the designated location

The second step is a little weirder (and maybe a little narcissist). Imagine we take a picture EVERY hour. For this purpose, we simply create a cron entry:

crontab -e

will bring your favorite editor, and allow you to edit the current user cron settings
Just add a line like this one, and ensure the destination directory exists:

# 0 * * * * fswebcam -D 5 /dest/dir/$(date +\%Y-\%m-\%d-\%H\%M\%S).jpeg

This line will trigger every day of every month, every day of the week at every hour and 0 minutes. The $(date +\%Y-\%m-\%d-\%H\%M\%S) part creates a different filename each time.

The results are very interesting. They allow you to observe yourself.

Webcam capture results
“Best” of me of the past 4 months

So far, I was able to observe:

  • The hours I look tired
  • The days I seem to work more
  • When I look more happy
  • How I position myself while working (strangely holding my head with my bent arm)

I can only assume the results are very personal, so I guess you would observe other traits yourselves.

Happy spying on yourself !

Simple Debian/Gmail configuration for sending mail from CLI

Sometimes we need to use the mail command (instead of a rich MUA) . A central mail server is not always available and there may be a need for simpler solutions. This article demonstrate a direct link from exim4 (Debian/Squeeze) to Gmail.

Directions

  • On a newly installed Debian, type :
    # dpkg-reconfigure exim4-config
  • Choose “mail sent by smarthost; no local mail
  • Choose all default values until the “smarthost” configuration
  • “Smarthost” is smtp.gmail.com::587
  • Edit the password file:
    # vim /etc/exim4/passwd.client
  • Add a line like this one:
    *.google.com:[your-gmailusername]@gmail.com:[your-gmailpasswd]
  • Run : # update-exim4.conf
  • Test the mail command

References

Debian wiki
Debian documentation
Another guide on the subject

Small business network – Part1 – Requirements

Hi, welcome to this first post of the “Small business network” series.

Introduction

My girlfriend’ small business is moving to new headquarters. Yay.
She needs a whole new network. Great.

This entreprise is specialized in education services for early childhood. As one might imagine, such type of entreprise, especially since it existed for only five years, does NOT have the budget for a “professional” network (read : >10 thousand $ of hardware network products, expensive wiring and and automatic workstation management). This series of articles are about the next best thing, a “home made” network installation, built out of some FOSS, commercial software, hardware and (a little bit of) duck tape.

This first article is aimed at specifying the business needs. We then document the requirements and draw a plan of the network installation.

Needs – a short list

  • Server(s) : File sharing (internal), File sharing (secured extranet), Incremental backup, Authentication and Authorization, Accounting software service deployment
  • Workstations: 4-5 Desktops and 2-3 Laptops (all wired to the network). Theses are already belonging to the company. Typical usage include : email, productivity applications, web browsing.
  • Network printer/fax
  • 7 multi-line telephones (4 Lines). The technology implied is “normal” telephone lines. (see “VoIP shopping” bellow)

VoIP Shopping

In prevention of the “You should go with VoIP” argument, I should tell you that it was considered. The main problem, in the case of this company, is that it as an ongoing agreement with their current telephone provider (a local cable company). Cancelling would imply cost that VoIP savings just don’t cover.

Aside from this, the company had already invested in pretty good “4 lines” phones from RCA.  Those phones include some “telephone system” features like transfers and conference. Those feature are currently sufficient for the company. Software phones (for working from home), dynamic redirections and other features could be useful, but are not necessary.

More than half the number of phone needed were already bought in the years before, and this added to the cost of changing as well (the difference between buying 7 new phones or only 3).

That said, and considering all I just wrote, the VoIP offer from one of the provider we consulted represented almost enough savings to convince us.

VoIP, see you in 2 to 3 years 😉

In the meantime, it is important to state as a requirement that wiring *must* be forward-compatible to a time where the whole telephone network is going to be passing trough Ethernet.

Requirements

Since needs can be pretty basic when you don’t have anything in place, I have a preference for documenting the requirements as the checklist that I am going to use over the course of the whole project. Here it is.

New Headquarters network infrastructure list

  • Deploy a wired network for Workstations and telephone (see part 2)
    • Make it forward compatible for future VoIP. The 4 current lines will be carried by the same CAT5 cable that could be used for VoIP in the future.
    • Make the Workstation wiring CAT6 for new Gigabit Ethernet workstations
    • We need 13 identical faceplates with 1 Ethernet and 2 RJ-45 jacks (each holding two lines on the 4 central pins). Those 2 last should have been RJ-11 jacks, but my RJ-45 jacks were available and will do fine (even if 2 pairs of pins are going to be unused).
    • And one special faceplate with one Ethernet connector and the fax line
    • The closet (as in: replacement of a network rack) will include the following:
      • A 24 ports patch panel for each outlet (for only 13 outlets)
      • A distribution box of at least 49 output pairs (lines). I found a model with 50.
      • A router (generic Linksys 4 ports)
      • A 16 ports Gigabit switch (not intelligent. no budget for VLANs)
      • 2 cable company modems, for the 5 telephone lines (including fax)
      • A KVM for two servers
      • A monitor, keyboard and a mouse
      • Ventilation
  • Deploy servers (see part 3)
    • Install file sharing solutions including authentication and authorization of both local and external personnel
    • Install simply accounting (server mode)
    • Configure a incremental backup solution
  • Configure workstations (see part 4)
    • Install software (Productivity)
    • Establish a good way to to remote control of specific workstations from the outside

Documentation – Wiring plan

Wiring plan preview
Don’t you just love a useful document ?

The first “deliverable” in this series is a plan of the network drawn before the beginning of the wiring effort. This document is useful for many reasons:

  • It will serve as a guide for wiring (from the basement of the building)
  • It visually document the layouts of the different connectors. This will be useful in the future for managing the network closet (the plan should be as display in the closet)
  • The corresponding numbers can be used for workstation ID, phone ID or any other relevant purpose

I hope it will inspire you in your projects and encourage you to read on.

The plan is OpenOffice/LibreOffice compatible. I also provide the PDF version.
SBN-Part1-WiringPlan.odg
SBN-Part1-WiringPlan.pdf

Integration and Software Engineering