Archive for category Reviews

Dear Santa, I want an Amazon Kindle and an iPod Touch

With today’s introduction of Amazon’s Kindle e-book reader, I’ve decided that there are two products that would cover all my personal entertainment needs this year. The new Amazon Kindle is simply amazing, and would be the single-most reason I could get back into reading books other than technical manuals. The iPod Touch would provide all my video, podcasting and music needs, all in one small package. So, if anyone is feeling generous this year, I’m also providing a couple handy links where you can purchase these items for someone you love.

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More ‘tops’ to Keep you on Top

Yesterday, I posted about how htop was my new replacement for top on all Linux systems I manage. Tonight, while looking through the Google search words that lead people to my site, I found a Google result page which contained a 'hit' that immediately caught my eye. Mike Malone, of the I'm Mike blog had an entry titled 'Top 5 tops: keep tabs on your system'. In it, he describes not only the htop utility I came across earlier, but 4 additional tops to make any Linux administrator smile.

  1. mtop (MySQL top) monitors a MySQL server showing the queries which are taking the most amount of time to complete. Features include 'zooming' in on a process to show the complete query, 'explaining' the query optimizer information for a query and 'killing' queries. In addition, server performance statistics, configuration information, and tuning tips are provided.
  2. Apachetop is a curses-based top-like display for Apache information, including requests per second, bytes per second, most popular URLs, etc.
  3. iftop does for network usage what top does for CPU usage. It listens to network traffic on a named interface and displays a table of current bandwidth usage by pairs of hosts. Handy for answering the question "why is our ADSL link so slow?".
  4. htop, an interactive process viewer for Linux
  5. atop is a performance monitor that can display:
    • Resource consumption by all processes
    • Utilization of all relevant resources
    • Permanent logging of resource utilization
    • Highlight critical resources
    • Watch activity only
    • Watch deviations only
    • Accumulated process activity per user
    • Accumulated process activity per program
    • Disk and network activity per process

While I use mtop on a regular basis, and have now started using htop, the other 3 monitors definitely look like they're going to be part of my 'tools' for the various servers I manage. iftop and apachetop seem especially interesting to me, given their more specialized monitoring target.

I'm Mike | Top 5 tops: keep tabs on your system –

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Sun’s Attempt at a Web-Based OS?

Every now and then, Sun's Research group comes out with something that seems very interesting and leaves me wondering if this is the direction we might be heading in. It's difficult to describe Sun Labs Lively Kernel, so I'll simply quote from their website:

The Sun Labs Lively Kernel is a novel web programming environment developed by Project Flair at Sun Labs. The main goal of the Lively Kernel is to bring the same kind of simplicity, generality and flexibility to web programming that we have known in desktop programming for thirty years, but without the installation and upgrade hassles than conventional desktop applications have.

Remember all those rumors about how Google was developing an OS which would run in a browser? Well, this is the closest thing that I've seen to such a beast. When you visit the Sun Labs Lively Kernel page, click on the 'Enter Lively Kernel' tab to see the prototype in action. While performance was slow for me, it gives you a good idea of where we could be heading in the future.

Sun Labs Lively Kernel –

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MySQL Monitor – Ajaxified

MySQL LogoI use a MySQL database in most, if not all, my website development projects. In some cases, especially with applications/sites that tend to get a large number of hits (and as such, a greater number of interactions with the database), it’s nice to be able to see what the DB engine is doing, how many threads are running, etc. My tool of choice has been MyTop by Jeremy Zawodny for a couple years now. Recently, it looks like someone wanting to learn some Ajax has decided to port Jeremy’s great tool over to an ajaxified webpage! No need to login to the database server and run mytop in a console anymore; now I can do it straight from a web browser!

The project is called ajaxMyTop and is hosted on Sourceforge. Currently, there is no home page or details on the project website, but Ajaxian has a good review of the application.

One note of caution; the application is written for PHP5. There is a small modification available which will enable the application to run under PHP4. It’s located in the ajaxMyTop forums:

Sites mentioned: – Ajaxian Review of ajaxMyTop – Jeremy Zawodny’s original mytop webpage – ajaxMyTop Project Website

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That Song in Your Head

Musical NotesEver have this nagging song or even just this rhythm looping in your head and you have no idea what the song is named? Now you have a chance to find out! By using your keyboard’s space-bar, you ‘tap‘ the ryhthm of the song and the website will search its ever-growing database of songs (currently at over 7600) for a match. Head out to The Song Tapper and try it out. I tried tapping Where It’s At by Beck which has been in my head since I woke up this morning for some reason and the site accurately identified it. Incredible! I love it! 

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Good Review of the Upcoming Fedora Core 5

Fedora LogoAs many of my close friends know, I’m big into Fedora’s Linux distribution. It’s my distro of choice and I religiously update my ‘Cores’ as the lastest one comes out. I’ve been looking forward to the new Fedora Core 5 release and was interested in reading a good review, since I still have not had a chance to install it on a spare box. This review is both comprehensive and very well written:

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The Xen Virtual Machine Monitor

The Xen Virtual Machine MonitorIf you’re familiar with what VMWare does (the creation of smaller virtual machines running concurrently on the same computer), then you’ll want to take a serious look at the latest release of the Xen Virtual Machine Monitor. What exactly is Xen, you ask?

Xen is a virtual machine monitor (VMM) for x86-compatible computers. Xen can securely execute multiple virtual machines, each running its own OS, on a single physical system with close-to-native performance.

If you have a few minutes, check out the project’s website and give Xen a try whenever you need to setup any sort of Virtual Machine, either for testing purposes or for some debugging.

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Need to rebuild your computer? Have all your keys?

Encryption KeysI was chatting with a friend this morning when he mentioned to me that he spent part of his weekend rebuilding one of his home computers. He indicated that he was reluctant doing some of the cleanup work because he wasn’t sure where he had packed all his legally purchased software keys; he moved to a new home a couple weeks ago and he has boxes scattered all over the place. I immediately brought up a little tool I have used in the past that has more than once get me out of such a bind. Take a look at the Magical Jelly Bean Keyfinder. Make sure you pickup the Beta version, since the stable version is a little outdated and will not detect keys for Office 2003.

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Firefox Extensions for Web Designers

Get Firefox!If you’re a Mozilla Firefox user and do any kind of Web Design, then the folks at have a list of 5 Firefox extensions that you should drop into your everyday toolbox. While I mostly agree with the list, I would definitely add the X-Ray Firefox extension to the list; The X-Ray extension let’s you see the tags on a page without viewing the sourcecode.

Top 5 Firefox Extensions for Web Designers
X-Ray Extension for Firefox

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Tivo Now Offers its Own Wireless Adapter

Tivo LogoThis week, Tivo has silently released its own branded wireless adapter for Series 2 Tivo units. The adapter features 802.11b and 802.11g access, as well as some circuitry that offers “Optimized wireless performance with your TiVo® Series2â„¢ DVR“. Essentially, from what I read and understand, the new adapter is able to take over some of the duties which are normally done on the Tivo unit itself, thus reducing the load on your Tivo and increasing throughput on the wireless side. A good discussion on the new adapter can be found at

The adapter is currently available directly from Tivo and sells for $49.99.

UPDATE: The first review of this adapter is out and shows a performance increase of 60%!

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Promising New Webmail Application

Just noticed this new webmail application called Hula. Here’s a excerpt from their project site:

Hula is a calendar and mail server whose goal is to be fun and easy to use, while scaling effortlessly from small groups to large organizations with thousands of members.
Hula is an open source project led by Novell

I’ve been using Squirrelmail for years now whenever I had the need to install any type of Webmail functionality. It has great features, it’s proven, and it’s actively maintained. The interface/GUI on the other hand has always seemed unsexy to me though. Hula actually looks very nice. It also seems to have some calendaring features as well as an integrated address book. While I haven’t installed it or even used it, it does look promising as an alternative to Squirrelmail…

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Wireless Security and Hacking, Redux

Wi-Foo - More info from Amazon
I was recently given the book Wi-Foo, The Secrets of Wireless Hacking as a present for my birthday, and I have been reading it extensively for the past few days. I have been involved with wireless security for a few years now, giving security talks to members of my community and helping out friends and family stay secure while enjoying the wonderful advantages of wireless computing. Over the past couple of years, I have slowly built up a small reference library of books related to wireless technologies and security. I even got involved in a small antenna building hobby which enabled me to better understand some of the ways RF works.
Upon reading the first few chapters of this book, I realized that this tome was different. The information contained within its pages wasn’t a re-hashed compendium of information that could potentially be gathered across the internet and spoon-fed to the reader. In this case, the author brings us along as the many vulnerabilities of wireless computing are brought forward, how those vulnerabilities are exploited by nefarious individuals, and the ever-expanding variety of tools availble to assist in exploiting these vulnerabilities are described.
Don’t get the wrong idea here; this isn’t the run-of-the-mill Howto put together from various information sources freely available on the internet. The authors take painstaking efforts to explain how the various wireless encryption/security options, such as WEP, WPA, LEAP, TKIP, PSK, etc, work, and how they can be defeated. The tools are not only defined, but described in relation to how they leverage and exploit the vulnerabilities and why they work.
As you can imagine, I’m definitely going to be reading this book from cover to cover. The information within is fresh and very comprehensive. While extensive in its depth, I still believe that this is an ideal book for anyone, from beginner to expert, who has a desire to better understand wireless computing technologies, its advantages and disadvantages, and how to protect oneself from evil-doers, out to take advantage of the stealth that wireless provides.

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