Category Archives: Review

Review: Nagios Core Administration Cookbook

I like Nagios. I mean, I like monitoring in general, but I like Nagios because it doesn’t necessarily tell me what I have to monitor, and it especially doesn’t tell me how I have to monitor it. It’s very extensible, and although it certainly has flaws, I think it’s a good, solid, reliable system that has cost me a great deal of sleep in my life as a system administrator.
Nagios Core Administration Cookbook
When Packt Publishing asked me to review Tom Ryder’s book, Nagios Core Administration Cookbook, I was happy to do it. When I first found Nagios, I learned by reading the example configuration files, and I sadly followed their lead for way too long. I eventually learned that there are better ways, but I like resources that help people to learn faster than I did.

Tom’s book follows the standard template (hah, template! Get it? that’s a little Nagios humor for you) for books introducing Nagios by talking about the differences in the basic object definitions, with extra weight going into the hosts, services, and contacts, arguably the three most important object types. From that point, he moves swiftly into the normal “Cookbook” method of short, easily digestible (hah! Digestible! There’s a cookbo…ok, I’ll stop) recipes to get things done.

I really like that Tom made the decision early to create separate configuration files for individual hosts. I can’t overstate how bad of an idea following the “hosts.cfg, services.cfg, contacts.cfg” examples are.

One of the things that I suppose was inevitable from the commercialization of Nagios is that there’s a necessary distinction between Nagios Core (the free product) and Nagios XI (the pay-to-play supported product). In reading this book, I noticed that Tom continually writes “Nagios Core” whenever referring to the free product. I understand that it is necessary to distinguish between the two, but I wish this could have been accomplished with a disclaimer up front, to the effect of, “Whenever I say Nagios, I mean Nagios Core unless I explicitly state otherwise”. It really only bothered me for the first chapter, then I started to glaze over it, but for the first chapter, it was kind of grating. It doesn’t harm the quality of the text, though.

When you read a review like this, you probably care about two things. One, did the reviewer recommend it. And two, should you buy it. So here’s my take.

This is a book targeting people who need to get things done with Nagios. This is not Wolfgang Barth’s Nagios: 2nd Edition (which will teach you everything about everything Nagios-related). It’s not trying to be. It’s trying to give you small bits of information as you need them. In that, it does a good job.

If you don’t have time to sit down and learn Nagios, but you want to get started with its configuration, then yes, you should pick this book up. You can teach yourself everything in it on your own, but it’s way more economical on your time to see how other people (like Tom) have done what you’re trying to do. His examples are good, short, and the comments are helpful. Also, I feel that he makes good choices in his recommendations on managing the configuration (which I personally think is much harder than actually writing the configuration). If you’ve had issues writing, organizing, or storing Nagios config, then you want to read all of the entries in Chapter 9.

Overall, the book has a lot of valuable recipes, and if you didn’t know Nagios inside and out, but walked into a job where there was a Nagios infrastructure that you had to deal with, then you could do a lot worse than buying this book. If you think it sounds like you could use this book, then I recommend you get it, because it is what it’s advertised to be: A Nagios cookbook.

Nagios Core Administration Cookbook is 366 pages long and includes over 80 recipes, full color screenshots, and well-commented example config and code. You can get the ebook from PacktPub for $25.49, and it comes in epub, mobi, and pdf formats. $49.99 will get you the physical book and a digital copy as well, if that’s your thing, too, but honestly, I’d save the money and get the digital copy.

Also, you can check out Tom Ryder’s blog at http://www.blog.sanctum.geek.nz

Saddleback Leather Messenger Bag Review & Accessory Giveaway

I’m really rough on computer bags. It sucks, because I end up going through really nice backpacks way too often. I was using a Wenger backpack that my wife and I affectionally refer to as the “bag of holding” because it has a seemingly endless capacity. It was essentially new when my friend gave it to me…and now, the straps are coming apart. Probably because I do things like this.

I just kind of accepted this as life, you know? Bags are temporary, and you should just sort of be looking for the next one all the time. Or so I thought.

I don’t know how I first heard about Saddleback Leather…I suspect it was a link from Reddit. But I checked them out, and I really don’t think I believed much of what I read. It just sounded too good to be true. The story of Blue, the 100 year warranty, and the multiple compliments a day. But the bags DID look good, so I tried to learn more about them.

People on Reddit rave about them. The reviews on Amazon for the bag I wanted were almost completely positive. And aside from that guy, I’d never heard anyone say anything against them at all. Plus, it wouldn’t look out of place in an Indiana Jones movie.

My wife and I talked it over. And when I say “talked it over”, I mean she said no. And to be honest, I understand. The messenger bag that I wanted was $400. That’s a huge amount of money for a bag. But like I said, I go through bags pretty frequently, and to me, it makes financial sense. Pay big once for something that will last instead of always be shopping for another bag. If the bag lasted even 10 years, I’d probably break even. Eventually, she counted it as my birthday present and a bribe. I counted it as a win. :-D

So I ordered the messenger bag. And waited. When you have something you want, delivery takes twice as long, so I bided my time by watching YouTube fan videos. It should say something that this is the kind of bag that has fan videos.

I got the bag, and the first thing I thought was, “oh wow, I’ve never felt leather like this”. And seriously, I haven’t. I have apparently never dealt with full grain boot leather, because it doesn’t feel like any of the leather I’ve had before. I’ve had leather shoes, jackets, belts, wallets, whatever, but none of it felt like this. It’s crazy-thick. And…I mean, it doesn’t even feel like what I thought leather felt like. But the smell is amazing, and it looks even better in person than it does on the website.

I’ve had it for a couple of months so far, and I feel comfortable in reviewing it. I took it with me to LISA12, so if you saw me there carrying a swag looking leather computer bag, that was this one.

So what do I actually think of it?

Well, first, the quality is totally there. You won’t find snaps or zippers, because those break. It’s all leather straps and buckles. Anything that looks like a snap is actually a rivet. I have NO torn or frayed threads (and I promise, with most other bags by now, I would). There’s no ripped leather, no seams coming apart, and nothing that I could possibly ding on quality.

As you look at the pictures I took, you’ll see plenty of scuffs. That’s not a quality ding. That’s character in the making, I promise. This bag is already much, much more supple than it was when I got it, and it looks like I use it because I do. It’s barely 2 months old, and it’s been shoved under plane seats and overhead bins, in trunks, it’s been knocked over dragged here and there. It’s building into the kind of bag that makes you go, “wow, that’s awesome”. And the thing about the compliments is right. I’ve had at least a dozen people compliment me, including the TSA folks.

That being said, this particular bag is not the perfect computer bag. Inside, there are only two small pockets on the ends. There’s a removable leather divider that can separate goods, but only imperfectly. On the outside, there are the two end leather pockets (which will fit a 20oz drink) and a back sleeve type pocket for papers or magazines.

As you can see, my 13 inch Macbook Pro fits in lengthwise (or standing), but it is a little tight lengthwise for now. After the leather stretches, it will fit more comfortably. Anything larger wouldn’t fit – I’m certain of that. I can actually keep a lot of stuff in my bag, though. As you can see above, I got a computer in there, plus at least one tablet, plus a notepad, and at LISA, I kept my SLR in there at times, too. It seems to be relatively rain-proof, since when it’s closed, there’s a decent amount of overhang on the side of the flap. I don’t think I would trust my computer’s life with this, but it’s “resistant”, I would say. You don’t have to worry about water permeating the leather, though.

It turns into a backpack by taking the straps off where they connect right now (at the top) and connecting them to the forged (yes, there is no gap, the rings are solid) D-rings on the bottom, and running it through a forged O-ring at the top in the middle. It functions pretty well as a backpack, but it takes a while to do the transformation, so it’s not something that you’ll want to do a lot.

On the other hand, this is the best bag I’ve ever had for running over my shoulder and across my chest. I’m a pretty big dude, and this has an insanely long strap. The bag sits comfortably on my hip with the strap running across my chest, and there’s at least another foot I could drop it if I needed to. My camera has a strap that’s too short to comfortably do that to. I’m SO glad this bag has the leather strap the size it does. If you’ve ever had a bag that with a strap too short to wear comfortably across your chest, you won’t have that problem with this one.

Also, it’s heavy. I don’t mind, because I’m pretty large, and it’s a small percentage of my mass, but it’s probably a larger percentage for you. Basically, the bag is 5lbs (2.25kg) empty. That’s heavier than a lot of people want to carry, and understandably so, but you should know what you’re getting into.

There also isn’t any padding, so you can’t throw a laptop around and expect it to be good. Even if you have an SSD, the LCD could break or get knocked loose, so be easy with your computer in it. On the other hand, when I’m not carrying my computer in it, I fear nothing. It’s amazing to have just bought this really great thing that I literally don’t have to worry the least bit about getting hurt. You don’t have to treat this with kid gloves at all, because you couldn’t possibly hurt it on accident.

So, would I recommend buying this bag? Probably, depending on who you are and how comfortable you are carrying a big bag that’s relatively heavy. I think you should also consider how you want to be able to treat the bag with your computer in it. This bag is going to outlive your computer, but you don’t want it to hasten your machine’s demise.

The slogan on the website is, “They’ll fight over it when you’re dead”, and I thought it was just a cute phrase until I got my hands on this.



So then the story gets weird. Because this is the kind of bag inspires people to make fan videos, they’ve got a Facebook page where you can interact with the company and hear about what’s going on. So of course, I friended them.

Fast forward a month or so, and one of their updates mentioned a contest. It was basically a “Share the link and whoever gets the most clicks will win a World Traveler gift set”. I normally eschew things like that because I don’t look at my friends as things to be sold. I do think it’s different when you actually care about the company and their products, though. It’s not like I was trying to sell out my friends – I really did like my bag and thought that they had a great product. In the end, I shared the link on my twitter account which gets auto-forwarded to Facebook, and I got a bit over a hundred clicks from doing that. (So if you were one of them, THANK YOU!)

The contest was four weeks long, with one prize set given per week to whoever had the most clicks. The first week, I was excited, because I thought I had a chance. Heck, I even hand made the ad which is running on the blog right now, over on the right (if you don’t see it, that’s because it only loads once out of every 4 pageviews) and linked it to my contest URL. At the end of the week, they announced that the winner was some guy who had been bragging in the original thread about buying 60,000 clicks so I promptly forgot about the contest since I had no chance.

Forgetting about the contest was primarily the source of my great surprise when I got an email from one of the folks at Saddleback that told me I had won the third week’s contest! Holy Cow!

So yeah…my prize came on Friday. I don’t really know what to say. Here’s what it looks like sitting in my living room:

wow. Just wow.

So…I have multiple thoughts. First, thank you to everyone who clicked on the ad or the link. I’m very grateful, and even moreso than I could before, I can completely assure you that if you’re looking at Saddleback and wondering if the quality is as high as everyone says it is, it really, really is. I’ve got almost $4,000 worth of their products in my house right now, and I feel pretty solid in telling you that every single piece of this is made at least as well as my messenger bag is.

Second, I can’t use all of this stuff. Now, my wife has expressly forbade me from giving away any of the bags…but accessories? I really don’t need all of the accessories. So here’s what I’m thinking…

Why don’t I give away some stuff? Maybe to the people who helped me win it? Maybe to you? Here’s what I’m giving away:

That is:

  • 5 leather keychain fobs, one in each color they make
  • 1 leather cup holder to keep hot coffee from burning your hand
  • 1 bottle of car Leather Care
  • 1 bottle of furniture Leather Care
  • 1 ID wallet (the other side of the wallet has a window for your ID)
  • 1 iPad 2/3 case

As for the value, the keychains are, as far as I can tell, priceless, as you can’t actually buy them. They come with the bags, but I don’t have five sets of keys. In fact, I don’t think I have five keys. And my wife already took the one she liked. So I’m giving the rest away.

The leather cup holder is the same way. You literally can not buy it. One sold on Ebay years ago for $53. For a cup holder (though please don’t sell these prizes. They’re nice, and you should keep and use them).

You can get the leather ID wallet for $33, the Leather Milk goes for $18 a bottle, but the big prize is the $111 iPad 2/3 case.

The only thing is that I don’t know HOW I should give it away. I like doing surveys for contests, because then it’s a trade. I get useful information and you get something that you like. But I’m not sure. So to start out, help me out by commenting and letting me know what you think a good topic for the survey would be. I want to keep it system-administration related (since this is, after all, a blog about system administration), but other than that, let me know what a good topic would be for the survey.

If I pick your idea, I’ll give you the first prize – one of the keychains.

Review: Gunnar Rockets (anti-headache glasses)

A few weeks ago, I picked up a pair of Gunnar Rockets. They’re (slightly) tinted glasses which are touted as helping people who have issues staring at computer screens for long periods of time.

I didn’t used to have any problems, but after taking a year off of being a sysadmin, I think my eyes gave out on me, because I’ve been having headaches and a gritty feeling in my eyes after much shorter sessions than I did before. I decided to pony up $60 and give it a shot. I figured, “Hey, if it works, it’ll pay for itself in aspirin in no time”.

My first thoughts, after putting them on, were “wow, bright!”

The yellow tint of the lenses seems to make certain things “pop” that didn’t before. I can’t put my finger on it, but it seems like the tint makes the blacks blacker. The whites become slightly yellowed, but brighter somehow. I’m not sure why that is, but my theory is that it may have something to do with the fact that the eye’s peak sensitivity is around 555 nanometers, which is pretty close to the color of the Gunnar lenses (look for Fig. 249 on that link for the right graphic).

Also, there’s a slight magnification. It’s very slight, but just enough to make you go “whoa, something is different”. If you take them off, hold them in front of your face, and pass them over text, it’s clear that the curvature of the lens causes some very wide differences in diffraction across the length of the lens. If you look at the picture below, you can see that at the top, near the earpiece, there’s a pretty big discrepancy between through the glasses and not. At the nosepiece, there’s almost none.



Click to embiggen

My initial response was confusion, because normally this would make the image through the glasses altered, kind of like how your windshield is “weird” near the edges, but with these glasses, that’s not the case at all. My current working theory is that because of the curvature of the lens, it’s actually equidistant from the lens in your eyeball as it swivels in your eye-socket. This means that although it’s heavily curved, there’s no image warp. It also means that there’s an optimal distance in front of your eye for the glasses to sit.

For me, that seems to be pretty close, so I do find them sliding down my nose sometimes. It isn’t bad, and I live with it. The reason for the closeness might also have to do with the “microclimate” that the sales literature talks about, which is supposed to keep your eyes moist without condensing on the lens (and there really is no condensation that I’ve seen). This could be confirmation bias, but it does seem like my eyes aren’t as dry or sandpaper-y as they usually are. There were some days where I’d close my eyes and they just burned because I never seem to blink enough.

The proof is in the pudding, as they say, so I waited a while before I reviewed them in case some things changed.To be very very honest, if I would have reviewed these after the first week, I would have given them a negative review. I was actually writing it in my head. I didn’t notice anything different, and really, I couldn’t recommend spending money on them. Then that weekend, I used my computer a lot.

So, do you have a splinter in your finger right now? Probably not. You almost certainly have in the past, though, and you can remember that it really sucks, and it’s annoying. But the thing is, our brain is wired to forget the magnitude of pain (otherwise no one would have more than one child), so you don’t remember how much it sucks to have a splinter in your finger. But it sucks more than you can remember right now, and if you had a splinter in your hand, you’d constantly be smacking it against things and rubbing it the wrong way, and you would have trouble concentrating on anything else without thinking of it.

So by the Sunday following my first week with the Gunnars, I keenly remembered what it was like spending hours staring at a screen, and I realized that it wasn’t that they made no difference, it was that they made so much difference that I forgot about life without them. I don’t think I need to say anything else.

There are downsides, of course. These are glasses. If you already wear prescription glasses, then these aren’t really an option for you, unless you want to spend significantly more for prescription Gunnars. I don’t know how much they are, but the glasses by themselves are $60 on sale, so I imagine they’re quite a bit more.

Another downside is that they smudge. I read a lot of reviews that claimed that they smudged easily, but I kind of ignored it. I mean, people in general (myself, too) abuse sunglasses, and I figured that they were overreacting, but let me tell you…don’t wear these things unless you’ve got a microfiber cloth handy. Not only do they smudge easily, but because of the wavelength of the light, YOU NOTICE. I think that’s probably why it’s so bad, actually. I doubt that they smudge more than a pair of Oakleys with iridium lenses, it’s that the color is designed to make you notice it. So keep a cleaning cloth handy. I just leave one at my desk under my monitor (and they come with a nice microfiber cloth bag to keep them in, too).

There are also a lot of frame styles to choose from, so you don’t have to get the nerdy wireframe thing I did. I don’t think I look great in glasses, but this is about as non-bad as it gets for me:



For some reason, I never get mistaken for Bono as much as I’d like

The end result is, if you have trouble with headaches while using your computer for long stretches, or if you notice that it burns when you blink after staring at your screen, then there’s probably a good chance these will help. If you know someone who has a pair, I’d recommend borrowing them first, because that’s a lot of cheese to spend on something that may not end up working for you. I’m not sure about the return policy on things like this – it may be simpler to return them Amazon if you buy them from there. But if they’re an option for you, and in your financial reach, then I would get them now.

You can pick them up at Amazon with my Associate code or without (I get pretty small percentage of the sale, but it keeps me in things like arduino parts).

I’ve talked to a TON of people that also have Gunnars since I got mine, and pretty much everyone raves about them. If you’ve got an opinion, positive or negative, let me know in the comments. Thanks!