Wed, 10 Aug 2011

pfSense saves the day

— SjG @ 7:48 am

Several years ago, we replaced our commodity hardware firewall (a Sonicwall SOHO from ’01) with pfSense running on an unused Dell 4100 desktop from that same year.

pfSense was a little confusing to configure the first time through (doing 1-to-1 NAT with virtual IPs and CARP was initially confusing, but the pfSense forums and The Google came to our rescue). Once in place, though, it did a great job. And when I say a great job, I mean that we could pretty much forget about its existence. It just hummed away in the background, and everything worked. When we needed to check up on our ISP, we discovered that quality of service logging was already supported, as well as pretty graphs of various connection properties. Very nice!

Over the last weekend, the 4100 locked up, and our connection was interrupted. Rebooting gave a firmware error about a bad disk in drive A: — but there was no disk in the drive. Power cycling, opening the machine, wiggling some cables, and blowing out some dust brought it back up, and all was well. Except it wasn’t, really. The machine spontaneously rebooted a number times over the next few days, and occasionally got into the “bad disk in drive A:” boot failure, requiring a hard power cycle. As I watched on the console, I saw the kernel fault out after too many memory checksum errors. The old machine was giving up the ghost.

After commissioning another old desktop (an ’07 vintage Dell, this time), I was able to install pfSense on it. I had to disable some of the extraneous hardware in the BIOS, but after about an hour I had it installed, booting, and ready to go. I was able to simple dump the configuration from the old firewall, load it into the new machine, reassign the LAN and WAN interfaces to the proper devices, and swap the boxes out. voila! Back in business!

With any luck, I won’t have to repeat this process for another five years.

Thu, 4 Aug 2011

Mac OS Automator for the Win!

— SjG @ 3:59 pm

I’m accustomed to having a hot-key in my text editor for inserting a time-stamp. Now I have a plain-text note-taking application that I want to use for managing my time, but it has no bells or whistles. It doesn’t allow the creation of macros and it doesn’t have a time-stamp function.

All is not lost! Using Automator, I created a service which calls a shell script to generate a nicely formatted time-stamp. I haven’t found a way to assign the service to a hot-key, but in many text input areas, a contextual services menu can be brought up with a simple right-click of the mouse.

Simple, nice, and convenient.

Here’s how to do it:
Fire up the Automator application. Create a new “Service” workflow:
(click to enlarge)

For the operation, double-click on “Run Shell Script” and set it up as shown in the image below:
(click to enlarge)

You’re done! Now you can insert 2011-08-04 16:58:06 time-stamps 2011-08-04 16:58:13 everywhere 2011-08-04 16:58:20.

Note: this is under Snow Leopard / Mac OS X 10.6.8. It probably will work under anything from Leopard onward.

Mon, 4 Oct 2010

More Plausible User Data

— SjG @ 4:44 pm

Back a few years ago, I posted a quick’n’dirty tool for generating plausible user data. I had a need for some improvements, so I’m posting the new version here.

The new version supports back-references, composite fields, and SQL output. So, for example, you could do:

./ -t id:lname:fname:city:state_code:zip:company -f i:ln:fn:c:s:z:/1+^+[Cars,Trucks,Boats,Planes,Motorcycles,Ships,Trains]+^+of+^+/3 -s -m tbl_dealer -n 5

and get the following output:
-- generated data from ./
INSERT INTO tbl_dealer (id,lname,fname,city,state_code,zip,company) VALUES (0,'Nelson','Leslee','Akron','OH',44311,'Nelson Boats of Akron');
INSERT INTO tbl_dealer (id,lname,fname,city,state_code,zip,company) VALUES (1,'Bowen','Beatriz','Miami','FL',33176,'Bowen Trucks of Miami');
INSERT INTO tbl_dealer (id,lname,fname,city,state_code,zip,company) VALUES (2,'Hammond','Raymond','Ninilchik','AK',99639,'Hammond Motorcycles of Ninilchik');
INSERT INTO tbl_dealer (id,lname,fname,city,state_code,zip,company) VALUES (3,'Kim','Arielle','Columbus','MI',48063,'Kim Ships of Columbus');
INSERT INTO tbl_dealer (id,lname,fname,city,state_code,zip,company) VALUES (4,'Estrada','Warner','Iuka','IL',62849,'Estrada Cars of Iuka');

Nothing earth-shattering, but useful to me. Maybe to you too!

Download it here:

Tue, 14 Apr 2009

Installing VMWare Server 2 on Fedora Core 10

— SjG @ 5:33 pm

I was having problems getting it to go. The was having issues with the kernel headers.

Turns out, you just have to look in the right place. Amazing, eh?

For my install, it was


I also needed to actually, you know, reboot to get that shiny new kernel running.

Mon, 20 Oct 2008

Fixing crap PHP applications

— SjG @ 1:18 pm

I regularly end up in the situation where I have to fix a crap PHP application.

The latest one has lots and lots of PHP 3.x-era code, that references hashes without quoting the index, e.g.,

$foo = $bar[baz]

Now, the PHP interpreter understands this in actuality. It figures out that since the constant is not defined, the programmer probably meant that the index should be ‘baz’. It does, however, throw a well-deserved warning.

The code I’m trying to fix throws lots and lots of warnings. Rather than wade through all the warnings to find which ones are important, I started with the following:

find . -name \*.php -exec grep -ne '\[[^\$0-9\'\''\"]' {} \;

The thousands of lines of output convinced me bigger guns were needed.

So we got ugly.

find . -name \*.php -exec perl -p -i.bak -e 's/\[([^\$\d\'\''\"]+)\]/\[\'\''$1\'\''\]/g' {} \;

Note that that’s one line, and that WordPress seems to want to change some single quotes into back-ticks. Don’t be fooled!

All those extra backslashes and single quotes are to allow passing single-quotes within the regex, and not have bash consider them problematic.

Also note that this could be catastrophic if you have regular expressions in the code you’re operating on — do a diff with the backup version, and merge back the regexes.

I’m sure there are far more elegant solutions… primary among them, not using crap PHP apps in the first place!