A Good IoT Set of Design Guidelines, But Missing an Important Point

Go here. Read it. It won’t take long.

I especially like #4:

Give Humans the Power to Opt-Out – I understand that the features in your device are amazing, life-changing even. However, when a device or its software affects someone’s life, they deserve a say in how they use it. It’s as simple as that. Especially if the software or its updates are in a life-saving healthcare device. The doctor and the patient must not only understand the features but need to come to an agreement on how and when they will be used. So yes, while sending an automatic order to the grocery store when you are out of milk seems innocuous, your customers should still get a say in how and when that order happens.

It’s refreshing to see Core Security take IoT vendors to task on security, but as a WLAN Architect/Admin/Instructor/Supporter/Philosopher/Fanboy, I do find a deficiency with the otherwise good blog.

EVERY kind of device finds it’s way to the business WLAN. And the business WLAN landscape should be moving away from pre-share-based WLAN security and MAC-exceptions on Guest WLANs. If you aren’t building in 802.1X support with the top few EAP types, you are still not getting it.

And too many device makers still are not getting it.

 

Don’t Forget Visual Inspection When Network Troubleshooting

My small engines shop teacher said it in high school. Countless Air Force electronics instructors said the words when I went through Electronic Warfare school. I myself even harped on it when I became an Air Force instructor, and again years after when I taught basic electronics classes at a local vo-tech center.

Always first do a visual inspection when you’re troubleshooting. Always.

It’s easy to say, and just as easy to blow right past. Like I did yesterday when troubleshooting a wireless bridge link, which cost an extra hour of troubleshooting time.

In this scenario, a farm campus is tied together by three Ubiquiti bridges. It’s an environment that I took over and cleaned up a few years ago. I had my hands full eliminating all the oddball consumer routers that were in way too many places and moving the entire environment to a manageable topology that both I and the owner could understand. I inherited two M5 Nano Station bridge links, that were actually pretty well done- or so it seemed. Later, I would add a 900 MHz bridge link to get past a large stand of tall pines for a new connection, but this tale of my own shortcomings focuses on one of the M5 links.

The trouble call was for the single PC in the Robot Barn- a facility used for automatic feeding of dairy cow calves. The PC has two network connections; one goes to the modem that uplinks the robot feeders on proprietary low-voltage protocols, and the other connects to one of the M5s and ultimately back to the Meraki MX that head-ends the network. Basically, nothing was working.

A quick stop at the barn, and I found that the PC was in the kind of shape that comes when someone doesn’t know what they are doing, but are trying to fix it anyway. Both adapters had all kinds of oddball, nonsensical settings. I quickly got the dairy application side up so the important robot data was at least being buffered, and it could upload to offsite servers when I got the network link figured out.It was pretty clear that the PC was not talking back into the network, nor would my own laptop. But… from the remote end I could get to the far-side bridge admin interface, and see that it showed link down. On the way out of the building, I took a quick look and saw this:
M5.JPG

Then, I drove to the other end of the farm to where the root bridge is. As I walked in to the building to check to make sure the root had link-light and such, I got distracted by one of the owners. He told me he had re-arranged some of the power cords and the monitor for the CCTV system, which are co-located with the network equipment the same time the problem started. Ah-hah! I’m highly skeptical of coincidences, and bit right into the probability that THIS MUST BE THE PROBLEM. I sat down, got into the root bridge UI, and started thinking desperate thoughts. Like… even though I can get into the UI on both bridges, maybe one died on the radio side. Or maybe one of the cheap power supplies wasn’t getting it done (despite both bridges eagerly presenting their UIs to me).

For the next hour, I let myself go down goofy rabbit holes. I replaced both bridge power injectors. I dorked with settings on each bridge. I falsely concluded that one bridge or the other was at least corrupted, if not bad. My next step was to take them both down and see if I could reset them and start over getting them to talk. I walked outside with one of the owners to show her where I needed to get access to take down the root bridge- and then felt profoundly stupid.

The root bridge was not where it was supposed to be. It was laying down on the metal roof, looking sadder than a country song on a Sunday morning. Remember, I inherited this bridge, along with the others. The “mast mount” was an anemic two sheet metal screws into the thin metal peek of the roof, and it’s amazing it held up as long as it did. Up I scurried, and cobbed it back into place with wire as it was getting dark with proper mounting to follow. And- the link came back up.

LESSONS:

  • When I took responsibility of this network over, I should have looked closer at the shoddy way this bridge was mounted and dealt with it then.
  • Whoever hosed up the computer shouldn’t have. The owners will work with the staff to ensure that doesn’t happen again.
  • I SHOULD HAVE gotten out of my vehicle and walked immediately to where I could see the root bridge installed, after having verified all at the non-root site was seemingly fine.
  • I SHOULD NOT HAVE gotten starry eyed jumping to the conclusion that the problem came from things being touched near the network equipment.

Having skipped the important visual inspection step at the root end pushed me into a trap of bad judgement that we all land in occasionally, and when I realized that had happened my mind was immediately flooded with voices from the past (including my own) saying yet again “Always do a visual inspection first!”.

Whether you’re looking for a wireless bridge laying on a roof, a burnt-out resistor on a circuit board, a corroded Ethernet jack, or a damaged fiber cable, a quick once-over with the eyes is sound practice before you start digging in on configurations.

Had I followed my own guidance, I would have had my client back in service a lot quicker.

(And yes… I did make sure all of the other bridges were mounted right before I left!)

The Great Hobby Blog- Try Something New in 2017

If you’re reading this blog- my blog- you probably have at least have a few in interests in common with me. And yes, generally Wirednot is all about Wi-Fi and wireless topics. But as I write this, the snow is pounding down outside and my mind is drifting off to the new year, and what fun things I may fill it with. I know that I’m not alone in having many interests with a technical bent, but there are SO MANY cool things to monkey with these days that it sometimes gets overwhelming knowing where to even start.

In that spirit, I’ve opted to put together the following list of things that you might want to consider getting involved with in 2017 (if you’re not already doing some of these). After you read through, please add your own suggestions in the comments.

My goal here is to also keep my suggestions limited to those that won’t require large cash outlays, and that are often family-friendly. Or maybe you’ll be inspired to use what you already own in new ways. Let’s get started.

Free or Close to It 

  • Geocaching. If you have a GPS-equipped phone or tablet, or a handheld-GPS receiver, you’re ready. Check out the Mac-Daddy of Geocaching websites (but know that there are others, as well). I have logged hundreds of caches through the years with my kids and co-workers, in many states- and stashed about a dozen of my own for others to find. There are geocaches freakin’ everywhere, in cities, suburbs, and way out in the middle of nowhere.
  • AM Dxing. What’s DXing? At its simplest, DXing is catching radio signals from far away. Once you realize that AM is a whole different animal at night and in the winter, catching signals from far away (based on station ID) can get addicting to some of us. Chances are you have a portable radio with the AM band onboard. If not, and you own a vehicle, you’re ready to find a hilltop and see what you can pull in.
  • Turn That Old Tablet Into a Multi-Band Radio. Smartphones and tablets have been around long enough that many of us have cycled through a couple of generations. Got an old tablet? Turn it into an Internet Radio, a Police Scanner, a Ham Radio Transceiver, a Walky-Talky and more- all at the same time. There are a ton of free or dirt-cheap apps (heavier on the Android side) that can be loaded up on that old device to make a radio purpose-specific tool.
  • Turn That Old Tablet Into a Digital Picture Frame. Get it right, and this is a profoundly handy use for an abandoned tablet. Lots of apps and how-to online.
  • Actually LEARN How to Use that DSLR. I looooooove my camera, and lug it almost everywhere. Out and about, I see a lot of other camera-toters and occasionally there’s the inevitable “what ya got there?” dialogue as strangers eye up each other’s gear. I’m always surprised to see top-tier cameras left in “full auto” modes, because the owner probably didn’t ever learn how to use the advanced combination of settings. Let yourself do the thinking for the camera as you manipulate ISO, shutter speed, aperture, and white balance and you’ll become a better photographer.
  • Read a Book on Tech Pioneers. It’s easy to get caught up in the here-and-now of technology. And you’ve no doubt at least heard of the likes of Marconi, Edison, Tesla, and Hertz. If you want to broaden your perception of the tech we use today, grab a good biography on one of these early technologists. You’ll no doubt find that what you thought you knew about radio history is way over-simplified, not everybody got the credit they deserved, and that some of our heroes were actually unsavory at times. And the technology itself “back then” is fairly amazing to ponder.

Spend a Little, Learn a Lot

  • Do ANYTHING With a Raspberry Pi. For around $50, you can find some nice Raspberry Pi complete kits online. There are infinite number of projects you can do based on the RPI, or you can simply build it as a computer to use. No matter what direction you go with this, you’ll gain an appreciation for how powerful these pocket-sized computing platforms are and you’ll get your eyes opened to an incredible range of potential projects. These little guys are addicting.
  • Cut the Cable- Even If Only as an Exercise. I’m a cable-cutter. My mantra on this topic is “Time-Warner can suck it” with increasingly costly monthly bills and just terrible programming. Yet I understand that some people find value in paying for Cable TV and I begrudge no one’s personal choices. Even if you’re a die-hard cable fan, it’s really easy and pretty cool to play the “what if” game. What if you decided to pull in only Over the Air signals? What could you get with just a low-cost antenna? I won’t get into the how-to as there are countless articles online, but those who try it for the first time are often surprised at the variety of truly free channels they can get. When you’re done playing, just plug the cable back in.
  • Get a Ham Radio License. Aside from a Physics course, you won’t find a more interesting range of topics in one field of study than in the materials that prepare you for sitting for the entry-level Technician Class Amateur Radio License. It’s cheap to study for with a wealth of free online resources, and with the latest generation of inexpensive transceivers out of China, you can pick up your first rig at ridiculously low prices.
  • Go Back to School, Without Going Back to School. Check out Udemy and Coursera for free-to-cheap learning opportunities in a crazy range of topics from real schools and subject matter experts. You may even see some familiar names in the mix as instructors. It’s a really nice way to keep learning without busting the budget or work schedule.
  • Discover Software-Defined Radio. This can feel like Harry Potter-grade stuff in a cheap package, or you can go haywire and drop some serious coin playing with SDR. Get started here.

 Hopefully these at least prime the pump if you’re looking for something a little different to occupy your free time in the coming year. I’d love to hear your suggestions, too!

It’s the Little Things… Add Notes to Access Point Alerts in Prime Infrastructure

PI is the wireless network management system that many a Cisco shop uses for monitoring and management of the WLAN environment. The bigger you are in size and complexity of wireless environment, the more important your NMS is.

I don’t love PI. There are days where I barely like it. But I rely on it, and am fond of one simple feature that I want to call out here.

pi-annotate

When you deal with thousands of APs, occasionally a handful go out of service. Sometimes it’s a quickly-corrected failure of the AP or connected PoE, while other times it’s a non-failure condition like space renovations where the AP is located.

It can get easy to lose track of which AP is out and why if you are also busy with other duties, and don’t have the luxury of staring at PI all day. For me, it may be several hours or even days before I can catch up with certain alerts, and it’s not uncommon to come back into the dashboard and have to get re-oriented with what’s out and why.

One simple thing that can help is shown above- adding annotations to the alert for a given AP that is out long-term for a known reason (yes, you can put these APs into Maintenance Mode, but I find that doesn’t always get done when lots of hands are in the pot).

I’ve come to rely on these simple notes to save time, and to remind anyone looking of why the dreaded red dot is next to APs that really aren’t in duress.

The little things help a lot at times, and the annotation option is worth trying if you don’t use it yet.

 

United Airlines to Regular Folks: You Can Suck It

Are you one of those people who only fly occasionally and have to watch every cent when you do, and don’t belong to a lofty airline loyalty group? Are you a college student or military member trying to get home for the holiday as inexpensively as possible? I got news for you, Champ… don’t even think about touching that overhead bin on a United Airlines flight.

How DARE you think that you can bring both your laptop AND a small bag of clothes on that pricey flight… It’s a new day in Customer Service for the airline, and in this case you will certainly be “serviced” – in the agricultural sense.

Times must be tough for United. After all, this guy needs a shitload of cash to upkeep. He must be worth it, because in the picture he’s doing that sincere wealthy CEO double hand-gesture. That sort of mojo is probably part of why YOU will get no overhead bin space, and like it.

After Hand-Gesture Guy got the axe/golden parachute, this smiley fella stepped in to a goldmine while the new acting CEO was out getting a new heart. He came back to millions and millions in compensation.

This isn’t all CEO-bashing on my part (just mostly, as it SEEMS absurd to me the dollars these guys pull down while we economy flyers are losing what certainly felt like a basic human courtesy in having a place to put a freakin’ bag).  Evidently crappy management also led to the airline needing to play costly catch up on other salaries. I’m all for paying the help, but I can’t get past the musical, expensive CEO thing.

Ah well. Maybe Mr. Munoz, the bazillion-dollar new heart guy CEO needs more ideas on how to screw me so he can get that paycheck up even higher (inflation, doncha know!). In that spirit, I offer:

  • Put in pay toilets back where the riff-raff sits
  • Require bring- your-own toilet paper, soap, and paper towels
  • Add coin slots to the reading lights
  • Raise the price of the stale sandwiches from $9 to $169 (go big or go home)
  • Put a credit card reader on each emergency exit and charge the lesser  passengers in the event of an emergency evacuation
  • Need a vest in the event of a water landing? That’ll be $230
  • Don’t even let people put a bag under the seat- dedicate every square inch of the aircraft to those better than than the cheap bastards buying those third-world tickets. Maybe somebody in first-class would like to stick their shoes under my seat?
  • Require the least desirable passengers to service the aircraft after it lands, or they can’t deplane
  • Charge low-end passengers $10 for an imaginary “interference filter” before they can use their own earbuds. Call it a mandatory safety procedure.

These are tough times for those at the top. We all should do our part to help them maintain the lifestyles they are accustomed to, even if it means sacrifices must be made.

Dear Marketers- If the Phone Doesn’t Ring, It’s Me

I’ve had good days and bad days
And going half mad days
I try to let go but you’re still on my mind
I’ve lost all the old ways
I’m searching for new plays
Putting it all on the line

Lots of new friends with the same old problems
Open your eyes, you might see
If our lives were that simple
We’d live in the past
If the phone doesn’t ring, it’s me

(“If the Phone Doesn’t Ring, It’s Me”- Jimmy Buffet, 1985)

Ah yes… great tune. It came out in my first year serving Uncle Sam in the USAF, and I happened to be right in Jimmy Buffet’s neighborhood on the Gulf Coast at the time. I felt a connection with the song then because I was a long way from home, away for the first time. There was no way I could afford to actually call the people I missed very often, back in the days of pricey toll calls and very little rank on my sleeves to fund those calls.

Now, a hundred years later, the same song plays in my mind every time I get one of these emails:
no-call

As I wrote about here in The Wirednot Memo to PR/Marketers, I believe everyone has value. And though I’d never want to be in marketing myself, I also don’t have a lot of tolerance for “my toe in the door come hell or high water” messaging.

If I don’t answer your email, don’t expect a warm reception on the uninvited follow-up call. I’m both busy, and not interested- and I will not give co-worker’s names. If your initial email struck me as something a coworker could benefit from, rest assured that I forwarded it on to them to evaluate.

Otherwise… I’m Incommunicado.

Cheers.

WLAN Pros Compensation Survey- 11/30/16 Only

My esteemed colleagues at WLAN Professionals are hoping to gather input from the working WLAN community today, November 30. It takes about a minute and a half, and the results could be quite valuable with enough input.

Given that I myself am a WLAN professional, I have taken the survey and am curious to see how my input stacks up against the final conclusions. I’m also happy to promote the survey here on the Wirednot blog.

The official pitch:

Today, Wednesday, November 30th there will be a one-day independent survey to gather information on the current state of compensation in the Wireless LAN community. We respectfully request your participation in this 90-second survey. The current results will be available to all survey takers as they complete the survey for instant feedback. Later, the complete results will freely reported back the entire community.

Thank you for your support and participation!

http://surveymonkey.com/r/wlccs2016 – Wireless LAN Community Compensation Benchmark

Thanks for reading (as always!) and for participating.

Lee Badman
CWNE #200