Blog Archives

Mobile Music

I have never been willing to spend a large sum of money to purchase a mobile MP3 player such as the IPOD or similar.  But this past week I found a great deal on TigerDirect for a Sandisk Sansa 8GB player.  My gracious wife made no objections to me getting it, so I happily placed the order.  It arrived on my doorstep on Saturday afternoon in the mail, and I began goign through the options and setup.  I can play video, music, photo slideshows, FM radio and even use it as a voice recorder.  It works with Rhapsody which has recently become my favorite online music source.  I like ITunes too, but I find I use it more for podcast subscriptions than music, only because I don’t have an IPOD so its not as useful for me.  I spent a few hours this weekend searching for and adding new music to my new player.  I know I am years behind and people have been doing this for quite a while, but having a mobile music player and being able to sync playlists and media and take them with me anywhere, is really cool! 

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Home media management

I came across this software over the weekend: Media Center 12

Its a really nice media management package that has all the features I was looking for.  It can catalog my media including pictures, audio and video.  It can create various types of playlists, and even has a theatre mode for easy use on the PC or a TV.  You can even run a media web server and use it as a remote control for the media center and play audio/video or slideshows by clicking links on the web interface, what you select starts playing on the display connected to the server.  I really like this package, its got some good plugins and skins and is the best one I’ve tried yet. 

Sunbelt Software status

I previously mentioned that I’ve been trying to get the new Sunbelt Exchange Archiver installed for an evaluation and I’ve also mentioned the old “IHateSpam” product and the predecessor “Ninja” in previous blog posts.  Here is an update on my status…

Sunbelt Exchange Archiver:

   I am still unable to get the archiver to work, my issues at this point are with the database connection.  No matter what I try, I can’t get the database connection to function.  I finally did get the product to install but now you have to configure everything before it can start the services.  As usual the Sunbelt documentation is sub-par and contradicts what support tells you.  I will probably have to get a support rep on the phone and do a remote install session just to get the product running. 

Sunbelt Ninja:

   I upgraded my Exchange servers in my company to the latest build of Ninja which includes their new “STAR” engine.  This replaces the old Sunbelt heuristic filter with a definition based system like the cloudmark engine.  I was told by Sunbelt that their new engine “does not cause false positives” before I did the upgrade.  Pre-upgrade testing showed no problems with system resources such as CPU utilization and spam catch rates were the same as previous tests on the old version.  The problem comes in when deploying in production.  I found soon after enabling the new engine that we were having problems with lots of false positives and even some internal mail was being filtered and going to user’s quarantine.  I ended up having to disable their new engine and things are working much better now.  I also resolved an issue with the anti-spoofing feature that was marking lots of external mail as spoofed. 

   I think in general Sunbelt Software is on the weak side in the following areas:

1. Documentation, frequently I find their documentation is incomplete, does not answer questions users would have upon installing, and contradicts other documentation related to steps in the process and also their support staff directly. 

2. Internal testing, I know they test their products before releasing to the general public.  However its been my experience that there are always unexpected issues when installing or upgrading any of the three Sunbelt Products I’ve used.  Like with Ninja and their STAR engine causing false positives, and marking internal mail as spam when its not supposed to.  Not to mention the default configuration causes high CPU utilization on the host server.

Unfortunately there are not many other alternatives to do the job that Sunbelt’s software does.  I know there is no perfect software, and with software comes its share of bugs.  One last complaint would be in diagnosing errors.  I know that in Ninja when we would turn logging to high in order to diagnose problems (and you have to turn logging to high as the system logs only useless information in the low setting), the extra disk activity is a huge drain on system performance.  This alone is enough to make users complain.  But in order to get any useful information from the software, you have to perform this step.  Also, the queue folders often start to build as mail backs up into the queue.  Most of the time I am certain this is caused by Ninja or more specifically the SMTP event sink it uses.  Mail backs up into the SMTP queue folder and before you know it, you’ve got hundreds of messages stuck and not being delivered.  Of course you restart the services and try to clear the queue since its obviously a big deal, but then you don’t get any logging as to what caused the problem.  Support has no idea, and tells you to run a snapshot which is useless unless your logging level is set to high. 

Ninja also accounts for a large boost in disk activity, and shows a marked increase in the disk queue when viewed in perfmon.  This causes general GUI slowness and delays when opening MMC consoles. 

I will say that when Ninja works, it works well, but the slightest problem or glitch and your entire mail flow system can be affected.  I suppose this is a risk with any spam filter, but we’ve had a long history with Sunbelt products and it seems that the core issues we had with previous version of their spam filter have carried over into Ninja in one form or another. 

Monday night shows

Admittedly Liz and I are hooked on a few shows, specifically Heroes and Journeyman that come on Monday nights.  I also like Chuck, but thats more of a geek/tech show so Liz isn’t as interested in that one.  Heroes last night was awesome, yes slightly predictible but still a great story and an episode that gave more answers to questions raised in previous episodes. 

***SPOILER***  I did know what was going to happen when HRG (Noah) was shot in the eye, and was not surprised at the end to see the blood bring HRG back to life and fix his eye. 

Journeyman was good, the previews for next week look awesome.  The whole interaction with Dan and his brother Jack are very interesting and the characters are really starting to develop well.

New Shows

We watched a few of the new shows on TV for this season, including Chuck and Journeyman. Chuck is kinda silly but entertaining at the same time. Journeyman is more serious, but seems very interesting. I am also interested to see the new Bionic Woman series as well. So far Chuck is my favorite of the new shows. But I’m a bit bias due to my technical background 🙂 (But I’m not a nerd)!

FIOS Speed!

ScreenshotAfter having FIOS installed for 1 whole day now, I’m excited to post the speed test results. Which I must say have been very consistent and very fast! I’ve tried many speed tests, but this screenshot shows my actual network speed to the verizon CO. Talk about fast! This is great, and a good value for the money.

Good podcast – TechBrief.tv

I have been trying to catch up on podcasting lately and have really been enjoying Tech Brief. I watch these podcasts via the democracy player which is very nice and allows me to automatically download any new shows and also manages deletion of older podcasts so I don’t fill up my hard drive. I really like this podcast, and think its fun and informative. I enjoyed the one with Mark Lowrey as a guest, and also Leo Laporte has been on the show via remote interview. Cali Lewis has also been on the screensavers before.

Side note: I was on the screensavers once on a webcam session. I got to talk to Leo Laporte about some server stuff and it was lot of fun. I wish I could do it again, but finding a good question that would be interesting for a wide audience is tough for me, since most of my work is highly technical and of a specific nature.

SpamAssassin Test info

I found this page on the spamassassin website today, which is going to be very helpful to me. It lists all the tests SA 3.1.X uses and shows all the default score values along with a link to a Wiki on each test to find out more about what it does.

Weekend Summary

This weekend was a busy one in Tampa, with lots of things going on. This past Saturday, the Strawberry Festival kicked off. I really want to go and get some fresh strawberry shortcake, its soooooo good! They also sell flats of fresh strawberries for a good price as well. I was going to go down to Plant city and get some yesterday afternoon, but I was pooped and ended up taking a nap. (I must be getting old, I’ve been taking naps almost every weekend lately). It rained most of Saturday evening and night, so we stayed in. Amanda brought the kids over that afternoon (on Sat) and the kids played togther and we (the adults) watched Star Trek Voyager until about 8 or 8:30.

After the kids went to bed Liz and I watched some of the episodes of Monk from Season 5 that we had missed since dropping cable. We sitll have 3 more episodes to go and we’ll be caught up. BSG was new last night, but I have to wait to watch it until it shows up in the newsgroups.

Stuff just happens

Today, I found another example of something I hate. Nothing bugs me more than finding a problem that should have been an issue all along, but things were working fine until for no particular reason, the problem shows it ugly little head. Specifically, today, I discovered that certain messages sent to our domain (at work), were being bounced with a 552 error code (Exceeded storage allocation). I found this particularly frustrating since I know we don’t set any specific size limits, other than a global limit of 10-15MB. The spam server is an SMTP proxy and we use watchguard fireboxes with an SMTP Proxy. I did some searching online and found that there may be an issue with the watchguard firebox in relation to an RFC for SMTP:

The RFC for SMTP explicitly states that the length of a single unterminated line can be no more than 1000 bytes. Sometimes email is rejected at the firewall for this reason because by default it will drop the connection when an unterminated line length exceeds 1000 bytes.

So now it appears the culprit for the issue is our firebox, which boggles my mind, because we’ve used it forever and just recently started having this problem. I hate when stuff just breaks for no particular reason and has worked in the past just fine for years. I am also checking our our spam software support team, to make sure their software when acting as an SMTP proxy, won’t be vulnerable to the same type of thing. Hopefully there is an easy fix for our firebox and we won’t have any more trouble. I’ve read several other newsgroup posts that indicate the firebox as the cause of the problem. Although the actual cause is some mis-configuration of the senders mail system, (typically), the firebox is doing the disconnecting.