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September 25, 2017

So I've gotten around to checking out the new Star Trek: Discovery. As a long-time Star Trek fan, I'm always open-minded about new additions to the canon and willing to give each of them a chance. TOS is what set the wheels in motion, and TNG brought Star Trek TV back from the dead. DS9 was an okay effort at the start, but weakened when it started running afoul of the franchise's core message. Voyager, despite having a great cast, was awful. And then Enterprise showed up and started messing with established canon, while also managing to be pretty terrible. It too had a solid cast, but they just couldn't save it.

Now we have Discovery, the newest addition to the TV lineup. And boy, is it bad. It seems like everything post-TNG is a race to the bottom and new shows are trying desperately to beat the previous iterations for the title of "Worst Star Trek Series." This may sound like "back in my day" crotchety complaining, but let me explain things.

As I said earlier, Enterprise was the beginning of playing fast and loose with the canon, shoehorning a previously unknown Starship Enterprise into the line and showing off advanced technology 100 years before the original series. Discovery doubles down on this trend, with super advanced computers and tech in every corner of the ship, while still taking place 10 years before Kirk's five year mission. LCARS computer sounds from TNG are all over the place, often used incorrectly no less - long before LCARS was ever created. TNG rank pips on the uniform insignia, nearly a century before rank pips were even a thing. (TOS displayed the rank on the uniform's shirt cuffs, which mostly carried into the first 6 movies.) Holographic communications all over the ship, which were first introduced as a new novelty during DS9. It's a mess.

Next we have what this series calls Klingons. I say that, because aside from a few pieces of trivia here and there - mentions of Kahless, cloaking technology, etc. - Discovery manages to get absolutely everything wrong about the Klingons. Apparently they're Ancient Egyptians now. From the clothing (a mere decade before Kor and Koloth, this is how Klingons supposedly looked?) to the culture (since when do Klingons mummify their dead and put them in sarcophagi for storage?), next to nothing about these Klingons resembles anything we already know about them. Even TNG made some effort to carry forward a handful of the legacy features of Klingons after drastically changing their look, and Roddenberry had said that TNG's Klingons looked like what TOS's Klingons would have looked like if they had the budget. Discovery has no excuse for these drastic changes.

There are other problems. Interstellar mind-melds. Arguments with computers about ethics. Lack of division colors in the uniforms. Transporter speed. Court Martial proceedings with unnecessary dramatic lighting. But the most important problem is that Star Trek has lost its heart. The original series and TNG were the best of Trek because they were shows about the characters. These days, that's secondary to flashy effects and big-budget action. People like to defend shows like Discovery and Enterprise by saying that the technology gap between them and TOS is no big deal and making a show with a TOS level of technology wouldn't work today. Not true. Not only could you easily fit era-appropriate tech into the '60s visual style of TOS, there's also the notion that if you have great stories, it doesn't matter if the technology looks dated. If you're using fancy effects to carry the show, it's going to fail. And that's one reason why Enterprise barely lasted 4 years on TV before being canceled.

Discovery can make all of the references to past shows that it wants, but at the end of the day, it just isn't Star Trek.



February 10, 2015

I need to start out by saying that I've been a Netgear fan for a really long time, having purchased several of their products in the past. But while Netgear used to make really solid products that worked well, they've fallen into the trap of making terrible products that can't stand up to even the most basic of usage scenarios.

My love affair with Netgear began to fade shortly after purchasing several WNCE2001s and having them destroy my network. (You can read my review on those here.) I chalked that up to them being an old and discontinued product, but it started to chip at my confidence in Netgear's products. Then came this thing, the FVS318N firewall.

The firewall I had before this one was the FVS318G, and it was excellent - so much so that I immediately wanted something newer in the Netgear ProSafe line when it was time for me to replace it. And lo, I found the FVS318N and ordered it without hesitation.

My first mistake.

The firewall arrived, and I updated the firmware and re-entered my network configuration on the new device. (I should note here that I'm a full-time 15+ year IT security professional, so I know my way around firewalls and the like.) For the first day, the firewall worked great. The speeds were so much faster than I've been used to and it was a pleasure. But after the first 24 hours or so, the connection through the firewall became horribly unstable. 33% of connections began straight up failing due to random connection resets. I decided it was time to contact Netgear Support.

My second mistake.

I opened my support ticket on December 5, 2014. The first-level technician did some basic troubleshooting and had me downgrade the firewall's firmware to its factory state, then we upgraded to the penultimate firmware version to see if it was an issue with the latest firmware. Nothing helped, so the issue was "escalated" to engineering, who promptly came back and said that it was a DNS problem. A terrible diagnosis, as this kind of failure has nothing to do with DNS. (DNS doesn't interrupt existing connections, it serves to translate hostnames to IP addresses so that the initial connection can be made.) I followed their ridiculous recommendation and told them that wasn't the problem. They also asked me to spin up a syslog server and have the Firewall log to it, so I did that too.

That was on December 17, and that's pretty much where this issue stalled. I re-upgraded the firmware to more reliably reproduce the problem, and continued logging to the syslog server. On the 18th, I uploaded the logs to Netgear's support portal after reproducing the issue. On the 19th it was again "escalated to next level support" which is where everything died on their end. I requested an update on the 23rd and didn't get a response. I requested another update on January 5, and got no response until January 13, when Netgear requested access to a host on my network. Actually what they asked for was a host running Wireshark and PuTTY, at which point I told them I don't have any Windows machines but that I could give them access to a Linux machine with tcpdump and ssh available, and I asked if that was acceptable. On January 30 they agreed, so I immediately provisioned a brand new virtual machine and gave them access as of February 1.

That's where my ticket hit a brick wall. A week later (Feb 8) I updated the ticket saying that I hadn't gotten any response from Netgear and I needed an update because this firewall has crippled my network. I was told "Engineering is working on it" but the logs on the machine I gave them said otherwise. In fact, no one other than me had ever even logged into that box. Nobody in Netgear Engineering was paying attention to this issue at all.

So here we are today. I have a completely unusable firewall, and the company that makes it has absolutely no interest in fixing it. Additionally, I'm not the only one with this problem - I provided them several links to places on the Netgear forums from people who are having the same issue. Google yields even more people with the problem, and it's been an issue since the firewall was first released.

So yeah, no more Netgear for me. Ever. I would encourage you to stay away as well. They make terrible products and they have awful support standing behind their products. Don't waste your money or your time.



October 21, 2014

There are a lot of guides out there on how to install Mac OS X Yosemite under VirtualBox, but unfortunately most of them are A) for the developer preview, or B) for Windows. While most of the steps are pretty much what you need, there are a handful of missing things that will make the process "Just Not Work" for the final retail release of Yosemite.

Here's my complete step-by-step guide on how to install Yosemite under VirtualBox with a Yosemite host.

  1. First thing you'll need to do is download the Yosemite Installer from the App Store. It will save as "Install OS X Yosemite" in your /Applications folder.
  2. Once it's there, open a Terminal and run the following commands:
    sudo gem install iesd (If you've already previously installed iesd you can skip this step.)
    cd ~/Desktop (We move to the Desktop to make it easier to get rid of the files we don't need.)
    iesd -i /Applications/Install OS X -o yosemite.dmg -t BaseSystem
    hdiutil convert yosemite.dmg -format UDSP -o yosemite.sparseimage
    hdiutil mount /Applications/Install OS X
    hdiutil mount yosemite.sparseimage
    cp /Volumes/OS X Install ESD/BaseSystem.* /Volumes/OS X Base System/
    hdiutil detach /Volumes/OS X Install ESD/
    hdiutil detach /Volumes/OS X Base System/
    (Most guides get this wrong, and simply tell you to use "unmount" rather than "detach.")
    hdiutil convert yosemite.sparseimage -format UDZO -o yosemitefixed.dmg
  3. Now you need to open VirtualBox, but leave your Terminal open because we aren't done there just yet.
  4. In VirtualBox, create a new VM and name it. ("Mac OS X Yosemite" is probably a good choice.)
  5. If you can spare it, give the machine 4GB of RAM, otherwise the default 2048 should be fine.
  6. Go ahead and create a 20GB Virtual Hard Drive. Make it a Dynamically Allocated VDI.
  7. Once the machine has been created, highlight it in the main VirtualBox window and click "Settings."
  8. In the Settings window under "System > Motherboard" make sure "Chipset" has PIIX3 selected.
  9. Click over to "Display" and max out the Video Memory.
  10. Now move to "Storage" and choose the optical disc from the "Storage Tree" menu. (At this point it should be labeled "Empty.")
  11. Next to the dropdown by "CD/DVD Drive" you will see a small CD icon. Click it, and select "Choose a virtual CD/DVD disk file..." then navigate to yosemitefixed.dmg on your Desktop and select it.
  12. Check the "Live CD/DVD" checkbox, and then click "OK" to close the settings window.
  13. Start the VM. You won't see an Apple logo while the system boots, but rest assured the system is starting.
  14. IF YOUR MACHINE DOES NOT START FULLY, you will probably be stuck at an error that says "Missing Bluetooth Controller Transport." If so, power off the Virtual Machine, go back to your Terminal and type: VBoxManage modifyvm 'YOUR YOSEMITE VM NAME' --cpuidset 1 000206a7 02100800 1fbae3bf bfebfbff then close Terminal and restart the VM.
  15. You should now be at the Welcome screen for the Mac OS X Installer. At this point you will need to partition your virtual disk image, so you should click "Continue" which will open the menubar at the very top of the screen.
  16. From the top menubar, select "Utilities" and then choose "Disk Utility."
  17. Once Disk Utility opens, you will see your VBOX HARDDRIVE in the left side. Select it, then click the "Partition" tab.
  18. Under "Partition Layout" select "1 Partition." Name it "Macintosh HD" and use the "Mac OS Extended (Journaled)" format. Click "Apply" and then "Partition" on the dialog that appears.
  19. Quit Disk Utility to return to the OS X Installer, and then install OS X to the drive partition you just created.

At this point, all you need to do is wait out the install and then once the VM reboots, you will be presented with the OS X Welcome Screen as if you've just booted a brand new Mac. Once you've gotten the initial setup finished and you've finally arrived at your Desktop, I recommend taking a snapshot of the VM, so you can revert back to your fresh install at any time.

Enjoy, and feel free to comment if you have any questions.



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