Monday Feb 01, 2010

DTrace Deep Dive in Boston this Week!

Jim Mauro will be doing a two-hour deep dive on DTrace at this week's NEOSUG (New England OpenSolaris Users Group) meeting. And Shannon Sylvia from Northeastern University will give a talk on using LDOMs and ZFS. The NEOSUG meeting will be held in two locations with the same agenda -- pick the date and location that works best for you. And please do RSVP so we have a rough head count. See below for details.

Where and When:

  • Tues Feb 2nd, 6-9pm, Sun Microsystems Burlington Campus, One Network Drive, Burlington, MA
  • Wed Feb 3rd, 6-9pm, Boston University, Electrical and Computer Engineering Department Photonics Center -- Room PHO 339, 8 Saint Mary's Street, Boston, MA 02215

Registration Required: RSVP to Linda Wendlandt: lwendlandt at


    6:00-6:20: Registration, Pizza and Beverages

    6:20-6:30: Introductions: Peter Galvin, CTO, Corporate Technologies

    6:30-8:30: Solaris Dynamic Tracing - DTrace – Jim Mauro, Principal Engineer, Sun Microsystems

    8:30-9:00: LDOM Domains and ZFS: An example of creating a ZFS bootable root LDOM domain using jumpstart - Shannon Sylvia, Sysadmin, Northeastern University

    9:00 Q&A and Discussion

Also we’ll be giving out official NEOSUG T-Shirts and other trinkets, and copies of the OpenSolaris CD and instruction manual.

The Talks:

Solaris Dynamic Tracing – Dtrace

DTrace is a revolutionary observability tool introduced in Solaris 10, and currently available in all Solaris 10 releases, OpenSolaris, Mac OS X 10.5 and FreeBSD 7.2. DTrace provides unprecedented observability of the kernel and the entire application software stack without requiring code modifications. It is completely dynamic, and introduces zero probe effect when no DTrace probes are enabled.

This talk will introduce the basic components of DTrace - Providers, Probes, Predicates, The D Language, Actions and Subroutines and DTrace variables. We will then dive into examples of DTrace one-liners and scripts that demonstrate the use of DTrace of understanding and root-causing system and application performance issues.

Jim Mauro is a Principal Engineer in Sun Microsystems Systems Group, where he focuses on performance of volume commercial workloads on Sun technology. Jim co-authored Solaris Internals (1s Ed), Solaris Internals (2nd Ed), Solaris Performance and Tools (1st Ed) and is currently working on a DTrace book.

LDOM Domains and ZFS: An example of creating a ZFS bootable root LDOM domain using jumpstart

Using Version 10.1009 of Sun Solaris on a SPARC T5120 with LDOM 1.2, Shannon Sylvia creates guest domains that are each independent of each other. Each guest domain contains its own separately configured operating system and its own virtual disks. Using a “cookbook” approach, new guest domains can be easily added and configured, or removed without affecting the control domain or any of the other guest domains. Each domain is created using ZFS as the root, bootable volume. Shannon will provide examples on how the control domain, the jumpstart/boot server, and the guest domains should be configured.

Shannon Sylvia has 15+ years experience as a Unix Systems Administrator. She is responsible for installing and maintaining Solaris, AIX, and Linux at Northeastern University. In addition, she is an adjunct professor at Northeastern University's College of Professional Studies. She has a strong interest in IT in the health field, and has recently completed 2 1/2 years of nursing school and clinicals. She is currently involved in volunteer work including Salesforce and website development. She earned a bachelor's degree in Computer Science from National University, a bachelor's degree in English from San Diego State University, and a Master's Degree in Computer Information Systems from Boston University.

Monday Jan 25, 2010

Sun Microsystems Alumni

I did a double take yesterday when I received a colleague's invitation to join the Sun Microsystems Alumni Facebook group. Hey, I thought, I haven't left Sun! But then I realized we are all soon leaving Sun one way or another.

Friday Jan 15, 2010

Rest in Peace

Marguerite Handfield Simons
09/17/1937 - 09/11/2009
Julie Simons Droney
10/27/1967 - 12/06/2009

It has been an especially bad time for my family over the last few months with the loss of both my mother and my sister. Thank you everyone for your support.

Friday Nov 13, 2009

Thank you, Google

I'm at Logan Airport waiting for my flight to O'Hare and then to Portland, Oregon for Sun's HPC Consortium this weekend and SC09 next week.

Google is sponsoring free wifi access at Logan through January 15th, which is how I'm able to write this blog entry -- I would not usually pay the usual $10 fee since my flight is leaving in only an hour.

After clicking through the landing page to access the Internet, I was redirected to a Give Back site that lets me make a donation to either Engineers Without Borders USA, One Economy Corporation, or Climate Savers Computing. Even better, Google will match any donation I choose to make.

I wanted to make a donation, but I didn't. Why? Because making the donation requires I create a Google Checkout account. I have a Paypal account already and I'm trying to reduce my credit card exposure on the web whenever possible, so I opted not to sign up.

Thursday Nov 12, 2009

Uh, Do You Offer Express Shipping?

On November 3rd, I received an email congratulations about my upcoming 20th anniversary with Sun (for those keeping score at home, the 20 includes some credit for time at Thinking Machines prior to our arrival at Sun) and an invitation to select a commemorative gift of my choice. My immediate thought was that I should place the order immediately, given all the current craziness and future uncertainties. My recognition award arrived via FedEx yesterday. Parrot not included.

(Wondering what's in the box?)

Wednesday Nov 11, 2009

Apple of My Eye

Once again, I am delighted by Apple's customer service.

After having many problems with my original Macbook Pro, which Apple eventually replaced, my system has been stable and problem-free for quite awhile. Until my screen started losing pixels about a month ago.

Every other vertical line on the display became light grey, making it nearly impossible to read the screen. The problem briefly appeared and then disappeared about a month ago, but it happened again last week and stayed broken for over 12 hours despite reboots, PRAM/NVRAM resets, and SMC resets. I made the problem go away eventually by scheduling a Genius appointment at my local Apple store --- the display spontaneously started working again within an hour of making the appointment. But of course! However, not trusting the machine and needing it for an upcoming business trip, I decided to keep my appointment at the Apple store.

Without being able to actually see the problem at the store, the Genius couldn't make an absolute diagnosis, but we both felt the MBP's display was probably flaky. This conclusion was partly influenced by the fact that when I ran the system in dual screen mode, the problem was only visible on the built-in LCD -- the external monitor did not show the problem. While there still might be a logic board(\*) or other problem, I felt comfortable enough to request that the screen (actually, the clamshell assembly -- the top part of the laptop, including the cables that run from the clamshell to various locations on the motherboard) be replaced. Since the MBP was no longer covered by AppleCare, I was going to have to pay for this repair myself.

I learned Apple has two repair programs. I could either opt to have the machine shipped to an Apple repair depot and expect to receive the machine in 7-10 days, shipped directly to my house, or I could have the machine repaired at the Apple store and it would likely be ready the next day if the parts were available. The depot option has a fixed price -- about $300 regardless of what the problem is or what parts need to be replaced. The in-store option is generally more expensive since you pay for the required parts and for labor. In my case, the in-store option would cost about $600 or twice as much as the depot option. What to do? I needed to work on my presentation for an upcoming conference and would be leaving for that conference in seven days. The depot might ship my machine back earlier than 7-10 days, but I'd be taking a risk.

Because I was able to make arrangements to use another laptop, I decided to opt for the cheaper depot option and wait the 7-10 days. Imagine my surprise when I got a call the next afternoon informing me that my repair had been completed. Apple had opted to do the repair in their store and they honored the depot rate I had been quoted. How cool is that?

So far, I've not had a recurrence of the problem. As a side benefit, this new display is much more evenly illuminated than the old one so even in the unlikely event the problem turns out to be something else, my machine has a nice, new LCD display that to me is worth the $300 I've paid so far. Not that I expect the problem to recur, of course.

(\*) If you have this problem with your machine, look carefully at the cursor. Does it seem to "float above" the bad display or is it also affected by the dropped vertical lines? Noticing this can help diagnose the problem, since an unaffected cursor means it is more likely that the problem is either at the logic board or earlier, while an affected cursor pushes the diagnosis more towards the screen/clamshell.

NEOSUG at Boston University TONIGHT!

The New England OpenSolaris User Group is holding its first meeting at Boston University this evening, hosted by the BU Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering. It is open anyone interested in learning more about OpenSolaris -- both students and professionals are welcome. This first meeting features three talks: What's So Cool About OpenSolaris Anyway, OpenSolaris: Clusters and Clouds from your Laptop, and OpenSolaris as a Research and Teaching Tool.

The meeting runs from 6-9pm tonight (Wed, Nov 11th, 2009) at the BU Photonics Center Building. Follow this link for directions, full agenda details, etc. If you think you'll be coming, please RSVP so we have a rough headcount for food.

See you there -- I'm bringing the pizza!

Friday Jul 24, 2009

I am a (TARP-free) International Banker

This microfinance stuff is pretty cool. By placing funds into my Kiva account I've been able to make small loans to a variety of people around the world and then continue to make additional loans as loan payments are deposited to my account.

I've been using Kiva now for just over two years and have made a total of 20 loans, ten of which have been completely repaid and ten of which are currently in active repayment. I've had no delinquencies and no defaults. While I can withdraw my funds once they are paid back to my account, I plan to continue making loans indefinitely since, 1) psychologically it feels as if I spent the money two years ago when I opened my account, and 2) I can see that these loans really make a difference for people.

My previous loans were to people in Ghana, Tanzania, Nicaragua, Peru, Lebanon (2), Pakistan, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, and Samoa. My current loans are for construction, clothing sales, crafts, transportation, hardware, tailoring, etc. to people in Lebanon, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Cambodia (2), Samoa, Mexico, Tajikistan, and Azerbaijan (2).

Cool: Apollo 11 Source Code Published!

As part of the 40th anniversary commemoration of the Apollo 11 moon landing, the source code for both the Command Module and the Lunar Module have been released. In addition to being able to view the code, you can also run it on an emulator. Go here for details. Cool!!

Thursday Jul 16, 2009

Skitch: Indispensable Blogging Tool

Skitch is a free, Mac-based utility that I use all the time when writing blog entries because it makes preparing images for my blog so simple. Specifically, this what I do with Skitch:

I use Skitch for screen captures. Preview's "grab" function is pretty good, but Skitch makes this much easier. When I select "Capture --> Crosshair" the Skitch window helpfully disappears from the desktop, exposing everything underneath. No more fiddling with window positions to ensure no current Preview windows are in the way of what you are trying to capture.

With Skitch I can resize an image by dragging. Or crop it by dragging. I especially like that the expected size of the image (KB or MB) is always displayed, which is really useful for ensuring that I don't embed overly large images in my blog entries. The size will change depending on what output format is selected (e.g. jpg, gif, png, tif, svg, bmp, etc.)

I can also annotate images with Skitch by drawing or writing on them. I use this frequently in my blog. Some examples are here and here.

Skitch is also a web service, though I don't use that capability. And the Skitch application as many more functions than I've described here. It really is worth a look -- for me it has become an indispensable tool.

Wednesday Jul 01, 2009

An Excellent Optical Illusion

Assuming your aren't color blind, you see green and blue spirals in the above graphic. However, were you to download this image and sample it with GIMP, Photoshop or another image manipulation program, you would find that the "blue" and "green" are exactly the same color, RGB=(0,255,150.) I kid you not.

You can also try zooming your browser to verify that the two colors are the same. As you increase the zoom, you will notice the colors looking more and more similar.

For more like this, go here.

Thanks to Monty for this one.

Tuesday Jun 02, 2009

Building Packages for OpenSolaris: Easier than Ever

In a previous entry I documented in detail how I contributed an open-source package (Ploticus) to OpenSolaris using SourceJuicer, starting with how to write a spec file and ending with the inclusion of the package in the contrib repository. In truth, at the time I published the information I had not actually taken the last step to promote the package from the pending repository to the contrib repository due to a Ploticus bug I discovered during testing. Ploticus ran okay, but it was not configured as I had wanted. It took me some time to create appropriate patch files, rebuild the package, re-test it, etc.

In retrospect, I'm glad I was delayed because in the meantime OpenSolaris 2009.06 and SourceJuicer 1.2.0 were both released, which gave me a chance to see if any improvements had been made in the contribution process. I am happy to report that improvements were definitely made. Read on for details.

Most important, SourceJuicer documentation has been much improved. See, for example, How to Use OpenSolaris SourceJuicer for a good overview of the submission process. In addition, the short (9 min) video below, which walks through the mechanics of submitting files using SourceJuicer, is also an excellent resource:

SourceJuicer itself has also been improved significantly with this latest release. For example, it is now possible to delete a submitted file if it is no longer needed---I was able to use SourceJuicer 1.2.0 to remove an incorrect copyright file I had created when I first submitted Ploticus. While I appreciated that improvement, I found the following much more intriguing:

The screendump above shows the results of recent SourceJuicer builds, including Ploticus. I was happy to see Ploticus built successfully with the patches I had created on my first try. I was also curious about the implied promise of the new Install column. Since I next wanted to install and test this latest package on my 2009.06 system, I clicked on the Install link. And saw this:

Hey, cool. Firefox knows it should invoke the Package Manager to handle my request. How? With OpenSolaris 2009.06 we've enhanced the Package Manager to support a web installer mode and created a new mime type (application/ to pass package installation requests from a web page to Package Manager. This works from any web browser so long as the web server is configured to handle .p5i files correctly. See John Rice's blog entry on 2009.06 Package Manager enhancements for more details.

I clicked OK and then saw:

Package Manager promises to not only install the requested package, but to automatically add the required repository to my configuration as well. Surely it can't be this simple. I clicked on Proceed:

Apparently, it can be that simple. :-)

I've now tested my patched version of Ploticus on 2009.06 and requested the package be promoted to contrib by sending a note to I'm hopeful Ploticus will soon be available to the entire OpenSolaris community.

Wednesday May 27, 2009

CommunityOne 2009: Taking the Plunge with OpenSolaris Deep Dives

I was hoping to attend CommunityOne in San Francisco next week (June 1-3), but I'll be beavering away here in Boston instead. C1 is the big, blow-out community event that covers all things OpenSolaris for the technical crowd --- developers and users -- with piles of technical sessions, lightning talks, labs and a host of other activities.

There are several registration options, including one free option that gives you access to two Deep Dive technical tracks on Tuesday as well as some free sessions on Monday. The Tuesday tracks are Developing IN OpenSolaris and Deploying OpenSolaris in Your Datacenter. Topics covered:

If you are interested in dropping by the Moscone Center next Monday or Tuesday for these tech talks, complete the free registration here. For details on the entire C1 event, see the event website or the wiki.

Wednesday Apr 15, 2009

MacBook Pro: Many Screws, All Tiny

This weekend I upgraded my 2.2 GHz Core 2 Duo MacBook Pro's internal hard disk from 160 GB to 320 GB following the excellent instructions at iFixit. The two dodgy steps are freeing the top-case assembly and carefully prying loose the ribbon cables that are attached to the top of the existing hard drive. For the latter you definitely need some sort of thin plastic tool to work gently underneath the ribbons to detach them. To keep track of the variety of tiny screws encountered (both phillips and torx) I organized them according to their iFixit disassembly step.

I chose the 7200RPM Hitachi Travelstar 320GB 16MB SATA drive (model HTS723232L9A360) as a replacement. Since my 160 GB disk was also a 7200 RPM drive, I didn't experience the noticeable performance improvements some people have reported when moving to a faster disk. If you do an upgrade, you should definitely use a 7K drive. I bought mine at Other World Computing.

Before replacing the drive, I did a full back up onto an external Firewire disk and then swapped my new Travelstar into the external drive enclosure and did another full, bootable backup onto the new disk. Both backups were done using Carbon Copy Cloner. After booting from the now externally-attached Travelstar to verify that the backup had worked correctly, I removed the Travelstar from the external disk enclosure and then inserted it into the MBP following the iFixit instructions. Once done, my machine booted with no problem. I now have lots of space for my growing collection of RAW photos, which eat disk space at an alarming clip.


Josh Simons


« July 2016