"Blueprints" by "Cameron Degelia" on Flickr

Using Architectural Decision Records (ADR) with adr-tools

Introducing Architectural Decision Records

Over the last week, I discovered a new tool for my arsenal called Architectural Decision Records (ADR). They were first written about in 2011, in a post called “Documenting Architecture Decisions“, where the author, Michael Nygard, advocates for short documents explaining each decision that influences the architecture of an environment.

I found this via a Github repository, created by the team at gov.uk, which includes their ADR library, and references the tool they use to manage these documents – adr-tools.

Installing adr-tools on Linux

Currently adr-tools are easier to install under OSX rather than Linux or Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL) (I’m working on this – bear with me! 😃 ).

The current installation notes suggest for Linux (which would also work on WSL) is to download the latest release tar.gz or zip file and unpack it into your path somewhere. This isn’t exactly the best way to deploy anything on Linux, but… I guess it works right now?

For me, I downloaded the file, and unpacked the whole tar.gz file (as root) into /usr/local/bin/, giving me a directory of /usr/local/bin/adr-tools-3.0.0/. There’s a subdirectory in here, called src which contains a large number of files – mostly starting _adr or adr- and two additional files, init.md and template.md.

Rather than putting all of these files into /usr/local/bin directly, instead I leave them in the adr-tools-3.0.0 directory, and create a symbolic link (symlink) to the /usr/local/bin directory with this command:

cd /usr/local/bin
ln -s adr-tools-3.0.0/src/* .

This gives me all those files in one place, so I can refer to them later.

An aside – why link everything in that src directory? (Feel free to skip this block!)

Now, why, you might ask, do all of these unrelated files need to be in the same place? Well…. the author of the script has put this in at the top of almost all the files:

set -e
eval "$($(dirname $0)/adr-config)"

And then in that script, it says:

basedir=$(cd -L $(dirname $0) > /dev/null 2>&1 && pwd -L)
echo "adr_bin_dir=$basedir"
echo "adr_template_dir=$basedir"

There are, technically, good reasons for this! This is designed to be run in, what in the Windows world, you might call as a “Portable Script”. So, you bung adr-tools into some directory somewhere, and then just call adr somecommand and it knows that all the files are where they need to be. The (somewhat) down side to this is that if you just want to call adr somecommand rather than path/to/my/adr somecommand then all those files need to be there

I’m currently looking to see if I can improve this somewhat, so that it’s not quite so complex to install, but for now, that’s what you need.


Using adr-tools to document your decisions

I’ll start documenting a fictional hosted web service project, and note down some of the decisions which have been made.

Initializing your ADR directory

Start by running adr init. You may want to specify a directory where you want to put these records, so instead use: adr init path/to/adr, like this:

Initializing the ADR in “documentation/architecture-decisions” with adr init documentation/architecture-decisions

You’ll notice that when I run this command, it creates a new entry, called 0001-record-architecture-decisions.md. Let’s open this up, and see what’s in here.

The VSCode record for the choice to use ADR. It is a markdown file, with the standard types of data recorded.

In here we have the record ID (1.), the title of the record Record architecture decisions, the date the choice was made Date: 2021-01-19, a status of Accepted, the context on why we made this choice, the decision, and the consequences of making this decision. Make changes, if needed, and save it. Let’s move on.

Creating our first own record

This all is quite straightforward thus far. Let’s create our next record.

Issuing the command adr new <sometitle> you create the next ADR record.

Let’s open up that record.

The template for the ADR record for “Use AWS”.

Like the first record, we have a title, a status, a context, decision and consequences. Let’s define these.

A “finished” brief ADR record.

This document shouldn’t be very long! It just describes why a choice was made and what that entails.

Changing decisions – completely replacing (superseding) a decision

Of course, over time, decisions will be replaced due to various decisions elsewhere.

You can ask adr to supersede a previous record, using the “-s” flag, and the record number.

Let’s look at how that works on the second ADR record.

After the command adr new -s 2 Use Azure, the ADR record number 2 has a new status, “Superceded by” and the superseded linked document. Yes, “Superceded” is a typo. There is an open PR for it

So, under the “Status”, where is previously said “Approved”, it now says “Superceded by [3. Use Azure](0003-use-azure.md)“. This is a markdown statement which indicates where the superseded document is located. As I mentioned in the comment below the above image, there is an open Pull Request to fix this on the adr-tools, so hopefully that typo won’t last long!

We’ve got our new ADR too – let’s take a look at that one?

Our new ADR shows that it “supercedes” the previous record. Which is good! Typo aside :)

Other references

Of course, you don’t always completely overrule a decision. Sometimes your decision is influenced by, or has a dependency on something else, like this one.

We know which provider we’re using at long last, now let’s pick a region. Use the -l flag to “link” between the referenced and new ADR. The context for the -l flag is “<number>:<text for link to number>:<text for link in targetted document>”.

The command here is:

adr new -l '3:Dependency:Influences' Use Region UK South and UK West

I’m just going to crop from the “Status” block on both the referenced ADR (3) and the ADR which references it (4):

Status block in ADR 0003 which is referenced by ADR 0004
Status block in the new ADR 0004 which references ADR 0003

And of course, you can also use the same switch to mark documents as partially obsoleted, like this:

adr new -l '4:Partially obsoletes:Partially obsoleted by' Use West Europe region instead of UK West region
Status block in ADR 0004 indicating it’s partially obsoleted. Probably worth updating the status properly to show it’s not just “Accepted”.

If you forget to add the referencing in, you can also use the adr link command, like this:

adr link 3 Influences 5 Dependency

To be clear, that command adds a (complete) line to ADR 0003 saying “Influences [5. ADR Title](link)” and a separate (complete) line to ADR 0005 saying “Dependency [3. ADR Title](link)“.

What else can we do?

There are four other “things” that it’s worth doing at this point.

  1. Note that you can change the template per-ADR directory.

Create a directory called “templates” in the ADR directory, and put a file in there called “template.md“. Tweak this as you need. Ensure you have AT LEAST the line ## Status and # NUMBER. TITLE as these are required by the script.

A much abbreviated template file, containing just “Number”, “Title”, “Date”, “Status”, and a new dummy heading called “Stuff”.
And the result of running adr new Some Text once you’ve created that template.

As you can see, it’s possible to add all sorts of content in this template as a result. Bear in mind, before your template turns into something like this, that it’s supposed to be a short document explaining why each decision was made, not a funding proposal, or a complex epic of your user stories!

Be careful not to let your template run away with you!
  1. Note that you can automatically open an editor, by setting the EDITOR (where the process is expected to finish before returning control, like using nano, emacs or vim, for example) or VISUAL (where the process is expected to “fork”, like for example, gedit or vscode) environment variable, and then running adr new A Title, like this:
  1. We can create “Table of Contents” files, using the adr generate toc command, like this:
Generating the table of contents, for injecting into other files.

This can be included into your various other markdown files. There are switches, so you can set the link path, but your best bet is to find that using adr help generate toc.

  1. We can also generate graphviz files of the link maps between elements of the various ADRs, like this: adr generate graph | dot -Tjpg > graph.jpg

If you omit the “| dot -Tjpg > graph.jpg” part, then you’ll see the graphviz output, which looks like this: (I’ve removed the documents 6 and 7).

digraph {
  node [shape=plaintext];
  subgraph {
    _1 [label="1. Record architecture decisions"; URL="0001-record-architecture-decisions.html"];
    _2 [label="2. Use AWS"; URL="0002-use-aws.html"];
    _1 -> _2 [style="dotted", weight=1];
    _3 [label="3. Use Azure"; URL="0003-use-azure.html"];
    _2 -> _3 [style="dotted", weight=1];
    _4 [label="4. Use Region UK South and UK West"; URL="0004-use-region-uk-south-and-uk-west.html"];
    _3 -> _4 [style="dotted", weight=1];
    _5 [label="5. Use West Europe region instead of UK West region"; URL="0005-use-west-europe-region-instead-of-uk-west-region.html"];
    _4 -> _5 [style="dotted", weight=1];
  _3 -> _2 [label="Supercedes", weight=0]
  _3 -> _5 [label="Influences", weight=0]
  _4 -> _3 [label="Dependency", weight=0]
  _5 -> _4 [label="Partially obsoletes", weight=0]
  _5 -> _3 [label="Dependency", weight=0]

To make the graphviz part work, you’ll need to install graphviz, which is just an apt get away.

Any caveats?

adr-tools is not actively maintained. I’ve contacted the author, about seeing if I can help out with the maintenance, but… we’ll see, and given some fairly high profile malware takeovers of projects like this sort of thing on Github, Docker, NPM, and more… I can see why there might be some reluctance to consider it! Also, I’m an unknown entity, I’ve just dropped in on the project and offered to help, with no previous exposure to the lead dev or the project… so, we’ll see. Worst case, I’ll fork it!

Working with this also requires an understanding of markdown files, and why these might be a useful document format for records like this. There was a PR submitted to support multiple file formats (like asciidoc and rst) but these were not approved by the author.

There is no current intention to support languages other than English. The tool is hard-coded to look for strings like “status” and “superceded” which is hard. Part of the reason I raised the PRs I did was to let me fix some of these sorts of issues. Again, we’ll see what happens.

Lastly, it can be overwhelming to see a lot of documents in one place, particularly if they’re as granular as the documents I produced in this demo. If the project supported categories, or could be broken down into components (like doc/adr/networking and doc/adr/server_builds and doc/adr/applications) then this might help, but it’s not on the roadmap right now!

Featured image is “Blueprints” by “Cameron Degelia” on Flickr and is released under a CC-BY license.

"DNA" by "MIKI Yoshihito" on Flickr

One to read: Reverse Engineering the source code of the BioNTech/Pfizer SARS-CoV-2 Vaccine – Articles

One to read: “Reverse Engineering the source code of the BioNTech/Pfizer SARS-CoV-2 Vaccine – Articles”

OMG this is amazing! It uses terminology that a coder or, for that matter, anyone who understands IT terminology will understand. It describes the headers for the RNA sequence as starting with [~]”the equivalent of the #! in shell scripts”

At the end of the post is a couple of links to other content I’m considering reviewing later… “DNA for programmers” and the “two hour [(!)] presentation on DNA […] aimed at computer people”. Maybe once I get some time to spare I’ll take a proper look at these.

This was automatically posted from my RSS Reader, and may be edited later to add commentary.

Featured image is “DNA” by “MIKI Yoshihito” on Flickr and is released under a CC-BY license.

My Fujitsu Stylistic V727

Review of my Fujitsu Stylistic V727 Laptop/Tablet.

TL;DR: Linux is usually awesome, but it doesn’t work for my niche case.

Why was I in the market for a new computer?

October 2019 my beloved (but 7 year old) Acer V5-171, “Minilith” (so named because it was smaller than it’s predecessor, a 17″ monster of a black slab that was named “Monolith”) started exhibiting signs of having a dead battery. I replaced the battery with an 3rd party replacement, and while it charged OK for a few runs, it stopped charging all together (I could get a maximum of 5% charge), so I put the old battery in, and it started working better. Huzzah. All was going well until around 6 months ago when the hard drive failed, so I replaced it with an SSD, and that gave it a new lease of life… and this month, well, it just wouldn’t boot reliably. I finally decided that it was time to let it go and play with Timmy the dog at the farm, and replace it with something newer.

The back of "Minilith", my 7 year old Laptop.
The back of “Minilith”, my 7 year old Laptop.
Minilith's Keyboard and Screen
Minilith’s Keyboard and Screen

Fortunately, this co-incided with a small win on the company social Prize Draw of a reasonable sized pay out, enough to consider looking at the Ex-Demo staff sales list made available to me by dint of my employer.

Making my choice.

There weren’t a lot of options, to be fair, but one item stood out to me. A Stylistic Tablet Computer. I’d previously had an Asus Transformer TF300T – a tablet-come-computer which had a detachable keyboard. I’d loved that, even though it didn’t really do what I wanted it for (and, I think I’d paid quite a bit over what it was worth, really)… but what I really wanted to do was have a tablet I could use for computing… Hence, the Stylistic.

Image of the TF300T, a tablet model I’d previously owned, from the Asus Transformer Marketing Pages
Der obere Teil des Stylistic V727 ist ein Tablet.
Image of the tablet view of the Stylistic V727 computer from a German blog.

Fujitsu are in a bit of an odd place, at least in the UK (I’ve not looked elsewhere) for personal computers – we sell quite well (apparently) to business, but we moved out of the “selling to the public” market probably around 2010, and so it was pretty hard to gauge how well this laptop performed. Oh, and of course, being a “Linux Enthusiast”, I wanted to be able to run Ubuntu, Fedora or others on it.

Because it was an internal sale, and I wanted to test Ubuntu on it before I bought it, I was able to get the sales team to let me evaluate it before I bought it.

It arrives!

It arrived as the tablet and keyboard, with a dock for setting it on your desk. I tested it with Windows, where the dock worked well, but the keyboard by itself didn’t so much. You see, the keyboard is an optional accessory, and had been sold with the laptop, all good thus far. Except what you also need to get, when you get the keyboard, is the case. The case gives you the sturdy back to give the “laptop” a frame. It’s basically the hinge that the top-heavy screen needs to keep itself upright.

A screen capture of the Fujitsu Stylistic V727 from the datasheet. Note this image shows the optional keyboard and the optional case.

The sales team were very understanding, and found a case to ship to me as well, but it wouldn’t come for a few days, so I was left to try out the rest of the hardware.

What do you get for your money?

The processor is an Intel i5-7Y57 dual core CPU with four threads, running at 1.2GHz.

It has 8GB of RAM and a 256GB m2 SATA drive.

The 12.3″ touch-or-pen (included) enabled screen has a maximum resolution of 1920×1280 pixels. The surface of the tablet is considered a WACOM tablet, and the pen can be sensed from a reasonable distance away. There are two buttons on the side of the pen, which turns a tap on the screen from a “normal” left click to a right click, or a center click.

On the rear is a fingerprint sensor.

From a network perspective, the WIFI supports 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.2, and under the battery there is a LTE module onboard (although, I’ve not tested that).

On the side is a USB3.1 A connector, and a USB C connector (the specs sheet I linked to above suggests there is a single USB 3 and a USB 2 interface, but I doubt the USB C is USB 2).

There is also a MicroSD slot, which is detected by the booted OS as an MMC device, but it is not detected as a bootable device.

There’s a combined 3.5mm audio in and out jack, which I’ve not tried and a power socket.

There are two cameras, a 5 megapixel front-facing camera and an 8 megapixel rear facing camera with a flash.

The detachable keyboard has an integrated touchpad. It’s all good, and compared to my poor Acer V5, it’s a massive step up ❤

When you add in the desk dock (where, to be fair, it’s spent most of it’s time since I got it), the connections also then include Gigabit Ethernet, a Display Port interface, a VGA port and three USB 3 A interfaces, and a power socket.

The OS Comparison starts

Windows first

I booted it in Windows, and found it really rather responsive, especially once I’d reinstalled Windows without all the customizations the demo team had put on…

My previous install of Windows on Minilith had been the Home edition, and I’d found the semi-constant nagging to install games and the like rather annoying. I’ve had a couple of Windows 10 Professional installs at work, and, while those builds came with their own fair share of corporately mandated bloat (after all, their threat models are somewhat different to mine) they usually felt more slim than the Windows 10 home install I’d had, so when I saw this had Windows 10 Professional, I was looking forward to seeing something a bit leaner… and I wasn’t let down. All the hardware worked fine, I had the fingerprint reader working, no worries and the dock was great.

Docking and undocking is relatively seamless, although the first try was a bit tricky, I’ve got used to it. I had two screens attached via my work-supplied Fujitsu PR08 DisplayLink adaptor, plugged through the dock, and again, that all worked fine.

I could use the pen in the tablet mode really well. It makes selecting items on the screen easy, and if you don’t want to use the virtual keyboard, in some cases, it pops up a handwriting recognition box, although the time I showed this to my wife (where I’d been using it successfully for some time), it didn’t recognise half the words I wrote… but I’m sure that’s just my dreadful scrawl, and not the tablet’s fault!

Even using the tablet without the pen worked really well. Tapping the screen is a left click, and a long press on an area is a right click, similar to how Android handles left-and-right clicks in RDP and VNC sessions. The keyboard has several “modes” – a reduced character set, a thumb typing set or a full keyboard. The reduced set has a control key and an escape key, but no alt, windows or arrow keys. I didn’t try the thumb typing set (this thing is 12″ across!) but the full keyboard is an “ISO layout” 75% keyboard (I discovered by matching the image to this website!) which means I still get my Control, Alt, and Windows keys.

Next, Ubuntu

I booted from a USB stick that had the Ubuntu 20.04 installer on it. Ubuntu booted fine, allowed me to repartition the Windows partition into approximately half the drive, and install away. During the install, I was asked to provide a password to setup the SecureBoot keys, and instructed that it’d prompt me for it on the next reboot. Most of the hardware worked fine. Dock, keyboard, Wifi, Bluetooth… all good. The fingerprint sensor wasn’t detected, and still isn’t, but I’m OK with that, it was always just a nice-to-have. The install worked fine, and yes, on reboot, I got a blue screen asking me to set up my “MOK” (which, I guessed eventually, was the SecureBoot setup). I realised that the SecureBoot install stage of the Linux install copies a private key to the UEFI space, and on the next boot, it spots there’s a key there and asks you to unlock that private key, so it can install it into the boot keys. All good!

I was working away on it with the tablet in the dock. I tried using it with the detachable keyboard, but it was a bit tricky to use without the rigid back, so I kept it in the dock. The pen works a treat too.

The problem came when I tried to use it as a tablet.

You see, where Windows has a selection of keyboard layouts for their “On Screen Keyboard” (OSK), the Gnome one only lets you use this layout:

Screenshot taken from an article at OMG Ubuntu.

While this is passable for tapping stuff into a URL bar in your browser, entering a password for logging in, or typing simple statements into dialogue boxes, there are some key things it’s missing. The first (for me) is a Control, Alt or Super (Windows) key. This means I can’t do any programming, of any sort, in Tablet mode. Note, this just works on Windows, and is possible on Android with an extended keyboard called “Hacker Keyboard”. There are also no cursor keys, which seems like it’s less important, but it makes editing things you’ve typed (or mistyped) MUCH harder.

“Well, OK then, let’s have a look around and see what our options are?”

I’d heard good things about “OnBoard”, a predecessor to Gnome OSK, but because OSK is registered as “The” on screen keyboard, and runs as a system process, and OnBoard is a user process, Gnome OSK pops up any time you want to do on screen keyboard things, even if you’ve got OnBoard loaded. Ahah! I found an extension which blocks Gnome OSK… except that stops it from being able to be used for logging in.

You see, that whole “system” versus “user” process thing I mentioned before. The Gnome lock screen is considered a system process, not a user one, which means that if you’ve disabled Gnome OSK, then you can’t put your password in, but equally, if you’re typing in a box with OnBoard, change focus and change back again, up pops Gnome OSK.

Breaking down and turning it around.

I should confess, I didn’t spend a lot of time wondering about this. I booted a Kubuntu environment instead, and found that this really didn’t work for me either (although I now don’t remember what stopped me from liking it – I might have to revisit this!) By this point, I’d spent several hours “messing” around with this, and I just wanted to give something a try. So I booted back into Windows.

I gave the on screen keyboard another try. It worked great. I tried doing some sketches in Paint 3D (the replacement for Windows Paint) with the pen, and it was very easy (so much so, I need to work out how to use it for my next design call with work!)

All the familiar tools I use in my work or personal environment are there.

  • VSCode. Check.
  • A usable shell (via Windows Subsystem for Linux). Check.
  • File synchronization (via Syncthing). Check.
  • Web browser (Firefox). Check.
  • Audio recording software (Audacity). Check.
  • Image editor (GIMP). Check.
  • Voice chat for the podcast software (Mumble). Check.
  • Screencasting software (OBS). Check.
  • Virtual Machine software (VirtualBox, Vagrant, Terraform). Check.

And the fingerprint reader works… so I stuck with Windows 10.

The only last catch, whether it was Windows or Linux? There’s no HDMI or VGA out without the dock… so I need to start looking into “cheap” display adaptors that I can use for presenting things, whenever we get back to “normal” and I can start attending and speaking at conferences again.

What about the case?

Oh yehr, so a few days after I get the computer, the case turns up. It attaches to the back of the computer with tape, and feels like leather (although, I’m sure it’s not leather). It definitely makes it feel like a “quality” product 😀. It’s a little bit more tricky to drop into the dock, but it makes it feel like a Laptop when you’re using it like one. The detachable keyboard is interesting. I’ve used it in the car, waiting for children to finish activities, and it’s fine, because it goes flat. I’ve detached the keyboard from the screen to just do tablet-y things with it, and that’s fine too.

So in summary

I think if I didn’t want it to be a tablet as much as a computer, I’d have been fine.

If you want a Windows Tablet that turns into a Laptop, it’s fine. If you want a low-profile desktop computer (in a dock) that can become a laptop, it’s fine.

But until Gnome or one of the other flavours gets a handle on how to do a reasonable on-screen keyboard… I don’t think I’ll be using Linux on here (because it’s also a tablet) for the next few months… and I think that’s going to be OK.

All of that said, if you use any Linux distributions with a tablet style mode, and you’ve got a working OSK, please contact me (via one of the links at the top of the site) to let me know what and how you did it, and I’ll give it a try too!

"the home automation system designed by loren amelang himself" by "Nicolás Boullosa" on Flickr

One to read: Ansible for Networking – Part 3: Cisco IOS

One to read: “Ansible for Networking – Part 3: Cisco IOS”

One of the guest hosts and stalwart member of the Admin Admin Telegram group has been documenting how he has built his Ansible Networking lab.

Stuart has done three posts so far, but this is the first one actually dealing with the technology. It’s a mammoth read, so I’d recommend doing it on a computer, and not on a tablet or phone!

Posts one and two were about what the series would cover and how the lab has been constructed.

Featured image is “the home automation system designed by loren amelang himself” by “Nicolás Boullosa” on Flickr and is released under a CC-BY license.

"presentation structure" by "Sean MacEntee" on Flickr

One to read: “The Art of Slide Design”

This is a little different from my usual posts, but I heard about this from the User Error podcast this morning. In 2018 Melinda Seckington gave a talk at DevRelCon Tokyo which she then reposted in full detail on her blog. This set of posts is well worth a read, particularly if you’re someone who enjoys writing and delivering presentations, or if it’s part of your job.

While I don’t adhere to her advice exactly, I can see a lot of benefits to the way that she’s advising to create your decks.

It’s worth mentioning that if you follow the links on the blog posts, post 4 of 5 links to the wrong page for the last page (post 5/5), but there is a “next post” button at the bottom of the page… or just follow the links from this page :)

Featured image is “presentation structure” by “Sean MacEntee” on Flickr and is released under a CC-BY license.

The OggCamp '19 grid on Saturday

#OggCamp ’19 – A review and Talk Summary

Firstly, an apology! It’s more than a week after OggCamp. I’m quite aware that this is very very late for me!

About OggCamp for those who weren’t there!

OggCamp is an annual semi-scheduled Unconference. An Unconference (sometimes known as a “BarCamp”) is where when you arrive on the first day, the schedule (also known as the “Grid”) is blank, with a stack of post-it notes next to the grid. You’re encouraged to put talks on the grid, and keep checking the grid to see what’s up next.

OggCamp is a conference which encourages people to talk about Free Culture (Free and Open Source Software, Open Hardware, Creative Commons Content) and other permissively licensed works. It’s also a “Geeky” conference, so games will often appear, they encourage hardware makers to attend, and this year the event also contained “FlawCon”, a security conference, so the event also had a higher-than-usual proportion of Infosec people there!

OggCamp was started by podcasters in 2009, and so there’s usually at least one or two podcasts being recorded. This year, there was a panel session, Linux Outlaws “rode for one last time”, Hacker Public Radio (HPR) were out and about to talk to people at the event, and the podcast I co-host, The Admin Admin Podcast, found a quiet spot to record a show too. Sadly, with the exception of my own podcast recording, I didn’t make it to any of the other recordings I mentioned, as I was attending talks by other people at those times.

Differences, for me, from previous years

Since OggCamp ’10, I was either not at the event (on the years each of my children were born), was running the Talk Scheduling Software; CampFireManager, crewing, or organising the event. This was the first year I managed to get to see talks all day since the very first OggCamp, so that was a big change for me.

This year, Lorna organised the grid, from right in front of it. Except for the welcome and closing talks, I don’t think she left the grid for the entire day both days. In previous years, when we weren’t using CampFireManager, the grid was left unattended, with an occasional drive-by crew member transferring the grid to Joind.In. Talking of which, here’s the Joind.In view of Saturday…


A screen shot of the grid from Saturday. Talks marked with a * are talks I attended.

I went to the “Opening Talk” first. This is your usual “Here’s how to get on the Wi-fi, here’s how to participate, here’s the sort of things we want from you” talk, and was run by Dan and Lorna.

Next up, I saw Terrence and Elizabeth Eden talking about OpenBenches.org.

OpenBenches is a project that records what is on the plaques on benches that people arrange for their relatives, sometimes when they die. I’ve been aware of this project for some time, but never contributed. Until now I thought you had to manually type in what was on each plaque (and I think, at the beginning you had to), but NO, they’re now doing Optical Character Recognition (OCR) to copy the text out of the photos.

The talk discussed the statistics of the project, the technology stack and why the project was started. It was just lovely and really well delivered.

Next I went to see Jeroen talking about Self Publishing.

Jeroen first attended OggCamp last year, giving a talk about Mainframes. This year he was back, talking about running a project with a very small community. Before he got to that though, he wanted to talk about self publishing. He endorsed Lulu for paper printing, AsciiDoc and AsciiDoctor to produce the content (PanDoc to convert between formats, if you started with something that isn’t AsciiDoc(tor)) and then Inkscape to create the cover. I asked him if he would suggest anything for eBooks, but he doesn’t create eBooks so couldn’t make any suggestions.

We got a demo of publishing a finished book on Lulu, with a running translation from Jeroen’s native language :) It was a great talk, and very well delivered in 25 minutes!

The front cover of the book Analogue Network Security by Winn Schwartau
The book which inspired my first talk

After that, I gave a late-pitched talk on Time Based Security (TBS). I made a few mistakes here – not least of which was failing to charge my laptop having used it while I was travelling in – so my laptop wouldn’t actually boot… I couldn’t even put up a single slide with my details! Trying to explain the maths around TBS without something to show it is hard, and involves walking around and waving your hands about. I had about 20 people in the room and I felt woefully underprepared.

Because I ended up running much shorter than I expected, I also started to bring in other material from the Analogue Network Security book (pictured above, with post-it-note reference markers for my review) that I’m currently writing a review on. This was my next mistake. So, I mentioned about feedback loops (which about 1/3 of the book is about) and that in the later sections of the book it’s mentioned that this can improve workflow where you need sign-off to complete changes. I mixed up a few terms and it sounded like I was endorsing having changes made without approvals. I tried to pull it back, but not having brought the book with me or having enough experience in vocalising the material… yehr, it was never going to go well. Oh well, I’m hoping to get the review nailed down and then start writing proper presentations on the matter, so I can try and deliver it better next year!

Then… Lunch. Phil, my father-in-law, plus Kian and Cat went to a Chinese Bakery for lunch.

Neil’s talk was my next talk to see; an ad-hoc review of web pages about Repair Day

After I gave my talk, I headed to see Neil give an ad-hoc talk about Repair Day. Neil had a collection of pages he wanted to show off. Neil works with The Restart Project to help people fix their own broken things, not just computers (which is Neil’s area of interest) but also white goods, radios, home electronics, clothes and furniture.

In the audience was Stuart Ward (featured later) who also mentioned about running Repair Cafes. After the talk was complete, Stuart posted a collection of links to the Joind.In page for people to find out more for themselves later.

This was my stand-out talk for Day 1. Anna had come to OggCamp last year, and thought there wasn’t sufficient content for people new to Linux, so she proposed, wrote and delivered a blinder!

I went to Anna’s talk next. I went in, amongst other reasons, because thought I would be going in to support someone “new to Ubuntu”, and came out stunned at how well the talk was delivered!

Someone wise* wrote on twitter a few months ago something like “The point when someone new joins your team is when you get to challenge implied knowledge. If they ask ‘Why’ and you have to say ‘I don’t know’ it means you need to justify why you do something, and perhaps stop doing it.”

* Someone in this case means I can’t find the tweet!

In this case, I wanted to know what being “New” to Ubuntu (my preferred desktop Linux distribution right now) meant to people. Anna’s talk was fantastic, and got right to the heart of what someone new to Linux would feel like. She mentions downloading “things” from the Internet, setting them to be executable by everyone, and then running them. She also mentions running everything under “sudo” or as root, and then went into where she found she should put things. This was sprinkled with a lot of appropriate emojis. It was a really great talk.

As an event organiser, I’m always interested in what other groups are doing!

After Anna’s talk, I went to a round-table session about meetup and event organisers. This was inspired by something new that Lorna had organised this year for the unconference schedule. Next to the board, showing what talks were going to be given, was another board asking for talks to be given. Someone had asked for a talk about organising meet-ups, and so several of the attendees who are organisers of local groups came together to give their views on how to start a group, how to motivate attendees to come to your groups, and how to keep the momentum going.

I’m sorry to say that this was one of the weaker sessions I went to over the weekend. Because no-one had really planned anything in this slot, and none of the people running the session were really comfortable in what they were delivering, it was hard to get any points out of the speakers, and there was very little interaction with the audience. This could have been run as a Q&A session from experienced group organisers, or even a round-table… but never mind!

Towards the end of the session, I stood up and asked about whether any groups like TechNW.UK existed in their regions, and asked people who organised groups like this to put pull requests to get their groups added to that website. I hope to see something come out of that!

After I left this session, I went to look at the exhibition hall and the Kids Track room.

In the exhibition hall was the Merch Stand, the grid, two stands that were apparently about musical things – one of which basically had a guitar and amp constantly being used by a very good musician. After that was Matrix.org, The FSFE, Hacker Public Radio. Along the other wall was a lock picking stand from FlawCon, Manchester Grey Hats and InfoSec Hoppers, a telepresence bot and more!

In the kids room were computers, micro:bits and willing instructors! It looked like a lot of fun for kids, but there wasn’t much room! I had a bit of a chat with a few friends I met along the way, before I went to see my co-host, Al, talking about Wireguard.

Al hadn’t expected to be giving this talk today!

Al has been talking about Wireguard a few times over the past year-or-so, and wanted to give a talk about it. He’d planned to propose it for Sunday, but was encouraged by Lorna to talk about it on Saturday. As a result, he hadn’t had a chance to run though the demo he’d planned to give, and it tripped him up at the end of his demo, when the notes he was following mixed up private and public keys at each end… Aside from that, it was a great talk, and made me want to look at Wireguard again!

My final talk for the day was one I didn’t expect to be in!

Kian is a friend of mine from days of old, and when he walked into the room I’d just been in for Al’s talk… I decided to sit in whatever he was talking about. Kian spoke to a small audience about hardware builds he’d done over the years, and the mishaps that had occurred on them. A very entertaining talk, albeit one that I couldn’t really empathise with, as I’ve not done any hardware builds since I did my Radio Amateur Exam. Hearing the story of the halloween pumpkin with eyes that were supposed to look at you was very funny though, and the videos really completed the story!

After the talks were done, I went to get dinner with my co-hosts from the Admin Admin podcast, and a few of the other attendees. After we were done, I went back to the venue, but couldn’t settle as I’d had a headache coming on.

While I was gearing up to leave, I ended up having a good chat with Ben Grubert, who changed my view somewhat on how to deliver a talk. He said that people, particularly those who are very process focused, struggle to explain something that links back to the goal, for example, explaining how to win at a board game. It made me completely re-think how my talk I wanted to give on Sunday would go, and I left soon after that conversation so I could re-write my talk. I’ve since gone on to share that advice with several other people!


A screen shot of the Sunday Schedule. Again, starred talks are the ones I attended.
My hands-down favourite talk from the entire weekend!

At Barcamp Manchester 9, which I attended a few weeks before OggCamp, I missed a talk by Rachel. I saw a picture of one of her slides, and I think I might even have caught the last slide of it… Either way, I was desperately sad that I’d missed the talk, and so encouraged her to attend OggCamp to deliver it. Once I saw she was on the grid, I knew exactly where I was going!

Rachel’s talk did not fail to deliver. I’ve heard from lots and lots of people that they were moved by this talk. Rachel was talking about her life, mostly undiagnosed with Autism, ADHD and depression. She enriched the talk with fun comments, including asking someone to play the part of Romeo from Romeo and Juliet, and then asking him, without having seen the book, why he didn’t know his lines. It sounds quite brutal, but actually, it sets the scene quite well on her life. There’s a fantastic photo of the spectrum of issues related to autism that just keeps having more and more artefacts being added to it.

I’ve heard that she wants to take this talk to more people, businesses and conferences, so I won’t spoil any more of the surprises, but it’s a really powerful talk and I’d strongly encourage anyone to bring Rachel into their environment to hear her talk.

While sitting in Kian’s talk the day before, I missed a session on Ansible Security. I’d made the point, in the morning, of finding Michael from the Matrix Project who gave the talk, and they said that they’d planned to host a “Birds of A Feather” (BOF) session on the Sunday following the feedback from the talk.

I managed to make it to this session, but unfortunately, I didn’t get any photos.

Having been to the meet-up session the day before, I was partially dreading this session, as Ansible is something I’m still very keen on. I needn’t have worried, as Michael managed to control several very chatty people (myself very much included). He managed to engage people but then stop them from going on too much. I wish there was somewhere the people who attended this talk to join to catch up and share knowledge, but… oh well.

Next I went to a talk on the Java Open Street Map editor, JOSM. It was very much a show-and-tell “This is how I use the tool”, but I struggled to follow it, and, sadly left early.

LATE EDIT 2019-11-04: Stuart contacted my on Twitter to apologise for making his talk hard to follow. I wanted to add some extra notes. The problem I had was not with Stuart’s talk per-sey, but more that I couldn’t focus on the subject, and wasn’t sure if I wasn’t in the right head-space for the talk or perhaps I was just hungry. I wanted to become more involved in Open Street Map, and thought I could get a better idea on how to contribute from this talk, but as I said, I wasn’t tracking the content. I walked out more to clear my head than because I didn’t enjoy the talk.

I realised I was getting hungry, so went to Subway for my lunch, and came back refreshed in time to give my second talk.

A screen shot from the talk “Here’s how you win: Secure Scuttlebutt”

This talk was on Secure Scuttlebutt (SSB), a decentralised social media platform. There were about 20 people in the audience, and I had some very sensible questions about the project. At the end of the talk, I’d encouraged three people to give it a try, two of whom fell at the first hurdle, and the third persisted in the bar at the end of the day, and has since connected with me on there. Woohoo!

The talk was a stark contrast to the talk I felt I’d not done justice to the day before, and I felt like I’d really nailed this talk. I’m still exceptionally grateful to Ben who’d pointed me in the right direction for the talk layout the night before.

At the end of my talk, I wandered around a bit – I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to see next, so instead I caught up with friends who also weren’t in talks. I bumped into Rachel, and recorded a quick promo for her speaking career and then saw some friends start a Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) game up in the exhibition area!

The first talk at OggCamp about a technology I’d not seen the likes of before.

I made my way to Roger’s talk about Stream Sheets, an Internet Of Things (IoT) connected tool like Google Sheets. It can read content from MQTT, REST APIs and other similar data sources, tweak and convert them, and then publish them back again. All very interesting, although I’m unlikely to use it somewhere any time soon! I was glad though to popularise it with colleagues when I got back to work on Monday!

My last talk attended of the day – Jamie Tanner

Jamie had talked at OggCamp ’18, and I was very glad to see him back at OggCamp this year – particularly on the main stage!

His talk was about self hosting and the Indie Web movement. He talked about why he self hosts, and what sort of content he “owns” when he can (spoiler: all of it!) He not only stores bookmarks in a public blog, but his Google Fit step counter results, his RSVPs to events and … yes, even blog posts. He talked about why he felt that you too should be part of the Indie Web.

After Jamie’s talk, was the annual rafflecast. A laptop was given away, but not to me (boo!) And then I went to record the Admin Admin Podcast.

From left to right, Jerry, Gary, Al, and then Me (with my red hat from Red Hat). Out of shot is Mr Joe Ressington, who let us use his recording gear. Because he’s lovely.

On the way to Joe’s hotel (where we did this recording), I got us a bit lost, and ended up walking us clear across to the Northern Quarter of Manchester. We then had to walk back to just near Piccadilly station, where his hotel was! Oops. The show has since been released, if you want to hear us talking about OggCamp, and guest host Gary.

We went to the Lass O’Gowry pub for a drink before I had to catch my rail replacement bus home, and catch up on some sleep!

And that was OggCamp ’19. The featured image is of the OggCamp Grid on Saturday.

OggCamp are looking for someone to take over the organising in 2020 (supported by past organisers, like me!) so if you’re interested, please get in touch!

JonTheNiceGuy and "The Chief" Peter Bleksley at BSides Liverpool 2019

Review of BSIDES Liverpool 2019

I had the privilege today to attend BSIDES Liverpool 2019. BSIDES is a infosec community conference. The majority of the talks were recorded, and I can strongly recommend making your way through the content when it becomes available.

Full disclosure: While my employer is a sponsor, I was not there to represent the company, I was just enjoying the show. A former colleague (good friend and, while he was still employed by Fujitsu, an FDE – so I think he still is one) is one of the organisers team.

The first talk I saw (aside from the welcome speech) was the keynote by Omri Segev Moyal (@gelossnake) about how to use serverless technologies (like AWS Lambda) to build a malware research platform. The key takeaway I have from that talk was how easy it is to build a simple python lambda script using Chalice. That was fantastic, and I’m looking forward to trying some things with that service!

For various reasons (mostly because I got talking to people), I missed the rest of the morning tracks except for the last talk before lunch. I heard great things about the Career Advice talk by Martin King, and the Social Engineering talk by Tom H, but will need to catch up on those on the videos released after.

Just before lunch we received a talk from “The Chief” (from the Channel 4 TV Series “Hunted”), Peter Bleksley, about an investigation he’s currently involved in. This was quite an intense session, and his history (the first 1/4 of his talk) was very interesting. Just before he went in for his talk, I got a selfie with him (which is the “Featured Image” for this post :) )

After lunch, I sat on the Rookies Track, and saw three fantastic talks, from Chrissi Robertson (@frootware) on Imposter Syndrome, Matt (@reversetor) on “Privacy in the age of Convenience” (reminding me of one of my very early talks at OggCamp/BarCamp Manchester) and Jan (@janfajfer) about detecting data leaks on mobile devices with EVPN. All three speakers were fab and nailed their content.

Next up was an unrecorded talk by Jamie (@2sec4u) about WannaCry, as he was part of the company who discovered the “Kill-Switch” domain. He gave a very detailed overview of the timeline about WannaCry, the current situation of the kill-switch, and a view on some of the data from infected-but-dormant machines which are still trying to reach the kill-switch. A very scary but well explained talk. Also, memes and rude words, but it’s clearly a subject that needed some levity, being part of a frankly rubbish set of circumstances.

After that was a talk from (two-out-of-six of) The Beer Farmers. This was a talk (mostly) about privacy and the lack of it from the social media systems of Facebook, Twitter and Google. As I listen to The Many Hats Club podcast, on which the Beer Farmers occasionally appear, it was a great experience matching faces to voices.

We finished the day on a talk by Finux (@f1nux) about Machiavelli as his writings (in the form of “The Prince”) would apply to Infosec. I was tempted to take a whole slew of photos of the slide deck, but figured I’d just wait for the video to be released, as it would, I’m sure, make more sense in context.

There was a closing talk, and then everyone retired to the bar. All in all, a great day, and I’m really glad I got the opportunity to go (thanks for your ticket Paul (@s7v7ns) – you missed out mate!)

TCPDump Made Easier Parody Book Cover, with the subtitle "Who actually understands all those switches?"

One to use: tcpdump101.com

I’m sure that anyone doing operational work has been asked at some point if you can run a “TCPDump” on something, or if you could get a “packet capture” – if you have, this tool (as spotted on the Check Point community sites) might help you!


Using simple drop-down fields for filters and options and using simple prompts, this tool tells you how to run each of the packet capturing commands for common firewall products (FortiGate, ASA, Check Point) and the more generic tcpdump tool (indicated by a Linux Penguin, but it runs on all major desktop and server OSs, as well as rooted Android devices).

Well worth a check out!

Game Review – Kingdomino

Today saw a new game added to our collection – Kingdomino by Blue Orange.

In Kingdomino, you play the ruler of a single square of land, and each turn you compete with the other players to select which piece you get to play into your kingdom next. Each piece has a value on it’s back ranging between 1 and 48, with the lower rated pieces having less chance of increasing the value of your kingdom, and the higher value pieces (complete with crowns) helping each patch score more points.

The game is pretty quick to pick up (match at least one side of your tile with another piece you’ve played already, maximum board size of a 5×5 grid, the crowns offer a way to score points, multiplied by the size of the patch of same-land-types) and easy enough to play that my 3-year-old managed it. Two determined adults (Jules and I) got through two games in 30 minutes. The kids took a little longer (but not by much).

Make sure you have something to tot up the scores at the end though!

Book Review – “For The Win” and “Makers” by Cory Doctorow

I read my first Cory Doctorow book a month-or-so before the first OggCamp, September 2009. It was “Little Brother”, a “young adult” book about rebelling against the panopticon that was being created by the War on Terror. It made such an impact on me that I gave a talk at OggCamp about the technologies discussed in the book (primarily Tor and PGP) and their role in society. It went down well enough that I gave that talk again at BarCamp Manchester… a talk on a technology I’d not heard of two months before, and had significantly changed my views on how much I wanted to share with faceless companies and organisations.

My next Doctorow book was an audiobook version of “Eastern Standard Tribe”, which I only really was focused on the first chapter (it’s hard to be focused on audio when you’re as much of a magpie as I am) but it made me want to build a chording computer keyboard to use with my mobile phone after a passing comment in the opening chapter.

Last month, I heard that “For The Win”, a follow up Young Adult story had been released, so I eagerly reserved it from my local library and noticed that “Makers”, a more adult novel, had also been released, so I reserved that too.

A colleague knew that I’d read and loved “Little Brother” so asked me to tell him what I thought of “For The Win”. I read it in a couple of days. Sadly, it’s not a good book and it’s far too fragmented to tell the story in a way that you could stop for a couple of days and come back to it. It’s also desperate to explain the subtle nuances of in-game economies and unions – neither of which particularly interested me. By the end of the book, I was left wondering what the point had been – there was no real conclusion and while a battle had been won, it was clear the war was far from over. The characters all ran together and a lot of the characters were little more than stereotypical extras, whether that was racially stereotypical, gender or even ageist.

I left that book sad that I’d read it… but, I had another Cory book to read. After all, the recent books can’t *all* be stinkers, right?

I picked up “Makers” and started reading. It’s a thicker book, and this took me nearly four days to read… although admittedly, I was building a new server part way through days two and three.

This was more like the story I’d hoped “For The Win” would be. It’s a three part story; part one is about the friendship between the two lead characters, the commercialisation and massive growth of their hobby-cum-career. Part two is where that growth suddenly died, taking all the jobs with it, and their homage to “New Work” – the name given to the outcome of part one. Part three is where a mega-corp notices they’re losing money to the homage (called “The Ride”) and they try to destroy it.

It describes my experiences and hopes for the hacker culture perfectly, wanting to build something for the sake of it, discussing the concepts behind making something great from something passé and the ideas behind making an open API to let anyone play with your ideas. It also suggests how big business doesn’t “get” the hacker culture. As with much of Cory’s work, there’s lots of scope to implement his ideas in the real world, and some of the projects he mentions, I’d love to set up at my local hackspace.

The only downside I’ve found with “Makers” is that I think there’s a lot of sex in it, both implied and referred to… I guess I don’t see the relevance in a sex scene unless it’s key to the characters growth, and in “Makers” you could have removed 3/4 of the sex scenes and it would have been mostly the same book. I realise it explains some of the decisions in the book and gives some colour to the characters, but one of the side effects is that it means I can’t give this book to my 13 year old cousin – hell, I can’t even give him “Little Brother” because of the single solitary, and destinctly unnecessary sex scene 2/3rds of the way through the book.

In summary, I’d skip “For The Win”, and read “Makers”. 2/5 and 4/5 respectively.