Sunday, June 24, 2012

I Miss My Application Shortcuts or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Use the Mac

In the words of Eleanor Roosevelt "Do one thing every day that scares you." I bought a MacBook Pro with the Retina display when they were released recently. I'm not a Mac fan by any stretch of the imagination, but I do think it is a good thing for me to put myself outside my natural comfort zone. Learning my way around a foreign operating system is a good place to start.

I've been a Windows person all my tech life starting with a Windows 98 machine at home while I was troubleshooting Win2K as a Field Support Analyst. I've always been able to fix any Windows issue I've ever had, and my only calls to tech support have been for hardware failures. That being said, I know my way around CMD, Event Log & Device Manager well enough to not panic when something goes wrong.

I'm in a whole new territory with this rMBP. If something acts up, I haven't the slightest idea what to do other than DuckDuckGo it. Sometimes that gets pretty complicated.

In order to fully switch over to the rMBP, I need to figure out how to replicate all of the shortcuts to applications that I've ported over from laptop to laptop over the years. I'm finding this isn't as easy as I thought it would be.

My first step was to load the OS X drivers for the Keyspan USA-19HS serial to usb adapter. Ok, that was easy. Then I tried to find an application similar to PuTTY or Hyperterminal. This is where things got tricky. I've been using an ancient installation of SecureCRT for well over six years now, and I wasn't finding anything even close to the ease of click and go with any of the other free/cheap applications. I sent the shout out to the twitterverse, knowing full well there are *dozens* of people I know who have already soved this problem. The first response was from @hestonk

I fired up terminal easy enough, but what now? OS X doesn't have COM ports, I can't right click anything. How do I make the next connection? I haven't the foggiest idea, so I turn back to twitter for help. The first response where I knew I was really in over my head was from my pal @Samuel_Clements
In all my years of IT, I've never used a /dev/tty-anything command. This is where I have to trust my friends are giving me the command strings necessary to make what was a simple act of me clicking a shortcut to initiate a COM (USB to Serial) connection into something I have to script as an alias into ~/.bashrc! This is all new to me. I've heard of bash, grep, and ifconfig, but I've never actually had to use them to get something done!
Between @SFoskett and @santorizzo they'd given me the commands I needed to issue to create a keyword "love" alias to initiate the connection to my Kespan USA-19HS adapter. The alias keyword is fitting, since I should love learning how to do something new, even if it is difficult.

Several people (@ipv6freely @etherealmind @icemarkom @lord2y) suggested iTerm2 instead of using Terminal. I've yet to dig into it to see what the major differences are.

Before I got the alias fully working, I disconnected & then reconnected the Keyspan adapter & had the Mac version of the BSOD. I was surprised to see the laptop boot back up so quickly and bring back up TextEdit with my notes still pasted there even though I hadn't saved my notes to a file yet.

I can only guess that people in IT using Macs come from a UNIX-esque background and that they're used to tweaking configuration settings from the command line. I think it is ridiculous that I should have to figure out how to interact with the OS at the shell level in order to get something done that used to be as easy as using a shortcut to an application that I've had for what seems like forever.
I also realize that I'm  hardly the first Mac OS user who has had to figure out how to do on a Mac the things I took for granted as totally easy on Windows. I'm sure there will be many more instances of me writing up little bits here and there so I can remember how I arrived at alias 'x' or how I managed to get application 'x' working. I'm certain I'll be doing some digging around in @etherealmind's OSX tagged posts for more tips and tricks.

Frankly, I can't say how amazing the rMBP is or isn't since I 've mostly used some sort of Windows flavor on a 12 inch x201 display. I'll leave the bench testing and product comparisons to someone like @SFoskett. He's got all the data on that sort of thing!

I put the full working script here just in case I or anyone else should ever need it. Just replace the [alias name] entry with any alias name of your choosing.

alias [alias name]='/usr/bin/screen /dev/tty.KeySerial1 9600,cs8,-parenb,-cstopb,-crtscts'
echo "alias [alias name]='/usr/bin/screen /dev/tty.KeySerial1 9600,cs8,-parenb,-cstopb,-crtscts'" >> ~/.bashrc
echo "source ~/.bashrc" >> ~/.bash_profile

ls /dev/tty.*

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Site Surveying with the Motion Computing F5v Tablet

Lately I've been doing some research into different tablets/netbooks/handheld PCs for performing wireless site surveys. Ingram Technologies loaned me a demo unit of the Motion Computing F5v tablet PC and put it to use as a survey kit running AirMagnet Survey Pro along with Spectrum XT in a multi adapter setup. My goal was to see how long the internal battery would last, and to see if I'd experience any application crashes, slowness or anything out of the ordinary with a slightly tweaked demo unit. The only power adjustments I made to the F5v system power settings were to not turn off the display, hard drive or the USB nic while the tablet was running on battery power.

I secured the usb hub to the handle of the unit with narrow velcro strips (cut down from larger double-sided velcro) and used masking tape on the usb hub cable to keep it flat to the back of the unit. The stylus pen is stored in the underside of the unit handle, so Velcroing everything to the handle made it so I had nowhere to store the tablet stylus when I wasn't using it. 
I did some googling and came up with a halfway decent floor plan of a local mall where I was betting I'd wouldn't get stopped by security while I was testing out the F5v tablet.

I loaded up the maps into AirMagnet, set the scale and I was ready to start testing. The overall square footage of the public walkways totaled about 100,000 square feet for the 1st & 2nd floor of the mall, and the batteries on the F5v lasted about an hour and a half with AirMagnet Survey Pro and Spectrum XT running the entire time. Luckily the F5v's batteries are hot swappable and the battery has an external charger docking station available. I wish the screen was a bit larger since I could not see the Spectrum XT inset in the Survey Pro application while I was doing the survey. The Spectrum XT data was collected during the survey even though no major sources of interference were detected. Overall I was pleased by the performance of the F5v and I'm betting it will be a rugged site survey tablet to replace the IBM x201 I'd used for years.

Below are the survey images for the 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequencies of the SIMON WiFi wireless network in the mall in case you were curious about what kind of coverage you might get from "free" mall Wi-Fi. I tried to spot the access points as I was collecting the RF data, but I didn't see them at all on the first pass. Maybe now that I have the data showing where the hot spots are I might be able to find the installation locations.

1st Floor 2.4GHz RSSI
1st Floor 5GHz RSSI
1st Floor 2.4GHz SNR
1st Floor 5GHz SNR
2nd Floor 2.4GHz RSSI
2nd Floor 5GHz RSSI
2nd Floor 2.4GHz SNR
2nd Floor 5GHz SNR
I ran a few AirMagnet reports (overall by SSID, overall by AP, spectrum analysis report) on the data I collected to see what that would look like for a mall where every shop has its own wireless network. Naturally, many of the shops' wireless networks were configured to operate on channels 2, 3, 5, 9. This is fairly typical for multi tenant buildings of any kind. You can download an archive of the reports here.

Updated with Spectrum Analysis & Laptop Analyzer captures (here).
The duty cycle utilization was quite high due to all of the SSIDs contending for the same RF airspace. I spotted a microwave and an X-box, but no strange fixed frequency devices.
I did find it amusing that their signage for the open SSID isn't capitalized the same as the SSID being broadcast, and I spotted a couple of the APs providing the mall Wi-Fi (Proxim AP-700s) as I was leaving.

For future reference, this tablet had 4GB of RAM installed and I didn't have any issues with AirMagnet application slowness or hangs.