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© Rakhesh Sasidharan

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Weekend movie updates

Stuff I saw this weekend. :)

Safe

Created by author Harlan Cobden (whose books I haven’t read) and starring Michael C Hall of Dexter fame (ooh loved that!). Not a murder mystery, rather a “girl runs away from home, now why did she do that mystery” meets “father searching for his presumed missing daughter and won’t stop at anything until he finds her thriller”. It was fine. Not amazing or anything but not bad either. The finale was a bit rushed and didn’t explain some of the plot points (esp. who ransacked the Chahal family house) and the explain was a bit stretched as to the sequence of events that led to the girl running away – but well, worth a watch. Beware of all the red herrings though! Too many of them, and it’s irritating.

Ready Player One

Based on the book (which I didn’t enjoy). Good movie. Again, nothing too great (coz I am not into gaming I guess) but a fun watch and one of the better movies I have seen recently. Keeps you hooked and all the special effects and stuff is amazing.

Ordeal by Innocence

Based on the Agatha Christie book (which I haven’t read, but will do now) and starring Bil Nighy, Matthew Goode etc. – a nice old fashioned murder mystery, set in an England of old. I am curious how the book is coz this seems to be a very complicated book and it’s commendable that it got adapted for the screen, so I wonder how the original material was. This was the last show I saw this weekend and it was a pleasure.

Service SIDs etc.

Just so I don’t forget. 

The SCOM Agent on a server is called “Microsoft Monitoring Agent”. The short service name is “HealthService” and is set to run as Local System (NT Authority\System). Although not used by default, this service also has a virtual account created automatically by Windows called “NT SERVICE\HealthService” (this was a change introduced in Server 2008). 

As a refresher to myself and any others – this is a virtual account. – i.e. a local account managed by Windows and one which we don’t have much control over (like change the password etc). All services, even though they may be set to run under Local System can also run in a restricted mode under an automatically created virtual account “NT Service\<ServiceName>”. As with Local System, when a service running under such an account accesses a remote system it does so using the credentials of the machine it is running on – i.e. “<DomainName>\<ComputerName>$“.

Since these virtual accounts correspond to a service, and each virtual account has a unique SID, such virtual accounts are also called service SIDs. 

Although all services have a virtual account, it is not used by default. To see whether a virtual account is used or not one can use the sc qsidtype command. This queries the type of the SID of the virtual account. 

A type of NONE as in the above case means this virtual account is not used by the service. If we want a service to use its virtual account we must change this type to “Unrestricted” (or one could set it to “Restricted” too which creates a “write restricted” token – see this and this post to understand what that means). 

The sc sidtype command can be used to change this. 

A service SID is of the form S-1-5-80-{SHA1 hash of short service name}. You can find this via the sc showsid command too:

Note the status “Active”? That’s because I ran the above command after changing the SID type to “Unrestricted”. Before that, when the service SID wasn’t being used, the status was “Inactive”. 

So why am I reading about service SIDs now? :) It’s because I am playing with SCOM and as part of adding one of our SQL servers to it for monitoring I started getting alerts like these:

I figured this would be because the account under which the Monitoring Agent runs has no permissions to the SQL databases, so I looked at RunAs accounts for SQL and came across this blog post. Apparently the in thing nowadays is to change the Monitoring Agent to use a service SID and give that service SID access to the databases. Neat, eh! :)

I did the first step above – changing the SID type to “Unrestricted” so the Monitoring Agent uses that service SID. So next step is to give it access to the databases. This can be done by executing the following in SQL Management Studio after connecting to the SQL server in question:

The comments explain what it does. And yes, it gives the “NT Service\HealthService” service SID admin rights to the server. I got this code snippet from this KB article but the original blog post I was reading has a version which gives minimal rights (it has some other cool goodies too, like a task to create this automatically). I was ok giving this service SID admin rights. 

Reading Updates

Altered Carbon

Loved it! Not exactly like the TV show, but similar, and good in its own way. The book was able to convey more internal dialogue and Takeshi musings by way of the medium it is. I read this from cover to cover, but cheated towards the end by listening to the audio book (coz I don’t get much time to read and it’s easier to listen to a book while commuting). As I mentioned earlier the audio book quality is poor, but since it was only a few chapters here and there I didn’t mind.

Apart from the musings and such I think I also enjoyed the book because the sci-fi stuff wasn’t presented in an “oh wow this is awesome” kind of way. Richard Morgan (the author) just brings up things as if they naturally are so. Everything has an air of “this is how things are / have always been” so the book didn’t feel too sci-fi to me. Plus the fact that it tended towards noir / mystery also helped. I definitely love noir / mystery books.

To quote a paragraph that I loved a lot from the book:

Suppose you know someone, a long time ago. You share things, drink deeply of each other. Then you drift apart, life takes you in different directions, the bonds are not strong enough. Or maybe you get torn apart by external circumstance. Years later, you meet that person again, in the same sleeve, and you go through it all over again. What’s the attraction? Is this the same person? They probably have the same name, the same approximate physical appearance, but does that make them the same? And if not, does that make the things that have changed unimportant or peripheral? People change, but how much? As a child I’d believed there was an essential person, a sort of core personality around which the surface factors could evolve and change without damaging the integrity of who you were. Later, I started to see that this was an error of perception caused by the metaphors we were used to framing ourselves in. What we thought of as personality was no more than the passing shape of one of the waves in front of me. Or, slowing it down to more human speed, the shape of a sand dune. Form in response to stimulus. Wind, gravity, upbringing. Gene blueprinting. All subject to erosion and change. The only way to beat that was to go on stack forever.

Just as a primitive sextant functions on the illusion that the sun and stars rotate around the planet we are standing on, our senses give us the illusion of stability in the universe, and we accept it, because without that acceptance, nothing can be done. But the fact that a sextant will let you navigate accurately across an ocean does not mean that the sun and stars do rotate around us. For all that we have done, as a civilization, as individuals, the universe is not stable, and nor is any single thing within it. Stars consume themselves, the universe itself rushes apart, and we ourselves are composed of matter in constant flux. Colonies of cells in temporary alliance, replicating and decaying and housed within, an incandescent cloud of electrical impulse and precariously stacked carbon code memory. This is reality, this is self knowledge, and the perception of it will, of course, make you dizzy. […] All and anything you achieve as Envoys must be based on the understanding that there is nothing but flux. Anything you wish to even perceive as an Envoy, let alone create or achieve, must be carved out of that flux.

Broken Angels

The sequel. I didn’t love it as much as Altered Carbon and in fact I left it about 1/3rd (chapter 14 to be precise). I tried listening to the audio book in hopes that it will engross me more, but it didn’t (in spite of being of better quality). I just couldn’t connect with the story or the characters. While Altered Carbon was more personal, Broken Angels was about war and politics and all that abstract sort of stuff which I have no interest in. And I dunno why, I kept getting irritated by how often kept saying “Envoys are this” and “Envoys are that” – too much self praise.

Reading this book made me doubt (again) whether I like sci-fi or not. When reading Altered Carbon I had gotten over that doubt coz I enjoyed it a lot, but Broken Angels for all its military sci-fi and Martians and all that bored me.

Woken Furies

I had thought of skipping this one – the third book in the trilogy – but am going to give it a chance in case it’s different. Mustn’t judge a trilogy by an unpleasant second book. :) Apparently it’s got a younger Takeshi hunting down an older (present day) Takeshi – can’t say no to that sort of a story!

A good thing about these books is that each one is independent. No relation to the events of the previous books.

Full Dark No Stars

Since I loved “1922” the movie, I decided I had to read/ listen to the book. I tried listening to the audio book early this year but didn’t like the narration. So I returned the audio book and when I saw the physical book recently I purchased it. Read “1922” – loved it! – and also “Big Driver”. Good stuff! Got two more short stories to go.

[Aside] Quote

Listening to “The End of the Affair” narrated by the amazing Colin Firth (a pleasure so far to listen to! wow). This sentence caught my attention:

How twisted we humans are, and yet they say a God made us; but I find it hard to conceive of any God who is not as simple as a perfect equation, as clear as air.

[Aisde] Random Stuff

Changing the colors in Vim so it looks better in PuTTY. I live with this usually (as I don’t spend much time in Linux nowadays) until I Googled today and found an easy fix for this. Thanks to this post: “:color desert” (where desert is an example color).

Testing SSL in SMTP (thanks to):

That link is a good reference on Postfix SSL too.

NSX Edge application rules to use a different pool

Coming from a NetScaler background I was used to the concept of a failover server. As in a virtual server would have a pool of servers it would load balance amongst and if all of them are down I can define a failover server that could be used. You would define the failover server as a virtual server with no IP, and tell the primary virtual server to failover to this virtual server in case of issues.

Looking around for a similar option with NSX I discovered it’s possible using application rules. Instead of defining two virtual servers though, here you define two pools. One pool for the primary servers you want to load balance, the other pool for the failover server(s).

Then you create an application rule this:

Once again, the syntax is that of HAProxy. You define an ACLadfs_pri_down is what I am defining for my purposes as this is for load balancing some ADFS servers – and the criterion is nbsrv(pool-adfs-https-443) eq 0. The nbsrv criterion checks the pool you pas on to it (pool-adfs-https-443 in my case) and returns the number of servers that are up. So the ACL basically is a boolean one that is true if the number of usable servers is 0.

Next, the use_backend rule switches to using the backup pool I have defined (pool-bkpadfs-https-443 in this case) if the ACL is true.

That’s all. Pretty straightforward!

[Aside] Various ADFS links

No biggie, just as a reference to myself:

Fahrenheit 451 (book)

Listened to “Fahrenheit 451” narrated by Tom Robbins this weekend. It’s a short book of about 5 something hours. I left reading when there was 1 hour to go.

I decided to listen to this book as a movie adaptation is out and I wanted to read/ listen to the book first before watching the movie. It’s a good book, but yeah it didn’t hook me on too much and so I left eventually. I think the fact that I listened to it rather than actually read was what helped me get this far. Tom Robbins was a good narrator.

I didn’t leave this book because it was poorly written or anything. It was good. I liked the language and how things were presented etc., but I didn’t really connect to the story. Going through the Wikipedia page I see that the book was written at a time when book burning was a possibility and I guess since that whole concept sounds so alien to me I don’t really get it. Not that book burning can’t or won’t happen in this day and age, just that it feels a bit far fetched and not overly dystopian (I guess one could always have an ebook version of whatever is being burned!). The book also seemed to be a commentary about the rise of television and how it keeps people happy as it’s “dumb” or mind numbing, while books provoke thought and discussion and this in turn leads to dissatisfaction and unhappiness – but this too kind of feels far fetched in this day and age when there are good TV shows and games and tablets etc. encourage creativity among its users.

Considering all this I didn’t feel like wasting more time on the book. I don’t have an hour of free time today, and I could leave the book for my morning commute tomm – but why bother. Decided to leave it where it is.

ps. Saw the movie, and it’s terrible!

[Aside] Quote

Came across this when listening to “Fahrenheit 451”:

We cannot tell the precise moment when friendship is formed. As in filling a vessel drop by drop, there is at last a drop which makes it run over; so in a series of kindnesses there is at last one which makes the heart run over.

It’s from a book by James Boswell and the full paragraph is worth reading.

Audiobooks

I love Audible and audiobooks but I notice that off late I am less enthusiastic about it. The last good audiobook I enjoyed was “City of Thieves” and that itself was found after skipping a lot of books in my library. Similarly since then I have skipped many books. Am not sure if I skipped most of these because I didn’t like the story or because I wasn’t much a fan of the narration.

Thing is the narration in most of these books I skipped is great but just not to my taste. For instance I listened to “The Hobbit” (which I’ve already read) but gave up soon coz the narrator Rob Inglis was amazing but I just didn’t want this much “input” from him. He did all the voices perfectly, it kind of took distracted me (for lack of a better word). I would have loved it if he were just reading the book and less focused on the various voices – that way he would leave something for my mind to imagine, but not my mind was a mere passenger in his bus ride (not sure if that analogy made sense). I think that’s an especial issue I have with audiobooks in general. With a book I know I have to focus and give in to the book – since I am reading my eyes and my mind is concentrated on the act, and I visualize things and have the world and characters built up in my head. But when listening only one of my senses is engaged while my eyes are free to wander around and get distracted and think of other things, and also there is less character build up in my head. Added to that if the narrator does a more than perfect job of emoting and doing different voices, there’s pretty much nothing left for me to do except just listen and I am not fully focussed or into the story. I am much better of watching a TV adaptation of it as they go one step further and show me things too.

This is the same issue I had with Stephen King’s “The Mist” recently read by the amazing Will Patton. He was too perfect, inflicting his voice with various emotions such as fear and sadness etc. I felt it took something away from my pleasure of reading.

Then there’s some audiobooks where the editing or quality of the recording isn’t great. For instance “Altered Carbon” read by Todd McLaren which seems to be a good book (am reading the physical version) but the quality was so horrible it distracted me too much.

Maybe it’s my mood of late or maybe I am just moving on – I don’t know, but I am less excited about audiobooks. I hope it’s just a case of me not coming across stuff I like, because I do love audiobooks and I have listened to many great books on it and discovered a few authors I wasn’t aware of. So I don’t really want to give up audiobooks, I just want to be able to use it properly.

I think one reason many people prefer audiobooks is for this reason that I don’t like it. :) Audiobooks lets you consume a book while doing other things side by side. I wouldn’t read a physical book in my morning commute for instance coz of all the noise – I would want peace and quite. Yet I can do an audiobook coz it’s in my ear. Similarly there are people who listen to audiobooks while doing household chores or washing dishes etc. – something which I too tried initially but left it coz I don’t want to read a book like it’s some background music or radio. I would like to get lost in reading a book, if I can (but one can’t coz of the lack of time and also coz as I get older I find my eyes are unable to concentrate for too long on reading).

Anyhow, that’s enough audiobook rant for today. Am listening to Tim Robbins narrate “Fahrenheit 451” now. I started it yesterday and he’s a great narrator but I started feeling sleepy and left it. Got to see how it goes today. He doesn’t do too much voices (not yet at least).

I listened to “Brave New World” two weeks ago and left it quarter way. Great narration, but irritating voices. And I didn’t get too hooked on the book either. Yeah it’s dystopian and all that, but didn’t catch my fancy. Surprising considering it’s a popular book, and also coz I usually like dystopian novels. That said two of the three previous dystopian novels I read/ listened to, I mixed it with audiobook and reading. “1984” and “A Handmaid’s Tale” – I alternated between reading and listening; while “Animal Farm” was purely listening (but the story had a faster pace so maybe it didn’t matter much that I didn’t read). So maybe that’s why I enjoyed those books more, and if I were to read “Brave New World” I might enjoy it. (Or maybe not. I was hooked on to “1984” and “A Handmaid’s Tale” from the start when listening, and I started reading them so I could go through it faster – so I guess I simply wasn’t a fan of “Brave New World”).

Speaking of reading I finished “Alias Grace” recently. Had loved the TV show so I bought the book when in London last month. Amazing book. I simply loved it. I bought the audiobook too and tried reading it side by side but I was having so much fun just reading the book that I returned the audiobook. Now I am reading “Altered Carbon”.