Geek Toys – The future of Apple TV

As WWDC approaches, I once again hope for a new Apple TV. The Apple TApple TVV has so much potential, and so much disappointment associated with it. Will WWDC be the time when we finally see an update? The bigger question is, with such strong competition from other products, has Apple already missed the boat?
I’ve spent quite a bit of time thinking about what I would like to see in a new Apple TV. There has been a lot of change in the last few months around home entertainment, and if Apple really wants to own the space, it has to adapt to compete. There are some key features that I think could make Apple TV ready to own the space again.


When I hear people discuss using Siri on an Apple TV, I rolled my eyes. I hate Siri. I refuse to use Siri. However, that changed just a little when I received an Amazon Echo. Amazon has knocked voice recognition out of the park! Alexa is fast, error free, and simply amazing. It is so good, I actually caught myself preparing to say “Thank you” to a piece of hardware! Each morning I ask Alexa for the news and my commute information. I use it when cooking for timers. Alexa is the only reason I use Prime Music. Let me repeat that. I began using Amazon Prime Music only because Alexa made it so easy. Make Siri that good on an AppleTV, and I get it now.

Facetime HD camera and mic

I do not understand why this hasn’t happened before. An Apple TV that could connect via FaceTime, is a no brainer in my opinion. Besides the ability to talk with relatives and friends through a TV, a camera could provide a lot of other features. The camera or mic could be used as a detector for HomeKit automation. Add some face recognition, and use it to choose the profile, and permit or deny content based on age restrictions. The list goes on and on.

HomeKit Integration

Imagine the Apple TV turning on lights when motion or sound is detected. It could also provide the remote view capabilities required by those of us who regularly travel and would like to check on our homes. This would be an easy way to integrate HomeKit and directly compete with the existing products on the market from Belkin and Wink and many other companies. I love my Wink Hub and the attached lights, sensors, and outlets. I hope that Apple gets the integration right.


Apple has built the 5K iMac to encourage 4K content creation. 4K content only becomes valuable once there is an easy way to consume that content. Apple TV should be that avenue.

Glances and notifications

The notifications on Watch are the reason I love my watch. There is no reason why this same thing shouldn’t work as a pop-up on the Apple TV.

A decent remote!

Apple works hard to refine every detail of their products, which leads me to ask. What happened? The AppleTV Remote is simple, small, and sleek. It is also the worst of the worst of the entertainment hub remotes. It uses IR, which means it must be in direct line of site of the AppleTV. Anyone who has used both an Apple TV and a Roku or Amazon Fire TV understands what I am talking about. The Roku and Fire TV remotes can be oriented in any direction, and yet they still work. The devices themselves can be hidden behind TVs or in closets and they still work. Not so for the AppleTV. It is time to move to BluetoothLE for the remote and show IR the door.

Games, apps, blah blah, blah.

I don’t play games. I try to care…but I don’t.

GeekTools: SolarWinds Wireless Heat Maps

Ever changing environments are the biggest problem that wireless engineers face. A new site can be surveyed, and based on that, an ideal wireless design can be created for the space providing perfect signal, overlap, and SNR; the wireless engineer leaves the site, SolarWinds NPM Wireless Heat Mapsmoving on to the next assignment, and that perfect design last through the weekend. Now the engineer is located in a different state, working on a different project, and is getting calls from the customer.

“Hey, we have problems, and I need you to fix them.” the customer says.
“Ok, can you describe the problem for me?” the engineer ask. Secretly, the engineer is shocked the customer is calling for any reason other than to laude the engineers talent, foresight, and general awesomeness.
“None of our customers can connect in the waiting area.” states the customer with disapproval.

Generally, troubleshooting this type of problem is straight forward. A quick look for interferers, a check to ensure all equipment is still functioning, and a general eye for anything that has changed. As a nod to the possibility of a changed environment, a simple question is asked.

“Has anything at the site changed? the engineer queries.
“Of course not” is the answer the customer provides, voice now dripping with disappointment.

Thus, the engineer continues to dig further.

Large enterprise organizations who deploy Cisco hardware generally keep maps for each facility in Cisco Prime. Smaller organizations without the budget or time to assign to Prime can find themselves looking for a different solution.

SolarWinds has a new solution that is part of NPM 11.5 and it is worth investigating. They now offer wireless heat maps. The simplicity of setting up the heat maps makes it easy for under-staffed shops to use the tool effectively. Import the floor plan, set scale, and then drag the AP’s supplied by the Cisco WLAN Controller onto the map into the correct locations. Once the AP’s are placed, the software makes a best-guess of wireless coverage. This is a standard but flawed practice.

The issue lies in physical placement of the AP’s within their environment. The AP’s are all at ceiling height, above cube walls, water features, whiteboards, and many other sources of signal degradation. The clients are on a much lower plane, and therefor see a different footprint.

SolarWinds solves this issue by allowing an engineer to place known clients on the map, and then use those to further improve the heat map. This provides a tool that can be used to understand what is happening at standard client heights, where signal matters.

“Oh look, now I see a huge null in the coverage.” the engineer says. “Are you sure there haven’t been any changes near the AP I placed by the receptionist desk?
“Oh, that’s right. We hung the sign this weekend” says the customer.
“That large metal sign that was in the shop area last week?” ask the engineer.
“Yeah, that’s the one, We suspended it from the ceiling right over the receptionist. It looks awesome. That wouldn’t cause this problem would it?”

The engineer proceeds to bang his head against the desk with a dull thud, thud, thud.
*Names have been changed to protect the identities of those responsible*

Watch SolarWinds discussing their wireless heat maps at Network Field Day 9 here: (Heat map discussion starts at 19:40)

-I participated in Network Field Day 9 as a delegate. As part of that participation, the cost of all travel and accommodations were covered. Additionally, some companies chose to give delegates small gifts for their participation. These accommodations do not in any way constitute a requirement for coverage, good or bad. In short, I am an opinionated jerk,  I was invited despite that, and anything I write is purely my own opinion. Special thanks to Tech Field Day, for the service they provide to engineers and vendors. If you would like to be a delegate at a future event, you can learn more here.  

Cisco Live US 2014 – Return to Camp

In May, I made my way to San Francisco for CLUS 2014. I had very fond memories from last year, and was looking forward to catching up with all of the great people that I met in Orlando.

This year was a little different for me. I purchased a full pass, paid for airfare, and my hotel all out of my own pocket. The ultimate question this year was going to be answered. How much is CLUS worth? Is the experience equally important when thousands of dollars come out of my pocket to experience it.

First, the most obvious difference this year was how crowded the experience was. Moscone was simply not big enough for 26,000 people. I recognized on day one, as I was looking for a place to sit for breakfast, that when San Francisco was chosen 5 years ago, the conference was much smaller. Conferences book their locations years in advance, and in this case the attendee base grew faster then they expected.

The large crowds definitely affected the experience. The World of Solutions reception on Monday was so crowded that I spent only 15 minutes there, and the majority of that time was trying to get back out. The crowds also affected the on-site meals. Lunch each day consisted of a boxed meal, breakfast was carb heavy, and the days that I went into the dining hall, it was extremely crowded.

On Thursday, I had an opportunity to talk with Kathleen Mudge, who manages the Social Media Team, and Kathy Doyle, the Director of Cisco Live, about the scale of the conference. Kathy mentioned that there were over 6,000 people who registered for Cisco Live at the conference. That is an incredible 23% of the attendees that could not be accounted for until the first day.

With that in mind, I can’t fault the conference. In-fact, I am surprised that the conference was able to absorb that many people and function at all. That is an amazing feat.

The next few years are in bigger venues, so I expect the conference won’t experience these growing pains again.

The sessions that I attended were all excellent, and allowed me to expand my knowledge in a few key areas that I had identified as needing more work. I didn’t attend as many sessions as I had planned, but that was simply a matter of not having enough time.

As for the social side of CLUS, it was everything I was hoping for. I was able to reconnect with friends made at CLUS 2013, and made many more. The Social Media Hub (which we quickly renamed the Social Media Routed Bridge) was in a great location. Power was easily available for recharging devices. The arrival Tweetup was well attended, and we were able to gather on Thursday for the final picture by the Cisco Live sign.

The Cisco Live Social Media Team at CLUS is always on top of the game. They work incredibly hard to help anyone who ask. They also keep things interesting with various games and prizes. I can’t say enough about the team, and how their work affects the positive experiences of so many attendees.

The parties and the Customer Appreciation Event were all excellent. I was able to participate in three Tech Field Day events, attended the CCIE party again as a non-CCIE, and participated in multiple Cisco Champion events. They were all opportunities to meet more people, and hang out with this huge group of engineers that I get to call friends.

Now for the question. Was attending CLUS on my own dime worth it? If my Cisco Live 2014 experience only included the standard CLUS sessions, the Customer Appreciation Event, and the World of Solutions, I would have to say “no”.

However, Cisco Live is much more than sessions, expo, and parties to attend. Cisco Live is a gathering of people who are passionate about technology and life. Cisco live is space camp, or as Denise Fishburne has begun calling it, simply “Summer Camp”.

Was Cisco Live worth it? Oh yeah. I’ll be back.

Cisco x86 UCS blades overtake HP revenue in the Americas

For the first time, Cisco has overtaken HP in the blade market according to the IDC Worldwide Quarterly Server Tracker. Considering the large market share that HP once UCS Chasisenjoyed, that statistic is surprising. However, when considering the fact that Cisco has only been in the blade market for five years, it becomes absolutely stunning.

Let me state that again, Cisco has overcame the stigma that comes with being the new kid on the block, and shrinking markets, thanks to the heavy push of virtualization, to become the number one vendor of server blades. They did so by growing revenue 39% quarter over quarter in the Americas, a relatively mature market. 

You can read more about their accomplishment here:

The Internet of Things begins to mature with Apple HomeKit

One statement that I have repeated many times is that the Internet of Things (IoT) will not mature until a non-technical person can buy a myriad of devices and configure them all through a common interface. Apple HomeKit seems to be that interface. There are a few things that I like about the announcement:

  • Apple isn’t going to make outlets, switches, and thermostats. They are leaving that up to the experts. 
  • Apple makes great interfaces, and I believe they are capable of doing the same for Home Automation.
  • The IOS user base is large enough to make this market explode. With an increased user base, comes more products.

Again, if you didn’t read it correctly the first time. This market is about to explode. 

One last thought. Apple started with the user, just like they did with iPhones. How many iPhones are now in our corporate environments? What happens when HomeKit migrates into the office?

Geek Tools – SSH and Telnet on OS X

Since I made the switch to a Mac in my day job, I’ve had two major frustrations. The first is the lack of Visio for OS X. The second one, was a little more major. I needed a replacement for MRemoteNG. I’ve searched for options and grown weary of reading the general post of “why would you need a specialized SSH tool, when it is built into the terminal of OS X?”

That statement is usually offered by a web developer who might have SSH connections to 3-5 servers on a daily basis. They live in a very specific world, and have a hard time understanding anything outside of that world. Feel bad for them; don’t hate them.

In the world of network engineers however, we may connect to 50 or more devices in a day, and may have logins to thousands of devices over an enterprise network. In that environment, there is a real need for the ability to bookmark devices.

After searching for options, I found one option that worked to some extent. This SSH workflow for Alfred is excellent. However, since I use a hosts file from to block a lot of advertisers and trackers, the index was never very useful.

After considering this problem from all angles, I finally had an “AH HA!” moment, and the simplicity of the solution made me equal parts giddy and disappointed that it took me so long to resolve. I created a file with a similar layout to a hosts file, in-fact I even named it hosts.txt. Each row of the file list a hostname, and an IP address. Since this file is purely text, you could add anything to each line that you wanted. 

device1 description
device2 unique protocol info
device3 more information

But how does this help us manage thousands of devices you ask? It doesn’t, but grep does. If we pass a search string to grep along with the file name, all matching hosts show up. Yes it is simple, but it is useful because of that!

In my file, I created a site heading by starting the line with an octothorpe. I use this so that I can search for sites. This looks like:

grep ^# hosts.txt

I can also search for all devices at a location using a statement like:

grep ^#site2 -A6 hosts.txt

In this case, I am telling it to start at “#site2” and show the next 6 lines. Since the 6th line is the next site, I know that I am seeing all of the devices from site 2.

Finally, if I know part of the hostname, I can simply search on it, and it will display.

Hopefully this gives you a better way of managing huge networks from terminal.

Cisco Live Guest Keynote Speaker Announced – KHAN!!!

Salman Khan was just announced as the Guest Speaker for the Closing Keynote at Cisco Live US. If the name seems familiar, you have probably heard of the Khan Academy.

Picture of Salman Khan of the Khan Academy

Salman Khan of the Khan Academy

The Khan Academy uses technology to create online training which can be used anywhere in the world that has internet available. They have an incredible vision, and the backing to make it happen. I am really excited about hearing Salman speak. In my mind, the Khan Academy is the power of the internet put into practice, I might even call it a redeeming quality. Every time I see a tweet of Justine Bieber’s blowing the internet up, I simply have to remind myself that people like Salman Khan are countering the idiocracy with knowledge.

If you haven’t registered for Cisco Live US yet, now is the time to do so.