24 May 2018

How to securely wipe an NVMe drive

NVMe drives are great: they are fast and they are huge. That huge size, however, can be a pain when it comes to securely erasing data. Old-school commands like wipe are simply not up to the task; and even if they were, they work on assumptions that do not map properly to a solid-state world. Writing random data over and over is going to dramatically reduce the lifespan of a solid-state drive, and it's pointless when all NVMe disks already have built-in tools that can take care of this task quickly and safely.

So what do you do when you want to wipe a NVMe drive?
  1. Download a recent Linux distribution. I would recommend Debian/Ubuntu or one of their smaller derivatives (like Knoppix). Burn it on a cdrom or USB drive and boot the system from it.
  2. Make sure your package manager is up-to-date (under Debian/Ubuntu, sudo apt-get update), then install nvme-cli (sudo apt-get install nvme-cli)
  3. If your drive is a Samsung, it now has to be put to sleep (you can do that with sudo systemctl suspend) and then woken up. This is a weird bug that Samsung doesn't seem in any hurry to fix.
  4. Now you can securely wipe the disk: sudo nvme format -s1 /dev/nvme0n1
For the curious: the -s option triggers Secure Erase mode, which can be set to 1 (wipe) or 2 (delete encryption keys for encrypted data). 1 looks like the safest option, because it will automatically do what 2 does if it detects that all data is encrypted. Reference here.

The latest NVMe specification adds other commands, to scrub every nook and cranny (bus caches etc), but as far as I know they have not been implemented yet.

15 May 2018

New Beginnings

So, after 7 intense years at Infratects (now Inlumi), it's time for me to move on.

I have a few ideas about what to do next, but nothing set in stone yet. My LinkedIn profile could do with more details, but it's a decent primer for what I do for a living - Hyperion/EPM, Python, Java, Weblogic and thereabout.

I was a web developer in a previous life, so I enjoy hacking and automating everything, getting dirty with infrastructure and the cloud; and in 13 years working on Hyperion products, I've absorbed a pretty good amount of knowledge related to financial processes (consolidation rules, metadata, cube performance and so on) as well as a deep understanding of the innards of the EPM suite. I can tweak your database, hack your Weblogic, integrate your cloud-based authentication, script your exports and migrations, and so on; and if there is something the tools won't do... I'll build you a new tool! That's where I make the difference: at the intersection of technology and Finance, boosting the productivity of accountants.

If this sounds interesting, ping me on LinkedIn and we can have a chat.

16 April 2018

Nespresso Blends - a comprehensive spreadsheet

As a faithful Nespresso user, I was a bit shocked last month when I discovered one of my favourite blends contained Robusta. I had always assumed all blends were 100% Arabica and alas, that was not the case. So I started looking up what is what, but I was quickly overwhelmed - I wasn't going to browse through 24 pages of slow-loading images to read all blurbs. Enter Python.

As it often happens, the situation degenerated quickly. The result is an Excel spreadsheet (also available in Google Docs), listing all attributes of all blends so that you can filter out what you need. Decaffeinated varieties are highlighted, because that's not real coffee 😁

28 March 2018

How to implement custom BotStorage class for Microsoft BotFramework

Since launch, the MS BotFramework has been changing very rapidly. So rapidly, in fact, that I recently gave up trying to keep up with my handrolled Python, and embraced (sigh) their NodeJS SDK. At least now I won't have to worry when they break stuff, right ?
One of the most recent BF changes is the deprecation and eventual removal of the default persistence API. You are now supposed to either use one of the pre-built Azure services (paying $$), or provide your own implementation. In pure Microsoft style, they state that rolling your own is very easy... but never actually provide a sample or even tell you which interface should be implemented.
I had to scavenge through their code to figure it out (at least they opensource their stuff these days), but I thought I'd save others a bit of aggravation, and here it is:
var MyBotStorage = (function () {
    // optional constructor
    function MyBotStorage(options) {
        this.options = options;
    MyBotStorage.prototype.getData = function (iBotStorageContext, 
        // IBotStorageData interface
        var data = {
            userData: {},
            conversationData: {},
            privateConversationData: {}
        // the callback MUST be invoked
        // signature: callback(Error, iBotStorageData )
        callback(null, data);
    MyBotStorage.prototype.saveData = function (iBotStorageContext, 
        // the callback MUST be invoked
    return MyBotStorage;

var botStorage = new MyBotStorage({});

var bot = new builder.UniversalBot(connector, function (session) {
            // your bot code here
    }).set('storage', botStorage); 
As you can see, it is indeed trivial, once you know how. It's sad that MS somehow, in the haste of deprecating their older interfaces, couldn't find the time to put this sample in their otherwise-extensive documentation. I suspect the fact that Azure is not mentioned anywhere might have something to do with it, but I'm sure I'm just assuming excessive malice and there is a perfectly-plausible explanation that does not involve greed. Or is there?

26 March 2018

Appstores need a Trial Mode

I've been looking for a while for a Windows-native Twitter client that could sync with my other non-Windows devices (aka "supporting TweetMarker"). I've found one that claims to do that, Tweet It!, but there is a problem: it costs £3.5 upfront. That's a relatively high amount of money to throw down a well hoping that my wish will come true. However, because this feature is so rare, if it worked I'd be happy to pay three times as much, no questions asked. I just have no way to find out.

Appstores need a simple Trial Mode. All the current hacks (In-App-Purchases, subscriptions, refunds etc) are just that, clumsy workarounds to this glaring omission, which is why app prices are so squeezed down - to the chagrin of indie developers. Trial Mode would also bring huge collateral benefits like reducing reliance on SaaS services (something that Microsoft in particular should relish) and creating viable alternatives to the free-to-play bubble that has turned online gaming into a socially-accepted form of gambling addiction.

I doubt Apple will ever introduce Trial Mode - they are the dominant player and have little incentive to change the rules; and Android is a far west where the Play Store is almost irrelevant. But Microsoft should experiment with something like this, while the Windows Store is still young and evolving. Both developers and users would love it, they have been asking for something like this for years.