One moment please, I'll connect you...

Today's topic has been a recurring theme during the past few weeks.

On the one hand, while I'm in love with my iPhone for email and web access pretty much everywhere, I still really miss having an SSH client on my hip. (On my Treo, the pssh client did the trick. It was simple, talked SSH v2, had a poor random number generator, but could import strong pre-shared keys from a Palm memo.) I'm hoping that a simple, cool new SSH terminal app for the iPhone is just around the corner, now that the iPhone Software Developer Kit is out. I don't need fancy key-mapping, or a variety of terminal emulations. If it can offer to let me talk to Bluetooth devices as well as the Edge/WiFi connections (so I can use my Blue Console devices, it will be worth more to me. (That's a blatant plea/hint to any iPhone developers. Hopefully I've said iPhone enough times for this article to turn up in a web search. :-)

On the other hand, I've found the Service Processor on some SUN Opteron boxes to be a bit vexing. Many hosts have these Service Processors (S.P. from here on) on-board now, and each vendor is implementing it a bit differently. It's an added 'black box' on the communications line between the physical serial port and the serial I/O (tty) port on the host.

When BIOS Redirection was added, this was the first complication making serial ports provide the GETTY console login under a Linux host. Now these processors, supporting ILOM/ALOM/e-i-e-i-o communications are also listening to the line, looking for meta-sequences, waiting to interrupt the conversation and do your bidding. One gotcha is, when you start talking to the S.P., you lose any logging from the Operating System. (Why don't these special purpose computers BUFFER at least SOME amount of host data?)

The odd hang-up with the SUN units I'm wrestling seems to be an inactivity timeout. If I get into the S.P., and let it sit for a while, it seems to go to sleep, and I can't wake it up again. BUT, it never returned the connection back to the OS. Essentially, the O.S. console connection is now bottled-up, and I can't get the S.P. to answer through the serial port, or to relinquish the port back to the O.S., leaving me to reboot the system in order to get the serial console back. There MUST be a better way.

Fortunately, there is a good write-up on the SUN S.P., and I'm going to go over it this weekend. Hopefully I'll find some variables to change the meta characters which trigger the S.P., since they are too close to another sequence I need to send, and I also hope to find some timer settings to get the S.P. to drop out politely if I time out of the session.



Tools and trade-offs...

Recent circumstances gave me the opportunity to switch my phone service from a Palm Treo 650 to an Apple iPhone. I want to ignore the OS/platform discussion, and the monthly service costs, at least for a moment, and look at the move from a functionality standpoint, because it's yet another example of the trade-offs that we need to make while working with the technologies of our choosing.

Before I used the Treo, I'd had a some type of Palm device for many years. It held simple notes in memo files, and larger, illustrated documents were composed and viewed with TealDoc and TealPaint (from TealPoint software). I could 'beam' (InfraRed data transfer) information to other nearby folks with Palm devices to share data, or send the files from a desktop computer by email, or post them to a website to share them with folks farther away (in time or space). But I was happy carrying a separate cell phone, because I hadn't seen a really GOOD marriage of the two technologies yet, and I didn't want over-using one device to drain a battery to disable BOTH functions (PDA and Phone).

I even received a Treo as a gift, but I gave it away. Then, the recipient found a good VPN client, and an SSH tool tat used the data service of the phone...THAT was a feature I would find VERY useful! Later, I found the BlueConsole devices, and the TriConnect software, making the tool even more valuable. I used the Treo for two years.

The iPhone doesn't have a good terminal emulator (so far) that will let me talk to the BlueConsole devices. I can't find a good SSH tool, either. So, you might ask, "why would you want to switch?"

Because, for over a decade, I've wanted a simple, fast way to check email, AND the web. Initially, I wanted this at home, since I usually had fast access at work. But there were sometimes moments when I was away from home when I'd remember I wanted to send email to someone, or I wanted to look up something on the web. When this happened, I wrote an appointment on my Palm, to remind me to send an email, or check something. I'd have to set the time for the next time I thought I'd be near an operating computer, which was sometimes a couple days.

In some of my earlier days, I'd used X-terminals, and other thin-client devices, which booted quickly. But I don't have any of that hardware in the lab. I'd thought about using a simple terminal, and a console server with an "auto-telnet" feature, but that would only give me a quick access to command-line email. All of the options were lacking.

So, the iPhone uses the phone (AT&T Edge network) and WiFi for data connections. It easily remembers WiFi connections where you need to authenticate, and uses the phone when WiFi isn't available. The Safari browser isn't "perfect", but it is so much better than the Treo had been. And the built-in email was now reasonable to us, because I had gigabytes of fast "in-phone" storage. (Many Palm apps didn't play well if you were running them from the SD card.)

So, I have retired the Treo to being a BlueConsole terminal and file repository, since it does those better than the iPhone. But I don't carry the Treo on my belt anymore.

Now that I've used the iPhone, I've decided it was the RIGHT answer for me. I'm REALLY glad the phone doesn't tell folks where I was when I've composed/sent my email. But reading my email has replaced reading my daily CBC/BBC world news (I used to get them via AvantGo, since browsing the web wasn't practical on the Treo.) And, because I'm reading my personal email during the day, it has given me back some time in the evenings. And, being able to send and respond to email more quickly has also sped up some communications exchanges.

The web browsing aspect has also worked out very well, because of that finger-pinching technology that allows you to shrink or expand your view. I need reading glasses now, and some web pages are really fond of the H5 and H6 'fine print' header styles! It's not a problem for me anymore.

I've also put some songs on it, and left my iPod at home. And I also put some pictures on it. Oh, and the built-in camera is pretty good, too. But these weren't really on my radar for making the decision to switch.

I miss having an SSH application in my pocket, and I hope I'll get a terminal emulator that speaks Bluetooth someday, but I've grown too attached to my email and browser to go back to the Treo. The chances are good that applications will come in the future.

We all have to make trade-offs. Here's hoping you are happy with the trade-offs that you need to make.