Maximum Efficiency For Inferencing with your AI Workloads on HPE Proliant and NVIDIA GPUS

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Black Hat 2020: Cybersecurity trends, tools, and threats (free PDF)

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This year’s Black Hat USA 2020 computer security conference was entirely virtual for the first time and took place from August 1-6. This is the 23rd year for the conference, which traditionally takes a close look at some of the top cybersecurity trends. Learn more about this year’s conference including information about new cybersecurity trends, free tools to fight cybersecurity attacks, and more in this TechRepublic’s ebook.

In the ebook:

  • Top 6 cybersecurity trends to watch for at Black Hat USA 2020
  • Blackberry launches free tool for reverse engineering to fight cybersecurity attack
  • VMware carbon black threat report finds hackers using more aggressive and destructive tactics
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Zergo Freedom review: An impressive ergonomic and programmable keyboard

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Find out if Jack Wallen likes the Zergo Freedom ergonomic keyboard even more than the Ultimate Hacking Keyboard.

Figure A: The two halves of the Zergo Freedom keyboard.

Image: Jack Wallen/TechRepublic

Some ergonomic keyboards are full of gimmicks that do little to serve the purpose of protecting your wrists and digits from repetitive stress injuries, while others come seriously close to perfection. For me, the Ultimate Hacking Keyboard (UHK) is the perfect combination of form over function, and it would take a miracle of a keyboard to pull that UHK out of my hands. And although the Zergo Freedom keyboard didn’t quite achieve that seemingly unattainable goal, it did come pretty close.

The perfect keyboard is very subjective, and muscle memory tends to work against manufacturers and designers. When I first adopted the Ultimate Hacking Keyboard, it took a hot minute for my fingers and brain to get in sync with one another; but once that happened, it was pure magic. Typing was incredibly comfortable and efficient. And given how much I type on a daily basis, the patterns of strokes and distance of keys became deeply ingrained in my muscle memory. Because of that, migrating to another keyboard is a huge challenge.

SEE: Stand up and stretch: Improving the ergonomics of your office boosts productivity and reduces injury (TechRepublic Premium)

The Zergo Freedom came dangerously close to usurping the Ultimate Hacking Keyboard, and that is a testament to how well this keyboard is designed. And for any developer, writer, or admin who suffers from the threat of wrist pain due to the frequent pounding of keys and who hasn’t found that perfect keyboard, the Zergo Freedom might be the perfect piece of hardware.

What is the Zergo Freedom keyboard?

The Zergo Freedom is a split-design keyboard with plenty of cable to separate the two halves as far apart as your wrists need (Figure A). Many ergonomic keyboards offer such a feature.

The Zergo Freedom also includes eight legs (one on each corner of each half), so you can tilt each side of the keyboard to perfectly fit the needs of your hands and arms (Figure B). This is one of the unique features to the Zergo Freedom, as most ergonomic keyboards only include tenting legs on the inside corners, which limits the angles you can create for your keyboard.

Figure B

The “tenting” legs of the Zergo Freedom make it easy for you to angle the halves independently. 

Image: Jack Wallen/TechRepublic

The fun doesn’t end there.

The Zergo Freedom examined the wrist pad situation and came up with a unique feature: You can either opt to go with wrist rest pads that encompass the entire lower portion of the keyboard, or you can use the smaller pads that skate about as you move your hands (Video A). This is a great option for those who feel traditional rests prevent their hands from moving freely about the keyboard.

Video A

Programming macros and keys

This is another area where the Zergo Freedom outshines most of its competition. Unlike most keyboards of this nature, the Zergo Freedom doesn’t require software for the programming of keys and macros. With the Ultimate Hacking Keyboard, you must install the UHK Agent in order to program or configure the keyboard, and sometimes the Agent is seriously flaky or won’t even run.

With the Zergo Freedom, everything is on board. For example, to switch between Windows and macOS layouts, press and hold the Left Num Shift + Left FN Shift + Del, combination for five seconds. To copy a macro, press and hold the Left Num Shift + Left FN Shift + F2, for two seconds. To toggle the Right Alt key double tap option, press and hold the Left Num Shift + Left FN Shift + F8 combination for two seconds. 

For more programming options, check out this manual page. This is a welcome change, as so many keyboard programming tools are poorly designed and executed. The Zergo Freedom nails this to perfection. 

The caveat

When the muscle memory in your fingers has already settled on a keyboard layout, it can be a challenge to get them to acclimate to something new–this is especially true when the said layout is a serious departure from the norm. This was the case with the Ultimate Hacking Keyboard, as the cursor keys and delete key were replaced by a key combination using a Mod key. After a week or so, I grew accustomed to how the Ultimate Hacking Keyboard functioned, and it became quite efficient. Now after months of usage all other keyboards are too inefficient for my needs.

SEE: IT hardware procurement policy (TechRepublic Premium)

The same holds true with the Zergo Freedom. The key that confounded me the most it was the Enter key. Instead of this key being in its usual spot, it was on the left half, opposite the space bar. And the Backspace key is above the spacebar. These shifts in major keys caused serious confusion with my fingers. Granted, like with the Ultimate Hacking Keyboard, given enough time, my fingers would get accustomed to the new layout. And with the Swap Macro, it’s possible to swap any two keys on the keyboard, so with a bit of work, you could lay the keys out to better suit the way you work.

My conclusion

No keyboard is created equal, and to conclude one keyboard superior over another would be a bit shortsighted. Although the Ultimate Hacking Keyboard is the perfect hardware for me, it might not be for you.

Ultimately, a keyboard boils down to key placement and travel. With the Zergo Freedom’s ability to swap keys, seriously impressive key travel, and an amazing build quality, if you’re willing to drop the $339 for a customizable keyboard, the Zergo Freedom might well become the savior of your wrists and your fingers.

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The secret to becoming an open source project lead

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Commentary: For developers who want to become leaders in their chosen open source communities, the process is easier (and more difficult) than you might think.

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Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto

There are at least two ways to become an open source project maintainer. The first is perhaps the most straightforward, though hardly easy: Start a project. This is the path taken by Simon Willison (Datasette), Rich Felker (musl libc), Gerald Combs (Wireshark), and others. The other is to build up credibility with an existing project over time, eventually earning the maintainer mantle. In some ways, this might be the harder path, but it’s one that Lili Cosic (kube-state-metrics/Kubernetes), Madelyn Olson (Redis), and Whitequark (Solvespace) have taken.

Most of us will never start our own project. But with a significant percentage of developers contributing to open source projects (49% of women and 64% of men, according to a DigitalOcean survey), there’s a real opportunity for developers to earn a leadership role within their preferred projects. For reasons I’ll detail below, it could be a more realistic goal than you might think.

SEE: How to build a successful developer career (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Faster than you might think

In a series of conversations with open source project maintainers, I kept being surprised by how quickly goodwill could be earned within a project. For example, both Cosic and Olson have been full-time engineers for five or six years, and only engaged with their respective open source projects for two to three years. To go from limited/no involvement to the highest honor accorded an open source contributor in roughly two years is amazing. As Cosic said, “Some people say it’s very fast growth, but for me it’s just because I am very passionate about it.”

That passion shows up as commitment to a project, and such commitment ultimately builds influence within the community. 

For the developer who goes by the name Whitequark, her story is similar. In an interview, she said when she first encountered the Solvespace code, it was excellent at its core functions but was decidedly crufty in its code–it needed a revamp. She set to work:

I started to gradually and very carefully improve it. The fact that it was so stable and reliable was one of its two best qualities, along with the ease of use, so I did not want to make haphazard changes that would result in backwards incompatibility or losing data. (In the end, it took me something like two years to become comfortable with modifying most of its 30 kLOC codebase–purely in terms of programming, not going into any of the underlying math.) I kept a carefully updated patch set–I aspired to the same standards as the LLVM compiler patches, which I also used to co-maintain–and periodically asked Jonathan [the founder and maintainer] to review and merge them….

After a few months of this work, the maintainer decided he needed to move on, and entrusted the Solvespace maintainership to Whitequark. In her story, as well as those of Cosic and Olson, the key to becoming a trusted contributor (and, ultimately, maintainer) of an open source project emerges: Consistency.

“Consistency is the key”

Cosic called this out straightaway in our conversation: “Consistency is the key. Regardless if you contribute large pieces of code or small, it’s more about consistently contributing over a period of time. Usually…you need to contribute at least for a few months consistently. And that includes reviewing PRs and answering issues [on GitHub Issues, Stack Overflow, etc.].” Open source projects aren’t necessarily looking for would-be contributors to develop the equivalent of a cure for cancer for them–they just need people to show up and do the little things.

For Olson, she had no grand ambition to become a maintainer of Redis, the open source database to which she contributed. “There was no pathway to me becoming a maintainer,” Olson said. “I was not expecting it. I was just trying to be helpful and that ended up paying off.” 

In “trying to be helpful,” Olson didn’t try to commit major new functionality. Instead, she made it easier for others to do that work. “Almost all of my contributions are minor,” she said. “Normally I’m the one making small fixes all over the place, and then when someone really wants to commit something big, I help them get the code in better shape and then they submit it and I’m the ambassador to say, ‘Hey, Salvatore [project founder], we built this great thing.’ But I normally try to let the other person get more of the credit.” 

Such consistent, behind-the-scenes work might seem to go unappreciated, but it’s actually the precise work that most projects need. By consistently contributing “little” pull requests, developers can build their influence within a project and, perhaps, earn the distinction of being a maintainer on the project. 

If I’m making this sound overly simple, I don’t really intend that. As Drupal founder Dries Buytaert has pointed out, for example, “Open source is not a meritocracy,” because “inequality makes it difficult for underrepresented groups to have the ‘free time’ it takes to contribute to open source.” It’s a valid point. 

SEE: How to become an effective software development manager and team leader: Tips and advice from Drupal founder Dries Buytaert (TechRepublic)

Even many who are fortunate to have full-time employment aren’t necessarily encouraged by their companies to make time to contribute. For such, this is a mistake, as contributing to open source projects is a great way to influence their direction and care for customers. So for companies that depend upon open source (and that’s every company), it’s time to carve out space for your developers to make those consistent contributions over time. 

Disclosure: I work for AWS, but the views here are mine and don’t necessarily reflect those of AWS.

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7 tips for using Google Meet on a Chromebook

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Learn how to start Google Meet quickly, manage Meet audio and video from your keyboard, modify how Meet displays, and more.

Photo: Andy Wolber/TechRepublic

When you combine a Chromebook (a device built for the web) with Google Meet (an app built for web meetings), you get one of the simplest and most reliable ways to hold a video conference. The device and app automatically adjust to deliver the best combination of video and audio possible.

Many people access Google Meet by clicking a link either in Google Calendar or Gmail. The following tips offer several different ways to start and control Meet features on a Chromebook. (For all of these, you’ll need to be signed in to your Chromebook with a Google account that has Google Meet access enabled.)

How to start a meeting

To start a new session with Google Meet, open a new browser window (try: Ctrl+N), type meet.new in the address bar, then press enter. This sequence puts you at a Google Meet preview screen, from which you may Join Now, Present, or Join And Use A Phone For Audio. Meet.new, much like other browser shortcuts (e.g., doc.new, meeting.new, note.new, sheet.new, slides.new), gives you a way to type a short command to open a web app.

How to display upcoming Google Meet sessions

To review Google Meet sessions for the day, go to meet.google.com in a browser window (Figure A). This page displays the current date and time (in the upper left), upcoming meetings associated with your account, and the option to +Join Or Start A Meeting.

Figure A

Open https://meet.google.com to display your upcoming Google Meet sessions for the day.

How to pin Google Meet to the Shelf

On a Chromebook, if you plan to use Google Meet often, add it to the Shelf for one-click (or tap) access. Follow these steps to add Google Meet to the Shelf.

1. Open a new Chrome window and go to https://meet.google.com.

2. Select the three vertical dots in the upper right corner of Chrome, then choose More Tools, then Create Shortcut (Figure B).

Figure B

While on https://meet.google.com, navigate to the Chrome browser menu option to Create Shortcut.

3. Select the blue Create button (Figure C). This adds Meet as a Shortcut in the Launcher.

Figure C

Select the Create button to add a shortcut to meet.google.com.

4. Select the Launcher (the circle, typically in the lower left portion of the Shelf).

5. Type Meet in the search box.

6. Right-click on the Meet icon that displays, then choose Pin To Shelf (Figure D).

Figure D

Select the Launcher (the circle, typically in the lower left corner on a Chromebook), then type Meet in the search bar, right-click on the Meet app icon, then choose Pin To Shelf.

The Meet icon should now display on the Shelf. When you click (or tap on) it, meet.google.com will open in a new browser tab.

For other ways to start Google Meet, read 7 ways to access Google Meet.

How to display keyboard controls

While in an active Google Meet session, press ctrl+/ to display available keyboard shortcuts for Meet (Figure E). This key combination also works to display keyboard shortcuts in most G Suite apps. (I tend to remember the combination by the other punctuation element found on the same key: ctrl+?.)

Figure E

While in a Google Meet session, press ctrl+/ to display available keyboard shortcuts.

As of early August 2020, Google Meet keyboard shortcuts include:

  • ctrl+d to mute (or unmute) your microphone
  • ctrl+e to turn your webcam off (or on)

  • ctrl+alt+c to display (or hide) chat

  • ctrl+alt+p to display (or hide) the list of people in the session

  • ctrl+alt+s to announce the current speaker

  • ctrl+alt+i to announce current information about the room

How to modify how Google Meet displays on your screen

Press the full screen key (Figure F) on a Chromebook while in a Google Meet session to fill your screen with your meeting–this hides the Shelf, the address, and bookmark bars, as well as other tabs that you may have open. An additional press on the full screen key exits full screen mode.

Figure F

Press the full-screen key on your Chromebook while in Google Meet to hide the Shelf, the address, and bookmark bars. Press the key again to exit full-screen mode.

When not in full-screen mode, you may choose to move the window with Google Meet to a portion of your screen. Two key combinations to try:

  • alt+[ to toggle the window between the left portion of the screen or centered, and
  • alt+] to toggle the window between the right portion of the screen or centered.

The above alt-bracket combinations are useful when you want to display or refer to other information while in a Google Meet session. (These combinations let you quickly re-position not only Chrome browser windows, but also Android apps on your Chromebook.)

How to take a screenshot to save information 

Chrome OS includes two built-in keyboard controls that let you capture either a full or partial screenshot. This can be a fast way to preserve information displayed on screen during a Google Meet session. On a Chromebook, use the following shortcuts:

  • ctrl+show windows keys to take a screenshot (Figure G), or
  • ctrl+shift+show windows keys, then click and drag the cursor to select an area of the screen to take a screenshot of a portion of the display.

Access these screenshots wherever your Chromebook has been configured to save downloads. (To adjust where Chrome OS saves downloads, open chrome://settings/downloads on your Chromebook, then modify the settings.)

Figure G

While in Google Meet, press ctrl+show windows to capture a full-screen screenshot.

How to add an in-house live stream

If your G Suite account includes the ability to live stream from Meet to people in your organization, you may create a live stream link when you start a new Meet session (Figure H). Select the three vertical dots displayed in the lower right corner of the video preview page, then choose Add An In-house Live Stream. This creates and displays a link that you may copy and share with people in your organization. Remember, this sort of live stream may only be accessed by people who are signed in to an account within your organization.

Figure H

If your G Suite account includes the ability to live stream to your organization, you may create a live stream link from the Google Meet New Meeting preview page.

What’s your experience?

What has your experience with Google Meet on a Chromebook been? Do you use keyboard controls to adjust audio, video, or to control how Meet displays on screen? Let me know your best tips for using Google Meet on a Chromebook, either in the comments below or on Twitter (@awolber).

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Healthy competition incentivizes staff and boosts productivity, says new report

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According to a Prodoscore survey, 67% of workers say competition with colleagues helps them work smarter, but a majority of them find annual reviews tedious and unhelpful.

Even though 77% of US workers believe their managers know how hard they work, 53% of those employees long for more acknowledgement, because they don’t feel recognized. 

A new survey, conducted last month by the BTB Prodoscore, also revealed that 67% of workers say competition with colleagues encourages them to work better. Those who do the same or very similar jobs, or whose jobs are classified similarly, are quite interested in how they compare or “measure up” to their colleagues. A majority, 67%, admitted that “competition with peers motivates them to do better.”

SEE:  Return to work: What the new normal will look like post-pandemic (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

That yearly review

There’s a reason annual reviews are dreaded: The majority of respondents said they do not find reviews helpful, although 33% claimed to be “excited” to participate in the process. 

Whether they’re scared they’re not doing as well as they thought, or worry that a not-great review will affect their salary (or expected pay raise), 30% said annual reviews made them anxious, and 26% felt that, while in the review, they’re under pressure to ensure their efforts were recognized, certainly a challenge for those less inclined to toot their own proverbial “horn.” 

Less than 50% of respondents found traditional annual performance reviews helpful in assisting in promoting job success, which means a majority found those annual performance reviews unhelpful. The entire annual review process also feels like additional work for 22% of respondents who said that pondering over self-evaluation while reviewing and submitting documentation is simply frustrating. 

Review alternative

A large number of those polled, 75%, said they would be interested in a tool that would highlight behaviors that lead to success, so they could adopt and replicate those behaviors to help them achieve their goals.

But 67% were more enthusiastic about coaching sessions, citing them as more useful than the traditional annual review, with 54% interested in replacing traditional annual performance reviews with “active coaching and regular engagement.”

“Tools that create transparency between employees and leadership, and present opportunities for coaching are critical to professional growth, whether employees work in an office or from home,” said Nadine M. Sarraf, CMO of Prodoscore, in a press release. “It’s clear from the survey and the conversations we have with customers that the concept of measuring performance based only on the end result is not fair. Productivity matters.”

Productivity: the office vs. WFH

In addition to collegial competition as incentive to do a better job at work, 36% of respondents said that despite the additional stressors working from home can bring, they’re more productive doing so than in the office; 44% didn’t find any difference between WFH and the office, and only 20% said they’re less productive at home. 

An overwhelming majority of 91% are appreciative of being given flexibility to manage their own schedules.

Methodology

Prodoscore said it wanted the study to show actual numbers to the trends that seemed to be evolving over several years as more employees were taking or asking for the option to work from home (WFH). Then WFH became the new normal, a trend that was “amplified” due to COVID-19

Before the pandemic, 61% of the respondents were working from home, but when the study was conducted last month, 77% were WFH, at least part of the time. The 1,000 respondents who participated in the survey were people who worked in many different industries, but included a mix of micro, SMB, and enterprise businesses. The majority were white-collar workers (79%), grey-collar workers made up 11% of those polled, with the remaining 10% described as gold-collar workers. 

“With the right tools in place, businesses can commit to making a long-term investment in a happier, more motivated and more productive workforce,” Sarraf said. 

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How to limit file upload size on NGINX to mitigate DoS attack

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If you have an NGINX site that must allow users to upload files, try this configuration to help prevent possible Denial-of-Service attacks.

Image: Jack Wallen

Out of the box, NGINX sets a limit of 1MB for file uploads. For some platforms, that might be considerably too low (especially for sites that allow users to upload items like images and video). However, if you open the flood gates too wide, you run the risk of ne’er do wells hitting you with Denial of Service (DoS) attacks. 

SEE: How to become a network administrator: A cheat sheet (TechRepublic)

You certainly don’t want that.

But what can you do, when you need to allow users to upload more than a single MB to your NGINX site?

You control it with the client_max_body_size directive.

Let me show you how.

What you’ll need

In order to make this work, you’ll need NGINX installed and configured to run your website. You’ll also need a user with sudo privileges. I’ll be demonstrating on Ubuntu Server 18.04, but this process should work on any platform that supports NGINX.

With those at the ready, let’s configure.

How to configure nginx.conf

The first thing we’re going to do is change the upload limit to 100MB in the nginx.conf file. Open the file with the command:

sudo nano /etc/nginx/nginx.conf

Look for the http section and add the following line (Figure A):

client_max_body_size 100M;

Save and close the file.

Figure A

Adding the configuration to NGINX config file.

Next, open the config file for your website. If you’re using the default, you would open that file with the command:

sudo nano /etc/nginx/sites-available/default

In that file, look for the server section and add the same line as you did in the nginx.conf file (Figure B).

Figure B

Adding the configuration line in the server section of your site config file.

In that same file, locate the location section you’ve configured for site uploads and add the same line (Figure C).

Figure C

Adding the configuration line in the locations directive.

Of course, your uploads directive will probably be a bit more complex than the basic one I’ve illustrated, but you get the point.

Save and close the file.

Run the NGINX configuration test with the command:

sudo nginx -t

You shouldn’t see any errors. Restart NGINX with the command:

sudo systemctl restart nginx

At this point, if anyone attempts to upload a file size larger than 100 MB, they’ll receive a 413 error (Request Entity Too Large). Your NGINX server is now a tiny bit safer from DoS attacks, while still allowing your users to upload files. No, this isn’t a be-all-end-all preventive measure for DoS attacks, but these days anything you can do to stave off the ne’er do wells is a step in the right direction.

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