Saturday, June 12, 2010

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3

This week, Adobe released the final version of Photoshop Lightroom 3. I've been testing the beta for some time now and can only highly recommend it.

If you're new to photography and haven't heard of it before, it's part of the Photoshop family of image editing software. However, it's not a dumbed-down, more limited version of Photoshop like Elements, but a full-blown photo editing and cataloging program.

It doesn't replace Photoshop (or Elements) for very specific and advanced image editing, but specialized on improving the digital photographer's workflow. Importing JPEG or RAW photos into its catalog, categorizing and filing them as you wish, then post-processing and optimizing your images one at a time or in any size of batches.

It's amazing how fast and simple it is to import, file and edit hundreds of photos. Since using Lightroom, I've become a full RAW convert, because it makes working with RAW files so easy and effective.

If you're getting into post-production, it's probably the best tool for the job. But don't take my word for it, check out the reviews online or in your favorite photo magazines - or, better yet, download the free 30-day trial version from Adobe and see for yourself if it suits and improves your workflow.

The one disadvantage might be price: It costs US$299! Here in Germany, Amazon currently lists its best price at over € 300!

However, compared to Photoshop itself (which costs US$699 in the basic version), it's a bargain. But right now it can be purchased for even less:

You get an immediate 15 % rebate when entering the coupon code "Lightroom3" at Adobe's online store. Here in Germany, its price of € 296,31 (incl. taxes) is then reduced to a little more affordable € 251,86. (As far as I know, the coupon code is only valid until June 18, so you may want to hurry up!)

When you buy it together with Photoshop CS5, you even get 30 %. While it's still quite expensive, especially for amateurs, it really saves a lot of time and enhances photos very well - so make sure to give it a try and see if it's worth it for you...

This whole post is not meant as an ad for Adobe - it's just that Lightroom has become one of my most important programs and I'd like to spread the possibility to save on its purchase like it has been spread to me. :-) But if my post does entice you to buy the software, please let me know!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Photography equipment complete

With the arrival of the Canon EF-S 17-55mm 1:2.8 IS USM lens, my photo equipment is finally complete. For now.

I also tested the Canon EF-S 15-85mm 1:3.5-5.6 IS USM which is one of the Canon EOS 7D kit lenses. It's a very nice lens, with great wide-angle and a good zoom range, but unfortunately it's less suitable for the available light photography I do primarily.

Besides my trusty Canon EF 50mm 1:1.4 USM for portraits, there's the Canon EF 70-300mm 1:4.0-5.6 IS USM telezoom lens. These three lenses cover most kinds of photography I like to do regularly.

Here's my updated Amazon Favorite List.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Quest completed - my camera: Canon EOS 7D

That's it, I'm done, this time it's for real - finally, my new camera, the Canon EOS 7D!

Dissatisfied with the iPhone's built-in camera, I started my quest for the best camera (for me) with a Canon PowerShot SX200 IS last October, moved on and through the DSLR range from Canon EOS 1000D over Canon EOS 500D to Canon EOS 50D and finally arrived at Canon's flagship APS-C format camera, the (semi-)professional 7D. In a few short months, I learned a whole lot, and photography has become one of my main interests.

When I'm seriously interested in something, I won't do it half-heartedly, instead I'll invest the necessary time and money to make sure I'm properly equipped. Although I enjoyed the other cameras, I always found them lacking, but now that I've reached the top of the currently available technology, I'm finally satisfied.

I'll post some more about the different experiences with the various cameras I tried - later! Right now I just want to have some fun with the 7D...

Saturday, February 6, 2010

HOWTO: How to access the Nagios web interface securely over https (SSL)

If you followed my instructions on how to install Nagios with check_mk, PNP and NagVis, you'll already have a working monitoring solution by now. We'll continue where we left off and look at ways to secure our Nagios installation.

Our goal is to make the Nagios web interface available over the Internet - securely!


We already have a nagiosadmin user account which requires a password to log in. You should make sure that the password is secure, and even then, change it regularly.

You can change the nagiosadmin password with this command:

sudo htpasswd /usr/local/nagios/etc/htpasswd.users nagiosadmin

However, since we're using Apache's Basic Authentication, username and password are sent as plaintext with every http request. Our login credentials could easily be intercepted.

We could switch over to Apache's Digest Authentication, which no longer transfers login data as plaintext, but it's less compatible as most Nagios addons expect Basic Authentication and a htpasswd.users file. Even if we worked around that problem, everything else would still be unencrypted, so an attacker could still sniff out a lot of potentially sensitive information.

That's why we're going to switch from http to https - then everything will be encrypted, including Apache's Basic Authentication!

How to set up Apache with SSL is usually a topic of its own and deserving of its own HOWTO. Since my tutorial is based on Ubuntu 8.04, I'll simply post the shortcuts required to properly get it up and running on a default installation.

First we install the prerequisite, OpenSSL:

sudo apt-get install openssl

Then we create a 1024 bit RSA key for our server:

sudo openssl genrsa -out /etc/ssl/private/server.key 1024

Make sure the private key is really private:

sudo chmod 640 /etc/ssl/private/server.key

Create an SSL certificate for our server. When it asks for a Common Name (eg, YOUR name), enter the server's hostname you use to access the Nagios web interface:

sudo openssl req -key /etc/ssl/private/server.key -new | sudo openssl x509 -out /etc/ssl/certs/server.crt -days 365 -signkey /etc/ssl/private/server.key -req

Enable Apache's SSL support:

sudo a2enmod ssl

Create an SSL-enabled website - here we make a copy of the default website with SSL support:

sed 's/\*/*:443/;/DocumentRoot/a\\tSSLEngine on\n\n\tSSLOptions +StrictRequire\n\n\tSSLCertificateFile /etc/ssl/certs/server.crt\n\tSSLCertificateKeyFile /etc/ssl/private/server.key' /etc/apache2/sites-available/default | sudo tee /etc/apache2/sites-available/ssl

Enable the SSL-enabled website:

sudo a2ensite ssl

Make the Nagios web interface require SSL:

sudo sed -i~SSLRequireSSL '/SSLRequireSSL/s/#/ /' /etc/apache2/conf.d/nagios.conf

Reload Apache to make the SSL-enabled website accessible:

sudo invoke-rc.d apache2 reload

Now you can (and have to) access Nagios with https instead of http!

For even more Nagios security, you could create a new Nagios user with a name only you know, and remove the default nagiosadmin from /usr/local/nagios/etc/htpasswd.users. Then replace all occurences of nagiosadmin in /usr/local/nagios/etc/cgi.cfg with your new user's name.

If you followed all of my original instructions, you'll also have various addons installed. Here's how to enable their SSL support:


Make check_mk require SSL as well:

sudo sed -i~SSLRequireSSL 's/ErrorDocument/#&/;/<Directory/a\        SSLRequireSSL' /etc/apache2/conf.d/check_mk


Make PNP require SSL as well:

sudo sed -i~SSLRequireSSL '/<Directory/a\   \tSSLRequireSSL' /etc/apache2/conf.d/pnp4nagios.conf


Since NagVis is installed in a subdirectory of Nagios, it already inherits its SSL requirements.

After making the above changes, reload Apache again to make sure all these addons really use SSL:

sudo invoke-rc.d apache2 reload

Finally our complete Nagios installation is SSL-secured. Now it's safe to open up the Nagios web interface https port (443) to the public Internet.

Please keep all other security considerations in mind - e. g. only open the https port, protect everything else with a secure firewall, etc. A monitoring server is a critical system that usually has access to every other system on a network and contains a lot of sensitive information about all of your systems - keep it safe and secure!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Third Time's The Charm - Again!

Got the new camera today. Yep, again! I know, by now it's getting old.

It's the Canon EOS 500D once more - but this time as a kit instead of only the body. I wanted to get the Canon EF-S 18-55mm 1:3,5-5,6 IS as my new standard zoom, and since it's about 30 EUR cheaper as part of the kit, I replaced the body with the kit while I still could.

I plan to get the Canon EF-S 55-250mm 4,0-5,6 IS next. That's why I put up my Sigma 18-200mm 3,5-6,3 DC on eBay.

You can check out my equipment list here: Meine Fotoausrüstung

Friday, January 15, 2010

HOWTO: How to install Nagios with check_mk, PNP and NagVis

Here are my instructions for a Nagios installation featuring check_mk, PNP and NagVis.


What is Nagios and why does any network administrator need it?

Nagios is a powerful, enterprise-class host, service, application, and network monitoring program. Designed to be fast, flexible, and rock-solid stable. Nagios runs on *NIX hosts (like Ubuntu Linux) and can monitor Windows, Linux/Unix/BSD, Netware, and network devices. And best of all, it's free open source software!

Well, it may be free software, but it does cost something - time and effort! Installation is the easy part, configuration is much harder. At least, it used to be, since check_mk makes it so much easier. But let's discuss installing it first.

I'm going to describe how to install Nagios on Ubuntu 8.04.3 LTS. I'll use a fresh installation of the Ubuntu Server Edition JeOS in a virtual machine to get a clean start. While details may differ between other versions of Ubuntu or Linux, most of the guide will still apply.

While Ubuntu does include a packaged version of Nagios in its official repositories, it's probably not the latest version, so I recommend you download, compile and install it yourself.

Before we do that, we have to install some prerequisites first, though. Here's how to install all required dependencies for the Nagios core:

sudo apt-get install apache2 build-essential libapache2-mod-php5 libgd2-xpm-dev traceroute wget

This installs the Apache webserver with PHP and its graphics library as well as the build environment necessary to compile software, traceroute (optional) and the wget downloader (it's not included with JeOS).

Next we prepare the system by creating a user and group for Nagios and a group for running Nagios commands from the web interface:

sudo adduser --system --home /usr/local/nagios --no-create-home --group --disabled-login nagios
sudo addgroup --system nagcmd
sudo adduser nagios nagcmd
sudo adduser www-data nagcmd

As a security measure, the newly created system user is disabled so normal login isn't possible. It's sufficient for running Nagios as a service, though. The web server user www-data is added to the nagcmd group so that commands can be issued from the web interface.

Now we can download and extract the Nagios Core (current version is 3.2.0 as of writing):

tar xzf nagios-3.2.0.tar.gz
cd nagios-3.2.0

Let's build it:

./configure --with-command-group=nagcmd
make all

It's important to specify the command group so that the binaries will get the proper permissions - otherwise Nagios can't be controlled from the web interface. Compiling the software takes some time, so be patient.

When it's done, install it:

sudo make fullinstall

fullinstall combines install, install-init, install-commandmode, and install-webconf. It doesn't include install-config, though, so we execute that manually:

sudo make install-config

Now that all the binaries and config files have been installed, we're going to restrict access to the web interface by setting an administrator password:

sudo htpasswd -c /usr/local/nagios/etc/htpasswd.users nagiosadmin

Enter a password and confirm it. You'll need the username (nagiosadmin) and password later when logging into the web interface.

Reload Apache:

sudo invoke-rc.d apache2 reload

Now the Nagios Core installation is done. Leave its directory:

cd ..

Before we can use Nagios to monitor something, we need to install the monitoring plugins. The plugins have dependencies of their own, so we have to install their prerequisites first:

sudo apt-get -y install libmysqlclient15-dev libssl-dev mailx libldap2-dev libnet-snmp-perl libpq-dev libradius1-dev smbclient snmp fping qstat

You probably don't need all of them, but to compile as many monitoring plugins as possible, they should be installed. Only libmysqlclient15-dev, libssl-dev and mailx are really required - while fping and qstat are entirely optional.

Now download and extract the Nagios Plugins package (as of writing, it's version 1.4.14):

tar xzf nagios-plugins-1.4.14.tar.gz
cd nagios-plugins-1.4.14

Build and install it:

./configure --with-nagios-user=nagios --with-nagios-group=nagios
sudo make install

When it's done, you can leave the directory:

cd ..

Next we need to fix Nagios' configuration - Ubuntu's mail command is located in /usr/bin instead of /bin:

sudo sed -i~ 's| /bin/mail | /usr/bin/mail |' /usr/local/nagios/etc/objects/commands.cfg

Before we start Nagios, it's a good idea to verify that the configuration is OK:

sudo /usr/local/nagios/bin/nagios -v /usr/local/nagios/etc/nagios.cfg

The pre-flight check should confirm that everything is alright. This command can be used after modifiying any Nagios configuration file to ensure the system will continue to work.

Now it's time to start up the Nagios service:

sudo invoke-rc.d nagios start

If it started (as it should), add it to the system startup sequence:

sudo update-rc.d nagios defaults 30 18

From then on, Nagios gets started (and shut down) with the system.

Well done! If you followed through here, you now have a working Nagios up and running. It's already monitoring itself (localhost) and can be access with a webbrowser:


Username: nagiosadmin, Password: The one you specified earlier!


Normally, usually, one would now install some or all of the official Nagios Addons: NRPE (which lets you remotely monitor other Linux/Unix or Windows hosts), NSCA (to integrate passive alerts from remote machines), or NDOUtils (which is an experimental database connector and (used to be) required for interesting third-party addons like NagVis) - but all (or at least: most) of that is no longer necessary thanks to an amazing new extension called check_mk!

I can't stress enough how important this new plugin is! Many, many thanks to Mathias Kettner (he's the mk in check_mk) for such a wonderful addon!

So what does it do? It could be described as "a new general purpose Nagios plugin for retrieving data" - but that description hardly does it justice! It replaces NRPE, NSClient++ and check_snmp. It can also be used in place of NDOUtils (and a database) for addons like NagVis. It also makes configuration much easier so config tools like NConf are also no longer needed. In fact, I set up a Nagios system today that monitors dozens of hosts and hundreds of services, in just a few hours!

So let's take a look at it - after installing Python support for Apache so its multiadmin interface (an optional feature) will be available:

sudo apt-get -y install libapache2-mod-python

Again, we download and install the software. No need to compile it, though, since it's a Python program:

tar xzf check_mk-1.1.0.tar.gz
cd check_mk-1.1.0

We just have to run its setup script. If you omit the "--yes", it will ask a lot of questions, but answering yes to all of them is just fine (at least with our current JeOS setup):

sudo ./ --yes

To make its multiadmin feature readily available to Nagios, we'll add it to the Nagios navigation bar (the list of links in the left frame pane):

sudo sed -i~check_mk '/Configuration/a\<li><a href="/check_mk/" target="<?php echo $link_target;?>">Check_MK Multiadmin</a></li>' /usr/local/nagios/share/side.php

By default, check_mk is prepared for PNP (an addon we'll install later) in its stable version 0.4.x - here we prepare it for the latest PNP4Nagios version 0.6.x:

sudo sed -i~ "s|/nagios/pnp/index.php?host=\$HOSTNAME\$&amp;srv=\$SERVICEDESC\\$|/pnp4nagios/graph?host=\$HOSTNAME\$\&amp;srv=\$SERVICEDESC\$' class='tips' rel='/pnp4nagios/popup?host=\$HOSTNAME\$\&amp;srv=\$SERVICEDESC\$|;s|/nagios/pnp/index.php?host=\$HOSTNAME\\$|/pnp4nagios/graph?host=\$HOSTNAME\$\&amp;srv=_HOST_' class='tips' rel='/pnp4nagios/popup?host=\$HOSTNAME\$\&amp;srv=_HOST_|" /usr/share/doc/check_mk/check_mk_templates.cfg

This ensures that the action links take us to the PNP graphs for the hosts and services - and even better, the graphs will be shown as popups when hovering over the action icons! (You'll soon see what I mean - and how cool this is!)

Reload Apache and Nagios and you're done:

sudo invoke-rc.d apache2 reload
sudo invoke-rc.d nagios reload

You may leave the check_mk directory:

cd ..

Now that check_mk is installed, we'll enable monitoring its own host by installing the check_mk agent. While the agent can be queried through various means, the regular way is by making it accessible through xinetd, so we install that first:

sudo apt-get install xinetd

Then we only need to copy the agent script check_mk_agent.linux to /usr/bin/check_mk_agent and the xinetd configuration file xinetd.conf to /etc/xinetd.d/check_mk:

sudo cp -p /usr/share/check_mk/agents/check_mk_agent.linux /usr/bin/check_mk_agent
sudo cp -p /usr/share/check_mk/agents/xinetd.conf /etc/xinetd.d/check_mk

Optionally, for security reasons, you may want to edit /etc/xinetd.d/check_mk and specify which IP addresses may query your agent. Uncomment the option only_from and edit the addresses listed there.

Reload xinetd to activate the new configuration:

sudo invoke-rc.d xinetd reload

That's it! Easy, huh? Remember, you can install the agent on other Linux systems just as easily - just copy the check_mk_agent script there and make it available through xinetd (or another means of access, like SSH, which is somewhat more advanced).

To make Nagios monitor your hosts, and to configure check_mk to your liking, edit check_mk's main configuration file:

sudoedit /etc/check_mk/

List all hosts you want monitored as a comma-separated string array of the configuration variable all_hosts. Right now we'll only monitor localhost:

all_hosts = [ 'localhost' ]

Since localhost is already specified in the original Nagios configuration, we have to disable the original entry, otherwise we'd get a conflict and the our new configuration wouldn't be accepted:

sudo sed -i~check_mk 's/cfg_file=.*localhost.cfg/#&amp;/' /usr/local/nagios/etc/nagios.cfg

This comments out the localhost.cfg. Now we can scan our hosts to auto-discover available services - this is one of the most helpful features of check_mk:

sudo check_mk -I alltcp

After the scan, you can automatically add the newly discovered services to Nagios by running the following command:

sudo check_mk -R

And it's done! Look at the Nagios web interface again - you'll see the new localhost. If you also added the agent to other hosts as briefly mentioned above, and listed their hostnames in, you could already be monitoring a whole lot of remote systems!

Before you continue, I highly recommend another config tweak that keeps the nagios.log file size down - since by default Nagios logs check_mk activity which can quickly take up a lot of space:

sudo sed -i 's/log_external_commands=1/log_external_commands=0/;s/log_passive_checks=1/log_passive_checks=0/' /usr/local/nagios/etc/nagios.cfg

Restart Nagios for the change to take effect - from now on, you can always do that with:

sudo check_mk -R

To monitor Windows hosts, you simply copy /usr/share/check_mk/agents/windows/check_mk_agent.exe there and run it like this:

check_mk_agent.exe install

To enable the autostart of the agent:

net start check_mk_agent

Then add the hostname to, scan with sudo check_mk -I alltcp and recreate the config with sudo check_mk -R.

To monitor switches or other devices which are accessible through SNMP, specify the hostname in with the tag snmp like this: 'HOSTNAME|snmp' - scan it with sudo check_mk -I snmp_info HOSTNAME (or another snmp scan type, check out check_mk -L | grep snmp for a list) and recreate the config with sudo check_mk -R.

There's much more to it - check_mk lets you easily and quickly set up a complete monitoring solution, even for very large and complex environments! Make sure to read about all of its other useful features in the Online Documentation!


Next is PNP which is an output addon that creates and displays beautiful and informative charts out of the data Nagios collects. While Nagios itself mainly shows on/off states (service is running, or it isn't), PNP lets you see how a service performs. In a way, it's like Munin, but perfectly integrated into Nagios.

It depends on rrdtool, so install that and additional prerequisites first:

sudo apt-get -y install librrds-perl php5-gd rrdtool

Download and extract PNP's latest version, currently 0.6.2:

tar xzf pnp4nagios-0.6.2.tar.gz
cd pnp4nagios-0.6.2

Compile and install:

make all
sudo make fullinstall

fullinstall combines install, install-webconf, install-init, and install-config.

There are various modes of operation and quite complicated installation instructions posted on its official website, but a single command can set it up:

sudo sed -i~pnp4nagios '/process_performance_data/s/0/1/;$a\broker_module=/usr/local/pnp4nagios/bin/npcdmod.o config_file=/usr/local/pnp4nagios/etc/npcd.cfg' /usr/local/nagios/etc/nagios.cfg

This uses the npcdmod.o module which makes additional, manual nagios.cfg changes unnecessary! Why isn't this properly documented in its official manual?

A special service to process performance data is required for this mode, so copy its configuration to the proper place:

sudo cp -p /usr/local/pnp4nagios/etc/npcd.cfg-sample /usr/local/pnp4nagios/etc/npcd.cfg

Start it up and add it to the system's autostart:

sudo invoke-rc.d npcd start
sudo update-rc.d npcd defaults 20

PNP doesn't like Ubuntu's default magic_quotes_gpc setting, so we change it. We also have to enable mod_rewrite:

sudo sed -i~ '/magic_quotes_gpc/s/On/Off/' /etc/php5/apache2/php.ini # /etc/php5/cli/php.ini
sudo a2enmod rewrite

Reload Apache for the changes to take effect:

sudo invoke-rc.d apache2 reload

Visit http://localhost/pnp4nagios/ to ensure everything is set up correctly. Then delete the install.php to be able to use PNP:

sudo rm -f /usr/local/pnp4nagios/share/install.php

To perfectly integrate PNP into Nagios and enable mouse-over popups of graphs, put status-header.ssi into Nagios and set up its permissions:

sudo cp -p contrib/ssi/status-header.ssi /usr/local/nagios/share/ssi
sudo chown nagios:nagios /usr/local/nagios/share/ssi/status-header.ssi
sudo chmod 644 /usr/local/nagios/share/ssi/status-header.ssi

Reload Nagios and you're done:

sudo invoke-rc.d nagios reload

Now you can leave PNP's directory:

cd ..

Hover your mouse cursor over the action symbol to see a preview of the graphs as a floating popup image. Click it to go directly to the graphs. Once you get used to this feature, you won't want to miss it!


The final addon I'm going to introduce today is NagVis. It's a visualization engine for Nagios that has to be seen to be believed. It's that cool! Check out the screenshots!

Install its prerequisites:

sudo apt-get -y install graphviz php5-cli php5-gd php5-mysql

Then download and extract the current version 1.4.5:

tar xzf nagvis-1.4.5.tar.gz
cd nagvis-1.4.5

This version is the first to support mklivestatus. mklivestatus is another great feature of check_mk which lets other addons access Nagios stats without requiring a database and a connector.

Install it like this:

sudo ./ -i mklivestatus -q

Although we chose mklivestatus, the default is MySQL access, so we change that:

sudo sed -i~ 's/;backend="ndomy_1"/backend="live_1"/' /usr/local/nagios/share/nagvis/etc/nagvis.ini.php

Then we have to set PHP's timezone - otherwise we'd get a lot of error messages when trying to open the NagVis pages:

sudo sed -i~ "s|;date.timezone =|date.timezone = `cat /etc/timezone`|" /etc/php5/apache2/php.ini # /etc/php5/cli/php.ini

Now reload Apache:

sudo /etc/init.d/apache2 reload

Leave NagVis' directory:

cd ..

Now you can access it here:


Setting up NagVis is beyond the scope of this guide, so refer back to its Documentation.

Congratulations! You've successfully completed your Nagios, check_mk, PNP and NagVis installation! But this isn't the end, it's just the beginning. Take a snapshot of your virtual machine (if you used one like I did) and then continue to set up your monitoring solution - check_mk's is the key...

Friday, January 8, 2010

My new new new camera

Got my new camera today! Yep, again.

Déjà vu? Another camera? Crazy photo maniac? Nope, it's not what you think, not this time.

I got a new Canon EOS 500D since the old one's shutter release button occasionally got stuck. It didn't happen very often, but when it did happen, it was a major annoyance.

I only had the camera for a week, and the button got stuck at least once almost every day, a problem I never experienced with the 1000D. I contacted Amazon (that's where I bought it) about it and they immediately sent me another one for free, no questions asked.

That's what I call customer service! Amazon claims they want to be the most customer-friendly company on Earth - well, as far as I'm concerned, they probably are.

Today the new camera arrived and the old one was picked up. Let's hope that this one will function properly - and for longer!