Reverse Engineering Dell iDRAC6 Express: Fan Control

Part II: The Silence of the Fans

November 05, 2017 by Matt in /Firmware with 3 Comments

As previously mentioned, the Dell PowerEdge T710's stock Pulse Width Modulated (PWM) fans are controlled by the iDRAC6 & BMC firmware data files. I haven't had time to properly address these components but luckily there is another quick method that we can use to silence the stock fans. Later on I also tried swapping out the stock fans (YouTube video) with much quieter Arctic F9 PWM models but this introduced other problems.

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Reverse Engineering Dell iDRAC6 Express: Fan Control

Part I: Accessing the Root User

November 02, 2017 by Matt in /Firmware with No Comments

I have an aging Dell T710 that I bought a number of years ago. I use it to offload long running processes, handle file sharing, shared services, jails and so on. It's been running FreeBSD for a couple of years since I moved away from Linux.

Like most server-class hardware this tower is particularly loud. Dell shipped it with pulse width modulated fans that are anything but quiet and thanks to the iDRAC6 Express software that runs on a WPCM450 integrated baseboard management controller (BMC) the fan control & throttling makes it sound like a jet is taking off. That's fine if you have somewhere to put it but we've moved to a small apartment and it has to sit in our office. As we're fans of hearing ourselves think (pun intended) I needed some way to wrestle control away from the default iDRAC firmware.

The WPCM450 runs a version of Busybox Linux on an ARM processor. As you would expect, Dell has heavily customized this software and provides access to it via a web interface, Telnet, SSH, RAC, IPMI or Serial interface to RAC/IPMI. None of these options offer the controls we're looking for and the SSH/Telnet options are locked down to the iDRAC SM-CLP command line interface. In short, Dell has turned an otherwise very useful out-of-band management tool into a glorified toaster oven.

Previous versions of the Dell BMC have been reverse engineered by others however the Dell T710 is an 11th generation server so sadly we can't use those methods.

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A Modern Typewriter

June 26, 2017 by Matt in /Random with No Comments

The saying "less is more" is an apt description of the AlphaSmart NEO, an electronic typing machine designed to allow writers to get on with the task of writing. It eschews all of the fancy options you'd expect to find in a word processor. In fact, with a default configuration the display is limited to four lines of 44 characters and in any case the NEO makes for a poor text editor but what it lacks in features it makes up for with an emphasis on simplicity that is surprisingly effective as a tool to channel your creative outlet.

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What Makes "Good Software?"

June 10, 2017 by Matt in /Programming with No Comments

In the nearly five years since I changed careers to become a full-time firefighter I have kept my distance from developing software of any consequence. To be honest, I had lost my desire to sit at a keyboard and relished the chance to spend my time in other ways. Sure, I've made the switch from Linux to FreeBSD, written a few scripts here and there, created a wiki for firefighters and even dabbled in automated stock market analysis for my own interest but I have otherwise turned down for-profit programming gigs in favour of freedom to spend my time elsewhere.

Although my day job as a firefighter has little to do with software development my prior experience building software has come in handy from time to time. In late 2015 I began working on a couple of small programs to replace a shared spreadsheet used by firefighters to record productivity metrics. Using the old system, only one person could enter data at any given time and it was too easy to accidentally wipe-out changes made by others. To solve this problem, I created two small programs using VBScript and HTML Applications as the foundation. Both of these scripts present simple, domain-specific interfaces that make sense to the users and hide the relative complexity of Excel by recording data in spreadsheet files in the background. One script allows users to record productivity information and the other generates a report from this information for use by management-level personnel. The program went live after about 80 or 90 hours of design, development, end-user documentation and testing. It solves all of the problems of the previous system, is simple to maintain and runs with minimal dependencies. It was distributed by placing a link on our intranet that opens a folder where the relevant scripts can be double-clicked and launched. Since it launched I have received a great deal of feedback that indicated that users were happy with the new system and that it ultimately made their job easier.

Recently I began to develop another piece of software. This time we're dealing with the management of annual hose testing information. The problem is significantly more complicated than the previous project which merely dealt with the recording and reporting of numbers for different categories but I'm hopeful that goals of this project will have similar positive results for the fire department.

As I found myself back at the keyboard for the second time I have begun to think about the considerations that will ensure that the current project is as much of a success as the last one. Here are my thoughts, in no particular order, about what makes "good software."

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Falling Into You

November 24, 2016 by Matt in /Music with No Comments

I have this song labeled as recorded sometime in 2003 however I don't have any recollection of the exact situation so it's possible that it was a year or two earlier. Like Spanish Orgasm, it was probably composed using a simple WAV editor with tracks layered over one another.