Solar Astrophotography

I’ve been turning my hand to Astrophotography recently and usually we all think of it being a nighttime activity however after some experimentation I’m going to be trying some daytime shots of the surface of our Sun.

My first proper attempt revealed some active sunspot activity on the surface of the Sun!



I was able to verify that it wasn’t simply dirt on my sensor by visiting the Soho spacecraft’s website which gave an almost live view of the Sun’s surface. The picture below is from two days after the shot above however with the sun taking 11 days to rotate you can still see the primary sunspots in both images.

Soho Sunspots

To develop further I’ll need to find myself a mylar or ND filter as it took my camera to extremes to get the picture (1/8000 sec, f64, iso 32, 1000mm using the Nikon 200-500mm f5.6e with 2x tele). Not only that but I had to wait for a passing cloud to go by do as to reduce the light even further, hence the haze across the shot.

Categories: Astrophotography, Nikon, Photography, Space | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Supermoon Eclipse

New Lens, Eclipse, Insomnia. The perfect combination… Luckily there were no clouds in the sky at the time which is a rarity in Ireland however the big challenge was to get the focusing right on the moon when there was almost no light to help, after about 100 photos I managed to pull out some of my better attempts. I have 18 years to learn from last night before the next Supermoon Eclipse in 2033!
All shots were taken at 1000mm (200-500mm with 2x tele converter) on the morning of 28th Sept 2015.


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Astrophotography – A First Attempt

I’ve recently been admiring a friend’s amazing shots on Flickr and got the urge to try my hand on some astrophotography myself. I live in Dublin city where light pollution is pretty bad so my options are limited so while on a trip down the country I couldn’t resist a clear nights sky!

The photos were all taken at Woodstown Strand in Waterford, it’s a beach that doesn’t show up on many maps so if you’re in the locality stick the following GPS coordinates into your iPhone: 52.190827, -6.983683

The other aim for the trip was to try out the new Nikon 200-500mm f5.6E lens I recently received. When the moon shots were taken at 500m it was already far sharper than my previous attempts using a 70-200mm VRII with a 2x tele. When I added the teleconverter to the 200-500mm the moon suddenly filled the frame. My next issue was that the moon moves, and not just moves but races through shot pretty quickly if you zoom in on live view. As a 1000mm alternative to a telescope I was quite happy with the outcome of the moon shots. I can only imagine what an 800mm exotic lens would make if it all!

For a city boy I was amazed not only by how many stars were visible but also that I could easily make out satellites and shooting stars with the naked eye, indeed there’s plenty of streaks in the photos above if you look closely enough. I think the next steps will be invest in a star tracking rig and have one of my long lens aimed some of the interesting features in the sky!

Categories: Nikon, Space | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Nikon 200-500mm f5.6E Unboxing

Today I got a delivery of the latest Nikon super telephoto lens, the immense 200-500mm f5.6E. So far my main comment is that it’s a beast to hold but I can see the new possibilities for my photography career, airshows and birding will be a lot more interesting.

One interesting note is that with the TC20E-III I was still able to get autofocus to work even though it’s not meant to work beyond f8.

Here’s some unboxing pics, hopefully I’ll get some decent daylight in the next few days for some decent samples.

IMG_4318  IMG_4319
IMG_4320  IMG_4321
Above & below: compared with a 70-200mm VR II. Camera attached is a Nikon D810 with MB-D12 battery pack

IMG_4323I was tired so dug out the monopod for some late evening shots (TC20-III attached)

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My VCIX-NV Exam Experience

VCIX-NVLast week I sat the new VCIX-NV exam from VMware which is based all around NSX 6.0 for vSphere. The exam itself is just like a VCAP-DCA/CIA type exam with a real live lab and having to conduct various tasks relating to what I would consider BAU operational tasks and proper deep-dive networking troubleshooting questions.

There were 18 questions to be answered in 3 hours with some being relatively easy and others being time consuming and rigorous. Unusually there was a comment section to give feedback which was dually used due to some inaccuracies and a misspelling in the questions.

The exam lab itself was pretty straightforward and a casual review of the environment in viClient was enough to understand the setup. Unfortunately to administrate NSX you must use the web client and, unsurprisingly, it was its usual self whereby it was sluggish and prone to crashing.

I didn’t use any online resources or study guides as my day to day job for the last 2 months has been around NSX 6.1 and setting up DLR’s, ESG’s and DFW in a production environment. Getting actual time with the NSX product is vital to pass the exam so if you can’t get your hands on the software then you will need to spend several hours using the hands on labs.

I can probably sum up the exam with a list of Pros and Cons:


  • The exam covers what is in the Blueprint and no more
  • The tasks can be done within the timescale (but the screen refresh issue will impact you if outside the US)
  • The tasks are real life operational type activities that an NSX admin will be required to know
  • There was a good emphasis on network routing knowledge and not just the usual vSphere admin tasks. A network guy won’t need to know a huge amount about ESX & vCenter to get the job done but must be familiar with the basic administration of a vSphere environment
  • The troubleshooting element of the exam means you need to have at least a CCNA R&S knowledge of networking, it’s not an exam you can wing with knowledge of vSphere dvSwitches and vShield Manager.


  • The usual screen refresh issue for the Admin exams occurred making the most basic of tasks take minutes instead of seconds. Ask for more time if you’re having a pretty horrific time of it. Please VMware/Pearson place a few labs in the EU. Based on the system time in the environment it was likely to have been running from somewhere on the west coast of the US, 5000 miles away!
  • There were errors in some questions which can really throw you. Also some of the questions are vague so you have to put a security hat on and make a solid guess at what might be the right end result.
  • It’s possible to trash the environment within the first few questions so BE CAREFUL!!!!

I received the result after 5 working days and am pretty chuffed to have passed.

Categories: Computing, NSX, VMWare | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

My VCP-NV Experience

As most VMware Pros will have heard the VCP-NV (Network Virtualisation) exam is out and is primarily all about NSX. Since the announcement I’ve been doing some reading up on it and took a hands on lab to get a better understanding about how it all works. Today I sat the exam and thankfully had done enough to pass.

While I will admit to being a bit of a VMware cert junkie the recent VCP-NV coincided with my day to day job where I’ve been also recently evaluating various virtual routing products such as the Brocade 5400/5600 vRouters, the Cisco 1000v + ASA Cloud Gateway and currently NSX. This was from a starting point of the the incumbent VCNS & vShield Edge devices underpinning the private cloud I use daily. This gave me a bit of an advantage in the exam as I am well aware of the vShield edge capabilities and how VXLAN works.

Anyway onto the exam itself… This is not an exam for the networking novice and certainly it helps if you’re up to a CCNA level of knowledge. The 120 questions you face are all based on the exam blueprint but not all directly relate to NSX itself. There’s plenty of ‘low hanging fruit’ by knowing:

  • …the differences between a vSS and vDS
  • …what a VTEP is
  • …what a ‘mtu’ has to do with networking
  • …what multicast is and its limitations
  • …the upgrade path to NSX 6
  • …what the difference is between traditional edge networking and the new world of distributed routers and firewalls
  • …that you don’t need vSphere to use NSX. You can happily run it over KVM and/or XEN and get the same network abstraction

Getting through the study in the two weeks meant getting very familiar with the NSX design guide, the admin guide and the installation guide. I also found the VMware lab, HOL-SDC-1303,  to be an invaluable resource.

As final preparation for the exam I went through Paul McSharry’s excellent VCP-NV sample exams and the VMware supplied sample exam.

Best of luck in going for the VCP-NV, it’s a nice challenge and I really know NSX a lot better than I did. It’s just a shame that the closest you can get to play with the product is in a HOL and not in your home lab. Maybe someday soon…

Categories: NSX, VMWare | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

My VCAP5-DCA Experience

Last month I sat the VCAP-CIA exam which I previously blogged about. This month it was the Datacenter track which took centre stage with the VMWare Certified Advanced Professional 5 – DataCenter Administration exam. Again I took the exam in the only exam centre in Dublin, Sure Skills and spent the next 3.5hrs in a fierce battle against time and a laggy interface! I ‘think’ I answered 18-19 correctly, 4 partly answered and 3 skipped due to time pressure. I should have gotten over the 300 pass mark, I’m hoping I squeezed 400 though for personal pride although I know I didn’t spend half enough time studying (the story of my college career!)!

The exam itself (as per the blueprint details) is 26 varied questions touching pretty much the whole vSphere environment. As a veteran of 6 years of vCentre and ESX(i) in enterprise environments the majority of the exam was pretty much second nature but the questions involving PowerCLI or the VMA were ones that definitely required study prior to the exam. My home lab was heavily utilised and reconfigured multiple times in order to keep me as sharp as possible in knowing where to go first time to change a setting. When I changed my Synology from being loaded with SATA disks to SSDs it introduced me to claim rules and the tagging of SSD LUNs. Swapping between vSS and vDS for my networking and setting up iSCSI bindings kept me familiar with the various vDS settings. While these may or may not have been topics on the exam (I ain’t giving a brain dump to anyone!) it is on the blueprint and it also helped make short work of a few questions due to familiarity in those areas. To be fair my day-to-day job is pretty technical and I’m working on vSphere everyday but some settings I can’t touch readily (due to something silly called Change Control!) so everyone should have a small lab so they can break and fix stuff on a regular basis. Indeed my next lab change is to move from my Windows based 5.5 vCentre to the 5.5 vCentre Server Appliance… That’s what I do for fun after hours!

Recommendations for study

  • Obviously the official Blueprint is the number one document to read and to understand the boundaries of the exam (there isn’t much it doesn’t cover…)
  • I highly recommend the VMware vSphere Optimize & Scale videos from Pluralsight (formerly known as TrainSignal). You need to set aside a good week of evenings to go through them all but if you’re alert and remember what Jason Nash tells you then you’ll be in great shape for the exam
  • The Unofficial Official VCAP5-DCA Study Guide by Jason Langer is an excellent breakdown of the exam content. Download the PDF to your iPad/Kindle as your number one blueprint breakdown!
  • The official VMWare courses are usually a safe bet (if a tad expensive). The recommended course is the vSphere: Optimize and Scale course. Bear in mind the VCAP5-DCA exam is based on vSphere 5.0 (for the moment) so there’s no SSO or web-client. AutoDeploy is Stateless only (i.e. no Stateless caching or Stateless Install options). No vRAM tax to worry about. If you take the vSphere: O&S 5.1 or the (beta) 5.5 courses you’re likely to cover many things not on the exam, just be aware of that. I understand the VCP5-DCV exam may be bringing in 5.5 questions come the new year so the VCAP exams may go the same way, doing the 5.5 course will be a better plan if they do alter the blueprint next year and that’s when you plan on sitting the exam.
  • Since we’re talking about vSphere 5.0 (circa 2011) we’re also talking of the days where Windows 2003 was still King! Bear that in mind and ‘reacquaint’ yourself! Don’t expect Windows 2012 to be popping up in the environment…

Exam Technique

  • Re-read my VCAP-CIA blog entry as most of the suggestions are still valid
  • This time I kept track of the how many minutes had elapsed after answering each question. For the first half of the exam I took 1hr 40mins so I knew I was going to be running right up to the 3hrs 30mins allowed. It helped pace myself with the exam questions and allowed me to set aside time to dip into the PDFs to attempt some questions which were outside my comfort zone. The PDFs really are a luxury you can’t afford to rely on except if you have time to spare (lucky you!).
  • Another laggy RDP session slowed me down. Don’t maximise your windows (VIClient, putty, etc) unless you really have to, the less of the bitmap that has to be transmitted over the RDP session the better and the faster the response in the interface. I really hope VMWare have a few labs setup closer to Dublin next time I have to do a DCA or CIA exam.
  • Have a Brownie and a cola before you go into the exam room! No food or drink allowed and you’ll need energy to keep your brain running throughout! (The tasty Brownie was made by my wife, thumbs up to her!)



My take on the VCAP5-DCA is that it wasn’t as scary as some sites made out with the constant mentions of esxtop performance monitoring and CLI work around every question. Good old VIClient can still do the majority of the donkey work. I’ve nothing against the PowerCLI and VMA future but sometimes with the requirement to get a job done quickly the old ways sometimes are the easiest! Again, like the VCAP-CIA, if you can handle the DCA exam then thumbs up, you genuinely know how to manage and maintain a vSphere environment! Now the wait for the result…

Next on my list… VCAP-CID…

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My VCAP-CIA Experiance

I’ve been spending the last two months getting my certifications up to date as my old VCP 3 fell out of date when formal support finished for it earlier in the year. I’ve been working with VMWare’s ESX/vSphere stack since 2007 so my motivation was to make sure I wasn’t going to miss out on future contracts. Since August I’ve got the 3 VCA exams completed, the VCP-Cloud and the VCP5-DCV. My next step are to get a couple of VCAP certifications and maybe spread my wings towards Desktop Virtualization with the VCP5-DT.

This morning I sat my VMWare Certified Advanced Professional – Cloud Infrastructure Administration (VCAP-CIA) exam at Sure Skills in Dublin. I felt punch drunk at the end of it after concentrating hard for the full three and a half hours and just about completing all the questions. I think that out of the 32 questions I completed 24 correctly, another 3 were probably ok, 5 partially completed and one I didn’t attempt due to time management.Crossing fingers I’ll have passed however it will be 10 business days before I get the result and with VMWorld running discounted exams this week in Barcelona I’m fully expecting 3-4 weeks of a wait.


Time Management is the crucial element to the exam. Being brutal with your ego is a must. If you’re battling with a task and you’ve spent 10 minutes on it and there’s probably another 10mins to go just stop and move on if at all possible. Some of the questions later on might be only a minutes work so I personally believe it’s better to bank a a few questions later on than try to figure out a lengthy question with no guarantee of a solution. I’ve been told partial solutions to a questions will gain you marks too, bear that in mind. If one task is running away in the background, move onto the next question and come back to the original question later. Take a peak of the next couple of questions coming up, it’ll jog your brain into thinking about what needs to be done when you get to them. This is all regular exam technique stuff, just as brutal as a lengthy university exam.

Content: I can’t tell you the content as the exams is covered under an NDA (never mind the fact I  loath the idea of helping someone brain dump!) but as many other bloggers have said the Blueprint for the exam is the be all and end all! Expect everything on the blueprint to be asked as a question. Of the 32 questions I sat there can be between 1 and 8 different tasks per questions so everything gets covered. There is no place to hide, you might be great at being an Org Admin deploying and templating vApps but you’ll be badly exposed in your lack of knowledge of installation and Sys Admin configuration.

Patience: My lab connection was very laggy to the point I even lost access to it during the exam which meant a phone call to be made by the invigilator to Pearson Vue. If you get a lab in which swapping tabs takes ages refreshing then time management is even more vital. You can mention it to the invigilator but from the discussions on the VMWare communities it’s a common problem so just remember you’re in the same boat as all the successful VCAP-CIA candidates.

Lab & Real Word Experience Required: To ace the exam you really need to be working with the product in anger on a day to day basis. Building a lab at home and playing with it might just get you to the pass mark but it’s the real life use cases that are questioned and they are a varied! If you’ve done the vCloud Director: Installation, Configuration & Manage course then go through all the labs in the manual again on your home lab and that will help somewhat.

Links: The best site I found for a breakdown of the blueprint has to be on VirtualizationExpress.


My take on the VCAP-CIA is that if you have one then you are someone that knows how to do the job. Brain dumpers will have difficulty as a lot of it is familiarity with the product and which sub-sub-sub menu contains the setting that needs changing. The lab is superbly set up (laggy connections aside) and it is misconfigured/broken in various ways that can happen in the real world. Crossing fingers for the result,

Next on my list… VCAP5-DCA…

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Completing the Clean Sweep of VCA exams

This week I took my third VCA (VMWare Certified Associate) exam, VCA-WM, and passed. The exam itself is 100% based on the Workforce Mobility self paced online course on the VMWare training site. I sat the exam straight after the course and since it was fresh in the memory I got 460 out of 500. Had I gone into the exam without doing the course then many of the questions wouldn’t have meant much to me.

I took the VCA-Cloud exam within days of it being released after VMWorld 2013. I’d worked on vCloud Director and it’s earlier incarnation, VMWare Lab Manager, for the last 4 years and assumed that the entry level exam was simple. I was wrong! It was specifically geared to be taken after the vCloud Fundamentals course which I hadn’t sat through. The exam again was focused on the content of that course and some of the questions were related to discussions about use cases that were covered in the course. As with most technology you can use these products in a variety of ways to reach an end goal however VMWare has ‘official’ ways to do things and I was caught out on a couple of questions. Do the course and it’ll be child’s play!

The VCA-DCV was much more straight forward for me. I’ve worked on all ESX versions since 2.5 and the answers were much easier. If a skilled VMWare admin were to go into any of the exams without preparation this would be the easiest one to do as it focuses on core terminology and the benefits of Virtualization. Pretty standard stuff. If you’re new to VMWare then take the
Fundamentals course.

There are various discounted voucher codes and on occasion freebie voucher codes floating around to sit the VCA exams so it’s really worth taking a look and getting your fingers into the VMWare pie.

The next VCA exam to be released I’d the Network Virtualisation (VCA-NV) which I believe will focus on the new NSX tooling within the VMWare stack. NSX will do to networking what ESX did for server estates! I’m personally looking forward to what I’ll be able to orchestrate for my clients in months and years to come!

I’ll post about the VCA-NV exam when it’s released and I’ve given it a whirl.

Categories: VMWare | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

VMWare offering a second shot at VCPs and VCAPs in Australia, New Zealand, India, Japan & Korea

VMWare are very kindly offering a free second chance at their VCP and VCAP exams until 31st March 2014 for VMWare pro’s in Australia, New Zealand, India, Japan & Korea.

Click on this link to access the codes.

Here’s a list of the exams they’re allowing you to retake for FREE if you don’t pass first time:


  • IaaS Exam (VCPVCD510)
  • VCP-Cloud (VCPC510)
  • VCAP-CID (VCID510)
  • VCAP-CIA (VCIA510)

Datacenter Virtualization

  • VCP5-DCV (VCP510)
  • VCAP4-DCA (VDCA410)
  • VCAP5-DCA (VDCA510)
  • VCAP4-DCD (VDCD410)
  • VCAP5-DCD (VDCD510)


  • View Exam (VCP510-DT)
  • VCP-Desktop (VCPD510)
  • VCAP-DTD (VDTD510)
  • VCAP-DTA (VDTA510)

Best of luck in your exams, there’s never been a better time to go for your certifications!

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