Diary of a Network Geek

The trials and tribulations of a Certified Novell Engineer who's been stranded in Houston, Texas.

3/10/2016

Re-Organizing

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Career Archive,Geek Work,Life, the Universe, and Everything,Personal,Red Herrings,Things to Read — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Dragon which is in the early morning or 9:29 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

It’s time to clean up my act.

Seriously.
My wife is a professional organizer and decorator, so those of you who know me well know how she suffered when she first moved in with me.  I hadn’t devolved into a complete hoarder, but I had gotten an unfortunately significant start.  She dug me out.  Honestly, I wish I had her ability to let go of things, but I tend to hold on to too much.  Naturally, when she asked me to read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I just about had a panic attack.  But, I did read it and, once I got past some of the ways the author talks about discarding things, I could see why my blushing bride loved the book.  In spite of whatever reviews you may have read about the extreme method described, it’s really not so terrifying.  The essence of it is to get rid of the things that you don’t use or need or want any more, to make room, both literally and figuratively.
I’m not saying that it’s been easy for me to do, because it hasn’t, but I do find myself thinking about what I really need and use quite a bit.  The reality is, I have too much stuff to really keep track of it all.  So, I’ve been taking some of the time I have, while I wait to get connected to my next work opportunity, to reevaluate and clean out.
I have told myself for a long time that I don’t like change, that I’m not good with it.  But, that’s not really true.  Sure, I like to control change, but in many areas of my life, I’m constantly changing, growing, trying new ideas and methods, keeping what works and discarding the rest.  One area that I haven’t been working at as much lately is my personal organization and scheduling.  I’ve been very reactive and not nearly proactive enough to suit me.

I used to be a “to do list” fanatic.  Every day I’d start my day with a fresh list, carrying over the things I didn’t finish from the previous day, and adding to it.  On Friday, I’d set my list up for Monday before I left the office.  First thing Monday, I’d review the list and see if I thought of anything else to add over the weekend, because my brain just will not shut off and stop thinking about work.  It’s how I’m wired, I guess.
Mainly, though, I loved crossing things off my list.
I know, it’s a strange thing, but the idea of crossing something off my list actually gave me a little thrill.  And, when I’d get to the end of the day, I’d see all the things I’d crossed off and think about how great it was to get all that stuff done.  Somewhere, though, in all the jobs and the “life stuff”, like getting married, divorced, beating cancer and getting married again, I lost that habit.  I tried to “leverage technology” and my smart phone to get a to do list app that would synchronize with my computer, but, frankly, nothing ever worked to my satisfaction.  And, of course, it was a convenient excuse for why I stopped doing it.
Some time back, I read Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen and I sort of made a half-hearted attempt to set some of his system up, but, honestly I never put enough effort into it. At the time, his book didn’t have a lot of technological help for geeks like me that wanted to use the cloud to keep things synched up.  I need to find out what’s changed, because the time is ripe for me to re-read that book and, as my wife and I reorganize our physical space, get my mental space in order and prepared for a new job.  This is the perfect time to get reorganized and have my system in place, ready to go, before I land somewhere and have an endless stream of projects to track.

So tell me, gentle readers, what do you use to stay organized?  If you’re a fan of the GTD method, what tech tools do you use to stay on track?


Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us."
   --Ralph Waldo Emerson

3/8/2016

Unemployment Payment Requested

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Career Archive,Deep Thoughts,Life, the Universe, and Everything,Personal — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Dragon which is in the early morning or 9:41 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a New Moon

For the first time in almost fourteen years, I’ve requested a payment from unemployment.

I’ll be honest, it’s not a great feeling.  I’d really rather be working.  Not that I think I don’t deserve the payment or that I begrudge anyone else their benefits, either.  I paid into that system for more than twenty years, if you include both Illinois and Texas, and I am well within my rights to get my fair share back out of it.
But, I’d really rather be gainfully employed.

I have a friend who shakes his head in dismay at how eager I am to work hard.  I think that’s what he finds so incomprehensible; that I want to not just work, but work hard at what I do.
It’s not that I really enjoy long hours or wrestling with budgets or any of those things, though I have to admit I do love wrestling with technology and bending it to my will. I love getting things done.  Sure, most of what I do professionally can be undone with a couple of keystrokes, but, still crossing things off my to do list or watching the closed ticket count stack up gives me a sense of satisfaction.

I hate being out of work.
The last several times I’ve changed jobs, it’s mostly been under my control.  At least once, in the past fourteen years, I interviewed just before a project failed and I was out on my ear.  I was out of work for all of a week, not even enough time to actually request payment.  And, it could have been less, but I wanted a bit of a break before starting the next thing.
I honestly could barely relax at all that week.

So, here I’ve been out of work for three, full weeks and I’m done.
The Texas Workforce Commission requires that I perform at least three job-search-related activities per week to be eligible for unemployment benefits.
I do that much every week before 8:30AM on Monday.
I know I love work, but that bar seems pretty low to me.  Keep in mind, that doesn’t mean just applying for three jobs per week, but talking to a recruiter, or having a job interview, or going to a job fair, or even searching for new jobs on a job website all, apparently, count toward that requirement.  In my job search log, I only record actual job applications made or email or phone conversations with recruiters or potential employers.  I must seem like a real over-achiever to the Texas Workforce Commission staff.

Yes, I have the benefits coming.  And, yes, I feel perfectly justified in requesting them.  But, honestly, I’d rather be working.


Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"While it may be true that the quickest way to a man's heart is through his stomach, sometimes it can be much more satisfying hacking your way through the rib cage."
   --Cara-Beth Lillback

2/26/2016

Interview Questions

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Career Archive,Geek Work,Red Herrings — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Monkey which is in the late afternoon or 5:11 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

I’m prepared to answer these, are you?

So, I’m still looking for work, but at two weeks, I suppose that’s to be expected.
I’ve had a couple phone interviews and I’m waiting to have a couple more.  Generally, if I can get an interview with a technical manager, I can sell myself well enough to get a job I have the experience to actually do.  Often, I can sell myself well enough to land I job I don’t know how to do, yet.
In either case, the only way to do it is preparation.  Know the questions I’ll be asked and know my answers.

U.S. News and World Reports has a great slideshow of the ten most common interview questions, with some advice about answering them.  That’s a great place to start.
Glassdoor expands that list to fifty of the most common interview questions, and while I certainly would recommend reading those, having answers that are prepared without looking memorized is the real key here.
Monster.com takes that list even further, to 100 interview questions, and goes way beyond the common ones.  While it certainly can’t hurt to peruse them, I’d really focus on the short list.
If you need help preparing, check out How to Ace the 50 Most Common Interview Questions on Forbes.com.  There’s a brief video on that page that auto-plays, so be aware.  Frankly, I really respect Forbes and they give some great advice about how to answer questions in an interview.

In the end, it really comes down to preparation and practice.  Sadly, I’ve had a lot of practice on job interviews.  The important thing is to be honest and consider how what you say reflects on you and whether or not your prepared answers will show your true colors.  Also, practice with a friend who can give you honest feedback.  Or, barring that, record yourself so you can see what you look like while interviewing and hear how you sound in giving responses.  It may be enlightening!

If you’re out there looking for work like me, I wish you the best of luck!


Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"It is not the going out of port, but the coming in that determines the success of a voyage."
   --Henry Ward Beecher

2/5/2016

Tools for Job Searchers

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Geek Work,Life, the Universe, and Everything,Red Herrings — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:36 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Crescent

Not exactly a set of “fun” links, really.

I still work in Oil and Gas, albeit in IT, which means there are a lot of layoffs.  And, there are more coming.  Even though I’m in IT, and they need use like they need electricity, I could go at any minute.  So, in solidarity for those who have already lost their job and those who might still, I’ reposting several links to resources for job seekers.

First, for those who are still employed,…
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Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"A man is not old until regrets take the place of dreams."
   --John Barrymore

1/1/2016

Starting Your New Year

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Better Living Through Technology,Fun,Fun Work,Red Herrings — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Sheep which is in the early afternoon or 2:00 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a Third Quarter Moon

So, here we are, the first day of a brand, new year!

Honestly, it’s a pretty arbitrary demarcation of time.  I mean, it doesn’t even really sync up with any significant natural phenomena, like a solstice or anything.  So, really, the whole idea of a “new year’s resolution” is pretty random.  What’s so special about the “new year” and why make resolutions about it?  Still, you know most of us do it, to some degree or another, even me.  This year, I’m…
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Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"Our devotion to truth may bring us into conflict with those around us. What we need to remember is that we are not responsible for convincing anyone else of what we believe to be true."

12/12/2015

It’s My Birthday

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Criticism, Marginalia, and Notes,Life Goals,News and Current Events,Personal,The Network Geek at Home — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Snake which is just before lunchtime or 11:25 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

Yeah, it’s my birthday again.

I’ve survived another lap around the Sun, mostly in spite of myself and due to the grace of God.  I almost didn’t bother with a birthday post, because I mostly think of my birthday as just another day, but, it’s sort of gotten to be a tradition with me to make this post every year, so, here I am.  Honestly, it seems kind of impossible to me that I’ve survived this long, but, according to the…
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Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"Man is the only kind of varmint that sets his own trap, baits it, and steps in it."
   --John Steinbeck

9/4/2015

How much money are you making?

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Fun,Life Goals,Life, the Universe, and Everything,Red Herrings — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:45 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

How much money are you making right now?

I mean, as the time ticks by, are the dollars and cents racking up? And how does the rate at which you make money compare to other people in the US?  They say that comparison is the root of all unhappiness, but, when it comes to salary and money, I don’t really know.  I mean, I hate to admit it, but I very easily lose perspective on where I fit.
I have a friend who…
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Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"A pessimist is one who makes difficulties of his opportunities; an optimist is one who makes opportunities of his difficulties."
   --Reginald B. Mansell

8/6/2015

Site Outage

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Criticism, Marginalia, and Notes,Red Herrings — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Snake which is just before lunchtime or 11:08 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

My apologies for anyone who found this site missing earlier today.
We had a slight issue at the webhost that, once located, was quickly corrected.  Everything is back up and running the way it should be now and we anticipate no further issues.

However, now is a good time to remind you all, dear readers, to back up your sites regularly.


Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"Everyone deserves to be happy, but not if that happiness is dependent on imprisoning or enslaving another human being."
   --Unintentionally ironic comment left on a blog

7/31/2015

Work Related Changes

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Geek Work,News and Current Events,Red Herrings — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:00 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a Full Moon

So, last week, we finally had layoffs at my company.

No, I wasn’t one of them, and, in fact, we lost fewer people than some of our other offices.  Or, for that matter, many of the other people I know who are in the oil and gas industry.  And, while I don’t expect to lose my job any time soon, since I’m one of the few IT people here, there’s no telling what the future holds.
So, in short, I’m not quite…
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Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"There's more than one way to do it"
   --Unofficial PERL Coder's Motto

6/21/2015

Digital Assets After Death

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Dragon which is in the early morning or 9:37 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what happens when we die.

Recently, a friend of my wife’s died very suddenly and unexpectedly.  She was not, as far as anyone knows, ill in any serious way.  Nor, again, as far as anyone knows, did she have any medical condition that might lead one to expect a sudden death.  It was a very shocking surprise.
Her husband, who is also a friend of ours, was suddenly responsible for all the things she had been taking care of, including paying all the bills on-line.  Naturally, she had her email linked to all that, but, as it turns out, he didn’t have all her email passwords, because, well, who would?  I certainly don’t have all my wife’s passwords memorized, if I even know them.  Not that she keeps secrets from me, but, who can think of every system and password?  And, I have my own passwords to keep track of, which, thanks to my work, are many and not all chosen by me.  Our friends didn’t have much more in the way of “digital assets”, really, beyond email, their phones, and their Facebook account.  But, my wife and I have several websites between us.  Obviously, I have this one and my other, more personal site, JKHoffman.com.  She has her business website, The Organizing Decorator.  And, then there are the sites I’m still developing, FindMyPhorographer.com, FindMyDecorator.com and LookingForLawyers.com  Although those are still under development, we hope that they will one day be thriving businesses that will continue even if one of us were to die.
But, how?

Well, for the simple passing on of information, there are a lot of methods.  There’s the tried-and-true method of simply having the information, like a list of passwords for assorted systems, in a sealed envelope with instructions for delivery after a certain condition or date.  I’ve actually had that kind of thing with employers when I was at small companies.  Just a sealed envelope in a fire safe with the administrator password and other relevant details.  But, this relies on someone coming to find it or knowing where to look.  Also, there’s not as much control over who gets it, even if that envelope is left with someone trustworthy, like a lawyer.
Another method, that’s the higher-tech equivalent of this, is the software-based “Dead Man’s Switch”, which I wrote about back in 2009.  In addition to the resources there, now there is also the service Deadman.  The idea is all the same and based on an old idea from the train industry.  The so-called “dead man’s switch” is a device that someone must actively keep engaged or the train, or other piece of machinery, will shut off.  Here the “dead man’s switch” is just something that has to be reset by a certain time or some series of events will occur, like sending an email to one or more people with important information in it.  I used to use a bit of freeware based on this called “DMS”, which was, obviously, an abbreviation.  The software did, among other things, some encryption to protect vital information from people who might get nosy after my departure from a company, especially if that departure came as a surprise to me.  That worked great until I got cancer and was suddenly hospitalized and unable to reset the timer!  Whoops!  The creator is no longer supporting the software, and it has some obvious dangers, but you can still download it here.  There is a decryption tool, but, it may be best not to use that at all.  Also, I’m not entirely sure how well it will work on Windows 7 or newer machines.  It’s pretty old.
If you’re a WordPress blogger, you can try the Next of Kin plugin, which sends out an email per your configuration if you don’t log into your blog in a certain amount of time.  It hasn’t been updated too recently, but it is more up-to-date than the DMS software and runs on what is hopefully a more reliable system than your desktop, at least in the long-run.
(Of course, if you’re a spy or a whistle-blower of some kind, these services and software packages have other uses!)

So, what might one need to pass on to the living once we have passed?
Besides the previously mentioned email passwords and banking access passwords, there may be website and web hosting accounts and passwords, social media accounts and passwords like Twitter and Facebook, PINs for your ATM, credit cards and home alarm, device passwords for phones, laptops and desktops, and password storage software, if you use any.
Honestly, this list can go on and on in our connected world.  A site called Tuts+ ran a two-part series about this very subject and I highly recommend that if you want to think through all the things that you may need to transfer access to after one’s passing.  The first article, Preparing Your Digital Assets For Your Eventual Death, has a lot of food for thought.  The author, like me, knew someone who lost their spouse and was confronted with the sudden loss of a spouse, which is what inspired his writing of the articles.  However, it took on a much more personal sense of urgency when, after starting the articles, he was diagnosed with a, thankfully, operable brain tumor.  And, as a cancer survivor, I can tell you that this is not the first time these issues have been on my mind.

If you have a self-hosted blog, like this one, or another kind of website, you have an additional set of challenges in addition to the normal ones that pretty much everyone faces today in our digital world.  First of all, there’s the domain name.  Now, you can register that somewhere for an extended period of time.  The last I checked, though, ten years is the longest one can pre-pay for that service.  Most registrars have an auto-renew feature, as long as you have a good credit card listed in the payment section.  Or, have it linked to a PayPal account that has funds in it.  In theory, web-hosting can work in a similar fashion.  In fact, the popular and well-known registrar GoDaddy has hosting options as well, so, if this is a real concern, it may be possible to achieve both goals at a single vendor.
But, of course, the question ultimately becomes one of how reliable in the long-term any of these companies are or may be.  Do you want to host your content for 100 years after your death?  The internet itself hasn’t been around that long yet, so who knows what any of this digital landscape will look like that far into the future?  Jeff Reifman talks about these issues in greater depth in the second of his articles at Tuts+, Hosting Your Website After Death.  It’s an on-going series and I recommend that you check it out if you have any interest in these topics at all.

 


Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"It is not the going out of port, but the coming in that determines the success of a voyage."
   --Henry Ward Beecher

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