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:
"Life has taught us that love does not consist in gazing at each other but in looking outward together in the same direction."
   --Antoine de Saint-Exupery

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:
"It is only when they go wrong that machines remind you how powerful they are."
   --Clive James

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:
"The real art of conversation is not only to say the right thing in the right place, but also to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment."

2/19/2016

Job Search Log

Filed under: Career Archive,Geek Work,Life, the Universe, and Everything,Never trust a Network Admin with a screwdriver,Red Herrings — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Sheep which is in the early afternoon or 2:48 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Gibbous

So, I was laid off Tuesday.

I wasn’t surprised by it, for sure, since they’ve been laying off two and three people a week for the past six weeks or more.  I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed, though.
A couple weeks ago, another sort of IT person, who’s here from the real parent company in China, was sent over to my location to gather up all the passwords and access I had.  Probably to make a copy of my laptop, too, but I kept that with me or locked up.  I know they were trying to be sneaky or subtle when they did it by distracting me with a phantom project, but, really, when someone is sent for the passwords, there’s really only one thing to think.  Then, when I asked why the theoretical project I was supposed to be working on hadn’t been implemented when it was first sent out for bid 18 months ago, I was told that it was due to lack of funding.  If there weren’t funds then, when the company was doing well, where were the funds going to come from now that so many people were being laid off?  I got the answer to that question on Tuesday morning, so I went in and packed up my desk, just in case.  You see, ever since I worked for a company that got liquidated, I’ve kept my personal belongings at work limited to what I can easily put into one, small box, which I keep under my desk.  Just in case.
Apparently, the fact that I went into my final interview with a 99% packed desk shocked the people firing me.  But, then again, they were always underestimating me at that job anyway.

So, regardless of all that, when I got home Tuesday afternoon, I applied for unemployment with the Texas Workforce Commission.  I was able to go on-line and sign up, which is an improvement over the last time I was out of work, when you had to call or go in person.  Sadly, I won’t be able to apply for a payment until the 28th, but I’ve started my job search.  Well, really, I’ve just intensified my job search as I’ve been looking for about a month.  And, while I’ve had a couple phone interviews and at least two really good prospects, I still need to keep the requisite job search log.  The Texas Workforce Commission has a downloadable form on their website, but, honestly, I kind of hate it.  So, instead, I made my own spreadsheet.  I’ve shared the blank one at the bottom of this post.
Some of the columns have drop-down choice boxes in them and the form has gotten kind of big to accommodate all the new fields they have on the original form.  It is, however, formatted to print all on one page for easy verification should it be requested.  And, yes, for those of you wondering, I verified with the Texas Workforce Commission helpline that a spreadsheet is just fine for recording your job search activity.

So, grab a copy of the form and good luck in your job search!

jobsearchlog-blank

4/24/2015

Tools to Escape the Rat-Race

Filed under: Career Archive,Fun,Geek Work,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 Waxing Crescent

Don’t we all dream of being wealthy and independent?

By the end of the week, haven’t we all gotten a little fed up with our jobs?  Don’t we dream of being our own boss, an independent contractor or consultant who charges big money for sounding off with our opinion about how things are done?  No?  Just me?
Well, if you’ve ever contemplated it and have thought about how much you need to charge an hour to make your same salary, or more,…
Read More

1/21/2014

Free LogMeIn Alternative

Filed under: Career Archive,Fun Work,Geek Work,PERL,The Network Geek at Home — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Sheep which is in the early afternoon or 2:22 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

Looks like the free LogMeIn option is going away.

It had to happen eventually, but it kind of sucks for those of us who relied on it to get certain things done.
They sent an email this morning, giving free users, like me, about a week to either pony up for a pro account or find another solution.  I figured I would have to search around for a while to find an alternative, but, thankfully, the folks over at Slashdot were already talking about it in the thread Short Notice: LogMeIn To Discontinue Free Access.  The ever helpful commenters had a lot of suggestions, with varying levels of snark and technical skill required and, you know, actual usefulness.  There were some interesting and baroque solutions to this pretty common problem.
Now, I’m a devote of Perl, so the idea that “there’s more than one way to do it” is near and dear to my heart, but some of those solutions on Slashdot were more hassle than they were worth!

The solution I looked at and quickly tested today was the Chrome Remote Desktop plugin.
I chose this for a couple of reasons.  First, it was free.  Frankly, that was probably the most important requirement.  I don’t have a budget for a lot of things I don’t use everywhere or every day, so I need to be careful how I spend that money.  Secondly, it was easy to implement and use.  There were several options discussed on Slashdot, but most of them were going to take creating one or more accounts on services like DynDNS or something similar, or they would need a new server or other dedicated machine.  That wasn’t going to work for me either.  I need something simple to install and use.  Mostly because I’m lazy, but still, the requirement is there.  And, thirdly, there had to be some kind of security on it so random users couldn’t log into machines.
Now, the “down-side”, such as it is.  This solution requires that Chrome be installed on any machine you want to get access to or from.  This is a Chrome plugin, so, obviously, it won’t work without Chrome.  Secondly, to get it and install it, you need a Google account of some kind, even though it’s free.  Gmail will do, and in fact was what I used to get the plugin from the Google App Store.  And, yeah, that was pretty much the only “bad” thing about it.  Again, for me, it wasn’t a big deal because I tend to install Chrome on any machine I happen to work on for any length of time, but it could be a hassle for people who don’t use or know Chrome.

Setup was easy and prompted me to enable remote connections to my machine then immediately asked me to set a PIN to restrict access.  I like that it did that.  Also, the PIN is required to be at least six digits, which is decent enough security.  I, personally, made it seven digits, but for the truly paranoid, you can make it longer.  I first set the plugin up on my work machine and then set it up at lunch on my home PC.  Again, I was asked for a PIN.  I happened to make it the same, but I’m pretty sure that PIN was unique to each machine, so, again, for the truly paranoid, you can lock this down pretty well.  After that five minute install, I was able to take over my machine at work.  Boom!  Just that easy.

As a further test of the plugin’s ability, I checked the box that allowed for “off-line access”, then I shut down my Chrome browser at home.  Once I got back to work, I tried remotely accessing my home PC.  I was asked for the PIN and then I was right in!  Again, just that easy.
Also, I should note that my work PC has only one monitor, but my home PC has two and Chrome Remote Desktop plugin flawlessly displayed both monitors.  It was absolutely amazing!  And, the connection was fast!  Frankly, it was faster than LogMeIn was most of the time.  It was great!

So, I know that LogMeIn won’t miss my business, since I never really gave them any, but I cannot say that I’ll miss them.  This is a great solution to the problem of remote access and I cannot be happier with it.  We’ll see how things go over time, of course, but this looks like a great, easy and free replacement for LogMeIn.
If you all find other solutions or solutions that you think work better, leave the information in the comments!

4/27/2012

Under Construction

Filed under: Art,Career Archive,Fun,Red Herrings — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:19 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

No, not this blog or website.

Do you remember the days when we were building websites so fast that we couldn’t keep up?  Back when it was actually sort of pricey to buy a domain name?  Do you remember the days when as soon as anyone bought a domain they threw up a quick “Under Construction” page?  Ah, those were the days….
Honestly, I don’t know what we were thinking. No one had a plan to actually make money from the web, but we were all so excited about what this new medium, this new technology, might do for us, that didn’t seem to matter.  And, we were in such a rush to do something, anything, that the idea of running a test site that wasn’t live hadn’t really occurred to us yet.  So, we’d make these pages that were filled with breathless text about how the next great thing was coming soon and how excited we were and “please excuse our mess while we build the future”.  And we littered the page with these awful “Under Construction” graphics.

Well, prepare yourself.  Give yourself a little time to adjust.  Have a cup of coffee and get ready to have internet startup PTSD flashbacks, then go look at all of the Under Construction graphics known to the web.  They’re all there.  Even the ones in Japanese with the little anime characters.  They’re all there.
Look on these works and despair!

No, seriously, go have a blast of nostalgia and take a look at them.  Just don’t use them ever again.
And, happy Friday, y’all!

11/15/2011

Some Linux Distros to Know

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Career Archive,Geek Work,Linux,Novell — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Rooster which is in the early evening or 6:40 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

There are a lot of Linux distributions.

No, really, I mean there are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of Linux distributions out there.
Frankly, it can get a little overwhelming sometimes.  But, I think about them and what they all are and what they do.  I think about them because it’s my job, and because I’m always thinking about what’s coming next in the IT industry.  So, what Linux installs do I think about?  Funny you should ask….
I think about Android.  Yeah, that’s right, the operating system that runs those Droid phones is a kind of Linux.  That’s kind of amazing to me, really, but there it is.  And, I think about it because Android seems to be on more and more devices these days.  Everything from phones to tablets to who knows what next in the consumer market.  But, I try to pay attention to Android because so many people at my office have Android based phones and they all expect me to help them figure their phones out.
I think about Fedora, which is the open source version of Red Hat, which enjoyed pretty good market penetration when they first got going.  They’ve got a lot more competition today, but, still it’s in an IT professional’s best interests to be at least familiar with Fedora.
That goes for openSUSE, too.  openSUSE was bought out by Novell some time ago, so there’s no telling where it’s going to end up with all the buying and selling around Novell’s bits and pieces these days, but it’s still a pretty heavily installed Linux distribution.  My brief experience with it was good, though, I have to admit, that was on older hardware for a personal project, not a corporate gig.
If you’re an Oracle shop, you’ll probably know about Oracle Linux, which is basically Red Hat Linux after Oracle has made modifications to it.  Oh, and jacked the price up.  Still, if you work with Oracle a lot, it’s probably worth looking into.
Eweek recently ran a slidwshow about these, and several other, versions of Linux under the title 10 Linux Distros Every IT Manager Should Know.  Obviously, I agree with some of their listing, but clearly not all.  And, I think they left some off.

For instance, what about the live CD editions?
Two I think anyone in IT should know are Ubuntu and Knoppix.  Knoppix has been around a longer, but Ubuntu has a slicker interface and, I think, is a little better at detecting hardware than Knoppix.  Also, you can install Ubuntu from the live CD media, if you would like, and plenty of people do run it as a desktop.  The real plus is that there’s a pretty healthy community around these two installations, especially Ubuntu.  So, if you need help with either one, there are a lot of resources on the internet to answer your questions.
I use these two all the time to recover data of damaged installs of Windows.  I even used one to build a PC imaging system before I started using Clonezilla, which is also, incidentally, based on Linux.

If you’re worried about security, Linux can help with that, too.
For quite some time, the National Security Agency has sponsored SELinux, which is a pretty secure, hardened version of Linux.  They designed it to be reasonably secure right as a default, since an insecure default install is usually where security problems start.  Of course, you may not trust the NSA.  And, while this is “sponsored” by them, it’s not actually an official US Government Linux install.
For that, you have to go to the US Airforce.  Their Lightweight Portable Security distro is the first official US Linux distribution.  I haven’t actually tried it myself, but ZDNet has a pretty good review of it.

So, as you can see, if you haven’t looked into Linux much before, there are a lot of things to investigate.  And, as a computer professional, I DO recommend that you check out at least some flavor of Linux.  It’s so prevalent and so flexible and handy to have that if you haven’t bumped into it yet, you will.  So before you need to know it, investigate it some on your own.  You’ll be glad you did.
(And, I’m sure every seasoned IT pro has their favorite distro, like Debian, but there are too many to list them all.  If you have opinions about any, please, leave comments!)


Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"The weakness of men is their facade of strength; the strength of women is their facade of weakness."
   --Warren Farrell

10/27/2011

The Half-Life of IT Skills

Filed under: Career Archive,Certification,Geek Work — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:44 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a New Moon

There is one, apparently.

So, it seems someone has figured out the answer to an old question which has often plagued IT professionals: How long are your skills good?  According to Eric Bloom, over at IT World, longer than you think.  He claims that the tech skills you have now will be half as marketable in two years.  If you read Slashdot, you’ve seen this article and the comments that followed.  Here are my thoughts, though.

First, I think it depends on the skills involved.
For example, if you’re working on Windows Server, your skills will probably translate fairly well and that two-year half-life is about right.  For Unix, maybe a bit longer than that.  For Novell, well, sadly, I’m not sure who actually uses that old warhorse any more, as much as it makes me sad to write it.  For other, less vendor oriented skills, I think two-years may be a bit short-sighted.  Take routers, for instance.  Now basic routing hasn’t really changed in quite a long time.  Even Cisco routers, the creme-de-la-creme of enterprise routers, haven’t really changed that much on the inside in the last 15 years.  I was in one the other day and I have to admit I was shocked at how quickly the skills came back to me after quite literally years of disuse.  Far more than two years, I might add.
Also, skills that are a little harder to quantify certainly stay “fresh” longer than those hypothetical two years.  Things like troubleshooting and the so-called soft skills involved with user support are something that I think are deeply engrained in someone.  They’re part of a work ethic.  So the customer service skills I learned more than 20 years ago when I worked for Hyatt Hotels are certainly still more than “good”.

Secondly, Mr. Bloom is talking about marketability, not actual utility.
So, the fact that, for instance, I don’t have a Cisco certification, even though I’m clearly capable of configuring a Cisco router, means that quite probably was never what he would have considered a “marketable skill”.  In fact, based on what many recruiters may have felt about the marketability of my skills, I should be farming beets right now, not working as the Lead Tech/IT Manager of a fairly prosperous design and manufacturing company.  Instead, of course, all through my career, I’ve managed to talk my way through the door and then show the people in charge that versatility and adaptability, not to mention mad Google-query-crafting skills, are far more important than any specific past experience or certification.

So, what about you, gentle readers?  What do you think?  How long are tech skills “good”?  And does working on legacy systems harm your future employability?

10/24/2011

Questions for Network Managers

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Career Archive,Geek Work — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:06 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Crescent

Getting ready for a job interview?  Be prepared!

I’m an old Boy Scout, an Eagle Scout, in fact, so I’m always thinking about “being prepared”, whether it’s a trip to the zoo for photography or a job interview.  Scouts taught me, among other things, to think about situations long in advance of being in them, so I can prepare for what I might need and what I might need to do if things go wrong.  There are thousands of ways this applies to being a professional geek, but, today, I’m going to focus on one way in particular: job interviews.

DICE ran an article back in November of last titled Interview Questions for Network Managers.  It’s good.  If you either are a Network Manager of some kind or plan to interview one, go read that article.  Seriously.  Of course, when I’ve been the interviewer in these situations, how the candidate got to the answer mattered to me as much as the answer itself.  The point of questions like these, for interviewer and candidate, is to display how the potential network manager thinks.  How we think about our networks and solve problems on them matter a whole lot.  I remember working with one guy who, basically, tried things randomly over and over until something worked or he broke it completely.  He never did understand the concept of changing one thing at a time to find out what was wrong so we could stop it from happening again.

In any case, I know a lot of my IT comrades are out of work out there and interviewing, so I thought I’d remind them of this resource to help prepare for future job interviews.
Good luck out there!


Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."

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