Diary of a Network Geek

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

10/9/2019

Value vs Expense

Filed under: Career Archive,Geek Work,Never trust a Network Admin with a screwdriver,The Day Job — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Snake which is mid-morning or 10:00 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Gibbous

Sometimes, the raw numbers don’t really tell us how expensive something is.

One of the regular struggles we have in IT is that we are an expense. The bottom line is that, for most businesses, we don’t generate revenue and are strictly a cost center. And, unfortunately, in my experience, because we’re a cost center, spending on technology is resented almost as much as paying the electric bill or paying taxes; a necessary evil. What gets lost, I think, is the value provided by technology. To start with, much like electricity, business generally doesn’t work at all without IT. Technology runs the point-of-sale systems and the Accounting systems that even make it possible to collect and track money. Without it, business would simply halt. But, beyond that, the cost of the actual technology often overshadows the value provided.
Not too long ago, I had this same argument with a fellow IT professional who was mired in the numbers. To their credit, they were examining a potential equipment purchase from a strictly financial point of view. Since the Accounting Department or CFO are often the final decision-makers on technology purchases, seeing this process through their eyes can be beneficial. The problem is that the full potential value of upgraded equipment can easily be forgotten in the drive to spend the absolute least dollar amount possible. Don’t get me wrong! Technology costs absolutely have to be kept under control or IT people will focus only on getting the newest toys to play without considering the cost to the organization. But, the actual spending has to be appropriately balanced with the value provided by the purchase. As technology professionals, it’s part of our job to present not only the minimum and best options available, but what advantages there may be to making a particular purchase. Sometimes, the value of upgraded technology goes well beyond the dollar value.
Take, for instance, the opportunity to upgrade from a standard two server, one storage area network system, that was new technology fifteen years ago, to a hyperconverged system that spreads computing and storage capacity across four servers or hosts. It’s absolutely valid to look at the raw cost of the two solutions. And, you will absolutely see that buying two classic servers is less expensive than buying four modern hyperconverged nodes. But, if you stop there, you don’t see the added value of less downtime due to a hardware outage that can be avoided by upgrading to a newer, redundant technology. Or, the increased speed and efficiency gained by upgrading to a modern system purpose-built to run in a cutting-edge datacenter. Maybe there will be more opportunity to add capacity to the new system as the company grows. Or maybe there are business continuity advantages to a hyperconverged system beyond additional, redundant hardware. Though, to be honest, I think that’s reason enough!
Regardless, my point is that as technology professionals, we need to clearly communicate all the risks and benefits, expenses and added values, of our purchases. As subject matter experts, it’s in everyone’s best interests for us to educate decision-makers beyond the dollars-and-cents bottom line, to give them a true understanding of the value to be gained beyond the simple expense of a purchase.

This post originally appeared on my LinkedIn profile.

9/26/2019

Customer Service

Filed under: Career Archive,Geek Work,Never trust a Network Admin with a screwdriver,The Day Job — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Snake which is mid-morning or 10:00 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Crescent

It never stops being important.

I think of myself as lucky in many ways. I trained in sales, but fell into IT work early in my career and found that I was good at it. I also was lucky enough to win a free training course and series of tests that got me my first big IT certification. But, I think the luckiest thing that happened to me in my early career is getting trained in customer service by Hyatt Hotels, known the world over for their excellence in service and training.
Of course, I’d worked retail jobs before working for Hyatt so I had at least some idea what it was like to work directly with the public, but Hyatt’s training really drilled us to be always thinking about the customer. I was taught to be thinking about the guest, or customer, as soon as I was visible in public areas, which in the hospitality industry is called “front of the house”. The last part of my uniform I put on was my smile, because, regardless of how I felt, I was there to do a job; make the customer feel welcome and important. But, there were the little things, too, like how we’re all part of a team serving the customer and if we saw trash in the guest areas, we should pick it up and not wait for cleaning crews to get to it. We were taught to work as a team, all the time, to make our customers feel as though we cared. And, the funny thing is, the simple act of pretending that we cared eventually meant we did.
As an IT professional, I am still in a customer service role. Even if I’m working with department heads or C-Suite executives, in the end, I’m still providing a service and need to pay attention to my customer, internal or external. But, don’t think that Accountants or Sales Managers or Truck Drivers or any other person delivering a good or service doesn’t have a customer and that those customers deserve good service! It’s something I think is forgotten or ignored. As an employee, I always have someone who is benefiting from my work; my internal customers, if you will. And, those people are entitled to me helping them to the best of my ability with as much friendliness and cheer as I can manage.
I know the idea is old-fashioned and falling out of vogue, but I still believe that good customer service, regardless of who my customer may be, is just the final layer of professionalism that can set us apart, as individuals and organizations.

This post originally appeared on my LinkedIn profile.

9/10/2019

Internal Customers

Filed under: Career Archive,Geek Work,Never trust a Network Admin with a screwdriver,The Day Job — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Snake which is mid-morning or 10:00 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Gibbous

The metaphor of “internal customers” is unfortunately falling out of favor.

Lately, I’ve seen articles criticizing the idea of having internal customers. It’s a shame, really, because the people who are so willing to abandon that idea seem to be doing so because they don’t understand why it’s so powerful. The criticisms I’ve heard fall under two basic categories; accounting-focused people who don’t want to “charge” departments for internal services and people who seem to think the need for collaboration with other business units removes the need to provide customer service to end users. They’re both coming from some incorrect assumptions and, I’d argue, a misunderstanding of what services IT provides in an organization.
As technical people, in most organizations, we provide support functions. Any service-based group absolutely must pay attention to the service provided to those who use that service; their customers. People who incorrectly think that the old practice of charging the cost of internal IT services back to the departments who use them is a reason to abandon the entire idea of internal customers are losing sight of the goal behind the metaphor. The goal is not, as they seem to think, to make sure everyone pays equally to support the IT department. The goal is to remind technical personnel that the systems and networks we manage aren’t defined by the hardware and software, but rather the end-users who actually use the technology we provide as tools to do their jobs. When we forget that, we forget that our goal is to serve those end-users, not the systems. That sad, mistaken idea is clearly expressed in the old system admin joke, “My network would run perfectly if not for the users!” I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard technical experts grumble about what a waste of time user requests are instead of seeing how it’s our only reason to exist. As a technical expert, my only reason to be employed is to solve other people’s problems, to provide service to my customers, the end users.
And, that leads directly to the second misunderstanding I see used as an objection to the end user as customer metaphor; technical experts cannot collaborate to provide solutions AND be mindful of customer service at the same time. We would do well to remember what the genius R. Buckminster Fuller said about solving problems, “When I am working on a problem, I never think about beauty but when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong.” If I “solve” a technical problem for a user, but they wrestle with my solution so much that they never use it, then I haven’t actually solved their problem at all (ie. It’s not a “beautiful” solution to the problem.). A perfectly workable procedure that the user doesn’t understand or finds too difficult to use regularly is as good as useless and I’ve failed my customer. I can’t make my internal customers happy every single time, but I ought to be trying because the only reason I’m employed is to solve their problems well and in a timely fashion.
I could go on a great length about all the ways I’ve seen technical people abuse their internal customer, the end user. In the old days of “big iron” mainframes, it was unfortunately all too common. Today, we should know better and embrace our roles as service providers making business run more smoothly, efficiently and well. Let’s stop making customer service a joke and help our users be better.

This post originally appeared on my LinkedIn profile.

4/23/2019

Throw Away Drives

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Never trust a Network Admin with a screwdriver,The Dark Side,The Day Job — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Rooster which is in the early evening or 7:00 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

Please, be careful.

We tend to treat USB thumb drives as essentially disposable these days, which, considering their low cost, they basically are.  At least, in one sense.  The problem is, those cheap, little drives still store an awful lot of data.  I recently read an article titled “You left WHAT on that USB drive?!” where the authors talk about several studies, formal and informal, where researchers scooped up random USB drives, either from eBay or the lost and found, to see what was on them.  The results are a little terrifying.  According to the article, “…about two-thirds of second-hand USB memory sticks bought in the US and the UK have recoverable and sometimes sensitive data. In one-fifth of the devices studied, the past owner could be identified.”  What’s more, in the case of one study, out of 200 drives, only 34 of them had been properly wiped out.  That’s just 17% of the drives.  Several had been formatted, but still had data that could be recovered off them.  Yes, that’s right, even reformatting the drives does NOT guarantee that they will be properly wiped out.

What’s more, the data that was left behind was of a very sensitive nature in many cases.  Everything from tax information to naked photos to photos of a soldier on deployment and at home, including the soldier’s address.  And, again, reformatting is not enough.  At least 8 drives out of the 200 examined had been reformatted, but had data on them that could still be recovered!  So, what can be done?
Personally, I tend to use USB drives until they absolutely don’t work at all any more, and I try not to put personal data on them in any case.
One solution is to get a USB drive that can be encrypted.  I’ve used several versions of the LaCie Imakey that includes an encrypted partition and utilities to manage it, but that doesn’t seem to be available any more.  A replacement might be the Kingston Digital Data Traveler Locker, which lets you set a password to restrict access, as well as doing hardware encryption of some kind and even backing up to the cloud in case the drive gets lost.  Granted those drives can get a little pricey, but how much does it cost to deal with the potential identity theft that lax personal security might bring?

If you have drives, USB or otherwise, that you’re looking to get rid of, then at least sanitize them before they go.  There are a lot of articles and utilities available to help you with that.  One that covers pretty much every drive you might have is How to securely erase external hard drives, SD cards, or flash drives, which details the steps as well as suggesting utilities to help you.  Now, for the most part, I assume that if you read this blog, as opposed to my other blog, Use Your Words, then you’re a geek like me and can handle more than consumer-grade procedures and software.  If that’s the case, or you’re feeling particularly brave, one great utility I’ve used is Darik’s Boot and Nuke aka DBAN.  It’s a free ISO you can download to make a bootable disk/drive that will let you securely wipe a drive before disposing of it.  It’s simple to use and free, but if you’re not comfortable burning an ISO to a disk or thumbdrive, then I’d recommend getting a more consumer-friendly product.

Either way, it’s a scary world out there to let your precious data roam free without a keeper, so be careful with those cheap, “throw away” drives.  If you’re not careful how you use them, they could get pretty expensive.


Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"Before you give someone a piece of your mind, make sure you can spare it."

3/12/2018

An OS Inside An OS

Filed under: About The Author,Better Living Through Technology,GUI Center,Linux,Never trust a Network Admin with a screwdriver,The Network Geek at Home,Things to Read — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is in the early morning or 7:55 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Crescent

As you might have guessed from the title of this blog, I’m a geek. In fact, I’m actually a professional geek. Rumor has it, being a geek is cool now. I’ll get back to you on that.
In any case, one of the ways my geek has expressed itself is in early support for Linux.  I’ve used Linux, one way or another, for more than twenty years.  It’s hard to believe, but it’s true.  What’s more, I’ve been Linux certified for more than ten years!  Strange but true!  I don’t use Linux as my main operating system, though, because I live in the real world, not a Techno-Libertarian Utopia.  And, yes, that means, I use Windows.  At home, it’s Windows 10, because that’s what came installed on the laptops I got for my wife and I while I was a highly-paid contractor in 2016 and we were refreshing all our electronics.  But, much to my surprise, there’s a way to run both Windows and Linux, together on the same machine!  Without having a dual-boot system!  Thanks to an article from the Linux Journal, which almost went the way of the dinosaurs last year, I have activated Windows Subsystem for Linux, which is ONLY available on Windows 10, and then installed Ubuntu, which is free, from the Microsoft Store.  The little screen-shot at the top of this post is Ubuntu, running in its own, little window, on my Windows 10 laptop.

This is exciting!
Now, I can brush up my bash scripting by setting up a series of rsync jobs to keep my two Western Digital MyCloud drives in sync, essentially backing one up to the other.  From the literature, I had thought that was built into the models I got, but it wasn’t.  I tried to use SSH to get that setup directly on the MyCloud devices, since they’re running some limited *nix kernel, but something about the way they were configured made connecting one directly to the other and running rsync from working “as expected”.  This, though, should get me around all that.
Now, all I have to do sort out the syntax for properly mounting the Windows shares I’ve set up in the Ubuntu virtual machine app.  So, I’m not 100% there yet, but this is a great start!

 

6/3/2016

SysAdmin Screencasts

Filed under: Fun,Geek Work,Never trust a Network Admin with a screwdriver,The Day Job,The Tools — 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 Waning Crescent

Not my usual Friday Fun, but great for system administrators trying to get ahead.

And, not too bad for power users trying to figure out some of what the professional system administrators are talking about when they’re trying to talk over your head.
What I’ve got for you this week, gentle readers, are “bite-sized” system administrator screencasts.  What that translates to are relatively short screencasts, usually 20 minutes or less, on professional computing topics ranging from using Ansible to implementing Docker to writing incident reports to project planning.  So, pretty much, a series of short, hyper-focused courses that you can sneak in during your lunch hour at your desk.  How awesome is that?

Okay, so only awesome if you’re a professional computer geek like me, but, still, if you are, it’s pretty awesome.  Also?  Free.  So, yeah, free professional development you can squeak in on your lunch hour.  All in all, not a bad deal.
But, hey, it’s Friday, so bookmark that and start your self-education program on Monday, okay?

4/29/2016

Evernote IT Documentation Templates

Filed under: Fun,Geek Work,Never trust a Network Admin with a screwdriver,Red Herrings,The Day Job,The Tools — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:30 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a Third Quarter Moon

Prepare yourself for some high-intensity geekery!

No, seriously.
So, I’ve been contracting somewhere that has virtually no network documentation and what little they did have got destroyed in a catastrophic event.  For privacy and security, not to mention client confidentiality, I won’t go into details on that.  But, as a result, one of the things I’ve been doing is rediscovering their network and documenting it as fully as possible.  For that, I’ve been searching out and using various templates.
Also, in a seemingly unrelated course of events, I’ve recently started using Evernote as part of my Getting Things Done revival.  I’ve been re-reading Getting Things Done, originally in preparation for starting a new job, and trying to get it going again in all areas of my life to better manage my time and efforts.  My wife raved about both GTD and Evernote, so I splurged and bought the $10 document from David Allen’s web store on setting up Evernote so that it was optimized for GTD.  It was some of the best money I’ve spent in a long, long time.  This combination is so completely awesome!

But, what’s even more awesome is the power of Evernote templates.  Their templates are really just a blank document that’s formatted in a particular way that serves as a starting point for a regular note style that you make over and over again.  They’ve written up a whole article on it; How-to: Save Time with Templates.  If you’re working with Evernote, it’s definitely worth the time and trouble.  My personal template library is hitting 59 items right now, but I’m sure there will be more.
And, that, finally, leads me to my Friday Freebie; EvernoteITDocumentationTemplates. These are a collection of six templates, so far, that I’ve munged together to let you more easily record the basic information an IT professional might need to capture about devices on their network.  I have no doubt there will eventually be more.  In any case, go ahead and download these and enjoy them.
To get those into your personal Evernote, check out their article How to Backup and Restore Notes and Notebooks.  It’s got step-by-step instructions there for getting started.
Good luck and enjoy!

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

10/2/2015

Cutting The Cable

Filed under: Better Living Through Technology,Cutting Cable,Never trust a Network Admin with a screwdriver,The Network Geek at Home — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:11 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

It seems to be all the rage, but I think we’re going to do it anyway.

I killed “cable” television a number of years ago, after having lost it during Hurricane Ike in 2008.  I used Netflix, before streaming was really a thing people did, and binge-watched shows a disk at a time.  Lost made a lot more sense when I watched four episodes a night, and not one a week.  The plot continuity between episodes was a lot easier to follow and I really enjoyed it.  I found that I read more and wasted less time.  I was more productive and more relaxed than I had been in a long time.  And, I really didn’t miss having all those channels that I didn’t watch to surf endlessly, trying to find something “good to watch”.  In short, it was no loss to me, outside of the cost, to cut cable.
But, in early 2012, I met a girl and things changed.

Okay, so that’s a little poetic license.  She’s not “a girl”, but is, in fact, a woman my age.  However, like virtually all significant change that has occurred in my life, a woman, whatever her age, was at the heart of it.
Seriously, though, after four, solid years with nothing but books, the internet and Netflix for entertainment.  But, before my future wife moved in, I got the television service for AT&T’s U-Verse again.  I got the U-300 package to get her some specific channels that she wanted to watch.  Most important to her was Turner Classic Movies, because she is an old-film buff and part of several on-line old-movie communities.  To not have that would have been a “deal breaker” and, well, that wasn’t a deal I was willing to break.  So, in the spring of 2013, I got cable TV again and got two wireless DVRs as part of the package.  Wow, did she widen my horizons with the introduction to the DVR!  I don’t know how I managed to get by without one before.

In any case, all of that is to say, we’ve decided for various reasons, including costs, to cut cable again and go to streaming services.
And, I’ve decided to document the transition, outlining the choices we made and why we made them.  This post will anchor the series and give you a reference point for what we have now.  Specifically, we have AT&T U-Verse, with the 6 MBPS “Elite” internet package and the U-300 channel package with one wired DVR receiver and two wireless DVR receivers.  Additionally, we have Netflix streaming with HD and two-disks-at-a-time rental with the Bluray option.  Our current total is roughly $200/month or $2400/year.  I’m fairly confident that we can cut that in half with some judicious changes.  And, also because a handy savings calculator told me so.

Want to run the numbers for yourself?  Get your bills and click over to the “Should you cut the cord?” Calculator at Slate.com.  You may be surprised.
And, keep coming back here for details and updates on how we do what we do, saving money and gathering information as we go.
Just do be warned, this is primarily a blog by geeks for geeks, so at some point I’ll probably get into some technical stuff as I work to replace or improve some of the systems we’ve grown used to having.
The updates won’t come every week, but I’ll try to keep them regular.  And, they won’t normally come on Friday after this one, either.

9/11/2015

WordPress Training

Filed under: Fun,Never trust a Network Admin with a screwdriver,Ooo, shiny...,Red Herrings — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:30 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Crescent

Free training, of course, for my favorite content management system; WordPress.

Not familiar with WordPress?  Well, you should be since it runs or manages a significant percentage of the web.  As of this writing, “significant” means about 25% of all websites.  Yeah.  That’s a lot.  And, there are a lot of reasons for that.  For one thing, it’s well supported and lots of developers work with it, so getting help and customization work done is relatively easy.  For another, it’s easily…
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