Archive for September 30, 2009

Remaining Analytical: Avoiding the pitfalls of feature-driven decisions

Information Technology is Science, a very practical science at that.  We are bombarded everyday with “Hey, look at what this does!”.  The coolness factor can be a blessing and a curse in technology.  We want to constantly push forward what our colleagues are capable of.  How do we recommend products and peak the interest of our customers and clients without bombarding them with features?

Results oriented methodology is taking over our small little world.  Users and managers are no longer amazed by bells and whistles. They need technology, but not in the feature-driven approach that worked ten years ago.  Potential of a product is not as important as fullfilling immediate needs.  The features have to take care of everyday issues, not something they will experience when they are the big dog on the block.  Reporting is very important.  Success of products from salesforce.com, Siebel, Remedy, and Oracle have paved the way for a great deal of accountability with regards to the employee-employer relationship and the Information Technology department is no longer immune.  Utilization is a strong requirement with limited budgets.

What can be done to adjust to the cycle we are currently in?  There are many ways to thrive.

  • Remain focused on your client’s needs. The sharper the image you have in your mind the better.  Don’t make guesses regarding what will help day to day. Learn about problems, document them and focus on solutions that will address immediate needs.
  • Document everything:  Keep personal records of what you accomplish and notice in your day to day interactions.  This is not to share with others, but to research and revisit as discussions arise.
  • Do NOT under any circumstances suggest products that do not meet the needs of a project and proceed to belittle the problems management is concerned about.  The problem with saying “My way or the highway!” is there are so many choices of highway right now.
  • Know that like any other economic cycle, this will eventually give way to brighter days.  This is very important with regards to attitude.  The last thing any organization wants or needs right now is a grumpy technologist.
  • Focus on sustainability and making things run to their full potential.

With these thoughts in mind, remaining analytical will be a lot easier.  After all, we are more scientist than salesperson.

The Road Towards Good Backups: Mile One

One of the most critical concepts in maintaining business continuity is data organization.  Any company, client, or even home user, has to organize their data in such a way that they know where the “important stuff” is and also have access to that one @#$%! file that they know they will need months from now.  Ideally, the less backup targets you have, the better.  This reduces the licensing costs to produce a stellar backup and disaster recovery can devour your entire IT budget if you are not cautious.

A heart-to-heart may be needed with management and ultimately the people you support.  Environments that have a long standing history of doing it themselves will have a hard time with being told how and where to save their files, and there will even be some people that have a workable system.  The key is to get as many people on board as possible.  Let them participate in the filing system planning to prove to them you have their and the company’s needs in mind. When you are new to a network, always be sure to perform a rundown of all user accounts to make sure all home drives have been provided and are mapped correctly.  The last thing you want is to have your customers question sincerity because they are feeling overlooked.

Running a quick check of applications running on the network and the drawbacks of forcing that data onto a shared drive can also reduce the number of backup targets.

The solution in regards to data consolidation will vary based on your environment and this makes complete sense.  Each organization will have it’s individual needs, but it is very important to address this issue to ensure a cost effective backup system.

A Coffee Table Book for Us

51OuKhecT3L._SL160_While on my routine stumble-around this morning, I located a coffee table book that is suitable for the technologist in all of us. Call me strange. I get excited about new technology and new ways of doing things, but I also enjoy learning how we got to this age of constant beeps, digitizing everything we used to touch, and having friends all over the world. Core Memory is a collection of very artistic photographs from the Computer History Museum by photographer Mark Richards and author John Alderman capturing computer history and presenting it in a very artful way. This one will definitely be on my coffee table next to my Irish history books and Chicago Architecture books.  Click here to check it out on Amazon.

Mark and John discussed this project in 2007 at Google. Here is the video from this event:

Scenerio 1: The Wayward Uncle

You have an uncle who is planning on retiring after a lengthy stay as an Army helicopter pilot.  His future lies in a cabin on some lake in the Pacific Northwest where he can fish all day.  He has some technical skills, being a pilot, but he doesn’t want things too complicated.

He has approached you about his extensive mp3 collection of music from the late 1960s.  The nearest department superstore (the only hardware source in the area) from his cabin is a 50 mile drive and he doesn’t enjoy making special trips for his computer.  He wants his music to be dependable and accessible at all times at the cabin, but he also doesn’t want Internet access.  The computer will be wired into his home speaker system so he can listen to it while entertaining and relaxing.  He wants to be able to pull up a media center screen and build easy playlists.

What do you suggest to him with regards to hardware and software?

Scenerios

I am going to add a new category today that needs your participation to thrive.  I often am approached both at and outside work to come up with solutions to a person’s individual technology needs.  These requests can be as simple as “How do I make my iPod do this?”  to “I am planning on creating an online form for my small business and I need to access my email all the time.  How do I accomplish this?”

This isn’t the situation where you say “I can tell you for fifty an hour.”  It’s more of a satisfaction of someone knowing they can count on me than anything else.  I have decided to add a category for these one-time, quick suggestions.

This is where you the reader, can make a small content contribution that will be greatly appreciated.  I will begin posting scenerios, some of them made up but thoughtfully crafted.  I don’t want this site turned into a help forum and as IT admins, I know we have a tendency to eat our young (a.k.a. RTFM, “Google it yourself”, etc.) when it comes to asking for advice, so I want to keep this fun, not to create a shortcut to an answer.  I will be taking your suggestions for topics at scenerios@itadmins.org.

Once a scenerio is up, the comments section is for your suggestions, questions, or discussion.  I myself will be posting comments to these, as I don’t want to play “supreme overlord” in this process.  Your comments can be as simple or complex as you want. Spend all their money. Spend their retirement.

Just remember that as with all things in life, there is a catch: Mikey just implemented digg-style ranking on the comments.  (Oh, you are quite welcome 😉 ) This will push the best comments to the top and focus on the most effective solutions.  If a majority of the voters want to go cheap on the solution, so be it.  If there is a consensus that Ubuntu has the best options, that bird is going to fly. If Windows Media Center (I know) is the best solution, let them eat cake.  What I am looking for is the best as determined by our expert panel, the readers.

Well, I will see how this goes.  I am going to come up with the first few scenerios and see what happens.  Please try to avoid making this an advertisement (Akismet is watching and Akismet loves you).  I will handle problems as they arise with this decision, but I will also maintain order.  Personal attacks against other posters are off limits.  Vote the comment down if you have a problem with it.  Lert’s make this fun.

Reconfiguring The Time Zone via The Terminal in Jaunty

I recently ran into an issue which was driving me crazy while using the thumbdrive version of Ubuntu Jaunty Jackalope.  Every time I rebooted, I was losing the time zone configuration.  I would launch the Gnome Adjust System Date & Time applet, click the Set System Time button and be golden until I rebooted again or interestingly enough let the power management put the computer to sleep, at which point it would return to Universal Time (GMT).

When I ran the tzconfig utility on the command-line I received this message:

WARNING: the tzconfig command is deprecated, please use:
dpkg-reconfigure tzdata

Not a problem.  I Ran the reconfigure script:

sudo dpkg-reconfigure tzdata

Everything was perfect, even after reboot.

I know I am not using the thumbdrive edition as it was originally intended.  I am actually using it as a crutch while I figure out what cable I need to connect my Toshiba harddrive to the Acer.  The SSD finally gave out after prolonged reloads and I wanted enough space to have my entire audio collection on it.  I figure while I’m waiting for an answer to drop from the sky on that (hehe) I will try and hammer out some bugs on the thumbdrive edition of Ubuntu when using it for more than a demo environment.

What’s Left to Push Linux Into The Mainstream?

Linux has come a long way.  I am sitting here writing this on a netbook tricked out with the Alpha Release of Ubuntu Karmic Koala.  It’s amazing.  Ubuntu One is included by default, giving users an immediate opportunity to backup and sync all of their computers without batting an eye.  Empathy has finally replaced Pidgin as the default IM client, reducing the memory load drastically.  The interface has been tweaked and is much cleaner than previous versions.  And like little kids in the back seat of the family station wagon, we can finally start asking “Are we there yet?” and get the response “Almost”.

What still needs to happen?  How do we get this thing off the ground?  In my opinion, the answer is a lot simpler than most believe: Start using it, in public, with the lights on, in front of our families, without wincing when we explain it to people.  I am going to share some of my ideas of how to attain the mainstream below.

  1. Ditch the cost discussion.  Let this be a bonus for using Linux, not the determining factor.  Linux users have diverse political views and this is not about rainbows and flowers from a technical perspective.  This is about techs no longer having vague errors, spyware, and viruses to deal with.
  2. Do not explain that the cd-rom for their printer/scanner/toaster with all the fancy software that lets them burn designs in their toast isn’t necessary in a way that makes them feel stupid for buying the multifunction device.  Tell them in a way that explains the advantages and disadvantages of said device.
  3. Treat them like a business partner, not a student.  Show them that we aren’t going to loom over them, keep them from playing with scissors or running in the hall.  They now have the freedom to explore the computer without messing things up.
  4. Don’t talk trash about the competition unless they start it.  It was hard to believe how many applications and OS’s I bought over the years.  Some people are going to exhibit grief over the money they have wasted prior to this development model.  Empathize with them, sharing your own frustrations as you see fit, but don’t over do it.
  5. The “Try it for a month and you’ll never go back.” method does work, especially if the colleague is frustrated with their current computer situation.  Give them options, offer to help with the backup and install.

Linux needs ambassadors more than ever.  Long-winded speeches about freedom and TCO are not going to push as hard as a grassroots, tech savy group of people sharing the joys of being an everyday Linux user.