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.

Writing A Successful Technical Resume

With so many people out there looking for a job right now, I thought it would be nice to compile some tips on writing resumes in the technical field.  Individual results may vary, but these are a few things I have learned:

1.  Always include a Skills section if you are going to post your resume to a form.  The reason why you are doing this is to provide a list of searchable skills.  If your resume is vague, it will never show up in any queries the company may conduct in the future.

2.  Do not under any circumstances whatsoever use a template for your cover letter.  Take the time to specifically type out how you qualify for the position, what skills you consider critical to the company’s success, address any gaps between the desired skills and what you know, and make sure it feels like a letter addressed to the company.  This brief effort, as simple as writing an email, will get you the attention you deserve.  If you apply at the same company twice, using a template twice may make the potential employer question your sincerity.

3.  Take notes while on the phone discussing your resume.  This will expose any areas you can improve and shore up potential problems.  Recruiters and hiring managers are scrutinizing every detail now.  If more than one interviewer expresses concern regarding information or you find yourself discussing skills not on your resume often, it is probably time for some editing.

4.  Keep multiple file formats on hand.  I have a Word, PDF, and text version at all times.  There is no data standard for on line job board systems and formatting can take away your dream job in a heartbeat.  I upload the Word version, print the PDF version, and copy and paste the Text file.  This system seems to fit 99% of the time.

5. Pay very close attention to the job details.  The days of blasting out your resume to 200 employers until someone gives you a chance are long gone.  There are specific hardware, software, and years of experience requirements that will disqualify you immediately.  It is better to assume a quality over quantity position in a finicky job market.  You will get more responses and interviewers will be less stressed with everyone.  They have very difficult decisions to make and their performance is also being scrutinized.

This is just a brief transfer of my own personal experiences.  If you have any others, please feel free to comment.

Conficker

I really wish there was something we could do about Conficker as a Technology community.    There’s a spread of between 3 million and 12 million computers in the world according to CNN.  Seems insignificant given the size of the entire Internet.  I’d like to pose a question to the community.  What tools would we need in order to mitigate the risks of Conficker or any worm for that matter?

Do the normal rules of engagement apply here?  When I was in the telecommunications industry, we tackled problems like this systematically:

  1. Identify the risk.
  2. Identify the number of infections.
  3. Allocate all parties and resources necessary to resolve.
  4. Run hourly checks to ensure every compromised system is attended to.
  5. “Lessons Learned” with all parties involved once 100% resolution is attained.

Seems like documentation and tracking are the key.  At my former company, we used massive spreadsheets and sent updates to those assigned to verify resolution and remove the record.  What would scale on the Internet, considering it is between 3 million and 12 million records?

Another question:  Should this all be centralized is a consortium?  I have mixed feelings with this.  In a corporate office it certainly was convenient to have strict policies and standards.  Consistent problems bring consistent solutions, as the saying goes.  I also consider myself a free market and free Internet kind of technologist.

Perhaps just a crowd-sourced site (I know, I know) focused on the resolution of all the Confickers of the world, providing information, links, etc. would be on the right course.  Make it a condition that all the information is Creative Commons and low and behold, maybe we’d have a winner.

Here is CNN’s information regarding recent activity on Conficker.  What troubles me about it is the apparent loss of hope in a resolution.  Kind of makes me sad to think that Sunday breakfast table conversation might end up starting with Dad opening a newspaper and asking  “I wonder what Conficker is up to today?”  Very disturbing.

Conficker wakes up, updates via P2P, drops payload – CNN.com.

We need to do something about this before it starts to reflect badly on the tech community.

Security and Psychology

I’ve recently been drawn to technology security and just wanted to share this video. Bruce Schneier has a very clairvoyant view on the big picture of security.

Pidgin

Pidgin is arguably the de facto open source instant messaging client.  The biggest advantage you have using it is the multi-protocol support which allows you to connect to AIM, Yahoo, MSN, Google Talk, Jabber, IRC and a few others I’ve never even heard of by default.  Plugins add additional services and features.  Here is a look at the services I currently connect to all at once:

pidgin

Pidgin is available for Linux, Windows, and Mac here.

The Twitter plugin can be found here.

The Facebook one is available at this site.

Adventures in GPS

I have been in need of a new GPS receiver for a while.  While I love my Garmin eTrex and it has been a lifesaver on several occasions, the netbook lacks serial ports.  Carrying a serial to USB adapter is out of the question.  I wanted ultra-portability for my kit, especially on vacations and while traveling. Whatever solution I came up with, I knew from previous experience what package would need to be installed first:

sudo apt-get install gpsd

Enter this device:

No brand name, no fancy package.  I plugged it in and it functioned beautifully.  Ubuntu detects it as a Prolific PL2303 USB to Serial Bridge Controller as revealed by dmesg:

[  950.076139] usb 2-2: new full speed USB device using uhci_hcd and address 3
[  950.242660] usb 2-2: configuration #1 chosen from 1 choice
[  950.246324] pl2303 2-2:1.0: pl2303 converter detected
[  950.271393] usb 2-2: pl2303 converter now attached to ttyUSB0

That last line is important.  I needed it to issue the next command:

gpsd /dev/ttyUSB0

As this device lacks a screen to indicate satellite fix, my next step was to install xgps:

sudo apt-get install gpsd-clients

I mostly use xgps for testing connectivity.  It is a very basic interface with limited information.  Pretty useless for navigation unless you work with satellites all day and know where they are supposed to be in the sky.

Eight years ago when I started experimenting with laptops and gps, I quickly found GPSdrive.  It was really the only map-based GPS software available.  Recently, using a netbook’s small 16:9 screen became a major problem when I realized the application wasn’t written for the Gnome toolkit.  I was unable to maximize to my screen resolution of 1024×600, making any buttons at the bottom of the app hidden. TangoGPS has most of the functionallity necessary to track where you are on a map. Like GPSDrive, it is compatible with the Open Street Map project,  works with gpsd, and even allows for friend updates.

For now, I have a system that tells me where I am, how fast I’m driving, and allows me to contribute to open street map.  I will be eperimenting with another program called viking shortly and will discuss it here when I know more about it.