Monday, April 26, 2010

I've moved to my own site!

O hai! I'm not here anymore because I've moved to my own Wordpress blog! You can find me at:


http://www.TheNubbyAdmin.com/


That's right, I'm just an IT nublet, trying to be less nubby. No shame in admitting that. Change your bookmarks and tell your friends. It's going to be a wild ride as I settle into a new job, create my own business and attempt to de-nubify myself.


Come on over and join in as life and experience unfolds. I'll be there waiting for you!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

ProjectCartoon.com – How projects REALLY are

Some of you may have already seen this original cartoon, the author of which I can’t seem to track down to give proper credit to:

project

The site ProjectCartoon.com expands slightly on that original with the addition of a few cells and also allows you do edit the captions and order of the cartoon.

My favorite new cell? This made me chortle:

FOSSVersionHowever, all the cells are worthy of a laugh or two. Project planning, even for single-person IT departments, can be an exercise in juggling ferrets. What’s your best IT project story? Bonus points if it involved the calling of at least one public emergency-services department (negative points if that department was the SWAT team).

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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Speed Reading, Week 2 Finished!

I did a speed reading test on the morning of Monday the 19th before starting my first lesson of the week. The supposed reading speed was 295 WPM, but I admit my comprehension was low. I’m focusing less on comprehension and more on technique. I’m attempting to consistently stop verbalizing the words I read in my head and just let my eyes see the word and my brain register the meaning.

  • Monday:
    • Morning: Lesson 3 Completed
    • Evening: Lesson 3 Completed
  • Tuesday:
    • Morning: Lesson 4 Completed
    • Evening: Missed
  • Wednesday:
    • Morning: Missed
    • Evening: Missed
  • Thursday:
    • Morning: Lesson 4 completed
    • Evening: Missed
  • Friday:
    • Morning: Missed
    • Evening: Missed
  • Saturday:
    • Morning: Lesson 4 completed
    • Evening:

Wow. I got a weeklong pass on the FAIL train. Two all-day seminars back-to-back on Tuesday and Wednesday threw a wrench into my plans. Thursday, Friday and Saturday were exercises in mediocrity and failed time management.

It’s hard to leave for a day or two and then come back. You really need to keep on it each and every day, twice a day. The ability to keep up a steady reading pace and simultaneously assimilate all of the information (which is now coming in through your eyes at a faster rate than you’re accustomed to) is a draining activity and needs to be consistently done. Much like weight training.

With good intentions, and hopefully more disciplined time management and prioritization, I enter week 3.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

How many days are left in my Windows Server 2008 R2 trial?

 

The Quick Answer:

Run the following command at a command prompt:

slmgr.vbs –dli

You may have to wait for 20 or 30 seconds, but eventually a dialog box will pop up that displays the following information:

slmgr.vbs.output 

The Long Story:

I’m frobbing around with Microsoft Windows Server 2008 R2 and Exchange 2010, and in the development of my test lab a question occurred to me:

“How many days are left in my Windows Server 2008 R2 trial?”

There’s a lot of misinformation out there, and some of it contains methods that were common in older versions of Windows.

One common method that is still espoused today is to check the creation or modification dates of various system folders. This isn’t accurate. I have creation and modification dates of system folders going back almost a year before I actually installed the operating system.

Another method that I just learned about is to check the registry key at HKLM\Software\Microsoft\Windows NT\Current Version\
InstallDate
which shows the date of installation in UNIX epoch time. Converting the decimal notation into UNIX epoch time is as simple as going to www.EpochTime.com and performing the conversion.

epochTime1

EpochTime2

You could then take the current date’s epoch time, subtract it from the installation date’s time and see how close to the trial limit you are (180 days).

However, that is inaccurate since you can wait up to 10 days to activate Windows. The trial period starts from the date of activation not the date of installation. I’m unsure if there is a registry key that shows the date of activation.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Video on Web Application Development that Doesn’t Suck

Being a stereotypical SysAdmin, I tend to shy away from development topics. Partially because I attempted to program as a kid (HyperTalk, AppleScript, Pascal, C and the nail that sealed the coffin lid: C++) and found it to be an exercise similar to self mutilation except without garnering any sympathy from people.

Furthermore, being a SMB SysAdmin I tend to be ignorant to the unique challenges that SysAdmins who focus on web technologies have to face. Ironically, my latest contract is managing the technicals behind an upstart website that a friend is making… go figure. Looks like I’ll be having a nice, vertical learning curve soon.

Moving on, I found a video on YouTube that intrigued me. No, it wasn’t Hamster on a Piano, even though that amused me far more than I’m comfortable admitting.

It’s a well done video by a fellow named Sean Kelly (who has worked at places as diverse as NOAA and NASA Jet propulsion laboratory) titled “Better Web Application Development”. The video itself is a little old, circa late 2006 I believe. It starts with Sean’s frustrations with using C++ in the 90s to attempt to get various datasources unified in a single user interface at NOAA.

Moving forward into the 2000s (and a job at NASA), web protocols became the standard for the kind of application development he worked in. As a result, one of the sticking points that he felt in the 90s, that of slow UI development, started to become obsolete. However, not before some poor tools caused him to reach a breaking point.

The video is a 36 minute tour of Sean pitting various web app frameworks against eachother in a logical and fast-paced style. What happens when you pit J2EE (using servlets and hibernate), J2EE with JBoss, Ruby on Rails, Django, Zope and Turbo Gears? It’s a framework beatdown and while the front of the pack is a little crowded, the loser(s) are easy to spot.

The video is well done, with good audio and is fast paced. It’s obviously scripted so the speaking flows nicely and the whole video moves along well. Overall it’s great to listen to and the areas where computer work has been screencasted are sped up with a summary narrative given so there’s no excruciating waiting periods watching someone fumble at the CLI.

 

There were several good quotes and concepts from the video that I took away and applied to systems administration. Because, when you come down to it, we’re all in the same boat. We all have to create and support systems that are interacted with by people who just want to get their jobs done. Some of my favorite quotes from the video are these:

“Planning a UI is 1/4 of the battle. 3/4 of a UI comes from users playing with it”

The concept I took away from the above quote is that whatever a person has to interact with needs to be good. Furthermore, it needs to be good by their standards. If it’s good by your standards, that’s not enough. If the QA department’s interface is good by an accountant’s standards. That’s not good enough. If the sale’s teams interface is good by the art department’s standards… actually, that probably is good enough.

“It’s got to be fun. Why? C’mon! Fun don’t need a reason!”

Quoted for truth.

“Rapid turnaround is absolutely, unquestionably, irrevocably vital.”

Whatever we do, whatever is implemented, it must be modifiable and furthermore it must be easy and quick to modify. Things change, people and industries are different. Live with it and like it.

“You might recognize this as the n-tier architecture where n is always 3. I’m not sure why they don’t just call it the 3-tier architecture.”

Yeah, what’s up with that?

If you watch the video, let me know what you think about it. know of any better ones?

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Speed Reading, Week 1 Finished

I started the week, prior to starting any of my lessons, with a reading speed of about 170 to 185 words per minute. Not bad for me! I think that increased speed is a result of doing these exercises and learning some techniques late last year.

  • Monday - Lesson 1: Morning and evening
  • Tuesday – Lesson 1: Morning but missed evening (Got back into the mental habits pretty good. Came up to speed quickly, was able to focus my attention well.)
  • Wednesday - Lesson 2: Morning but missed evening
  • Thursday - Lesson 3: Morning (more like late afternoon)  Evening
  • Friday - Lesson 3: Morning, forgot evening! =(
  • Saturday Lesson 3: Forgot both. Fail.

It wasn’t the most energetic or consistent week and the last day was a bit of a failure. At least I got back into the habits. Next week will be better!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Listing all volume mount points on a Windows server

This most has been moved to my new blog The Nubby Admin. Check it out here: List All Volume Mount Points on a Windows Server.

Integrate Google Docs and Microsoft Outlook… free!

I recently stumbled upon a free Microsoft Outlook Add-in that allows you to have access to your Google Docs from within Outlook 2007. It’s from a company called Mainsoft and the tool is called Harmony for Google Docs.

HArmony for Google Docs

I’m not a huge Google Docs fan, primarily because the web interface never impressed me and I didn’t want to juggle two interfaces to access various similar information. Those two interfaces being Outlook for much of my email and Google Docs for online files.

However, with this new plug in, I think I may give Google Docs another try. If I can easily store files “in the cloud”, I’ll be more apt to do so.

Mainsoft also creates an Outlook plug-in for SharePoint called Harmony for SharePoint. However, not yet having fully implemented SharePoint in one of my offices, I’ll save my opinions on that tool for when/if I ever use it.

If anyone else has comments or experiences with either tool, drop me a line or comment. Guest blog posts are always welcomed!

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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Speed Reading; Legitimate personal development or just a gimmick?

A few years ago, I started to realize just how poor my reading skills were. It’s not that I can’t read, it’s just that I have a constant battle with staying focused as well as a rather slow words-per-minute reading rate.

I knew I was somewhat of a slow reader because it seemed that most people could read through a page or paragraph well before I was done. On top of that, people seemed to have better comprehension than me. “Faster reading and better comprehension? Is everyone I know some kind of genius?” I would think dejectedly.

I also have difficulty knitting together the sentences that I’m reading at the moment with the sentences that I read a few seconds ago. Stringing sentences together into a full comprehensive work can be difficult (if not impossible) for me. Instead of a full tapestry of thought, I see everything that I’ve read as a mostly disjointed series of vignettes.

Think of watching a two hour movie, but chunking it into 2 minute intervals or intervals that last only as long as each specific scene and only watching two or three of those intervals a day. That’s my reading experience.

Strangely, that’s also my movie watching experience. While watching movies, I focused on the scenes as individual units and never knit them together into fluid stories. At this moment, thinking back over all the movies I’ve watched prior to just a year or two ago, I only recollect them as a series of scenes, vignettes or segments devoid of any context. I did not know from whence a scene came, what it was doing or where it was going.

Now, with better insight into my comprehension issues, I have re-watched a few movies that I grew up with and used some newfound concentration techniques and am amazed! It’s like watching a movie for the first time. I actually understand what’s going on and see it as a story and not just a bunch of cool scenes that follow one after the other. My comprehension isn’t nearly as good as I’d like it to be, but I’m healing it little bit at a time… partly through my previous involvement in speed reading. More on that later.

I also tended to get lost in thinking about how I would personally react in the movie’s circumstances rather than enjoying the story itself, but I think that’s another, separate issue.

What’s worse is that I didn’t even know anything was wrong about my experience or that people experienced things in any other way. I suppose I did have an inkling that something was wrong. When people talked of things like character and plot development being too slow/fast/predictable, I looked at them in silent puzzlement, not knowing how one would even sense something like that. I felt stupid.

Now, imagine having these issues with learning and general information gathering… with your job title being “Systems Administrator”. Anyone remotely connected with IT knows how much info we have to wade through. If any job would expose my problems with learning, this would be it.

In fact it was the job’s mental workload that truly made me realize there was a problem and I needed to do something about it. One day I discussed my problems with my boss, particularly concerning my slow reading speed, and he mentioned a speed reading program that he had tried and had success with.

I was slightly skeptical, however this person’s track record of not getting sucked into gimmicks lent some instant credibility to the concept. In my limited exposure to speed reading, it all seemed murky and on the fringes of rationality.

I performed a reading speed test and found that I read at about 160 WPM with supposedly full comprehension. If I attempted to push it to 200, comprehension dropped sharply. 160 WPM reading speed isn’t too bad. However, cut that speed at least in half when you realize that I often need multiple passes to understand something. Further drop that number when you realize that I tended to force myself to slow my reading down in an effort to forcefully understand what I was reading.

I decided to look into this certain speed reading program to see what it was all about. This program is not photo reading, subconscious absorption, skimming or “schematic processing” system. According to Wikipedia, it would probably be classified as “Meta Guiding”.

The basic concept is very simple. You must first stop mentally vocalizing the words that you read in your head. I do this all the time… and I didn’t even know I was doing it. I have a friend who is studying to be a librarian who reads around 500 WPM (I tested his speed one day out of interest). I asked him if he pronounces the words in his head and he thought about it for a moment before answering “no”. Apparently, he had never thought about it. It was just natural to see the words without pronouncing them mentally.

After breaking that habit with some help from the program, you also are encouraged to expand your vision slightly (not the “peripheral absorption” that I think some systems may delve into) as well as keeping a rythmic flow of your eyes over the text.

I have settled on one speed reading course in particular that seems mostly devoid of mysticism and pseudo-science. I will not reveal it’s name publically just yet, if ever. If anyone is interested, I’ll tell them through email or IM (email and IM me through nonapeptide@gmail / live.com depending on your network of choice). I’ve attempted to go through this course late in 2009, but had other commitments get in the way as well as my own undisciplined time management habits.

During my attempt at working through the course, I made a few fascinating breakthroughs. I found it amazing that my comprehension seemed to go up and my ability to absorb information increased. What it seemed like was that my whole life my brain wants information fast, but my reading habits (pronouncing words in my head, for one) kept me back. My brain in frustration would wander off to other thoughts further thwarting my attempt at learning. As a result, I’d get even more frustrated and force myself to concentrate on the text, only I would then read more deliberately and more slowly which only served to compounded the problem.

Attempting to bump my reading speed up actually helped satiate my brain, helped it to stay focused and increased my learning ability (and decreased my frustration levels which in itself helps out quite a bit).

The plan is simple. I give a few minutes to my speed reading exercise twice a day for six days in a week. The lessons can be repeated for as many days as I think I need to. For example, one day does not necessarily equate to one lesson. I could spend 3 days or a whole week on a lesson. Whatever seems best.

I’ll go through all ten lessons (and not wander away from the course like I did last time), which I estimate might take a month, and see if I can put into practice the timing, vision and speed discipline into my everyday reading. From then, it’s a matter of maintenance to do an exercise or two a day at the speed level that I want to maintain.

My goal is to be at 600 to 700 WPM reading with close to 100% comprehension. Obviously, material that is complex or new will require slower times, however simply reading a ZDNet article of 500 words shouldn’t take more than 60 seconds. With all of the Google Reader blogs I’m subscribed to, I’d love to power through a few dozen of them in just 10 or 15 minutes since not many of them are deep dives into murky technical waters (Except for SysAdmin1138’s Storage Administration entries =) ).

I’ll record my progress here as well as delve a little deeper into the topic of speed reading over the coming weeks.

Any comments, debate, flames and etc. are welcomed. I don’t moderate my comments so as long as you don’t say too many bad words or try to sell R0lex watches, you’re comments will be accepted. =)

Friday, April 9, 2010

Backing up GPOs with GPMC scripting on Windows Server 2008

I’ve been developing a thorough set of backup and disaster recovery processes for an office running Microsoft’s Small Business Server 2008. The built in Windows Server Backup tool is quite nice from a “set-it-and-forget-it” perspective, even if it doesn’t offer a lot of customizable features.

However, there are a few things on the server that I’m considering backing up in a different way in addition to Windows Server Backup (WSB). One of those things is the domain’s Group Policy Objects (GPOs).

It’s a simple enough procedure from within the Group Policy Management Console (GPMC). In typical Windows fashion, it’s only a single right click away.

backup GPOs

However, as a Windows admin who is attempting to recover from GUI-itis (the unreasonable reliance on GUI input to do tasks) as well as scripting-itis (an irrational fear of text that resembles code) and is also trying to fortify his body of automation skills, I knew I had to script this task.

Fortunately, the GPMC has it’s own set of scripting interfaces so that you can automate group policy tasks. There is also a set of GPMC scripting samples that were included with Windows Server 2003 but for some reason are not installed by default on Windows Server 2008.

To install the scripting samples on Windows Server 2008, go to this Microsoft download link. Those scripting samples include many useful scripts that allow for listing all disabled GPOs, Listing GPO’s without security filtering, deleting, restoring and importing GPOs as well as, most importantly to me at the moment, backing up and restoring GPOs. Here’s a list of the GPMC scripting samples.

From there, it’s as simple as calling BackupGPO.wsf or BackupAllGPOs.wsf from within Task Scheduler to get the job done. If you really want to get fancy, you could use PowerShell to do something like backing up all GPO’s that have been modified this month.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Heads up on a good SysAdmin related blog

Just a heads up to my SysAdmin peeps… uhm… I mean, “peers” about a blog that started earlier this year. It’s called “SysAdmin Talk” (not to be confused with the oddly defunct SysAdminTalk.com forums – what happened to that place anyway?)

Started by Red Gate Software, it actually avoids the self-promotion and gets to some meaty posts. It mostly centers around Microsoft technologies such as Exchange, Windows Server and Active Directory. Some of the most memorable posts include:

There’s only a handful of writers at the moment, and posts are sporadic, but they are looking for writers so if you don’t see the topics you’d like to… you can always make them yourself. =)

There’s always room for one more good SysAdmin related blog on the intertubes

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Creating an IT consultancy in the USA, Episode 0

As I spend my evenings researching how to create my own IT consultancy in the USA, I’ve come across one main website that has most, if not all of the information that I need: www.Business.gov

I haven’t even scratched the surface yet and already I’m swimming in the midst of “fictitious names”, EINs and Schedule Cs. Fun.

One article in particular on Business.gov has been helpful to me in my larval stage: “10 Steps to Starting a Business” I’ll reproduce those 10 steps here so I can fill in the blanks with the specifics of my own situation.

1. Research and Plan Your Business

Located here are helpful guides such as How to Write a Business Plan, a video on Business Planning and Research and a Start Up Assessment tool.

In my case, this is all overkill since I’m simply creating a consultancy so a friend can contract me to do a large job for him. Maybe someday I’ll actually make a business out of it, but not today.

2. Get Business Assistance and Training

More information on business plans are offered here, but there is an additional emphasis on Small Business Counseling as well as financing your venture.

This too is unnecessary for me. Unless I can get someone to finance my protein shakes and Clif bars. Anyone?

3. Choose a Business Location

Tips on choosing the right location to set up a business are given here as well as listing various zoning laws and precautions.

Once again, this is irrelevant to me since I’m not actually setting up a storefront nor am I currently seeking customers. I’m just sitting in my home office in front of a computer, hacking away for entirely too many hours in a day with no reason to venture outside of the house.

Maybe I should try eHarmony…

4. Finance Your Business

Some of these bullet points make me think that the original author really only had 7 points, but stretched a few just to make a nice round number. This is repeating much of point 2.

I’m not looking for financing so I can cross this step off. Hey! This isn’t going too bad. Four points down and I haven’t had to do a thing!

5. Determine the Legal Structure of Your Business

Finally, a point that I need to pay attention to. Fortunately, there are very few options, and only two make any sense. The options are a Sole Proprietorship, Partnership, Corporation, S Corporation, LLC, Non Profit and Cooperative.

Of those, a Sole Proprietorship (SP) and an LLC are the only reasonable options for me. If I choose to become a Sole Proprietorship, I am personably liable for any debts or lawsuits. That means my car, clothes, baseball card collection and family heirlooms are all fair game.

If I choose a Limited Liability Company (LLC), I have a limited amount of liability that I can be responsible for. In otherwords, I won’t literally lose my shirt.

However, there seems to be a significant amount of extra paperwork that is needed and taxes seem to be a bit more convoluted than they normally are anyway.

Furthermore, I’m only becoming a consultancy for one job and I seriously doubt that any liability lawsuits are in my future (famous last words!). If I want, I can always change to an LLC at a future date, but for now I’ll choose to go with a sole proprietorship.

I’ll tackle the last 5 points soon. Until then… yes, I’m growing a beard. 23 days and still going strong.

demotivational posters

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

I’m back and I’m… warm!

After moving 1,800 miles from the Cincinnati, Ohio area to Scottsdale, Arizona I’m finally settled down enough to attempt to get some blogging and work done. That is, when I can tear my eyes away from the palm trees and stop picking oranges, grapefruit and lemons from the trees in my backyard.

“What work are you doing these days?” you might ask. (I know, I know –- no one asked, but I’m falling back on my imaginary friends to voice these questions)

lolcat-job

Aside from digesting citrus and giggling at everyone who lives roughly above the 35th parallel line (even YOU Amarillo – unnaturally cold and windy place that you are), I’m now doing work for a friend that requires me to be an independent contractor. Thus I am beginning to delve into the mysteries and myths surrounding sole proprietorship and the United States tax laws which are rapidly beginning to look like a Vorticistic painting created by inebriated wombats falling down stairs.

If anyone has any tips, I’d appreciate some guidance. In the interim, I’m going back to reading some of the many helpful articles over at business.gov.

I’ll post what I find along the path to self-employment.