jb… a weblog by Jonathan Buys

The Subtle Art of Snowblowing

If you are fortunate enough to live in a home with a driveway, and fortunate enough to live in a region that gets a lot of snow, you are already familiar with the seasonal chore of snowblowing1. It is currently seven degrees Fahrenheit outside, and the weather forecast calls for five to six inches in snow today, which means that soon enough I’ll bundle up and head out to take part.

  1. Apparently “snowblowing” is not a proper English word. I don’t care. It should be. It’s what I do when I clear my driveway of snow using the snowblower. 

January 1, 2022 - 7 minute read - culture life

More on 1Password

1Password 7 was an incremental improvement on 6, and 6 was an incremental improvement on 5, and so on all the way back to the original 1Passwd. But 1Password 8, which is now in Beta is a horse of a different color.

December 21, 2021 - 7 minute read - mac apple culture

For the Future

It’s been a busy couple weeks in the Mac community. From horrendously serious topics like Apple taking on child sexual abuse material (CSAM) by scanning photos uploaded to iCloud to drastically less serious topics like an upcoming OmniFocus redesign and 1Password switching to Electron. But first, a follow up to Switcher Season 2021.

August 12, 2021 - 5 minute read - mac apple culture

Switcher Season 2021


August 8, 2021 - 4 minute read - linux apple culture freebsd

Resurrected Site

Late last month the domain for this site expired. I had plenty of warning, ample time to log into the Hover dashboard and renew it myself. I could have even left the auto-renew on, like I have for the past twelve years, but this year was different. This year was the end of 2020, and at the time I felt I had enough of the internet. It was time to log off, possibly forever.

January 25, 2021 - 3 minute read - culture

Getting Small Again

It’s been quiet here at home lately. Grey and overcast, rain morning, noon, and night. A good time to rest and recover from a lot of busy weeks. I’m essentially an introvert, and while I enjoy visiting it tends to take a lot out of me. I’ve always preferred long conversations over coffee to loud concerts or clubs. I’m on the couch this morning, my wife’s dog is next to me. The dog kept us up a lot last night. It’s nearly silent, but for the breath of the dog and the clack of the keys.

March 23, 2020 - 4 minute read - culture

Think About the Future

Over the past twenty years the tech industry has greased the tracks of an express train to dystopia. As age creeps up on me and my hair continues to grey, I think back on the naive optimism of my youth with increasing nostalgia. We live in a world of constant surveillance, persistent erosions of privacy, a decline of democracy, and a rise of populist demagogues. Every new year becomes the hottest year on record, America has an obesity epidemic, and starvation is still a problem around the globe. The Amazon is on fire, opiate abuse is rampant, our kids are suffering from mental health problems, and everyone is too distracted by their phones to care. In short, we’ve made a mess of things.

October 11, 2019 - 5 minute read - culture future

That One Mac Guy

I bought my first Mac in 2004, a white plastic iBook G4. It was slow, the screen resolution was terrible, but wow did I love Mac OS X. After several years of loading every Linux and BSD variant I could find on the PC I bought in ‘99, I finally found a stable Unix-based operating system with a logical and beautiful user interface. The Mac was exactly what I wanted in a computer. I desperately wanted to use it at work, but working in a secure military environment, that wasn’t going to happen.

March 8, 2019 - 3 minute read - mac culture

Sal Fights For the Users


January 12, 2017 - 2 minute read - culture

Ten Billion Reasons Why

What could an organization comprised of some of the smartest, most driven people on the planet do with ten billion dollars in a year? Apple increasing their R&D budget five-fold over the past decade is interesting, but the numbers they are talking about are not uncommon in the rest of the tech industry. What I find noteworthy is the comparison with NASA.

November 1, 2016 - 2 minute read - culture apple

That’s Fine For Marco

Overcast is moving to an ad-supported business model.

September 9, 2016 - 3 minute read - apple culture

Rules for Sane Living in a World of Constant Outrage

Turn it all off.

July 22, 2016 - 2 minute read - culture

Manton's Stickers

I was listening to Core Intuition a few weeks back and Manton said that if anyone was interested in his project to let him know, and he would send a couple of stickers. I was interested, so I emailed him a quick note, and quickly forgot about it.

February 26, 2016 - 1 minute read - culture apple

Mac Magazine

Sometimes I think I’d like a really great magazine, like The New Yorker, but for Mac geeks. A beautifully printed, monthly magazine with all the best news, tips, opinions, analysis, predictions, and howtos from the Mac community. I’m not looking for what Macworld used to be, I’m thinking more along the lines of The Atlantic. Something classy, something worthy of printing and keeping out in the living room under the coffee table. Something I’d look forward to reading cover to cover every month.

December 28, 2015 - 3 minute read - apple culture

Faith, Hope, Love

What if Christians actually lived the way Jesus commanded us to?

October 19, 2015 - 6 minute read - faith culture personal

Moby Dick

I’ve been slowly working through my list of books, and Saturday I finally knocked another one off the list, Moby Dick. Herman Melville’s whaling epic took me a while. Inside those 663 pages, there’s probably a good 300 page book, as it is, Moby Dick covers both the human condition and the intricacies of butchering a whale in the middle of the ocean.

October 12, 2015 - 4 minute read - reading culture

On Computing

I often daydream about not caring about my computer, and being able to go blissfully through my life with little concern about the mix of applications, storage of data, and how I interact with the machine, but that’s just a dream. The truth is I do care. I care a lot. I care enough that I’ve developed my own personal philosophy of computer use. I use this to determine which services and applications I will most likely be happy with. It helps me, maybe it will help you too.

June 28, 2015 - 6 minute read - culture personal

Goodbye to The Annual Review

John Siracusa hung up his cape today, announcing on his blog that he would no longer be reviewing OS X.

April 15, 2015 - 2 minute read - culture apple

The Invisible MacBook

A thread of minimalism weaves through Apple’s products, starting with the Bondi blue iMac and flowing to the Apple Watch. One could argue that the minimal thread weaves back to the original Macintosh, a single, all-in-one device that made computing accessible, but I think the theme is most visible when looking at the modern age of Apple. Jony Ive’s designs have consistently focused on aesthetically pleasing, usable design. A concept that simultaneously puts the device at the center of our day, and almost makes it disappear. Technology is best when it is nearly invisible. The Apple Watch may be the culmination of this invisible tech, but it’s the new MacBook that I believe embodies the design philosophy of Apple best. When the lid is closed on the new 12” Retina MacBook, it’s so small and light that you hardly know it’s there.

April 13, 2015 - 4 minute read - macbook culture apple

The Long View

Computers as tools for creation are unique in that they change and evolve over time as software is updated. A hammer that you buy today can reasonably be expected to perform the same in twenty years, assuming that the tool is taken care of properly. Similarly, the bench that you build with the hammer will still be good to sit on, no matter what happens to the hammer that built it. Not so with computers and software. Not only do the tools used to create change over time and perform in sometimes unexpected ways, the artifacts of our creation are often subject to artificial limitation on use. How ridiculous would it be for a bench to only be able to be sat in if you were holding the hammer you used to build it? And yet, this is the arrangement we agree to with our software more often than not.

January 16, 2015 - 4 minute read - philosophy culture

The Million Monkeys

Computers, the bicycles for the mind, the idea engines; when we work at a computer we open the door to limitless avenues of creativity. Cracking open the lid of a laptop can be the first step to writing a novel, starting a new career, or getting in touch with long lost friends. But, when the machines misbehave, when they don’t perform as expected or present their interface in ways that are difficult or impossible to decipher, even the most mundane of tasks become a chore. The possibilities for the future melt away under the perception that computers are difficult and unreliable, our untrustworthy opponent to getting things done.

January 1, 2015 - 4 minute read - culture mac tech work

A Technical Education

I didn’t grow up with computers. They just weren’t a common thing in Montana in the 80’s. When my family moved to Texas for two years during my sixth and seventh grades, one of my friends had one in her room that we would play Oregon Trail on, but otherwise it was unremarkable. With the exception of video games and VHS tapes, my childhood was very much like the childhoods of the generations before me. If I wanted to see a friend, I’d have to walk over to his house. If I wanted to send someone a letter, I had to sit down and write it out on paper, scratching out misspellings along the way, then folding it up, stuffing it in an envelope, licking a stamp on it, and dropping it in the mailbox. And then, I’d wait. Sometimes for weeks, sometimes for months. In the past twenty years however, our world has changed dramatically.

September 12, 2014 - 2 minute read - education culture

What it Does

Our relationship with technology has become unexpectedly skewed. I was just reading through Sid O’Neill’s recent article, Losing Apple, and found myself nodding along on several points, particularly here:

June 10, 2014 - 3 minute read - apple culture


“UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better, it’s not.” – The Lorax

April 29, 2014 - 2 minute read - culture

For The Fun Of It

I still need an anything bucket, and nothing fills that gap like my old friend Yojimbo. I was an early adopter of Yojimbo, back with version one, and I upgraded faithfully for version 2 and version 3, but I held off for a long time on version 4. In the mean time I tried Evernote, DEVONthink, Pinboard, and just the file system to fill the void that Yojimbo filled so gracefully. No more, I’ve come home, and it feels great to be here.

March 1, 2014 - 2 minute read - mac culture

A Different Vision of the Future

I ran across a few articles in the past week or so that predict the majority of the population will be living in cities by 2050.1 I don’t dispute the projection, these people generally know what they are talking about, but I would like to do a bit of daydreaming of my own. I can envision a world of small towns populated by remote workers and independent service providers, communities with relationships that are closer, deeper, and happier than their city dwelling counterparts.

  1. There are several others. Just do a search for “seven billion live in cities in 2050” for more. 

January 12, 2014 - 4 minute read - predictions work culture

Be Excellent To Each Other

The recent row over iA Writer’s developers and their patent application reminded me what a small community the Mac developers are. The real problem was never about iA attempting to patent their work, the issue was that they forgot their place in the ecosystem. There are a few in the community that give freely and abundantly, like Brett Terpstra, and when iA threatened to use their patents offensively against Terpstra’s Marked, the community rightfully condemned them.

December 27, 2013 - 2 minute read - culture tech online indie

For The Public Good

I just finished another article for OStatic where I imagine what web services would be good candidates for public, non-profit organizations. The two services I came up with are search and email, both I consider essential Internet tools. I’ve wondered about the democratization of the Internet before. One thought I had was wondering about the possibility of each household owning their own “server”, or server type device that connected them to the Internet, but also became part of the Internet.

September 10, 2013 - 2 minute read - opensource education culture


January 31, 2013 - 1 minute read - culture life

Electrogent's 50 Rules

One of my favorite things about the Internet is finding a little treasure trove of writing and style that I previously did not know existed. Electrogent is one of those little gems, and his list of 50 rules for his son is full of timeless advice.

January 30, 2013 - 1 minute read - life culture gear


Thought of the week:

January 29, 2013 - 1 minute read - quote culture

Cutting Corners

After reading the MacSparky piece on craftsmanship, I’m reminded of how I like to look at my career as a systems administrator. I find that there are times when things that are not quite right just bother me. Like when there are inconsistencies or one-offs scattered throughout the environment I am responsible for. There may well be perfectly logical reasons why some systems are monitored and some are not, why some are registered with configuration management and others are not, but in my mind it is these little inconsistencies that add up and make your work look sloppy.

January 21, 2013 - 2 minute read - work sysadmin culture

iCloud and Core Data

I inadvertently started a bit of a conversation today when I complained about the state of NetNewsWire on Twitter. I’ve been a NetNewsWire user for years, and I was very surprised when it was sold to Black Pixel. My surprise turned to disappointment when the application was not updated, and now NetNewsWire has stopped working for me completely.

January 17, 2013 - 2 minute read - culture online mac

A World of Things

It is very easy when living in the technology field to ignore the actual physical space we occupy. Skills once thought essential are slowly being forgotten as we move farther and farther away from a culture of being able to create and fix things.

January 14, 2013 - 3 minute read - culture life personal

No More Guns

I’m angry. You should be too. On December 14th, a young man shot his way into a locked elementary school in a small town in Connecticut and murdered twenty children and six adults. This is an abhorrent act by a mentally ill person, but the magnitude of the act was amplified because the murderer had access to guns. Big guns.

December 20, 2012 - 6 minute read - culture life

On Culture

You never need to prove to anyone who you are. You simple are who you are. Claiming that someone else is faking their interest in a topic is ridiculous. Our interests and curiosities define us just as much as, if not more than, our histories and personal experiences. Friendly competition between peers on knowledge of the esoteric details of a given subject is good fun, but not a defining prerequisite for claiming curiosity about the subject. I would like to think that the previous few sentences are unnecessary in a conversation with adults, but unfortunately, as the recent conversations surrounding “fake geek girls” has shown, that is not the case. In a sad way, many of us have not matured past the social battleground of middle school.

December 7, 2012 - 4 minute read - culture

Forgotten and Beloved

I was given a clean slate of a Mac to work with this past Monday, so I gave some thought to which apps I wanted to use. Looking back at some of my favorites that have fallen behind, I was left with a bit of nostalgia for the apps that once made the Mac experience great. It is easy to tell which developers care about keeping their application up to date, just check the top right corner and look for the full-screen opposing arrows. If they are not present, there is a good chance that the application has been abandoned.

October 24, 2012 - 4 minute read - mac culture

Make it Matter

July 30, 2012 - 1 minute read - tech culture media

Should All Software Be Free


July 22, 2012 - 19 minute read - culture linux


Others have already said so much about Steve Jobs stepping down as the CEO of Apple that I had serious doubts about adding my voice to the existing cacophony. Others have written so much, and surely so much more will be over the next few days. I had doubts, but I have this to say:

August 24, 2011 - 2 minute read - culture mac

Personal Quality

My daughter had an ear infection. A common occurrence in children, so I brought her down to our local doctors office. The doctor took one look at her ear and knew what needed to be done. He wrote out a prescription, gave me a few instructions, and sent me on my way. I then had two choices, I could drive the twenty miles into the city to get her prescription filled by Walgreens, or I could drive seven miles over to the next town to see if the local pharmacy could take care of it. I decided on the shorter trip.

August 13, 2011 - 3 minute read - life culture personal


Apple makes great products, and Brooks Brothers makes great clothes, but neither make the man. It is pure foolishness to judge another person at all, much less using a measure as trifling as a choice of computer.

July 18, 2011 - 1 minute read - personal culture


Daring Fireball linked to Paul Thurrott today, citing Paul’s comment that Lion is simply an evolutionary, rather than revolutionary update. John says:

June 14, 2011 - 3 minute read - online culture mac


My workplace is adopting Agile methodologies for our development and client relations departments. As part of the adoption, it was decided that all of IT would attend a three hour overview of what Agile is and why it was important. This is all fine and well, but in making the training mandatory, instead of optional, the organizers lost a good deal of opportunity.

April 8, 2011 - 3 minute read - work culture

Fragility of Free - The Brooks Review

When you pay for software/services upfront you know how much it is going to cost right away.

March 15, 2011 - 1 minute read - online culture software

Please Give

March 11, 2011 - 1 minute read - life culture

Dazzle Them With Science

It’s not really a science, it’s more of an art. If you are careful, and attentive, you can see when someone starts working this particular art form. In a technical discussion, bit by bit, you start getting lost in the conversation, wondering how we got on to this topic, when it doesn’t have anything to do with what needs to be accomplished. Then you realize that the same guy has been talking for the past few minutes, and he’s been working his art, casting his spell, and the whole room has fallen under it. He’s convinced everyone in the room that he knows so much more, that his knowledge on the topic is so vastly superior to anyone present that no one is on the same level. Which is exactly where he wants your mind to be, because the next step after that is agreeing with whatever he wants to do.

March 11, 2011 - 3 minute read - work culture

Apotheker Seeks to Save HPs Lost Soul With Software Growth - Businessweek

Starting next year, every one of the PCs shipped by HP will include the ability to run WebOS in addition to Microsoft Corp.’s Windows, Apotheker said.

March 9, 2011 - 2 minute read - online culture apple

Anatomy of a Crushing

We charged money for a good or service

I know this one is controversial, but there are enormous benefits and you can immediately reinvest a whole bunch of it in your project sips daiquiri. Your customers will appreciate that you have a long-term plan that doesn’t involve repackaging them as a product.

March 8, 2011 - 2 minute read - linux online culture indie

Our Lean Startup

There is no profit margin on mediocre. While every company including ours has its hiccups as it grows we set the bar on day one to offer a premium service and priced it as such. We are unapologetic about it.

March 7, 2011 - 1 minute read - online culture


I love these videos from Field Notes.

February 20, 2011 - 1 minute read - culture maker

Be Great

If you take a moment to look around the room you are in now, what do you see? Are you surrounded by things that matter, and were built by people who care? Or, more likely, are you surrounded by mass produced, assembly line, imported goods that you honestly don’t believe will last all that long? I’ve been thinking about quality again, and how it applies to me, to what I do, and how I spend my time.

February 15, 2011 - 3 minute read - maker culture work

Friendly Conversation for the Drive

It’s snowing again, which means my normal 40-minute commute will now be closer to an hour. I’m actually a bit excited by the prospect of a long drive; it will give me some time to catch up on my favorite podcasts, most of which come from Dan Benjamin at 5by5.

January 21, 2011 - 3 minute read - online culture

Past Blast

I’ve loved reading some of the “Past Blast” articles that have been linked about in Twitter, so here is my contribution.

January 20, 2011 - 1 minute read - online culture

Delicious Bookmarks

Word leaked out yesterday that Yahoo has it’s popular Delicious bookmarking service on the chopping block. I don’t personally have an account, not anymore, so the closing won’t affect me. Twitter tells a different story, my stream lit up with people upset about the decision. Yahoo’s leak, coupled with their announcement that the company is laying off 4% of it’s workforce right before Christmas, caused a fairly good sized migration from Delicious to Pinboard. I do have a Pinboard account, and I think I even have a few bookmarks saved, but its been weeks since the last time I visited the site.

December 17, 2010 - 3 minute read - online mac productivity culture

PC Apps

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December 16, 2010 - 1 minute read - apple culture mac

The Proper Place of Technology In Our Lives

It’s now the middle of December, which signals the end of my first semester of grad school. I took two classes, both focused on HCI: cognitive psychology and social implications. The paper I just finished writing for the social implications course was about answering the question of whether all software should be free, and required a lot of research into open source, the Free Software Foundation, and a lot of deep thinking about what I felt was right.

December 15, 2010 - 7 minute read - online culture essay

Emotions and Machines

I’ve been using different forms of computer “chat” for over ten years now, starting with operator-to-operator communications over a 9600baud satcom circuit in the Navy. Over time, I’ve become used to using certain forms of “emoticons” to convey subtle nuances in the conversation that are unnecessary in face to face communications. I even have friends with whom I communicate with entirely over chat.

November 6, 2010 - 2 minute read - online culture hci


We’ve been having a months long discussion at work around which Linux OS to use. It’s all come to a head recently, and it looks like the winner is going to be Red Hat. The decision leaves a slightly sour taste in my mouth, but over the course of the past year I’ve gotten used to having it around. While trying to understand why I’ve got such a dislike for this particular flavor of Linux, I thought it might help to take another look at OpenBSD.

June 16, 2010 - 5 minute read - linux work sysadmin culture

New SysAdmin Tips

My answer to a great question over at serverfault.

First off, find your logs. Most Linux distros log to /var/log/messages, although I’ve seen a couple log to /var/log/syslog. If something is wrong, most likely there will be some relevant information in the logs. Also, if you are dealing with email at all, don’t forget /var/log/mail. Double-check your applications, find out if any of them log somewhere ridiculous, outside of syslog.

Brush up on your vi skills. Nano might be what all the cool kids are using these days, but experience has taught me that vi is the only text editor that is guaranteed to be on the system. Once you get used to the keyboard shortcuts, and start creating your own triggers, vi will be like second nature to you.

Read the man page, and then run the following commands on each machine, and copy the results into your documentation:

    cat /etc/*release*
    cat /etc/hosts
    cat /etc/resolv.conf
    cat /etc/nsswitch
    df -h
    ifconfig -a
    free -m
    crontab -l
    ls /etc/cron.d
    echo $SHELL

That will serve as the beginnings of your documentation. Those commands let you know your environment, and can help narrow down problems later on.

Grep through your logs and search for “error” or “failed”. That will give you an idea of what’s not working as it should. Your users will give you their opinion on whats wrong, listen closely to what they have to say. They don’t understand the system, but they see it in a different way than you do.

When you have a problem, check things in this order:

  1. Disk Space (df -h): Linux, and some apps that run on Linux, do some very strange things when disk space runs out. It may seem unrelated, until you check and find a filesystem 100% full.

  2. Top: Top will let you know if you’ve got some process that’s stuck out there eating up all of your available CPU cycles. Nothing should consume 99% CPU for any extended period of time. If its a legitimate process, it should probably fluctuate up and down. While you are in top, check…

  3. System Load: The system load should normally be below 3 on a standard server or workstation. The system load is based on CPU, memory, and I/O.

  4. Memory (free -m): RAM use in Linux is a little different. It’s not uncommon to see a server with nearly all of its RAM used up. Don’t Panic, if you see this, it’s mostly just cache, and will be cleared out as needed. However, pay close attention to the amount of swap in use. If possible, keep this as close to zero as you can. Insufficient memory can lead to all kinds of performance problems.

  5. Logs: Go back to your logs, run tail -500 /var/log/messages more and start reading through and seeing what’s been going on. Hopefully, the logs will be able to point you in the direction you need to go next.

A well maintained Linux server can run for years without problems. We just shut one down that had been running for 748 days, and we only shut it down because we had migrated the application over to new hardware. Hopefully, this will help you get your feet wet, and get you off to a good start.

One last thing, always make a copy of a config file you intend to change, and always copy the line you are changing, and comment out the original, adding your reason for changing it. This will get you into the habit of documenting as you go, and may save your hide 9 months down the road.

December 4, 2009 - 3 minute read - work sysadmin culture

Teach A Man To Fish

As a general rule, I really don’t like consultants. Not that I have anything against any of them personally, it’s just that as a whole, most consultants I’ve worked with are no better than our own engineers and administrators. The exception that proves this rule is our recent VMWare consultant, who was both knowledgeable and willing to teach. Bringing in an outside technical consultant to design, install, or configure a software system is admitting that not only do we as a company not know enough about the software, we don’t plan on learning enough about it either. Bringing in a consultant is investing in that companies knowledge, and not investing in our own.

July 13, 2009 - 3 minute read - work life culture

Regarding OS Zealotry

Today I found myself in the unfortunate situation of defending Linux to a man I think I can honestly describe as a Windows zealot. I hate doing this, as it leads to religious wars that are ultimately of no use, but it’s really my own fault for letting myself be sucked into it. It started when we were attempting to increase the size of a disk image in vmware, while Red Hat guest was running. It didn’t work, and we couldn’t find any tools to rescan the scsi bus, or anything else to get Linux to recognize that the disk was bigger. I was getting frustrated, and the zealot began to laugh, saying how easy this task was in Windows. Obviously, I felt slighted since I’m one of the Unix admins at $work, and decided I needed to defend the operating system and set of skills that pays the bills here at home. And so, we started trading snide remarks back and forth about Linux and Windows.

July 9, 2009 - 4 minute read - work linux culture


Ask any mechanic, machinist, or carpenter what the single most important thing that contributes to their success is, and what they are bound to tell you is “having the right tool for the job”. Humans excel in creating physical tools to accomplish a certain task. From hammers to drive a nail to the Jaws of Life to pry open a car, the right tool will save time, money, and frustration. It’s interesting to note the contrast that people have such a hard time with conceptual tools. Software designed to accomplish a specific task, or several tasks, is often forced into a role that it may not fit into, making the experience kludgy, like walking through knee deep mud.

I’ve found this problem to be especially prevalent in business environments, where the drive to “collaborate” brings many varied and sundry applications into the mix. While hurrying to the next great collaboration tool they forget to ask the absolute most important question: What do we need this software to do?

To communicate effectively in a business environment, it is imperative to use the right tool for the job. To determine what the right tool for the job is, you first have to ask yourself exactly what the job is. Do you need ask a quick, immediate question from a co-worker? Is there a more detailed project question that you need to ask, and maybe get the opinions of a few others too? Do you have something that you need to let a large group of people know, maybe even the entire company? Each of these tasks is best suited to a different tool. Unfortunately, I’ve most often seen each of these tasks shoe-horned into email.

Email is a personal communications medium, best suited for projects or questions that you do not need immediate responses to. There have been many times when I’ve gone through my inbox and found something that didn’t grab my attention when it was needed, and by the time I looked at it was past due. Email is asynchronous, ask a question, and wait for a response whenever the receiving party has time.

If you do need immediate response, the best tool would be instant messaging. IM pops up and demands the receiving person’s attention. When requesting something via IM, the person on the other end has to make a decision either to ignore you or to answer your question. Long explanations are not a good fit for IM, but short, two or or three sentence conversations are perfect or it.

When considering sending something out to the entire company, keep in mind that email is a personal communications medium. Company wide email blasts are impersonal, and for the most part require no action on the part of the receiver other than to eventually read it. A better tool for this job is an internal company blog, accompanied by an RSS feed. RSS is built into all major browsers now, and could be built into the base operating system build for PCs. Every single time I get something from our company green team or an announcement from the CEO, I can’t help but think that a blog would be the best place for such formal, impersonal communications. A blog could be archived for searching, new announcements broadcast through RSS, and best of all accessible when the intended receiver has the time and attention to best appreciate the content. To me, company wide email is the same thing as spam, and for the most part, is treated as such.

One other form of internal communications which is far, far too often maligned beyond recognition is shared documentation. Technical documentation especially suffers from document syndrome, which is having a separate (often) Word file for each piece of documentation, spread out through several different directories on Windows shares, or worse on the local hard drive of whoever wrote it. Such documentation should be converted to a wiki as soon as possible. If you are writing a book, I hear Word is a fairly good tool to use. If you are writing a business letter, again, great tool. If you are documenting the configuration of a server, a word processor should not be launched. Word (or OpenOffice) documents have a tendency to drift, and are difficult to access unless you are on the internal network. Trying to access a windows share from my Mac at home through the VPN is something that I’ve never even considered trying. A wiki, is perfectly suited for internal documentation. They are a single central place to organize all documents in a way that makes sense, is accessible from a web browser, easy to keep up to date, and most importantly, searchable. Need to know how to set up Postfix? Search the internal wiki. Need to know why this script creates a certain file? Search the internal wiki. Everything should be instantly searchable. Perhaps search is not the most important feature of a wiki, perhaps the most important is the ability to link to other topics according to context. I can get lost in Wikipedia at times, jumping from one link to another as I explore a topic. The same thing can happen to internal documentation. This script creates this document for this project, which is linked to an explanation of the project, which contains links to other scripts and further explanation. Creating the documentation can seem time consuming, until you are there at 2AM trying to figure out why a script stopped working. Then the hour spent writing the explanation at 2PM doesn’t seem so bad.

One of the first things I did when starting my job was to set up both a personal, internal blog and a shared wiki for documentation. I used Wordpress for the blog, and MediaWiki for the wiki. Both are excellent tools, and very well suited for their purpose. If I were a manager, I’d encourage my team to spend 15 minutes or so at the end of the day posting what they did for the day in their personal blog. Could you imagine the gold mine you’d have at the end of a year or so? Or the resources for justifying raises. Solid documented experience with products and procedures, what works and what doesn’t. The employee’s brain laid out.

Internal moderated forums is something that I haven’t tried yet, but I can see benefits to this as well. They’ve been used on the Internet for years, and I can imagine great possibilities there, especially for problem resolution. How about a forum dedicated to the standard OS build of PCs? Or one for discussing corporate policies?

Blogs, wikis, forums, and IM are tools who’s tasks are far too often wedged into email. If an entire organization begins to leverage using the right tool for the job, the benefits would soon become apparent. Then you’d wonder why you ever did it the other way at all.

March 5, 2009 - 5 minute read - work culture

Systems Administrator

From time to time I’m asked by members of my family or friends of mine outside the tech industry what it is that I do for a living. When I respond that I’m a sysadmin, or systems administrator for Linux and UNIX servers, more times than not I get the “deer in the headlights” look that says I may as well be speaking Greek. So, for a while, I’ve taken to saying “I work in IT”, or “I work with computers, really big computers” or even “I’m a computer programmer”, which isn’t exactly accurate. Although I do write scripts, or even some moderate perl, I’m still not officially a programmer. I’m a systems administrator, so, let me try to explain, my dear friends and family, what it is I do in my little box all day.

First, some basics, let’s start at square one. Computers are comprised of two parts, hardware and software. Sort of like the body and soul of a person. Without hardware, software is useless, and vice-versa. The most basic parts of the hardware are the CPU, which is the brain, the RAM, which is the memory, the disk, which is a place to put things, and the network card, which lets you talk to other computers. For each of these pieces of hardware there needs to be some way to tell them how to do what they are intended to do. Software tells the hardware what to do. I forgot two important pieces of hardware: the screen and the keyboard/mouse. They let us interact with the computer, at least until I can just tell it what to do Star Trek style.

Getting all of these pieces of hardware doing the right thing at the right time is complicated, and requires a structured system, along with rules that govern how people can interact with the computer. This system is the Operating System (OS). There are many popular operating systems: Windows, OS X, and Linux are the big three right now. The OS tells the hardware what to do, and allows the user to add other applications (programs) to the computer.

Smaller computers, like your home desktop or laptop have network cards to get on the Internet. The network card will be either wired or wireless, that doesn’t really matter. When you get on the Internet, you can send and receive information to and from other computers. This information could be an email, a web page, music, or lots of other media. Most of the time, you are getting this information from a large computer, or large group of computers that give out information to lots of home computers just like yours. Since these computers “serve” information, they are referred to as Servers.

Large servers are much like your home computer. They have CPU, RAM, disk, etc… They just have more of it. The basics still apply though. Servers have their own operating system, normally either Windows, Linux or UNIX. Some web sites or web services (like email) can live on lots of different servers, each server having its own job to do to make sure that you can load a web page in your browser. To manage, or “administer” these servers is my job. I administer the system that ensures the servers are doing what they are supposed to do. I am a systems administrator. It is my responsibility to make sure that the servers are physically where they are supposed to be (a data center, in a rack), that they have power and networking, that the OS is installed and up to date, and that the OS is properly configured to do its job, whatever that job may be.

I am specifically a UNIX sysadmin, which means that I’ve spent time learning the UNIX interface, which is mostly text typed into a terminal, and it looks a lot like code. This differs from Windows sysadmins, who spend most of their time in an interface that looks similar to a Windows desktop computer. UNIX has evolved into Linux, which is more user friendly and flexible, and also where I spend most of my time.

Being a sysadmin is a good job in a tech driven economy. I’ve got my reservations about its future, but I may be wrong. Even if I’m not, the IT field changes so rapidly that I’m sure what I’m doing now is not what I’ll be doing 5-10 years from now. One of these days, maybe I’ll open a coffee shop or a restaurant, or I’ll finally write a book.

February 24, 2009 - 4 minute read - work culture sysadmin life

Goodbye Cocoa

Some times, things come easy to me. I’d like to think that I’m somewhat blessed in that way, especially when it comes to various forms of technology. Back in the Navy, I found I had a knack for telecommunications, and I found that I could grasp the flow of the circuits through various media easily. I nurtured this technological edge, and turned it into a career as a systems administrator. It meant lots of long nights and many mistakes along the way, but it was fun, I enjoyed it. Like I said, some things come easy… but some things just don’t. For example, I have no mental capacity for sports. I enjoy playing every now and again, but I can’t keep track of who’s who and what’s what in this professional team or that college team. It just doesn’t come easy to me.

September 19, 2008 - 5 minute read - programming cocoa culture

The Master Craftsman

The Master Craftsman works methodically, not slowly, not hurriedly. He has mastered the basics, and knows the essence of his craft. He has moved to a point where he can define his own methods, and doesn’t need to explain them to anyone, unless someone is wise enough to ask. The Master Craftsman enjoys the hardest, most complicated problems, and enjoys unravelling them piece by piece. He enjoys the challenge to his skill, and proves his worth again and again as he overcomes each obstacle.

May 14, 2008 - 2 minute read - life culture

Starting Over

My wife wanted me to read something that she was writing the other day, so I sat down at her laptop on our table and read through it. While I was there, I happened to glance at her email, an old hotmail account, and noticed that she has emails going all the way back to ‘01. A quick glance at my gmail tells me that there is no way I can tell how far back my email goes, but I’m pretty sure that I’ve lost everything prior to ‘05 or so. I’ve been accused of having email ADD in the past, and I’m fairly certain there is a bit of truth to it. It seems to hold true for a lot of the technology in my life, I’m just never satisfied with it, and wind up tweaking, fiddling, and otherwise screwing around with my tools until they are either just right or completely screwed up and I throw the entire thing in the trash and start over.

This certainly holds true for my email, I have been through @aol.com, @hotmail.com, @yahoo.com, @mac.com, @inbox.com, @live.com, and finally, @gmail.com. It also holds true for my web sites. I’ve started 10 or 15 web sites throughout the years, starting with a geocities site back in… what, ‘99 or so? If I’d have stayed on top of it, I’d have managed to compile a decent amount of writing in one place for 9 years. But, I have some form of technology ADD, and can not seem to be happy with any single system. When I discovered Linux, my curiosity really got the best of me. I must have downloaded and tested 100-125 distros. I installed so many that I started recording them on my old (now defunct) blog, jonstechblog.com, which evolved into the also now defunct, osvids.com. This went on until I “switched” to Mac, and I’ve been fairly happy with my operating system since. At least I know that there is nothing else out there that’s any better than what I have now.

I’ve learned a lot about what I want out of my technology over the years, and I’ve found that when I find a good system, even if its not perfect, its best to stick with it until there is a significant reason to change. My curiosity has unfortunately led to my loosing data. Somewhere along the line I lost a lot of email, and a lot of writing, and there is no way to get that back. So, now, I’ve come to a point where I’m content in the systems that I have in place. My email works great, my OS works great, and I have an excellent blogging platform on a reliable host. I’ve started over far, far too many times, and it’s time to settle down and shoot down some roots. Its time to stop worrying about the method of creation, and focus on the creative process itself.

April 22, 2008 - 2 minute read - life culture

Oranges and Oranges

A couple of months ago Linux Magazine published an article written by Scott Granneman comparing Mac OS X Leopard and Ubuntu Gutsy Gibbon. I’ve been torn between these two systems, and their respective predecessors for years, so the article was of great interest to me. As a matter of fact, I was wondering how I missed it to begin with. The article is well written, but can be boiled down to this one paragraph:

Linux has come a long way when it comes to ease of use, and it’s definitely getting better all the time, but overall Leopard is still ahead of Ubuntu (and both are way ahead of Vista). Apple makes mistakes, but overall its system is more logical, simple, consistent, and unified than Ubuntu, which still has too many elements that are overly complex, inconsistent, and fractured.

February 16, 2008 - 3 minute read - linux mac culture

No Fail Diet Plan

Seriously, does anyone really need to know how to loose weight these days? No matter what super plan you choose, it always comes down to eat less an exercise more. There is no secret formula, and there is no magic pill that will help you achieve the body that you want.

Here’s another truth that no one wants to hear: your weight is your fault. You cannot blame genetics, how you were taught to eat, your job, your wife, your husband, your kids, your dog, the government, or any other outside influence other than yourself. It is true that some people are more prone to weight gain than others, but that does not mean that you can’t do anything about it. Blaming anything except your own habits is a cop-out. To start the 100% guaranteed program, you have to face reality, and you have to take responsibility for your own actions.

So, here’s my super simple, 100% guaranteed, no way you can not lose weight, weight loss plan.

Step one, watch what you eat. That means no McDonalds, Burger King, Hardie’s, or Sonic. Eating fast food makes you fat. I like a double-quarter pounder with fries as much as the next guy, but seriously, you never need that many calories in one setting. I’d say that’s like a once every six months meal, not once a week (or day). If you have to eat out, go to Subway and order a six-inch veggie delight on whole wheat. Seriously, try it, they are really good!

Next, stop right now and go look in your refrigerator and your pantry. OK, how much pre-prepared food did you see? Boxed, one-pan, no cooking skills necessary stuff, you know what I mean. If you are eating ingredients that you cannot pronounce, there is a problem. For example, I cannot think of the last time a recipe called for L-Cystein Hydrochloride. Use raw ingredients as much as possible. Even if the resulting recipe is high in fat and calories, at least you know what’s in it. That leads me to my next point.

Fill up half your plate with veggies. Make a salad that only contains vegetables. Lettuce, carrots, cabbage, broccoli, olives, onions, etc… Fill up a quarter of your plate with a slice of bread or something similar. This is your side dish. That doesn’t mean that it gets its own plate, its there to take up room on your plate, and therefor in your stomach. Now you should have only a quarter of your plate left to fill, that’s for the main course. Also, get a pint glass of ice cold water to go with your meal. Drink the water before drinking anything else.

Speaking of drinking, here’s another hard lesson to learn. Alcohol makes you fat. Alcohol add nothing of value to your diet. As in all things, moderation is OK, but drinking a six pack a night is a sure path to failure. Also, drinking a bottle of wine in one sitting is also very bad for your health. Remember the glass of water at dinner time? Drink that first, and you won’t be as tempted to drink so much beer or wine or whatever you like with your meal.

So, that covers eating and drinking, now for the fun part: exercise! If the sun is shining, turn off the TV, shutdown the computer, and go outside. It’s actually very difficult not to exercise when you are outside, because there is always something to do. At the very least, take a walk. Do some gardening, shovel snow, make a snowman, go out and do something. You can pick up a sport. I’m learning how to swim laps in a pool. It’s not as easy as it sounds, but learning something new is enthralling. I get bored weight lifting and running on the treadmill, but you may really enjoy it.

There are literally thousands of sports, and if you keep looking, you are bound to find one that’s just challenging enough without being too overbearing. However, you must be brave, because here is the final hard lesson to learn. When you try something new, you are going to look like a fool. This is universal, and unavoidable. No matter what it is, no one is good at something the first time they try it. No matter what your chosen exercise is, until you get good at it, you are going to look silly. Be brave, this will pass. Here’s the great thing, the more you do it, the better you get at it, and the less ridiculous you will look doing it. Right now I rather resemble an obese housecat thrown into the pool while I’m learning how to swim. That’s OK, it will pass, the more I swim, the better I get at it.

Nothing worth doing is easy.

January 12, 2008 - 4 minute read - life culture