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.
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. ↩
“We are all stories in the end, just make it a good one eh?”
It’s nearly midnight on Christmas Eve. I’m the only one awake, perhaps with the exception of my dog, Oliver, although as the minutes tick by I’m less sure of him. Tomorrow morning the kids will wake us up earlier than we’d like, and we will tear into the presents, eat a wonderful breakfast, and have a fantastic day enjoying each others company.
Statement of Faith
I am a Christian. I believe that Jesus is the Son of God, that he became a man and was born to a virgin. Jesus lived a perfect, sinless life, and died on the cross as the ultimate sacrifice for all of humanity, for all time, past and future. He was raised from the dead three days later, spoke to his disciples, and now sits enthroned in glory in heaven at the right hand of the Father. Through Faith, I accept this truth, and I accept Jesus as my personal savior.
Burn it Down
As the year comes to an end it would be easy to look back and see all of the things that didn’t work. Mistakes were made, endeavors failed, and it was generally a tough year. Some things that I thought would work out did not, and some things I thought I had more time before I had to deal with came due. Sometimes, when things aren’t working out, it’s best to burn it all to the ground and start over.
Technical Education in K-12
Our small school is nearing the end of the four-year cycle for a one-to-one program that provides all students in grades six through twelve with a white MacBook. Students are free to take the laptop home, and parents must sign an agreement to pay for any damages. Over the course of the past few years I have become strongly, almost vehemently opposed to the program.
A Daring Adventure
or, A Good Life
Update: July 30, 2013 - Farmdog is not closed, but I am rethinking everything. Paragraphs will continue to be supported for the foreseeable future.
Where We Stand
In the online help for Paragraphs, I have a rather odd statement:
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.
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.
A New World
CocoaHeads changed my life. This afternoon I am killing time in a coffee shop, about to head to work for an appointment with HR. When I get there, I’ll turn in my badge, they will wish me luck, and I’ll walk out the door. Monday, I start a new chapter in my life with T8 Webware. To say that I’m a little nervous about this change would be an understatement. I’ve spent time with these guys, they are smart, ambitious, and I believe in what they are doing. I’m going to be part of building something awesome, and I’m extremely excited.
Every so often I get the inkling to make this site more than what it is. Since 2008 I’ve been writing fairly regularly here about whatever comes to mind, and in doing so I’ve covered several topics. I’ve written about Android and Mac geekery, success and failure in Mac development, business, psychology, systems administration, personal stories, and memories. More than anything, I have tried to inspire others, and sometimes, if I’m very, very lucky, I succeed.
Weekend With Android
I should have known better… I do know better, but it was on sale, and it was Black Friday, and I bought an Android phone. I purchased the HTC Desire, a perfectly reasonable choice in high-end smart phones. Android 2.1, a 1GHz processor, 512M of RAM, and an 8G MicroSD card for storage. The phone is well designed, solidly built, and aesthetically pleasing, but at this point, its still on probation, I might take it back.
Android Marketplace Inconsistencies
Living out in the farmland of Iowa where we do, there’s really only one carrier who provides decent service, US Cellular. US Cellular has a great service for battery replacement. If you find yourself out and about and your battery dies, you can drop by any US Cellular store and they will replace the battery for free. I was in that situation today, so I spent some time looking at the Android phones HTC Desire and Samsung Mesmerize.
Last night I did my civic duty by casting my vote at the local community center. I walked down since it was not far from my house, and enjoyed the crisp night air. Once I arrived at the community center I noticed that the voting process was being run by a group of elderly women, two of whom had Lenovo laptops, which were curiously tied together by an ethernet cable. Each of the laptops had a label printer attached to it via USB, with the other USB port occupied by a mouse. As I approached one lady noticed me and asked me to fill out a form, which I did, and then asked if I had voted there before, which I had not. That turned out to be a bit of a problem, one that was easily resolved, and one that was caused entirely by the laptops.
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.
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.
New Years Day
“And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? Christmas came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ‘till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”
I’m a geek. Understanding that little fact puts me a little closer to being in touch with myself, and understanding that I’ve got a habit of trying out every new service or technology that comes along. That’s fun, but in the case of online services, I wind up with accounts all over the place. So, the past few days I’ve been pruning my online accounts down to what I really need.
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.
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.
Writing and Word Processing
A friend of mine is having a heck of a time with his new MacBook. He’s a recent convert to Macs, and as a philosophy student he spends a lot of time in Word. When he first bought his shiny new MacBook, he was surprised to find out there was no word processor in it. I pointed out TextEdit, which he quickly dismissed as not nearly powerful enough for what he needed to do. So, back to the store he went to pick up a copy of iWork ‘08, and started working with Pages.