Archive for category Time Management

life (and tech) is not soundbytes

Google+, Twitter and Facebook just aren’t suitable for technical topics.

They all have their uses, but seem to be just too shallow for tech, and life.

Face it, when you need an answer to a technical question or learn about something that isn’t in Wikipedia, chances are that Google will lead you to a blog post. Not a Facebook page (not indexed, and rarely technical). Not Twitter (how much can you explain in 140 characters?) And probably not Google+, either (although there is sometimes good discussion there).

Nope, you’re going to end up at someone’s blog post.  Someone who faced the same problem, did their homework, pulled together from other sources, and solved the problem.

Go to Twitter for breaking news, Facebook for your friends, and Google+ for interesting discussions.

But the next time you solve a problem, how about you contribute to the world-wide-knowledgebase via a blog post somewhere?

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Beer adventures

My #craftbeer challenge for last year was “never drink the same beer twice”. Even here in San Diego, that wasn’t quite possible. But I tried.

I ended up with “never the same beer twice in a row”, at least.

San Diego is arguably the (a?)  craft brew capital of the US. It’s the epicenter of a movement that combines old-world craftsmanship, tradition, experimentation, sustainability and “slow” (locally sourced) food. There are lots of beer choices here, but unless you are willing to visit all (150+) of the local breweries, brewpubs and beer bars, you are just going to have to repeat once in a while.

As part of our “beer tourism” last year, we also visited Denver, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Santa Monica, Tucson, Seattle, Liverpool, London, Amsterdam and Tokyo. Not that we picked the locations because of the beer, but as long as we were there, we figured we might as well check out the local craft brew scene 🙂

Craft beer is now big business, $34 billion industry (US), and $4.7 billion in California alone. That’s why the “corporate yellow fizzy water” companies are trying to convince you that they “are craft”. Really, Budweiser? Really, MillerCoors? This new “we’re small and cool and don’t suck even though our beer has for decades” marketing from the big companies has been labeled “craftwashing” by some, such as Greg Koch of Stone Brewing.

Without further ado, my stats for 2013 from

335 beers total, 298 uniques, and 103 badges.

Fortunately, at least 20% of those brews were the 4 oz taster size! Otherwise that would have been 41 gallons (158 liters) of cool frosty beverage!  That’s about twice the US average per capita. I probably would have sprained my liver.

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Do I read too much?

Last year I read 92 books, for a total of 34054 pages. That’s almost as many pages as there are words in a typical novel.

That’s primarily fiction, lots of SF and a little urban fantasy. There’s some non-fiction in there, diving physiology, cryptography and math, etc. That doesn’t count online reading, web pages, training materials, or papers or documents that I wrote.

Apparently I need to read less and write more.

Tomorrow, my untappd stats for 2013 😦

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IPv6 “sprint” – background and results

The last two weeks at work have been some of the most fun in the past few years. A few months ago I moved from management back to my first love: deep technical work. In my new position I’m responsible (with a co-worker) for technical strategy, creating our Enterprise Architecture, and forward-looking technical projects. We’re also tasked with finding new ways to collaborate and take on projects as well as take a hard look to ensure that IT is supporting the rest of the business.

For some of these, we act as facilitators for IT projects, even though we aren’t in the management chain.

IPv6 has been one of my “back burner” projects for almost a year. There is a business mandate that we must have IPv6 connectivity to one of the inter-corporate networks by 1 April. A select set of our internal users need to have IPv6 connectivity to business applications that will only be available over IPv6 via this network.

To prepare for this, we had a need to ramp up IPv6 knowledge from almost nothing, to ready to plan a limited IPv6 deployment next month.

We decided to try a new project methodology (loosely) based on agile concepts: we performed IPv6 testing and deployment preparation as a “sprint”. We got 12 of our most senior system and network admins together in a large conference room with a pile of hardware, a stack of OS install disks, a new IPv6 transit connection and said, “Go!”.

No distractions, no email, no phone calls. Just 12 people off in a completely different building, in a big room with a pile of gear and the mandate to “explore IPv6” and learn enough to be comfortable planning a limited IPv6 deployment at the end.

It was great seeing people from different IT departments who usually specialize in Linux, MS Windows, VMWare, networking, security, etc. all come together to explore IPv6 on all these platforms, bring up services, test, find vendor bugs 🙂 and in general build a standalone IPv6 lab from scratch.

We truly did start from scratch; we started with an empty room, a bunch of tables and chairs, two pallets of PCs, assorted network kit, three boxes of ethernet cables and installation media.

Along the way, all of these people stepped out of their comfort zones, learned about each others’ specializations, and worked together for a common goal that we all created together.

At the end of the 2 weeks, we had a fully functioning dual-stack IPv4/IPv6 network:

  • Routers and switches, firewall and IPv4/6 transit from a new provider
  • Fully functioning Windows infrastructure: AD, DNS, DHCP, IIS, Exchange, etc.
  • Linux infrastructure: DNS, DHCP, syslog, apache, Splunk, Puppet (mostly)
  • Windows Server 2008 and 2008 R2, Windows 7 clients
  • Linux Centos 5 and 6 servers and desktop
  • MacOS Snow Leopard and Lion clients

All the results and everything we learned is documented in a wiki full of IPv6 configurations, hints and tips, debugging info, links to IPv6 info, lessons learned and plans for IPv6 next steps to production. I think we generated about 50-60 pages of new documentation along the way on IPv6, and about 6 pages of notes on the sprint experience itself.

The sprint wasn’t perfect, and we had a few stumbles along the way. But we learned a lot about how to run these kinds of sprints, and we’re pretty sure that we’ll have more of them in the future.

We also had two full weeks of face time with our colleagues from four sites in two states. In some cases we had never met each other in person, but had been exchanging email and tickets for years.

It was incredibly productive two weeks. We learned a lot about IPv6, each other and found new ways to work together.

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Crowdsourcing my RSS feed

Last week I ranted about how much media I was consuming (or at least wading through) as opposed to writing.  Part of that was the 436 RSS feeds I had in Google Reader.

As of this morning, I have 93 feeds. And the quality of what I’m seeing is higher.

I’m implementing a suggestion from one of the smartest people in my life. I’m crowd sourcing my RSS feed.

I did this by removing most of the source news sites themselves, and keeping (and adding) individuals. I’ve dropped everything from Pharyngula to Gizmodo, Engadget to Ars Technica.  Goodbye NYT and CNN. I don’t need you anymore, at least not as RSS feeds.

You know why? Because there are a lot of smart people out there who read your content. Each individual doesn’t read all your content, every day, but enough of them see some portion of your content, and are moved to write about it (on their blogs) or  “share” it themselves in Reader. By following those individuals one way or another, I get the best of your content, without wading through everything.

I’m giving these individuals editorial control of my daily news, instead of each of you. Why? Because they are interested in sharing what they think is the most important, or funny or interesting content each day. They don’t care how many hits you get, or your ad revenue. They care about sharing what they think is the very best of the Internet. They’re willing to attach their identity to their opinions about what is “good” and make recommendations about your content.

But this is a two-way street. I’m more careful, more targeted, more thoughtful about what I share. I don’t want to pollute your RSS feed (if you’re following me) with too much low quality dross to wade through.

So, what have I kept, or added to my own RSS feed reader?

I’ve kept all the LOPSA Member Blogs; individuals writing about the things they are most passionate about, especially system and network administration. I’ve kept a few specific humor sites that I enjoy, but I don’t even try to read everything, everyday. I’ve kept quite a few blogs by individuals on topics that I enjoy: computer security, system administration, writing, film noir, brewing, etc. I’ve kept all the blogs by the people in my life, friends and family.

I’m continuing to seek out individuals that post interesting things and follow them as individuals, to see what they’re writing, reading (and recommending).

I still have more source sites to prune, and more individuals to add, but this has already made a huge difference in my daily news reading. I made it through my entire RSS feed list in less than an hour Sunday morning, even though I hadn’t read anything for at least four days.

I no longer dread opening my Reader feed and seeing “everything that I’m going to miss”. I’m trusting that you will all find the best of the stories  and bring them to my attention.

Thanks for reading teh Intarwebs for me, and sharing the very best. I’ll try to do the same for you.




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The “Usenet trap”, or reading vs. writing

You have all probably noticed that this blog isn’t updated very often.  I’m afraid I’ve fallen into what Vernor Vinge once described to me as the “Usenet trap”.

A long time ago I was fortunate enough to spend time with him on a semi-regular basis, and even shared an office with him for one semester. At that time I asked him if he ever read Usenet News (which tells you how long ago this was), and he said (paraphrasing) “No.  If you are reading, you aren’t writing, and I want to spend more time creating, and not all my time consuming.” At that time he was working on the draft that became “A Fire Upon the Deep.”

I spent some time over the past week, looking at how much time I spent consuming “media” (reading) as opposed to writing (other than work). Read the rest of this entry »

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boredom, creativity and…. iPads and search engines

Peter Bregman has an interesting hypothesis:  we are too connected to information, and we need “boredom time” to be creative and productive.

He makes the case that carrying an always connected device (in his case an iPad) allowed him to be too productive, that is, productive at any time of the day or night.  He allowed work and activity to fill all the time in his life because he had a device that made that easy.  In other words he discovered an aspect of  Parkinson’s Law.

I think he is on to something, but I’d like to suggest that it is really the over-ease of access to information that is the problem.  With Google (or any other search engine) on every device we carry with us, there is never a need to ask “I wonder if…”.  We never have to think about that question, we can always get the answer immediately.

When was the last time that any dinner time (or work time) question remained contested?  In other words when was the last time you had a discussion, an argument (in the classic sense) about a question of fact?  It is too easy to immediately answer those questions, and therefore we are losing the ability to question authority and make creative arguments to support our positions.

I believe that the reverie of a chain of “I wonder if…” questions can lead down some very creative pathways, and too many of us are short-circuiting that process.  Science fiction is some of the most creative literature around, in terms of “ideas per page”, and it requires the creation of “what if…” chains for which you choose muliple non-obvious answers.  Easy access to information, too soon, short-circuits the creative process that can lead you into those great “out of the box” ideas that make all the difference.

So, it’s not always about getting those hours of uninterrupted time, it’s about making some of that time unconnected and unstructured time.

There’s been a lot of discussion in the sysadmin community about turning off your email client to get those uninterrupted hours to make progress on projects.  I believe that we also need to turn off search engines to get unconnected and unstructured thinking time.

So don’t always focus on time management throughout your entire life, and give yourself permission to explore “what if…” on your own.

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