September 2009 Archives

I usually don't just post links to other people's articles, but I found Email: The Variable Reinforcement Machine an excellent explanation of why email is a time management disaster.

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in Time Management

With just a month left for nominations, BigFix, Inc., is adding a new prize to the 2009 System Administrator of the Year contest - a progressive jackpot up to $5,000. This is a great time to nominate the sysadmin in your life that has saved the world a few times. (Or drop some hints to your boss, eh?)
Read more about it.

(By the way, I'm one of the judges for this contest.)

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in System News

If you think the internet is cool, or that everything that can be done has been done, you ain't seen nothing yet. It's just getting started.

The internet is 40 years old (started in 1969).

The first half of those 40 years... websites didn't exist. Everything was email and file transfers, and text... no graphics.

The web is 20 years old (born March 13, 1989).

The first half of those 20 years... the web was so slow most people didn't find it useful. There were so few computers on the internet, that if you draw a graph of internet growth you can barely see the number of computers connected to the internet in 1991 (and, yet, at the time we thought it was HUGE!).

Fast internet access is about 10 years old.

Broadband (speeds fast enough to be useful for audio and video) has only been widely available since around 2000.

Google is only 10 years old (born September 8, 1999).

Before then to find a website you had to ask your friends or go to a websites that paid people to come up with lists and lists of websites that people might find useful.

The interactive web ("Web 2.0") is only 5 years old.

AJAX is what lets websites be interactive, like the ability to scroll the map in Google Maps. Before then websites were rather static. Your read a web site, you didn't play with it. You could fill out a form, click on links, and some websites were generated dynamically (like Amazon.com), but nothing as interactive as Google Maps, games, or Facebook. Websites that use "AJAX" only started appearing in 2003. That's when Google Maps and other highly-interactive sites sprung up.

YouTube is only 2.5 years old (born Feb 15th 2005 but didn't really take off until early 2007).

YouTube and other video-sharing sites took off about 2.5 years ago. It took that long for a lot of people to have fast internet access at home. 2007 is less than half of half of half of half of the history of the internet!

So....

In 40 years we've gone from a text-based, email system that was slow and difficult to use to a fast, fun, interactive, full-video system!

Imagine what is next:

  • As internet access becomes pervasive (usable anywhere we are, via our cell phone), new ideas and applications are springing up like crazy. With cell phone GPS, websites can provide useful information wherever we are. Movie listings know what the nearest theater is. Wikipedia could list every page that mentions what you are looking at!
  • Augmented Reality is a new concept where you view the world through a video camera and internet-based information services add information. It could recognize that you are looking at a person and it will remind you what their name is. Or, when you see your friend Joe it will tell you "That's Joe! He hasn't returned that think you loaned him!"
  • More and more applications are moving to the web. Web-based wordprocessors and spreadsheets let people collaborate on the same document, at the same time, over long distances! People are writing books together and they've never even met!
  • Some day we might access the internet without the use of a computer. Just a connection directly to our brain.

The next 5 years will have more innovation than the last 40! Imagine what things will be like in 40 years!

One more thing...

When my father was born (1932), plastic hadn't been invented. There was bakelite, but not what we consider plastic today. In his lifetime cars have gone from all metal to mostly plastic. When I was born (1968), the internet didn't exist. Communicating using computers was unheard of. The things that are being invented today will make science fiction movies look like cowboy westerns. You think I was kidding about the direct connection to our brain?

Related links:

P.S. For the geeks:

I mostly wrote about the last half of the internet's history. Let's talk about the first half. The first half there was no World Wide Web. The first half of the first half (20 years) there was no DNS. One person maintained a file called hosts.txt and it was copied to all other machines periodically. You called or emailed a person to request adds, changes, and deletions. The first half of that (10 years) there wasn't even TCP/IP. There was NCP, the predecessor to TCP/IP. TCP/IP was deployed in 1981. There was a day when everyone turned off NCP and turned on TCP/IP (could you imagine doing that today?). The first half of that (first 5+ year), there were so few computers on the internet, it was still considered a lab experiment! The first half of that, most scientists that studied computer communication didn't know that packet-switched networks (instead of circuits... like the phone system) existed. Then again, there were nay sayers about packet-switched network for a good long time. in 1995 Bob Metcalfe predicted the internet would collapse by 1996!

P.P.S. If someone could draw any of this in a picture or wants to put it into a video I'd love to help!

(Thanks to Peter H. Salus for pointing out some of these facts.)

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in Ideas

Due to overwhelming demand, the committee has extended the Ohio LinuxFest registration until midnight Tuesday, September 22. Please register today if you have not done so already and are planning on coming to Ohio LinuxFest 2009. Walk-in registrations at the day of the show may be possible for the enthusiast and professional packages (OLFU), subject to space availability.

OLF is a Free and Open Source Software Conference and Expo in Columbus, Ohio, September 25-27, 2009

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in Conferences

[ This is a draft, but it's good enough to publish. Please post feedback. ]

Someone recently asked me for my advice about planning a conference.

First, I want to say that conferences are really important to the open source community. Conferences build community. Conferences build community. Repeat that over and over. It is so true it can't be underestimated. From the early Usenix conferences which bolstered Unix, to MacWorld which gave the Mac developer community "a home", to modern Linux and other conferences: If you want to build a community, have an annual conference. A well-run conference has the side effect of building your local community. First, the conference is great PR for your organization. Every planning meeting is an excuse to tell the world that you exist. Second, a conference is "special" and that brings out people that might normally ignore a monthly meeting. Third, if you do the planning right and spread the work around, you will find volunteers come out of the woodwork. The person that was intimidated to run an entire conference is certainly willing to do a small task like reaching out to a potential speaker or coordinating the catering vendor that provides lunch. That grooms people for bigger jobs. By the end of your conference you will have found the next generation of leadership that your organization needs.

So here's my advice.

A successful conference is created by having a logical plan that will carry you from the start all the way to the end.

1. Work from a timeline. I have run or been involved in about a dozen conferences. The most important thing that I learned was to build a timeline. Do this in person. Get everyone in a room for a kick-off meeting. Put huge sheets of paper on the walls marked with the months or weeks leading up to the conference. Mark 'today' and 'conference' as end-points. Now discuss the various aspects of the conference and mark them on the timeline.

Suppose you start with the program: Mark the day you'll announce the "call for papers", mark when the deadline will be for submissions, mark when the program committee will have their selections done, confirmations will go out, when replies are accepted, and so on. Next let's hear from the registration committee. Mark the last day people can pre-register, mark the last day you offer a discount for early registration (which is a lie. Mark 1 week early, but use that day to announce "the discount is extended 1 week!" and have the real deadline 1 week later). PR is important. How often will you send out press releases? Monthly? Mark the first of each month. Magazines have a 4-month lead time, and people make travel plans 6 months in advance: Mark 10 months early that you will have contacted magazines. Keep doing this with every committee... even if you don't have your committees set up. Most of it will be guesses. That's ok. A lot of it will need to be coordinated: The moment you have the keynote speaker, send a press release. People don't register for a conference until they know the entire (draft) program, so be fore that your have a (draft) program early, and that registration deadlines are coordinated around that. etc. etc. Mark the days of the planning conference calls (once per month, then once per week when you are closer to the event).

If you can get all this into a timeline in a single day-long meeting the rest of the story "just writes itself". Each week/month have a conference call where you figure out who is going to do the tasks in the next week/month of the timeline. It lets volunteers feel like no task is too intimidating (they only look a week/month ahead), and leaders don't micromange because they are setting goals. It keeps everyone "on the same page" and removes a lot of the chaos. (Note: If you want to encourage new volunteers, have the meetings in person and announce them publicly. Newbies are intimidated by phone calls.)

2. End the "timeline meeting" with a commitment. The next thing I recommend also takes place at the "timeline" meeting. At the end of the meeting, gather everyone in a circle and ask them all to commit to making sure the "timeline" happens. Go around the circle and have each person saying that they are agreeing to this commitment. I know it sounds really hippy-dippy, but the conferences that I've done this have been the ones where all the volunteers stayed on to the end. The ones were I chickened out and didn't do this were the ones that everyone was fighting, volunteers dropped out, and by the conference date 1-2 people were doing all the work (and hated it). I call this my "good luck ritual". There is magic in this ritual.


3. Get a signed contract for the location as soon as you can. Most volunteers won't volunteer until the date/place are certain. They don't want to put effort into something that they can't attend.

The few volunteers that you do get before you've booked a place... use them to find and book a place.

Once you've booked a place, have the timeline meeting.

4. One more thing... Here are some things to add to the timeline because they are often forgotten.

  • Before the conference starts, write "thank you" notes to all the speakers. (Send them 1 day after the event).
  • Send rejection letters AND confirmation letters. Many times conferences forget to send rejection letters. Don't leave people hanging.
  • Have the "post-conference" party immediately after the conference is done. Don't wait a day... people won't be around for it. Use the party to thank everyone, give them space to relax and celebrate, and make notes for next year. Rather than a formal "what will we improve next year" meeting, just put a big sheet of paper on the wall and let people write. Have another sheet for people to list "Great things about this year's conference!"

Setting up a timeline early on gives the entire process structure. Structure is comforting to volunteers that may be otherwise unsure and, quite possibly, scared. Scared, confused, people are more likely to be stressed, get into arguments, and drop out. Giving people some structure, but not so much as to be micro-managing them, helps build their confidence, makes sure that everyone understands their job and the jobs of everyone else, and that all helps people work better together.

Have a great conference!

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in CommunityConferences

I've long been a fan of Alan Turing, even writing a big paper about his mistreatment my freshman year of college (talking about gay stuff was much more radical in 1987. I nearly cried while giving the oral report portion of the project). For those of you that don't know, Alan Turing not only invented what we now call computer science, but broke the German code which directly led to The Allies winning World War II. One man can really change the world.

During the war Turing's code-cracking skills were so invaluable that his homosexuality was ignored or tolerated by the British government. Sadly, after the war the his code-cracking skills were not as needed the government began persecuting him. This persecution lead to his apparent suicide.

Recently John Graham-Cumming began a petition campaign to ask the UK government for a formal apology for their treatment of Alan Turing.

Last week Gordon Brown issued a formal apology.  Read Gordon Brown's statement in its entirety.

Amazingly enough, one of Alan Turing's most brilliant and enduring work was the creation of a an unbiased test for artificial intelligence (now called "The Turing Test"). The break-through of this test is that it creates an environment where we can only see the intelligence of a person (or computer). As a side-effect, we do not see their race, color, gender, or sexual orientation.  Could it be that his inspiration for this test was driven by his desire for a world where people were not persecuted for such things?  Read John Graham-Cumming's beautiful article about this ironic twist.

For an "insider view" of the process of getting the apology read John's article about when Gordon Brown called him to say that the apology was about to happen. John deserves a lot of credit for this work.  He didn't have a huge staff of people. He didn't have a PR agency. He only had the internet and a blog. One man can really change the world.

Thank you John!


How do you demonstrate that your ISP is crap? Implement RFC1149 (IP over Carrier Avian) and show that the ADSL line being provided is "slower than a bird"! That's what people in South Africa did to embarass Telkom. Telkom has not yet commented.

There are images of other implementations of RFC1149 in our book, The Complete April Fools' Day RFCs.

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in Funny

Google has made it possible to sync from Google Calendar to your iPhone's native app. The sync is bidirectional and over the air. Setting it up is a little confusing, but the docs walk you through it. To enable it you use the "Google Sync" web-based app. Go to m.google.com/sync, select iPhone, and follow the instructions.

You can sync multiple calendars to the native iPhone Calendar app, but doing searches for how exactly to do it mostly gives incorrect results. I don't know if Google changed the process and people haven't updated their docs, or if I'm just searching for the wrong thing.

So that I can find the right procedure, I'm including it here.

Before we begin, remember three things: (1) this is for "Google Apps" (i.e. "Google Apps for your Domain"), (2) this syncs to the iPhone native Calendar app, giving you off-line calendar access and no need to use the web browser, (3) you do most of these steps from the iPhone's web browser, not from your laptop. (Some other web sites have posts that confuse some of these issues.)

  1. Make sure syncing to the iPhone native Calendar app is set up and works already. If you need instructions on how to do this, go to m.google.com/sync, select iPhone, and follow the instructions. (You can do this from your iPhone or your computer. I recommend doing it from your computer so you can read the instructions while you do the steps on your iPhone).
  2. On your iPhone, open the Safari browser and go to http://m.google.com
  3. Click on Google Apps user? at the bottom of the screen.
  4. Enter your domain name (i.e. whatever.com).
  5. Click the Sync icon in your domain area (this section has a green background).
  6. Sign in if required.
  7. Select your device to configure Calendars.
  8. When you are done the calendar entries appear on your iPhone native calendar app. Each will be a different color (not the same colors as on the web, but at least you can tell them apart).

Updated: Corrected my statement about the color of the calendar entries.

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in Time Management

I had a great time speaking at LOPSA-NJ last Thursday. The turnout was around 20-30 people. Everyone was very friendly. A couple people were there for the first time, I hope not their last time.

The presentation that I did was 60 minutes from my new tutorial called "Design Patterns for System Administrators". The full tutorial is 3-hours long and will be premiered at Usenix LISA 2009. I really appreciate the group letting me run though some draft slides and giving me feedback. It will make the actual tutorial a lot better.

A special shout-out to Bill for inviting me and running the organization. I really appreciate the opportunity to speak!

Support your local LUG, SAGE Chapter, or Unix users group!

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in Speaking

Tom will be presenting a 1-hour talk titled Better system administration through Design Patterns at LOPSA-NJ (League of Professional System Administrators / New Jersey Chapter).

See you there!

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in AppearancesArchive

 
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