December 2009 Archives

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year, folks!

May all your backups be restorable, may all your packets reach their destination!


Posted by Tom Limoncelli in Site Announcements

Bacteria use IRC

It turns out bacteria are big users of IRC.

All bacteria hang out on two IRC channels. First, all bacteria hang out on #HO+OH+O+O. Second, each species of bacteria has their own, private, channel that only bacteria of that kind hang out on (#species-NAME).

If you aren't sure if two bacteria cells are the same species, do a /whois and see which 2 channels it is on. When a bacteria species has evolved enough to be different than their their parent species, they start using a different species-specific channel.

Now that we know this, it is easier to classify bacteria.

And if you don't believe me, watch this TED.COM talk by Bonnie Bassler of Princeton University.

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in Misc

I'm doing research about professionalism in our industry. I'd like to hear your thoughts.

Please take 5 minutes to answer this simple survey.

Please spread this survey around to your friends, email lists, and twitters. I'll be collecting data for one week.

Thanks!

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in Community

TM4SA encourages people to make lists. I've met readers that have gone too far. Here's a great article from Grad Hacker about reaching balance:

Make Lists. Not Too Much. Mostly Do.

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in Time Management

CHIMIT (2007,2008,2009) is a conference for researchers that study the habits and workflows of IT workers in an effort to find ways to make them more productive (they call this "human factors in IT"). Anyone trying to make my work easier is alright in my book.

At the most recent conference I moderated a panel of system administrators who had been in the audience watching the first day of presentations. It was our turn to "speak up" about what we had seen.

One of the useful things that came out of this panel was a list of "signs that a product was designed to be easy for system administrators to install and maintain."

Here is a short version of the list:

  • as a command line interface
  • has an API so it can be remotely administered
  • has a "silent install" mode so it can be cleanly deployed
  • has a config file that is ASCII so it can be stored in a revision control system; and the same file can be input INTO the system.
  • has a clearly defined way to do backups and restores.
  • has a clean way to monitor for up/down issues (know when there is an emergency) AND vital statistics that relate to scaling/latency (know how to debug slowness) AND historical monitoring (be able to predict far in advance when we need to buy more capacity)

What would you add to this list?

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in Academic study of SA

Save this date: May 7-8, 2010 (Fri/Sat)

My local (New Jersey) LOPSA chapter has decided to have their own local mini-conference. There will be speakers, talks, training and "unconference" tracks. We want to have people there that come from all backgrounds: Windows admins, Linux/Unix sysadmins, network admins, storage gurus, and so on.

Interested? Live and/or work in/near New Jersey? Active in a User Group that would like to be involved?

Want to be involved in planning this conference? It is a great way to meet people and network. Our next planning meeting is Monday night (Dec 14, 7pm). Email me (tal at everything sysadmin dot com) for more info.

Update: Original post listed the date wrong... oops! I'm an idiot.

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in Community

Feeling vindicated

The latest issue of The Atlantic Monthly magazine has an article called The Science of Success which can be summarized:

Most of us have genes that make us as hardy as dandelions: able to take root and survive almost anywhere. A few of us, however, are more like the orchid: fragile and fickle, but capable of blooming spectacularly if given greenhouse care. So holds a provocative new theory of genetics, which asserts that the very genes that give us the most trouble as a species, causing behaviors that are self-destructive and antisocial, also underlie humankind's phenomenal adaptability and evolutionary success. With a bad environment and poor parenting, orchid children can end up depressed, drug-addicted, or in jail--but with the right environment and good parenting, they can grow up to be society's most creative, successful, and happy people.

I've always felt that it was wrong that ADHD, ADD and hyperactivity are often treated as diseases, disabilities, or defects.

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in Time Management

AT&T

AT&T's De la Vega is getting in trouble for saying that they want to find ways to discourage people from using their data plans. It turns out that AT&T's data network is overloaded and rather than fix the problem, they think punishing their users will help.

As an AT&T customer, it makes me sick.

As an ex-AT&T employee, it just reminds me of why I was so happy to leave.

This is what you get for having salespeople run the company instead of engineers. Engineers would have budgeted for appropriate growth to match customer growth.

AT&T's mindset is that bandwidth is scarce. Every bit is so impossibly costly that it must be measured, counted, monitored, and charged for. On my first day as an employee I had to watch a 30 minute video that did nothing but explain that I can't make a single personal phone call from the office; it looked like it has been made when phone calls were still $3/minute. Don't waste their precious, precious bandwidth.

Bandwidth was expensive for the first 100 years of their history, but it certainly isn't true now. What made the internet great was thinking in terms of plenty, not scarcity.

I remember when "the web" (HTTP) was new. A friend at a different division of AT&T told me their engineers were fearful of HTTP and didn't want it to catch on because their network could never handle such a graphic-rich system (this was 1992 or 1993). I couldn't figure out why they weren't thinking, "Yeah! An opportunity to sell more bandwidth!" If you sell apples, don't you want to freely distribute apple pie recipes? If you sell paint don't you want to encourage everyone to repair their house? Ugh. If AT&T was selling bacon they'd be encouraging everyone to become a vegan.

At the time UUNET (the first commercial ISP) was giving away free Usenet feeds (at this time this was a HUGE amount of bandwidth) and paying people to develop open source Usenet software: all to make it easier for people to need more bandwidth. I thought UUNET's way was much smarter.

It also annoyed me, as an employee, that AT&T kept acting as if Moore's Law didn't exist. This is odd because the Moore revealed this observation during a presentation at AT&T's Bell Labs. Maybe they have to remember that Nielsen's Law makes similar claims about bandwidth. Pushed on by cheaper electronics, bandwidth gets cheaper too.

The biggest innovations in computing have come from brashly using more resources, usually slightly ahead of the supply curve. Textual user interfaces were a "waste of CPU" when first seen by batch computing people. Graphical user interfaces were a "waste of CPU" at first, but now it is what enables billions of people to use computers. RAID was a "waste of disk" but now I would never build a server without it.

The other attitude that I saw at AT&T was sheer shock and surprise that anything changes. "What? We built this thing for our customer base and... there are more customers a year later? They want new features? How could anyone have expected that?" Combine that with an intentional ignorance of Moore's Law and you have a disaster.

A disaster called AT&T.

Yes, AT&T, you have the best selling phone. People use it for data more than voice. The data apps are what make it such a success. Why do I get the feeling that when you negotiated with Apple you thought, "Sure, we'll throw in flat-rate data plans... it isn't like anyone is going to use that stuff!"

Are you still thinking that the internet is a "fad" like CEO Robert Allen?

My AT&T/iPhone contract is over in a few months. Maybe when it ends I should help De la Vega's bandwidth problem by not using his network at all.

P.S. I have a lot of pent up anger bout my AT&T service because twice a day as I take the train from Bloomfield, NJ to New York City and back I am faced with dead-spots at key locations such as the Secaucus transfer station, Watsessing Ave, and others locations along the way. It is frustrating to be on the train and see other passengers using Verizon and T-Mobile able to talk on their phone (and I presume surf the web) at all the points that I can't. It is my twice-a-day reminder to leave AT&T that I could be doing better with a different vendor.

Update 2010-01-26: There is a follow-up article to this here

Update 2009-12-20: Enabling the service wasn't working for a few days. It is now working again. It does not require Premier service. Any Google Apps customer should be able to use it.

Where I work we have a service called "go" which is a tinyURL service. The benefit of it being inside our domain is huge. Since "go" (the shortname) is found in our DNS "search path", you can specify "go" links without entering the FQDN.

That means we can enter "go/payroll" in your browser to get to the payroll system and "go/lunchmenu" to find out what's for lunch today. That crazy 70-char long URL that is needed to get to that third-party web-based system we use? I won't name the vendor, but let me just say that I now get there via "go/expense".

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in Technical Tips

SysAdvent has begun!

SysAdvent has started its second year.  SysAdvent is a project to count down the 24 days leading to Christmas with a sysadmin tip each day.  Last year Jordan Sissel wrote all 24 days (amazing job, dude!). This year he has enlisted guest bloggers to help out. You might see a post of mine one of these days.

While I don't celebrate the holiday that the event is named after, I'm glad to participate.

Check out this and last year's postings on the SysAdvent Blog: sysadvent.blogspot.com


 
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