Awesome Conferences

January 2010 Archives

See you at MacWorld!

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in Conferences

Status: draft

The Usenix LISA 2010 "Call for Participation" is out. I encourage everyone to think about what they're doing to improve system administration, what innovation they've brought to their network, and write a paper about it.

People often ask me for a definition of "system administrator". TPOSANA/2ed has a great definition in the preface (read it and see).

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in Conferences

The biggest impediment to recording a todo item is that it is inconvenient. I use that excuse to tell myself, "oh, i'll write it down later". Later never comes.

The fewer clicks to the "add a task" prompt, the less likely I can give myself that excuse.

90% of time management is mental.

That's why I recommend paper (no boot-up time), and PDAs like the original Palm that make it very fast (minimal clicks) to write down an idea.

A related excuse happens when I'm in the NYC subway. With no internet connectivity (2G, 3G, or WiFi), any great idea I have on the subway is destined to be not recorded, and often forgotten, if the app I'm using requires the network.

What would be optimal? A "record a task" button right on the phone. You would press-and-hold the button, it would wake up and say "Recording". You would then say your task and use speech-to-text technology to transcribe the idea. If the speech-to-text server isn't reachable, it should hold the audio clip until it can be reached; possibly doing the translation in the background.

The on-screen or physical keyboard should be available too, of course, but what I really want is a super smart, voice activated, task recorder.

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in IdeasTime Management

Previously I wrote about the Google Apps shortname service which lets you set up a tinyurl service for your enterprise.

The article implies that the service can be used without using the FQDN. This is not true. In other words, I had said that "" could be shortened to "go/lunch".

There is a workaround that makes it work. It is difficult to configure, but I've set up a Community Wiki on that explains all the steps. As a wiki, I hope people can fill in the items I left blank, particularly specific configuration snippets for ISC BIND, Windows DHCP server, Linux DHCP clients, and so on.

The new article is here: How to set up Google ShortName service for my domain, so that the FQDN isn't needed

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in Technical Tips

Tom will be speaking about the Ganeti open-source project (manages virtual server clusters). More info at

Two talks in one:

At the risk of being a total fan-boy for Atul Gawande's 'The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right' (book and ebook), I want to point readers to this extract published in The Financial Times.

It covers a VC that uses checklists to get better results when selecting investments, and a dramatic description of the checklist use during the US Airways flight 1549 flight where Captain Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenberger III did an emergency landing in the Hudson river.

Three favorite quotes:

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in Checklists

How to kill innovation

This BusinessWeek article spells out the kind of behavior that kills innovation which I saw at Bell Labs. His example is at a bank, where a new product is killed because nobody else is doing this product.

At Bell Labs in the 1990s I felt that the president spent most of his time alternating between two activities: Canceling projects because "if it was a good idea, why don't we hear that the competition is doing it?" and complaining that the competition had just released a product that we hadn't thought to create. The truth was that we had, but he canceled it for the former reason.

The article recommends a better way to encourage innovation: "we can turn to a third form of logic: abductive logic, the logic of what could be. To use abduction, we need to creatively assemble the disparate experiences and bits of data that seem relevant in order to make an inference--a logical leap--to the best possible conclusion."

As system administrators we often put down extremely new ideas. Centralized file servers were a bad idea, until everyone else was doing it. The web was "too much bandwidth and should be blocked." WiFi can't be made secure. Cloud computing is "untested."

Sometimes I am concerned that we get burnt out and forget that while it is our job to measure risk, we do this to find creative was to mitigate it; lest we find ourselves using it to justify stopping innovation.

Here's a good New Years Resolution: Make an effort to take the logical leap to see what could be.

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in Technical Management

Just moments ago Usenix has published their "Call for Participation" for the Usenix LISA 2010 conference. This is a conference that I attend every year because the value I get out of it is undeniable. The speakers are excellent and the topics make me feel like I have access to a crystal ball that lets me see into the future.

The CfP gives a more detailed explanation of the conference and the kinds of talks, papers, and presentations that they are looking for. This is a community conference; talks come from people in the community, not "top down" vendor presentations.

This year adds a new "Practice and Experience" section where people can give a 20 minute talk where people can explain "substantial system administration project that has been completed." Sounds like a great way to learn from other people's mistakes [After I typed that I thought people might think I was kidding or being cynical. Actually, hearing what speedbumps to watch out is pretty darn important!.]

Usenix LISA is unique in that they have a track of refereed papers. These high-quality papers are where some of the biggest system administration innovations have first been published. This year the committee is not requiring full papers, but instead requests 500-1500 word summary. If your paper is accepted you will be expected to produce the entire paper in time for publication. This lowers the barrier to entry and I hope to see a big increase in paper submissions this year (I'm on the panel that votes on papers). If you have done something fantastic, invented a new technique, or written new software that improves the state of the art for system administration, please submit! (Private email to me is fine if you want to ask for advice). Details about submitting papers is here.

Whether you are planning on submitting a proposal or not, reading the full CfP is a great way to understand how a conference like LISA works. When you are presenting or not, I hope to see you there!

Read the entire call for participation here:

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in Conferences

System Downtime

This website will be down sometime in the next 24 hours. I'm switching DNS registrars and I'm sure the transition will mean at least a temporary loss of service.

Update: This is complete.

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in System News

Atul appeared on WNYC's The Leanard Lopate Show today. You can listen to the entire show here.

He's speaking at 8:15pm at the 92nd Street Y in NYC tomorrow:

In his most recent book, The Checklist Manifesto, Atul Gawande reveals the surprising power of an ordinary checklist that can save lives and improve the way in which we behave. Gawande is a MacArthur Fellow, a general surgeon at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, a staff writer for The New Yorker and an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health. His other best-selling books include Better and Complications.
I've bought a ticket and can't wait to see him speak.

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in Time Management