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October 2011 Archives


No, not this. I mean the Usenix LISA conference. It is only 5 weeks away. Have you registered yet?

The first few days are half-day tutorials with industry leaders teaching topics like Puppet, CFEngine (we don't take sides... both get a half day!), Time Management (that's me!), IPv6 (real deployments are happening!), and many many more topics.

The last half of the conference is a mixture of invited speakers, refereed papers, and other good stuff. What I like about the refereed papers this year is that we hit the perfect balance: half are "oh, I can use that right now!" and half are "OMG! Far out!"

The invited speakers are a mixture of hot topics (storage, security, virtualization, interesting new tools) and amazing people.

At night there are "Birds of the Feather" sessions, where YOU choose the topic.

Doug Huges and I are co-chairs this year and we're both proud of the work that the program committee has done. We look forward to seeing you there!

Usenix LISA 2011 is Dec 4-9 in Boston. You can register any time, but you get a discount if you register by Nov 14. I look forward to seeing you there!

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in ConferencesLISA11

You can save big $$$ by registering for LISA on or by Nov 14th.

Usenix LISA 2011 is Dec 4-9 in Boston.

I look forward to seeing you there!

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in LISA11

Call for Participation:

LOPSA-NJ Professional IT Community Conference 2012

This year's Theme:

"System Administration: Scaling, Security, and Saving Money"

PICC '12: 3rd Annual Professional IT Community Conference

May 11- 12, 2012 New Brunswick, NJ Hyatt Regency New Brunswick

The organizers of the LOPSA-NJ Professional IT Community Conference (PICC) invite you to submit proposals for papers and talks to be presented at PICC '12.

PICC12 is a gathering of professionals from the diverse IT (computer and network administration) community in New Jersey to learn, share ideas, and network. The conference includes invited speakers and keynotes, training by top-notch experts that is relevant, useful, and recession-friendly; plus an "unconference" track where attendees propose and host their own topics during the event. We expect attendance of 100 to 150 IT professionals from mid to large sized companies and academia from New Jersey/New York/Pennsylvania. We go by many titles but everyone is invited: system administrators, network administrators, network engineers, Windows, Linux, Unix, DBAs, etc

Presentation Topics

We strongly welcome topics on best practices, new developments in systems administration, and cutting edge techniques to better manage Linux, Unix, or Windows hosts and environments.

Papers should be of a technical nature and speakers should assume that members of the audience have at least a few years' experience in general IT, Linux/Unix, and/or Windows administration. The audience will primarily hail from businesses and academic institutions in the New Jersey/New York/Pennsylvania area.

Topics may include (but are not limited to):

  • System Administration
  • Backup
  • Security
  • Troubleshooting
  • Buying
  • Decision Making
  • Virtualization
  • Cloud computing
  • Enterprise Monitoring and Management
  • Identity Management
  • Web and Email Management
  • Spam and Virus Filtering
  • Networking
  • Wikis
  • Clustering and High Availability
  • Log Management
  • VoIP
  • Ticketing systems
  • Bootstrapping and automated installation
  • Configuration Management and packaging

Topics explicitly NOT requested:

  • Sales presentations
  • Vendor product demonstrations
  • Proposals or vaporware

Here are some topics from our previous two conferences and some ideas for new talks:

  • Internal Documentation for System Administrators.
  • The Path to Senior SysAdmin
  • A senior system administrator describes the 'lessons learned' from converting from one email system to another.
  • Someone with recent experience in particular technology (cloud computing, backups, Windows 7, etc.) presents "10 things I wish I knew before I started with [name of product]"
  • A Windows engineer describes how they manage their fleet of of desktops/laptops.

Presentation Format

We are actively seeking proposals for presentations at PICC'12. We have openings for:

  • Papers: 5-10 page paper, published electronically to attendees at the conference, and publicly after the conference. Presentation at conference will be 30 minutes including Q&A.
  • Talks: 20 minute presentation + 10 minute Q&A.
  • Posters: One physical poster of a topic or work in progress, to be discussed with conference goers during a specified poster session
  • Panels: 45-minute panel discussion

Submit your Presentation

If your presentation is selected you will get a complimentary registration for Saturday May 12. If you want to attend the training on Friday or Saturday you will only pay the difference for the classes. Submissions and questions should be sent to: [email protected]

Dates and Deadlines

To encourage early submissions, priority (both for inclusion and scheduling) will be given to presentations submitted before the 1st of March.

  • January 30, 2012 - Deadline for submissions
  • February 14, 2012 - Final program confirmation
  • May 11, 2012- Start of conference

Contact and Questions

Please see our website at for more information on PICC '12 and presenting at this great event.

If you have any questions, please feel free to email the organizers at: [email protected]

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in ConferencesLOPSA

What does this Time Management guru think of Apple's new

If you read this blog your ears probably perked up when you heard that Apple's iOS5 adds a new application called "". It complements the todo-list infrastructure Apple has been adding to its calendar system on OS X.

The big question is: Can it do "The Cycle". "The Cycle" is the todo list management system that I describe in Time Management for System Administrators. It is very full featured even though you can start just by using a couple of its principles and building up as you get used to it. It is also flexible and customizable to suit your work-style.

Most todo list systems aren't made with The Cycle in mind (how dare they ignore me!) but if they are configurable you can get it to do The Cycle to some degree. has most of the features required. However, unlike products like Appigo Todo, there are many gaps and the workarounds require many keystrokes... I mean... taps.

There are four principles of The Cycle that translate into software features. First, you must be able to pin a task to a specific date; preferably you have a different todo list per day. Second, when a task's day has passed it should flow to the next day. Third, within a day's list you should be able to re-order the tasks. Lastly, moving a task to the next day (or any future day) should be frictionless.

Let's see how rates on these criteria.

Pinning: Pinning a task to a date is easy. If you press the + button while viewing a particular date the task is pinned to that date. As you create the item you can't change this default (you must click "done", click on the item, and set the date.) There is no setting that will let you change the default behavior to have all new items be pinned to "today" or to no date.

Flowing: A task does automatically flow to the next date if it wasn't completed by midnight. That's great. It took me a long time to test this feature. On Monday I set reminders for today and Tuesday. On Tuesday I saw the first item was bumped forward one day. With great self-control I didn't touch either item and on Wednesday I saw both had bumped forward. I can't tell you how excited I was. I'm blushing.

Re-ordering: I couldn't figure out how the app orders tasks within a day. It isn't by time. it isn't by priority. It isn't alphabetically. I think it is just the order you enter them in. Sigh. This is very disappointing. This is is a key missing feature since an important part of the The Cycle is to "Invest 5 Minutes" by starting each day by taking 5 minutes to re-order your todo list to match your priorities. Other systems let you drag the items around. The fact that changing an item's priority doesn't seem to have any effect on the item (it doesn't even change the color) either indicates that this is either a bug, an unimplemented feature, or I'm just doing it wrong. All three have equal likelihood. The work-around is to maintain the order in your head, or re-think the order after you complete each item. That goes against my principle of "think once, do many".

Bumping: The last principle is that it should be easy to bump a task to the next day. Part of "guilt-free time management" is that you control when things are done. If it is a pain to move an item to the next day (or further into the future) it is temping to just leave them where they are and use your brain (instead of your smartphone) to remember when you'll actually do it. Sadly it takes at least 4, and usually 6, taps to set the date on an item. That is not friction-free.

So, of the 4 principles succeeds with 2, fails on 1, and gets a C+ on the other.

What is good for?

The system does use the GPS to relate a reminder to a particular location. In fact, it can alert you when you arrive at that location or when you leave. I just set a reminder to myself that will pop up when I leave my house. That's damn useful.

The application is also very integrated into the Apple iCloud offering. Their email/calendaring products added todo lists a while ago and it is good to see that the iPhone is getting those features too. does what it is designed to do: Offer reminders at the right time and keep track of simple task lists. If you just need an occasional reminder, it is just fine. I think this is what Apple intended. I suspect that, like many Apple products, the initial version is just to test the waters. If it sparks demand, they'll allocate resources to pumping it up with features. We've seen that before.

I don't want to go out on a rant here but... this is the difference between generic time management "checkbox apps" that primary vendors add versus what you get from a company who's core product is time management. This gets repeated over and over (even the Palm Pilot's todo list was weak and had to be augmented by Pimlico's DateBk enhancement if you were a power user)

In conclusion I would recommend if you only have the need for an occasional.... reminder. It isn't a big powerful todo list management system. However if you have an iPhone, need the GPS features, and don't have a heavy workload to track, use it. You'll do fine.

Reminders is good at what it was designed to do: remind you of something at a specific time or a specific place (or both).

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in Time Management

I'm teaching 3 tutorials at Usenix LISA this year. Two are on time management ("intro" and "team efficiency") but the third is brand new: The Limoncelli Test.

I've identified 32 qualities of well-functioning system administration teams. You've seen them before as "The Limoncelli Test". In this tutorial, I'll be going into more detail about the important ones and leaving plenty of room for Q&A. It is a 3-hour class and I hope to keep it interesting by making it very interactive.

The hardest part of adopting these practices is often your own co-workers resistance to change. Therefore, I'm adding a big section on influencing others and "selling" big changes within an organization. That is new material that hasn't appeared in any of my past tutorials or books. I think it will be the most valuable part of the session.

Register for this tutorial today!.

Usenix LISA 2011 is Dec 4-9 in Boston. You can register any time, but you get a discount if you register by Nov 14. I look forward to seeing you there!

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in ConferencesLISA11

In my speaking and writing I always encourage people to automate what they can and document what you can't. If something can't be automated (or isn't worth automating) writing a bullet list of the steps to accomplish the task makes the task less error-prone and easier for others on the team to do it.

I get replies like, "What if I automate myself out of a job?" or "but if I document what I do, anyone can do it and I won't be needed!"

Sysadmin, please! Neither could be further from the truth.

First of all, there's always more IT work to be done. Automating your job is more likely to get you new assignment. Being the person that automated something makes you a hot property and other projects will come to you.

Secondly, if I have 10 people working for me and I'm told that due to downsizing I have to pick 1 person to let go, I'm not going to pick the person that writes good documentation and automation. The (thankfully few) times I've had to lay off people I did anything I could to save the people that are "force multipliers": they create tools that let team members do more with less. A wiki full of accurate, up-to-date, "how to" bullet lists is just as much of a "tool" as a script that automates a task. If you don't know how to program, learn. If you don't want to learn, learn to write "how to" bullet lists.

The C programming language let one programmer could be as productive as 100 assembly-language programmers. Did this mean that 99% of all programmers were fired? No, it meant that more programmers were hired than ever before: the profession was opened to more people and the pent up demand for software was released.

There's another way to think about it: This is totally different than the auto industry where the introduction of robots resulted in layoffs. In IT, you are the robot!

P.S. I count 21 different tutorials at Usenix LISA that teach how to automate and 2 tutorials related to documentation. That's just the tutorials... there are 4 other tracks in the program!

Usenix LISA 2011 is Dec 4-9 in Boston. You can register any time, but you get a discount if you register by Nov 14. I look forward to seeing you there!

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in Checklists

Two things I like about Usenix LISA conference: (1) The speakers are (usually) the inventor. (2) They're accessible, not roped off into a VIP room. You can talk with them, hang out with them. (Boston, Dec 4-9; early registration discount ends soon!)

There are a lot of big names this year: What's your interest?

The conference is in Boston, Dec 4-9, 2011.

Save money by registering on or before Monday, November 14, 2011.

For more information go to

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in ConferencesLISA11

In reply to my last blog post a reader sent me email to say: "I've never gone to a conference. What do employers typically pay for?"

Your company probably has a written travel policy and a travel budget.

Most employers pay travel, the conference registration, hotel, and food (T&E); IMHO they should do this since you need to get there, attend, and while there sleeping and eating are kind of important too.

Other companies pay part of the cost or a fixed amount. For example, they might have a $1000/year training budget per employee and that would consume the registration (most people would therefore only go to local conferences that do not require travel). Some have a "pool" of money that permits 1-2 members of a team to attend each year; in that case team mates take turns going to conferences and you might only attend every 2 or 3 years.

When budgets are crunched, you are more likely to get approval for something specific: you need to learn Python and there is a python training on (for example) Tuesday, so they fund that only. Economically speaking, however, once you've paid for the travel it is best to amortize it over the most number of days. In other words, you've paid for the travel, get as much out of the conference while you are there.

If a company has zero budget for training sometimes people pay their own way but their employer gives them the time off without requiring them to take vacation days. That's a last resort. I've also taken vacation time and paid my own way, but I'm that dedicated to attending LISA ;-)

Talk about cost last:

Certainly don't bring up the cost until after your boss sees the value of going. Convince him/her that (for example) you need to learn Puppet and LISA would be a good way to do that. Show the brochure or web site. Once you have agreement, they'll ask about cost and you can broach that subject. If you start by talking about the cost, it will be an up-hill battle from there.

General negotiating advice:

I've noticed that geeks (like myself) are bad negotiators (myself included) but I learned to overcome this with a few techniques. The problem (my problem) is that geeks love information and want to share all information. In negotiations you want to hold back information until the right time.

When negotiating always start by asking for what you want and wait for the rejection before suggesting other lesser options. It is tempting to say, "I'd like the company to pay for the entire trip but if that's too much how about just the registration?" because that is the truth. However, you are over-sharing. If you said that the easy reply for you boss is, "Ok, just the registration! Thanks for that great suggestion you made there!" You've just "negotiated against yourself".

It's best to ask for what you want and then be silent. SIlence is uncomfortable and 1 second of silence feels like 10, but keep your lips sealed. Car salespeople say that when they use silence as a negotiating tool, "The next person to talk is the loser." I don't think this is a winner/loser situation, but you'll see what they mean in this next example.

I typically see geeks negotiate like this:

Geek: I'd like XYZ. Boss: (Silence) Geek: Or just XY. Boss thinks to himself, "wow! i was going to give him everything but I needed some time to think! He just negotiated away Z. Awesome!"

So, ask for what you want. Be silent. Wait for the reply. If you are tempted to speak, say to yourself over and over: "Mary had a little lamb." Really.

If the reply is negative be ready with a second suggestion.

If the reply is, "We can't afford it", ask, "What can we afford?" If they give a number, work within it. Some ways to bring the cost down:

  • Split the room cost with someone else (the sage-members list is a good place to find room shares)
  • Travel cheaply... car or train.
  • Couch surf at the home of a local friend or relative
  • Work pays for the tutorial days, you cover the other days.
  • Split the cost. [Again, don't offer these all at once. They're just suggestions.]

If they don't give a number, return to talking about the "value". (more tips about that yesterday)

Hotel advice:

As a co-chair of the conference I would be remiss if I didn't point out that it is important to stay at the conference hotel if at all possible: We need to fill a certain number of rooms to fulfill our contract. If you can afford to stay at the main hotel, please do. There are a lot of night-time activities at LISA so your best bet is to say in the conference hotel so you can stay for the late-night BoFs and just take the elevator to your room. That said, if there are budget constraints, staying with a local friend is very economical.

Hope that helps,


Posted by Tom Limoncelli in Conferences

You can save big $$$ by registering for LISA on or by Nov 14th.

Usenix LISA 2011 is Dec 4-9 in Boston.

I look forward to seeing you there!

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in ConferencesLISA11

  1. Ask early. Sometimes approval takes a long time. He/she may have to ask higher-ups.

  2. Warm them up. One day mention how you wish you had better tools to do something or wish you knew more about something ("time management" maybe?). A few days later say that you found a class on the topic at LISA. (Intro to TM and Advanced TM are both being offered)

  3. Talk about end-results, not technologies. "There's a class that will teach me how to automate installations" is much more understandable than "there's a class on Puppet". Find 3 classes or talks you want to attend. Explain them in terms of the results the boss will see. 2 is good, a 3rd is good as a backup. More than 3 sounds like you are trying too hard.

  4. If they have a favorite sysadmin book, look to see if the author is speaking at the conference. If they respect the author, they'll be more open to sending you to the conference. If they like any of my books, tell them about my new class!

  5. Tell them they can come too. With classes like "A Sysadmin's Guide to Navigating the Business World", "Workplace Presentations 101 for System Administrators" and "Team Efficiency" there is a lot for them to learn too!

Usenix LISA 2011 is Dec 4-9 in Boston. You can register any time, but you get a discount if you register by Nov 14. I look forward to seeing you there!

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in ConferencesLISA11

I'll be keynoting the conference with a talk called, "You Suck At Time Management (but it ain't your fault!)"

For information:

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in AppearancesArchiveConferences

Dennis Ritchie

Dennis Ritchie has died after a long illness. He was 70; two years younger than when my own father died.

When I joined Bell Labs in 1994 I was very excited that I would be on the sysadmin team that served computer scientists such as Dennis Ritchie. Many of my favorite textbooks were written by people that would now be my users. On my first day, however, I was told that I shouldn't ask Dennis, or anyone, to autograph a book: they didn't like that.

This was disappointing. I had many books I had hoped to get autographed. None more than my original copy of The C Programming Language, also known as "The K&R Book".

My copy of K&R was well-used and worn. I had read it over and over. In high school they taught Pascal but I knew that C was must more interesting and taught myself the language. C had only recently escaped the labs and there weren't many resources for learning it. I taught myself it as much as I could considering I was in high school and had no access to a computer powerful enough to run a C compiler. I was surrounded by 8-bit machines (Apple II, Commodore 64, Atari 800).

I collected languages like other kids collected baseball cards. C was beautiful, simple, power, and expressive. It was the opposite of the languages I learned before it: BASIC [Apple, C-64, TI-99/4A, GW-Basic, Simon's], Pascal (UCSD P-System, Tubro, assembly languages (6502, 68000) plus odd languages like COMAL. It was like "the perfect assembly language". If you knew machine code / assembly language you appreciated C infinitely more... in ways I can't express in words.

It was an exercise in self-control that when I left Bell Labs seven years later none of those books were autographed.

I'll close with one anecdote and one thought.

The anecdote...

One day I was in my boss's office. The phone rang, he answered it. He listened for a moment and then replied, "Yes, I'll send one right away." He hung up and turned to me to say, "Normally when a user calls to say that their monitor isn't working I ask the usual questions about whether or not it is plugged in, connected right, and so on. But since that call came from the inventor of C and Unix, I think we can just send him a new monitor." We had a good laugh.

The thought...

I should have fucking asked him for his autograph.


Posted by Tom Limoncelli in Misc

I'll be a featured speaker at PPW with the topic "What Perl sysadmins wish Perl developers knew, and ($a,$b) = ($b,$a) ".

Info about PPW 2011: (and follow on Twitter)

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in AppearancesArchiveConferences

Interested in helping plan the 2012 PICC conference? Whether you want to take on a big role or just help out in a small way, you are invited to the inaugural conference call.

This is the meeting where the Call For Participation and Theme of the conference will be set.

For info about the call send email to John BORIS [email protected] or me [email protected]

Thanks! Tom

Posted by Tom Limoncelli