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January 2012 Archives

Who to trust?

We are two people. The person that calmly makes plans and the person that executes them. The first person is calm and thoughtful and has the right amount of doubt to make sure a plan will work. The second person rushes to judgement and is full of hubris. "What was I thinking! I can do it more/better/differently." is what the second person says. The second person often forgets how much work went into the planning or the rationale for why things were set in a particular order.

If an outside knows of the plan, it can confuse things if the second person "optimizes" the plan leaving those other people out of the loop. The second person often thinks they're the only one that knows the plan, but often they are forgetting someone.

I've had to learn that if someone in my todo list is marked as being in a specific order, I should "trust the plan" and follow it... against the recommendation of that second person.

A friend of mine recently said her plan in the morning involved seeing her son off on a trip then getting 4 things done at home. What happened was she made a last-minute decision to drive him to the event personally, which meant a series of problems including some delays that prevented those 4 things from getting done.

Why didn't she listen to that person that, the night before, carefully constructed a good plan?

I do a lot of volunteer work and often we spend a lot of time working on a plan and later when executing the plan people will start to make changes. This brings up all the "second person" problems but at an even bigger scale. You'll often hear me saying, "Trust the process" over and over.

Once we were stuffing envelopes for a big mailing. It was a rather complicated project creating 3000 pieces to be mailed. Previously we had ended up in a situation where we ended up with 2000 properly stuffed, labeled, and stamped envelopes plus 1000 envelopes that just had stamps, and a different 1000 envelopes that were stuffed and had address labels stuck on them. We stuff the envelopes; only stuffed envelopes get labels, and only labeled envelopes get stamps. Three assembly lines, one that feeds the next. If you notice, the order also reflects the cost-of-replacement: stamps are expensive so you don't want to put them on until you know the envelope is otherwise prepared. When you run out of contents, no more stamps are consumed.

Sometimes the labeling process was the bottleneck and someone outside the planning process would "help" by labeling empty envelopes. They don't realize the potential problem they are causing, or the confusion.

Every morning I do my "5 minutes of planning". I look at my calendar then check my todo list for the day. I re-arrange my todo list, often pushing things around to be in priority order. I do this on the train so it is ready when I get to work. By the time I get working on stuff I've often forgotten the rationale for the order things are in, so I've had to train myself to "trust the process" and do the tasks in the order "the other me" proscribed.

Because if I don't do that, I end up spending the morning writing a blog post instead of working on my todo list. And that can disorient my entire day.

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in Time Management

I usually don't blog about something that has so little to do with system administration, but in this case I consider it a "time management tip".

Each year AMC theaters run their "Best Picture Showcase". They show all of the "best picture" nominated films in a marathon. They show 4 films on one Saturday and the other 5 on the following Saturday. This year it is Sat, Feb 18 and Sat, Feb 25. You can buy tickets for either or both days. (Some theaters show all 9 in a row on one day.. 23 hours of movies!)

We went last year and it was awesome. We had seen some of them already but it was fun seeing them again. The schedule includes a break between each film and a big break at inner. We went to a theater far enough away that it felt like we were on a mini-vacation.

For all the details go to:

Highly, highly recommended!

(We'll probably go to the one in New Brunswick, New Jersey.)

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in Time Management

The headlines like, "Sen. Reid kills SOPA bill" should really read, "Sen. Reid tells people SOPA is dead so Hollywood can work on more stealthy bill."

What to do about this kind of thing in general?

Joel Spolsky nails it:

The internet seems to ignore legislation until somebody tries to take something away from us... then we carefully defend that one thing and never counter-attack. Then the other side says, "OK, compromise," and gets half of what they want. That's not the way to win... that's the way to see a steady and continuous erosion of rights online.
The solution is to start lobbying for our own laws. It's time to go on the offensive if we want to preserve what we've got. Let's force the RIAA and MPAA to use up all their political clout just protecting what they have. Here are some ideas we should be pushing for:
* Elimination of software patents
* Legal fees paid by the loser in patent cases; non-practicing entities must post bond before they can file fishing expedition lawsuits
* Roll back length of copyright protection to the minimum necessary "to promote the useful arts." Maybe 10 years?
* Create a legal doctrine that merely linking is protected free speech
* And ponies. We want ponies. We don't have to get all this stuff. We merely have to tie them up fighting it, and re-center the "compromise" position.

The dismal corruption of congress has gotten it to the point where lobbying for legislation is out of control. As Larry Lessig has taught us, the core rottenness originates from the high cost of running political campaigns, which mostly just goes to TV stations.
A solution is for the Internet industry to start giving free advertising to political campaigns on our own new media assets... assets like YouTube that are rapidly displacing television. Imagine if every political candidate had free access (under some kind of "equal time" rule) to enough advertising inventory on the Internet to run a respectable campaign. Sure, candidates can still pay to advertise on television, but the cost of campaigning would be a lot lower if every candidate could run geo-targeted pre-roll ads on YouTube, geo-targeted links at the top of, even targeted campaigns on Facebook. If the Internet can donate enough inventory (and I suspect we can), we can make it possible for a candidate to get elected without raising huge war chests from donors who are going to want something in return, and we may finally get to a point where every member of congress isn't in permanent outstretched-hand mode.

Read the entire thing here:

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in Politics

Note: SCALE is the Southern California Linux Expo which will be held January 20-22, 2012 at the Hilton Los Angeles Airport hotel.

Aleksey Tsalolikhin will be teaching a SCALE University (a joint project between SCALE and LOPSA where LOPSA instructors teach classes on topics related to system administration as part of LOPSA's mission to educate on system administration topics) based on "Time Management for System Administrators".

Here is a sample success story from a student that completed the practice run of the course a week ago:

I think that "The Cycle" system is a pretty comprehensive approach to time planning, but very simple concept to implement. And it looks very practical in it's approach. i definitely plan to follow up on it and give it a try right away. One thing it really encourages you to be very strategic in your thinking, which also helps with achieving long term goals. Putting some time to think about the important long term goals both personal and professional was a real eye opening for me, since I pretty much discovered that I am spending a lot of time and effort on things that are not important from the long term goal perspective.

I liked also the attitude towards the vacation time -- you know as a sysadmin you always feel guilty for taking too much vacation time in one lump, now I will feel guilty for not taking vacation time instead :-) It also helps to encourage your colleagues to take on more ownership and responsibilities over company's infrastructure while you are on vacation.

I haven't seen the slides but based on his past experience I predict good things.

Sign up for the class: Time Management for System Administrators at SCALE

A blog post about it is here.

Sign up soon before it fills up!

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in Time Management

I think this is the first book that actually helped me see both the "big picture" of how Puppet's components fit together as well as learn the language itself. After months of reading Puppet online documentation this book put it all together in a way that gives me the confidence to start a big Puppet project.

Trying to learn Puppet from the online documentation is often like learning to drive by studying how a car is manufactured. "Pro Puppet" doesn't suffer from that problem.

The hardest part of doing Configuration Management is getting started. If you join a company that already uses Puppet it is easy to hop in and add to it. However if you are starting fresh you need to figure out how to structure your files, organize your classes, and so on. That's hard to do, especially if you are learning the language at the same time! Pro Puppet gives you a structure to start with as a base so you are not at such a disadvantage. They don't tell you they're doing this, but if you try all the examples as you read the book, you'll have that infrastructure by the time you get to the end.

The book is short (300+ pages) and very easy to read, without being overly flowery, dogmatic, or long-winded (three things I dislike in books). I read it in a single weekend. My only regret is that I didn't leave behind a trail of bookmarks so I could easily refer back to certain sections that I know I'll want to use as reference.

Most book reviews spend most of their time re-summarizing the book, or explaining Puppet in their own words. I'm going to save you, dear reader, a lot of time by not doing that.

So what's their secret? How did the authors pull it off? I think it's all due to the logical flow of examples as you go chapter to chapter. Let me explain:

1) Each example introduces no more than 1 new concert at a time. This is so valuable to a reader that is learning a new language. As an author I can really appreciate how difficult this must have been. Good job!

2) The examples are realistic and build to make a real, useful (and really useful) environment. When you get to the last chapter, you will have built the basic Puppet infrastructure that most sites need (particularly web-hosting sites). At that point you can build on the infrastructure by yourself, and take advantage of on-line resources that cover the topics specific to your site.

Let me repeat: doing both of these at the same time must have taken a huge amount of effort. I really am impressed!

Because Puppet is moving so quickly a book like this is out of date as soon as it is published. However, the authors give you a good grounding in what you need to know and now you can be a better participant in the Puppet community.

If you are going to use Puppet, I highly recommend this book.

Buy it on Amazon: Paper or Kindle. It is also available in other eBook formats.

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in Reviews

I'll be the speaker at LOPSA NYC's meeting in January. This will be a repeat of the "DevOps@Google" talk that I gave at LISA 2011. It was very well-received. If you missed it at LISA, this may be your last chance to see it live.

Official announcement:

(Please register so you can get into the building. The registration form is at the bottom of the log post)

The talk starts at 7pm. Please come early so you can get through security.


ACM Queue is hosting an online programming competition on its website from January 15 through February 12, 2012.

Using either Java, C++, C#, Python, or JavaScript, code an AI to compete against other participant's programs in a territory-capture game called, "Coercion".

The competition is open to everyone.

Details at:

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in Technical Tips

If you are coming to hear my presentation, please RSVP so you can get into the building. (Try to arrive early... getting in takes a while if there is a line).

RSVP using the link on this page.

Date: 01/11/2012 at 7pm

Title: "SRE@Google: Thousands of DevOps since 2004"

Posted by Tom Limoncelli

If you are going to be at the Arisia science fiction and fantasy convention please stop by the autograph signing area (Galleria - Autograph Space) on Sunday, January 15 at 11:30-1pm. I'll be there along with more reputable folks like Adrianne Brennan and Greg R. Fishbone. They'll be signing their most excellent works of fiction. I'll be signing my technical books. I have no shame and will also sign other books too, as well as napkins and scraps of paper. I'm really just excited to show that I know how to work a pen.

Arisia science fiction and fantasy convention
January 13 - 16, 2012
Westin Boston Waterfront
Boston, MA

See you there!

Posted by Tom Limoncelli

I'll be speaking at LOPSA-New Jersey on Thursday. This will be a repeat of the keynote I did in North Carolina last November. While it says "security" in the title, it will make sense whether you work in security or not. All are invited! (no charge to attend)

Topic: You Suck At Time Management (but it isn't your fault!) Date: Thursday, January 5 2012 Time: 7:00pm (social), 7:30pm (presentation)

Pizza and Soda being brought to you by: INetU Managed Hosting

If you are planing on coming please RSVP so we have a good count for the Pizza.

Location: Lawrence Headquarters Branch of the Mercer County Library
2751 US Highway 1
Lawrenceville, 08648-4132

So much to do! So little time! Security people are pulled in so many directions it is impressive anything gets done at all. The bad news is that if you work in security then good time management is basically impossible. The good news is that it isn't your fault. Tom will explore many of the causes and will offer solutions based from his book, "Time Management for System Administrators" (Now translated into 5 languages.)


Interested in helping make PICC '12 happen?

The committee is the most fun group of people I've planned a conference with. If you live within 500 miles of New Brunswick, NJ we'd love for you to help out.

Commitment is about an hour a week plus a short phone conference call every other Monday at 8pm.

Here's some typical volunteer tasks: (we'll ask you to pick one)

  • Forward our mailings to user groups' mailing lists (The hard part is making sure it actually went out!)
  • Someone to maintain our Facebook/LinkedIn/Twitter presences.
  • Invent new ways to get the word out about the conference.
  • Take meeting minutes so the chair can focus on running the meetings.
  • Email famous people (or semi-famous computer geeks) and ask them to submit talk proposals.
  • Pick a potential sponsor, reach out to them about being a sponsor.
  • Website updates (we have a website, we just need occasional edits)
  • Coordinate the people reaching out to sponsors.
  • Design flyers, posters, etc. (Photoshop or The Gimp experience?)
  • Sysadmin-like things like website account management.

As you can see, none of these tasks are difficult but it takes a lot of people all doing a little bit to make a conference. (Kind of like how a bit open source project works)

I like working on PICC because of all the people I meet. That's what makes it fun.

The Jan 16 meeting is our "Kick off" for the new year. It's a really good time to get involved.

Interested? If you are, send email to [email protected]

Thanks! Tom

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in ConferencesLOPSA