MonthSeptember 2012

Critical Friday

All week long I am bombarded. I am bombarded with people needing me. They need my attention. They need my help. They need my time. They need me.

All day my attention is pulled in a million different directions. Just this morning, I was working on a critical ticket. The computer was failing to boot into Windows.

It wasn’t a blue screen, but there was a single line of text across the screen before the Windows logo appeared. When I arrived at the computer I saw it had the letters DDR in it so I figured it was either the video card or memory.

I removed the external video card and tried booting again. No dice. I then removed each piece of memory one at a time. Same error.

Then I looked up the error message and it seemed to indicate the video card was at fault. Since I couldn’t get it to boot, nor could I access the BIOS or any diagnostic settings, I decided to unhook it and take it with me to my desk.

As I was crawling under the desk to unplug the various cables, I received a call on my work phone. It is never a good sign when someone calls instead of emailing.

It was another critical ticket. In another building I support. Someone’s account had been compromised, and as a security measure, the account had been disabled.

I had a real life interview question on my hands. When you have a dead computer and a compromised account at the same time, what do you do?

This is how my Friday started.

When I got the computer back to my desk, I opened it up and tried some other memory to no avail. A co-worker then noticed the light on the motherboard was amber instead of its normal green hue. This meant the motherboard was bad.

Easy enough I thought. I will go to Dell’s website, verify the warranty and get a new board ordered.

So I did.

Only, the machine was over a year out of warranty. This meant no new part. This meant I had a computer I could no longer repair. I went to see the user and give him the bad news only to find out he had left for the day. So I get to have that conversation Monday. Happy Monday!

On I went to my other building to go see my user with the disabled account.

When I arrived, his account had not yet been disabled, so I thought there was a false positive or a misdirected ticket. As I verified the ticket information and as I sat at his computer I started to run an antivirus scan just to be safe.

Sure enough, the scan turned up three infections. Great, this is going to be the beginning of a long process. As the scan completed, there were only three infections, none of which appeared to be serious. I ran a rootkit scan and thankfully none were found. I then set about patching the multiple vulnerabilities with the computer using my Tech Support Triumvirate.

So I sent the logs of my scans to the security team to analyze and advise me how to proceed. I then called and had the user’s account reactivated and logged into webmail and investigated his Outlook account.

I found an email rule to send incoming messages to a suspicious looking email address. Similarly, I found a signature added to webmail with the same suspicious information.

I removed the email rule and deleted the suspicious signature and sent a couple of test messages through the system to assure nothing further suspicious was happening.

This is just a day in the life of a desktop support technician. Did I get anything else done the rest of the day? Not really. I sent a couple emails to schedule meetings with people for next week. I called and emailed the network and security teams to coordinate my restore and recovery efforts with the compromised account.

Before I knew it, the day had come to an end and it was time to head home. When I got to work this morning, my day was looking very different. I was hoping to followup with a half-dozen people and verify their issues were resolved.

Then I was planning to go see another dozen people and work to resolve the issues they were having. All until 10:30 when my day got hijacked by more important things.

I never know what each day has in store for me. I can plan and scheme and make lists of what I will accomplish. And it can all evaporate in the blink of an eye. All the planning is for naught.

Choosing a Platform

Choosing a platform

Tonight I read Gnorb’s article on how he views the smartphone landscape. The problem with choosing a smartphone is no longer as simple as choosing the phone and what the phone can do for you.

With the major players producing tablets, integration into that ecosystem is something to consider. In addition, there is the possibly integration with the computer of choice sitting on your desk or on your lap.

Google Android

Android as a platform has unlimited options, choices and freedom. Android is shopping mall. It offers a variety of wares at prices all across the board and you can get exactly what you want at the price you want to pay.

Android also struggles with fragmentation and being forgotten a year after its release. When I had an Android phone my problem was there was always a bigger, better, more amazing Android phone being released the next week.

Every. Single. Week.

Apple iOS

Apple’s platform is the opposite of Android. Apple is the high-end boutique. It offers a couple of variations on a theme but overall, the quality is high and the choice is small.

Where Apple shines is control. It controls the vertical, it controls the horizontal. To use Apple products is to not just use a single product but to play in Apple’s playground and live in their world. Apple has built an experience.

Because of this totalitarian control, Apple is able to offer longer support and a consistent experience across all the devices in their playground. Apple’s control wrinkles the noses of those who feel there is not enough freedom across the platform.

Apple’s control also assures nearly no malicious applications are released to the platform and they have safe guards in place to resolve any issues that may arise.

Microsoft Windows Phone

The last Windows Phone I used was a disaster running Windows Phone 6.5 which was basically Windows XP crammed into a smartphone body. It came with a stylus and extreme frustration.

Since then, they’re built a respectable platform and have embraced Apple’s control to make the hardware and software which should help the platform. I haven’t used or had experience with any of the new phones so that’s as much as I’ll say for the platform as I don’t feel it fair to talk about a platform I’ve not used.

Decisions

So what is a consumer to do? Buy into the Apple iLifestyle? You’ll pay a hefty price but will be rewarded with multi-year support and a consistent ecosystem. You’ll also be subject to the whims of the big red fruit and their seemingly arbitrary removal of support for features in older hardware. The tight integration between the mobile and computer platform can be real benefit to those living in both. However, if you only use one or the other, there is a lot of missing value.

What about the Open Android platform? There are phone sizes, speeds and carriers for everyone. There are a vast array of tablets. There isn’t a desktop companion but they play decently with the big players. The initial price is low but quality is all over the place from excellent to appalling. The overall lack of support could mean your shiny new toy get abandoned a year later and never see another update.

Then there is Windows phone which has some real potential. Microsoft is putting together a cloud-based ecosystem and is betting big on Windows 8 which features a lot of integration and visual similarity with their Windows Phones.

My experiences

I owned an original Motorola Droid. I was very happy with it though the lack of support from Motorola was disappointing. I had to root the phone to install an Android Operating System update after Verizon claimed the phone could not support it. There was also a large gap in the availability of applications in the earlier days of Android.

Many things were iOS only and Android support was more promised than delivered on. This was before the Amazon Android store and Google’s integrated Play store. This was before Android was a household name and more the domain of nerds and Blackberry refugees.

After the Droid, I got an iPhone 4 which is the phone I still use today. The instant upgrade in camera and software quality was welcomed. At the time I had a Mac laptop so the integration between phone and computer was a welcomed change, since there was no good way to sync media to Android and DoubleTwist was just being released. Though I used the Droid as my phone and primary device, I had an iPod Touch for all my music because Android was so frustrating to use.

I had an Android in the dark days of the platform and it has come a long way since then. However, it still has many of the same issues as it did when I had the Droid. Specifically, the lack of support from carriers after purchase, lack of OS updates to hardware that can handle it, the fragmentation meaning not every phone can run every app, or run it well and the constant New Big Thing means support quickly gets forgotten for the phone you choose in weeks instead of years.

What works for you

What is comes down to is what works for you. What is the best choice for what you wan to do. Are you a writer? Are you a photographer? Are you a technologist?

What phone best fits your lifestyle and what are you going to enjoy using for the next few years since most of us can’t afford to get a new device every year.

What I have

I have the iPhone 4. My contact is up in December, though I am eligible for an upgrade now. I am looking at the iPhone 5 because while it doesn’t overwhelm me, I do get all the features that came with the iPhone 4s as well. I still like the iPhone over the Android choices because of the ecosystem I bought into starting with an iPod Touch. I feel like I know what I am going to get with Apple. Like it or not, they’re consistent and I know I will see a new operating system in a year and possibly another one after that. With Android, I don’t know if I’ll ever see an upgrade, and when the carrier loses interest, so too goes the support.

I have a Lenovo Y570 laptops running Windows 7. My plastic MacBook died years ago and I wanted to get a laptop I could play PC games on, had enough power to last me a few years and have some room for upgrades. The biggest selling point was price since I had a small amount of money to spend on a computer and a new Mac or even used Mac was out of the budget. I work in IT Support so I live in Windows and Mac OS all day so I don’t have any allegiances to one or the other. Operating Systems are tools.

I also have a 1st Generation iPad which I did not buy. It was a Christmas present a few years ago. It is also easily my most-used device and my go to reading and chill out device and the device I am itching to upgrade the most.

I have a Google CR-48 Chromebook I was lucky enough to receive for free when Google first announced the new project. I use it from time to time and while I love Chrome on all my devices, the Chrome OS is not enough to be an everyday use platform. At least not for me. The CR-48 is a decent machine albeit under-powered and with a terrible track pad. I like the keyboard and the lightness. I wrote this post tonight on it because it was sitting next to my bed and within reach.

This is what I use and what I like. It’s not going to be perfect for everyone but it works for me. And that’s all that is really important.

Control

Do I still wrestle with money? Absolutely!
Do I still have days where I wonder where it all went? For sure!
Do I still often think it would just be easier to buy the nice things I want and let the future sort itself out? Embarrassingly, yes.

Getting our financial house in order has taken a lot of work. And recently, when my car died and my wife’s car needed some costly repairs, it wiped out nearly every cent we had saved.

**Nine months of hard work, gone in an instant.**

It was devastating to see all of our hard saved money evaporate into a new car. Sure, it’s nice to have a new car that runs well and has air conditioning, but we weren’t planning on spending the thousands to make that a reality for a couple more years. It just goes to show, you never know what life is going to throw at you, or when. And it pays to be ready.

I have learned a lot since we paid off our credit cards, got student loans under control, made a plan to pay off medical bills and started savings a large part of our income while donating another sizable portion every month.

It’s been a long road and it’s nowhere near over.

Financial control is a journey, not a destination. There is never an end to the struggle and saving. There is never a point where the money starts replicating itself tenfold and all your worries are gone.

Keeping your finances under control is an ongoing endeavor and one I’m happy we’ve done.

There is an amount of peace and security that comes from saving for the future. I’m a calmer person knowing there is money going into savings every pay check.

I am happy to contribute to my 401k and pay Future Carl. He is going to appreciate the efforts of Present Carl one day.

I am happy to be able to pay down our debts and student loans. I am happy I know we have the money to live comfortably while making this happen.

I am happy we’re able to donate 10% of our monthly income to the church because I know it goes for good things. I don’t care where you stand on religion. I’ve been on both sides of the debate in my life.

But for now, I am happy where I am. I feel the religion I am living is mostly in line with my views. I am part of one fo the largest humanitarian aid organizations in the world since the church has a worldwide network of people and communication in place ready to act and serve when the need arises.

I didn’t think there was any way we could contribute to a 401k, put aside money in savings for ourselves and donate to the church every month.

But we do. We can. We are.

And I feel better because I know where my money is going and I know what it’s being used for. Can I afford to buy myself new gadgets, games and other toys at will? No.

But I know the difference I am making in my life as well as the life of others is well worse the sacrifice and hard work.

Walk

There’s been a jail break. Recently, I escaped. I escaped the basement. I escaped the glowing screens which bind me and beckon me to explore deeper.

I escaped the sonar pulse of email disrupting the calm.1 I got out of my basement office. I fled the Mac and the PC. I went outside without headphones, without any distractions and I walked.

I was filled with tension. I was on my lunch break and knew the moment I step away from my desk is when computers tend to break.2 But I took the chance and enjoyed the day.

With each successive breath, the tension lifted. There was no urgent ping to my mobile fruit. There was nothing breaking as I stepped through the threshold of stuffy stairway into the bright, breezy sun-flooded afternoon.

I took a walk down the block. I took in the birds chirping. I took in the cars racing by in the distance. I took in the children’s voices on a nearby playground. I took in the wind through trees and shrubs. I took in the world and listened to my breath.

I walked down the block taking in all the day had to offer me until I came upon a huge honey suckle bush. It was 12 feet high and easily another 12 feet around.

It had grown up at the edge of a dead-end road undisturbed for many years. It was covered in yellow and white flowers and smelled so sweet. It was alive with buzzing. A dozen bumble bees bumbling3 around, bathed in sweet, yellow pollen.

I stood and watched them. I soaked up the spring’s sun and listened to them bumble to and fro. They covered themselves in yellow pollen.

I listened to the bush, alive with the activity of the bees. I watched some smaller bees dance around other flowers, performing the same dance as the Bumble bees.

I listened to the birds singing in the distance and felt the warm breeze on my face. The scene washed over me with the scent of sweet spring.

I stopped and smelled the flowers. I watched and tried to photograph some of the bumble bees as they did their work.

I listened to the sounds of nature all around me. It was a quiet street. Two bicyclists whirred past me, silent except for their wheels blowing flower petals aside.

It was a perfect day for a walk. I needed to get out and clear my head. I needed to step away from the progress bars and dialogue boxes.

I needed to step out from the basement into the bright, gorgeous day and listen to something besides whirring fans, people arguing and laughing, and the buzz of electronics.

I needed something natural. I needed some peace and some solace. I needed an analog escape from the digital world I’m surrounded by everyday.

I needed to get out of my digital cocoon and into the natural world. I wanted to watch squirrels hunt for food in their constant battle for survival and incessant preparation.

I wanted to listen to the song birds, chirping and tweeting away to each other. I wanted their songs to replace the whir and click of cold metal.

I enjoyed the bees buzzing and bumbling about. They danced from flower to flower on dainty legs and blurred wings.

There is a forgotten balance. There is work and home4 balance but there is also a digital/analog balance that’s often overlooked.

With computers running more aspects of our lives, the opportunity to get away and enjoy something not powered by a microchip is fleeting.

An effort must be made to balance the analog with the digital and get away from the screens and chairs.

Take a walk. Smell the flowers. Listen to the bees. Watch the squirrels. Enjoy the birdsong.

Get outside of the rut of daily life. Step away from the office chair you’re toiling away in and losing hours of your life.

The chair will still be there when you return to it. The pile of paperwork, real or digital will still be there. The emails coming in will be just as “urgent” as when you left.

The phone will take voice mails and anyone needing to see you, can wait until you’ve returned.

Take a walk and relax a bit. Stop and breathe in air that isn’t pumped into your office through cold, uncaring metal.

Get out of the digital world and into something natural. Even if just for 5 minutes over a lunch break. Or do what I do, and when the smokers go out to smoke, go on a short walk, even if it’s just outside to where they are, but far enough away you’re not breathing in their exhaust.


  1. As much as an IT guy can anyway… 

  2. I swear they know then we leave! 

  3. They bumble. It’s what they do. 

  4. Not work/life because it’s all life. 

Free Speech

There is free speech in this country. This means you can say what you want to whom you want. I defend the right to free speech. I don’t have to agree with what you say just as you don’t have to agree with what I say.

The right to say it is still there and will be defended.

The right to free speech is also paired with the right to react to that speech. I can say what I want to say. But there is a reaction to what I say. You can say what you want to say. But I will react to what you say as well. We all have the freedom to say whatever we’d like. However, there are consequences to those words.

Free speech is a two-way conversation.