Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Video: The 4 Traits of the Customer Service Masters

Just posted a new video on the four traits of the customer service masters.  Hope you like it!

Top 100 Android Apps has just published a list of the top 100 Android apps.  Lots of good suggestions, but not much that I don't already have.  Here's PCMag's list of top Android apps.  The ones I have on my home pages are Facebook, Defender, Drag Racing, Shoot Bubbles, Amazon Kindle, Solitaire Free Pack, Words with Friends, YouTube, Camera, Mobile Metronome, Hi-Q MP3 Recorder, Stopwatch, Google Goggles, Skype, Gallery, Documents to Go, Market, Amazon, Groupon, Calculator, Gmail, Calendar, Voicemail, SplashID, Clock, Speed Test, Dropbox, Google Maps, TripIt, and Navigation.  I also have several links to websites I use regularly.  No, I don't play Angry Birds!  :)

Thursday, November 24, 2011


This time of year, in the United States, we celebrate Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday.  As always, I'm thankful for the myriad opportunities that have been afforded me during my crazy life filled with diversity.  I'm thankful for the opportunity to write, speak, and play music with strangers and friends around the world.  I'm finally beginning to realize that I've led a charmed life and I give thanks for that.  My friend Kevin and I put together a little video on gratitude which seems especially appropriate on this Thanksgiving Day 2011.  Hope you like it!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Memory usage in Firefox vs. Chrome

Several months ago, I started using Chrome as my primary browser instead of Firefox.  Firefox had been experiencing problems related to increasingly high memory usage the longer it was open.  It had gotten so bad that my laptop with 4GB of RAM would become unusable until Firefox was shut down.  I did some superficial research and discovered that lots of other people were having the same problems with Firefox, but not with Chrome.  Since the main browser extensions I use (Blank Canvas and Firebug) are available for both Chrome and Firefox, I decided to switch.  (Yes, I know that Firebug for Chrome is a "lite" version, but it's sufficient for my needs.)  I kept Firefox on my computer for all the same reasons that you probably have multiple browsers on your computer.  I recently was working on a website that worked better in Firefox than Chrome.  I left both browsers open and running overnight.  When I got to my office this morning, I decided to check memory usage and here's what I found:  With four tabs open, Firefox was running a single process using a total of 137MB of memory.  Check out the screen capture of Task Manager for Chrome with 10 tabs open:
I added up total memory usage for Chrome and it comes to approximately 765810KB over 21 processes.  I realize, of course, that the screen cap of Task Manager represents a snapshot of memory usage at a particular point in time, but 21 processes for Chrome compared to one for Firefox?  137MB of memory usage for Firefox vs 765 for Chrome?  Wow!  By the way, the versions are 14.0.835.202 for Chrome and 7.0.1 for Firefox.  Hmmm, it must require a lot of system resources for Chrome to keep phoning home to Google with all that data mining data.  :)  Looks like it's time to switch back to Firefox.  Oh Firefox, do you still love me?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Handling tech-support calls--a structure combined with common sense

In my customer service classes for I.T. pros, we talk about following a five-step flow for handing user calls.  It works like this:
  1. Greeting:  This is where you answer the phone professionally and succinctly.  A good example might be, "Technical support.  This is Don.  May I help you?"  A couple of bad examples could inlcude something terse, such as "Support." or "Help Desk."  At the opposite end of the spectrum are those obnoxious, scripted greetings like, "Thank you for calling XYZ technical support.  My goal is 100 percent customer satisfaction.  This is Bill, MCTS, CCNA, A+, CSNY, CRIP.  How may I provide you with outstanding service today?"  Oh, please!  Lose the cheesy script and get real!  Be authentic!  Answering the phone like that is disrespectful of your user's time and, frankly, it's disrespectful to yourself to have to wade through such crap.  (If your company forces you to read some ridiculous script like this, make a copy of this blog post and pin it to the bulletin board where management might see it.)
  2. Attentive listening:  More accurately called "empathic listening", this is where you listen carefully to what the user is saying.  Listen as though there will be a quiz at the end of the conversation.  Don't plan your response or solution until the user is finished describing the problem.
  3. Gaining agreement:  In this phase, you repeat back to the user your understanding of the problem so the user can confirm that you understand it correctly.
  4. Apologize, empathize, reassure:  Apologize, if necessary, but don't do this frivolously and don't overdo it.  Be authentic.  If the problem is something caused by you or your department or a system for which you're responsible, an apology is in order.  Otherwise, don't apologize.  It comes off as shallow and insincere.  You can certainly say you're sorry that the problem occured as a sign of empathy and/or sympathy.  That makes sense and, in fact, is a great way of diffusing emotionally-charged situations with an upset user.  You can use phrases such as, "I don't blame you for being upset.  I'm sure I'd feel the same way if I were in your shoes."  Do NOT say you understand how the user feels if you've never been in that situation and can't understand.  (That's like a man telling a pregnant woman he understands how she feels.  He doesn't and it's insulting to her intelligence to say something like that.)  Remember, it's important to be authentic and sincere.  Finally, reassure the user that you're going to take care of them and follow through to completion.  You can say things like, "Based on what you've told me, I know how to take care of that." or "I've seen that problem before and was able to fix it quickly."  I'll never forget a woman named Dixie at Sprint, who said, "Mr. Crawley, I'm gonna fix you up!"
  5. Problem solve:  The final phase of the flow is where you actually fix the user's issue.
It's important to note that phases one through four may go by pretty quickly or they may take some time, depending on the user and the nature of the call.  As always, remember that everyone is unique with unique ways of dealing with the challenges that come up.  Some people just want to get right to the problem, others want to talk for a moment.  The non-technical aspect of our jobs as support providers is to develop a sensitivity to each user's unique set of needs and expectations.

This flow is based on one described in my book, The Compassionate Geek.  I would also consider adding a sixth phase to the flow and that's the confirmation of solution phase.  In this phase, we make certain that we have solved the user's problem by simply asking, "Have I solved your problem?"  This ensures that we really have taken care of the reason for their call and eliminates any chance that we missed something.

An additional consideration is that, although the above flow is certainly valid, it's much too rigid for every case.  That's why it's important to use good judgement in all situations.  For example, the flow makes sense for a support session via telephone, but not for most support sessions via email.  As with all interactions with end-users, remember to listen carefully and treat them with respect and dignity.  When you do that, combined with a sense of empathy and compassion, you'll rarely go wrong.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Website improvements

I recently took over management of my website from a company that had been managing it for seven years.  Recently, they had become very slow to respond to service requests and sloppy in their coding, so I made the decision to manage the site myself and either do development myself or contract it out when it was beyond my skillset.  Following the change in management, here are a couple updates to the site that I hope you'll like:
  • We've changed the way passwords are reset.  In the past, if you forgot your password, you could simply ask the site to email it to you.  Obviously, that's terribly insecure on so many levels, so we've now implemented a new system in which the site, upon request, will generate a new random password for you and email it to you.  You can then use it to log on to the site and change your password to whatever you want.
  • The second change is really just an improvement on something we've had for a long time.  When you take one of our classes, you receive a certificate of completion at the end of the class.  You can also download a certificate from the site by going to your user profile, choosing "My Classes", and printing a certificate.  In the past, the site produced your certificate using Flash Paper and the formatting looked like crap.  We've just updated it to produce your certificate as a PDF and the formatting looks much better (if I do say so myself).
We'll be making more changes to make the site more functional and secure, so stay tuned.
By the way, one of the big lessons I've learned from this experience is to never let the development company also host the site.  The former development company had installed a number of proprietary, shared scripts that were stored above my site root and which were not accessible to me.  It was just through sheer luck and perseverance that I was able to gain access to those scripts and move my site to my own server. I won't make that mistake again!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Spammy LinkedIn connection requests

I'm about to cancel my LinkedIn account because of the large number of spammy LinkedIn connection requests I've been receiving over the past week.  I've been getting four or five a day from people I don't know, claiming to be C-level execs at companies I've never heard of.  Grrr.  The problem is exacerbated by the LinkedIn interface which makes you click several times before you can report such requests as spam.  Judging from Richi Jennings blog at Computerworld, I'm not alone.  LinkedIn:  Wake up and take care of this before you lose you membership!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

I can't believe I sat and watched this entire video, a la Rube Goldberg

Many of my students and friends have heard me talk about Rube Goldberg, the 20th century, Pulitzer-prize winning cartoonist who drew complicated machines to perform simple tasks.  I just watched this video by the band OK Go of such a device.  It's "This Too Shall Pass - Rube Goldberg Machine Version" from their new album, "Of the Blue Colour of the Sky".  (Actually, I'm not at all surprised I watched the entire video!)

Sometimes, I think we apply Rube Goldberg designs to our networks.  The resulting complexity makes them maintenance and security nightmares.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

I love teaching Linux and Cisco classes

I just finished teaching my Linux server class today here in Seattle.  We had a small group, so I was able to customize the class on the fly to meet the students particular areas of interest.  One of the things that I love about teaching is watching students go from frustration to a sense of accomplishment when the "light bulb comes on".  For example, I've written a student hands-on exercise on NFS that not only teaches how to configure NFS, but also gives the students real world, hands-on experience in finding and understanding built-in scripts such as the service scripts on RedHat systems.  (My class is based on CentOS, a RedHat-based distro.)  It's fun to see students get excited about learning new things.  That happened several times today and every time it happens, it's a real joy for me to watch.  It also gives me more ideas of videos to create for our YouTube channel, so, like they say on TV, stay tuned.  (I don't mean to gush...I'm just pretty excited about today's class.  Can you tell?)

Monday, July 18, 2011

Moving my ColdFusion site to a new server

I've been swamped for the past few weeks moving, which is a ColdFusion site, to a new server.  I'd been with my previous provider for seven years.  Over the last couple of years they started having problems delivering things as promised, so I decided to make a switch.  I spent a lot of time looking around for the perfect provider.  Among the criteria:  Linux server (I'm not down on Windows, I just know Linux much better than Windows.), good support since I don't know CFML very well, full root access including both SSH and the ColdFusion administrator.  I tried several, but ultimately settled on Vivio Technologies, thanks to a recommendation by Ryan Stiles at the Nebraska ColdFusion Users Group.  Also, because I'm a small business person and expenses are an issue, I chose Railo instead of ColdFusion.  So far, I've been very happy with all of my decisions.  Railo has performed flawlessly (and it seems fast), Vivio was a great choice for hosting the site.  Their VPSs are easy to set up and use and their support up to this point has been amazing.  So far so good.  Now, my CFML journey has begun.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Scavenging energy from the air with antennas printed by ink jet printers

I think one of the coolest aspects of technology is miniaturization.  Great examples include modern portable music players of today such as iPods compared to portable record players of 50 years ago or modern smart phones compared to the original, bulky bag phones of 30 years ago.  Now, researcher Manos Tentzeris at the Georgia Institute of Technology has created antennas printed by ink jet printers capable of harvesting ambient energy from the environment such as that produced by broadcast stations or wireless access points.  Here's an interview with Tenzeris conducted for Smart Planet by Christina Hernandez.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

New video: Cisco ASA site-to-site VPN configuration

I just uploaded a new video in which I demonstrate how to configure a site-to-site VPN between two Cisco ASA security appliances. The demo is based on software version 8.3(1) and uses IPSec, ISAKMP, tunnel-groups, Diffie-Hellman groups, and an access-list. The demo is based on my book "The Accidental Administrator: Cisco ASA Security Appliance (Step-by-Step Configuration Guide) and includes a link where you can download a free copy of the configs and the network diagram.  

Let me know what you think.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

26 terabits per second? Now, that's broadband!

German engineers, using a single laser beam and orthogonal frequency division multiplexing (OFDM), hit a data rate of 26 terabits per second over a distance of 50 km.  One source commented that that's 700 DVDs per second.  I haven't done the math, but regardless, that's fast.  (Hmmm, let me go check my Comcast upload speed.  I wonder how close it is.)  Here's the article.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Check out my interview at ZDNet!

Thanks to blogger John Hazard for a great interview last week which is now available online.  We talked about my new book The Compassionate Geek (co-written with Paul Senness) and the overall importance of people skills for technical people.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Ubuntu and the family con't

I'm not sure what came over me.  I'm insanely busy right now, but I decided to go ahead and upgrade the family computer to Ubuntu 11.04.  I think my curiosity about the Unity desktop got the best of me.

Anyway, I started the upgrade last night before going to bed.  When I got up this morning, the computer was waiting for me to click through several prompts.  After about another 30 minutes or so, it was done.  After a reboot, I was rockin' with Ubuntu 11.04.  I tried to enable rotating cubes and wobbly windows with Compiz and suddenly I lost the Unity bar and panel.  Grrr.  A quick Google search turned up this forum post:  Look for the post by mc4man for the solution.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

How to beat a phishing attack

Well, there really isn't any way to ensure your organization is completely protected against phishing attacks.  As long as people are involved in the process, there will be times when people fail to be vigilant and one of the bad guys reels someone in.  You and I are probably more aware of what to watch for in phishing attacks, yet I've certainly come frighteningly close to clicking on a questionable link. 

I've been a fan of Michael Kassner for quite a while.  He recently interviewed Roger Johnson, head of the Vulnerability Assessment Team at Argonne National Laboratory.  They talked about the recent phishing attack at Oak Ridge National Laboratories.  Hey, if a phishing attack can be successful there, it can happen to your organization. Check out the interview.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Wizards and electrons, wands and's Augmented Reality

My early excitement for smartphones was founded in a desire to cut down on stuff I was carrying.  I loved the idea of a single, pocket-sized device that could serve as my phone, contact list, calendar, and music player.  Oh, and it was important that it sync easily with my computer for the sake of simplicity.  I'd been waiting for something practical to come along and finally took the plunge with a Treo 300, a clamshell device running PalmOS that, at least in theory, did it all.  How limited was my imagination at that time!  My new Android phone, of course, makes the Treo 300 seem like Eniac, by comparison.
Advances in Augmented Reality (AR) are already providing services beyond my wildest imagination of ten years ago and application developers are creating inspired applications, some practical, some whimsical, that will make today's smartphone seem like the old Treo by comparison.  If AR is a new term to you, you've seen it in action in NFL broadcasts when the first-down lines are super-imposed on the field. Another great example is Worldwide Telescope.  Here's a TED video in which Microsoft's Blaise Aguera y Arcas demos augmented-reality maps:

Blogger Bill Bulkeley wrote this story on AR for Cisco news.

Friday, April 15, 2011

How important is it to have 64-bit apps on a 64-bit OS

Now that more and more computers are shipping with 64-bit processors and 64-bit operating systems, just how important is it to have 64-bit applications?  What are the benefits of 64-bit applications?

I've been using an HP dv6661se laptop with an AMD 64-bit processor for four years.  In the early days, there were quite a few frustrations such as finding hardware drivers and application compatibility issues.  (There was one particular frustration with a lack of 64-bit drivers for my USB-to-serial adapter.)  Today, the compatibility issues are much less of a challenge than they used to be, but what are some of the issues and benefits?

Adobe Premiere CS5 only runs on a 64-bit system.  I'm sure there are other apps out there that will only run in a 64-bit environment.  This is almost exactly like the move from the 16-bit to the 32-bit world.

I ran across this discussion at that may be helpful.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

How to handle people who ask for computer help

It's happened to all of us at one time or another.  We've just met someone, he or she finds out that we work with computers, and those feared words come out, "Oh, you work with computers.  Maybe you can help me."
Many times we'd like to help, but we don't want to sit down and work on computers for free in our off time.  We're happy to offer advice, but please don't ask us to sit down and look at a computer!  Here are ten ways of responding to such requests.

Read more on my Computerworld blog...

Navy successfully demos a ship-mounted High Energy Laser (HEL)

I was expecting spectacular explosions, a la Star Wars, so I was slightly disappointed by their absence.  Regardless, this is pretty cool technology!
This is the first successful use of the Navy's Marine Laser Demonstrator (MLD).  It's a ship-mounted High Energy Laser, developed by the Office of Naval Research in cooperation with Northrup Grumman, which was fired at an unmanned motor boat.  More info is here.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The fallacy of the brilliant criminal mind (or how geeks help catch the bad guys)

I've known several police officers in my life.  Even today, one of my best friends is a police officer.  One of the things they've all said is that criminals, as a group, are pretty stupid, or at least make really stupid decisions.  Otherwise, they wouldn't be criminals.  Stories abound of dumb criminals doing dumb things and getting caught, but this article from Mental Floss really drives the point home.  Those of us who enjoy technology love opportunities to use what we know, especially when it involves righting a wrong.  Never underestimate the wrath and cunning of a geek crime victim!

Buckle up for Patch Tuesday!

Tomorrow is Microsoft's Patch Tuesday and this month, they're releasing 17 bulletins to fix 64 security vulnerabilities in Windows, Office, Internet Explorer, Visual Studio and .NET Framework.  Nine of the bulletins have a security rating of critical, the rest have a rating of important, and they're all related to remote code execution.  Seven of the bulletins require a restart.  According to Fahmida Y. Rashid at eWeek, this massive update ties the record for the most bulletins released at one time.  Wow!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Top 10 Windows security best practices

TechRepublic blogger Brien Posey recently published his list of Top 10 Windows security best practices.  I love lists (like many people), so I reviewed his list and decided to share it with you.  Even Linux/Unix admins can benefit from most of the items on the list.  You'd think most of this stuff would be common sense, but if common sense was so common...(fill in your own list of stupid things people do).

An open-source VPN alternative

Setting up a VPN is about as common a task as there is in today's IT world.  Problem is that proprietary VPNs such as Cisco's VPN solutions, although highly effective, can also be pretty expensive.  When you're working in a budget-conscious environment or simply don't want to be tied to a particular vendor, you can consider implementing a VPN solution with OpenVPN.  Author Vincent Danen has this how-to guide with all the steps.

Friday, April 8, 2011

God forbid they re-create the TRS80 model 1

Some of us remember the Commodore 64...perhaps even fondly.  It's back, but instead of 64KB of RAM, the new one includes 2 GB of DDR3 memory and is expandable to 4 GB.  It also includes a slot or tray load DVD R/W(Bluray optional) on the left side of the unit and a multi format card reader/writer and a USB slot on the right side of the unit. There are an additional 4 USB slots on the rear of the unit.  I'm not clear on why this is needed, but the company claims to be selling out of them.  What's next?  A re-release of the TRS80 model 1 or a TI-99?  (My first computer was a TRS80 model 1 with a whopping 48K of RAM and a 5 1/4 inch single-sided floppy drive, which was a HUGE improvement over the more common cassette tape drives.)

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Workplace critics: casting a cloak of dread

Although this post is not directly related to IT, we've all had to deal with workplace critics, those "nattering nabobs of negativisim" who, for political or personal reasons, cast a cloak of dread over new ideas, innovations, and the normal process of organizational evolution.  This is not about thoughtful people genuinely offering constructive criticism.  Art Perry, in his Management Excellence blog, recently wrote this great post on how to deal with those negative types in Leadership Caffeine: Coping with Workplace Critics.  Coincidentally, my 26-year-old daughter, a middle-school teacher, recently had to deal with such an individual and, without having read Art's post, used several of his techniques.  I'm still going to send it to her.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Troubleshooting: The human side of the technical process

I have a friend who is working on a new hardware deployment for a large bank.  He ran into a couple hiccups and called me for my opinion.  After reviewing his configuration and not seeing any obvious problems, I suggested he confirm that the hardware is working correctly.  He did the usual stuff such as swapping out cables, but still no love.

Read more at my Computerworld blog...

Kansas City: Barbeque and Google high-speed fiber. Ahhhh.

When I lived in Kansas City, Missouri, a lot of us looked down our noses at Kansas City, Kansas.  Big mistake.  Google has selected Kansas City, Kansas as the place where they're going to build their ultra highspeed network, bringing gigabit Internet to the home.  Here's their blog post about it.

As much as I love Seattle, this video made me stop and think about what it would be like to live there again.  That made me think of Rosedale Barbeque and Polski Days on Strawberry Hill.  I'm not going to leave Seattle, but KCK is really rockin'!  (Sergey Brin must like barbeque.  I knew I liked that guy!)
Did Seattle apply?

Setting up a wireless bridge with DD-WRT

For some time, Linux folks have upgraded the firmware on Linksys wireless routers to DD-WRT for the added functionality it brings.  If you're not familiar with DD-WRT, it's a Linux based alternative OpenSource firmware suitable for a variety of WLAN routers and embedded systems.

Here's a cool blog post by Ken Hess about how he connected his data center in his garage to his AT&T wireless modem using an old Linksys wireless router and DD-WRT.  In addition to being a very interesting technical solution, it also demonstrates Ken's keen understanding of the importance of domestic tranquility!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Do IPv4 addresses have monetary value?

Microsoft has agreed to pay Nortel some $7.5 million for 666,624 IPv4 addresses.  Now, blogger Bill St. Arnaud suggests that an IPv4 address could be worth $200.  I don't doubt that might be true.  What strikes me as funny, almost pathetic, is that ultimately the IPv4 address space will be worth nothing.  Today, it wouldn't be worth much if only we, in the IT community would have completed the migration to IPv6 by now. 

Please don't flame me with all the cliche (but true) arguments about the complexity and challenges of a migration.  I'm aware of all of that.  Some of the migration challenges are beyond our control.  For example, the last time I checked, Comcast was still not supporting IPv6 at my home.  Many, perhaps most, consumer IP devices don't support it.  At the enterprise level, many organizations have recently begun testing it, but the risks of any mass migration must be considered.

Regardless, eventually we'll all have to move to IPv6, but until we do, we run the risk of having to spend hard-earned corporate and private dollars on currently-expensive/eventually-useless IPv4 addresses.

Anyone want to bet on how soon IPv6 becomes the main transport protocol of the Internet?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Disaster recovery planning: How to convince an unconvinced boss

The tragedy of the earthquake in Japan and the resulting tsunami serve as stark reminders of the importance of disaster planning and preparedness.  As IT people, we understand the importance of disaster preparedness, but how do you convince reluctant management to support it in the budget?

Read more on my Computerworld blog...

If it can happen to RSA, it can happen to anyone

The recent RSA breach, in which the SecureID algorithm was pilfered, is just another reminder to test and monitor your systems.  Of course, it's impossible to protect every system against all attacks, but if your systems are compromised, you want to be able to demonstrate that you took reasonable precautions to ensure system integrity.  I have a client who is currently going through PCI-compliance testing.  This client is fairly sophisticated in terms of their understanding of IT, yet they were surprised at some of the vulnerabilities the compliance testing uncovered.  Even if your organization doesn't accept credit cards, the PCI DSS compliance process provides a great way to test and harden your systems.  PCI offers a free Self Assessment Questionnaire to help you get started.

Monday, March 21, 2011

More press for the ASA book!

There's even more press for the ASA book. This time, it's at IT Knowledge Exchange. Not only did they do an interview, but they're doing a book giveaway as well. Check out their site and maybe you'll win a copy of my Cisco ASA book.

The tiny cube that could cut your cell phone bill

Bell Labs at Alcatel-Lucent has created a new wireless antenna, roughly the size of a Rubik's cube, that can provide wireless (2G, 3G, and 4G) service to about two city blocks.  It has minimal power requirements, should be easy to deploy, and is centrally managed.


Check out an article here.  This is the kind of stuff that keeps me excited about technology.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Ubuntu and the family con't

The Ubuntu experiment continues to go well.  It's mainly non-remarkable, which is the way you want it.  The OS just seems to perform well.  Last night I used RhythmBox to rip some songs from a CD and it worked much better and easier than Windows Media Player.  It loaded very fast and all I had to do was click the link to copy songs to my computer.  No complaints from the family and, in fact, they like things like the wobbly windows and rotating cube.  So far, so good.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Internet Explorer 9 is out. Yawn.

Microsoft released Internet Explorer 9 on Monday.  My fellow Computerworld blogger Richi Jennings has collected several comments from other bloggers about IE9.  My issue is that I've become addicted to Mozilla Firefox and its many useful extensions such as Blank Canvas, Firebug, and Saved Password Editor.  The problem Microsoft faces is that there's really no reason for me to switch from Firefox, so the fact that they came out with a new browser just makes me yawn. 

It's kind of like Bing.  Bing appears to be an excellent search tool, but I'm very happy with Google.  I'm so happy, in fact, that I don't feel an inclination to move away from it right now.  At some point in the future, Google may mess up and do something stupid to drive me away (the history of business is littered with executives damaging or killing great companies by making bad decisions...I've done it a couple of times myself).  If that happens, then there's an opportunity for someone else to move in and take over.  Unfortunately for Microsoft, since Firefox is a global community project and not a project of a single individual or company, it's not likely to make the same missteps that a company might, so they may never have an opportunity to make a difference.

Sure, I know MS has a huge market share, but that's based on their dominance of the desktop.  Given the importance and growth of cloud computing, that dominance is likely to decrease and, with it, there goes the market share for IE. 

Inertia favors the incumbent.  For me that's Firefox.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Ubuntu and the family

So far, my experiment with Ubuntu 10.10 and the family computer seems to be working well.  I had a couple glitches with the video until I remembered that this computer had an old TV tuner card in it which we no longer use.  It had a conflict with the video card.  Once I removed the TV tuner card, the problems went away.  I was able to set up all the cool graphic effects like rotating cubes and wobbly windows.  I installed Skype from the Ubuntu software center (kind of like the App Store or Android marketplace) and it detected the webcam with no problem.  I also wanted to install the Pandora desktop application, which isn't officially supported in Linux.  I installed Adobe Air and was able to install the Pandora desktop app with no problem.  (I'm listening to Arcangelo Correli as I'm writing.)  So far, the only issue seems to have been the TV tuner card, which I would guess is not an issue for most people. 

Friday, March 11, 2011

Are you ready for IPv6 day this June?

I've recently written several posts about IPv6 including one titled You can't hide from IPv6 much longer and another one titled More on IPv6.  The last IPv4 addresses were handed out in February of this year and the countdown is on.

Major websites now supposedly support IPv6 including Google, Facebook, Verizon, and Netflix.  Check out Facebook's IPv6 address in this screen capture from using nslookup:

Someone has a sense of humor!  (Ya gotta love engineer humor.)

World IPv6 Day is June 8th, when major providers will be enabling IPv6 on their networks (many have already enabled it).

You can test your IPv6 readiness at, which is good for hours of entertainment.  That same website has an entire page devoted to IPv6 day.

Yes, conversion to a new transport protocol is challenging and potentially dangerous.  Yes, it will happen eventually, so you might as well start the process of preparing now.  See my previous posts for more information about the changeover process, including websites for more info about how to do it.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Trying Ubuntu desktop with the family

My family has a computer in the kitchen which we use for looking things up on the Internet, playing music through Pandora, watching YouTube videos, and Facebooking.  When guests come to the house, they'll often use it for checking email and many of the same things my family uses it for.  It has been running Windows 7 for some time.  A couple days ago, it started acting like it had a virus or had memory going bad.  I mucked around with it for a while (sound familiar?) and wasn't able to fix it.  I was growing increasingly frustrated (sound familiar?), but then I had an idea.  Considering what we use it for, why not just slap Ubuntu desktop on it?  I could run the live CD version for a while, see how the family likes it, and if everything goes well, eventually install it on the HDD, replacing Windows.  I ran into one snag with the video card drivers where the CD was spinning, but the screen was blank.  I found a solution on (thank you).  So now, I've got Ubuntu 10.10 running on the kitchen computer.  We'll see how the family likes it and I'll let you know what happens.

We're getting press!

There's been quite a bit of interest recently in my book The Accidental Administrator:  Cisco ASA Security Appliance.  The good folks at WebSpherePower just published a link to it and Network World posted an excerpt as a guest blog.  Thanks to these great publishers and to my publicist Paul Krupin!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Another handy little utility in 2009, I published a list of my top 10 favorite free tools for IT people.  I created several videos demonstrating some of the tools and published them on my company's YouTube channel.  I've recently been using another free tool that I thought I'd mention...just in case you're not familiar with it.  When you need to find out what's clogging up a hard drive, you can use the free Windows utility WinDirStat.  It gives you a great, graphical representation of your hard drive and the things that are taking up space.  From their website:

"On start up, it reads the whole directory tree once and then presents it in three useful views:
  • The directory list, which resembles the tree view of the Windows Explorer but is sorted by file/subtree size,
  • The treemap, which shows the whole contents of the directory tree straight away,
  • The extension list, which serves as a legend and shows statistics about the file types."
I find myself using this tool a lot, especially on the family computer which somehow seems to get its hard drive filled up faster than other computers.  Hmmmm.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Basics of solid-state drives (SSD) including security concerns

Like many of the people who read this and other IT-oriented blogs, I've been keeping an eye on solid-state drive (SSD) technology for some time.  It seems likely to eventually do to hard-disk storage what digital cameras did to film, but how well do you understand SSD today?  What about security concerns such as encryption and drive-wiping?  I ran across this blog post on Tech Republic which does an excellent job of introducing you to the basics of SSD storage and includes a good introduction to the security concerns associated with SSD.  I hope it's helpful.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

More on IPv6

A couple days ago in a previous blog post, I mentioned an AT&T white paper on IPv6.  I also mentioned the importance of preparing now to migrate from IPv4 to IPv6, even if you don't see such a migration as imminent.  Here's a link to Cisco's IPv6 documentation and here's where you'll find Microsoft's stuff on IPv6.

Friday, March 4, 2011

The unhelp files: When documentation fails

In a recent Cisco ASA workshop, one of my students bemoaned a call he placed to tech support. His company is a big client of a well-known security software vendor. He had unsuccessfully attempted to find the answer he needed in their documentation, so he called their help desk. The rep he spoke with berated him for not looking up his solution in the documentation and condescendingly pointed him toward the document with the answer. (There's never an excuse to treat another human being disrespectfully.)

Frankly, most of the IT people I know would prefer anything over calling tech support and only place such a call as a last resort after every other avenue has failed. In this case, the vendor's documentation failed and so did their technical support staff.  In this blog post on my Computerworld blog, I share five tips for writing great technical documentation and include a link to a video with even more ways to improve your technical documentation.

Read more on my Computerworld blog...

You can't hide from IPv6 much longer

This is the year that we run out of IPv4 addresses.  Many of my students have made signs of the cross and other similar reactions to the mention of IPv6, but it's coming.  Just like most major transitions in our IT world, we can try to put things off, but eventually we migrate.  Whether it's Windows 98 to Windows 2000, IPX/SPX to IPv4, or Ami Pro to Word (I know, I'm showing my age), eventually we migrate.  That said, if you haven't started thinking about your migration process from IPv4 to IPv6, it's time.  Here's a quote from a recently-released AT&T white paper on the subject, "For enterprises the transition to IPv6 will not happen overnight. The process takes thorough planning, preparation and execution. The number of “edges” and the depth of the network that must be IPv6–enabled will impact the complexity of the transition. Even a simple transition may take 6 months to implement."  The paper, IPv6:  Complete these five steps to prepare is an excellent starting point for you as you begin to think about your IPv4-IPv6 migration.  It requires registration, but it's a good enough paper that I think it's worth it to recommend to you.  What are your plans for migrating to IPv6?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

IT brilliance at the podium (not a contradiction in terms)

Opportunities for public speaking can be career builders or career killers. You've probably heard the statistics that say people are more afraid of public speaking than death, and you may be one of them. But did you realize that non-technical audience members may be even more afraid than you are. They are often bombarded with technical information they are asked to understand, but may not feel competent to grasp. As technologists, we're in a unique position to far exceed our audience's expectation when we step to the podium.
...Read more on my Computerworld blog (Premium Insider content, free registration required)

Using the Netstat utility to understand network connections

Netstat is an old utility.  It's been around for as long as I can remember.  It's still very much relevant today as a means of identifying what connections are open on a computer and the nature of the those connections.  If you simply run "netstat" at a command prompt, you'll see a list of connections to your computer.  The first column lists the protocol (TCP, for example), the second column lists the local IP address and port number, the third column lists the foreign address and port number, and the fourth column lists the TCP state.  (For information about TCP states, review RFC 793.)

Netstat also supports a variety of options which can display Ethernet statistics such as the number of packets and bytes sent and received (netstat -e) or ICMP traffic (netstat -ps icmp).  You can see all the options by typing netstat /?.

If it's been a while since you visited Netstat, open up a command prompt or PowerShell and give it a try.  (I hope you don't find any surprises in the connections list!)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The real value of IT certifications: Education

I got my first certification in the 90s on Windows 98. I did it solely because I was tired of hemming and hawing when my clients asked if I was certified. After all, I'd been working and playing with technology in various forms since the 1960s. I didn't need to prove myself to anyone and besides, all certification would prove is that I had good test-taking skills. I was surprised, however, after going through the preparation and testing process, at how much I learned on subjects not directly related to Windows 98. more on my Computerworld blog

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Murder is not an option: How to deal with difficult end-users

From the office worker who insisted on using refrigerator magnets to attach floppy disks to the side of his computer to a high-priced attorney who demanded the IT guy come to his office to move the keyboard on his desk, we've all dealt with our share of difficult end-users.  Sometimes, they're difficult because they're digitally-challenged, other times they're difficult because they're jerks.  Regardless, the successful IT person figures out a way to deal with them successfully and without bloodshed.

...Read more on my Computerworld blog

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Getting real by wandering around

There are two kinds of wandering: wandering aimlessly and wandering with a purpose. Although it might seem like a contradiction in terms, wandering with a purpose is at the core of a 1980s management concept called Management by Wandering Around that has some serious benefits for IT staff.

Read more on my Computerworld blog INSIDER (registration required)...

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Avoiding a collision between technology and emotion

We don't normally associate the term "emo" with IT. In fact, emo is usually associated with a genre of emotionally-charged music listened to by unsmiling teenagers wearing lots of black. As IT pros, however, we sometimes have to deal with end-users who are under pressure to accomplish a task right when some component of IT/IS fails. Like the emo teenager, that end-user is probably not smiling and very much emotionally-charged. It's at times like that emotion and technology intersect. It's also at that moment when our emotional intelligence skills can make the difference between a successful outcome or a disaster.

...Read more on my Computerworld blog

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Death by water cooler

Can a water cooler kill your career?  Possibly.  The office water cooler, hallways, and coffee machine are places where either your advocates congregate or where detractors launch career-sinking torpedoes.  These are the places where your colleagues in the office (superiors, peers, and subordinates) talk about you behind your back.  Your colleagues can be your advocates or your detractors, depending on how they feel about you.

...Read more on my Computerworld blog

Monday, January 3, 2011

Is that a router on your pallette (or are you just trying to ping me)?

Note to the reader:  I've been asked to be a regular blogger at Computerworld.  My Computerworld blog, titled "From Tech to Exec" will be about the human side of IT.  My plan is to continue this blog and include links to the posts on the Computerworld site as well as musings, rants, and how-to guides on things IT.  In other words, this blog isn't going to change much, except that once per week, there will be a short teaser with a link to the Computerworld blog.  What follows is that teaser.

Our jobs, although technical by definition, are really about how we solve human problems in the workplace.  The art of our work lies in how we develop creative, technical solutions to workplace challenges.  We're artists and, instead of paints or clay, our palettes consist of code, scripts, cables, servers, and routers. Oh, and an ability to communicate in meaningful ways with our users.  This blog is about the human side of technologists' jobs.  Read more at Computerworld.