Archive for August, 2007

Linux for your grandmother?

Friday, August 31st, 2007

There have been many doubts about Linux on the desktop for some time now. I have proved that it is viable in my own household. Everybody in my house (including the 5 year old little girl) is totally cross platform. Everyone uses Windows, Linux, and to a smaller degree Mac. The difference for the average user is so minimal with just a little bit of training.

Now on the the newest adventure in Linux adoption. My mother and grandmother. I’ve had a computer in my mother’s house for years but can barely get her to use it. Now that she just retired she wants to know what all her friends know. So, she wants a couple of training lessons on it. My grandmother (at 90 years old) has been wanting her own since my mom wouln’t let her touch the computer they have for fear it might break doing anything.


Backup and Encrypt (a follow up)

Thursday, August 30th, 2007

In a previous blog post (Backup and Encrypt) I talked about backing up all of your data and making an encrypted disk to keep a copy of onsite and somewhere else.  Well, your trusty computer guy has been more talk than action.  Computer guys always seem to preach security and backup and think we’re above the rules.  No more, my friend.  I’ve finally scanned in my file cabinet and here’s a couple of pointers.

The things you need to scan most are as follows: Deeds, credit cards (both sides), Driver’s licenses, birth certificates, all insurances, passports, bank info, medical papers, wills, and car pink slips.  Also, for insurance purposes, taking pictures of property and valuable items like paintings, jewelry, computer and tech equipment, and anything else priceless to you would be good.

Don’t just backup your computer.  Backup your life.

PXE for the masses

Tuesday, August 28th, 2007

I was curious a while back after looking at my computer boot up to see it trying to get information on how to boot from the network using PXE. This wasn’t a good time of course because what was happening to the computer was an absence of a hard disk made it go through the order of places to find an operating system and when it came up empty it went to a network boot.

The problem was minor because in building the computer I hadn’t yet plugged up the hard disk but this gave me an idea. What neat tricks could I make a computer do if I could just get it to boot up and get its operating system. Needless to say I did a lot of internet searching and found bits and pieces of how to netboot the computer from my server(a good one was Needless to say that the floodgates are open.

I got it to work and now I’m thinking of all the things I can do. Entering a machine’s MAC address into my dhcp.conf file can make it boot off of my server and possibly do all kinds of things. I heard of one guy who had lots of Windows computers to install or repair. He had a computer boot up and just start installing Windows on the hard drive. That’s a cool feature for those who have to setup clusters, classrooms, or repair pc’s.

zonbox.jpgMy current obsession is a classroom made purely out of little diskless PC’s. The company Zonbu has a cool one though that they’re selling as a service that they remotely support and put applications on. I’ll definitely keep you posted on any cool ideas I come up with for it.

Looking for venues

Tuesday, August 28th, 2007

Just a quick appeal to my readers.  Maybe someone can cut the six degrees of seperation between me and a good speaking gig.  I’m looking to start doing speaking appearances to the joys of getting more for less.  My seminar is, “Running a business and your life for free (or close to it).”

I’m sure some venues might want me to work in a little something promoting them as well and that might not be a problem.  Just let me know.

Ride this computer till the wheels fall off

Friday, August 17th, 2007

I don’t know what to think of myself. I don’t like pack rats but I must admit to my one weakness. Trying to breath life into old machines. Believe me, I’m good at it. I’m the guy that has all these extra PC’s in my garage that I put together to see what I can do. I have a drawer full of old memory chips and I’m not afraid to use them.

The funny part is when people see my house or office sometimes. I have guests over and they naturally assume that I have spent tens of thousands on all my equipment but I haven’t. I’ve spent a tenth of that cost because most of these are computers that people either didn’t want or companies told me I could take home. Throwing Linux on these machines is like a fresh coat of paint that looks good. Windows and Mac people come and feel right at home based on what screen I give them. Of course I do have some pretty fast machines around too for the database and multimedia stuff but that’s not the norm.

Before you think about throwing out that machine you’re using figure out what you really need a computer for. What you’re running might just need a little cleaning up and it’s as good as new again. Windows and Mac computers just get a little slow because of all the bloated software that is or was installed. Backup all your info and then wipe your drive. Re-installing it with a restore CD you got with the computer and building it back up can most times make you fall in love with it again.

When are you good enough?

Thursday, August 16th, 2007

To live is to learn. This old saying has bounced around in my mind since childhood but has never held more true now. I periodically go through stages which I call my learning stages. What this is is a time when I just have to read, listen to, and watch as much information as I can stuff into my brain. I have friends who tell me I overdo it but knowledge is power. This kind of power isn’t the diabolical knowledge of the arch-villian to your comic book superhero but the knowledge of freedom.

My dad always taught me that I’d have to know twice as much as the guy next to me to be certain I’d get the job. With that I’ve never ended my learning. He also taught me I’d have to be totally self sufficient because you really can never count on anyone for help. So, with that I was given my marching orders. Learn all that you need for life.  There are no man only or woman only skills there are just skills.  If the shirt needed sewing.  You did it.  If the sink needed plumbing.  You did it.  If a meal needed to be cooked.  You did it.

As time goes on in your life it becomes fine to outsource some of these jobs.  For example, I don’t work on my car at all now.  I haven’t changed oil or the brakes myself since my early twenties.  However, this only gives me more time to learn. I have a fancy radio in my car that takes USB sticks and plays the audio off of them.  This way I just copy podcasts, lectures, and audiobooks to it and listen to that while I drive and only to the radio when the kids or my wife is with me.

Is that too much? I don’t want to be the guy that’s the regular at Starbucks discussing politics and the nature of being while dropping names of obscure politicians, actors, or activists hoping that people have to look up what I’m saying when they get home on Wikipedia.  Nor do I particularly want to be the person everyone calls when they have any problem in the world because I am that guy now and that’s grown old.  Every call I get is somebody that wants something from me.  I just want to be free.

Free like James Bond or the character in a new TV series I’ve been watching called Burn Notice.  People you could just drop anywhere on the planet and they would survive and do it well.  The problem is that once you’ve started on this road the gas stations (reflection points) are few and far between and once you reach one you never remember you wanted to turn around.  Honestly, I’m really not sure if I ever want to.  There’s so much to learn.

Are you a top-down or bottom-up thinker?

Wednesday, August 15th, 2007

I had the recent privilege of visiting a company I used to work for years ago. Everything had changed there since I left. When I worked there I took an IT department barely did anything with a juggernaut of a server (for it’s time) to a bustling internet revenue machine. My way of thinking was that the best way to make money is to spend it but spend it very wisely. Our most cost effective server was a server I built with spare parts that ended up being the center of our internet revenue. The only cost being a huge hard drive (which was cheap).

You see, I don’t buy into hype or propaganda. I want to know what the difference is in the high end model as compared to the low end model and I want the difference to make one a clear pricepoint comparison winner. If not, the cheaper one is the one I’ll get.

This is the story with Dell computers if you ever buy one. Today I was helping a lady buy a laptop online for her daughter going off to college. The lady wanted to pay as little as possible to get what she needed and she knew I could get it for her. For comparison she had the specs of a laptop her friend just bought and an IT guy at her company worked up. I really didn’t need these but my ego was then curious to see if I could beat the specs for less with all of us ordering off of the same Dell website. Needless to say I was $300 less that one and $800 less than the IT guy’s specs. All this and still blowing away the minimum and recommended specs from the girl’s college.

How you may ask? Bottom-up thinking. You see, I never start with the best thing there is and slowly tear off things till I’m satisfied. I start from the bottom and build up. I’ve learned from cracking open the cases of quit a few computers. The motherboard is the same. Just the parts are different. With this in mind you can start with a slow computer. Add memory, etc. and you will have a great computer… for less.

Save your extra money and buy yourself something nice.

Confession of a virtualization junkie

Thursday, August 9th, 2007

I can’t say it enough but I’m just a junkie. I’ve been using Vmware server for a while and it’s great for someone like me. I continually try new stuff. I don’t have to risk blowing up my machine to do it either. I’ll install every operating system I can download. I’ve been through every trial edition. Tested out everything there is (well except games because Vmware’s virtual video driver can’t handle that). I can even show a company how the new software’s going to act by virtualizing their current hardware and trying out whatever I want on it. If it fails? So what do it again. No harm done.

If you aren’t riding this hot wave the you should. Go to every Linux distro you want and try all of them out. Use it on another machine as a backup solution. Your main machine goes down you can run on a virtual one from another computer in seconds. One day Apple will realize that they should make their software compatible with this but until then you too should become a virtualization junkie.

How adaptable are you?

Wednesday, August 8th, 2007

The landscape of the world today is so very different than it was thirty years ago. When I was a kid the world seemed to be pretty stagnant. Granted, there were new inventions and mechanization of manufacturing plants. In the 70’s it was considered a big thing to have a plant that robotic equipment was killing the cows as well as milking them. Someone turned up the speed on the treadmill though. The lazy aren’t keeping up. It’s becoming a scene from a old “I love Lucy” re-run.

What’s going on? Computers are changing our lives as everybody knows. This train is on the express lane and if you’re not at the stop on time you’re getting left. What can you do? How can you get on the train like those people that are leisurely walking on instead of the guy running at full stride and slamming against the door just as it closes? Easy.

Be adaptable.

Sounds simple enough but I’ve found that it’s just changing the though processes of the people I have to work with. In my project management role I have to build teams and make people believe that once this new software is put in that their day will be more productive. How do I do that? Make people believe in an abstract not the concrete. Say for example, I teach one group of people the concepts of word processing and the other group Microsoft Word. The first group can go to any word processor and figure out where the features they need are and move on. The second set will look for some of the exact features that Microsoft told you were necessary and be stuck. This first group will be able to sit in front of any word processor and soon be proficient at any job they go to.

The word processing example was really a mild one because they are pretty easy to use however, imagine other technologies? This teaches people to be adaptable. To never think they are old dogs that have to learn new tricks. Thats an uphill battle. However, when I watch 70 year old ladies using computers and figuring out how to use the new software that they’ve been given whereas a 30 year old complains everyday about the new software they’re being migrated to I can only think of the train analogy. The 70 year old lady is already sitting on the train knitting while the 30 year old runs to catch the door of life.

Happy Birthday to me!!!

Sunday, August 5th, 2007

Posting was the last thing on my mind because of my birthday today but if you’re born in August too, here’s a big birthday cake for you too.