business, Personal, Society, Technology

Working from Home: The Good. The Bad. The Weird.

This post is not intended to be funny, so if you’re looking for a better joke, watch C/SPAN.  Wait, that was technically a joke.  Oh well.

So, a little (snooze-fest) background to get you in the mood.  Some wine, some Barry White music, dim lights, and…

I’ve now been working remote for an employer since Spring of 2015.  I didn’t seek this, because I always thought of it as a unicorn job.  But I soon discovered how many others have been doing it (in IT) for a long time and how the practice is increasing in popularity.  This is particularly true for consulting more than full-time employment (FTE) or contracting.  Consulting for an employer on full W-2, etc. is more common than independent, but I see quite a few of those as well (mostly online, that is).

Since then, I’ve had many discussions with others who work from home and it seemed odd how little information exists on “best practices” and warning signals.  There are some books, some blogs, some whitepapers out there, but most appear to be focused on a specific area within the topic, rather than taking a holistic view.  I try to avoid using “holistic” because I’ve heard it used to death, but I couldn’t stop myself.

The Good

The advantages for the consultant are pretty obvious, but not always what you expect. I won’t bother with the advantages for employers, because they should already know that, or they’re on the wrong path.

Flexibility is high on the list. When you wake up, when you take lunch, etc. Dress code is optional (more on this later), and feeling more connected to your “home” are often benefits. For example, spending more time with your kids, pets, spouse (in that order, ha ha), etc.

Flexibility also allows you to step away from some conference calls to use the restroom, get coffee, snacks, fetch the mail, etc. as long as you have a wireless headset and a mute button. I can take care of dishes, laundry, feeding the pets, watering plants, all while discussing why Configuration Manager isn’t going to automatically wipe and re-image every machine in the company from the evil PXE-beast.

Another advantage is it’s easier to multi-task (which can also be a disadvantage). For example, while one conference call is droning on about something you’re not involved with, you can work on other tasks, chat with customers, engineers, etc. As for conference calls, it’s often easier to “back-channel” on separate chat sessions, with others on the same call, than when everyone is physically in a room together.

Yet another advantage with online conferencing is the ease of sharing links, documents, etc. via the chat application (Skype, WebEx, etc.) while the meeting is still going.

The Bad

Some of these will vary by your personality, home environment, and other personal factors.

Solitude. It’s not for everyone. If you don’t like working in isolation (like many programmers prefer), and rather have people around you, then working from home may not be ideal. If you suffer from mild to severe depression, even seasonal, it can be tough, but not impossible, to accommodate.

Background distractions/disruptions. Noisy pets. Leaf blowers outside. Fans. All of these can make you a master of the mute button, but if that gets too frequent, customers (and your boss) may become concerned about your ability to focus.

What to do?

None of the following recommendations imply 24/7 focus. It’s okay if you slip off the wagon once in a while. The important thing is to keep them in front of you and try to do them whenever possible. Make a checklist if you want, whatever works. This is aside from the technical side of things, like getting a wireless Bluetooth headset.

  1. Get outside!!! Walk, run, or even sit in a chair. But get outside at least twice a day. Even if the weather sucks. It’s important to mentally feel connected to the outside world. Sunshine, even indirect/cloudy, stimulates chemical balances in your mind and body (proven, go look it up, if you don’t believe me).
  2. Get away from your desk/chair at least once an hour. Walk to another room (or outside, even better). Just move.
  3. Watch your diet. Avoid sugary snacks or putting too much sweetener in your drinks (or drinking canned/bottled sweetened drinks). Being sedentary and consuming unhealthy foods/drinks is one of the fastest ways to lose control of your health. If you think it’s easy to slip on this when working in an office, it’s twice as easy when working from home. Also, keep snacks AWAY from reach. Put all your food, coffee, drinks, etc. in another room, or across the room you’re in. Make yourself have to get up to get them.
  4. Exercise. If you’re so inclined, do some resistance workout activities, or calisthenics to keep the blood flowing and improve your health. Sitting at home is worse than sitting in an office because you don’t even walk from the office entrance to your desk and back. You can easily lose weight doing this, which is a win-win. Nothing fancy. Even arm circles, squats, and so on are better than clicking a mouse all day.
  5. Set Boundaries. Pick a time to “knock off” work and leave it behind. It’s really really reeeeeeeaaaally easy to keep working long after you should quit for the day. It’s bad for your mind, health, and can affect your sleep pattern, mood, appetite, and family time (or pet time).
  6. Have lunch with a friend, colleague, family member, etc., at least once a week if you can. Nothing fancy or expensive, just coffee or a light lunch will do. Conversation is one of the best vaccines against feeling down from isolation. It also keeps your conversation chops sharp for when you go to meet customers.
  7. Go to local meet-ups. This is VERY important for three reasons: It gets you into groups and interacting with others, it gets you away from your home office, and you learn new things. Just watch out for junk food if they provide it.
  8. Change the Scenery. Work from a different location sometimes. A coffee shop, library, park, shopping mall, etc. Whatever fits your ability to focus on what you do for work. Some people prefer busy places, some prefer quiet places. But getting out of the house is important.
  9. Personal Stuff. Shower, shave, groom, like you’re going to the office. Every day.
  10. Dress up. Yes. One of the most common changes people incur when working from home is working in pajamas, sweats, even underwear. It’s easy and comfortable. It can also gradually affect how you feel and how you conduct yourself in conference calls. You don’t need to put on a suit, although that’s fine if you like. Just jeans and a button down shirt or polo, with socks and shoes. And a belt. Believe it or not, aside from getting away from my desk, this is the most challenging one for me.
  11. Avoid cages. If you listen to music or podcasts, news, or TV shows while working, change up your selection. Avoid patterns that subconsciously make your brain feel like you’re standing still.

Anyhow, I hope this is helpful.

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humor, Personal, Society, Technology

Cranky AFaaS

I’m starting to use this “aaS” suffix more and more in casual conversation now.  I’m not just stooping to bag my dog’s fecal dispersions, I’m providing Feces-aas or FaaS.  I’m not talking shit around the coffee pot anymore, I’m providing BSaaS.  That’s right, I claim it as the first official use of “Bull-Shit-as-a-Service”, even though technically, the act itself was perfected by the US government a hundred years ago.  Nobody can touch them now.

techsupport

So, this week has immersed me in a series of, shall I say, annoyances.  The kind that spin my brain platter around to that classic tune: “Stupid AF but we’ve gotten so used to it that it seems normal now”.

Like this…

bs_onedrive.png

and this…

bs_office_odt

…and that’s only the beginning.

Then I heard a clerk at the grocery store talking to a customer ahead of me.  It went a little like this…

Clerk: “No maam, once you write the check out for the actual amount, I can’t give you cash back, unless you write another check.”

Maam: “This shit is bullshit!

Clerk: “Well, I suppose that it has to be some kind of shit. But that’s all I can do.

Now, technically he was absolutely correct.  But I don’t think is manager was amused, but he obviously agreed with this employee, and dammit, my beer was getting warm on that slimy conveyor belt waiting for her to move on.

Then I found out that “SCCM” has been hijacked, like all good initialisms/acronyms, by some glue-sniffing, child-abducting gang calling themselves “Society of Critical Care Medicine“.  The nerve of those people thinking their silly medical skills somehow matter more in this dangerous world than deploying patches to machines over shitty WAN/VPN/Wi-Fi links at 3am.

For the love of caffeine, can we get someone to form an official group to manage all these acronyms which now have multiple meanings?

Then!

Then I walking my dog, Dory, who at 100lbs, actually walks me, but that’s beside the point, and one of my neighbors stops me on the street…

Her: “OMG.  Did you see the rabid fox running around here?!  It chased me into the house with my two little dogs dragging behind me!”

Me: “Ummm…”

Her: “So, I called the police, they said I had to call Animal Control, who said unless I could keep my eyes directly on it, they can’t come out to do anything.  And I said…” (this is where I started to glaze over and pictured my dog getting mauled by some rabid animal and me trying to fend it off with a roll of poopoo bags in a plastic container…) “and so I just wanted to let you know.  Be careful!”

She went inside, I kept walking (getting walked by) my dog, and then saw the rabid fox limping around like it had finished off a case of beer or something, about 100 yards to my right.  I called our action-packed police department…

311: “Police non-emergency.  What’s the problem you wish to report”

Me: “We have a rabid fox running around our neighborhood.”

311: “I’ll patch you through to Animal Control.  If you get put on hold too long, their direct number is (insert “1-800-IDGAF”).  Please hold…”

20 minutes, no answer.  Repeated recording about how important my call is.

Hang up.  Call back.  10 minutes on hold.  Another call, 5 minutes.  Never mind.  At this point, I’m hoping it bites the first city employee that drives through the area, but I don’t really mean that, it just sounds snarky.

So I tweet our tax-paid folks with my complaint…

311.png

It’s now 4:51 PM ET on a Friday, which means those folks left work about 5 days ago.

Anyhow.  I’m staying away from work this weekend, but I will be doing something.  Maybe cleaning up my Github tragedy, or rebuilding my lab catastrophe, or staring at my belly button and thinking “I was once connected by a cable!”

Seriously, taking the wife and two of our kids to see Bohemian Rhapsody tonight.  I hope it’s good.

interviews, Personal, Society

Interview: Favorite Quotes

Question: “What is one of your favorite quotes?

peimei

 

Amy Casto @AdaptivaAmi

I get up every morning determined to both change the world and have one hell of a good time. Sometimes this makes planning my day difficult.

Johan Arwidmark @jarwidmark

Failure is not an option

Mike Terrill @miketerrill

Moving on, is a simple thing, what it leaves behind is hard.” – Dave Mustaine

Arnie Tomasovsky @arnietomasovsky

I have no particular one, but I quite like this one: “Money can buy you a fine dog, but only love can make him wag his tail.

Julie Andreacola @jandreacola

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together

Rod Trent  @rodtrent

The mind, once expanded to the dimensions of bigger ideas, never returns to its original size.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes

Nickolaj Andersen @nickolajA

I have some time, but I’m not really a quotes guy. The only one I can think of is when it was said that “64k of RAM is enough” (or something like that) 🙂

Jon Szewczak @VBJV

IT: “Everyonee writes terrible code. We can’t help it. The goal each year is to suck a little less.

Life: “Affirmation can change the course of someone’s life.

Nicke Kallen @znackattack

Well, odd one that sticked with me for years. About 17-18 years ago we had some workplace training (perhaps a bad translation..) (still in high school then) and the mentor that was assigned to me just gave me some pretty straight forward rules – including this: “You can wait for me, but I can’t wait for you

Obviously- this was that he wouldn’t wait 5 minutes for me, but i should value his time and if getting somewhere on time meant i had to stick around for 2 hours just waiting that was OK. Great mentor that really gave the lessons that i needed to hear at the time. Met him around the industry a few times – still share a laugh every time I meet him. Realize that as I wrote this that the quote was more valuable in the context than a general quote.

Rob Stack @londonnoise

Well, I’ve always loved “Insecure people try to make you feel smaller. Confident people like to see you walk taller.” – I’ve never known who that’s from.

The other is mildly more humorous and is “Do unto others as they would do unto you …. then run like hell before the police arrive.” 😦

Me @skatterbrainzz

Everyone has a plan, until they get punched in the mouth.” – Mike Tyson

You can’t reason anyone out of something they didn’t reason themselves into.” – The Great Henry Lapo

Personal, Society, Technology

Facebook – The New American Sofa

If you’re posting on Facebook, like I am right now, it means you’re not getting shit done. If you’re not getting shit done, it means you’re part of the problem. The more you’re not getting shit done, the bigger the problem.

I don’t count Twitter in this fight, because Twitter constrains everyone to small bites.  Facebook encourages long, rambling, mindless rants, just short of being a full blog, but definitely longer than most TV and radio commercials.  Also, comparing Twitter and Facebook, the percentage of content focused on “sharing information” (useful information) rather than fluff/politics/religion/rehashed-news/fake-news/re-faked-news etc. isn’t even in the same ball park.  Not even the same planetary system.

In one hour I get more helpful information from Twitter than an entire year on Facebook.  I have made my decision on where to spend my “not getting shit done” time.

humor, Society, Technology

Another Tragic Rant

I’m so tired of listening to neighbors, in-laws, relatives, even strangers at large, bash the IT community,  as being a bunch of “stupid nerds” every time their laptop gets infected with some bad stuff. The jokes. The snarky comments. The condescension (“I’ll have  you know that I have an MBA!” or “I build cranes for a living!” – so what. We have to listen to you all day) 

Even more annoying is after hearing someone jaw-jacking about us “nerds”, and then they try to put on the sad puppy face when they need help setting up their new ink jet printer from Costco, or they can’t figure out the self-configuring Wi-Fi router.
Lately, it’s about the ransomware attacks. Spora, WannaCry, and Petya. Followed by “that’s why I have a MacBook. You know, they’re *impossible* to hack“) News flash: most non-techie folks don’t need to be “hacked”. We can either guess your stupid basic password,  or read if from the sticky note on your desk, usually under the keyboard or on the back of your family photos from that Disney vacation. Geez. At least try to be creative. 

How about taking some responsibility for the stuff you buy and use? Stop clicking on stupid links and surfing porn. Update your software. Keep the OS patched. Keep your firewall turned on. Keep your anti-virus up to date, and use it often. Keep copies of your important files in the cloud. Don’t share thumb drives. Wear a condom. Look both ways when crossing a street. 

And stop blaming Microsoft, when there is proof they released a patch months or years before. You were too lazy, or drunk, to be bothered with maintaining another contraption. As if your car takes care of itself forever. Don’t have time to patch and reboot? Then you’ll have plenty of time while paying bitcoin to get your files back. And wait til it locks you out of your bank, email, Facebook and Instagram. 

To quote Jamie Fox, from Jarhead: “Fuck. ..  that.”

To all the consumer folk that don’t bash their IT brethren, this isn’t aimed at you. This is aimed at the douchey makers of snarky comments, and the media that fosters that puke-flavored view. 

Stop blaming “nerds” for getting hacked while you were clicking on yet another link like “5 ways to grow your penis!”,  or “You’ll never guess what this TV actor looks like now!”. You do know what click bait means? 

If you don’t know how it works, get some help. If you can’t learn to use it, maybe you shouldn’t be using it. Regardless, whatever your profession or unemployment status may be, stick to what you know and we’ll stick to what we know.  

We’re always glad to help, but please be professional about it. And if that doesn’t work, we’ll be glad to plant some kiddie porn on your device and notify Chris Hansen. 

Thank you 🙂 

business, government, humor, Projects, Society, Technology

IT Security Methods by Industry

After years (okay, decades,… okay, okay, centuries…..  damn it… alright! alright already, eons… are you happy now?  yes.  I’m THAT freaking old.  I still remember coal-fired computers and horse-drawn airplanes and shit.  My birthday cake is a slice of tree trunk of matching rings, but the table can’t hold the weight anymore.  sheesh!)

What was I saying?  …. (eyes wandering left and right…. … . . .          …  .         …. . .      .   .  )

oh yeah!  I’ve amassed a data set that accurately summarizes the predominant security practices or strategic “methods” leveraged by each major US industry. I warn you: this is highly scientific information.  It may require additional consumption of various questionable substances just to remain conscious while trying to read it all. Here goes.

Idiocracy-LB-1

Banking

Method: Place sufficient restrictions on the adoption of new technologies, so as to (A) mitigate unknown vulnerabilities and exploits, (B) insure that those with knowledge of older, proven exploits have died from old age, and (C) keep certain aging consultants employed (because they’re married into your family).  And besides, what’s wrong with COBOL?

Insurance

Method:  Never leave important IT decisions up to any one person, ever.  In fact, the more people involved, the greater insurance that the decision will eventually be reliable, maybe.  Larger companies focus on perfecting multi-role hyper-proliferated subterfuge logic branching and coalescing processes.  In layman’s terms: they foster greater variety among responses to decision inquiries.  Many have invested heavily in processes which depend entirely on custom hand-stitched, stone-carved, natural leather encased software, usually written by someone who left or died long ago.

Defense Manufacturing

Method: Implement dozens of stop-gap procedures to insure every motion of IT is slowed to the lowest possible, almost un-measurable, velocity.  Think of a Japanese rock garden, only slower.  Where the sand is executive processes and the stones are IT staff, now simply add quick-set cement to the sand mix and sprinkle some water on it.  This insures that even the bad stuff will take forever to make headway, and by that time, the entire system will have been eventually decommissioned.  Forget penetration attempts, even social engineering-based, because they’re often project-oriented, not departmental, so most people have no clue what that next cube is working on.  In fact, they probably don’t use the same network, computers or operating systems.

Legal

Method: Relegate “IT” to whomever answers the Craig’s List ad for an “IT Expert”.  Critical skills include: printer management, thumb drives, recovering lost files and emails, and using Excel databases” (that’s not a typo).  Must also have experience with Macs and Windows XP, particularly with kids games.

If they have any in-house “IT” capacity at all, it’s often enough shock to send a consultant into cardiac arrest.  Due to possible legal implications, it’s best to never change passwords for critical user accounts and never, I mean NEVER, delete anything.  Keep everything forever, or as long as you can afford somewhere to store it.

Travel

Method:  Agents need to be flexible and mobile.  Everything is done on laptops.  Everything remains on laptops.  No time for that silly, trendy, cloud stuff.  No backups, no cloud sync, but OMFG do NOT let anything happen to that precious data on those roaming laptops!  Thumb drives are forgotten like Matt Damon in Interstellar, waiting for someone to give them a hug, only to have their face shield cracked open and their chip tossed away.  Shit.  Did I give away the plot?

Advertising / Marketing

Method: Hire someone quick, and get back to the conference before the food runs out.

Transportation

If it’s airlines, use railroad standards.  If railroads, use airlines standards.  Either way, the older the technology the better.  It’s like a cast-iron frying pan, after years of seasoning, or a vintage wine.

 

Municipal

Method: Deny all requests for pay increases for five (5) years, reduce promotions from once every five (5) years to once every ten (10) years, discontinue any training programs, and for God’s sake: deny all requests for stupid things like newer software and hardware  It worked in 1995, so it should still work!  Hire a consultant to blame internal staff for every deficiency, terminate and reassign to avoid audit trails and blame the contractor afterwards.

Federal Agencies

Method: Same as municipal, but on a much larger scale.  Every four (4) years, change direction from in-sourcing to out-sourcing, and blame the opposite for any failures that remain.  If conservatives win, out-source to private contractors, where expertise and trust are premium values, after all, when has anyone ever heard of a private contractor doing something wrong in a government position?  Then blame liberals.  If liberals win, open up the job requisition flood gates and hire at will.  However, keep GS-rating pay scales at 1995 levels to avoid asking for tax increases.  This helps insure only the highest-quality employees are onboarded from their previous positions as private contractors or foreign exchange students.  Then blame conservatives for any failures.  Think of it as seasonable employment.

Medical/Dental Practices

Method: Hire the first contracting IT firm that actually shows up.  If they wear those spiffy-looking polo shirts with a slick company logo, they might be too expensive.  Ask if your cousin’s friend graduated tech school yet.  You know, the one who puked all over your sofa when he brought her to crash in your apartment while you were out of town.  That one.  If she’s not available, what about that kid that asked you about spark plugs while you were trying to inflate your car tires that day.

 

Summary

See if you can guess which of these most closely matches the photo above.

business, government, Society, Technology

Top 10 Reasons Your Job Might be Automated

10. Machines don’t give a shit about your favorite sports team, movie, TV or streaming series, cars, food, drinks, types of women or men, tasteless jokes, what you did last night or over the weekend, or what programming language you think is the best.
9. Machines don’t need restroom, smoke, vape, or lunch breaks
8. Machines don’t need to get their kid from the school nurse
7. Machines don’t ask for a raise or better benefits
6. Machines don’t need to rest
5. Machines work faster than you
4. Machines can do the work of more than one of you
3. Machines are better at analytical processes than you’ll ever be
2. Machines don’t horde information about their job
1. Machines don’t sue their employer

Even funnier, is that most people are convinced that THEIR job could never be automated.  No matter what profession they’re in.  Let’s list off some of the folks who were convinced of this as well:

  • Telephone operators
  • Mail sorters
  • Grocery store clerks (in many places)
  • Surveillance aircraft pilots
  • Security guards
  • Punch card handlers
  • Carpet weavers
  • Stock market traders
  • Food and drink vendors
  • Waiters (in many places)
  • Newspaper deliverers
  • Gas station attendants (in most places)
  • Librarians (in most places)
  • Milk delivery (in most places)
  • Movie set demolition experts
  • Camera Film Developers
  • Data center rack engineers (I already hear that giant sucking sound Mr. Perot mentioned)