My Letter to Ralph

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So, for those of you who don’t work around CAD (computer-aided design) technologies, which is likely most of you, it’s where I spent roughly 25 years of employment.  I wrote software for AutoCAD for various US defense companies, mostly to automate design operations and ancillary processes.  It also automated a decent paycheck.  

Anyhow, Ralph Grabowski publishes a fantastic newsletter named upFront eZine, focused on all-things CAD/CAE/CAM (you can figure out the other acronyms).  I occasionally respond to his articles with (usually brief, but always positive) feedback.  The latest edition caused me to respond with a bit longer (but still positive) email.  Anyhow, here it is…

Hi Ralph,

First off – your most recent issue on hardware hacking was outstanding!  Thank you!

Regarding the “Missing Developers” discussion:

I loved working with AutoLISP/VisualLISP from 1988 to 2004.  But Autodesk beat us over the head repeatedly, that they were dumping LISP in favor of sexier (e.g. more marketable) tools like ObjectARX (.NET).  Moreover, the LISP community was being left behind with outdated tools and no clear path forward.  The incredible community base, and content abundance, that had evolved until then, had zero value to Autodesk, or so it seemed at the time.

I also tried my hand at writing books on the subject of Visual LISP, but I couldn’t seem to get any help or feedback from Autodesk whatsoever.  I never asked for free licenses or special treatment.  Just things like fact-checking, and peer review, etc.  Nothing.  Other authors seemed to figure out the magic formula for getting support, but it seemed to align with non-LISP subject matter.  I continued on through several editions only for the benefit of my readers, who still buy them (I’m still surprised at this!)  The writing, for me, was on the wall.

I do miss working with CAD programming very much.  I would say it was the most fun I ever had within the development realm.  There was something magical about writing code and watching it draw and manipulate things on a screen.  Taking it further, into business process automation, reporting, materials ordering, construction planning, machining, robotics, and so on was icing on the cake.  They were good times indeed.

Sincerely,

Dave

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)

SCCM and Chocolatey

browsers

Trying to leverage goodness from various mixtures of Chocolatey with SCCM is definitely not new. Others have been playing around with it for quite some time. However, I wanted to pause from a month of mind-numbing work-related things to jot down some thoughts, realizations, pontifications, gyrations and abbreviations on this.

Much of this idiotic rambling that ensues hereinafter is based on the free version of Chocolatey.  There is also a “Business” version that offers many automation niceties which you might prefer.  There’s a lot more to this Chocolatey thing than I can possibly blabber out in one blog post (even for yappy little old me), such as the Agent Service features, packaging, and so more.  Visit http://chocolatey.org for more.

1 – Is it “Better”?

No.  It’s just different.  But, regardless of whether if “fits” a particular need or environment, it’s often nice to know there’s another option available “just in case”.

2 – Who might this be of use to?

I can’t list every possible scenario, but I would say that if the potential benefits are lined up it kind of points to remote users without the use of a public-facing (or VPN-exposed) distribution point resource.  It also somewhat negates the need for any distribution resource, even cloud based (Azure, AWS), since there’s no need for staging content unless you want to do so.

3 – How does SCCM fit?

At this point (build 1703) it’s best suited for use as a Package object, since there’s no real need for a detection method, or making install/uninstall deployment types.  A Program for installation, and another for uninstallation, are pretty much all that’s needed.

4 – How does an Install or Uninstall work via SCCM?

As an example, to install Git, you would make a Package, with no source content, and then create one Program as (for example only) “Install Git” using command “choco install git -y”, and another as “Uninstall Git” using “choco uninstall git -y”.  (Caveat: some packages incur dependencies, which may throw a prompt during an uninstall.  For those you can add -x before the -y, but refer to the Chocolately documentation for more details)

5 – How do you push updates to Chocolatey apps via SCCM?

You can use the above construct with a third Program named “Update Git” (for example) with command “choco upgrade git -y”.  Another option (and my preference) is to deploy a scheduled task that runs as the local System account, to run “choco upgrade all -y” at a preferred time or event (startup, login, etc.).  And, as you might have guessed by now (if you haven’t fallen asleep and face-planted into your cold pizza), someone has done this for you.

6 – Can you “bundle” apps with Chocolatey with or without SCCM?

Absolutely.  There’s a bazillion examples on the Internet, but here’s one I cobbled together for a quick lab demo a while back.  This one feeds a list of package names from a text file. You can also hard-code the list, or pull it from anywhere that PowerShell can reach it (and not just PowerShell, but any script that you can run on the intended Windows device).

7 – What about MDT?

Here’s a twist, you can deploy Chocolatey packages using MDT, or deploy MDT using Chocolatey.  How freaking cool is that?  If you sniff enough glue, you might even construct a Rube Goldberg system that deploys itself and opens a wormhole to another dimension.  By the time you find your way back, America will be a subsidiary of McDonald’s and we have real hoverboards.

8 – What about applying this to Windows Server builds?

You can.  I’d also recommend taking a look at BoxStarter, and Terraform.  I built a few BoxStarter scripts using Github Gists for demos a while back.  Here’s one example for building and SCCM primary site server, but it’s in need of dusting off and a tune up.  You can chop this up and do things all kinds of different (and probably better) ways than this.

The list of automation tools for building and configuring Windows computers is growing by the day.  By the time you read this sentence, there’s probably a few more.  Hold on, there’s another one.

PS – If you get really, really, reeeeeeally bored, and need something to either laugh at, ridicule or mock, you can poke around the rest of my Github mess.  I don’t care as long as you put the seat back down after flushing.

Welcome to Dave Airlines 

“in the case of a water landing, those who can’t swim are going to have a tough time. Hold your breath as long as you can. Be nice to other passengers,  in case they know how to swim. Exits are located over the wings, however, if the wings come off, that’ll be tough. In the case of a power loss, lights will illuminate along the aisles,  as long as we didn’t forget to change the batteries. In the case of a crash landing, climb over anyone in your way to the nearest exit. Small portable electronic devices may be used as long as they’re in airplane mode, because, well, we’re on an airplane. If oxygen masks drop from the overhead, it’s probably too late. Tampering with, disabling,  or destroying lavatory smoke detectors will get your ass kicked.  Please, remain seated, with your seat belt fastened securely, so that locating your bodies will be easier.”

Thank you for flying with Dave Airlines. 

Interview – Rob Spitzer

Name: Rob Spitzer
Job Title: Practice Manager, Cloud Productivity and Security
Home Town: Newport News, VA

Introduction

I worked with Rob during two separate roles at different employers.  The first was while I was still mostly involved with the applications world, and the second was when I first stepped into the consulting world.  We didn’t really work closely together during the first period, since we were in different IT functional areas.  But it was during the second period when I worked with him most.  We also shared the influence of a common individual, Brett, whom I late became friends with, until his death in 2009. RIP.  Brett introduced me to SMS 2.0 and helped lay the foundation for my eventual transition from purely app-dev into infrastructure and beyond.

Let’s go…

1. Describe what you do for a living – to someone who has no idea what it means.

Well, my kids describe my job as “playing with computers all day”. I describe myself as an Infrastructure Engineer. If the Network Engineers build the roads, we build the buildings along the roads. It’s all the stuff that people rely on everyday but it’s the stuff that kind of fades into the background if we do our jobs right.
My team historically were the Microsoft Active Directory and Exchange engineers. As Microsoft moved to the cloud, we followed suit, adding Microsoft’s productivity suite, Office 365, Azure Active Directory and EMS to the mix.

2. What aspect or area of technology are you most excited about?

It’s hard to not be excited by the cloud. The Internet has been and continues to be the great disrupter, leveling the playing field for businesses. Cloud services have made it possible for small businesses to meet the same compliance, security, and disaster recovery requirements as larger businesses and has allowed businesses of all sizes to concentrate more on their core business and less on managing their IT infrastructure. I do not miss fretting over backups, patching servers, or performing DR tests!

3. How did you get to be an IT consultant?

I kind of stumbled into IT in general. I came out of college (Go Hokies!) with a degree in Aerospace and Ocean Engineering. Throughout college I was always drawn more to the computer side of the program than the actual program itself. I was on the Five-Year Plan, so I picked up a couple of Computer Science classes during my last year. Because of my degree I ended up taking a job with Newport News Shipbuilding (where we met). This was the late 90’s and, if you showed any interest in computers, they would happily train you.  So, I made the switch over to IT.

A few years later, one of our colleagues, Brett Rivers, introduced me to Old Dominion University’s ITPro program. ITPro taught MCSE prep courses and I was given the opportunity to teach about AD and Exchange. I really became enamored with the idea of not just setting up and maintaining technology but showing others how to get the most out of their IT investments. That’s kind of become my personal mission statement over the years.

Brett ended up taking a job with Microsoft where he did some work with a local Partner, SyCom Technologies. SyCom was interested in setting up a Hampton Roads office and was looking for local resources. Brett introduced them to me and I’ve been their ever since. It’s been a great fit, bringing together all of my favorite parts of “doing IT” and “teaching IT”.

4. Name the 3 most inspiring people in your life or career?

My Mom and Dad. They never expected me to be perfect but they did expect me to always do my best. In a lot of ways, that’s a harder bar to reach and, to me, it’s the correct measure of success. You can’t be expected to excel at everything but you can be expected to put your best effort towards everything you do. In a lot of cases you’ll be surprised by the results.

My wife, Lesley. She does an amazing job of juggling being a Mom, a Student, a Leader, a Teacher, and a Wife. All are priority one to her. She even helped my GPA go up in college. She wanted to study and I wanted to spend time with her…. so I ended up studying more.

5. What 3 books, movies, or other works, have influenced or inspired you the most?

The Bible – I went for a long part of my life without it, but now I can’t imagine being without it. Jesus is the cornerstone of my life.

Start with Why by Simon Sinek – This little book has really shaped my leadership style over the last few years. It examines some really simple but profound questions… Why are some people and organizations more innovative, more influential, and more profitable than others? Why do some command greater loyalty from customers and employees alike? We spend so much time focusing on What we do and How we do it but we need to start with Why we do what we do.

The entire Star Wars franchise – Hey! They can’t all be serious, can they? I’ve loved these movies since I was a kid, and I love the fact that I get to enjoy the new ones with my kids. This once a year release cadence has been great! Keep them coming Disney!

6. Best and worst name for a technology you’ve ever seen/heard.

Worst is easy. Anything that ends in “Edition” or “R2”. So basically, most of the Microsoft server products. Also, any name that requires abbreviations because they are so long; RAID, SCSI, etc.
Best name is a little harder. There are so many technology names that don’t stand the test of time. Remember when putting the letter “I” or “e” at the beginning of any product name made it sound cool. Now it seems antiquated. I’m going to take the easy way out and say “Internet” is the best name ever. This is for a couple of reasons. First, it so simply describes what it is. No abbreviations, no extra marketing fluff. Second though, it has so profoundly changed our world.

7. If/when AI takes over writing program code, someday, what do you think human programmers will do?

They’ll do the same thing as they do today. Eat junk food and drink soda. 😉

8. Describe what technology an average business office worker might use in 2027.

I think the workplace is going to continue to become more mobile, more remote, yet more collaborative at the same time. I think the concept of having to live in a certain place because that’s where a particular job is will become more and more antiquated. I don’t see computers or smartphones going away as they definitely fill needs, but I do think they will continue to evolve and may look very different. I also think Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality will become more common place, if not ubiquitous, by this time.

9. There’s never enough ____

Time with family and friends…

10. There’s way too much ____

Strife in the world. I wish we would all realize we have so much more in common than we do differences. Yet we tend to focus primarily on the differences…

11. Best and worst part of working as an IT consultant?

The best part of being an IT consultant is the ability to get out and meet new people. It’s amazing how much of the technology is the same from business to business yet how different some of the approaches can be. There are so many great IT folks out there. Also, the non-IT aspects are great, for instance, learning where and how things are made. Did you know there is a company up in Richmond who makes the inserts in things like markers and AirWick air fresheners? That’s their primary product. I had no idea how much goes into something we ultimately just throw away.

The worst part is the assumption that we should know every possible scenario that may come up. Consultants are really just collections of “I’ve never seen that before” moments. We just hope we’ve anticipated enough things that, when they happen, it’s minor. I’ve had to remind folks that I’m not omniscient. If I was, I would have played the lottery last night and be on a beach somewhere.

12. What examples of stupid technology do you see today that you wish you could magically “fix” or replace?

I wish I could fix streaming video. Why do I need Netflix, and Hulu, and Vudu, and iTunes, and every network’s streaming app in order to watch what I want, where I want? Yet I still need a TV subscription because, at the end of the day, there’s always something missing. I would pay $100/month easily for a Spotify-like service that let me watch whatever movies or TV shows I want, when I want, where I want. And none of this nonsense of having to wait a week after a new show airs or only including certain seasons or episodes. I want to be done with DVR’s, buying movies, etc. Am I asking too much?

13. How do you feel about the importance of college degrees, and certifications as it pertains to IT careers? Do those credentials mean as much, or more, than they use to?

I don’t believe there is any single formula for success. I’ve met some very successful people that never completed high school. Conversely, I’ve seen Master’s students working retail because they couldn’t find a job in their desired field. At the end of the day, a degree or certification will get you what it always has. If a particular job comes down to you and another applicant, a degree or certification may be the thing that puts you over the top.

I also don’t know if it always matters that you have “the right degree” or “the right certification”. Look at me. I have an Aerospace and Ocean Engineering degree yet I’ve never made a server rack float or fly. What my degree did teach me that I continue to use today is how to take a complex problem and break it down into manageable chunks. The most important thing is you apply the knowledge you’ve been given, not the piece of paper.

14. What one piece of technology do you think will change society the most in the next 10 years?

I really think Virtual Reality, or more correctly Augmented Reality, will be the next Big Thing. The ability to overlay information onto the real world has so much potential from social media through business. Even the humble instruction manual becomes infinitely more useful. Instead of having to flip around a 3D image depicted on 2D paper, you could actually see what you are trying to do, overlaid on the thing that your trying to do. This would shave at least a good hour off of setting up my next gas grill!

15. Should consumers have to pass a basic skills test before being allowed to own a computer device? Why or Why not?

Hmm. That’s a tough one. Like a car, I think there should be a reasonable expectation that a user has learned some basic knowledge of the device they are trying to use. With that said, I think the onus continues to be on the manufactures to make devices simpler, safer, and more reliable. There is an expectation that I’ve passed Driver’s Ed before I can drive but there is no requirement that I’m an ASE certified mechanic to own a car.

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