Travel Tips for the Non-Terrorist

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Formula for Determining How Much to Pack

(Days * Underwear,Socks) + (Belt) + (Occasions * Shoes) + Occasions(ShirtTypes * Days) + BadWeather(Coat/Jacket/Pullover) + Toiletries + Entertainment + medical supplies + weather gear(optional) + flight requirements (tickets, etc.)

Factors to consider

  1. How long is the visit?
  2. Weather forecast
  3. Occasion (business, formal, social, leisure)
  4. International or domestic
  5. Required equipment / accessories (work, personal)
  6. Entertainment needs (music, movies, books, e-books, etc.)

Example: 5-day business trip (technical, not executive)

  • For the flight / direct to hotel after landing:
    • Long-sleeve t-shirt over short-sleeve (layers for hot/cold)
    • Jeans or sweat pants
    • Tennis shoes which slip on/off easily, or flip-flops
    • Ball cap (not the one that says “F-U TSA”)
  • For the backpack:
    • Laptop, charger, cords
    • Phone charger and spare charger pack
    • USB thumbdrives
    • Light jacket (maybe)
    • Snacks, Medicines, Gum
  • For the suitcase
    • Dress pants (business casual)
    • Polo shirts (business casual, un-stained)
    • Underwear, t-shirts, socks
    • Dress shoes
    • Swim trunks
    • Toiletries (toothbrush, deodorant, shaver, etc.)

Other Aspects

  • Print boarding passes
    • I used to use the phone apps for boarding, but I’ve had issues at the point of scanning when the app locked up, or phone went to sleep, etc.   Angry people in line behind me.  And I see it happen to others quite often.
    • I still use the apps for check-in, assignment changes, and gate status, but for boarding I print the pass and it always works.
  • In-flight:
    • Aisle seat if possible
      • I like window seats on flights over interesting terrain
      • Otherwise, I like to be able to get up without waking up the snoring slob beside me
    • Passenger next to me = friendly:
      • Conversation
    • Passenger next to me = not friendly:
      • Short flight = Podcasts
      • Longer flight = Movies, books, podcasts
    • Alaskan Airlines = talk with flight attendants (they’re usually cool)
      • After 11pm = free wine (if they still do that)
  •  Layovers
    • Short (less than 1 hr) = direct to next gate. Don’t fk around
    • Medium (2-3 hrs) = eat, drink, charge phone and ear buds, phone calls, emails, etc.
    • Longer (4 to 12 hrs) = bar, restaurant, comfy place to lay out, charge phone, phone calls, emails, people-watch, read, watch movies, etc. (I picked up people watching skills when I worked in NYC years ago – makes for great stories, blog posts, tweets, etc.)
  • Hotel
    • Check in – drop stuff – go for a walk
    • Find the workout room / pool / Jacuzzi / bar
    • Lay out clothes for next morning (I can shave/shower/dress in 20 mins if I don’t goof around the night before)

BONUS!  Going Through Security (Tips)

  • Don’t make jokes using words like “explode”, “kill”, “shoot”, “stab”, “grenade”, “bomb” or “booby trap”. If you have Turret’s Syndrome and can’t avoid these words, stuff your mouth with cotton balls or an entire pack of bubble gum before going into the airport.
  • Regardless of what one TSA person says (or doesn’t say) take your belt off (long story) or wear pants with an elastic waistband (no belt needed)
  • Don’t ask if you need to put your penis in a bin to put through the scanner.  Even if you have one.
  • Remember: TSA people do not have a sense of humor.  It’s a job requirement.
  • Shoes that you can slip on and off without using your hands = very nice.
  • When they ask “what’s in the bottle?” don’t laugh and say “C4!”
  • While the TSA person stares at your photo ID and back at your face, try to not make a Clint Eastwood face, unless you can’t help it.
  • You can save $4 by bringing a clean, empty (dry) plastic bottle in your carry-on, and fill it with water once you’re done with the security process.

General Observations (Dave’s Travel Rules)

  1. The number of available charging stations or electrical outlets in a given airport is directly and inversely proportional to how low your battery is.
  2. SeaTac (SEA), Charlotte (CLT), Atlanta (ATL) and Los Angeles (LAX) best spots for charging are at the most remote wings of the terminal.  Kind of like most conference buildings.
  3. If the pilot says “it might get a little bumpy” and you’re NOT crossing over a mountain range, it’s probably going to be “a little bumpy”
  4. If the pilot says “it might get a little bumpy” and you ARE crossing a mountain range, like the Rocky Mountains, it’s going to be very bumpy.  This is particularly true if you’re flying into Denver (DEN) from the west.
  5. Evaluate your departure time and landing time, total flight time, and sleep schedule (before and after a time zone shift) and plan on sleeping during flights as needed.
  6. Avoid caffeine and alcohol during flights, unless you’re really angry, in which case, consume all you can.
  7. The people seated on an exit row are not going to help you escape when the plane goes down.  They’ll be the first out.
  8. There really aren’t any oxygen masks.
  9. There really isn’t a pilot.  It’s a blow-up doll and a recording.
  10. The air nozzles over each seat are fed from air in the restroom.

SCCM, AD and Dumbest Statements so far Today

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It’s only Monday, yet the insanity has already begun piling up as of noon today (ET).

(them) “We don’t want to use PXE, because it might end up reimaging all our computers without our control.”

(them) “Our AD keeps locking up.”

(them) “We need packaging support.” (me) “What kind of packaging support?” (them) “I don’t know.  Whatever packaging SCCM requires.”

(them) “SCCM cannot tell you who the user of the device is.”

On call number 5 already, different customers, different engineers, planners, etc.  Waiting for the next awesome statement.  Only 5 more calls to go.

Application Packaging: One more time

Combo meal edition: Double cheese pontification, crybaby sauce, and a side order of rant fries.

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  1. Do NOT repackage unless you absolutely HAVE TO.
  2. If you actually do have a need to repackage, try to produce an MSI package.  And if you crank out an MSI, please fill out all of the properties.
  3. Read this: http://www.itninja.com/blog/view/application-packaging-best-prac-tices
  4. Read this too: https://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/windows/desktop/bb204770(v=vs.85).aspx
  5. If you don’t know how to do it: SEARCH, ASK, READ, LISTEN
  6. Don’t knee jerk. Ask yourself what the BEST solution is for EVERY request.
  7. BE CONSISTENT with EVERYTHING: methods, tools, documentation, naming, version numbering, storage locations, all of it.  Being consistent does not mean change is bad, but analyze the change and when you decide to do it, make it stick.
  8. If you don’t have time to do it the right way, don’t even bother. Grab your keys and head out right now.  I’ll explain it to your boss.
  9. If the installer package you produce requires the target users to have local administrator rights, or that the client firewall be entirely disabled: you have FAILED miserably.  Go back and start over, or cover yourself in lunch meat and visit an alligator ranch.
  10. If the product absolutely cannot work without users having full admin rights, or the firewall turned off, or it cannot install silently by any means, contact the vendor for help.  If the vendor won’t help, find another product.  If you can’t find another product, make one.  If you can’t make one, hire someone who can.

And that’s not all… (pull-starting the rant engine now)

If you’re thinking “I can’t afford to hire a programmer to make this thing“, maybe you need to do the math to be sure.  While the full-on 1990’s approach to large-scale in-house development groups isn’t as common in 2017, there can easily be a comfortable balance when the need exists.

  • How much time do you spend making adjustments for half-baked, crappy-installer products over a year? That includes “tinkering” and “messing around” on your own time, as well as phone calls, emails, to the vendor and colleagues, user groups, trying to get help.
  • How many people are involved in making those adjustments?
  • How much do they cost per hour to make those adjustments?
  • What other tasks are those people NOT working on, while they’re busy making those adjustments?
  • Is your business important enough to put a little more effort behind getting your applications done the right way?  If not: then why not?
  • Why are YOU doing the work that the vendor should have been doing?
  • Why are YOU still paying that lazy vendor for unfinished products?

Think of this another way…

  • What if you had dinner at a particular restaurant every week, and every time they brought you a partially-prepared meal, such as half-boiled pasta and uncooked meat?  And then they told you that if you wanted it fully cooked, to get your own pan, water, and stove and finish cooking it all yourself.  But don’t expect a discount on the price either.
  • Would you still keep going back to eat there?
  • That’s only a $20-$30 meal (on average, at most)
  • So, why would you do this with products that charge you thousands of dollars?

Maybe you hate your employer, which isn’t uncommon these days.  But if you like your job and/or your employer, and you put up with inept software packaging by vendors, ask yourself, why?  At least try contacting the vendor(s) to see what they can do.

Of the several dozen I’ve reached out to, about 50% were helpful in making their product install silently, and with less effort.  About 40% dragged their feet and did nothing.  10% were either unresponsive or complete arrogant bastards that should be lowered into a turbo-charged woodchipper, feet-first.  But otherwise, those aren’t terrible odds for getting help.

I feel better already! 🙂

What They DON’T Tell you About Working in IT

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I forgot to include this in my books “How to Break Your IT Environment” and “What Schools Don’t Teach you About Working in IT” are the following:

  1. They have this thing called a “cut-over weekend“.  This is when the customer (and/or your employer) reminds you that your sexual organs remain firmly secured within the vice grips of your manager.  The actual definition comes from the Latin phrase “terminus socialus life-us”, which translates into English as “we are taking control over your weekend and too bad for your personal life
  2. They have another thing called “after hours work“, which is as you might have guessed: after normal working hours.

News flash: Once you are assigned as a salaried worker, for most of us mere mortals anyway, means “normal working hours” are midnight to midnight, but thankfully, only on days that end with a “y”.

Other things I should’ve included, and maybe I’ll consume enough wine to publish a new version of the latter book mentioned previously, are the following:

  • Priority Projects <> Priority Management directives.   That’s right.  Sometimes you have more than one boss.  And sometimes, those bosses don’t agree.  But that doesn’t mean you have a clear kung fu stick for which to fight back either.
  • Deferred work <> Delayed Deadlines.  This is the worst, evil-brained, multi-headed beast known to mankind/womankind.  Think of it as winning the lottery later in life, but you still die on the same date.  Kind of the same, only less fun.

Imagine if you and I could drink some beers together, and I impart this depressing wisdom upon you.  How long before you reached for the nearest sharp object and ended it.  I doubt I’d have time to pull out a stopwatch and try to measure the time it would take.

Me: “Okay, I’m going to see how long it takes for you to…” (gagging and coughing sounds, loud thump as body hits the floor).

You: “Check please!”

IT/SMH

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This is extracted from a real, actual conversation from this past week.  Names have been obfuscated to avoid being litigated and imprisonated, er, something like that.  Anyhow, grab your popcorn and enjoy!

Customer: “What are the new Dev and Test environments going to look like?”

Architect: “They will look exactly like the production environment, except that the domain names will end with ‘.dev’ and ‘.test'”

Customer: “But how will it be configured?”

Architect: “Exactly the same as the production environment, except that the domain names will end with ‘.dev’ and ‘.test'”

Customer: “Do you have an architectural diagram for each, so I can get a better idea of how they’re going to be configured?”

Architect: “Did you receive the design document for the production environment?”

Customer: “Yes.”

Architect: “Did you have a chance to look at the diagram in the design document?”

Customer: “Yes.”

Architect: “Dev and Test will be exactly the same.  Including the diagrams.  The only difference will be the domain suffixes.”

Customer: “I would still like to see a diagram to better understand.”

Approximately 30 seconds of complete silence…

Architect: (softly) “I’m not sure what you really need.”

Customer: “I would just feel better having a diagram.”

Architect: “Like the one shown in the production design document?”

Customer: “Yes! Exactly like that!”

Architect: “Dev and Test are identical.  Only the two domain names have different endings.”

Customer: “Ok. I understand.”

Architect: “Ok. That’s good.  Are there any other questions?”

Customer: “So, when do you think you could send me the diagrams for the Dev and Test environments?”

wash. rinse. repeat.

The State of IT Work in America

Disclaimer:  This is scientifically indeterminate information. Statistically unfounded, and somewhat anecdotal.  I would use more adjectives and analogies, but my coffee ran out hours ago and my dog just tried to eat my cat.

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What is This?

This article is a summarization of data collected from customer engagements working as an IT consultant over the past calendar year.  The information is taken from notes that are primarily intended to provide scoping around specific IT projects.

After reading so many Forester and Gartner reports, as well as internal assessment emails from various customers, I sometimes wonder if they suffer from the Heisenberg principle, or if they focus on alternative motives, I really don’t know.  I wanted to at least try and put a stick in the ground and point at it while mumbling.

I’ve made every effort to translate my notes into this compilation, but I cannot share the actual names or identifying information due to serious legal risk (there’s a white van circling my house… right…. now…)

Business Types

(just the ones I have personally connected with)

  • 3 municipalities
  • 4 hospitals
  • 4 manufacturing
  • 5 retail corporate offices
  • 3 health insurance corporate offices
  • 2 luxury goods
  • 3 food processing
  • 2 food service retailers
  • 1 railroad company
  • 1 cloud data center hosting company
  • 2 financial services companies
  • 5 banks
  • 2 chemical processing companies
  • 2 engineering firms
  • 10 legal firms
  • 1 household products company
  • 2 defense engineering companies
  • 1 electronic circuitry designer
  • 1 sports franchise marketing firm
  • less than 20% are publicly traded
  • and a partridge in a pear tree

IT Organization Sizes

(just my own personal involvement, not our company as a whole)

  • 50% – 5000 devices/users or less
  • 25% – 500 devices/users or less
  • 20% – More than 5000 devices/users
  • 5% – More than 10,000 devices/users
  • Smallest = 60 devices
  • Largest = 185,000 devices

Infrastructure and Platforms

(very approximated numbers)

  • 100% are Windows Server Active Directory environments
  • 50% are using cloud services currently (AWS or Azure)
  • 90% are using VMware datacenter products
  • 75% are using MDT or SCCM
  • 40% of “new” SCCM customers are on current branch
    • 50% of the rest are preparing to upgrade
    • 50% of the rest are scared to death for no reason
  • 90% are still using Windows 7
  • 80% are actively deploying Windows 10
  • 10% are actively deploying Windows Server 2016
  • 30% are actively deploying EMS/Intune, Azure AD Premium
  • 95% are actively deploying Office 365 and Azure AD
  • 50% still don’t understand Group Policy
  • 90% still assess configuration controls via a product-centric perspective (bad)
  • 80% still don’t document Group Policy changes
  • 90% have switched from Batch or VBScript to PowerShell
  • 95% are using Symantec or McAfee antimalware products
  • 35% are using, or trying to use, disk encryption (e.g. BitLocker)
  • 5% using other endpoint management tools (e.g. LANDesk)
  • 80% of SCCM owners still don’t understand ADR’s
  • 99% of System Center owners still don’t know what Orchestrator does
  • 75% of SCCM owners still don’t understand thin, thick or hybrid image concepts
  • Observations:
    • Most are excited to get to Windows 10 as soon as possible
    • Most are excited to upgrade SCCM when they learn how it can help them get to (and support) Windows 10
    • Most are frustrated with the gaps in Cloud technologies, but mostly (always) due to assuming it’s a “done” technology, rather than an evolving one.  Examples: SCCM/Intune integration, Azure ADDS.
    • Not implying these are deficient or faulty products.  Just that many customers expected everything is available to “switch over” right now, when many of the expected features are not quite ready.

Roles and Functions

  • Breakdown of those I’ve worked with:
    • 60% mid-level operations
    • 30% senior-level operations / architecture
    • 9% executive management
    • 1% whoever answered the phone
  • Observations
    • Vast majority would state they are providing two or more distinct job functions, many stating 3 or 4.  In most cases, each role would have been a distinct job position five years ago.
    • Most of the role-compression has been the result of passive attrition, small percentage from active attrition.
    • Almost all (actually only 1 exception) stated they are expected to respond to business requests after normal business hours.
    • Most of the preceding group still don’t know how they got tricked into doing that
    • Almost all (3 exceptions) are salaried, rather than hourly.
    • None were compensated for overtime hours, but were allowed flex/comp time as make-up.
    • 75% received a small raise in the last three years.
    • 25% had no raise in over a year (usually department or company wide)
    • Only 3 or 4 had received any monetary bonus payouts in the last three years.
    • 75% stated that they feel IT is a reactive, not a controlling, force within the organization.
    • 10% of SCCM owners still have managers that are afraid SCCM will automatically reimage every computer in the organization one day without notice.  Because they heard from a friend of a friend how it can “just happen”

Job Tiers

  • Almost all organizations use a seniority-based model for assigning job titles, rather than a functional or role-based model
    • Most engineers are doing administrator work
    • Most architects are doing engineer work
    • Most technicians are doing administrator work
    • Most Administrators are asking WTF?
  • Lower-paying roles are difficult to staff to meet customer SLA expectations due to ability-versus-upward-mobility challenges. (e.g. top-performers rarely want to remain in help desk or call center roles longer than they feel necessary)
    • The exception to this seems to be tech-focused businesses, like datacenters, software development, etc.  Roles and functions didn’t seem to be as caste-oriented as non-tech-focused businesses.
  • The quality and aesthetic appeal of the work spaces seem to relate to the overall “happiness factor” as far as I’ve seen.
    • Offices with play rooms, sofas, cafeterias, free vending machines, etc., often have more workers walking around in a good mood.
    • Offices with a roach infestation, dead bodies, and yellow-ribbon across doorways, tend to have fewer smiling workers walking around.
    • Very very very few unhappy telecommute workers.  But that may be due to encountering very very very few telecommute workers.

Work Patterns

  • Just read “The Phoenix Project” up to chapter 23, and that’s pretty much how most organizations seem to operate.  Continuous effort to maintain.
  • Most have said that proactive, innovation-oriented work is considered a luxury.
  • Company-paid training is noticeably less available than it was 5 years ago.
  • Reimbursement for certifications continues to be available at most organizations

Conclusion

  • If you like getting prostate or cervical exams with a garden shovel, you are probably a good fit for working in IT as of 2017.  If a work-life balance of 90:10 is your thing, you’re probably going to excel.  If you thought “do more with less” only applied to home improvement projects, well, think again.
  • Are there still rewarding careers in IT?  Sure.  Based on this, obviously anecdotal, mini-slice of the world, I would subjectively propose that, in general, it’s heading towards a more rigorous environment than a more-creative environment.
  • Somewhere, somehow, it seems (to me, anyway) that there’s a growing disconnect between the IT staff layers, and executive management.  This varies widely based on the nature of the business, and the scale of the organization.  But regardless, it seems that the CIO and CTO roles are increasingly difficult to fit into the divide between business and technology.  Their roles are often aligned more closely to one or the other.  When aligned too close to non-tech, the technical side seems to suffer more.  But when aligned too close to purely technical, the executive layer (cultural) support seems to suffer.
  • Again, this is all subjective, anecdotal, non-empirical, non-deterministic, kerfluffery stuff.  Whatever that is.  I just needed to vent.  Been on 20 hours of phone calls dealing with everything from SCCM site problems to cats fornicating outside people’s hotel windows at 2am.  It’s been an interesting day.
  • Cheers!