Transition to Linux – Thoughts & Experience

What follows are some of my experiences with transitioning to Linux, my thoughts & what you should look out for. I decided to transition to Linux due to concerns with malware, vulnerabilities & other issues. I also realized that, by & large I had no real reason to stay on Windows except for using Microsoft Office, which I could replace utilizing CrossOver without much of an issue.

Some things that I dealt with & found a solution to:

  • Replacement for Office wasn’t really necessarily considering CrossOver exists. One thing to note is, I think you have to pay for licensing per year. I haven’t been able to verify this yet, though.
  • If you like messing around with stuff or know Linux well enough? Play around with Wine. If you don’t have the patience & want a UI that combines all of the toolchains you need? Use PlayOnLinux. If you can’t be bothered by that or are having issues that cannot be readily fixed, use CrossOver.
  • The Top Bar/Top Panel is annoying as hell – thankfully there are plenty of extensions to remove it or make adjustments – list of extensions will be later in this post.
  • Finding adequate software replacements can be a pain. There are quite a few solutions out there for any piece of software you could possibly think of. However, the work needed to get some of these installs up & running may  be less than ideal. Many people use https://alternativeto.net/ to help with finding software replacements
  • Thank God for Firefox, FEBE & Firefox Sync. This made the bulk of transitioning fairly easy. When you consider that majority of people use web services like Alphabet/Google, you find you don’t really need to do much to switch. The rest, you can replace with VMs if necessary.
  • No official Google Drive client kind of sucks. However, InSync seems to work well for most – I haven’t had any issue running it for a few months.

Gnome Extensions

Gnome Extensions – 1
Gnome Extensions 2

(Above) are the Gnome extensions I’m currently using. This is the result that these extensions will give you overall:

The task tray after…
The Task Tray
Task Tray, Calendar + Notifications

Some unusual observations I’ve experienced and/or things that I’m dealing with at present:

  • Sometimes, there will be no save dialog in Firefox. I haven’t determined if this is an issue with Firefox, Gnome, or something else. I haven’t found a suitable replacement for tools like Spy++ from Windows. There seem to be some commandline tools that do comparable things, but they aren’t quite as useful.
  • The above can be a problem when say, you’re dragging & dropping an image to your desktop. In a modern OS, this should save whatever image you just dragged to your desktop. This works once in a while in Fedora. It seems very inconsistent & when doing so, causes the entire DE to have issues, forcing either a restart, or logging out/logging in.
  • If you don’t keep up with updates, it can be a pain the manage the OS over time. Updates are so frequent that there’s no real easy to well what is fixed and/or why these updates are being applied. This is probably the downside of picking something that move so fast like Fedora, compared to something more stable & slow moving.
  • I had an issue with there being no package for HipChat. I was able to convert an existing debian package into an RPM using a tool called Alien. Literally no work was required to do this.
  • A lot of my performance issues with Firefox went mostly away with transitioning to Linux. They almost completely went away when I removed a random user-agent string add-on. I’m guessing that’s not the best idea with all the tabs I usually have open. Oops.

I’m sure there are more things to add, but that’s all I can really think of for now.

On Community, Conferences & Philosophies of Hackers –

The title of this post was a draft I started several months ago & didn’t make any notes of what I was going to blog about at the time. As of late, chatter around Codes of Conduct has been making the rounds & I think the blog title is quite appropriate.  I feel now is a good as time as any to add my 30 cents of diatribe into the ring.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve never actually been to DEFCON. My involvement with some in the community is by & large through social media & my close friends have all been met through events with an organisation I’ve involved with (see also: Hacked by DEFCON). Throughout, I may make reference to the following articles & posts:  AwfulyPride’s Post on the Matter, GeekFeminismWiki, DEFCON Code of Conduct,   This Reddit post on /r/DEFCON & some stuff here .

My experience with any sort of public display of Code of Conduct goes back a few years to the conference LOPSA-East. LOPSA-East was meant to be one of the main conferences on the east coast for System Administrators, by System Administrators (this was when DevOps was a bit less encroached & right around or before Tom Limoncelli left Google). Note that, the first year I went in

The first year (that I went to) LOPSA East (2012 when it was still called PICC), there was no Code of Conduct that I recall at the conference. Now, keep in mind: these are Sysadmins, not hackers. There are people who geeks & hackers at the conferences & within the community, but by & large, we dressed professionally & acted professional. Also note that as this was the first year, there wasn’t necessarily much of a vendor area.

The second year I went (2013), there was a Code of Conduct right by the entrance of the conference – I was going to include a photo here, but I can’t seem to find the photo. There was quiet chatter & people wondering what caused the necessity of requiring a Code of Conduct, especially considering how few women went to the conference (I recall a decent amount & they are all awesome!)

I don’t know how long LOPSA-East had been going on prior to my involvement, however, it looks like it started in ~2011. Also note, I’ve never seen a photo of the DEFCON physical CoC — just that it is on their website. I’m of the belief a lot of people don’t know this exists.

What I don’t understand is, if a professional conference can get this done in a relatively short order & make people feel safe, respected & comfortable knowing that any issues that arise will be taken care of, why can’t hacker conferences do the same thing? Outside of a conference, you all remain professionals in your daily lives – that professionalism & how we treat others should trickle down to conferences as well.


Taken further, what changes & why when it translates to a hacker conference? The addition of booze? The fact your company paid for it & you get absolved of responsibility due to the high & mighty status of being a hacker with moral superiority of others & thinking the rules don’t apply to you because you have a problem with authority like the kids of yesteryear?

You, the conference attendee have to understand that, yes, despite us being a Nation of Freedom — we have to be adults. This means being respectful, abiding by rules although we may disagree with them, much like law. And the golden rule of treating people the way we want to be treated.  Lastly, it’s not so evil to reassure individuals who may not have the same support networks as everyone else that if issues crop up, they will be handled accordingly.

The post that AwfulyPrideful made here is wonderful because it goes into some facets I hadn’t fully considered & does a far better job of it than I ever will. Keeping all these points in mind thus far & the arguments, backlash & frustrations I’ve seen on social media, I it’s clear there are distinct groups in this Code of Conduct debacle:

The Old Guard – These are people that have been part of the conference/community since the beginning. They may be aware of previous shenanigans but they may have made a name for themselves & are known for being respectful. They treat people the way they wanted to be treated & are very welcoming to the community & welcome people into the fold. These individuals will welcome a CoC but may not have an opinion on it one way or the other.

‘Hack the Planet!’ Types – These individuals may be an off shoot of the group above it. They may not be in for the long haul – they just care about l337 hacking, possibly anarchy & little else. If you aren’t talking about 0-days & amazing exploits, they don’t want to deal with you. They may see a Code of Conduct as oppression to their ideals: Information wants to be free man! Why do I need a Code of Conduct? We didn’t need one for the past 10 years! They may make fun of another group: “Words don’t stop the bad!”

The Next Generation – These people realize that we want progress in the community (read as: disenfranchised groups feeling they can contribute without repercussions & harassment), rules need to be implemented & enforced, much like the rest of society. These people realize the harm we do when women, people of color, or other groups do not contribute or do not feel comfortable being part of the community due to harassment.

If you didn’t see what I did there…

I’m of the belief that, this is on a continuum – a spectrum of thoughts & beliefs, if you will. You may not fit in one small box or you may be a part of multiple groups throughout your life.  The fascinating thing about this issue is, we’re all In This Together – we need to start acting like it, frankly.

I get it: you’re a hacker. You hate authority although you respect it when you are out & about in society. You like breaking the mold. You like doing your own thing & not letting anyone stop you. You probably see a Code of Conduct as some sort of affront to your sensibilities & that you are being oppressed in some way. Unfortunately for you, put your feels aside, be an adult & be helpful to people who need it at conferences: the people these Codes of Conduct were written for.

For all it is worth, you can tell me I’m wrong. I’m generally in favor of balance in all things, so I understand where the “We don’t need a Code of Conduct!” is coming from, but my female peers & other individuals’ comfort & willingness to come to the con is more important. The disarray & varying opinions on this can be seen clearly in the Reddit thread I linked at the top of this post. Hackers among themselves disagree & get into fights about if something is necessary or not.

Again, I see both sides of it. However, I think it makes a lot more sense to have one, both for the protection of the conference & you the attendees. There’s a part of me that wants to say that it’s a mark of a modern society to be all inclusive, as well.

Disagree with me all you want. It’s a free country. I love learning from other perspectives. 🙂

You can feel free to disagree with me or not. Or you can do what your freedom allows & give me one of these. I’ll be pleased either way, as long as you give me feedback on my writing.

Note: I highly recommend checking out AwfulyPrideful’s post above & some links within their post. They have a guide on Code of Conduct if you need one for your organisation. I also linked to a site that had some useful information as well.  There’s also ConfCodeOfConduct.com

Also, I realize that there are many other facets of this issue & there are people that agree to disagree to a fault. People are welcome to their opinion & if they have a solution to the problems we face in the community that doesn’t splinter us further & further or causes arguments, I’d love to hear it. Regardless of your thoughts, we’re in this together.

/r/Sysadmin Frequently Asked Questions – Interviews & Job Searching

In the “this is common” section of the Internet, I’m going to cover my thoughts on interviews & interview threads that crop up often on /r/sysadmin & /r/ITCareerQuestions. Relevant search links: /r/sysadmin , /r/ITCareerQuestions

Moral Support Provided by Pinkie Pie!
Moral Support Provided by Pinkie Pie!

There are typically three or four scenarios in  life which someone will be
interviewing for a job:

1) Employed, Looking for a new job …
Because you want more pay. Because you aren’t respected. Because you’re bored. Because another company looks appealing for XYZ reason.

If this is you, interviews are easy mode because you probably don’t care if you get hired or not because you aren’t necessarily hurting. This is a good thing & can be used to your advantage in the interview. You can exude confidence in the sense that, there’s no penalty for wrong answers — you’re here looking to see if the company is a better organization in terms of compensation, world view, your professional skill growth or other reasons.

2) Currently Unemployed …
You need a job. It may not matter what you’re doing or what the company is about.

If you’re in this boat: learn to give double-speak as to your current situation. Many System Administrators have blogs that they admin — they keep this as one of their current ‘jobs’ at all times on their resume. This is the reasoning why. If someone asks you what you’ve been doing if you’re really unemployed, you can say that you are always re-tooling or improving your skills.

I’m of the opinion that, you shouldn’t necessarily lie about why you were previously let go, but use some logical (see the PDF linked later) on explaining your situation. Never talk down of your previous employer, boss or peers.

3) Returning from Hiatus/Burn Out …
You used to work as a Sysadmin. You took a break for a year or two for health reasons & now need to get back into things.

With technology professionals, it is common for us to burn out. This is generally accepted in the right organizations & work cultures. As such, honesty is probably the best policy here: your mental health is of vital importance. Depending on the length of your absences — they may become harder & harder to explain. This isn’t so if you traveled to a different country for a number of years, given what I’ve seen in threads.

4) First Job/Career Transition …
You currently work as a line cook but your passion is malware analysis. You do construction but you are sick of going home in pain everyday. You don’t want to work at McDonalds for the rest of your life. This is going to be hard for you to prove in an interview, but passion is key. Things will vary greatly for you if you have a degree or not, certifications or not and existing experience you can pass off.

Being nervous & stressed when looking for a job is normal.

Each of these situations is unique when it comes to the interview process, but getting to that point is usually the same. I will give a shout out to an amazing book, Women in Tech — you should read Tarah’s chapters on Resumes, Interviewing & Communication. This covers a lot more detail & in a concise matter than I ever could. Some bullet points to consider that I used to share with others:

-> Try to list only month/year on your resume. Maybe just the year depending on the gaps.

-> When listing what was done at each job, try to show value — “Increased capacity of our server farm by 300% utilizing Docker” sounds much better compared to “Implemented Docker, Ansible & Puppet to create an automated deployment platform” … this will vary from company to company.

-> Add a skill matrix

-> Check out potential co-workers on LinkedIn – what do their profiles, resumes & sites look like? Copy the good parts. You’ll know what they are when you see them. This helps especially after you get a first job because you can quickly update your resume & profiles accordingly.

-> Purge social media – you should know full well that recruiters, potential interview staff & future bosses will comb through your social media looking for potential signs of weakness: this could be disagreements with viewpoints of the company, signs that you are not an ethical individual, partying/drug influences, or other issues. You should be wary of what you post on forums as well, but it’s harder & harder to do this if you want to be involved in any sort of community.  If you want to know why this may be a bad idea (or, why you may want to alternate usernames between forums), check out a company/software suite called RecordedFuture.

-> As far as websites, social media & branding: consistency is key – my friend _r00k_ has an awesome logo that he uses everywhere (and it isn’t a creepy face like mine!) – it’s consistent, high quality & awesome looking. (@_r00k_)

-> To take the cohesive image, your brand further: make sure it is the same on all social networks, business cards & how you carry yourself interacting with other individuals. If & when you finally do get the jobs that you want, other opportunities may lend themselves to you if you show that you produce consistent results. My LinkedIn Profile is a good example, which led to me receiving free training from a company for a year.

-> Any jobs where the previous company is no longer in business, or something happened to the previous owner (e.g. jail or something shady?) may want to list the company name as redacted, blank, omit it entirely depending on when the position was, or give generic names “no such agency”, “a generic software company”

-> Military person? You’ll probably want to highlight condensed skills that you gained in the Armed Services. Unfortunately, this stuff does not translate well into civilian life, is my understanding. You may want to ask someone who you served or who has experience in this sort of thing for more targeted advice. Key things you will want to mention later in an interview or otherwise: discipline, dedication to the company’s goals & mission, tendency for strong OPSEC in all decision making processes, following rules & guidelines when given a task.

-> What do you do if you are here & have none of these things? If you’re one of the few that is unemployed or looking for work & experience is critical, you will want to go through as much gratis material in every waking moment you have. There’s a fascinating list of machines & information that went around on Twitter over here.  In addition, if you’re one of the group that is transition careers or is looking for a new job making a lateral move, I really adore hacks4pancakes megamix set of posts here.

So, now you have a resume. It looks decent. If you don’t have one still & are part of the unemployed crowd, I highly recommend your local Department of Workforce & Labor Office (Unemployment Insurance) – they generally offer gratis workshops on these sorts of things, which can double as a networking opportunity. Further, they have job boards where you can register & provide your e-mail — they’ll e-mail you job listings each time it matches your profile or a predefined set of variables!

If you aren’t able to get to such a workshop, I highly recommend checking out /r/sysadminresumes – we’re a helpful bunch & we don’t bite! You will want to be very clear about what you’re looking for. When when looking at jobs, you’ll want to apply, even if you don’t meet the requirements.

At this point, you need to start looking for a job. Your resume may need to change slightly depending on the roles that you are looking for. I’m of the opinion that, if you have time for whatever reason & getting a job isn’t critical (e.g. rent isn’t due or you aren’t out on the street) you can be picky with the jobs you apply to. Perhaps one company has values in line with your own than another. Perhaps you’ve always wanted to work at (insert cool electric car company here). Apply to the things that fascinate you & let your passion shine that you want to work there.

Always include a cover letter. In the cover letter, use words, language & bullet points from the job posting that you are applying to. In addition, in any job application (see: iCIMS) portal software, be sure to use keywords from the job description into the actual job application — these keywords will put you higher to the top on the pool of applicants.

With determination & some LOUDER cheers – we can all succeed!

If you’re all the way down here, you’re probably at the interview stage! HOORAY!
Before I delve too far, I highly recommend the following before any job interview: Illegal or Inappropriate Interview Questions

You’re now at the important part, the interview!

If you’re freaking out or don’t do well in social situations I highly recommend a public speaking class. Most community colleges offer them & they are cheap & can be taken in the summer. If you have the patience, you can attend a Toastmasters, but the quality of clubs can vary greatly & you might feel overwhelmed by rules & commitment.

One takeaway I can give you from taking a class is to record yourself in a mock interview with another peer who gives you unscripted questions. Play back the video, several times: once at normal speed. Another time, at half (or as slow as you can), speed. Watch for any verbal cues from your own body. Nervous tics. twitches, utterances, body language & so on. These are things you’ll need to iron out or be aware of when you are interviewing.

Interviewing is super stressful. Read up, practice & gain as much knowledge & insight into the process as possible. Twilight Sparkle is constantly researching stuff!

 

The biggest part of interviewing to me, is YOU interviewing the company & finding out if you’ll be a fit & if the company can provide for YOUR goals professional. Do you like what you hear from your boss? Is there upward mobility? What are the perks? Different people have different opinions on all of these things. Frankly, it is important to have just as many, if not more questions for the person interviewing you. Generally, the vibe of the interview should feel like a conversation: if things feel hamfisted or one-sided, something is wrong & you need more practice.

Also, if you find you don’t care about the company mission overall or don’t feel like you can find yourself being passionate about the products & services you are improving (I may be an oddball here) you may want to re-consider applying. When applying or working somewhere, I try to learn a small amount of every facet of the company. At a previous company, I learned about our 3D printer & the basics of Solidworks — this is what helped me with the research behind the 3D printed TSA keys produced alongside J0hnnyXm4s & nite0wl_2600.

(Oh, Yes: research & speaking engagements are encouraged on a resume, however, most jobs will probably not care unless it is related to you working in the industry!)

Some additional books/references (not all these books have had posts written for them yet, this is just a helpful list)
* You, Inc
* Getting More
* What to Say & How to Say It
* FISKE Word Power
* What color is your parachute?
* Body Language
* The Book of Five Rings

These aren’t necessary, but they will help you get into an appropriate (albeit strong) mindset for interviewing. You should be prepared & confident. You should be well read. You should be familiar with what it is like to treat yourself as a company or brand that you are selling to others, companies & businesses. You should be familiar with all the little things that go on in an interview & how to gain a quick rapport with who you are interviewing with. I recommend peeking at these books & looking at all the links prior to going crazy thinking about getting a newer, better job.

After all this hard work, you should have a job in the field that you want. Get out there & be awesome! If you find that you have an existing job & are struggling to advance or make sense of the job, I highly recommend reading some posts by /u/crankysysadmin on /r/sysadmin over here – he is very good at dishing out truth from a management/senior perspective & pulls no punches with what he sees. He’s also willing to debate with people on their perspective if he gets called out. Lastly, if you’re looking for a dose of truth as mentor, just ask him for his perspective. He’s always willing to help people out.

If, after all this hard work, you need more words of encouragement or advice, I suggest giving this post a glance by my friend Matt Simmons (@Standalone Sysadmin)

Note: this post might be updated over time. I generally don’t post ”new” blog posts on the same subject – I just update existing blog posts with changes in my thoughts, perspectives or narrative structure of the post.

Book Review – Essential System Administration

Seeing as I’ve recommended this book several times on Reddit, I figured I would do a brief review of this book. Realistically this will be more of a summation of what to expect/why you should pick this book up.

In short: are you administering a flavor of UNIX or Linux? Do you need to brush up on commands or need to learn the system quickly in a short order of time? Or, are you taking over for someone who recently left, got hit by a bus, ran away, got fired? If any of those are true, (how morbid of me…) you will want this book.

This book covers concepts, command syntax & differences between each flavor of Linux. It is intended for someone who may already know by & large the mechanisms which make these types of Operating Systems work internally (e.g. on a kernel level in some way) but need to know the day to day commands to keep the system running.

Allow me to go into further detail. There is a section on Essential System Administrator commands, covering package management. In this section, commands are grouped into common functions, as such:

* List Installed Packages
* Describe Package
* List Package Contents
* List prerequisities
* Show original package

Next to these sub-headings will be the commands to perform the command that comes closest to accomplishing this task on different Operating Systems. As such:

* List Installed Packages —
-> AIX – lslpp -a all
-> FreeBSD – pkg_info -a -I
-> HP-UX – swlist
-> Linux – rpm -q -a
-> Solaris – pkginfo
-> Tru64 – setld -I

For Linux, Red Hat  is assumed as the distro of choice because of the ability to buy support. As you can see, this book is fairly straight-forward. The entire book is like this, more or less. Some chapters get into the details of certain software packages, administering certain software suites (LDAP, DNS, DHCP and so on) & the differences between the various Operating Systems therein.

I highly recommend this book to round out a System Administrator’s skillset. We can’t remember every command & we won’t remember every trick that is out there — this book helps with that. Before I forget, one of the neat things that is explained fairly simply in here is the ability to set the PAM (Pluggable Authentication Module) to use a 2FA token — I didn’t even know that was possible, let alone common & straight forward on all *NIX platforms back in 2002 (yes, apparently this book is fairly old — but these commands & System Administrator methodology doesn’t change). Buy this book — you won’t regret it.

Book Review – The Art of Deception/Intrusion

At first glance, these books being Kevin Mitnick’s first books published a few years after prison look to be chalk full of knowledge. It has been a few years since I’ve read both of these books (I’ve yet to read his newer books). These books are comparable to the various maxims found in The Art of War — in the sense that, nobody actually remembers the book in detail but recalls key phrases or themes & recites those.

The reason why I say that is, at the time of writing this review, I’m struggling to remember these books as far as actual substance. At the time when I was younger, I was enamored with content & the things I found in this book weren’t necessarily ground-breaking. I enjoyed some of the stories in Art of Deception more than Intrusion — I’ve always had a fascination with social engineering, how people pull things off, being deceptive without any hints of weakness, and so on.

Overall, I feel there’s no harm in reading these books together as a pair. But don’t be surprised if you feel there’s a lot of overlap or familiar concepts. The books are done by the same authors/editors along with having similar page counts. The ends of the book provide a gold mine of ‘cheat-sheets’ if you will, in book form, that are useful for practitioners (attackers & defenders!)

For example, in the end of Art of Deception, there are several pages that cover how to categorize information, detecting attacks against your company, common company nomenclature (I guess this is for someone who has never been in a business setting; or isn’t familiar with what we do?) so the individual can gain an understanding of what the names are of some common, everyday things are that they interact with (e.g. “what is caller ID”, “why do we shred documents”, “don’t overshare”, OPSEC”, etc).

I don’t really have much else to add to this review, just that I had to finish it as it was bugging me, sitting here incomplete. I’ll add more at a later date, but I am hoping that Mitnick’s newer books are an improvement.

 

Law Basics –

Someone on Irongeek’s timeline inquired about resources for the learning the basics of law, one’s rights when dealing with police, so on & so forth.

legal gavel on a law book

A highly recommended YouTube is here. Even if you don’t read anything after this, you should watch this video:

Don’t talk to the Police

Two books that I came across recently that deal with this subject are:

Law 101 – A guide for everyday legal questions – this book is great if you’ve never been in a legal situation before & are unsure what happens when it comes to investigations, retaining council, bail, prosecution/defense, witnesses, and so on

Law 101 – Everything you need to know about American Law – This book covers law & cases that may be relevant to key laws, rights & statutes we take for granted (read as: landmark decisions, the theory & concepts behind concepts such as mental state, etc)

Black’s Law Dictionary – note: there is a ‘pocket’ edition of this book & a larger ‘Deluxe’ edition – the pocket edition is probably good enough for your purposes

Barron Police Officer Study Guide – Although this isn’t required reading, it does help to get into the mindset of how police officers think. If you aren’t in any legal trouble, but you want to understand why police officers act the way they do, this book explains many of the concepts they are taught.

Some resources that people typically recommend:
law.justia.com – usually has an (almost) up to date listing of law statutes by state.
Cornell LII – amazing resource & a great jumping pad to other websites & resources, such as your local State law.
DOJ CCIP – Department of Justice page on Computer Crime & Intellectual Property
Avvo – Interesting forum based site with a Q/A format similar to Quora
(Insert your local state here) – By far the best resource is your website’s State Legislature (usually leginfo.state.xy.us) — they will have the current statues in zip format. The zip format will include plaintext (txt & rtf) along with infobase formats for inserting into a system.

Some key takeaways I had with some research:
* Know how law statues are referenced & how to look them up easily
* If you or someone you know is in a bad situation, it is always best to get an attorney first. On average, an attorney may cost ~$300 an hour, at 3 hour minimums
* It’s always best to not tell anyone anything about your current situation unless they are immediate family, or may have dealt with the situation you are in
* In case of an emergency, look up the bail schedule for charge(s) that are potentially being put against you or the person you know. You want to be prepared for the worst case scenario
* Remember, much of legalese comes down largely to intent & state of mind (see: Law 101 – Everything you need to know about American Law — this book has a great section on this)
* Understanding some of the basic legal lingo goes a long way with reading case law, court decisions, Supreme Court opinions, etc
* Know what degree crime is being levvied – this goes a long in understanding the seriousness of a matter
* Research the statute of limitations – be aware that the clock starts ticking once a crime has been discovered to have taken place.

That’s all I have for now. This was just a quick brain dump.

/r/Sysadmin Frequently Asked Questions – Naming Servers

Here’s another post that’s a frequently asked question on /r/sysadmin – naming of your servers in your infrastructure.

Starting Out…

Generally when someone is starting out as a system administrator, or does not have a lot of experience and/or has control over a network without accountability — many will name servers however they see fit.

A common example of poor naming scheme are: planets, characters from popular TV shows & in some cases, species of a particular plant or animal. You can see an example of that here. Here’s another example.

These naming schemes may be fine if you’re a lone system administrator where, you only have a handful of servers. However, the days of having a small infrastructure like this are long dead.

The search I used for a large amount of the results I found on Reddit is the following: site:reddit.com/r/sysadmin naming servers

More experience…

The most common example of naming schemes, at least in a smaller organization would be short letter codes indicating the company or organization name, short letter site code (airport codes usually), function of the server followed by the number of the instance.

For example, if you were running a company, Contoso, LTD & you have a site/office in New Jersey & within that site, you have a file server & a mailbox server, you might name them in such a way:

CONNJFS01
CONNJMBX01

And so on & so forth.  Another common variation would be using the local airport code as the short-hand for the site, such as CONEWRFS01, CONEWRMBX01, etc. There are variations of this depending on your environment.

For example, in hosting, you may not use all of the codes & just name servers the datacenter the server is in & the number of the server, assuming that you have many, many servers. For example: LA305, NJ908, CA489. Virtual machines, conversely if you don’t care what they are, or if they are all identical cattle fodder, they can be named as such: VM48205, VM57295, and so on.

For additional examples of these naming schemes, the Google search or some variation that I used was this: dns naming convention best practice.

Another popular, related topic, which has changed recently is the proper naming of Windows Active Directory naming schemes. This is a very popular example — however, today, because of all the TLDs that exist today, there are many people that recommend a proper split DNS scenario. Many people used to use a domain name, for example, contoso.local. There used to be concerns that .local could be a purchasable domain name. Here’s an example of this on-going debate.

I may create a follow-up post on this, but that’s a collection of the links & thoughts I have on the topic at this point.

On being Introverted & the feeling of failure …

It’s no secret that I’m Introverted (INTP) & am generally fond of using the MBTI indicator has a decent descriptor of my personality type – it’s usually a good overview of what to expect when interacting with someone and what their strengths & weaknesses may be.

One thing that I feel Introverted people struggle with that I’ve written about before, is discipline, consistency & the general sense of failure, despair & self-loathing when we don’t do well at these things. At the moment as I write this, I feel like this.

But the reality is, we, by the nature of existing, are not a failure. If we weren’t? We’d be rejects. We’d have committed suicide by now (to some, a cop-out on life – to others, a solution to a life of despair). A common adage that people say when they struggle with something (growing pains) is two steps forward, one step back. For someone who is introverted, this axiom is greatly exaggerated: we may feel like we are stuck while people are passing us in life, constantly comparing ourselves to others. Or, worse, that we are making strides forward, but end up three, four, or five steps back in our own mind. Many things become impossible, even if we know such isn’t reality.

The truth is, it doesn’t have to be this way. The truth is, there are people that are here to listen & help you, even if you feel hopeless, sad, or are struggling with something, no matter how minor. Keep in mind that, other people may value time a bit more than you do – if you ever feel like you find you are bothering the same individuals about the same issues (I’m sad. I’m unhappy. I need help but can’t do anything or don’t know what to do. I’m alone.) — it may be time to light a fire up under yourself & make a change: be honest with yourself.

Even these moments of honest, although they can illicit spurts of motivation, can be short-lived & may make you feel just as hopeless as when you started on a journey of change. And that’s perfectly okay. Life is full of false starts (just ask a start-up founder how many times they started over till they got something they felt was successful).

If you find that you struggle with some of these things & don’t know who to turn to, shoot me a message on Twitter. And remember, we’re in this together.

Book Review – The Left-Hander Syndrome


After sitting on my bookshelf for an inordinate amount of time in an unfinished state, I decided to dust off this book & finish reading it. Lately, I’ve been thinking more about my flaws as a human being & one that many geeks & hackers feel is a big one (other than being blind) is being left-handed. This book explores all of those subjects with a keen, scientific eye.

This book starts off as any good scientific book does: talking about religion & some of the old beliefs that followed the stigma of being left handed. It essentially boils down to the fact that we were persecuted, no different than people deemed witches, the ill, or the dying.

Even within the first chapter, I found interesting tidbits that told me this book was destined for an individual like myself: A political scientist who knew about my work on handedness told me a story about the Ayatollah Khomeini who served as the rallying point in the revolution that toppled the Shah of Iran. During his exile in France, the Ayatollah wrote a large number of propaganda pamphlets and proclamations. In one of those, he claimed to have proof that the Shah was cursed by Allah. His proof was that the Shah’s firstborn son was left-handed!

The book from then on spends a considerable amount of time & chapters discussing what determines someone’s handedness — society? injury or damages during birth or adolescence? mental deficiency? In addition, considerable amount of research is devoted to, to what extent is someone dominate in one hand or another.

What I found unique is that, the ‘age’ (that is to say, the amount of research on the subject of southpaws) is very young. Majority of the research & information mentioned in the book, at the furthest, dates back to the 1900s. This shows that, scientifically, we’re barely out of the jungle when it comes to understanding southpaws & what things may befall such an individual.

One bit of information I found fascinating was the use of sodium amytal to shut down a particular hemisphere of the brain — by doing this, we discovered which side of the brain controls which functions. Of course, information like this causes me to go down the rabbit of hole research. The drug in question, if it sounds familiar is related to (or a derivative of?) sodium pentathol. This drug is typically used as a truth serum, placing people in a coma &/or to help with Cesarean section (more on this later!)

If you’re still not getting the picture, this should remind you of what class of drugs we’re discussing:

(curse you, Fox, for making the full scene of this impossible to find!)

If you’re interested in a great Business Insider article on truth serum, this one is quite excellent.

Once scientists had discovered that each side of the brain was responsible for different functions, they then had to figure out the why & how of becoming left handed. This also goes along with determining the signs of someone who is left handed. Is there any correlation between left-handed individuals & certain pathological conditions?

It turns out, there’s quite a bit – to the extent that, it makes you begin to doubt yourself as an individual. I do not want to delve too much into this section, as I feel the book does a far better job of explaining all of this than I ever will. But, one observation they did make, is that generally, people have issues at birth (e.g. c-section birth, or other general issues, premature, etc) generally ended up left handed. In addition, left-handed individuals generally matured slower than their peers.

Toward the end of the book, there are some chapters that I didn’t fully read due to being uncomfortable with the subject matter (Do left handed individuals die at an earlier age?). Thinking about such morbid subjects doesn’t lend itself to a good night’s sleep.

I’m reminded of some of the struggles I had with school when reading the closing chapters that cover the struggles that left-handed people deal with while growing up in a ‘right-hand’ world. Numerous examples are given of items that may have an inherent danger in how they are designed, such as saws that have cutting teeth that expect you to send material to the saw from a specific direction. There are plenty of examples here.


(I hated this desk so much as a child)

Numerous other examples in the book are provided of places where a left-handed person would struggle, namely the kitchen, the workplace & driving. There are also some publications & organizations listed that exist to help people who are left-handed.

Overall, I’m glad I picked up this book & decided to give it the full attention it deserves. I wish there was more research (or rather, more books) on this subject that go into this sort of detail. Unfortunately, the author who wrote the book moved on to psychology of dogs & pets. If those post fascinates you & you want more, you might want to check out some of these.

If you got this far, thanks so much! I’d love feedback in private on this review & the pacing, structure & framework 🙂

Expanded Thoughts – Automotive Stuff

I realize now that I don’t feel I articulated myself well on my main site with the automotive page that I have up. I’ve recently been considering getting a newer vehicle. The fate of my previous vehicle is as such:

At the time of the vehicle demise, I had just clocked about 130k miles on the vehicle. It was a ~200X Jetta GL. I was very sad to see it go, as I had just re-did the suspension with all Bilstein parts. I was at the point where I was starting to really enjoy driving the vehicle & was expecting to keep it for an additional 5 to 10 years. We still have the vehicle sitting in our driveway until a family member decides what they want to do with it.

As a result of needing a vehicle, I’m currently driving this 199X Passat:

It has about double the miles (240k). The suspension is shot. The electrical system has issues. The sound system doesn’t work properly. The car drives — that’s about the only thing it has going for it. I don’t care for green. The seats are destroyed. Some of the windows don’t work. On winter days, I can’t see out of the windshield properly due to a as of yet, undetermined issue. The only thing that got me through winter was the fact that the heated seats still work.

Applying some of the thought process that I mentioned in my ”Buying Stuff” post, I’ve come up with some ideas of what I want as a new vehicle. I’ve also come to realize there is a lot of advice & information out there that people just are not aware of when they purchase a vehicle or own a vehicle for the long term. I’m going to try & include more of that & (attempt) to be clearer than I was on my site.

I know that the health, reliability & longevity of a vehicle is heavily dependent upon the driver, how you drive, where the vehicle is driven & how the vehicle is taken care of. Yes, there’s a lot to these variables but at least during car ownership, you can lessen the likelihood of issues:

* Stick to the designed service schedule
* Replace, or top off fluids when necessary
* Use only OE fluids or fluids that meet the specification of your vehicle
* Replace important parts before they fail completely
* Get gud tires
* Keep a log of all work performed on the vehicle complete with date, , location, time. where part was purchased, miles on vehicle
* Supplement with self-education of the basics when possible

I’ll break these sections down below, then I’ll finish up on what I am looking for in a new car & why. Provided you’ve read this whole post, you’ll understand why I am looking at the options that I am.

Maintenance/Service Schedules

This is an example of a service schedule in long form. The link here is an example of a 2005 VW Maintenance Schedule. A maintenance schedule is just a helpful reminder checklist for you, the consumer to use as own your vehicle over time. Ideally, if you check these things consistently over time, your car will constantly be in immaculate mechanical shape.

The issue starts to occur when people do not check these things, due to laziness, checking only when they have a major trip coming up, or, having enough knowledge that they know they can do without checking these things constantly. Depending on your driving habits, checking something every 3,000 to 5,000 miles can be excessive, if not unnecessary, wasteful or a loss of money.

Fluids – Oil

An example of something that is wasteful by most is oil changes. Many people accept the fact that engines burn oil & will eventually need oil. This is not the case with all makes & models (for example, see VW Excessive Oil Consumption ) Does this mean that vehicles are broken or have a lurking, major issue? Usually not — it is just a fault of the automotive industry trying to make money off of people by recommending excess oil changes. You can read a lot more about this sort of thing here — these folks have done an insane amount of research on oil change intervals.

I’m of the belief that with modern science & technology there are invariably hold outs that get dragged into the modern era kicking & screaming. Oil, oil changes & mechanics who like to make money are a part of this. There’s a reason why a brand like BMW suggests oil changes once a season. There’s also common knowledge out there that people who drive GM vehicles with DIC have shown time & again that oil changes don’t have to be done at a manufacturer’s recommend mileage.

There are some caveats to this, though. If your vehicle is known to actually burn oil due to how you drive, a poorly assembled engine, or other issues. If you find that the low oil light is coming on often, you’ll want to do some research. In this scenario, you’ll want to change your oil more often, or, at the very least top it off.

Fluids – Other

But what about other fluids? This is another section where you’d need to do your research your make & model vehicle. There are some hard & fast rules, however.

  • Never ever EVER add coolant of a different color into the coolant reservoir !
  • If you are running standard coolant (”green”), you want to replace the coolant often at whatever the recommended interval is (it is rare vehicles have old school green coolant)
  • If you are running GM (or other American car) DexCool (orange), the service life is generally 5 to 8 years, give or take. You may want to read this guidance.
  • If you are driving a VW (‘pink’), the service life is usually 5 to 7 years, although I’ve personally experienced a solid 10 years before it was in a degraded state.
  • There are other variations of coolant color:

In my (limited) experience, the only times you’ll need to be concerned with coolant is:

  • Water pump has failed – common on VWs,  the pump will leak causing coolant to slowly disappear from the reservoir
  • Ripped or damaged hose – rare these days unless you are very negligent, or, an animal gets into your engine bay.
  • Blown head gasket – can happen to anyone – coolant and/or oil will mix. When checking your oil, it may have a ”milkshake” consistency — there’s a great article on this sort of thing here — looks like this:

Being aware of these types of failures, what they mean & what they look like goes a very very long way in maintaining a vehicle.

On Tires…

While operating under the following assumptions:
– You have four tires
– All four tires were installed at the same time
– All four tires are of the same batch, quality, have 0 miles on them, new
– You drive the same consistent roads, highway assumed with some city travel
– No tires have been punctured, replaced, or repaired

If all of the above is TRUE then, I am of the opinion you do not need to rotate your tires. Unless you are aware of an existing issue with your vehicle that causes one tire to prematurely bald, fail early, or get damaged in some way (a good example is any car with a damaged suspension spring – the weight of the car could cause the tire to blow out, or, prematurely bald)

I heavily prefer General Altimax tires. Note that tires usually have a mile rating, along with a tire rating system. You can read entirely too much useful information about tires here. Sometimes you can find information for what mileage the tire is rated for. This can vary greatly on many factors & is operating under the assumption that the car is in working order.

Reading the reviews on this page – people have had varied experiences with the tire. Myself personally, I had 2 sets of these tires last me a solid 50k miles till they were very close to being bald. It all boils down to how you drive, the type of road you are driving on & if you are careful.

On the subject of tires, I highly recommend getting a portable air compressor to inflate your tires in case of a flat. This is similar to the one I have & has been very reliable (I’ll update the link at a late date with one closer to mine)

Modes of Failure/Troubleshooting Parts

One thing that can be very frustrating when a part begins to show signs of wear is, the odd noises that can occur as a result. If you want to take great care of your car, you’ll learn how to distinguish been creeks, groans, squeaks, shudders & other noises that can occur when parts start to fail.

The reason why discerning between these types of noises is important is it is helpful when troubleshooting an impending part failure. This also aids in helping a mechanic figure out the issue, saving them time & you money, so it is in your interest in learning a bit more about this. I will probably separate this into it’s own on-going blog post about different parts & their failure types/modes. Expect many, many links to YouTube.

But, general guidance to keep in mind:

  • Search YouTube for a mechanic that works & posts videos on the make & model of vehicle you own. I posted a list of who I like here
  • Learn the difference between Front, Rear, Driver Side & Passenger Side
  • If you are hearing a noise, under what conditions does the noise occur?
  • If you’re hearing a noise, does the noise go away if you go slightly faster? Slower?
  • Did something change in the last 3k miles that you think may be the result of said noise?
  • Did you hit anything recently that you can recall? Even the smallest of hits is helpful information.
  • Is your issue limited to the engine, transmission, electrical, or something else?

Once you’re able to isolate where a noise or particular issue is coming from, you can ask your mechanic, search Google or YouTube for more information about the noise or issue that you are experiencing. It may be a simple fix if you investigate & have performed enough research.

Maintenance Log

This is not really something I expect many people to do, but having a vehicle log (essentially, a changelog for your car…) of all the work performed to it is a very easy way to figure out if a previous change or part did, or did not fix an issue. It also helps to provide an index of what work has been performed if you take the car to a different mechanic for any reason. Lastly, it’s a great way to make sure you are paying a fair price for parts, or if you should source parts yourself. One caveat to this however is, most chain mechanic shops do not install customer supplied parts.

An example of what I have in Excel can look like this (click for a larger view)

Self-Education via reading & technology!

Now, I’m not recommending everyone goes out to be a mechanic right away. However, I will recommend that if you are able to find the service manual for your vehicle, to buy it. Many older VW vehicles have very detailed service manuals with fantastic drawings & guidance. Just thumbing through these books can give you a better understanding of your vehicle, what parts it may or may not accept from the factory & the different configurations the vehicle comes in.  There’s also, at least for VW, overly detailed drawings!

If these sorts of things tickle your fancy or you’re an engineer of some sort (CAD designer, interested in vehicle dynamics, etc) I highly recommend the Bosch Automotive Handbook. There’s so much information here on ”general” car theory & operation, that you’ll walk away with a great deal of respect for the people who design & engineer cars. Note that this book isn’t about the “break/fix” of car repair, but about theory, concepts & application of vehicle design. If you’re looking for a general break/fix book, this one is quite good.

A common recommendation if you want to learn about how to do basic break/fix/repair on a car is recommending Chilton/Haynes manuals. They are now owned by the same company, so the information is very similar in each.

An often overlooked thing about vehicles with an unknown history (e.g. if you are the second, third or nth owner) is service recalls, TSBs (technical service bulletins) & other information that generally used to be reserved for mechanic shops. The NHTSA has a public service where you can input your make/model & VIN &, for a nominal fee (I think/thought it was free, this may have changed) — they will send you a packet of all the recall, TSBs & various service information applicable to your vehicle, regardless of engine/model.

Here’s an example of why you may want this sort of information:

This can be an invaluable resource when repairing a vehicle, or trying to learn more about a particular issue.

In addition to this, I highly recommend everyone gets a scan tool that is adequate for their make & model vehicle. You may need to talk to your mechanic to figure out which one you may need or want. There are many generic “OBD-II” style readers out there that will give you generic information about a vehicle.

Specialized scan tools will give you more unique information about error codes that are specific to that manufacturer. For example, a generic OBD-II reader may give you information such as the “P” code in the first field of this document, whereas a specific tool like a Mongoose will give you more detailed information:

You can use these DTC codes & punch them in Google, or other search engines (along with asking various mechanics what steps to take) to see if the issue you are having is a simple fix or not. If you are mechanically inclined, you may be able to make progress on a problem by yourself without the need of a mechanic.

Generally, scan tools can break down into the following:

  • Generic OBD-II scanner — these are usually wired or bluetooth these days & there’s an app you can download to your phone or PC that will pull codes, give you basic engine/sensor information & tell you more about errors. These are generally less than $80. Most will be names you won’t recognize except for perhaps Actron, which is the most common available at retail stores.
  • ”Professional” scanner — these are usually tools a mechanic may use to work on a vehicle. More information is available. More data banks can be scanned on a vehicle. Some systems can be queried that a generic scanner may not see. You won’t be able to turn individual items on or off with this tool. These are a step up from $100 to $200.  Actron makes many tools in this price point. Many are made in China (see Launch)
  • OE Equivalent (requires software) — these tools are very similar to what a dealership would use to diagnose your vehicle. These tools can vary in price, but may require software to work. Examples of these include Mongoose cables, RossTech VAGCom & others.
  • OE or better — these tools are very specific & are used strictly at dealerships, chain shops or anywhere that a mechanic is working on many, many vehicles of multiple models. These aren’t limited to a particular model vehicle. These tools can range from $1,200 to $3,000 or greater. These are generally in tablet form, with a touch screen. You can turn individual components of a vehicle on or off with these tools (e.g. a headlight, or a compressor). You probably don’t want to buy this unless you’re a very big nerd. 🙂

 

Now, given all of that information, we’re still missing a lot of data when it comes to making a purchase of a newer vehicle, or learning more about our existing vehicle we may have. I generally point people to the amazing site CarComplaints — it is one of the better resources for pooling together people’s complaints about a given make or model vehicle.

Why might you want to see the information that most people complain about? Well, if you know nothing about cars, you can quickly discern which models of a particular make of car to avoid. But does that tell the whole story? I think, if you include the number of vehicles sold from that mode, it can make a big difference in the story being told.

For example, if I sell 500 Model XYZ cars & on CarComplaints, 400 of them have a failure, you know to avoid that model. However, if I sell 5 million of them & only 500 people have issues over 10 years (this is assuming people know the site exists, or that there’s a feature to ingest data), then that vehicle may be a much better choice. But that’s not all. The best part of the site, is that it breaks down the models by year.

Using VW as an example, you may think I’m insane for owning two VWs. However, if you look at the issues that are experienced, the issues followed very specific years & models of Volkswagen. There are some issues however, that are systemic to the brand (see plastic water pump impellers).

Does this mean I should stop buying VWs? Should I stay away from them as a brand? I don’t know. I have some friends that recommend BMW, but they’ve been known to have burning oil problems, along with removing dip-sticks from everything. I am not a fan of American vehicles as they are generally not as precise in handling as European or Japanese cars — they also aren’t logically laid out, either. I’m heavily considering a Subaru, but I’ve yet to make up mind.

I hope that, with the information & links I’ve laid out here, this gives people enough information to be a smart consumer about purchasing a vehicle, or, at least being more comfortable with their own car. I ignored a lot of unnecessary debates (Manual vs Automatic? There’s a reason most cars are automatic these days…), I’ve left out a big chunk on parts, part suppliers & reliability, but that’s a separate post entirely.