Happy Path: Exchange/Blackberry Email Filtering

As lame as it sounds, I think one of the best things I've done in the last two years isn't a project. It's my work email filtering via Exchange and my Blackberry. It's far from perfect, but it works astonishingly well for me.

In my case, the definition of "works" is that I see high-priority information more easily. I don't waste as much time as I once did on sorting, filtering and reading to get to what matters the most for the items at the top of my priority list.

Every so often, I'll describe it, and a light will go on for the listener. And that listener is usually someone who gets 500 messages (on a good day... bad days can have MANY more), most of which are, well, just pointless to read. Sometimes, the listener has each one of those pop up in Outlook and alert on a Blackberry. Quel dommage!

I'm no rocket surgeon, so it can't be that I'm all that bright. Mostly, I just culled the ideas from other folks. Here's my version:
1) My Blackberry will only alert for "Level 1" messages
2) Messages CC'd to me NEVER go to my Blackberry (BCC does, though)
3) Messages "to" me get filtered extensively
4) Other oddball rules and practices


Dolly Madison "Divide By Two" Fail

Can't divide by two? Dolly Madison has your back! Only they can't divide by two, either. This is not the best thing I might choose to put in my system. Mathematically-challenged, high-calorie snacks are way worse than just high-calorie snacks.

Let's count the foibles:
  1. If you eat one, it's 200 cal. So the 410 cals on the pack? Either they're expecting a lot of icing stiction to the package, or they expect me to eat the package. One of those alternatives is wholly understandable. The other is slightly alarming.
  2. One roll has no trans fats. Two rolls have 0.5g trans fats. Eat the right one!
  3. One roll has 6g of fat. Two rolls have 11g of fat. Again, choose wiseley!
  4. et cetera

So, I have a math fail, too. I suggested counting the foibles, and stopped at 4. Clearly, my Dolly Madison snack consumption is taking a toll.

Does Anyone Remember How Powerful DNS Can Be?

I'm not talking about the handful of sysadmin gurus. I mean everyone else from developers to the rest of system and application administrators.
You don't need to name a machine after what it does. You can. But you don't have to. And chances are good that if you own that machine for several years, it will become many more things.


What the fudge is a CNAME?

It's a name that points to another name to get an IP address resolution. Think of the phonebook. You look up "Euripidies Flintstones" to find a phone number. "Euripidies Flintstones" would be considered a DNS A record, or a mapping of a name to an IP address.

Now imagine we had a more sophisticated phonebook that knew Euripidies usually went by the less formal first name "Phil." Looking up "Phil Flintstones" would refer you to "Euripidies Flintstones." In this case, "Phil" is the CNAME.

You have a non-production machine that hosts your dev, qa and uat environments for a web application. The box (we'll call the box "bob" for the sake of argument) is older but perfectly serviceable. And you really don't want to rename it for a number of reasons. And that means you already have a DNS A record for bob.domainname. The box name is unimportant. Name it whatever you want. But if you have to access a major resource on the box, create a CNAME for it.

You could put all your environments on different ports. Heck, you could do what most thoughtless folks do and just address it by IP (oooo, now that's not prone to creating extra work down the road!). Or, you could be one of the 1-percent who take this advice.

bob.domainname's cnames:
devweb.domainname -> points to bob.domainname
qaweb.domainname -> points to bob.domainname
uatweb.domainname -> points to bob.domainname

Web apps are really easy for this. With the magic of IP-less hosting, asking the web server to talk to "devweb" will send you to the right web service.

Take a production example. You have a file server already named "myfiles.domainname." You're just big enough that you plan to add separate database and mail servers. But you'll colocate them on the file server to get started.

myfiles.domainname's cnames:
sql-01.domainname -> points to myfiles.domainname
mail-01.domainname -> points to myfiles.domainname

Why bother? Well, you've already configured numerous clients to talk to myfiles for file shares. When you install your mail server, you're going to have to direct them to something. One day, when you create a dedicated mail server, you have to go touch every client to change from "myfiles" to "mail-01." Or you could just edit the CNAME for mail-01 to point to your new mail server when you finally install it.

The database server can be an even bigger deal. You'll probably write tens (or hundreds) of small and large programs that access the database server. If you leave it as "myfiles," all those applications will need to be changed when you install your dedicted database server. Or, you could use a CNAME and repoint it later with a lot less fuss.

You don't need them for every server and every minor case. But they are an immensely useful tool in your sysadmin arsenal.

CNAMEs, folks. It's the wave of the future, only it was envisioned in the early 80s and ignored by scores of IT professionals.

By the way, here's a useful external link with a simple CNAME explanation: http://rscott.org/dns/cname.html

(One caveat... some Windows services rely on more than a DNS name. They expect to find a WINS name as well. While you can create custom WINS entries, and they're usually successful, Windows file services are notoriously picky about the actual system name... thanks Microsoft!)


On Being Action-Oriented...

Quick reflection on being action-oriented...

I did a small, boneheaded thing today. Details aren't important. I just did half of something and forgot about the other half. And it's a task that should be handed by a functional person because it's related to customer config data.

(If you're scrunching your nose and furrowing your brow about that, there's usually a dotted line in larger IT organizations that separate "applications" and "data." I can help you install Excel. I can teach you how to use it. I might even show you a formula or two. But I really should leave it up to you to maintain your own spreadsheet, even if you ask me nicely to tinker with it)

All in all, it's a pretty innocent mistake, and everyone is OK with it. In fact, it was barely more than a fleeting thought in a long conversation.

But it made me reflect on times I've been called on the carpet vs. times I haven't. And the times I've been called to task are almost universally times where I haven't done something (for any number of good or bad reasons).

In other words, any time I've made an error of action, it's generally been forgivable. Good thing to remember.


Tonka Mighty Rescue Vehicle

Found at an antique shop between Peachtree City and Sharpsburg. It's a 1975 or 1976, and it has all three figures and the gurney! Condition is fair, but at least it's complete. If you aren't familiar, the Mighty series are pretty big. This is about a foot and a half long.

Godspeed, Chocolate Cowboy

Seen on I-285 during my commute. I think the picture says it all...


What Started Your Geekery?

From whence came your geekish tendencies? Were they made, or did they just happen? Did they magically manifest in your mind in the womb?

At dinner the other night, we discussed a particularly unpleasant way to be introduced to technology:
A) Go away on vacation for two weeks
B) Return from vacation to find a PC on your desk
C) Find large manual to be read on your own time
(the year was 1992, and this was not uncommon)

My mother looks over at me and my father and says "The two of you taught yourselves. How did you get started?"

My father and I look at each other, the table, back at each other, and shrug. My father says "well, I was just there. I don't really know." Now, he's being a bit modest. He was one of the first people at Delta to have a PC, but only because he bought his own (one PCjr for his office and one for the house in 1984).

I started using the PCjr for word processing, Flight Simulator, Gato and Rogue. I wrote tons of papers in junior high, high school and college, printed in dot matrix goodness.

But it wasn't my fist computer. I had a VIC-20 with cartridges for Gorf, Turtle Programming and a 16KB expander. I also had a cassette tape storage system and a printer, both of which were woefully underutilized.

Prior to the VIC-20, I'd used a TI-99 in 6th grade for some sort of pirate text-based adventure game. I haven't a clue why the VIC-20 had appear where the TI-99 did not, given that the TI-99 was way more powerful. It's not even like I wrote many programs. At geek camp (as I think of it now) in 6th grade, most of our computer skills course consisted of us putting characters on the screen just so we could watch that big, fat VIC-20 cursor "eat" them when we held down the backspace key.

Before that, I had an Atari 2600. Preceeding the 2600 was Asteroids, or as I think of it, the single greatest video game ever. And my freind's Oddesy console... we'd swap his Oddesy for my 2600 for a few days at a time. But is that where this started? I'm not sure that it did.

I think it happened before that. I remember being fascinated by my father's baby blue Smith Corona electric typewriter. It didn't hurt that the kid next door had all manner of cast-off devices from his father's machine shop. Heck, I'm fairly certain a broken Sinclair would have been sufficiently entertaining to me.

I vividly recall the brightly-lit panels in Space: 1999's control center and Eagle. Star Trek was a given, but it was more on par with Emergency! as an adventure show. And I picture in my mind as clearly as if it were yesterday when I proudly announced to my second grade class the fantastic new show premiering that night: Battlestar Galactica.

I could go on for pages (Micronauts, Star Wars, comic books, whatever). Was I made into, or did I just happen to become, a geek?


Windows 7 Beta Oddities

So far, the beta ride with Windows 7 has been clean. Even Authentec stepped up to offer a beta fingerprint driver that was released in the last few days. And Windows 7 even prompts me at that point to say "hey, Hondo, you really should let me fix this device problem for you."

Here are the two oddities significant enough to warrant a mention:
  1. I can't close an Outlook 2003 note. I can make 'em. I can edit 'em. But I can't close 'em without closing Outlook.
  2. Connecting to work via vpn locks out my user account. It's a domain-joined laptop connecting to a Nortel Contivity via pptp and a local Contivity account (the Contivity can use domain accounts via RADIUS, but I don't use that). I don't have to access any domain resources. My account is just instantly locked (which is to say that 7 is accessing a domain resource... I'm just not triggering an event that would do it).


When being #2 is better

Hertz vs. Avis
Coke vs. Pepsi
Pat's vs. Geno's

Those are all competitors where there's a #1 and a #2. Avis coined the phrase "We're #2. We try harder." Coke would have happily invented Pepsi for the rivalry. And the cheesesteak warriors may both claim to be the "King," but the truth is that the rivalry is as much a reason for success. All it takes is one panoramic look from the converging points of South 9th Street and East Passyunk Avenue to see that.

There's a real silver lining to being #2 that we don't automatically appreciate in full. #2 usually means you get back something for what you give up in volume. Real life is rarely a zero sum game.

For example, if you happened to be a wholesaler, and you went from being the #1 supplier to #2 for a high volume retailer, but your actual profit dollars increased, would you really complain? You might if you lost the #1 slot because your service was bad or your people were knuckleheads. That's not the case here. And it's a very odd sort of good news.

Let's see... You could make more money and work less for it. Winner!

(By the way, I've always been a Jim's guy in Philly, I prefer RC Cola and Alamo is pretty much my consistent go-to rental... but I'll save that for a "When being #3 means you're a boutique supplier")


The Speech...

O that we now had here
But one ten thousand of those men in England
That do no work to-day!

What's he that wishes so?
My cousin Westmoreland? No, my fair cousin:
If we are mark'd to die, we are enow
To do our country loss; and if to live,
The fewer men, the greater share of honour.
God's will! I pray thee, wish not one man more.
By Jove, I am not covetous for gold,
Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost;
It yearns me not if men my garments wear;
Such outward things dwell not in my desires:
But if it be a sin to covet honour,
I am the most offending soul alive.
No, faith, my coz, wish not a man from England:
God's peace! I would not lose so great an honour
As one man more, methinks, would share from me
For the best hope I have. O, do not wish one more!
Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host,
That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart; his passport shall be made
And crowns for convoy put into his purse:
We would not die in that man's company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.
This day is called the feast of Crispian:
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when the day is named,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say 'To-morrow is Saint Crispian:'
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars.
And say 'These wounds I had on Crispin's day.'
Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember with advantages
What feats he did that day: then shall our names.
Familiar in his mouth as household words
Harry the king, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,
Be in their flowing cups freshly remember'd.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember'd;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.


From this day forward, 1:37PM will be known as...

'Leet O'Clock

Since 1:37PM is in 24-hour time 1337.

Posting from the Windows Gadget "Blogger Buddy"

This could be a good thing. I might be more apt to post more. Might be less good, too. More posting might mean more crap :)


Another good resume revision

Add "responsible for..." to the scrap heap:

James A. Stagg Jr (Jim)
180 Carriage Circle | Stockbridge GA 30281 | 770-474-3499 | jstagg@gmail.com

Sept. 2006 to present: Project Manager/Application Administrator, S.P. Richards Co., Smyrna GA
Manage projects as required by the Director of Development; manage day-to-day operations of the ERP system for a $130M subsidiary company.
+ Lead $1M subsidiary ERP system integration project
+ Consulting on other projects & issues as needed

Jan. 2001 to Aug. 2006: Senior Systems Administrator, S.P. Richards Co., Smyrna GA
Designed, implemented & supported Windows solutions; assisted in departmental & project budgeting; mentoring junior team members
+ Led $1M legacy system replacement project
+ Led $250k subsidiary network & hardware migration project
+ Led $50k Canadian subsidiary network migration project
+ Designed, implemented and supported Windows disaster recovery strategies
+ Implemented library-based backup system for Windows servers

Sept. 2000 to December 2000: Systems Administrator, Dealergain.com, Norcross GA
Designed, implemented & supported Windows solutions
+ Implemented patch management strategy for Windows systems
+ Researched potential of open source platforms in support of core company functions
(Company dissolved in early 2001)

April 1998 to Aug. 2000: Systems Administrator/Web Designer, Expo.net/Websitesfast.com, Norcross GA
Designed, implemented & supported FreeBSD, Linux & Windows solutions; creating customer web solutions
+ Designed, implemented and supported several web solutions for large and small customers
+ Worked directly with potential and existing customers on requirements

Oct. 1996 to April 1998: Systems Analyst, Sportime International, Norcross GA
Supported Windows, Apple Macintosh, Novell & AS/400 solutions
+ Created first company web sites for each catalog brand
+ Installed company's first IP-related services (DHCP & DNS)
+ Learned and implemented fundamentals of directory services

Aug. 1994 to Sep. 1996: Graphic Designer, Sportime International, Norcross GA
Produced catalogs, special projects and advertising
+ Managed technical piece of $150k catalog publishing system implementation project
+ Managed pre-press process of all catalog production for a resulting cost savings of $90k annually
+ Supported Apple Macintosh catalog publishing systems

Sept. 1993 to Aug. 1994: Art Director, Fulton County Daily Report, Atlanta GA
Managed art department team of 5 on daily newspaper production and special projects deadlines. Worked with editorial staff to lay out daily front page
+ Designed and produced annual "Georgia Bench Book" in house for the first time
+ Mentored and trained a Press Assistant into becoming a key Art Assistant

May 1992 to Aug. 1993: Assistant Art Director, Fulton County Daily Report, Atlanta GA
Created & managed special projects (books, special supplements, magazines) and daily newspaper deadlines
+ Managed art department team for 6 months during Art Director search
+ Supported Apple Macintosh newspaper publishing systems

Sept. 1990 to May 1992: Art Assistant, Fulton County Daily Report, Atlanta GA
Produced daily legal notices section and designed print advertisements
+ Assisted in implementing newspaper publishing system


Dang: Fire Destroys Trackside Tavern

Sad. If they rebuild, I'll be back:

I mean, I'll still throw an awful game of 501... always ending up with a 7 or 11 and one dart left.

This Is America...

And I'm proud to be a part of it.


Synaptics TouchPad + Windows 7 Business

I'm running Windows 7 Business on an HP NC6400, and it's pretty sweet. Out of the box, the only pieces that don't work are the SD Card reader and the fingerprint scanner.

I also have a super-sweet (to me, anyway) IBM Ultranav portable USB keyboard that has a Synaptics TouchPad (and TouchStick, which I don't really use) built in. It's nice not needing a traditional mouse on my desk.

Funny thing is that the TouchPad on the NC6400 works fine. But the TouchPad on the Ultranav doesn't. I tried the one from Lenovo (since IBM handed that off a couple of years ago). Turns out all I needed to do was to go to the Synaptics driver site and install the Vista driver.

Works like a champ.


Project Freakout, Part 5

The plane landed. Most of us walked away. Of course, there's still foam on the runway and some cleanup.


And we might have to build a new plane. But that's the breaks. One day when time allows, I'll do a more detailed wrap up.

Excel Pivot Tables Are Good

No, I don't really have a tutorial here. I've never been one to swoon over Excel. I mean, it's a nice little tool, and I use it a good bit.

Many moons ago, I'd started an article (yes, I didn't even finish it) that said "if you're not using pivot tables in Excel, you're missing the point of Excel." It's like a lot of pseudoprogramming tasks. I didn't need it, so I didn't try it.

And then I did need it. And, hoo boy, is it helpful:

I had a list like this:
Custid, Warehouse, Ship To, Sales
0001, DC01, Dealer, $100.00
0001, DC01, End User, $500.00
0001, DC02, Dealer, $200.00
0001, DC02, End User, $900.00
(you get the idea)

...and that just doesn't look nice in Excel. What I really wanted was to show the custid on the X axis, the warehouse on the Y axis and subtotal the ship to under each warehouse.

The pivot table is perfect for that sort of formatting. The idea is that we'd save money and provide better service moving the "Dealer" types to a different delivery type. But that's a story for another day.

Sorted! Windows 7 and Office 2003 Color Scheme

Running Windows 7 and Office 2003? Not a big fan of baby blue?

One suggestion was to run the Office apps in Windows 2000 compatibility mode, which switches the color scheme to 2000's old default gray. But Outlook isn't real happy in that mode on Windows 7 (as in it won't start).

You can get the same (or for my money, better) results by checking the Disable Visual Styles button on the Compatibility tab for the exe. Simple, and the app runs as it should.

Now if I could just find that Office 2007 install DVD...