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i.t. generalist

By markand ·
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Yet another blog

by markand In reply to i.t. generalist

I am starting another blog today.  Not that I have a bunch of
these things floating around, but I've been blogging alot on theology
and social issues, my avocation, and not at all about my
vocation.  Other blogs I have started have been more personal and
a little scary.   The worst part of blogs is lack of
boundaries and expertise; the best part of blogging is appropriate
boundares and some measure of expertise.  <br />
<br />
So I tumbled to an add for Tech Republic and started writing.  So
far the experience has been easy, quick and reliable, which is the
hallmark of truly advanced technology.  I love things that work
without brain surgery!<br />
<br />
This is yet another blog.  I hope to keep this one going for a good while.<br />
<br />

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Wiki for internal use

by markand In reply to i.t. generalist

A co-worker of mine reminded me of a common problem in small
companies:  retaining knowledge over time.  Staff come and
go.  A company created, organized and reorganized.  People's
responsiblities change.  How do we retain knowledge through
change?  Put another way, how do we "sustain" the organization
through change?  <br />
<br />
You can get a global view of creating learning organizations by reading
Peter Senge's "The fifth discipline:  the art & practice of
the learning organization."  <br />
<br />
Down at the "Why did we do what we did when we did it" there are
several ways to capture information.  One is paper, which is
time-honored but hard to manage.  Another is a database of some
kind.  Well, we have BridgeTrak, a great call tracking system, but
I find in a one or two-person I.T. shop it takes more time to update
the call tracking system than it took to solve the original
problem.  Not every problem needs to be documented to the Nth
level of detail.<br />
<br />
How about a wiki or a blog?  I have used both on a personal
basis.  Both have their uses.  Wikipedia is a good (perhaps
the best, most successful) example of an interactive database. 
Web logs or "blogs" are ubiquitous.  My blog on TechRepublic is
only the most recent example.<br />
<br />
How many non-profit organizations use blogs or wikis internally for
knowledge retention?  I used Ward Cunningham's web site
(http://c2.com) to find an ASP-based wiki called Noodle
(http://adamv.com/dev/asp/noodle/).  It is simple to install, easy
to understand and extend, and easy to use.  I will describe how we
use Noodle in future posts.<br />
<br />

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Recovering time

by markand In reply to i.t. generalist

As time's arrow only goes one direction (I know, there are quantum and
relativistic effects, but not in everyday life), there is no getting
wasted time back.  For the purposes of this blog, I define "wasted
time" as time that doesn't strengthen human relationships, complete
chores or advance some goal (like losing 20 pounds).  Like
searching the web for new FOSS software to compile on my eMac.<br />
<br />
I shelved a project to get a Python-based wiki working because I needed
to find a database, a Python interface to that database, and then then
wiki itself.  All three components needed to be built from source
and installed.  I thought I had everything working, but I began to
run into what appeared to be little errors.  The wiki wanted
access to a database, but an include file was missing.  Actually
it was not missing, just not where the wiki expected it to be.  So
I had a choice to run down the rabbit hole - or not.<br />
<br />
After a good 15 years of spending my free time this way, I have learned
just a very little about when to quit.  My "quit time" is down to
about a day and a half.  It is not worth chasing down the
differences in the installation locations of three pieces of software
just to run a wiki for local use.<br />
<br />
And that is not all.  I could, if I wanted to, run a compiled
program that does the same thing (I tried it, too much of a performance
drain).  I could use a little journal program I bought for $20
(which I am bored with for some reason and don't use.  And its not
the first time I've bought some little diary program that I didn't
use).  I could use the PHP-based wiki I found and installed at
home in 10 minutes (which I am likely to use) or the ASP-based wiki I
found and installed at work (also in 10 minutes, and I am VERY likely
to use).<br />
<br />
Time sinks are many.  Computers and all related to them are famous
time sinks.  If I had been born 20 years earlier I'd probably be a
motorhead, building cars.  Its great to get mechanical and
technological tools working, but in the end its like getting excited
about a shovel.  Or a pencil.  They are just tools. 
They have no purpuse until they are used creatively.<br />
<br />
Its time to start the day and enjoy the rest of the weekend.<br />
<br />

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Advanced technology

by markand In reply to i.t. generalist

I define "advanced technology" as any tool I can afford that works
without fuss. My eMac, running OS X, is one such tool.
Windows is, well, adequate most days. I wouldn't exactly call it
advanced, but it gets better with each major release.<br />
<br />
A great example of truly advanced techology, more advanced than any
computer, is a pencil (or pen) and paper. It is ubiquitous. It is
affordable. It works without power. It has limitations (a leaky pen, no
pencil sharpener, paper tears) but it
works.   I am trying to use pencil & paper more often because
of a consequence of constant typing: my penmanship, which was never
more than "okay," has suffered. Other's have the same experience
(see Mike Zielinski's "<a href="http://www.readingeagle.com/blog/zeke/archives/2005/07/_suddenly_every.html">Zeke Blog</a>" and Dana Hoffman's "<a href="http://www.readingeagle.com/blog/mother/archives/2005/07/cramp_in_my_sty.html#trackbacks">I'll Rest When I'm Dead</a>").<br />
FYI, for Dana's post, click on the link and then scroll up above the track-back.<br />
<br />
One of the great things about a written journal is that I can practice
my handwriting.  A written diary,
journal or calendar also keeps some things secret; the lack of
boundaries in wikis, web logs and sites like Facebook and Webshots will
come back to haunt people, and sooner rather than later. It is no
wonder employers aggressively pursue employees whose posts they don't
like. What do you think will happen when your spouse or parent
finds your blog? An employer can only fire you. Your family
can punish you forever!<br />
<br />

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Blogger

by markand In reply to i.t. generalist

See "Ivan Tribble's" article in the July 8th issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education, called "<a href="http://chronicle.com/jobs/2005/07/2005070801c.htm">Bloggers Need Not Apply</a>."<br />
<br />
TechRepublic is the first blog I've started and kept up. I post very selectively to other blogs.<br />
<br />
I also use Google's automatic search tools (we used to call them "SDIs"
for "selective dissemination of information" in library school) to see
where me and my email address pop up. I assure you that my life
story is not posted on the Internet. A blog and my resume are
quite enough, thank you, and even that may be too much.<br />
<br />
I suggest bloggers and wiki editors be far more circumspect in their
posting. Editors function as gatekeepers in the major
media. I always wondered what function they served besides saying
"Your story stinks," "Your writing stinks," and "We're not printing
that." Oh, yeah, to say "Your writing stinks. Do it again
until I say stop." <br />
<br />
Now that everyone is their own editor, and
there are no gatekeepers to be found, then the unwashed (of whom I am a
proud member) are self-publishing everywhere. I think the rewards
will ultimately be greater than the cost. But we've yet to see
what the cost REALLY is in lost jobs - and lost trust.<br />
<br />
The killer application of the next 10 years will be a blog flusher,
something that finds and selectively erases every unwanted post a
person has made to a blog.<br />
<br />

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Two thoughts on "social computing"

by markand In reply to i.t. generalist

I have two thoughts on "social computing." The first is about the
use of blogs and wikis internally. Usefully enought there is an
article about this on TechRepublic. See "<a href="http://techrepublic.com.com/5100-10878_11-5711955.html?tag=search">Blogs vs. wikis: Which is best for internal government use</a>"
by Ramon Padilla Jr. Like all applications, the choice between
one tool another depends on the problem to be solved, the skill level
of the end user, the right infrastructure, and adequate documentation
and training. <br />
<br />
I had personally tried a great variety of time management and planning
tools for personal and professional use. I found the best
combination for me includes:  1) a hand-written diary for the most
personal topics.  2) a paper calendar (its portable, uses no power
and can be easily replaced).  3) a personal wiki on my eMac to
learn about wikis and organize my A+ study notes (I use <a href="http://www.pmichaud.com/wiki/PmWiki/PmWiki">pmWiki</a&gt.  4) several wikis, organized by topics, for work projects (I'm trying multiple installations of <a href="http://adamv.com/dev/asp/noodle/">Noodle</a&gt.  5) this blog on TechRepublic (the first I've started and kept updating, ever).<br />
<br />
I am also looking at a help-desk product called <a href="http://www.liberum.org/">Liberum</a>.
I've used a variety of help desk products and none of them were
satisfying. My employer has a license for BridgeTrak and
CIDiscovery, products of <a href="http://www.kemma.com">Kemma Software</a>.
BridgeTrak and CIDiscovery are very good products; they would have been
a great product in previous jobs, but it may be overkill for what I do
now.<br />
<br />
I am interested in Liberum because it is "free" (nothing is free, but
the product can be had for nothing; it is impelementation that takes
time. And we all know time is money). We need a web-based
work order system for our maintenance department. Liberum might
be just the ticket. The trick is making Liberum
"HUD-compliant." That is a topic in itself, as is help-desk
software.<br />
<br />
To finish my first thought, it takes some work to find a good fit
between a stated or unstated need and software that meets the
need. <br />
<br />
The second thought is how to adopt "social computing" tools to a social
services setting. I work for a non-profit agency that provides
mental health services and supported housing. There is a
discussion, on-going, on the <a href="http://www.husita.org">HUSITA</a>
("Human Service Information Technology Application") discussion list
about low technology literacy in human services work. It reminds
me of librarianship 30 years ago. I finished my MLS (Master of
Library Science) degree in 1986, 19 years ago. In that time the
library profession has gained broad, deep and detailed technical
expertise, rivaling anything to be found in industry. This is
especially true of academic librarianship.<br />
<br />
In short, I don't know if the counseling staff where I work will give a
hoot about a wiki or a blog. I think excitement about technology,
familiarity and comfort with technology, are a somewhat
generational. The younger a person is (chronologically or
behaviorally) I find they accept technology more. Translating
this into technical facility in the work place takes a long time.
It has to be an organizational value, something expected and supported
by the organization. This support has been mixed over the course
of my career; government, industry and non-profits are somewhat cool to
technology education. You can't demonstrate how useful something
is until you learn how to do it. You can't learn something new -
on someone else's dime and time - unless you can show its useful.
That is why I.T. people are auto-didacts. No one will teach you,
so you have to teach yourself, and lift yourself up by your own
bootstraps. It gets old.<br />

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Two thoughts on

by Deadly Ernest In reply to Two thoughts on "social c ...

<div>This is just the latest manifestation of the age old human condition known as 'I stick with what i am familiar with'. When the car was introduced the new generation went for it, many of the older generation never got used to it and some in between just accepted it when ever they could not avoid it. Thus horse were still in use for daily travel for many years following the wide spread use of the car. Same happened with the aeroplane, telephone, mobile phones, etc.</div>
<div> </div>
<div>I would have expected that by now a greater proportion of the population would have gotten used to and accepted the general use of computers - however, that rate of acceptance would appear toi match that of earlier techno changes. And, yes, they had similar problems with the technology changes in the industrial revolution.</div>
<div> </div>
<div>What I am waiting to observe is the level of acceptance for bio-interfaced computers, they are just over the horizen and approaching fast. How will people react to them, will we all see 'The Matrix' in our future or will we see them as something to create monster cyborgs or as a way or realising the full potential of people locked up in faulty bodies. Now there is a social computing problem for you to think about.</div>

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(Very) low-end biometric security

by markand In reply to i.t. generalist

I bought a Microsoft Fingerprint Reader to see if we could use it at
work. It would be convenient to use fingerprints in place of
passwords at some (if not all locations). <br />
<br />
The reader I ordered
from Staples was just $50 ($64 with tax and shipping). The reader
uses a bundled copy of <a href="http://www.digitalpersona.com">Digital Persona</a> fingerprint reading software.<br />
<br />I discovered this product does not work with Active Directory, so it is useless to
us. This may have been apparent to others, but it was not to
me. The packaging was not marked in anyway; the note about Active
Directory was buried in Digital Persona help file.<br />
<br />
In an Active Directory environment you need: a fingerprint reader
for each workstation. This is the least expensive part; a client
program that connects to the reader and the local Windows security
subsystem. on a workstation; a "fingerprint server" which integrates
the tokens
generated by client software from fingerprints into your AD forest.<br />
<br />
I have not priced all this, but for, say, 10 servers and 100+ workstations I
bet it comes to a tidy sum for both the initial and continuing
costs. Indirect costs, like the labor and travel time for
installation and maintenance, must also be included. Staff will
also need training and orientation. What sounds simple is
not simple.<br />
<br />
I think we'll wait on acquiring and deploying
biometric security hardware and software - at least until Microsoft
changes the copy on the packaging for their low-end fingerprint reader.<br />

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(Very) low-end biometric security

by philbougher In reply to (Very) low-end biometric ...

I too, explored the avenue of implementing biometrics into our company.  I also got the Microsoft fingerprint  reader and it works fine, except with domains.  The single user software packaged with the reader does not work with A.D.  Digital Persona does manufacture Active Directory software (Digital Persona Pro) starting at around $1200, and a $44 license fee for each end-user, plus the cost of the readers.  At this time, it is very expensive for a small business to make this commitment.  Sony manufactures the 'Puppy', but the user needs administrator rights.  Until Microsoft irons out what software ships with their product, biometrics remains a 'nice' idea...

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Why do projects succeed?

by markand In reply to i.t. generalist

I watched some of the "special features" that come with "The Lord of
the Rings" DVDs last night. I asked myself "How did Peter Jackson
create this work of art?" For that matter, how did J.R.R. Tolkein
and Peter Jackson manage their respective projects to such a successful
and lasting conclusion?<br />
<br />
Does anyone in business think this way
anymore? Does anyone in the <em>technology</em> business think
this way anymore? Are there any case studies on how and why books
or movies fail or succeed? Can lessons in the publishing and/or
entertainment industries be applied to other industries? Its
worth looking in to.<br />
<br />

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