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i.t. generalist

By markand ·
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What I'm reading, pt. 1

by markand In reply to i.t. generalist

Like many people in the I.T. world, I have a lot of reading to
do. Some of my reading is for pleasure, some is to keep up with critical issues in the my
industries. Why the plural? Because I have one foot in the
I.T. world and another (sometimes it seems like more than one foot,
like I'm a cow or something) in another problem domain. In my
case the problem domain is come Venn intersection of non-profits,
mental health, behavioral health, homelessness, project management,
HIPAA, security, privacy and the Microsoft product line (with a couple
OpenBSD boxes I built for variety).<br />
<br />
How on earth can I possibly keep up with it all? And that's just
professional reading. In my personal life I am a student of world
religions (Christianity and Zen in particular) and the martial
arts. And the parent of a toddler. Each of these has its
own stack of reading, too. Being a librarian lends a certain
flavor to all this reading. I keep buying more things to read for fear
that the thing I'm interested in will go away; bbooks go out of print
quickly and no library has them all. So
the stacks get higher (more to read on a particular topic) and broader
(more to read on different topics). Its a struggle to keep
up. It is very important to read more of the right thing, and
fewer useless things. Let me clarify the word "useless." E.B.White said
"One man's meat is another man's poison." So not
everything I call "useless" is, in fact, useless in itself. It is
only useless to me at the moment.<br />
<br />
That said, here is a first pass through some stuff I've been collecting
for months or longer, in hopes of keeping my employer and I informed,
and not too surprised.<br />
<br />
1. <a href="http://www.baselinemag.com">Baseline: the bottom line it I.T.</a>, published by Ziff Davis. I have found over the years I
need exactly one copy of Baseline on hand, the most recent issue. Baseline's case
studies are the inspiration for what an advisor of mine once called
"pencilling it out."<br />
<br />
To "pencil it out" means to understand what you do, why you do it, how
much that costs, and what your options are for a replacement
system. You could call it being a business analyst, but most
businesses, whether for profit or non-profit, can't afford to hire a
business analyst, as a consultant or an employee. So somebody in
house needs to do the analysis, in addition to the 10 or 100 other hats
they wear. Baseline is good for models of how to "pencil it out."<br />
<br />
2. The critical path: project management news for the healthcare
industry, published by Knight Associates and EPM^2e. Sorry, it
wasn't useful for me. Pick up a copy of "Project Management for
Dummies" at Borders if you need a brief introduction to project
management. If you aspire to be a project management wonk, check out the <a href="http://www.pmi.org">Project Management Institute</a> and look in to certification. <br />
<br />
Odds are there is someone in the work place who is doing project
management, regardless of their job title, education or training.
I suggest becoming that person's servant, if that's what it takes, to
get just a little of their knowledge about how to succeed. The
rest is on-the-job training, often in the form of failure, in
shepherding projects. <br />
<br />
A supportive supervisor is also
necessary. "Supportive" in this context often means working for
someone who will box your bollocks off - politely - but not fire you if
you screw up a project. We need more managers like this, not
fewer. FYI, here's project management in a nutshell: 1. Evaluate -> 2.
Goals -> 3. Tasks -> 4. Calendar -> 5. Tools -> 6. $ 7. Go
to step 1. This is the signature line on my email, not to show
off but to remind me of what my job is, over and over and over again.<br />

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What I'm reading, pt. 1

by DC Guy In reply to What I'm reading, pt. 1

<p><strong>Project Management</strong></p>
<p>In my decades of experience I have found that the most glaring deficiency in IT project managers and the most common cause of project disasters is weak people skills. You can take all the classes, read all the books, study under the masters, and get PMI certification, but if you're still a geek who's far more comfortable working with computers than with people, you ain't gonna be a good project manager.</p>
<p>Some of this is personality. You're always free to decide to change yourself, people do it all the time in many ways. But your heart had better be in it because becoming a "people person" isn't just something you sign up for.</p>
<p>But much of it is also lack of training. Since the position of first-line supervisor got squashed out of the organizational pyramid by the omnipotent workstation (along with the position of secretary and file clerk, whom we also miss), you younger people don't get initiated into the rites of hands-on supervision. Management isn't just attending meetings, drawing up plans, estimating budgets and schedules, and reading and writing reports. To manage is to lead, to inspire, to criticize, to befriend, to correct, to analyze, to cheer, to scold, and a hundred other verbs.</p>
<p>Fortunately you in the new generation of IT professionals aren't quite the flatulent, unshaven misfits we were back in the 1960s. Many of you have good people skills, although they may be undeveloped because you've spent much of your lives huddled over computers. But never having the mentorship of a supervisor is a big impediment to developing them.</p>
<p>Look for a manager who's really good with people, the kind of person who always seems to say the right thing, who is respected, whose problems get solved without a lot of acrimony. Then try to get a gig working for him or her.</p>

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What I'm reading, pt. 2

by markand In reply to i.t. generalist

Continuing my "What I read" thread, I opened the following while I sipped a large mug of coffee this morning:<br />
<br />
1. <a href="http://www.HealthcareITNews.com">Healthcare IT news: the news source for healthcare information technology</a>, published by Medtech Publishing Company in partnership with <a href="http://www.himss.org">HIMSS</a>.
Its chock-a-block full of articles about healthcare I.T. Its
thick in areas that don't concern me and thin in areas that do.<br />
<br />
A first pass through this publication shows the "adline" (as my
journalist wife says) is small. Right away this is a publication
that would drop to 4 pages if I.T. vendors stopped advertising, though
pride would probably keep HITN in press long past its death date.
That was the case with the HP 3000 rags I used to read.<br />
<br />
There are many pictures of people in suits I've never heard of.
"Suits" aren't necessarily bad - I used to be one on the library
automation business. I
am sure they are kind, friendly, highly-educated and hard-working folk,
but none of them are current in my field, which is the one-man I.T.
shop for the small provider. <br />
<br />
What's more, my particular part of
the world, which fits best in allied health, is a backwater of I.T.,
and that's not to damn it. Where does one turn for attention -
industry attention, public policy attention - to mental health,
behavioral health, public health, soclal rehabilitation, psychosocial
rehabilitation, supported housing, homelessness, dual diagnosis and the
like? This is more than just a rhetorical question. We use
technology to foster our work. A great deal of our work is paid
for by Medi-Cal. I read about neither in HITN. Should I
expect to? Probably not.<br />
<br />So what is this publication good for? Issue and trends? Yes, but
not technological ones. To borrow a line from the movie
"Jerry McGuire," I advise the reader to "Show me the money." Or
better yet, follow the money. And the names. And this blurb
from what a page layout person might called a "boxed kicker" - "There
is no better time than now for technology companies that are part of
the healthcare IT industry." What this means is the sharks smell
blood in the water - time to check your pocket for your wallet and
check book.<br />
<br />
Unfortunately, there is no interest
on the part of vendors in improving technology in my little part of the
healthcare I.T. world on the part of the healthcare I.T. industry,
we're on our own. I can hear the criticism "If its important to
you, you do it." I will, as soon as I can sleep 4 hours of my 28
hour day and work the rest of the time.<br />
<br />
The public policy, business and payment cycles in my world are quite
out of sync with the larger healthcare world. But you watch, as
soon as some suit makes a decision in Sacramento or Washington, the
impact will be felt far, wide and deep, years later, in hundreds of
little providers across California and across the country. How
does one get some attention paid, and money (with few strings attached)
to critical, small and uninteresting parts of the healthcare
system? And do one's job at the same time? But I digress....<br />
<br />
Healthcare IT News is what my 2-year old son would call a "blah, blah, blah." Only suits need apply.<br />
<br />
2. <a href="http://www.networkmagazine.com">Network magazine: technology architecture for the 21st century</a>,
published by CMP Media LLC. Occationally NM is a good read.
I read it for ideas and reminders of things I should be doing.
For example, there is an article about "signature-based intrusion
detection systems." Geez, has my network been penetrated?
How would I know? What will it cost me to find out? What
will it cost me to measure and prevent network intrusion? Is this
even a problem? <strong>What does a small company do about this?</strong> I
manually monitor firewall and security log files, and look for unusual
jumps in cummulative network traffic by protocol. Its all I have
time for and all I can afford. Is there a better way to do
this? What is it?<br />
<br />
There is another article called "Telecom bills: an untapped gold
mine." It would be useful to audit our phone bills
quarterly. Whose job is this? Should be looking ahead to
VoIP? How much will an infrastructure change like this
cost? What do we gain by doing it? What is the payback
period compared our current, continuing costs and the initial cost of
switching from conventional telephone switches to VoIP? Its time
to get the pencil out.<br />
<br />
An article on a product called AppDetective yielded this nugget:
HIPAA, Sarbanes-Oxley, FISMA (Federal Information Security Management
Act), California SB 1386 and the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act. How do
these laws affect small providers? I don't know. I can tell
you how it affects storage, search and security vendors: they all
have solutions in search of a problem, but which of them will stand up
in court with you if you are sued?<br />
<br />
The article on "Trusted Computer Architecture" and Intel's Active
Management Technology bears watching. Having maintenance
and security tools built into PCs and servers would make my job much
easier. I would rather fix a machine from my desk than go
on-site. So would the users I serve. It means faster
service for my customers, reduced wear & tear on my car, and time
saved for everyone. A very good idea. This was the best
part of this read.<br />

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Jive errors, pt. 1

by markand In reply to i.t. generalist

I just lost a post because Jive's blogging engine won't accept
duplicate titles. The title must be a primary key
somewhere. Stupid. That's one post I won't get back or
re-type.<br />
<br />
<br />

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What I'm reading, pt. 3

by markand In reply to i.t. generalist

Okay, here is another try at this morning's post, shorter this time.<br />
<br />
1. <a href="http://www.redherring.com/">Red Herring</a> - This is what I call a "suit rag," for the would-be
entrepeneur (sic?) or VC type. It seems like a <a href="http://www.wired.com/">Wired</a>-wanna-be, so read <a href="http://www.wired.com/">Wired</a> instead.<br />
<br />
2. <a href="http://redmondmag.com/">Redmond</a> magazine - This is moderately useful. The July 2005 issue has
good articles on building a business case for projects, on biometric
security, and on the Windows Server Update Service. This issue is
a keeper.<br />
<br />
As promised I expanded this post. The article on biometrics is
pretty good. It eventually described a weakness in the Microsoft
fingerprint reader: it doesn't work in an Active Directory
environment. Too Bad. It looks like rolling out biometric
security will be a major project. I am curious about the
experience of the <a href="http://www.naperville-lib.org/PDFfiles/Biometrics.pdf">Naperville, IL Public Library</a>
in Illinois, where your fingerprint is your library card. Privacy
advocates are rightfully wary of the expansion of fingerprint
technology. I'd like to hear from the privacy advocates after
they've worked a week at the circulation desk of their local public
library. It would be an eye-opener for them.<br />

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From the sublime to the mundane

by markand In reply to i.t. generalist

The sublime is this link to <a href="http://www.adaptivepath.com/team/jjg.php">Jesse James Garrett's</a> article about <a href="http://www.adaptivepath.com/">AdaptivePath's</a> approach to interactive web site design called <a href="http://www.ajaxmatters.com/">AJAX</a>. This same toolset is used on AdaptivePath's own web site. And it is very, very cool.<br />
<br />
I learned about AJAX while trolling for information about <a href="http://www.crockford.com/JSON/index.html">JSON</a>,
which is gaining favor as a behind-the-scenes replacement for
XML. I learned about JSON while following the continuing
development of the <a href="http://open-ils.org/">PINES library automation system</a>.<br />
<br />
I am still cool to large-scale, open source software development
efforts in vertical markets. Its not clear to me that these
efforts have a clear understanding of the difficulties of on-going
software development. For back ground see <a href="http://www.linuxmednews.com/1112633235/index_html">this exchange</a> on <a href="http://www.linuxmednews.com/">LinuxMedNews</a>.
I think the very good intentions of the free, open-source software
movement are balanced a) the hard work of a very few people and b) an
overall lack of resources. This leads to "reverse scope-creep,"
resetting expectations, diminished functionality, late products and
abandoned projects. Sourceforge is littered with them.<br />
<br />
The mundane is I edited my previous posts for grammer and
punctuation. If TechRepublic and CNET are going to borrow my
words, I should at least spell those words correctly.

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What I'm reading, pt. 4

by markand In reply to i.t. generalist

I just skimmed Andrew Conrey-Murray's article "The threat from within," in the August 2005 issue of <a href="http://www.networkmagazine.com">Network Magazine</a>.
I have two reactions to this article. First, you have to trust
somebody. Networks don't run themselves. Someone manages
that resource. Of necessity some person or persons will need the
run of the network to maintain, repair, trouble-shoot and tune a
network. That person should be trustworthy, but how do you
know? Audit their maintenance work? Who does that? And how
do you know the audit is reliable - who will watch the watchers?<br />
<br />
Second, the tools mentioned in the article are aimed quite a ways up
the economic and corporate food chain. My employer will not be
implementing SecureSphere, IPLocks, SQLGuard, AppRadar, Entegra or TZX
1000 (by the way, who names this stuff? Please check what the
marketing department has been smoking, okay?). We can't afford
this stuff. There is a premise that everyone is running SQL
Server, Oracle or both. Well, we're only running SQL Server to
the extent its embedded in Exchange 2003.<br />
<br />
Our major applications are all very small, very vertical and they store
their own data. In a way that data is more secure than if it were
all in one database. One of our applications is written in
Ryan-McFarland COBOL for DOS. I defy you to find anyone who is
willing to hack their way in to our network for the pleasure of taking
a hex editor to an ISAM file. You need to be a certain age, and
have a certain base of experience, to even understand that last
sentence. The pickings are much easier elsewhere.<br />
<br />
Over all, another good read from Network Magazine. If I had to
subscribe to it I wouldn't, its too expensive. But I am glad CMP
Media LLC sends it for free. The addline is a little thin, which
makes me wonder how long Network Magazine will last.<br />

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The HIPAA grind, pt. 1

by markand In reply to i.t. generalist

I would like to use the same title for a series of blog entries, but I
can't save two blog entries with the same title.  So the pt. 1,
pt. 2, pt. n is a work around for this problem.<br />
<br />
I've decided to call my blog entries on the Health Insurance
Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 "The HIPAA grind." 
Other titles come to mind.  The title I chose is accurate but not
too negative.  One my co-workers finds it easier to work on HIPAA
by considering the the law "a way to actively support the privacy
rights" of the people we serve.  I like this statement because it
emphasizes something my employer has always done - protected client
privacy - regardless of the impetus.<br />
<br />
My general notes will go in my blog.  More detailed entries will
go on an internal wiki for staff use.  I'll also give detailed
citations for those interested in finding the original documents (if
available)<br />

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Another clean-up pass

by markand In reply to i.t. generalist

I revised the titles of the "What I'm reading" thread to unify the
thread.  My next post will be about a great set of blogs I've
collected on technology, along with the inevitable pile of print
sources (mostly about theology).<br />
<br />

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Recent additions to "My Links"

by markand In reply to i.t. generalist

I like having one list of URLs stored on the web. There are many
ways to do this. I could simply list links on a static web page
and be done with it, but I've never had the patience or interest in
creating a web site. So the "My Links" section of my TechRepublic
account is great. Here's the new stuff:<br />
<br />
<a href="http://arstechnica.com/">ArsTechnica</a> - I could bolt from TechRepublic after spending just an hour at ArsTechnica. Their <a href="http://episteme.arstechnica.com/">discussion</a> area is very good. In "<a href="http://episteme.arstechnica.com/groupee/forums/a/tpc/f/8300945231/m/865001324731/r/890002324731#890002324731">Current state of OS X multi-user database applications?</a>"
I found a number of people doing serious database development work on
the Apple Macintosh, using OS X, in minutes. They were discussing
what they developed, why they developed software a certain way and best
of all, the economics driving their development work. Very good
stuff. It similar conversations exist on TechRepublic I haven't
found them yet.<br />
<br />
As aside, just ran in to another maddening loss of text in Jive. 
Client-side text editing isn't all its cracked up to be.  I can
just see using this editor in a heads-down, clinical database
application.  It would not work very well.  That said, for
more news about AJAX in the field see Gabriel Serafini's <a href="http://www.gabrielserafini.com/archives/2005/03/16/sajax-simple-ajax-toolkit-by-modernmethod-xmlhttprequest-toolkit-for-php">blog</a> and <a href="http://blog.joshuaeichorn.com/">There and Back Again</a> by Josh Eicorn.<br />
<br />
A few random links to finish.  To see a code artisan at work please look at <a href="http://blog.ianbicking.org/">Ian Bicking: A Blog</a>.  Ian makes Python site up and beg.<br />
Likewise <a href="http://www.entropy.ch/">Marc Liyanage</a>, who
strikes me as An Incredibly Decent, Generous and Hard-Working Bloke for
his generosity, and ability to deliver working product on time to
thousands of people he's never met.  Like me.  Thank you,
Marc, for your PHP and PostgreSQL ports to OS X.<br />
<br />
Finally, see The <a href="http://www.thenewatlantis.com/">New Atlantis - A Journal of Technology and Society</a> for some uncomfortable questions about how technology affects society.  And give <a href="http://www.deborahlivjohnson.com/">Deborah Liv Johnson</a> a spin for your soul's sake.  Her music is lovely!<br />
<br />

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