Just Upgrade or maybe not

As IT Professionals a core element of our industry is the fact that technology is constantly evolving, advancing, and changing into newer ways of doing things.

This movement is coupled with, and magnified by, the fact that technology companies cancel support for the older products and technology.

A natural byproduct of being an IT Pro is that we develop the opinion that it’s our job to ‘champion’, or evangelize, our individual stance on what direction we feel these changes should be made with those we support.

Always pushing our employers and our customers into implementing the newest technology and replacing the systems that are no longer supported.

“The solution to your issue is  to implement BYOD now!”

“XP is no longer supported, you HAVE to upgrade immediately!”

“You’re still on OSX 10.5, are you crazy?!”

“That system is still running Ubuntu 10.04. Are you an idiot?”

“OMG! My Android phone is so much better than your stupid iPhone!”

“Why in the world did you reformat that old computer? It’s slower than my phone. Throw it away!”

The Internet is full of articles on “how” to upgrade or “why” to upgrade, all written by IT Professionals that are true experts in their fields.

I want to approach this topic from a different angle. To perhaps offer another perspective and a potential reminder to others in this industry.

1. First off, no it’s actually not our jobs to push our employers and customers into replacing their systems.

As IT Professionals we stand between an Industry that moves at unrelenting speed and the Consumer/Customer/User/Employer that implements new things at their own pace, if they do it at all.

It’s our job to provide a cushion between these two equal and opposite realities. We examine both the needs of the end user and the available new products and technology in order to be a trusted voice of reason for both sides.

We review the requirements of the user so that we can advise on the best solutions for their needs.

We also provide feedback into the industry as to those end user requirements so that we can help shape the future technology movement.

We are the only ones who have view of both sides so we are the experts at making the best fit between the two.

2. Don’t be a dick.

Seriously, the IT Professionals industry is full of Champions, Evangelists, Experts, Gurus, Consultants, etc.

What it doesn’t need are Fanboy/Fangirls.

Support your opinions and preferred solutions, sure, but don’t be a mindless zealot.

No solution to any problem was ever properly solved by someone with an agenda, on some kind of campaign.

Just look at our Governments as an example.

When you’re surrounded by round holes and all you have are square pegs, and a hammer, it’s not your job, or your right to make those square pegs fit anyway.

Shoving your views and opinions on what the end user should do down their throats, purely based on your own opinions, is an abusive use of our position.

3. I know it’s a shock but sometimes “just upgrade” is actually not the right answer.

Heresy! I’m going to be strung up on my server rack and get my coffee taken away by the flaming keyboard wielding mob of IT Professionals!

It’s a scary idea, but it’s true! There might actually be reasons that the end user is using their outdated technology.

Hardware compatibility with certain peripherals such as specialized controllers.

Software compatibility with expensive or irreplaceable software suites.

The system might still be perfectly capable of doing what it’s supposed to do.

Hell, maybe they just like it.

Or, yeah, they might not know what their options are.

Whatever the situation, there IS ALWAYS a reason someone isn’t implementing changes on their own.

Frankly you should be happy that they aren’t making their own changes because if they were, we’d be unemployed.

Use your knowledge and view of the situation to carefully review the users needs, and wants, and see if there is a way for them to get the same experience with more modern technology.

If there isn’t a way, then support their decisions, offer advice and use your skills to make their current systems work the best way possible.

If they don’t want to, or simply can’t, upgrade their XP machine, let them know all the reasons it’s important to replace it if/when they can but also go over all the options for making it as secure as possible so that they can continue using it. Then, revisit the situation at a later date to see if anything has changed.

Don’t belittle them for their decisions because when it comes down to it, you work for them. Not the other way around.

Posted in IT Insanity | 2 Comments

Pulling Local Admin Rights without causing the App-ocalypse

Or, what I like to call “Hah!, neener neener, No, you can’t go behind my back and install iTunes anymore!

(Disclaimer: There’s undoubted way more knowledgeable readers than me, especially in more Security related skills, that will cringe and tear apart what I’m about to write. But, this worked for my specific issue and it severely limits the security repercussions of using Local Admin. So, use these tips at your own discretion)

 

You know them, you hate them.

The poorly coded Windows software that simply will not run without Local Administrator privileges.

So, you’re forced to give your Users way more privileges than they need, simply to support some critical software that was designed wrong.

Well, I’ve found ways to fix this by changing only privileges on a granular, more focused level instead of the global use of Administrator accounts.

First some real world background on what caused me to need to learn this stuff.

We’re, (as of this writing but upgrading very soon), a Windows 2003R2 Domain. (don’t judge)

Plus we have some VERY expensive, and now irreplaceable, critical Enterprise line of business software from the XP era that was written to require Local Admin rights of the user or it simply didn’t run.

The software in question, since I’m going to reference it later, is called Agile Advantage. It’s some niche software for Product Lifecycle Management used in the Manufacturing industry.

Agile was an awesome company, but back in 2006 Oracle bought them and shut them down. Well, the software is essentially the spinal cord of our company, so here I am trying to keep it working as the Windows world advances along.

Ok, so Security Nightmare Number One. I am (now WAS, but we’re getting to that) required to give everyone who uses this software Local Admin privileges. Which, was essentially the whole company.

Now, leading into Security  Nightmare Number Two, as I mentioned above, we’re a 2003R2 Domain so we use a KIX script at log-in to map network drives. I know there are much better ways to do it, even under 2003R2, like Powershell, but it has been in place for a long time, and it works. Well, here’s the thing.

Security Nightmare Number Two The User Account Control (UAC), in Windows 7 forward, blocks the KIX script when ran under Local Administrator level accounts.

(Something I didn’t know before this, when ran under Local User UAC runs with the same privileges as Windows Explorer so it doesn’t cause this problem)

You can probably see where this is going.

Combine these two and now I’m giving Local Administrator to all my Users on Windows 7 PCs, AND turning off UAC. Both highly not recommended but I had no choice.

Moving on to the reason you’re reading this. I finally had enough and undertook the massive project of trying to turn this train wreck around.

(Tool #1 for you TL;DR visitors)
Being a huge fan of the Microsoft SysInternals suite of tools, I finally realized I could use Process Monitor to get a view of exactly what was going on behind the scenes in Windows when Agile Advantage was running.

Now, I at least have not been able to get Process Monitor to run except under Local Admin so this was a brief bump in my plan as the whole point was to test this application under Local User.

The solution in my case was to log into Windows with Local Admin privileges and then do a Right-Click Run As on the Agile Advantage exe and select a Local User level account.

This essentially tricks the application into behaving as if I was logged in as a local user but lets Process Monitor run as intended.

Process Monitor, if you happen to not know already, scans every single active system call that is going on in Windows. So, the critical trick to using it is Filters because it goes nuts when you first run it because it’s really a busy place behind the scenes of Windows.

By adding a filter for Process Name is, in this case AgileAdvantage.exe, to Include and then a filter for Result is Denied I was able to focus the background noise down to just the traffic I was looking for.

Keep in mind Process Monitor is highly customizable so I recommend playing around with the filters so you can get it to do just what you want for your specific situation.

This lead me to seeing Denied attempts against two local files in the C:\Windows and C:\Program Files(x86)\Agile Advantage 2006\ directories and also Denied against several Registry keys in the HKCR and HKLM hives.

By targeting those specific entries and changing the Advanced Security Properties for of each one to give LOCALPCNAME\Users Admin level privileges to just those files I then got Agile to run. There was a couple instances in the Registry keys where the LOCALPCNAME\Users account wasn’t even on the Security tab, so I just added it as needed.

Now, I used the Local\Users group because my intention is to create a generic image for future PC roll-outs and I don’t want to re-do this every time for each specific Active Directory account that might use the PC.

Ok, so I’ve gotten the application to run, but it was still acting squirrely. Some functions that normally worked immediately were now taking a couple minutes, etc. Details are going to be different for each person and each application.

For my specific case, this lead me to poke around forums for other possible tools to use to get a deeper view of what was going on. This lead me to

(Tool #2 for you TL;DR visitors)
The Microsoft Application Compatibility Toolkit. Now, this software does way more than I even know, or needed in this project so I’d recommend playing around with it more. The part I specifically used is called the Standard User Analyzer (SUA) under Developer and Tester Tools. When I directed SUA to my target application and launched it, I got some more in-depth views of the system calls on the various tabs.

On the Registry tab there was a couple more HKLM and HKU keys getting denied and on the Other Objects tab there was a sub-directory in the hidden C:\ProgramData directory that was trying to get written to and getting denied.

So, essentially what I’m saying is to use both of the tools listed above for your troubleshooting investigation.

Another similar tool that was brought to my attention by Chris Jackson, an Architect at Microsoft (@appcompatguy on Twitter) is called LUA Buglight.

For my specific instance I didn’t need this tool but it looks to be very useful for this and generates a concise text file report of the issues it runs into.

These steps fixed my specific problem that I’ve been fighting for years. It was a giant pain in the butt and I repeated these steps for a couple other key applications but combining all this work with a reference PC that I plan to use for imaging future systems, all the effort now will make future issues non-existent.

Now, some further adjustments I made because I’ve just found a lot of Windows Weirdness in the Event log over the years on systems running as Local User.

In Computer Management, Local Users and Groups, I added the following accounts to the following Groups.

NT AUTHORITY\Authenticated Users and DOMAIN\Domain Users added to the Distributed COM Users group. Again, I did Domain\Users versus a specific person because I’m creating a generic image system.

I also added them to a few others, like Event Log Readers, Performance Log Users, Performance Monitor Users, etc. just to make any future work I might need to do on the individuals computer under their account later easier. This is just something you can decide for your own individual instances.

Happy Hunting and I hope my project steps here help others in similar situations.

To reference back to my initial Disclaimer above. I’m sure there are reasons why what I did are probably not recommended by some professionals but I weighed the potential issues against allowing global Administrator privileges and decided these options were far preferable.

Posted in IT Insanity | 2 Comments

Rebuilding Me

I’m sitting here, absent-mindedly rubbing a, now empty, Wedding Ring Finger because the physical sensation of not having a ring on it is nearly overwhelming.

Yes, 2014 will be a year of dramatic changes. 11 years together, 8 years as Man and Wife. Somewhere along that journey I slowly stopped being the man she fell in love with and our ships drifted in different directions instead of travelling together. It happens, it fills me with the greatest regret of my life.

However, along with that regret is relief. My extraordinary wife showed the courage that I could not and stood up for what she wants in life. I had stopped giving her that and she had finally had enough. Oddly enough, I am extremely proud of her for this.

I also was at a point where I was no longer getting what I wanted, and needed in a relationship. I was existing but I wasn’t truly happy. I just didn’t have the courage to stand up for it so I am actually grateful I had such an amazing woman in my life.

She will ALWAYS be my best friend, my soul mate if such a thing really exists, she just won’t be my wife. It’s time to rebuild ourselves.

Rebuild back into the person we want to be, separately, so we can either be that person back together in the future, or be that person with whomever new becomes fortunate enough to deserve us.

If, during this new journey, we find that we again want to be with whomever we become, so be it. If not, the past journey has vastly more good memories than regrets and the future journey is filled with possibilities.

I lost myself.

Lost myself in a downward spiral of mild, sometimes severe, depression, lack of self respect and self confidence and I became something that I myself hated, so it was impossible for someone else to really love me when I didn’t love myself.

I refused to seek help to repair what I had became. I pushed everyone who would have gladly helped me away and refused to stand up and say that I had a problem and needed help.

That, was then.

I am now Rebuilding Me.

The over-used, cheesy cliché’ of a Phoenix comes to mind but it is still appropriate. NO ONE ever “hits bottom” but we do reach low points and I have hit the lowest point I have ever been in my life to date.

Frankly, I’m glad.

Reaching your lowest point in life gives you a much better view of your Foundation. You can clearly see all the cracks, all the missing pieces. Hitting the low point allows you to see what MUST be repaired in order to rebuild on a solid, stable, strong foundation.

I have been forced by my wife to finally see my foundation and I don’t like it. It’s cracked, it’s filled with holes, it’s barely holding together. But, it’s not yet beyond repair and I am now more motivated than I have ever been to fix the cracks, fill the holes.

I am rebuilding a foundation that the best, strongest, most extraordinary ME that has ever been will rise from. Forest fires are horrible, natural disasters that destroy everything in their path. However, once they burn themselves out, a stronger, healthier forest regrows.

I owe my, now former, wife and my best friend my life. Literally. And I am not going to throw that gift away. Not this time.

By god, or whatever higher power(s) there are, the world will see me rise from the ashes.

I am Rebuilding Me.

Posted in Random Rants | 3 Comments

The Endless Pool

For the sake of full disclosure, this blog piece is just a ‘whiny, negative, rant’. As such, you can feel free to not continue on. I’m not fishing for sympathy, or arguments, or reassurance, or looking for people to tell me to stop being so negative. This is simply, ‘text therapy’. It’s dumping what’s in my head out into words.

I have often heard people refer to their jobs with the analogy of “running in a Hamster Wheel” because they feel like they’re not actually getting anywhere.

For me, my career in IT is more like swimming in an Endless Pool. For those who might not know what it is, an Endless Pool (also often called a Swimming Machine) is a small swimming pool, usually 12-16 ft. long by 7 ft. wide. They use an underwater pump system to create a seriously strong current for swimmers to swim against for exercise. This allows for the swimmer to use all their effort in swimming without actually ‘going anywhere’. So they don’t need huge Olympic sized pools to exercise in.

This is a far better analogy for my view of working in IT because, in a Hamster Wheel, while you still ‘get nowhere’ from the effort, if you stop, you simply stop.

In an Endless Pool, if you stop swimming against the current, you get pushed back to the beginning and can potentially drown.

Swimming in an Endless Pool will make you a stronger swimmer, sure, but you’re only ever in your own little pool. The view never changes, the challenges never change, all the effort you put out is simply to maintain your exact same position and not get shoved backwards.

Meanwhile, I see all the other ‘swimmers’ out there in my IT environment. Swimming in rivers. Moving forward. Expanding their skills by experiencing different environments. All of their effort is the same effort I put forth but they’re actually improving, moving forward.

Every single one is stronger, faster, and better at ‘swimming’ than I am. Comparing myself to other ‘swimmers’ only brings frustration.

Information Technology is a really tough industry to be in if you do any sort of introspection comparisons of your own skills compared to everyone else in the industry. Like comparing my furiously dog paddling in my little pool to Michael Phelps.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m pretty good at what I do. The problem is what I’m doing is simply trying to maintain the exact same position in my little pool, day after day. While there is no active discouragement to improve, and it really is a pretty nice pool there’s no reason to ‘swim any harder’ because there’s simply nowhere to go.

Some days it’s difficult not to consider letting the current win.

 

Posted in IT Insanity | Leave a comment

BYOD Sucks and here is why I say that

Here’s the thing.

I’m not a “Solutions Provider” or an “API Architect” or any of the other IT related positions who stand to gain a substantial amount of business when BYOD get’s implemented in the Enterprise.

Amazingly enough, these types of “journalists” are the guys who are writing a vast majority of the ‘Pro-BYOD’ related blogs that are out there in droves right now.

These guys are sharks who smell blood so of course they’re going to be all for BYOD in the Enterprise and praising the wonders of it and scoffing at all those who are against the idea.

Me, I’m one of the poor bastards who would actually have to support, troubleshoot, and maintain a BYOD implementation. I’m a Network Administrator who actually “get’s his hands dirty”. I’m out there in the trenches, dealing with everything from basic Desktop Support issues on up. Luckily, due to security related issues where I work, we will almost without any doubt never implement any kind of BYOD environment. Quite the opposite here actually.

However, I still see things from the side of the people who support infrastructures once they’re implemented unlike these guys who would do the implementation and then wash their hands and walk away. Either that or they would charge a staggering rate to act as Consultants to support the BYOD implementation that they pushed for.

Since I am a Support IT person I can see several reasons to back up why I am highly against BYOD.

1. Standardization:

Do you really want any number of possible different combinations of Smartphones, Laptops, Tablets, etc. etc. in your Enterprise?

Do you really want to become skilled enough to support every possible issue that could arise on dozens of different types of devices? Bugs, Hardware failures, Patch Management, Software installation quirks, compatibility issues, the list is practically endless. Even down to the petty grade school crap of one user who might have a personal device that is better than another user in the same position’s device and now you get to listen to them whine about it. It’s bad enough now when all we do is offer a decent choice of certain devices to choose from.

There’s also a certain look of professionalism when all the systems in your company match and look like there was obvious thought put into their implementation.

My answer, hell no.

2. Security:

Ugh, where do I start? Viruses, Malware, Tracking Cookies from individual’s internet surfing outside the company, any number of possible Crapware installations. Just exactly how far does a company’s authority to enforce activity on an employee’s personal equipment go? Do you really want to deal with the endless different issues that can arise from personally owned equipment being used on your business network? Should IT really be responsible for cleaning up malware infestations on systems that don’t even belong to the company?

Then there’s also the angle of intellectual property? So your company deals with some kind of sensitive information and this user has lots of it on their laptop? Their laptop gets stolen or that user gets fired or laid off. Now what? If you have a legal team I’m sure they’re going to love dealing with the manure storm that can arise in that situation.

At least if the device is company owned there is an assumed liability already and controls to prevent that kind of thing can safely be implemented without the user having any real say over it. If something is owned by the company then decisions that are best for the company can be made much easier concerning the use of said device.

3. Liability:

Ok, so your user accidentally drops their laptop down 3 flights of stairs. Their personal device is now in pieces all over the lobby? Now what?

Does the company now buy this user a brand new replacement device? Refuse, and the user sues over it’s loss since they were on company property doing company work on their personally owned device.

Chances are high this new device will be better than the one that was broken since gadgets update so quickly. So now the business buys a replacement? What happens when the user leaves the employ of this business? The cost of that device is now lost and this user now has a nice shiny new device paid for by the company.

There are potentially dozens of other reasons to add to this list and each one can have dozens of different little sub-categories of reasons within in them. Enough to turn this blog entry into an Encyclopedia. I think the basis of my opinion is made well enough with just these three.

While BYOD may be an excellent choice for small companies that don’t have the resources to have an on staff IT department saying BYOD is inevitable for the Enterprise is simply ludicrous.

Posted in IT Insanity, Random Rants | 6 Comments

The Vulture of IT

I am the Network Administrator for a high-tech circuit board manufacturing company. A ‘struggling to survive’ manufacturing company that is currently running in ‘survival mode.’ I have been here for 12 years and this is nothing new to me.

When a corporation is struggling to survive it is like a wounded animal and some really difficult decisions are often made.

As the Network Administrator I’m often called upon to clean-up the fallout after these decisions.

The inevitable decisions are made and I cringe as I’m handed ‘the list’.

“The company has to restructure to help bridge the gap this year. A head count reduction is regrettable but necessary.” “Don’t worry Mike, you are not affected by the head count reduction.”

“You are not affected.”

<sigh> I cringe and glance down ‘the list’.

I see names on the list I don’t even recognize, which makes me feel a little sad. “You are not affected.”

I see names on the list I actually am kind of glad to see, which makes me feel a little guilty. “You are not affected.”

As I glance farther down the list I see names I wasn’t expecting which knocks the wind out of me. “You are not affected.”

I see names of friends, I see names of people I felt were indispensable to the success of the company. “You are not affected.”

I see names of co-workers I’ve worked side by side with for over a decade. I see people who were more family than co-worker. “You are not affected.”

I feel the weight of the world come crashing down upon my shoulders. “You are not affected.”

I feel the pride I once had for the skills I possess, for the company I once supported without question, for the company I once looked at more as a second home than a place of employment, vanish.

“Don’t worry Mike, you are not affected by the head count reduction.”

In my mind I see dozens of laptops, PCs, and cellphones which, until today, were the tools of the co-workers on ‘the list.’ “You are not affected.”

In my mind I see the gigabytes of Personal Drives, My Documents, Outlook Archives, etc. that I now have to clean up and archive. The data that, until ‘the list’ was the products of someone’s career. “You are not affected.”

In my mind I see dozens of accounts that will soon be disabled. The electronic remains of people who are my friends. Remains that I now have to clean up. “You are not affected.”

“Restructure”, “Bridge the gap”, “Head count reduction”

Corporate Human Resources rhetoric that sounds better than “The loss of people’s support structure for their lives.”

“You are not affected.”

I sigh, my shoulders sink, my soul aches, and I move on. I begin the task picking the remains of people’s professional lives apart. “You are not affected.”

As I begin to gather the remaining equipment, the ghosts of friends who once used them, someone walks by and says “Hey, at least you weren’t affected. You’ve got job security.”

In the back of my mind I scream “Fuck you! Take your ‘job security’ and shove it!” and I silently move on with my morbid responsibilities.

“Don’t worry Mike, you are not affected by the head count reduction.”

Posted in IT Insanity | 5 Comments

I’m a Network Administrator, dammit!

First off, let me make some warnings and disclaimers. This is a rant. This is an emotionally fueled rant in defensive response for some really irritating attitudes and blogs I see going around recently. This is a rant primarily directed to a few, but very vocal Developers in the IT Community.

As such, this rant might piss some readers off. Frankly, I don’t give a shit. Don’t like it, don’t read it. Don’t agree with it, I don’t care beyond hearing actual logical arguments as to why it’s wrong.

Now, on to the rant.

There is, yet again, a recent resurgence in the IT community of the old, stale, and idiotic attitude of ‘Hardware Engineers vs. Software Engineers’ battle. This time it’s going around as a ‘DevOps vs. SysAdmin’ argument but it’s still the same old, insular, arrogant, petty bullshit it has always been.

Yes, I’m biased because I am a Hardware guy. Yes, I definitely do need to get some code skills to help make my job easier. But let me make my point crystal clear. I WILL ALWAYS BE A HARDWARE GUY!

I’ve recently flat out been told, damn near word for word, that “in the future of IT there will be DevOps and those who serve DevOps their lunch”. If this is your opinion, stop here as my rebuttal to that is Fuck off!

Yes, Developers create extraordinary software. Advancements that will power the next generation of technology. Programs that will be the soul of The Cloud in coming decades. Sure, fine, DevOps are important. No one can argue that for a minute. But the attitude I keep hearing of ‘If you’re not a DevOp, you’re nothing’ is arrogant, self deluding, idiocy.

Software will ALWAYS need Hardware in order to work, that’s simple logic. As such, Software Support, i.e. DevOps, will ALWAYS need Hardware Support, i.e. SysAdmins, NetAdmins, Desktop Support Technicians, etc. Neither side will ever be able to exist without the other.

While the Developers may be ‘touching the sky’ and be the current center of all the glory in the technology world, they’re doing so by standing on the backs of all those ‘scut workers’, LIKE ME, who have made it possible for them to achieve, and continue to achieve, their glory.

Sure, physically running network cables, physically plugging in and setting up PCs, installing operating systems, etc. is ‘scut work’. Those have always been considered Tier 1 beginning level skillsets. “Monkey work” as I have, disrespectfully, heard it described recently. However, those Tier 1 Support “Monkeys” are the base on which the glorious DevOps depend to do their damn jobs. Without them they would be nothing more than glorified secretaries.

I’m no DevOp. I’m a Network Administrator. I’m no more important or less important than any DevOp. We each need each other equally.

I’m an Network Administrator. At my work, I’m also the Tier 1 Desktop Support guy.

I’m the guy who runs your network cable, who formats your PC just the way you need it, who sets it up.

I’m the guy who keeps your network running, who sets up switches, servers, Active Directory credentials, network permissions, software updates, etc.

I’m the guy who resets your account when you forget to turn off your CAPS Lock key and you lock yourself out of your PC.

I’m the guy who restores that lost database you accidentally deleted.

I’m the guy who replaces that keyboard you spend all day at when you spill coffee on it.

I’m the guy who makes it possible for you, oh glorious DevOp, to do your damn job and to get all ‘the limelight’.

Even in a future Cloud Environment there will always be us lowly ‘scut workers’ somewhere. Perhaps not on staff, but somewhere. Be it consultants, or in server farms, somewhere there will always be someone whom you call and cry to the minute you have something go wrong with the system you need to do your work.

I’m a Network Administrator, dammit! I’m a ‘scut worker’ and damn proud of it.

I’m the pedestal that you, as a DevOp, are standing on and I’m damn well going to be the one to knock you off of it.

Get over yourself! Without me, you would be asking customers if they want fries with their orders and without you I’d be doing the same.

Posted in IT Insanity, Random Rants | 7 Comments

Ok, now what?

I’m sitting here, staring at Windows Live Writer, struggling to figure out what I’m writing, one word at a time.

You see, I “have a blog” if it could be loosely defined as such. I very rarely post things to it so it’s tough to consider it a blog really.

I enjoy writing, I really do. I even do think I’m actually good at writing. When I do write something I get many very kind and encouraging comments.

 

“Dude, i was seriously blown away by your TrimetDiaries piece. Really excellent, funny, and well written. “

“Eerie, but awesome!”

“sweet! Write! ;-)”

“Holy crap! That’s amazing! You oughta write more, Mike!”

“No, really, that’s outstanding. Quit hiding your writing – use your gift.”

“ Holy crap, your story is amazing. Write more. Lots more.”

“Must-read, eerie & true story by @mikerigsby at TriMet Diaries:”

 

Staggering and amazingly generous comments that I don’t feel worthy of receiving which makes me grateful for every reader I get.

But, here’s the kicker. I can never think of anything worth writing about.

I’m an IT Geek by profession. ‘Ok, write about that!

Yeah, just like thousands of other Technology professionals that are both higher skilled in their profession and are more experienced in writing than I am.

I commute daily via Trimet public transit system. ‘Ok, write about that!

Yeah, ok, I do actually. I write A LOT about it, on Twitter.

So what do I need an actual blog for? Honestly, I have no idea. Precisely why I at least stick to a free site since I really don’t do it enough to pay for it.

When I do write, I do it because something has hit me personally as important. The feeling is difficult to describe in words. It’s like something inside me is demanding to be put into text.

A piece of your soul that is screaming “Make me real! Make others feel what you feel!” “Make me heard by others!”

A feeble attempt to make a physical representation of a ‘feeling’.

Sometimes it works and the feeling is amazing.

It’s like a release. It’s almost sexual. An intangible force of the universe that you’ve single handedly made exist. Made real. You’ve created something from nothing.

Sometimes it doesn’t work.

You get an idea, a feeling. Something that seems like it’s good, it needs to be ‘made real’. You struggle to put words together to make the feeling real and you try to put it into text.

You put an effort into it, get it out there to the world and then look at it. It just isn’t right. Doesn’t ‘click’. The experience wasn’t satisfying. The release just didn’t happen. That feeling is still in your soul like some jailed creature still screaming to get noticed.

There is no acceptable middle ground if you’re ‘a writer’. As good old Master Yoda say’s “Do, or Do Not. There is no Try.”

When it works, the feeling is amazing. When it doesn’t work, it’s a failure. An urge that never gets satisfied.

The pressure to perform is staggering really. The compliments are amazing when it does work but all they do is increase the pressure for the next ‘release’ to work. To get itself heard in reality.

So……no what?

What do I do?

What do I write about? How do I continue to fill this addiction. This need for the next ‘release’ to be as good as it was before. When it really hit the mark.

Where do the words come from?

Posted in Random Rants | 2 Comments

Fake Anti-Virus Scareware, the scourge of the Internet

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Being as how this is a new year with some of the same old internet malware problems I wanted to take a moment to talk about one of the most common and most often infected on people’s computers but it is also one of the easiest to avoid infection from.

Scareware is semi-malicious software that is designed to scare a user into thinking that they need to purchase their software in order to protect their computers. Generally called Fake Anti-virus software, it pop-ups up right in the middle of your screen while online and says your computer is infected with dozens of viruses. The pop-up cannot be closed by the normal X button in the top corner.

A side note to keep in mind is that legitimate anti-virus software, like Microsoft Security Essentials, Kaspersky, etc, nearly always works ‘behind the scenes’. It scans quietly in the background and removes viruses without a blatant, scary message coming up in the middle of your screen.

It is very well designed software and looks legitimate and looks like it’s busily scanning your computer. It’s generally transmitted by malicious or infected advertising banners on perfectly normal, legitimate websites.

Virus and Malware designers will actually purchase advertising space on legitimate websites in order to spread their malicious software so, contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to be browsing ‘unscrupulous’ websites to catch computer viruses. This software is designed to make you think your computer is infected and then give you the ability to enter your credit card information to purchase their “anti-virus” software to remove these supposed infections.

This not only gives malicious people your credit card information but it is also not true. Either your computer isn’t infected, or even if it was this software doesn’t actually remove anything. To the contrary, this fake ant-virus software actually is the virus.

I’ve attached a couple screenshots of what the scareware will likely look like, although it comes in dozens of different names.

FakeAV01

FakeAV02

Now for the important information. Avoiding getting infected. These steps aren’t 100% guaranteed to avoid infection but they’ll definitely help.

If you get one of these fake anti-virus pop ups:

1. STOP! Do not click anything in the window, not the X, not an obvious Close button, nothing. At this point the software most likely is only trying to scare you and hasn’t actually installed on your computer.

2. First thing to try is to press the Alt key + the F4 key. This keyboard combination will force close any active windows. Try it a few times in case the first try doesn’t work.

3. If this doesn’t work, right-click on your Start menu, select Task Manager, then on the Applications tab find the entry for your browser and press End Task, repeatedly if necessary. This will crash your internet browser and, hopefully, one of these two steps will help you avoid getting the malicious software actually installed on your system.

Once you’ve done these, hopefully the pop-ups are gone and the next step I would recommend is, if on a work PC call IT to let them know about it and, if at home I would recommend doing a Full scan with your anti-virus software of choice, just to make sure your system is clean.

My personal preference for Anti-virus software is Microsoft Security Essentials. MSE is free from Microsoft, very lightweight on resources, works extremely well and since it is from Microsoft it will maintain current virus definitions through Windows Updates. However, companies like Kaspersky, GFI, Avast, Avira, AVG, Panda all make good antivirus solutions and many of them are free to use. The important thing is to pick something, keep it up to date, and to scan with it regularly.

Posted in Computer Security Related | 2 Comments

Headphones, Magic Listening Devices & Anti-Stupid Shields

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If you know me in person or follow me on Twitter you will already know that I commute to and from work via Trimet, which is the Portland, Oregon greater metro area’s public transit system as well as a smaller rural system called SCTD.

I commute a lot.

With wait time between buses I am commuting to and from work almost 5 hours a day.

Not surprisingly, I live by my smartphone and the accompanying headphones. I listen to podcasts, to music, etc. but sometimes I just listen.

I will let you in on a little public transit secret.

Headphones are magical.

They give people the impression that you are busy and shouldn’t be disturbed but they also cast a spell on everyone who sees you wearing them that makes them think that you, somehow, cannot hear a word they say. I like to wear them because of their power to make people decide that they shouldn’t bother you with mindless chatter.

Needless to say this leads to some interesting observations about the other people who share my daily commute with me.

Take today, for instance. Today, I was simply wearing my headphones and wasn’t listening to anything and this allowed me to overhear an interesting conversation between two other commuters that took place right next to me while we all waited at the bus stop for my first bus of the morning. Both fellow commuters were within 10 – 15 feet of me just talking away.

About me.

Here’s a rough transcript of the conversation:

Fellow Commuter #1: “I wonder what that guy (meaning me) does for work. I see him here every morning waiting for the bus.”

Fellow Commuter #2: “Yeah me too, I’ve caught this bus with him for about a year but he’s never said a word to me.”

Fellow Commuter #1: “Me either. He must be a real asshole because he never talks to anyone.”

This type of discussion went on for another 15 minutes or so. Both people theorizing about what I did for a living, about whether I even spoke English, if I had an accent, whether I was anti-social, etc., etc.

All within 10 to 15 feet from me as I was standing there. Talking away like they were discussing a piece of furniture or a character on a TV show.

All because I was wearing headphones.

I find human psychology interesting so this conversation was fascinating.

Mind you, some of it is true. I’m not a very social person ‘in the real world’ with people I don’t already know. Online is an entirely different story but in person I am uncomfortable talking to ‘strangers’.

I’ll let you in on why I’m like this with a theoretical example of how conversations with other commuters has gone for me in the past when I have had them:

Fellow Commuter: (generic introductions and usual opening small talk) “So, what do you do for a living?”

Me: “I’m a Network Administrator for a contract circuit board manufacturer.”

Fellow Commuter: (confused expression) “Oh, so uh, what’s that mean?”

Me: “I take care of all the computers, printers, user accounts, software installations, troubleshooting, PC repairs, system builds, etc., etc. for the company.”

Fellow Commuter: (eyes light up with realization) “Oh! You’re a Computer Geek!”

Fellow Commuter: “So, uh, hey……… Since we’re on that subject. My home computer is having problems with (insert any number of hundreds of possibilities). Do you know what’s wrong with it?”

Me: (sigh)

That is the general way nearly every conversation I’ve ever had with my fellow Trimet commuters has gone. Then, the worst part is once that conversation has been initiated I’ve now, somehow, automatically become the life long tech support for this random stranger on the bus.

THAT is why I don’t talk to fellow commuters if I have a choice.

Posted in Random Rants, Trimet Transit Weirdness | 3 Comments