Personal

This category contains posts of a personal nature.

I mentioned this on Twitter a few days ago, but wanted to go ahead and formalize some of the details. A blog reader/Twitter follower contacted me with the idea of getting together briefly at VMworld 2014 for some prayer time. I thought it was a great idea (thanks David!), so here are the details.

What: A brief time of prayer
Where: Yerba Buena Gardens, behind Moscone North
When: Monday 8/25 through Wednesday 8/27 at 7:45am (this should give everyone enough time to grab breakfast before the keynotes start at 9am)
Who: All courteous attendees are welcome, but please note that this will be a distinctly Christian-focused and Christ-centric activity. (I encourage believers of other faiths/religions to organize equivalent activities.)
Why: To spend a few minutes in prayer over the day, the conference, and the attendees

There’s no need to RSVP or let me know that you’ll be there (although you are welcome to do so if you’d like, just so I have an idea of how many will be attending). This will be very informal and very casual—it’s just an opportunity for fellow followers of Christ to get together and say a few words of prayer.

I look forward to seeing you there!

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(This is a repost of an announcement from the Spousetivities web site. I wanted to include it here for broader coverage. —Scott)

For seven years, Spousetivities has been fortunate to be part of the VMware/VMworld community. Since 2008, we’ve been the only community-focused and community-driven spouse activities program, and it’s been an honor. Spousetivities exists thanks to the support of the community. However, Spousetivities also exists to provide support back to that same community.

Last week, a member of our community was tragically taken from us. Jim Ruddy died in a car accident, leaving behind his wife Stephanie and their children. This is a horrible loss, and the community continues to mourn his loss. (My husband, Scott, worked with Jim at EMC for a number of years, as did many others.) In honor of Jim and to support the family he left behind, I worked with other members of the community to establish the Jim Ruddy Memorial Fund. As of this writing, that fund had raised over $15,000 to help support Stephanie and the kids in this very trying time.

No amount of money can replace Jim. However, this is a difficult time for Stephanie—not only emotionally and physically, but also financially. For that reason, Spousetivities is setting aside 10% of all proceeds raised by activities at VMworld 2014 to be donated to Jim Ruddy’s family via the Jim Ruddy Memorial Fund.

If you haven’t donated to the Jim Ruddy Memorial Fund yet, please consider doing so. If you (or your spouse/partner/significant other) is participating in Spousetivities at VMworld this year, please know that your participation means also helping a family in their time of need.

Being part of the community means giving back to the community.

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Crossing the Threshold

Last week while attending the CloudStack Collaboration Conference in my home city of Denver, I had a bit of a realization. I wanted to share it here in the hopes that it might serve as an encouragement for others out there.

Long-time readers know that one of my projects over the last couple of years has been to become more fluent in Linux (refer back to my 2012 project list and my 2013 project list). I gave myself a B+ for my efforts last year, feeling that I had made good progress over the course of the year. Even so, I still felt like there was still so much that I needed to learn. As so many of us are inclined to do, I was more focused on what I still hadn’t learned instead of taking a look at what I had learned.

This is where last week comes in. Before the conference started, I participated in a couple of “mini boot camps” focused on CloudStack and related tools/clients/libraries. (You may have seen some of my tweets about tools like cloudmonkey, Apache libcloud, and awscli/ec2stack.) As I worked through the boot camps, I could hear the questions that other attendees were asking as well as the tasks with which others were struggling. Folks were wrestling with what I thought were pretty simple tasks; these were not, after all, very complex exercises. So the lab guide wasn’t complete or correct; you should be able to figure it out, right?

Then it hit me. I’m a Linux guy now.

That’s right—I had crossed the threshold between “working on being a Linux guy” and “being a Linux guy.” It’s not that I know everything there is to know (far from it!), but that the base level of knowledge had finally accrued to a level where—upon closer inspection—I realized that I was fluent enough that I could perform most common tasks without a great deal of effort. I knew enough to know what to do when something didn’t work, or wasn’t configured properly, and the general direction in which to look when trying to determine exactly what was going on.

At this point you might be wondering, “What does that have to do with encouraging me?” That’s a fair question.

As IT professionals—especially those on the individual contributor (IC) track instead of the management track—we are tasked with having to constantly learn new products, new technologies, and new methodologies. Because the learning never stops (and that isn’t a bad thing, in my humble opinion), we tend to focus on what we haven’t mastered. We forget to look at what we have learned, at the progress that we have made. Maybe, like me, you’re on a journey of learning and education to move from being a specialist in one type of technology to a practitioner of another type. If that’s the case, perhaps it’s time you stop saying “I will be a <new technology> person” and say “I am a <new technology> person.” Perhaps it’s time for you to cross the threshold.

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For the last couple of years, I’ve been sharing my annual “projects list” and then grading myself on the progress (or lack thereof) on the projects at the end of the year. For example, I shared my 2012 project list in early January 2012, then gave myself grades on my progress in early January 2013.

In this post, I’m going to grade myself on my 2013 project list. Here’s the project list I posted just under a year ago:

  1. Continue to learn German.
  2. Reinforce base Linux knowledge.
  3. Continue using Puppet for automation.
  4. Reinforce data center networking fundamentals.

So, how did I do? Here’s my assessment of my progress:

  1. Continue to learn German: I have made some progress here, though certainly not the progress that I wanted to learn. I’ve incorporated the use of Memrise, which has been helpful, but I still haven’t made the progress I’d like. If anyone has any other suggestions for additional tools, I’m open to your feedback. Grade: D (below average)

  2. Reinforce base Linux knowledge: I’ve been suggesting to VMUG attendees that they needed to learn Linux, as it’s popping up all over the place in all sorts of roles. In my original 2013 project list, I said that I was going to focus on RHEL and RHEL variants, but over the course of the year ended up focusing more on Debian and Ubuntu instead (due to more up-to-date packages and closer alignment with OpenStack). Despite that shift in focus, I think I’ve made decent progress here. There’s always room to grow, of course. Grade: B (above average)

  3. Continue using Puppet for automation: I’ve made reasonable progress here, expanding my use of Puppet to include managing Debian/Ubuntu software repositories (see here and here for examples), managing SSH keys, managing Open vSwitch (OVS) via a third-party module, and—most recently—exploring the use of Puppet with OpenStack (no blog posts—yet). There’s still quite a bit I need to learn (some of my manifests don’t work quite as well as I’d like), but I did make progress here. Grade: C (average)

  4. Reinforce data center networking fundamentals: Naturally, my role at VMware has me spending a great deal of time on how network virtualization affects DC networking, and this translated into some progress on this project. While I gained solid high-level knowledge on a number of DC networking topics, I think I was originally thinking I needed more low-level “in the weeds” knowledge. In that regard, I don’t feel like I did well; on the flip side, though, I’m not sure whether I really needed more low-level “in the weeds” knowledge. This highlights a key struggle for me personally: how to balance the deep, “in the weeds” knowledge with the high-level knowledge. Suggestions on how others have overcome this challenge are welcome. Grade: C (average)

In summary: not bad, but could have been better!

What’s not reflected in this project list is the progress I made with understanding OpenStack, or my deepened level of knowledge of OVS (just browse articles tagged OVS for an idea of what I’ve been doing in that area).

Over the next week or two, I’ll be reflecting on my progress with my 2013 projects and thinking about what projects I should be taking in 2014. In the meantime, I would love to hear any feedback, suggestions, or thoughts on projects I should consider, technologies that should be incorporated, or learning techniques I should leverage. Feel free to speak up in the comments below.

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I’m back with another “Reducing the Friction” blog post, this time to talk about training an e-mail spam filter. As you may recall if you read one of the earlier posts (may I suggest this one and this one?), I use the phrase “reducing the friction” to talk about streamlining and simplifying commonly-performed tasks so as to allow you to improve your own personal efficiency and/or adopt more efficient habits or workflows.

I recently moved my e-mail services off Google and onto Fastmail. (I described the reasons why I made this move in this post.) Fastmail has been great—I find their e-mail service to be much faster than what I was seeing with Google. The one drawback, though, has been an increase in spam. Not a huge increase, mind you, but enough to notice. Fastmail recommends that you help train your personal spam filter by moving messages into a folder you designate, and then telling their systems to consider everything in that folder to be spam. While that’s not hard, it’s also not very streamlined, so I took up the task of making it even easier and faster.

(Note that, as a Mac user, most of my tips focus on Mac applications. If you’re a user of another platform, I do apologize—but I can only speak about what I use myself.)

To help make this easier, I came up with this bit of AppleScript:

(Click here if you don’t see a code block above this paragraph.)

To make this work on your system, all you need to do is just change the two property declarations at the top. Set them to the correct values for your system.

As you can tell by the comments in the code, this script was designed to be run from within Apple’s Mail app itself. To make that easy, I use a fantastic tool called FastScripts (highly recommended!). Using FastScripts, I can easily designate an application-specific shortcut key (I use Ctrl-Cmd-S) to invoke the script from within Apple Mail. Boom! Just like that, you now have a super-easy way to both help speed up processing your e-mail as well as helping train your personal spam filter. (Note: if you are also a FastMail customer, refer to the FastMail help screens while logged in to get more details on marking a folder for spam learning.)

I hope this helps someone out there!

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No Man is an Island

The phrase “No man is an island” is attributed to John Donne, an English poet who lived in the late 1500s and early 1600s. The phrase comes from his Meditation XVII, and was borrowed later by Thomas Merton to become the title of a book he published in 1955. In both cases, the phrase is used to discuss the interconnected nature of humanity and mankind. (Side note: the phrase “for whom the bell tolls” comes from the same origin.)

What does this have to do with IT? That’s a good question. As I was preparing to start the day today, I took some time to reflect upon my career; specifically, the individuals that have been placed in my life and career. I think all people are prone to overlook the contributions that others have played in their own successes, but I think that IT professionals may be a bit more affected in this way. (I freely admit that, having spent my entire career as an IT professional, my view may be skewed.) So, in the spirit of recognizing that no man is an island—meaning that who we are and what we accomplish are intricately intertwined with those around us—I wanted to take a moment and express my thanks and appreciation for a few folks who have helped contribute to my success.

So, who has helped contribute to my achievements? The full list is too long to publish, but here are a few notables that I wanted to call out (in no particular order):

  • Chad Sakac took the opportunity to write the book that would become Mastering VMware vSphere 4 and gave it to me instead. (If you aren’t familiar with that story, read this.)
  • My wife, Crystal, is just awesome—she has enabled and empowered me in many, many ways. ‘Nuff said.
  • Forbes Guthrie allowed me to join him in writing VMware vSphere Design (as well as the 2nd edition), has been a great contributor to the Mastering VMware vSphere series, and has been a fabulous co-presenter at the last couple VMworld conferences.
  • Chris McCain (who recently joined VMware and has some great stuff in store—stay tuned!) wrote Mastering VMware Infrastructure 3, the book that I would revise to become Mastering VMware vSphere 4.
  • Andy Sholomon, formerly with Cisco and now with VCE, was kind enough to provide some infrastructure for me to use when writing Mastering VMware vSphere 5. Without it, writing the book would have been much more difficult.
  • Rick Scherer, Duncan Epping, and Jason Boche all served as technical editors for various books that I’ve written; their contributions and efforts helped make those books better.

To all of you: thank you.

The list could go on and on and on; if I didn’t expressly call your name out, please don’t feel bad. My point, though, is this: have you taken the time recently to thank others in your life that have contributed to your success?

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Divorcing Google

The time has come; all good things must come to an end. So it is with my relationship with Google and the majority of their online services. As of right now, I’m in the midst of separating myself from the majority of Google’s services. I’ve mentioned this several times on Twitter, and a number of people asked me to write about the process. So, here are the details so far.

The first question that usually comes up is, “Why leave Google?” That’s a fair question. There is no one reason, but rather a number of different factors that contributed to my decision:

  • Google kills off services seemingly on a whim. What if a service I’m come to use quite heavily is no longer valuable to Google? That was the case with Google Reader, a service for which I still haven’t found a reasonable alternative. (Feedly is close.)
  • Google is closing off their ecosystem. Everything ties back to Google+, even if you don’t want anything to do with Google+. Communications with Google Talk to external XMPP-based services no longer works, which means you can’t use Google Talk to communicate with other users using XMPP (only other Google Talk users).
  • Support for XMPP clients will stop working in May 2014 (which, in turn, will cause a number of other things to stop working). One thing that will be affected is the ability to use an Obihai device to connect to Google Voice, which will no longer work after this change.
  • The quality and reliability of their free service tiers isn’t so great (in my experience), and their paid service tiers aren’t price competitive in my opinion.
  • Google’s non-standard IMAP implementation is horribly, awfully slow.
  • Finally, Google is now doing things they said they’d never do (like putting banner ads in search results). What’s next?

Based on these factors, I made the decision to switch to other services instead of using Google. Here are the services that I’ve settled on so far:

  • For search, I’m using a combination of DuckDuckGo (for general searching) and Bing Images (for image searches). Bing Image Search is actually quite nice; it allows you to search according to license (so that you can find images that you are legally allowed to re-use).
  • For e-mail, I’m using Fastmail. Their IMAP service rocks and is noticeably faster than anything I’ve ever seen from Google. The same goes for their web-based interface, which is also screaming fast (and quite pleasant to use). The spam protection isn’t quite as good as Google’s, but I’m still in the process of training my Bayes database. I anticipate that it will improve over time.
  • For IM, I’m using Hosted.IM and Fastmail, both of which are XMPP-based. I’ll use Hosted.IM for one domain where my username contains a dot character; this isn’t supported on Fastmail. All other domains will run on a Fastmail XMPP server.
  • For contact and calendar syncing, I’m using Fruux. Fruux supports CardDAV and CalDAV, both of which are also supported natively on OS X and iOS (among other systems). Support for CardDAV/CalDAV on Android is also available inexpensively.

That frees me up from GMail, Google Calendar, Google Talk, and Google Contacts. I’ve never liked or extensively used Google Drive (Dropbox is miles ahead of Google Drive, in my humble opinion) or Google Docs, so I don’t really have to worry about those.

There are a couple of services for which I haven’t yet found a suitable replacement; for example, I haven’t yet found a replacement for Google Voice. I’m looking at SIP providers for my home line, but haven’t made any firm decisions yet. I also haven’t found a replacement for FeedBurner yet.

Also, I won’t be able to completely stop using Google services; since I own an Android phone, I have to use Google Play Store and Google Wallet. Since I don’t have a replacement (yet) for Google Voice, I have a single Google account that I use for these services as well as for IM to Google Talk contacts (since I can’t use XMPP to communicate with them). Once Google Voice is replaced, I’ll be down to using only Google Play, Google Wallet, and Google Talk.

So, that’s where things stand. I’m open to questions, thoughts, or suggestions for other services I should investigate. Just speak up in the comments below. All courteous comments are welcome!

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Well, the title kind of says it all—yes, there will be an update to the popular Mastering VMware vSphere 5 book, with new content for the vSphere 5.5 release announced today at VMworld. Availability of the new title is expected in late October or early November, but I believe it’s already available for pre-order on Amazon.

However, this book represents more than just another title in the Mastering VMware vSphere series. It represents a “changing of the guard,” so to speak. In order to understand why, allow me to share with you the story of how my very first book, Mastering VMware vSphere 4, came to be. This is a story that very few people know.

I suppose the story starts in 2008. As a blogger, I’d gained some visibility as a result of my liveblogging at VMworld 2007, and in 2008 I met Chad Sakac. Chad is now a hugely popular figure within the VMware community, but at the time he was “just” the leader of a little-known group within EMC. (This is the group that would later become known as the vSpecialists.) Chad and I chatted, geeked out on some VMware stuff, and became buddies. I didn’t really think too much about the connection; we were just a couple of virtualization geeks making a connection.

Then came early 2009. Chad contacted me, and said he’d been approached about writing a book. Unfortunately, he was unable to write the book; would I be interested in writing it, he asked. Heck yeah! Writing a book had been an item on my bucket list for a really long time. So Chad made the connections to Wiley/Sybex, contracts were signed, and at VMworld 2009 Mastering VMware vSphere 4 was released, quickly becoming a massive hit. I joined Chad’s vSpecialist team in 2010, and remained there for 3 years before transitioning to VMware earlier this year to focus on network virtualization.

Looking back on this series of events, it’s easy to see that this was a huge opportunity I’d received. So, when it came time to discuss writing the book that would become Mastering VMware vSphere 5.5, I asked myself: “I was just given this opportunity. Can I do the same for someone else? Can I pay this forward?” It was at that point I decided that I would not be the lead author for the next revision; instead, I would pass the torch on to someone else—someeone else who had “Write a book” on their bucket list. I wanted to give someone else the same opportunity I’d been given.

This is why Mastering VMware vSphere 5.5 represents a changing of the guard. This book embodies my decision to pay it forward, to give another worthy individual—in this case, Nick Marshall—the opportunity to do something he really wanted to do. Many of you know Nick; he’s been involved in the VMware community in a number of ways, through support of the vBrownbag Podcast as well as through his work with Alastair Cooke on AutoLab. In addition to that, he’s just a really nice guy, and that counts for something, too. I’m really thrilled that Nick has taken the lead with this book, and I’m really looking forward to seeing where he takes the Mastering VMware vSphere series.

So, if you’re looking for an authoritative reference to the vSphere 5.5 release, I would encourage you to pick up Mastering VMware vSphere 5.5. Nick and I, along with our co-conspirators Forbes Guthrie, Josh Atwell, and Matt Liebowitz, have done our best to produce something that is useful and informative. I hope that you agree.

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A Short Dry Spell

It’s been a couple of weeks since I published anything here, so I wanted to just provide a brief update. I know that posting something about why I haven’t posted something is…odd, I guess you could say. In any case, a number of factors—some personal, some professional—have contributed to why I haven’t been able to generate some useful new content in the last couple of weeks. Of course, there are blogs that go for months between posts, so a small gap of a couple weeks isn’t really a big deal. After over 8 years (I started blogging in May 2005), I think you can rest assured that I have no intention of shutting down anytime soon.

However, despite this dry spell, I am determined to continue with my Learning NVP blog series (part 1 is here), as a great many people have expressed interest. Fortunately, I made some headway on some blockers that were preventing progress, and that gives me hope for new content soon. I’m also exploring new posts on Puppet, Open vSwitch (OVS), OpenFlow, and—who knows—maybe VMware will have some snazzy announcements at VMworld that will give me new fodder for posts. We’ll see.

So, bear with me as I work through this short bout of writers’ block. I hope to be back soon with some new content. Thanks!

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A few weeks ago I published a Reducing the Friction blog post centered on helping to streamline the tasks involved in processing e-mail. (Recall that there is a distinction between managing e-mail and processing e-mail.) In this Reducing the Friction post, I’d like to revisit the idea of processing e-mail with a slightly different take: using text expanders to streamline composing and replying to e-mail messages.

As much as we all love to bash e-mail as a productivity killer, it has become something of a necessary evil in most professional environments. As such, we’re better off (in my opinion) reducing the time and effort it takes to deal with this necessary evil so that we can get on to bigger and better things. The use of text expanders—tools like TextExpander, Typinator, TypeIt4Me, and others—can actually help in a number of ways.

Here are a few ways that I use a text expander tool (my choice is Typinator) to help in composing and replying to e-mail messages:

  • There are common phrases that I find myself using on a regular basis, such as “Thanks for your message” or “Sorry for the delay in responding.” Rather than typing these phrases out every single time I use them, I set up a text expansion shortcut to type them for me. So, I just type the three or four character shortcut, and Typinator automatically substitutes the full phrase. Most of the text expansion utilities also have the ability to make these expansions case-sensitive (I know Typinator does), which allows you to substitute capitalized or non-capitalized versions of the phrase.

  • I prefer to use inline or bottom posting in my e-mail replies (instead of the default top posting), so that the entire thread is easily readable from top (oldest) to bottom (newest). However, this frequently throws people off, so I have some “markers” that I use to help readers navigate. These are phrases like “See my reply below” or “My replies are inline, marked with [SL]” (or similar). Rather than typing these phrases manually, I have my text expansion utility do it for me.

  • While many e-mail clients support signatures, sometimes you might want to use a different signature than the “default” signature you have configured. I prefer to use a text expansion shortcut to supply the signature, which allows me to choose which signature to use on a message-by-message basis. For me, this works better than having the e-mail client automatically tack a signature on the message. (You could just as easily have your e-mail client use a default signature, but change it manually using a text expansion shortcut when desired.)

These are just three examples; I’m sure that you can probably come up with more. In fact, I’d love to see what sorts of additional ideas readers might have. Feel free to add your ideas and thoughts in the comments below. Courteous comments are always welcome!

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