Stand By: “DSC Camp” Registration Opens February 1st 2015

Watch this space, because on February 1st I’ll be opening registration for “DSC Camp,” a special and extremely exclusive event that’ll take place at and near my home in Las Vegas, NV. Limited to just 16 participants, you’ll interact deeply with three of the industry’s top independent experts in PowerShell’s DSC technology. You’ll learn how to build out YOUR DSC infrastructure (yours, not some generic model – we’ll get specific), build custom resources, troubleshoot, and a ton more. It’ll a jam-packed weekend (Fri-Sat-Sun) that includes classroom learning, information brainstorming and design workshops, and a ton more.

Pricing will start at $1200 until March 1st, and $1500 thereafter. It’ll run August 21-23. Your pricing includes pretty much all your meals, two nights’ hotel, and ground transportation between the hotel and our learning venues. It’s going to be fun, yes, but it’s going to be work, and a ton of brain activity.

A full brochure and the reg link will appear on Feb 1 on Payment will be via PayPal only, unless you contact me directly to make special arrangements otherwise. First-come, first-served. And we did have an early bird list, so fewer than 16 spaces remain already.

To attend, “DSC” shouldn’t be a brand-new thing to you. You should be pretty solid in PowerShell and able to build advanced functions, and you should have at least played with DSC and be well-read on the subject. If you’re just crazy-clever, you can probably do well if you read “The DSC Book” as homework prior to attending.

Keep your eyes open. This is happening.

Disney Princess Reference

I have two nieces, who are pretty much at “Princess” age. I’ve needed a simple reference to keep track of which Princess we’re talking about at any given point.

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My Smartphone Makes Me Smarter, Not Dumber

I recently listened to a report on NPR that challenged people to disconnect from their smartphones.

The basic gist of the argument – and I’m paraphrasing, so you might consider listening to the full report – is that “daydreaming” is your brain’s default state. When it’s not otherwise engaged, it flits off on its own, a process that helps organize memory, set internal short-term goals, and other supposedly beneficial stuff.

Trust me, I’m all about “beneficial to my brain” stuff. I don’t have enough background to know if these benefits are real, but they certainly seem plausible. In the report, they talk to some folks on a subway platform. A decade ago, those people were presumably staring at the empty track, at each other, at the nearby vending machine, or at an ad, daydreaming. Some few of them may have been reading a book or a newspaper. There’s no doubt that many of them had brains in “daydreaming” mode.

It’s certainly plausible to suggest that a brain needs its daydreaming time. It’s reasonably well-documented that people need real REM-style sleep-dreaming time, which is one reason sleep deprivation is so unhealthy. It seems reasonable to suggest that the odd bits of midday “dreaming” serve beneficial purposes, too.

But I certainly don’t feel brain-deprived. Maybe it depends on what you’re doing with your smartphone. Playing “Bejeweled” should certainly leave some time for background daydreaming, I think. I don’t even feel mentally stressed when playing little games like that, at least. I guess if you’re spending that idle time working on email and whatnot, then your brain never gets a rest. I do know some people who seem to be addicted to what I call brain-drenaline, a constant state of thinking. They can’t stand to not be thinking every minute of the day, and get really irritable when there’s nothing to think about.

But most of my idle smartphone time is spent doing want I call “random exploration.” I spent an hour one time, sitting in an airport, learning about how macaroni is made, because I’d seen an ad for mac & cheese and idly wondered how big-scale food companies make millions of little pasta pieces. There was no applied use for the information, but I know it now. I’m fascinating at cocktail parties, by the way, once everyone’s had just enough to drink that they care about an endless stream of entirely random facts. Sometimes that’s a lot of drinking. Anyway.

It’s possible that my “random exploration” time, probably a compulsive response to the obsessive desire to not be bored, is achieving what the report talks about when it mentions the benefits of boredom. I hate being bored, so maybe this is the boredom-response they’re talking about.

I know there’s value in unstructured brain-play time. I sometimes get great ideas when I’m just waiting to doze off on an airplane. But even before smartphones, I’m not sure I ever had the kind of daydreaming time that this report suggests I might need. I always had a book with me. My peers all had Gameboys. There was always something to do. Otherwise, as one person in the report said, I’d be terribly bored, and I hate being bored.

Give the report a listen – it’s only about 6 minutes long. What do you think? Has your smartphone left you less time for daydreaming? Are you going to disconnect and see if you can survive?

Microsoft Ignite’s Sessions Should Be… Interesting.

Just got the Call for Speakers for Ignite. It’s a… different… process this year. In the past, speakers would propose entire sessions to TechEd, including descriptions, audience profile, etc.

Not anymore.

Now, you’re allowed to propose yourself for up to three “topics.” Windows PowerShell isn’t on the list, but there’s an “Other” checkbox so you can do a write-in. “IT Pro” and “Admin” are no longer audience descriptors; now we’re “IT Influencers and Implementers.” And there’s no place for you to actually propose a session – presumably, you’ll be contacted with “suggestions” on what you should present. It says they’r “work with the speakers and content managers to create the best session possible,” so that’s hopeful.

Weird, though. I guess I understand Microsoft’s desire to more closely manage the content being presented, as opposed to just taking whatever speakers suggest, but it seems like it’ll be pretty easy for the Ivory Tower effect to kick in, resulting in the event only having sessions that Microsoft thinks are important. I guess we’ll see how it goes.

I’m going anyway; I’ll see you in the expo hall if nothing else.

“We Shouldn’t Need Encryption”

With all the news about encryption and security breaches (here’s a recent one), I thought I’d share a conversation I recently had with a security-expert friend of mine. These are largely his views, not mine, but I found them interesting and thought you might, too.

“We should learn to live without encryption” was his main, broad point. He justified that by saying, “everyone knows that ‘security through obscurity’ is no security at all, and encryption is by and large just over-the-top obfuscation. Any encryption can be broken eventually, and all data is decrypted somewhere at some point, and so we should learn to live without the obscurity.”

For some context, his comments were largely about payment information. “We’ve always relied on no one knowing your credit card number to protect that number; obviously, tons of people are exposed to the number. Encrypting the number is pointless, because as we’ve seen it always gets decrypted someplace. The new trend of one-time authorization numbers [used in systems like Apple Pay as well as EMV cards] is better. We don’t need to encrypt the data, because it’s only good that one time. It doesn’t matter if someone else sees it, because they can’t use it. It’s a system where the data is essentially valueless, and so we don’t feel the need to obfuscate it.”

He acknowledges that, when it comes to what he calls “human data,” the argument gets more complicated. “When you’re talking about the contents of a chat message, or an e-mail, it’s a little harder. The data is intrinsically valuable to at least you, and therefore likely to hold value for someone else. You can’t easily de-value that data the way you would a payment authorization number, because the value is in the semantics of the data itself. So we continue encrypting.”

He still feels the current PKI- and shared secret-based encryption mechanisms aren’t ideal. “What would be better,” he says, “is a system where encryption uses a one-time key that actually changes throughout the data transmission.” He’s a math genius, so he dumbed it down by comparing the process to one of those authorization tokens, like an RSA token or the Google Authenticator app. “Both ends of the conversation know the sequence of numbers, and they move through the sequence at a rate of one number per ten seconds or something. So the encryption key is known only to each party, and it changes constantly, even over the course of a single conversation.”

Data at-rest, he says, could use similar rotating-key encryption to better protect against decryption. But he says we should apply the technique only in cases where it’s literally impossible to make the data valueless, because we’re ultimately still relying on obscurity.

Obviously, all this business with “you shouldn’t be encrypting data on your smartphone” has him fuming. Even allowing for cultural differences in privacy expectations, it just makes him nuts that the government wants to dive into content whenever it wants.

Anyway… thoughts? It’s an interesting conversation, for me, and I’d love to hear what you think.

PSA: Get Your Life in Order

First, this article is not intended to provide factual, reliable legal advice. I urge you to consult an attorney. The purpose of this article is to provide some basic familiarization, and to illustrate how relatively straightforward this process is.

Second, while you can do-it-yourself anything that’s described herein, you shouldn’t. In my experience, a lawyer will charge you $1,000-$2,000 for this whole kit and caboodle, and it’s worth the money. Each jurisdiction has its unique idiosyncrasies, many of which aren’t in written law but are rather the result of court cases over the years. A lawyer will be familiar with those specifics.

Is your life in order? I ask because this is something I’ve gone through recently, and am going through again. The irritating tendency of we humans is that we don’t like to think about bad eventualities, and so we tend to procrastinate doing what we know is the right thing. In the end, though, we just make life more difficult for our loved ones. If you own any kind of property, investment, insurance policy, or anything, you should be planning for what happens to those things if you die or are incapacitated. If you are human and might be other than 100% healthy, at any point in your life, then you should plan for that contingency also. And it isn’t difficult!

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That Time with Tasha Yar’s Underwear

This is a story I enjoy telling at the bar over a whiskey. but it’s time the broader world was told.

Back in my high-school-and-immediately-after days (think early 90s), I helped run local science fiction conventions in Virginia Beach. One of those, Beach Trek, was especially fun. Our first big year, we invited actress Denise Crosby, who’d played Tasha Yar in the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation. She reprised her role, and that of a Romulan, several times throughout that series’ run. I was assigned to escort Denise around the convention, make sure she got to the right places at the right times, and help our security folks keep attendees from crowding her.

She was SUCH a good sport
She was SUCH a good sport

Denise was a great lady. Really friendly, and with a great sense of humor. From which comes our story today.

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Making a Help-ier Help Desk: Is This the List?

Your comments in a previous blog post were a huge help in identifying some of the areas where you think incoming entry-level help desk job candidates need education. My basic question is, “what should a new help desk job candidate know on day 1?”

Communication skills was a common item on many lists, and although that’s certainly a difficult topic to teach, it’s included in the below attachment. I’m calling that one out specifically because… well, there’s a lot of personality involved that just can’t be taught easily. Some people are just naturally more patient than others, whether by genetics or by upbringing. But, there’s no doubt that it’s important to cover.

Anyway, have a look at the attached. Ignoring Linux and Mac for the moment (not that they aren’t important, just that they’re not where I started), let me know if this draft list seems to be missing anything major.

Keep in mind that we’d all love for new job candidates to show up fully educated and ready to roll – but we mostly know that doesn’t happen. That’s why they’re called ‘entry-level’ jobs, of course! So I’m trying to not make this list comprehensive, but rather include just the things that a brand-new, young IT person could be expected to know their first day on a new job.

If there’s anything missing, drop it in the comments. I know some of these don’t have a super-ton of detail, so if there’s a majorly important detail that you think might be missing, feel free to leave that also.

Audience-wise, I’d love for this material to be available to high schoolers, anyone considering a two-year career college (in IT administration, of course, not other tracks), and so on. So I’m trying to keep the material at that kind of level. Not that a high schooler is dumb, but I’m not going to hit them with the full ITIL right out of the gate, either.

I’m not trying to target the material to someone who’s merely enthusiastic about computers, but not necessarily considering a job in them. This is for someone who’s goal is to get a job in the IT department of a company or other organization.

Technology Fundamentals Draft

Is Your House Thief-Resistant?

As some of my close friends know, my house was broken into while I was on vacation near the end of October. We didn’t lose much of monetary value, although the sentimental value and overall emotional impact was pretty high. We learned a lot – we have cameras in the house, so we were able to watch the robbery in progress (yeah, that was painful). So I thought I’d share some lessons and take-aways.

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