Happy Nearly New Year

As we prepare to say goodbye to 2016, and “yo” to 2017, I wanted to let you know something I’m going to try and do next year.

When I started this blog, I made it a point to blog every week something I’d learned about careers in IT, with a hope that it might help some of you see your own career in a slightly different light. Then, for a couple of years, I kind of gave up and didn’t do much of anything on this blog, apart from announcing DevOps Camp and bitching about CenturyLink.

So for 2017, I’m going to try and get back in the saddle and blog every week. Probably a lot of career stuff, honestly, because it fascinates me. Probably other stuff, too, but I’ll try and make it all helpful. You can help me do that by commenting on the posts – let me know what’s useful and what’s not. Please. And I’ll still likely post other random crap, but I’ll schedule the important stuff for Thursdays. Every week. Random stuff on other days, so you know when to tune out, if you want.

I hope you enjoy. Any support you care to offer would be really appreciated, because January 5th is looming, and I just now realized there are around fifty-one Thursdays in 2017. Urp.

My No-Laptop Conference Experiment

For a while now, I’ve been wanting to lighten my travel load. I currently carry a MacBook Pro 13″ from mid-2014. It’s a great machine, and I really like it, but its weight is non-zero, and it comes with the usual raft of accessories – video dongles, power brick, and whatnot. Thing is, for the most part, I need very little when I’m on the road other than the basic Office apps, email access, and a Web browser. The gotcha is when I present at a conference, when I need to run 2-3 VMs, which the MBPs 16GB of RAM does just fine.

So for the recent TechMentor Orlando, I decided to conduct an experiment. I brought my laptop as Plan B, but resolved to try and teach entirely from my iPad. My iPad Mini, to be precise, equipped with an Apple Bluetooth keyboard and Lightning-to-HDMI dongle. If the experiment worked, the plan was to shift to a 12.9″ iPad Pro as my only travel computer.

To handle my lab VMs, I turned to Azure, where I get a $150 monthly credit as an MVP. I used the Marketplace to create three VMs: A Windows 10 client, a Win2016 DC, and a Win2016 SQL Server. I left these spun down and deallocated until the morning of my sessions, and then spun them up. They’re all quite decently equipped in terms of CPU and RAM, but they only cost about $10 a day to run out of my credit. When stopped, they literally cost a few cents a day for storage. I planned to use Microsoft’s iOS RDP client to connect to them.

Everything worked like a charm. I tested the connection over my T-Mobile service (the iPad is on my cell plan), and over the conference’s general WiFi (not even the speaker-exclusive, less-crowded network). Worked great both ways. My only hiccups were around getting used to the RDP client, and in the Bluetooth keyboard. There’s a quirk in iOS where it won’t recognize modifier keys on BT keyboards – so Ctrl, Alt, and Windows didn’t work. The RDP client provides a “supplemental key bar” with those modifiers, and once I figured that out, it was OK. The iPad Pro’s hard-connected keyboard does support modifier keys, so that’ll be even better.

I also accomplished all my usual daily work on the iPad, despite it’s tiny screen (again, the Pro will solve that). Updating Pluralsight’s master catalog documents from email status reports was easy thanks to the split-screen view. Video conferencing worked great thanks to a native Blue Jeans client. Skype calls were smooth. Email and Web browsing were obviously fine (I use both Safari and Chrome on iOS). We use Google Drive and its related apps a lot, and both those and the Office apps worked very well. I even presented a couple of slides using Keynote (I like its presentation mode better) on the iPad.

So I’m pretty much sold. I’ll have an iMac at home (I really love the sharpness on the 5K screen). Apple’s iCloud Drive works much like Microsoft’s OneDrive to keep all my documents in the cloud where the iPad can reach them (so there’s no need to explicitly sync documents when preparing for travel), and nearly every app I need has an iOS version. And for tasks like Visual Studio, I have an Azure VM already set up to run from the iPad, although I don’t need that on the road all that often.

You could do something almost exactly the same using a Surface, of course, and those weigh in almost to the ounce as much as an 12.9″ iPad. I just personally prefer macOS on my daily machine, so iOS makes a better companion to that. But if you’re in the Windows world, a Surface could easily be your travel computer, and for a lot of people your full-time machine as well. And, the PC ecosystem has a lot of super-lightweight-yet-powerful options, including some great choices from Lenovo. As I said, I’m personally very attached to macOS, not Windows client, and so my setup makes more sense for me.

I’m really keen to see Microsoft’s new breed of pocket computer (I’m not sure calling them “phones” is valid anymore) that can go from your pocket to a big-screen desktop monitor and be your only computer. All in all, it’s just amazing how far these gadgets have come in the last few years. Provided you can have Internet connectivity for certain things, a tablet really can replace a PC in a lot of ways. I expect companies like Microsoft and Apple to continue blurring that line, too. I mean, we feel really close to a world where you slot your tablet into the side of a 5K monitor for working and home, and just slide it out when you’re ready to hit the road with a lighter-weight device.

My TechMentor Orlando 2016 Samples

Sorry this took so long to get posted – this past week’s been a blur. These are the scripts and files I produced during my TechMentor Orlando 2016 sessions.

OneDrive link: https://1drv.ms/u/s!AuGg59ik-MChhS8vhHbcUm6cYNrk

And in case that doesn’t work: scripts

You Need to Rethink that “Jump Server.”

If you’ve been following the news (oh look, Yahoo was hacked again), then you know that everyone’s a target for hacking. I’ve explained before that even companies in the “we don’t have anything anyone would want to hack” do, in fact, have something someone would want to hack – often information that can stepping-stone the attacker to what they really want.

I also know a lot of you out there rely on “jump servers.” You are asking for a cyber punch in the throat.

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A US Electoral College Primer for Foreigners

(This is about politics, but it won’t be political). Many of my non-US friends are looking at our post-election cycle and wondering “WTF, guys?” They primarily live in parliamentarian countries, and the US electoral system is indeed a bit Byzantine from that perspective. So here’re the basics:

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Remember “SysOp?”

I was a SysOp.

In the 1980s, I helped run the BBS for TCUG, the Tidewater Commodore Users’ Group. It ran on a C-64, and ran ColorBBS. I was a SysOp again in my first IT job, which was night-shift AS/400 Operator. I ran backups, mainly. Mmm, mag tape.

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