Category: Articles

My Business Trip to North Dakota, a Tale of Contrasts

Over a workweek, I was on a business trip to the Great State of North Dakota.

I arrived at the Denver shuttle parking lot and parked my car. The driver promptly arrived and handed a slip of paper with the incorrect parking space number. I couldn’t blame him for that too much. The number for my parking space was faded and unreadable. The number he gave me was pretty close but I noted the correct number on the slip. We shouldn’t have problems when we get back.

The driver whisked us off. The other parkers and I arrived at the circus-tent terminal within a few minutes. If you’ve seen or been to DIA, you’d know what I mean.

Getting through security was no more of an ordeal than usual. The pre-check line was almost as long as the regular line. The pompous TSA agents instructed us what to do. I wouldn’t classify their pomposity as a character flaw. They have hundreds and hundreds of people in the security line and have to keep the lines moving. I drew some attention from the agents when I forgot to remove my watch, but the matter was quickly resolved and I was on my way.

I boarded the airport train to Terminal B, rode the up escalator then stepped on people movers and walked to the faaaaaaaaaaaaaaaar end of the airport. Then I stepped on the down escalator. Down because my plane is too short to reach the jetway for the adult planes. Then I walked and walked until I finally reached gate 95 at the very far end of the concourse. It took almost an hour from the time I arrived at the airport until the time I arrived at the gate.

The gate personnel informed us the plane was too small for carry-ons. We would need to check our bags. No charge. The plane departed on time and reached Fargo, ND a few minutes early. When we arrived, the terminal was deserted except for an agent who informed us we can collect our bags at baggage claim.

I only waited a few minutes before my bag was spat out onto the baggage carousel. Right next to the baggage carousel was car rental. No need to hop on a shuttle and ride several miles to pick up my car. When I reported to pick up my car at National Car Rental, the agent handed my keys and paperwork and instructed me to pick up my car in the Enterprise Car Rental parking area at slot #13. No shuttle. Just a short walk through the bitter North Dakota cold.

My company reserved a room for me at the Grand Forks La Quinta Inn. The 75-mile trip was uneventful. My work assignment the next day went smoothly and was also uneventful.

The next day, I would drive to Bismark, more than four hours away. The directions I on Google Maps seemed complicated. I was worried I might get lost so I decided to spend a few extra minutes and stay on the Interstate highways. Google maps on my phone instructed me to get off the highway before the exit I planned but I thought it was taking me over a shortcut. Then Google tried to send me in the opposite direction from where I needed to go. I got back on the highway and took the exit I had originally planned on. I reprogrammed my phone and arrived at my destination on-time because I allowed extra time to get there. Due to system problems which were not my fault, my endeavor in Bismark was unsuccessful.

At the end of the day, I drove all the way back to Grand Forks. The drive was uneventful, and unlike my morning trip, my drive home was during the day. I listened to reports on the radio covering soybean and wheat futures. That was about all I could get. On my way back where I could actually see, I learned there is no scenery in North Dakota.

My next trip was to Minot, more than three hours away. My morning drive would be mostly in the dark. Google on my phone got me going in the right direction. After I turned left on US 2, it told me to keep going another 202 miles. After a few miles, it told me to take the exit to the Air Force base. That can’t be right. I kept going then it told me to turn right at the next intersection, and every intersection after that. I was worried. I THINK I’m going in the right direction. I re-entered my destination into the phone and it started to send me where I thought I should go. But I was worried. I was halfway to Minot before I saw a sign telling me Minot was 100 miles ahead. I arrived in Minot before my appointed time. Minot is a small city with big city traffic.

The activity at Minot was unsuccessful. I headed back to Grand Forks, listening to the soybean and wheat future reports. There is no scenery between Minot and Grand Forks.

North Dakota does not have scenery, but it does have nice rest stops. there were several between Grand Forks and Bismark. The road between Grand Forks and Minot is not an Interstate but the highway has two rest stops. The rest stops are even clean. Colorado has rest stops, but many of them have been closed.

My last workday was in Fargo. I drove the 75 miles from Grand Forks and successfully completed the assignment. Then back to the airport. The rental car return was easy. Park in any open spot in the rental car lot, grab the miles and bring back the keys. I arrived at the wrong counter and handed over the keys. They asked me how everything was and I told time everything was terrific. Then I realized I was at the wrong counter. No problem they said, all the car rentals were run by …

PowerShell Remoting

In my most recent blog, I commented on Windows without windows. I was (and am) somewhat skeptical about Microsoft’s push to discourage the Graphical User Interface (GUI) interface on Windows servers. The GUI interface is more intuitive than PowerShell, but when managing a farm of remote servers, PowerShell can be more convenient and practical.

I worked in a redundant environment where some applications would run on over a dozen servers. When I deployed application updates, I would verify my work. Checking the status of an application by individually logging onto GUIs on a dozen or more servers would have been daunting and time consuming. Checking the status with PowerShell remoting is quicker, easier, and can be scripted.

There are several different PowerShell remoting commands. Many PowerShell commands have the “-computername” option in which an administrator can run a command on a local computer and execute the command over the network on one or multiple remote computers. That can be more efficient than signing on to multiple computers and running commands via the GUI.

Three common ways to PowerShell remote are:

Invoke-command -scriptblock {command} -computername {name(s) of computers separated by commas} [-Credential ]
You can place almost any PowerShell command between the curly braces. This is handy for PowerShell commands that don’t have the -computername option, or other commands that wouldn’t otherwise work remotely.
You can use the -credential option if you need to pass a logon and password.
A handy way to do that is:
$credential = get-credential

The above command will prompt for the logon and put encrypted credentials into a PowerShell variable
-credential is often unneeded in a domain environment and often needed needed in a workstation environment.

Invoke-command Example:
invoke-command -scriptblock {get process} -computername computer01, computer02 -Credential $credential

Another PowerShell remoting methodology is to open remote shell:
New-pssession {computer name remoting to} [-Credential ]
Enter-pssession {computer name remoting to} [-Credential ]
-credential is optional depending upon your environment

Finally, many PowerShell commands have the -computername option.
Example:
get-service -computername computer01,computer02

Unfortunately many of these commands do not have the -credential paramater. Using commands in a non-domain environment may be problematic.

Remote PowerShell doesn’t always work “out of the box”

The setup can vary depending if the client and destination computers on a workstation computer or a domain computer.

In general, these are the necessary set-up commands:

Remote computer: Enable-PSRemoting
Client computer (this is the computer you are remoting from):
set-item wsman:\localhost\Client\TrustedHosts -value [computer name/s or “*”)

You can check the value by:
get-item wsman:\localhost\Client\TrustedHosts

Some remoting commands require special setup. For example,
get-process requires the remoteregistry service to be running on the destination computer

Summary

Remote Desktop (RDP) with the GUI is an intuitive way of managing computers. If you are monitoring or managing just one or two computers, RDP with GUI can be the way to go. If you are managing a bunch of computers, PowerShell remoting can be handier, easier, and more efficient.

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Windows Server Without Windows

In a recent blog post of mine, I said “New technology and ideas don ‘t come along very often. New ideas are often regurgitated old ideas.”

I have another example. Microsoft is moving away from the Graphical User Interface (GUI) for its Windows servers. GUI based Windows servers are now discouraged in favor of the “recommended” Server Core. Microsoft is now encouraging Windows server administrators to configure Windows without any windows. Remember MS-DOS? Wikipedia says “it was gradually superseded by operating systems offering a graphical user interface (GUI)”. I doubt if GUI based “Windows” servers will be “gradually superseded” by non-GUI servers but “Windows” administrators will be and are encouraged to do all their administration work via PowerShell.

I understand the reasoning for Server Core. No windows mean less resource consumption. It means a smaller attack surface. The downside is Server Core is not “intuitive”. Even with the Graphical User Interface, administering a Windows server takes training and experience. Server Core is designed to be administered with PowerShell. PowerShell has come a long way since it was first introduced but PowerShell is not intuitive. Server Core administrators will need to remember a vast set of esoteric PowerShell commands. Thankfully, PowerShell has a rather extensive help and fortunately, Server Core is not entirely command line. GUI commands such as notepad and regedit still work.

I’m trying to keep an open mind when it comes to Server Core but I am also somewhat skeptical. GUI based Windows servers are designed to be “intuitive”. I don’t always need to remember the exact details about how to configure a component. If I’m not sure how to configure a component, the Graphical User Interface can often guide me through the process. Not so much with Server Core. Help might guide me, but I need to remember the exact PowerShell command or at least part of the command to use Help.

It’s a good idea to be able to work on either kind of server. For that reason, I’m running Server Core in my home lab alongside GUI Windows servers. Should an interesting employment opportunity come along, I want to have the skills to meet the prospective employer’s needs. You never know when the boss will come to you and say “Hey Bob, I need you to build and manage a Server Core server for a new application”. I’m not going to say “I don’t know how to manage Server Core, see Joe”.​…

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Google for Jobs

I’ve been a job seeker for a while and every morning, I go search through several job boards – Indeed, LinkedIn, Dice, Monster, Career Builder, Glassdoor, and ZipRecruiter. I know there are a BUNCH of job boards, but I decided to do a Google search to see if I was missing any. I learned I was using the most common boards. After my research I added Linkup to my job search engines. Several of the lists mentioned Google for Jobs.

I never heard of Google for Jobs, and even after Googling Google for Jobs, I had difficulty figuring out how to use it. Google for Jobs is not a separate website. It’s not a different URL either. Then I looked on Youtube I learned there’s a “secret” search string.

When using Google for Jobs, the first search keyword is “jobs”. Then enter the job title or job keyword, then enter the city. For example,

jobs manager denver

Google will provide the results in a highlighted window in the search results. And BTW, Google for Jobs doesn’t work very well in I.E. You might not achieve the desired result. When using Google for Jobs, I recommend Chrome.

Click the blue bar on top of the Google for Jobs Window and you can refine the job search such as date posted, etc.

Google for Jobs aggregates jobs from employer websites and multiple job boards. I find jobs from boards I don’t normally use, and from boards I use all the time. If a job is posted on multiple sites, Google will combine them into a single page and give you the option about which board to apply on.

One caution is sometimes less than savory job boards will scrape jobs from other job boards or employer sites. You click on the posting and it asks for your email before providing job information. Then it sends you to a listing of irrelevant jobs. I find that annoyingly common on Google for Jobs, but see it on other job boards too. After a while, you will be able to recognize the phony job boards. Just don’t be tempted to give them a good email address. I have an email I use when I don’t want to give my email out. Essentially, it’s for spam. I can still look in my spambox to make sure I don’t miss anything important, but having a spambox reduces the spam in my primary inbox.

It’s not a good idea to use Google for Jobs as your sole search tool, but it is a terrific way to find job postings that you might have otherwise have missed. I see job postings from boards I don’t ordinarily use but I also see jobs I missed from boards I regularly use.…

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Book Review: In My Own Words Ruth Bader Ginsburg

I like to read political books. Although I consider myself to be a conservative, I read books from varying political points of view. Any writing from Ruth Bader Ginsburg would most definitely be a liberal point of view. In her book, she unabashedly calls herself a liberal.
I was expecting her book to be autobiographical. Although her book did contain a biographical component, most of the book consisted of her writings, speeches, and court opinions.

Eighth Grade Opinion Piece

One of the first passages from her book was an opinion piece from her eighth-grade newspaper. She wrote about the five greatest writings of all time, the Ten Commandments, the Magna Carta, the British Bill of Rights, The US Declaration of Independence, and the UN Charter. Nothing about the US Constitution. Keep in mind this is a writing of an eighth-grader.

Part of her writing horrified me. She wrote about how the Magna Carta “gave the English peasants the first rights ever granted to them”. Rights being granted ??!! No, No, No, our rights weren’t granted. The Constitution doesn’t grant rights. Rights are natural, given by God. The Constitution doesn’t grant rights, it guarantees rights. Then I calmed down and remembered it was written by an eighth-grader and she was talking about the Magna Carta, not the Constitution. Interesting point though. The British get their rights from the Magna Carta and Americans get our rights from God?

Strong Believer in Women’ Rights and Affirmative Action

A large part of the book discusses her opinions on Women’s rights. She is a strong advocate for women’s rights. I guess I can’t blame her for that, she is a woman after all. She also devotes chapters to her opinions about affirmative action. She is a strong believer in affirmative action.

Foreign and International Law

She makes some interesting points about citations of foreign and international law. These kinds of citations have been used by both conservative and liberal justices. There is some controversy about whether or not these are appropriate in American court opinions. Her point was that foreign and international law are not used as legal president, but as reasoning to justify a court opinion.

I thought she made an interesting point about dissenting court opinions. She wrote about several of her dissents especially when she was on the losing side regarding women’s rights and affirmative action. Her point was dissenting opinions can spur the legislature to take action and pass laws to correct deficiencies that led to unfavorable court opinions.

Summary

In summary, if you are expecting an autobiography you will probably be disappointed. If you want to read a book about what makes Ruth Bader Ginsburg “tick”, the book will not disapoint. My timing for reading her book worked out very well. Just as I finished her book and returned it to the library, I checked out a book I had on reserve. The book? A Republic, If You Can Keep It. By Neal Gorsuch.​…

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Cloud Computing, a Really Old Idea

I’ve been an IT geek for many years. One of the things I noticed is computers get faster, memory increases and disks get bigger. New technology and ideas don ‘t come along very often. New ideas are often regurgitated old ideas.

Take for example, “The Cloud”. When I took training classes on Microsoft Azure, my first thought was “this reminds me of “timesharing”. In the olden days of computers, when computers were really expensive, few businesses, let alone people could afford them. Instead, businesses and schools would buy time. They would “share” computers with others, and only pay for the cycles (“time”) they used. No need to buy a new computer, pay only for what you use. Sound familiar?

Computers are now relatively inexpensive, so why is the cloud so popular? The advantage of the “cloud” is there is no need to get capital approval to buy the computer. There is no need to wait for the computer to ship. No need to install the OS. Need a new computer, go to the cloud and poof! you can have a fully functional computer in minutes. I remember going to a storeroom so see if I can find a decommissioned computer to meet my needs, Then I would search through the racks looking for rack space then lug the computer into the data center. I would need to find a power outlet, a port on the switch, then run a cable from the computer to the switch.

The cloud makes things so easy. No big capital outlays. And THAT can be a problem. Maybe the cloud makes things too easy. Setting up services in the cloud is so easy, if your company does not have a strong approval process, costs can easily get out of control.

Don’t get me wrong. The cloud has many advantages. The cloud is ideal for temporary projects, testing and proof of concepts. The cloud may be ideal for smaller companies that do not have the funds for capital outlays or to build out a data center. The cloud can save money for short term projects, but keep in mind that over time, costs of the cloud can add up. Short term savings can end up being a financial drain in the long term.​…

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The Declaration of Independence, more than words on paper; Writing a Compelling Blog


This is the eighth article in my series for Toastmasters Leadership Development, Level 4, Write a Compelling Blog

The Declaration of Independence is the most eloquent, provocative, and powerful document ever written by mortal men. What can be more eloquent than “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.“? And what about these words… “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it“…. People have the Right to abolish their government?. Provacative even today. But words that give the Declaration of Independence its real power are the closing words….”we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor” The signers were willing to put everything on the line to achieve American independence. Everything. Of the 56 men who pledged their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor, nine of the signers died in the war, five of those were tortured to death and twelve of them lost their homes and farms.

One of the heroic signers reminded me of the Lee Greenwood song, God Bless the USA. First of all, the Declaration of Independence was the first time the words United States of America (USA) were put on paper. When John Hart signed the Document he became a hunted man. For a year, he hid in caves and the forest. When he returned to his estate, it was looted and destroyed.

If tomorrow all the things were gone
I worked for all my life
And I had to start again
With just my children and my wife

All the things he worked for all his life were gone.
Hart couldn’t start over with his children and his wife.
You see, when he returned, his wife was dead. His children were scattered to the four winds, never to be seen again.

I thank my lucky stars
To be living here today
‘Cause the flag still stands for freedom
And they can’t take that away

Yes, the thirteen-star flag did stand for freedom.
But they can’t take that away?
That wasn’t a sure thing. Not by a longshot.
Our nation was in a fight for its very survival. No, the British didn’t “take that away”, but they sure tried and almost did.

The story of John Hart was an extraordinary story of heroism. His story is only one of 56. Read about all of their stories. Watch a Youtube video. And don’t ever let anyone tell you the signers were nothing but a bunch of old white aristocrats. They were much more. They heroes one-and-all. We owe our great nation to them.…

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The New Toastmasters Pathways Program; Writing a Compelling Blog

This is the seventh article in my series for Toastmasters Leadership Development, Level 4, Write a Compelling Blog.

Introduction

Toastmasters is a formal do-at-your-own-pace education program. There are no “grades” just volunteers working together to develop their communication and leadership skills. Starting March 2018, Toastmasters from Colorado, Western Nebraska, and Eastern Wyoming, embarked on a brand new program known as “Pathways”. Members take an assessment which will recommend a program customized for the needs of each member. Each member is free to follow the recommended path or follow an entirely different path. Details on the paths are here: https://d4tm.org/pathways/paths-and-projects.html

The previous Toastmasters “education” program is scheduled to be phased out at the end of June 2020. After that, Toastmasters will not be able to earn awards under the old program. New members are currently able earn awards only under the new Pathways program. I earned my third Distinguished Toastmaster (DTM) award just after the new program started. Upon earning my third DTM, I immediately started on the new Pathways program.

What is Pathways all About?

Pathways is a complete revamp of the Toastmasters program. It brings Toastmasters into the modern age. I remembered the old days when Toastmasters presentations were done with overhead slides and projectors. Millennials, do you even know what those are? Toastmasters projects were on paper manuals. Now, new Toastmasters select two paths. All the materials are on-line. Members take on-line self-assessments and view online videos. That’s quite an upgrade from before!

I’ve was in Toastmasters for many years before Pathways began so Pathways is quite an adjustment for me. I’m certain many of the older Toastmasters are having an even more difficult time adjusting. I’m a lifelong computer geek and I admit the transition is difficult even for me. I can only imagine how difficult things are for the non-technical oldtimers.

I try not to resist change. Officers in Toastmasters are expected to be advocates of the new program. As a club officer and former high-ranking District officer, I’m doing my best to be supportive. Fortunately for me, the timing worked out. I completed my traditional DTM program just as the new program was starting. I didn’t have to worry about rushing to complete my awards before the deadline. As time runs out, I know quite a few Toastmasters who are now rushing to complete their DTM’s. Personally, I hope Toastmasters extends the deadline.

Having completed the “traditional” program and earning three Distinguished Toastmaster Awards, I know the “traditional” program inside and out. I’m still learning Pathways. My two complaints about Pathways are Pathways prescribes that projects be done in a certain order. Under the traditional program, completing projects out of order was discouraged but possible and done all the time. My biggest complaint is that levels in Pathways need to be signed off before a Toastmaster can proceed to the next level. If club officers are slow in signing off on completion of a Pathways level, then the member is stuck in limbo and unable to proceed to the next level.

Conclusion

Pathways brings Toastmasters into the modern age. This blog is part of a Pathways project.There was no place for this kind of modern project under the older program. Even so, I am still reserving judgment. I don’t want to be an old fuddy-duddy and resist Pathways, but I’m not sure if I’m ready to enthusiastically support it either.…

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The Bill of Rights, More than the First Ten Amendments; Writing a compelling Blog

This is the sixth article in my series for Toastmasters Leadership Development, Level 4, Write a Compelling Blog

A number of years ago, an extra copy of the Bill of Rights was discovered. The document went on a tour of cities all over the country. When the document arrived in Denver, Colorado I took the opportunity to see it. I was surprised to discover the Bill of Rights has twelve amendments, not ten. I can attest that I now know the bill of rights has twelve amendments because I saw it with my own eyes.

The framers of the Constitution were worried that the new Constitution would not be ratified by the states so they proposed a series of amendments (what became known as the Bill of Rights) to make passage more likely. Ten of the twelve amendments passed rather quickly, two of the amendments did not.

The original first amendment was not about freedom of speech, religion, press, or the right to petition the government. The original second amendment was not about the right to keep and bear arms. The original first amendment was about the number of representatives and the size of their congressional districts. The second amendment was about congressional pay. The second amendment actually passed, but not until 1992 when it ratified as the 27th Amendment. One can, therefore, argue that the Bill of Rights consists of the first ten and the 27th Amendment.
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Godaddy Review, Writing a Compelling Blog

This is the fifth article in my series for Toastmasters Leadership Development, Level 4, Write a Compelling Blog

I’ve been a Godaddy customer for many years now. I use their domain registration, email, hosting, and a variety of other services. This website is hosted by Godaddy. Godaddy’s costs are a little high compared to other companies, but not overly so. Definitely not high enough for me to seriously consider changing providers. Actually, Godaddy often has promotions that make signing up for new services very reasonable. Call tech support and request help. They will email a survey. Fill out the survry and you will get 30% when you sign up for a new service. They also email unsolicited promotions. Same deal – sign up for a new service and get 30% off. Years ago, they would email promotions get 30% off any order. I would wait for the promotion, then renew. Can’t do that any more. They still send 30% of promotions, but their coupons are only good for new orders, never renewals. One way to get around that is to convert your old service to a new service. If you upgrade to a different but similar service, you may be able to save money with the discount.

I do call Godaddy’s tech support on occasion. They have 24×7 tech support, hold times are reasonable, rarely more than a few minutes. The call centers are Stateside. I never get techs with indecipherable accents. The reps are always personable, polite, and professional. They listen, and attempt to resolve my problem. Sometimes they are able to help, other times they don’t/can’t/won’t resolve my problem.

Recently, I received an email alert about a down website. I called tech support. The person at the end of the line was very personable and friendly. He investigated the problem, then informed me that I would need to pay for a plan for them to help me fix it. I declined and fixed the problem myself. More than once they told me the help I am asking for is beyond the scope of the normal tech support. They tell me I can purchase an extended tech support plan and open a ticket. “Usually” they will resolve my problem within 24 hours. Or they tell me I need to upgrade my service because the plan I’m on only offers very basic services, and I should be on a better (more expensive) plan. I am purposefully being non specific about the details to aviod revealing problems I have run into or technical information about the services I subscribe to.

I do occaaionally get calls from Goddaddy. The ask me how things are going, then go into a pitch trying me to upgrade my plan or buy additional services. One time they called to tell me I was using too much disk space then tried to get me to upgrade my plan. So they were bringing a technical problem to my attention. I investigated and found a very large file I didn’t need and deleted it. I didn’t need a more expensive plan.

Summary

Overall, I think Godaddy offers decent services at a reasonable price. Whenever sigining up for a new service check for discount codes. If you allow them to upsell you, ask for a discount. More than likely there is a discount code you can use. Once you are signed up, plan on paying full price for future renewalls. Godaddy has friendly Stateside tech support, but be prepaired for an upsell whenever you call them. …