Most of the time I love tech support. We do important work for people ranging from other support professionals to lay people who are not comfortable with their computer or anything new. Sometimes this involves some truly odd requests or comments.
Some of this week’s gems include:
Fun with LDAP connection strings. I learned a lot about them and AD best practices this week. Here were the sources I used this week.
The end result (which I am sure everyone but me knew) is that you can completely drop the organizational units (OUs) from your string. Especially important if you have a complex Active Directory forest(s).
Some people think that version x.x.6 is more recent than x.x.28. I pretty much had to dig through my email for the actual release dates.
That anti-virus software can and will completely slow down a computer.
Not really news, but seeing the software you support load in chunks is weird. In related news, at least this specific anti-virus didn’t quarantine the executable when printing.
Lastly, I was offered a tip for tech support. That was also a bit odd. I made some comment about ethics in games journalism and politely said no thank you.
Fortunately, there is a viable solution that will hopefully minimize this issue in the future. I just wish for the sakes of the people affected that this solution had presented itself when this was being initiated so many years ago.
Last semester I took an introduction to logic circuits with Dr. Jeff Ashley. Dr. Ashley was engaging and excited about his subject matter, all things that make being a student an easier experience. However, as a non-traditional student, one of the things he said (repeatedly too) was very important to me.
He reiterated during the semester that you need to do a little bit every day or so in order to learn the material, keep skills sharp, and fine tune your understanding. In his end of the semester email he suggested specific things that students could do in order to be successful in the semesters and years ahead.
The first time I went to college, I was attempting a biochemistry, Japanese studies double major. Each summer I worked in the college library system, and while it paid the bills and was work I loved, it was also a sign that I was short changing myself. By being risk averse I did not treat my summer as an opportunity to continue learning. The summer between my sophomore and junior years most of the students went to Japan. It showed, and it was built into the teachers’ expectations of the students. Myself and the other student who didn’t make the trip did not compare favorably to our peers.
I find the fall semester the easier semester, because I now use that summer break to refine skills on Codecademy, pre-study for fall courses on Coursera, or try something new.
What makes this most interesting to me is that it is a practice used by top professionals in the open source tech industry. In this Dice article, around 4500 people were surveyed about what makes open source interesting and how they maintain and improve their skills. The types of things they are doing closely match the model of incremental learning championed by Dr. Ashley and enforced in the college learning model.
So, learn something new today. It is a pathway to excitement, job growth (for job-related learning), stability, and happiness.
In the circles I travel, we talk a lot about privilege. It is easy to think but I grew up poor and think that means I don’t have privilege, but I do. By an accident of birth I am white and cis (and female), so a lot of things are easier. I like this video because it starts the conversation about privilege without alienating people initially by tying it into race, sexual orientation, or gender expression – all areas where people are most likely to be blind to their own privilege.
I have been through a number of different, mostly lower level, computer programming classes. At this point through school I have done C++ and Java, which if I was more skilled or had the degree or had defined job experience (at least one of the three) could result in a decent job that kept my husband in bacon and me in chocolate.
At the University of Kentucky, they start new students in Python. Now, I was grandfathered out of taking that class because, well, Java. Nothing wrong with that. So, instead I took the Python course in Codecademy. Now, I’m under no illusion that using Codecademy is going to net me a job involving creative problem solving with computer programming. It does, however, allow me to become familiar with different types of programming languages, different database tools, and different programming tools (yeah, I’m looking at you Git).
All told, last year I completed 11 skills. Not too bad for an aging 40-something, full time worker, part time student, parent, volunteer, what have you.
It’s a great tool, and like doing the crossword puzzle on Sundays, it helps keep my brain sharp. Sadly, I don’t get to use most of what I’ve learned on a daily basis. Other than going in and working towards a new skill (Ruby at almost 50% completion), what do other people suggest for making programming more a part of daily life when it isn’t part of your work life?
Sometimes I think it is funny where life has taken me. I am a New Englander by nature (visiting Maine and Massachusetts made that abundantly clear), and with that can come stereotypes. People think of Bostonians as cold, mean, taciturn. These are not complimentary terms.
New England may be getting a bad rap out there for poor attitude. However, people in Appalachia are constantly taunted with these negative stereotypes that are largely unfounded. Living in Kentucky, the local NPR station has a lot of diverse programming, including the show Inside Appalachia. Last night on my way home, I was listening to a program about outsiderphotographers and Appalachian stereotypes. This made me think about my own experiences in Appalachia.
In my sociology class this past term, we were charged with helping Elkhorn City, a small community in Eastern Kentucky. The City already has a master plan and a city plan, which are focused on utilizing the natural beauty of the Breaks Interstate Park and the Russell Fork River to rebuild Elkhorn City as an eco-tourism destination. We went to Elkhorn City to interview residents as part of the Elkhorn City River Oral History Collection and to work on additional projects chosen by the local leaders.
On a cold day in November, we traveled the three hours from Lexington to Elkhorn City. The main draw to Elkhorn City comes multiple times a year as kayakers and other outdoor enthusiasts descend upon the Russell Fork to enjoy Class III to VI rapids. Now, I’m not a kayaker, and I’m enough of a geek to not really be much of an outdoor enthusiast. However, the region even in November was beautiful enough to want to visit again during their in season.
Due to sickness, we missed a chance to see a play at the Artists Collaborative Theater, but did make it next door to Time Out Pizza. Now, I love theater. Back in Boston, I did a show a year with the MIT Gilbert & Sullivan Players. I really wish I could have seen a show. They look like they have diverse productions throughout the year. Even when theater isn’t in the cards, I love to eat. Time Out Pizza has everything you would expect from a small town pizza place, including enough seating to host a passel of kids from a school event. The pizza we enjoyed was a nice crispy thin crust with enough garlic in the sauce to feel like you were eating well. My friends and I also tried the mozzarella sticks (which are a bit harder to find in Lexington than in the Boston-area).
The best thing though was their milk shakes. I have a huge sweet tooth, so it was great to see such a huge selection of milk shakes. I got a peanut butter milk shake, which was a great salty-sweet combination (they also offered Reese’s milk shake, which was all sweet). The people who worked at Time Out Pizza were friendly, and helpful.
This was matched the following day by our trip to the Gold Ring Diner. Now, as a vegetarian it is always a bit more challenging to find things to eat, but Gold Ring had these wonderful fluffy pancakes that I enjoyed while my friends were eating biscuits and gravy (which was undoubtedly wonderful, but not vegetarian). Everyone we spoke to there was full of grace and humor, and were genuinely nice people. I also might have drank nearly an entire pot of coffee on my own.
Listening to the NPR article though, it made me think hard about our role as a class in this community. We are invited in by the town, but we as part of our course projects act as outsiders, writing consultation papers suggesting improvements or courses of action to take in order to help them see their vision. Are we doing these tasks from a place of respect and understanding, or are we like a foreigner trying to remake their community to match our own ideals? Thinking about my final paper, I would have to say it is a little bit of both.
Curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought him back.
I like to think of myself as intellectually curious though like many things it is dependent on a number of different circumstances. Sometimes the factors are obvious. When I am tired, any curiosity is replaced with a deep desire to crawl into bed.
Sometimes the factors are not as obvious.
In my previous life, I worked in a law library. I felt consistently valued and I was regularly asked to do new tasks. If someone indicated that they wanted to add a new element to a web form, I would just read the code and try it before going to the vendor and asking for a customization. It was faster than asking an overworked tech to look into something for us. I became pretty good at looking at the bones of something and modifying it to do additional work.
Curiosity about any one aspect of my job made all of the others better. In transitioning to tech, that is one aspect of my job that I am glad I can retain. Engaging and learning during the work day provides joy and reward that go past just the money necessary to live outside of the work force.
However, in every job environment there are some common issues that can destroy creativity and curiosity.
Poor morale. When workplace morale goes down, productivity is one of the first things that suffers. In my last position, the entire office was told that we would not necessarily have jobs in 6 months and an entire team was let go that day. You could see people stop caring about making good choices for the team and the company, and with that came a lot of poor decisions all around.
Micromanaging. One of my first managers spent a lot of time checking on what I was working and directing how I should complete tasks. This was fine as I was learning the systems, but became more of a problem as I worked in the department over time. My best managers have been those who assign projects and check in every week to see if we were on target combined with those managers who were accessible for additional conversation between meetings.
“That is how we’ve always done it.” Nothing stifles creativity and problem solving as much as being told that it isn’t wanted. Going through process improvement was a great opportunity to showcase alternatives and work through on paper whether or not a new process would improve productivity.
Productivity is not curiosity, but it is often a byproduct of curiosity. I used this opportunity to create a matrix of services, allowing anyone in the department to see what services we had, how much they cost (and how they were billed), how to request or create a login, and some of the more common troubleshooting solutions. But this never would have succeeded under the status quo even though it provided ample benefits when I went on maternity leave.
Some interesting articles on curiosity and the workplace environment:
A short haiku for the work enabled on today, this blackest of Fridays in November.
Black Friday is here
No call or ticket in queue
Yesterday was a time to be thankful, or if you are like me and love to cook, a time to overdo it so you are exhausted all afternoon and into the next day. It is hard to be thankful when you are in the midst of everything, and you feel pulled apart by all of the obligations real and imaginary in your life.
So, now that all of the hullabaloo is over, I am thankful.
Today I am thankful that I have a job that will allow me to buy thoughtful gifts for my friends and family.
Today I am thankful that I am healthy, and that my complaints are a simple result of no time.
I am thankful for sweatshirts, scarves, and hats for when I am too cold.
I am thankful that I have not needed to experience the horrors of war, either as a refugee fleeing from conflict or as a fighter.
I am thankful that the oven didn’t break, and that the fridge is full of food for weeks to come.
I am thankful that my husband doesn’t like cranberry sauce, so I won’t have to share.
Due to my misspent youth (aka, college the first time around), I am currently taking Calculus III. Now, the last time I took calculus at all is about 2 decades ago, so I have been treating this class like the job it really is. The course started out with vectors and moved to partial derivatives and their applications. This is all fine, but now I am in the midst of double and triple integrals and my brain… well, let’s just say that Swiss cheese is not as holey as my brain feels right about now.
Derivatives are relatively easy and intuitive. They mostly use symbols and letters that through algebra and trigonometry we’ve come to understand. But integration…
It feels like a completely different language. Now, one of my classmates had a good question the other day. What are we integrating? Most of the time you have an equation there, so it looks like ∫x2dx. Well, when there is nothing there, the answer is easy but not as obvious. We are integrating the constant: 1. So, the first integral is easy – just plug in the upper bound and subtract out the lower bound.
What makes this interesting to me is it is an excellent example of an instructor being too close to the material sometimes to realize that something isn’t obvious. Over 2 decades ago, I was in a precalculus class in high school where every single one of us failed the first test in differentiation. Why? All of us had passed all of the homework assignments. We had learned how to differentiate without understanding why we were doing it.
It was the power rule. Take the exponent, put it in front of the variable and then subtract 1 from the power.
And that was what we did. All of our homework questions and classroom examples had been the simplest case: x5 The test, however, was full of things like 5x5, and we had missed that simple logical step. All of our previous examples involved multiplying n whether it be 1 or 2 or 5 or another variable with the number 1 and we just hadn’t gotten it.
The implied 1 is true for just about everything. I spend my days helping people set up databases or configure their software, and I have to remind myself what the steps are – not because I have forgotten them, but because I know them so well and they feel so obvious that it is easy to skip over them when I am trying to describe to someone how to do a process.
I don’t know if this blog will exist when you are a teenager. Let us assume for the minute that it will. This is a story for you about now when you are still a small boy.
I read this book to you nearly every night. It is part of our ritual. Recently the ritual changed. We still go upstairs and you pick out books, but now you lie on your stomach and turn the pages too fast for us to read to you. As you lie there, I can see the little person you are becoming. It is beautiful. Then we read the bedtime book and settle you into your crib.
Only a short week ago, you would go to the bookshelf and take your book to me. Plop! into my lap and we would read the stories together. I admit that I miss your weight in my lap. However, while things are changing, some things are still the same. After you are settled into your crib, I sit in the rocking chair and I read Dete Oide Yo. It is our time together. Dad has usually gone downstairs to do chores or work.
I could read other books, and sometimes I do, but this one has a heavy familiarity. I know the words by heart, and the text if I falter is easy to read even in dim light.
Tomorrow I will be away. A class project. There are bound to be more of them, but this is the first time away and so it feels heavier and more important. I know already that I will miss my time with you. But I wanted you to have this here, so you could hear my voice as you go to sleep. I love you and will see you soon.