Business Review Technology

Review: Web Operations

I’ve been on an “IT operations” kick with my reading recently, and my choice this time was a little different from the others I have been reading.

Web Operations: Keeping the Data On Time by John Allspaw, Jesse Robbins is not immediately applicable (or at least obviously so) to the situation I find myself in every day. It is also an older book, so in the intervening four years some things have changed, but it is remarkable how much of what was being talked about as “the future” has come to pass.

The first fifth of the book was easy to read and then the middle two-fifths was a bit of a slog. I’m not 100% sure why that was, but it was just the way it was. Then I hit my stride again and finished it out within a few days and things went well from there.

If you are looking at some of the difficulties of working in large-scale deployments for the web, this is the book for you. If you are looking for some guidance on how to try to contain the complexity of modern system deployments, this is the book for you. If you are looking for prescriptions … um, you are going to need to look elsewhere.

This book is meant to give you a good, 10,000 foot view of web operations from top-to-bottom. From overall architectural choices to an overview of the what NoSQL can mean (I told you this was looking into the future we live in now), each chapter will take a different look at a certain aspect of web operations.

I recommend it to any system administrator who is trying to get their head around the inherent complexity of IT operations today, but you are going to need to pace yourself. I went ahead and setup a recurring task in OmniFocus so that I would at least read a few chapters each day.

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Review: Time Management for System Administrators

Continuing along my IT operations book kick, I recently picked up Time Management for System Administrators by Tom Limoncelli on SysAdmin Appreciation Day 2014. Considering I continue to struggle with managing my own time at work every day while not dropping numerous proverbial balls, I thought it would be a good book to dive into.

After reading the book over the past week I have come to two conclusions about every time management book:

  1. Every modern way of managing your time comes back to David Allen’s Getting Things Done. When you peel everything away, this seems to be the rock upon which all modern ways of managing time is built.
  2. The best books about managing time take the general ideas from Getting Things Done (GTD) and then narrows it down to what matters for that segment of the population (e.g. system administrators) and adds some additional items that are not included within the larger, generalized GTD way of doing things.

With those two things in mind, I cannot help but recommend this book to any person who works even slightly within IT operations on any level. Not only does it take GTD and focus on how the general principles can help system administrators (even if Tom does not lay out the book that way), it adds all of the things that a system administrator needs to think about in order to free up time to get actual work done.

Instead of rehashing the book, I’m going to lay out some changes I am going to make in order to take some of the lessons from the book and apply them to myself.

  • I’m taking the time to really keep track of my tasks, even if it will take some time to break the habit. If something is worth doing, it is worth tossing into OmniFocus and then taking care to make sure I apply a due date to it so that I have it in front of me. The Forecast view within OmniFocus is where I spend most of my time since it combines the tasks I need to do with the calendar events I have for the day. I’ll adjust things in the future (and I will blog about what I am now doing), but just moving back into a more robust task management application is a big step in some sort of direction.
  • Usually infrastructure projects which eliminate work for myself and others takes a backseat to other work that needs to be done, but that is going to change. Being able to get automated systems setup for password management and account creation will free up our current staff to better use their time on things which benefit the entire campus. I will also be looking into a payment gateway to allow students to purchase print credit on their own, but there are other issues (like refunds) attached to that plan.
  • I am planning on spending some time digging into Ruby or Python as an automation language, and not as a web development language as I had in the past (Ruby on Rails).
  • I will have weekly meetings regularly and scheduled for regular times so that I don’t have to think about when they are going to happen or worry about setting up a mutually beneficial time for all of the parties involved. Either they can make it, or they can’t and we wait until the next week.

There will probably be more, and I’ll outline some in greater detail in the future (hopefully), but they also all seem relatively common sense. I believe that is the reason they will make the largest difference.

The important part right now is to make some changes and stick with them. Progress is the name of the game, not perfection.

So, head out and grab the book and read it for yourself. I have a paper copy on order already so that I have it at my desk whenever I need a little extra help.

Business Review Technology

Review: The Phoenix Project

Back when Mrs. Sallie Draper joined our team at Martin Luther College’s Network Services, she recommended a book for our group to read. Being the person that I am, I filed it away to read in the future and bought it for my Kindle and then promptly forgot about it for far too long.

That book is The Phoenix Project by Gene Kim, Kevin Behr, and George Spafford.

I regret that I did not pick it up sooner because as soon as I began reading its tale, I was engrossed and finished it in a single day. I don’t often do that anymore with three kids, but I found the time to do it this time.

it is billed as “A Novel about IT, DevOps, and Helping Your Business Win”, and that is a good synopsis for the entirety of the book. It is fiction about how a company falls to the bottom and then bands together to work to the top.

I’m going to try to stay away from any spoilers because I do recommend that you read this book if you work within the IT departments of any company or organization even if the story isn’t totally applicable to your size or sector.

The story is split into two halves, even if the split isn’t where you would expect it to be right away. It follows the old saying of “things will get bad before they get better”. It really does for this story but the whole it worth it to get the mind thinking about what the future might bring.

Those reading the book closely will find the agenda the authors have quite early, and you need to be aware that while they are not selling anything in the specific sense … they ARE selling an ideal for how IT should operate within the business and I tend to agree! That, of course, makes it easy to recommend the book.

It is an easy read and, I feel, time well spent.

Highly recommended.


Star Trek Vanguard


A few years back I started reading the Star Trek Vanguard series. Sadly, I did not keep up with the series and so I had three books left …

… luckily, Amazon sells used books. Amazon sells them so I feel an odd obligation to buy them.

After I have the books in my possession, then it is a race against the clock to finish them as quickly as possible. Sadly, that means some late night as I try to plow through as much of the book as I can before my eyes glaze over and I fall asleep in the chair I am sitting in.

However, after reading the entire series, I can say that this is the best original Star Trek fiction I have read … maybe ever.

Here are the books from Amazon:

I really do recommend the entire series, and do read it in order. Somehow, the authors crafted a self-contained story within the confines of The Original Series which is both grounded within TOS (by bringing in Kirk and the Enterprise at the right moments) while still giving itself enough room to create excellent characters with excellent relationships.

One of the unique things about the Vanguard series is the role civilians have in the story. They don’t seemed tacked-on and play a vital role within the story. Not just comedic relief, but actually pushing ahead the story and relationships among the characters.

Overall, it is a fantastic story based on a station and the attached ships. I can easily recommend it to anyone who enjoys Star Trek: The Original Series and would like some light reading.


Books and Stores

Seth Godin’s latest manifesto was rejected from the iBookstore because he had links to Amazon within the pages of the book.

While I am sympathetic to what he says, I think there are many differences between the “traditional bookstore” and what he is running into at the moment.

  • Traditional bookstores have had a LONG time to get their policies in place
  • Authors did not submit their books to the bookstores … but the publishers
  • The iBookstore acts not just as a store but also a publisher in this case … does every book from every author get published?
  • Traditional books did not link directly to a competitor’s storefront

Also not mentioned is whether a book would get rejected from other e-bookstores if they had explicit links to competitors. Here are some other general thoughts about his entire predicament:

  • He has a generic ePub available online that is easily loaded into iBooks
  • Why are you linking to a 3rd party page that could always change without you knowing?
  • The Domino Project, where he posted his thoughts, is “powered by Amazon” … conflict of interest?

Is Apple wrong here? It’s probably leaning toward probably, but there are always problems in trying to draw direct lines between the physical world and the electronic one. Yes, we would all love it if we could do whatever we want wherever we want and people would just let us do it … and to an extent Apple is! You can load that ePub into iBooks simply by clicking a link on a website, and in many ways it is easier to do that than find something in the iBookstore.

Right now EVERYONE is trying to see how much control they can keep on their independent stores and trying to lessen the number of people you need to interact with in order to get in front of people, but that also means that some traditional roles are being mashed together.

In this case we see bookstore and publisher get smashed into one and it is causing people some headaches. With the App Store Apple mashed together the software publisher and big box retailer. As we consolidate in this way, the method of control (the publishing level) is being moved closer to the customer so we hear about it more.

No one likes seeing sausage being made.

UPDATE: Brian Ford has some thoughts about this whole thing over at Me & Her and I found it enlightening. Sounds like laziness to me.