Technology. Me. An inseparable union.
While writing this, I found myself giving lots of details about what I’d done and used in the past, and decided that I should just make a separate post about that… never again to be repeated.
My first introduction to computing was when I was young - sometime in early elementary school. The Logan-Hocking County District Library offered some sort of introduction to computers for kids, and my mom signed me up. The computers were from the Macintosh II series - I suspect that it was a IIsi, but I’m not sure. I honestly don’t remember anything about the classes/sessions - I just remember being fascinated.
My mom acquired some old computer when I was really young. I don’t recall why. It didn’t have a hard drive, and had two 5.25” floppy drives. The only applications I could ever get it to run were WordPerfect for DOS, Lotus 123, and gwbasic. It didn’t stay there long before we got rid of it.
It would be a couple of years before I could start playing around with computers in school - Fairfield Union was, and still is, significantly behind the curve when it comes to technology adoption (despite what they preach to the ignorant community). The district had various Apple IIc, IIc Plus, and IIGS models. I vividly recall using external 3.5” disk drives with some, external 5.25” drives with some, and internal 3.5” disk drives with some. High school had numerous IIe models, with which we did absolutely nothing, since the majority of them were broken. I remember trying to fix some of them, and I got a few of them working, but I no longer recall what it was i did.
The summer of 1996 (just before I started 6th grade), the district wired all of the schools with data cabling (Cat5, I believe) and deployed Unisys PCs (this picture looks close to correct) to all classrooms, as a result of Ohio’s SchoolNet project. I was ecstatic! That is, until I realized that they weren’t actually useful. Windows 95 was installed, and all of the computers had TCP/IP connectivity, but… that was it (or so I thought at the beginning of the year). It didn’t take too long for my teacher and I to realize that if we put a web browser on the computer, then we were able to “browse the web!” Teachers loved communicating with other teachers via “net send”, at the command line. It was quite the trainwreck of poor planning and implementation. ;)
My mom bought us a computer for Christmas… 96, I believe… from Putnam Computers of Zanesville OH. It ran Windows 95, had a 2.0 GB hard drive (!), 16 MB RAM, 166 MHz Cyrix CPU, a 3.5” floppy drive, a CD-ROM drive, a 28.8 kbps modem, and a 13” CRT monitor. Oh, and we mustn’t forget the Canon BubbleJet that I hated so much. I convinced her to let use start using Juno (for free email, via dial-up, which didn’t require an internet connection) about a year later. Despite not having internet access, I was thrilled to have that computer. There were several Bulletin Board Systems (BBS) in my area, and I spent an incredible amount of time tying up our only phone line by screwing around with BBSes.
During the summer of 1997, FoolProof Security was installed on all of Fairfield Union’s PCs, and there was a common “teacher” password, that let the teachers use the internet, while kids were prohibited from using it. Teachers occasionally let kids use the computer, even online - they let me more than most students, in retrospect. The next four years, until I transferred to Eastland-Fairfield Career & Technical Schools (EFCTS) in 2001, are mostly a blur, technology-wise. Fairfield Union did little to nothing to improve their technology deployment, and continued to refuse to think in any progressive manner. The rare times that students were given access to computers was under the direct supervision of instructors, and they were nearly always being provided monotonous instruction (“Now double-click on the little globe on your desktop. Now click in the address bar. Now type in go dot g r o l i e r dot c o m. Now press enter.”).
While helping my mom with her Master’s Thesis, our home computer “died”… I think in 1999. In retrospect, it was probably just the hard drive, which could have been easily replaced. (Fortunately, I’d been smart enough to back up all of her college stuff to floppy disks frequently, so nearly no data was lost.) Instead, we went to Best Buy the next morning, and bought a CTX PC (14” CRT, 32 MB RAM, Windows 98, flatbed scanner… I don’t recall the hard drive size anymore, probably 4GB or so). I recall upgrading it to Windows 98SE, and then Windows ME.
My grandma bought a computer (eMachines, ugh) around 1999, too. I used it for my “science fair project” in high school… I don’t recall exactly what I did, but something about programming in BASIC.
Transferring to EFCTS was awesome for me. Upon arriving there in 2001, they were running NT4 Workstation with Novell NetWare servers. Students did not need to be directly supervised every moment they were online - the district used Novell BorderManager to “ensure” that students didn’t “do bad things”. Everything. Just. Worked. (Well, except my password, “dmaavrek~chjcpy”, which was apparently too long for the combination of NT4 and NW5 to cope with, which took a few days to diagnose.) I was in (figurative) heaven.
An arrangement was made for me to help Fairfield Union’s music department with their annual musical, while I was actually going to school at EFCTS. The problem was that my mom told school administration that I was not permitted to use the internet, under any circumstance. They didn’t convey that to the music department staff, or to me. One of the music teachers “unlocked the internet” so that I could try to find sound effects for the musical. Todd Winegardner, the school’s “network administrator” at the time, was apparently watching internet traffic at the moment, saw what I was doing, and came and kicked me off of the computer. Was a real asshole about it, too. The following day, the music instructor told me that she’d gotten chewed out for letting me have access to the internet, and that she had been instructed to tell me that I was no longer welcome on Fairfield Union property. Oh, and she said this in front of all of the cast and crew of the musical. I was pretty mortified… the others thought it was hilarious.
[Two paragraphs redacted for personal reasons.]
My life was obviously a disaster in high school.
EFCTS hired me in November of 2002, while I was a Senior in High School, to help the complete a computer deployment. We replaced nearly every computer everywhere in the district with a Dell OptiPlex GX260, with a 15” or 17” CRT or LCD. They ran Windows XP - deployed via a ghost image that I built.
My grandma bought me a Sony VAIO laptop during the late summer of 2002, because I needed something to do homework on (and browse the internet, and communicate with others so as to refrain from committing suicide). It came with a free 6-months of MSN dial-up internet, which I was thrilled with.
The family I lived with got broadband in early 2003. That 3Mbps was blazing fast.
EFCTS hired me as a full-time Computer Support Specialist shortly after I graduated from high school. I gained a tremendous amount of knowledge about Windows administration (and NetWare/BorderManager/ZenWorks) while I was there. I left there due to insurmountable political differences (I refuse to give my support to draconian administration).
From there, I became a subcontractor to both Dell and Diebold Election Systems Inc (DESI). The knowledge that I’d gained at EFCTS caused my to quickly (measured in days) get tired of the sheer stupidity I encountered with the other Dell subcontractors. The DESI job gave me a lot of knowledge about how elections work in the USA (from the “how sausage is made” perspective, rather than from the high-school “go vote, it’s your civic duty!” perspective).
My trusty Sony VAIO gave up, while I was working for DESI. I had a brief but disastrous affair with an HP laptop, before splurging on a Dell Inspiron (running Windows XP). I don’t recall the model, or specs. The Sony VAIO and after were pretty much appliances (not to diminish my preference for durable build quality and requirement for acceptable hardware specs) that allowed me to do what I wanted to do.
I took a job with Fairfield County’s Board of Elections, as an Election Information Systems Specialist, a few days after I conducted their February 2006 election (still as a subcontractor to DESI). My responsibilities there went far beyond just the election management and tabulation activities - I oversaw everything from a technical and legal/compliance perspective. Administration, while they would never admit it, did little more than deal with personnel and inter-departmental problems, and formalize my decisions. I had become familiar with SQL over the years, outside of my employment, by working on a few open-source (and closed-source) projects in a LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP) stack. My job at elections was the first time I’d interacted with SQL Server (2000 and 2005) or Crystal Reports. To say that I’m now well-versed in those is quite the understatement.
Aside from my elections-specific activities, I also managed their Windows network. It was admittedly tiny - around 20 computers. I nonetheless ensured that the servers, active directory, group policy, etc., were all appropriately configured. I, of course, enjoyed doing that - but I wondered why there wasn’t some other department in the county managing the network and systems instead of elections having to take care of it themselves. I’d find out, within a couple of years.
I had been known nearly my entire life to be a “gadget freak”, liking to play with the latest and greatest toys, etc. By this time, I’d had numerous cell phones, and a couple PDAs:
- (Nextel) Motorola i1000plus
- (Nextel) Motorola i90c
- (Nextel) Motorola i95CL
- Sony Clie NX73V
- (Nextel) Motorola i730
- (Nextel) Motorola i860
- (VZW) Motorola e815
- (VZW) Motorola V325
- (VZW) Motorola V325i
- Palm T|X
In early 2008, Fairfield County’s IT department posted a job: “Database Support Specialist”. I jumped at the chance, and was ultimately offered the job. I changed offices on April 28, 2008. That’s nearly 7 years ago, at time of writing.
The technology in use (not to mention the way it was managed) was horrifying, and that puts it mildly. I’ve done a lot while I’ve been at Fairfield IT:
- We now use DHCP. (It was verboten when I got there.)
- We now use DNS. (Everything was referred to exclusively by IP address when I got there.)
- We now have one production Active Directory domain (which I created from scratch, to replace many other domains). That one Active Directory domain has many domain controllers (all of its predecessors had only one each). Most (all but the two oldest) of those domain controllers do not have a GUI.
- All of our non-seasonal employees (seasonal being road workers, poll workers, etc) have an ADDS user account (less than 30% of our employees previously did).
- We have an accurate record of the relationship between ADDS account and person (no records were previously kept).
- Nearly all of our non-seasonal employees have an email account (there were fewer than 100 mailboxes when I got there).
- Email is now handled by Exchange (it was MDaemon - which, which I’m thinking of it fondly - I consider a legacy abomination).
- No end user (ok, fewer than a dozen) has local administrative rights to their own computer (on the previous domains, nearly everyone everywhere had administrative rights to everything).
- Separation of privilege is mandatory for domain accounts.
- Speaking of viruses, we now run a functional protection suite on all endpoints. The number of computers with virus/malware issues has dropped from dozens per week to… perhaps a couple, on a bad week.
- Within the next two months, 100% of our workstations and >=98% of our servers will be on a currently supported (by the manufacturer) operating system release.
- We’ve deployed a VOIP PBX (Avaya Aura Communication Manager and Aura Messaging) to almost every facility we operate (it was Centrex before - the cost savings has been tremendous, not to mention the functionality and reliability improvements). I’m the primary telecom administrator, too.
- We support scanning to both SMB and gasp email now. (It was new and scary and very loudly opposed, before.)
- I forcibly standardized our MFP/copier fleet. No longer do we have hundreds of different models of MFPs. Now there are just a few, and they’re almost all in the same product family. And they just. fucking. work.
- I implemented RequestTracker, so that we have some kind of ticketing/tracking system for our IT service requests.
- I created a web “portal”, which allows for the central management of People (regardless of source of trust) (including user account provisioning in several systems), IP Address Management (for all facilities), Procurement (so we can keep track of what we buy), Fixed Assets (so we know what we have), and Facility Access Control (so we know which can (and is) accessing what). It’s eliminated a tremendous amount of manual work, on a daily basis.
- I created an accurate, updated nearly real-time, reliable, internal personnel directory, so that our employees could find one another without having to ask around, or keep track of numerous outdated print directories.
While I’ve worked at Fairfield IT, I’ve tried a few different smartphones and tablets:
- (AT&T) Palm Treo Pro - 2009
- (AT&T) HTC Tilt 2 - 2009
- (AT&T) Samsung Captivate - July 2010
- (AT&T) HTC Desire HD (Thunderbolt) - September 2010
- Galaxy Nexus - Early 2012
- (VZW) Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7 - Q3 2012
- Galaxy S4 - June 2013
- Nexus 5 - April 2014
- Moto X (2013) - September 2014
- Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact - November 2014
- Dell Inspiron E1705 (Windows XP) (June 2006)
- Home-built Desktop (Intel C2D E8400, 4GB RAM, 8800GT Video, Vista) (August 2008)
- Lenovo ThinkPad X200 (Windows Vista, then 7) (February 2009)
- Lenovo ThinkPad X201 (Windows 7; gave it to a friend after it starting having a hardware issue that made it extremely frustrating and potentially not-cost-effective to keep) (December 2010)
- Lenovo ThinkPad X230 (Windows 8, then Ubuntu, then Xubuntu, then Kubuntu) (May 2013)
- Apple MacBook Pro 15” with Retina Display (OS X 10.9, then OS X 10.10) (April 2014)
Microsoft released Windows 8 in late 2012. I didn’t install it right away… I waited until May 2013, when I bought a new laptop for unrelated reasons. My knee-jerk reaction was intense hatred of Metro/Modern - not because it was different, but because it was difficult. The charms bar? Who thought that was a good idea? And that launcher? I’m sure it would be fantastic, on a touch-screen. It’s nothing short of miserable on a traditional keyboard-mouse interface. I searched for options, and found ClassicShell. It met my needs… ish. Metro was still there, lurking, ready to annoy me whenever the opportunity presented itself.
I became annoyed enough by Metro (after a couple of months) that I was ready to go back to Windows 7, and just write off Windows 8 altogether. That’s… generally not my style, and annoyed me quite a lot. Since I was going to go through the hassle of changing operating systems anyway, I figured I’d mix it up, and try a flavor of Linux. I thought that most things I needed to do could be done on Linux just as easily as on Windows, and for the few things that might not be, I’d use VMWare Workstation and Windows 7. Ubuntu it was! Huge community, based on Debian, etc. No problem.
Except that I hated Ubuntu’s Unity interface even more than I hated Metro. The same day, I switched to Xubuntu. That’s more like it! I could mostly customize the user interface the way I wanted it, no major problems, I could do what I wanted to. That is, except for use dual monitors, which I have, both at work and at home. I had graphics tearing issues, occasionally xrandr would freak out and set my monitors to obscure resolutions, and sometimes X would crash. Oh, and the processor’s thermal load was tremendous. Xfce seemed to be the single most resource-hungry desktop environment I’d ever seen, which was surprising, since it’s designed to be lightweight. And if I dared to run Windows 7 in a VM at the same time… forget about it, the laptop needed to be docked, because it was far too hot to comfortably touch. It was far from an acceptable experience. I nonetheless lived with it, for months, because it did what I required.
After those months, I switched to Kubuntu 13.10. KDE is known for having approximately all of the settings known to man, all exposed to the user for them to tweak. Ease of customization (due to lack of explanation/comprehension, wtf KDE devs) is extremely low while it’s necessary for you to customize the hell out of it in order for you to have your ideal experience. I put up with the need to customize KDE, and after a week or two, had it tweaked just the way I liked it. At idle, the processor was FAR cooler than at idle with xfce. I liked it.
I liked it except for when I needed to run Windows in a VM, that is. VMWare workstation constantly complained about 3D acceleration being unavailable, and the graphics performance in that VM was just abysmal. I’m talking about drawing windows - Excel, SSMS, Word - god forbid I should need Outlook, it was a disaster. I asked for help from numerous people who I know are very, very skilled in Linux development and administration… none of them could help. Everything pointed to driver issues, and we hit a brick wall. So… there I stopped. I’d been told by nearly all of my friends that I was being too picky, and nothing ever “just worked”, and I needed to give up. I resigned to live with those annoying issues on a daily basis.
The above brings us up-to-date, as of the end of December 2013. See my other blog post for 2014.
Today is January 3, 2015. Just a few paragraphs ago, I was in elementary school. Funny how life has a way of sneaking past.
BTW, this post is not anywhere close to exhaustive, in any aspect - but it’s touched on a lot of my experiences, and devices that I’ve used over the years. Will I update this in the future? Maybe. But probably not.