Tech Tips

On to 2019

Christmas has come and gone, and now we approach the end of 2018. This is the cold and dark part of the year. If you like very cold rain, ice and snow, you’re probably enjoying this. If you’re a robot, you may not.
Typing on a frosty keyboard with gloves or mittens is a bit of a hassle, but there are times when you make do regardless of the environment. Working on a smart phone is less frustrating, especially if you have nifty gloves that sport special screen friendly finger pads or you use a “pen” and don’t drop it in the snow. 
Smart watches, and voice assist are all useful, but there are a few of us who still do the majority of their “computer work “ on a laptop. Not bringing an entire tower, monitor, keyboard, and mouse is mobility enough for some. If you work inside, that’s cool, but it’s nice to get out once in a while. 
I don’t consider working from your laptop in a coffee shop “field work” but I can see where that is much more enjoyable than being stuck in a cubicle. Do people still sit in cubicles? There are of course, worse places….so I am told.

Advances in mobility technology have made it easier to work at almost any site, and remote applications have allowed some to work from distant locations. 
Which is better, on site, or offsite (from a cubicle)? I have to lean towards on site, but that’s not always practical. 
Out on an ice field of blowing snow at negative 30 degrees Fahrenheit isn’t always more preferable than a nice cozy office cubicle or desk, but sometimes being there in the cold gives you a whole different perspective and appreciation for the equipment and operating mechanisms on site than a long distance remote view ever could. 
That’s all changing for some types of work. Drones, and artificial support will impact how some resources are deployed on site, and offered remotely.
With the new year ahead, I expect to see more practical use of artificial intelligence for application and diagnostic support, and drone usage for inspection related i.e monitoring or surveillance operations. 
I don’t think AI needs a cubicle to work, possibly some rack space and lot of power. Drones won’t require ladders, lifts, or climbing harnesses.

As widespread adaptation of IoT, G-5 telecom, and cloud computing services evolve in 2019, watch how your once “state of the art” non-mobile work force drifts towards a persuasive argument for “less office space based work”. Consider how many tasks AI and faster Internet access has played a major impact on work life already.
Flexibility to work in both office based and remote site locations might prove to be a productive skill in the near future. If you’ve already cleared this hurdle, you’re probably in good shape.
Technology continues to march onward. If you can work
“Anywhere” especially where technology hasn’t already automated and crowded humans out completely , than you may have a very desirable skill set that you might not normally consider a positive.
I guess it isn’t that cold and dark after all.

It will be interesting to see how some in-house IT support is affected in the coming year. Help desk support, desktop support, and unique product support, usually hold the keys for administrative tasks. Many professing their bland “tricks”, some reading from their “problem solving flow charts” This is wonderful if you view your workforce as low tech skilled workers. Not all desktop support is like this. There are some very skilled techs who work in desktop support that are truly helpful and productive. Unfortunately it only takes one bad experience to sour one’s opinion.

On the other hand a lot of OS X and Linux users often seem slightly irritated by any form of desktop support from the world of Windows. Hand a thin client to a skilled coder and see what kind of look you get. I understand the security implications, but where’s the soft spot actually located?

I prefer the approach of giving the tools to those who actually do the work that keep the machine running. Sometimes you need to have faith in the person with the screw driver in their hand. That brings me to my point of useful skills for the future. Learn Linux, work more from the shell/terminals, and learn how to use a screw driver (tools). Of course these are all just considerations that may not be widely accepted.

Reading is good, gaining experience through “doing”, and figuring out what works, and what doesn’t may improve your confidence level. Confidence is good to have, but it should be based on some productive abilities.

Practice on non-production systems, offline, and with proper permissions. Never “test” on any system that could have negative impact due to some preventable mistake.

Many companies invest a lot of resources into training low skilled workers to do “higher skilled” focused jobs, but that doesn’t mean these workers can’t learn on their own. I think you should always try to improve “your skills” which may not necessarily be the skills you are required to have or limited to in your present situation. The world is full of surprises. Prepare for your future.

With AI, G-5, Robots, companies contemplating “right sizing”, and cloud computing all picking up momentum in the coming year – what should you do? Here’s my simple advice; don’t let stress sidetrack you. Get enough sleep, remember what your priorities are and be yourself. Sounds like bad advice, but it may not be. You’ll figure it out. Have a cup of coffee and watch the snow drifts change the lay of the land.

Please No More Serverless

“Serverless”, The new Buzzword

Is this the apocalypse for servers?

Photo by Brock DuPont on Unsplash

Now you can be serverless too! 

Why waste time and resources running your own servers when a company will gladly take over with their new “serverless” plan.

Wait… Don’t we already have and use the cloud?

“Well yes,  but this is completely different! It’s serverless!

What actually is it?

Serverless is actually a subset of cloud infrastructure. The only real difference is serverless is the cloud as FaaS (Function as a Service). Which means you only pay for your actual usage and that depends on the resources you used and the time they were used for. The cloud you typically pay a subscription that gives you a set amount of time and compute power.

Serverless is like using a GUI on an operating system while using the cloud is using a terminal. A terminal is going to have much more control and options but for people who want to “Point & Click”, this is better for them.

I think serverless is a great idea that will help out a lot of businesses looking to adopt new technology. The problem I have is the name “Serverless”, your still going to be using servers but you won’t control them. 

Chocolatey Goodness

One of the reasons I prefer Linux over Windows is the ease of package management.
Apt, Yum, and Pacman depending on your distribution (Debian:Ubuntu, RedHat/Fedora or Arch) just seem much more logical than the Microsoft App Store or even Apple’s software store.

I don’t use the GUI interfaces available on any system if I can carry out the same goal from a terminal. I realize all these systems have a “terminal/Command line” available, but a lot of users have grown accustomed to a graphical point and click method. I haven’t, nor do I enjoy navigating around the screens pointing and clicking – it seems like a waste of time.

This is the section that was cutoff


PowerShell on the Windows System is an exception. I’ve gotten used to using the Windows command prompt and netshell when possible, but always felt that neither lived up to the power of BASH. PowerShell has grown and developed into a useful tool that many Linux users would find worthwhile for system administration and troubleshooting functionality.
When you add in the Chocolatey package management tool/repository you start to see potential for a more Linux-like work flow.

I see that there is also a GUI available for Chocolatey for any who prefer, but installing packages via PowerShell is fairly simple – as is searching and listing available packages.

I doubt i’ll abandon my Linux machine just to run PowerShell, but I think it’s beneficial to know how different Operating systems function and carry out similar tasks you might deal with in Linux.

“list, search, info, and install” are the commands I use the most when using Chocolatey.  The “info” command is extremely useful in providing information on the application you may consider installing.

choco -h 

  • list – lists remote or local packages
  • search – searches remote or local packages (alias for list)
  • info – retrieves package information. Shorthand for choco search pkgname –exact –verbose
  • install – installs packages from various sources
  • pin – suppress upgrades for a package
  • outdated – retrieves packages that are outdated. Similar to upgrade all –noop
  • upgrade – upgrades packages from various sources
  • uninstall – uninstalls a package
  • pack – packages up a nuspec to a compiled nupkg
  • push – pushes a compiled nupkg
  • new – generates files necessary for a chocolatey package from a template
  • sources – view and configure default sources (alias for source)
  • source – view and configure default sources
  • config – Retrieve and configure config file settings
  • features – view and configure choco features (alias for feature)
  • feature – view and configure choco features
  • setapikey – retrieves or saves an apikey for a particular source (alias for apikey)
  • apikey – retrieves or saves an apikey for a particular source
  • unpackself – have chocolatey set itself up
  • version – [DEPRECATED] will be removed in v1 – use choco outdated or cup <pkg|all> -whatif instead
  • update – [DEPRECATED] RESERVED for future use (you are looking for upgrade, these are not the droids you are looking for)
Installing Putty with Choco first removed an incomplete install attempt before adding -y

Check out chocolatey.org for more information including more details on security and the community package repository

Installing TCPview – a package from “Windows Sysinternals”

 

For those who would rather not use the Powershell command line, there is a GUI:

choco install chocolateygui –f -y

Weather Data

Weather Data

Weather alerts, weather Alerts, notifications everywhere.

The iPhone notifications from multiple weather apps are handy, and when you hear the notification alerts from other people’s phones going off around you, you’re going to look at your screen. Something is going on, or soon will be.


In the old days, we listened to our radios for weather forecasts, often the local television station weather broadcast. Later on, the soothing sounds of the Weather Channel’s greatest hits played while our local forecast rolled across the screen in between weather people pointing to a green screen and looking off camera to create a less confusing presentation illusion. It all worked very nicely. Now we can view the weather in our computer browsers or on a phone app.
You can easily view the weather info for almost any place in the world. You can read predictions based on this info, and for short time sensitive duration while events closer to the present are fairly accurate.

With so many sources available most people will have a good set of options to choose their weather data.
There will always be a few users who would rather tap into alternative weather info feeds where you have more control of the data presentation. With Linux, I have found a few tools I really like to explore that are a little different from your standard smartphone weather app or browser-based options (often loaded with advertising).

Zygrib

ZyGrib a GRIB (Gridded General Regularly-distributed Information in Binary) file viewer is an interesting meteorological file viewer option.
Grib files are used for numerical weather prediction models such as those used by the US National Weather Service (part of NOAA)
I installed the LINUX (version 8.0.1) of ZyGrib from the Mint 19 software repositories, and then installed the Windows version – both are very similar. I haven’t tried the Mac version yet, but now I see that Opengribs.org will be continuing the development of ZyGrig – now XyGrib for all platforms.

I can see where interpreting your own weather data can be both challenging, yet very educational just by reading through all the output presented in the data file reader.

Grib

There is a nice selection of Grib orientated tools available, but some are subscription based, commercial, or older applications which may or may not have much support if any. It’s all worth a look if you’re more than casually interested in weather data.

There are also a few iPhone applications that allow you to view Grib data.

I purchased PocketGrib for the iPhone mostly out of curiosity after spending some time playing around with zyGrib on my LINUX machine. It’s pretty cool, it will certainly make following the weather as we head into the peak of Hurricane season more interesting from a data analysis angle. I still don’t think I’ll give up my weather radio just yet – I don’t need an Internet connection for that.

NOAA

Nationwide Station Listing Using Broadcast Frequencies

HTTP://www.nws.noaa.gov/nwr/coverage/station_listing.html

E July Update

Another hot and humid work week is coming to an end. It’s been raining a lot, and that hasn’t cooled things off. It’s just steamy. The warm weather won’t be around for too much longer, we’ll just transition into cold and snowy soon enough.

It’s a good time to get out and about and try to enjoy the warm weather if you can. I like to have a lite weight laptop with me most of the time, but I’m not too keen on taking a very expensive one out into the somewhat harsh environment. Especially if I can get some productivity out of an older less expensive unit. Looking at the prices on the new MacBook Pro configurations makes me hesitant to upgrade my old MacBook Pro. In fact, I’ll usually take my sub $200 IdeaPad or my long in the tooth netbook. They still work, and if either gets dropped or soaked – it’s not that tragic. If I ruined a brand new $2000 laptop out in the swamp I’d probably feel a little nauseous for days – and I’d be noticeably displeased for quite some time.

Fortunately, there are still some well supported Linux Distributions that enable many users to get a lot of functionality out of older or less expensive hardware. This doesn’t mean you need to forgo any decent level of security or reliability. Ubuntu 18.04 and Mint 19 XFCE distros work quite well with lower system requirements, but I have similar results with Windows 10.

Yes, I do get a lot of usefulness out of my iPhone and I know lots of people who use their iPad as their main mobile productivity tool, but they can be a little pricey too if you’re on a limited budget. I shouldn’t leave out Chrome-books, but I don’t have a lot of experience with using them. I don’t see why I would when I can run Linux.

I’ve used the Lenovo IdeaPad 110s for over a year. I added a 32 GB micro SD card and it works great. It’s very lite and I have used it many times for trying out various distros.

At the moment I’m running the latest Mint 19 Tara. There was Grub loader issue on an earlier installation iso image, but the latest iso installed very smoothly. I have been impressed with how well even Audacity works on this laptop. Add a decent USB microphone and you have a nice little podcast production studio.

You can do a lot of the same things with just an iPhone, but I can also run Wireshark on the IdeaPad, which is kind of handy. It’s not only better for your budget to extend the life of older or less expensive laptops – it’s probably better for the environment.

The basics you may require a laptop to support are: Wifi and hardwire Ethernet. Basic command line tools including SSH and Putty Tools, Wireshark, Web Browser, Text editor, Calculating spreadsheet, Python and/or Powershell, Audacity, Skype.

Usually, all are available either in a decent Linux Distro – or available in supported repositories.

Windows basic install supports most of these requirements, including some usually available in the “Microsoft Store” – which is similar to Ubuntu’s Flagship Distro software “Store” I’m not a fan of either. You may find yourself filtering or trimming out some unwanted commercial applications.

I recommend keeping an eye on your resources – CPU and memory impact under normal operating conditions. If your system is slow responding crashes too often, then maybe it is time to upgrade – by how much will be dependent on your current and future needs, but if most of your needs are fulfilled by a web browser or at a shell prompt – you probably can get a lot done with a limited system.