Episode 149 – Useless Tech

Patrick and Tony talk about a bunch of great stuff not just useless tech. As always subscribe to us on iTunes or on your favorite podcasting app!

  1. Wikispaces is going away
    1. https://blog.wikispaces.com/
    2. Did you ever use Wikispace
  2. Anchor – A review by Patrick
    1. https://itbabble.com/2018/02/23/anchor-a-review/
    2. Podcasting service
  3. Useless technology
    1. https://www.theverge.com/circuitbreaker/2018/2/21/17036762/tap-wearable-keyboard-mouse-price-availability
    2. What useless technology does your school have?
  4. Network monitoring
    1. Jennifer Abrams – http://jenniferabrams.com/


You can download the MP3 file here.

You can always listen to it below.

How to Help Your Dude Named Ben

If you are not aware, “A Dude Named Ben” refers to the generic and often ignored systems administrators who work at/in organizations.

When the IRS lost all their emails, they claimed total ignorance, and had no idea who their tech people were. This video is entertaining and can explain the origin or the term, but has very little bearing on this post. Enough background! Let’s get into it.

Every school has at least one “Dude Named Ben”. I often find in times of crisis, such as massive hardware failures, Technology Directors and School Administrators do not know how to support the process and procedures needed to literally save critical technology infrastructure.

In many situations, the school administration and the head of technology do not have the professional experience required to deeply understand infrastructure, therefore, they avoid managing or being directly involved in situations related to critical infrastructure.

The fact is a good manager or leader can always help a person who is working on a tight timeline and is highly stressed, and often feeling totally isolated with the problem. Here are some simple steps to take to assist any Dude Named Ben, without getting in the way.

Make the Timeline and Targets

Unless the situation is dangerous or hazardous, the first thing that should be done after the briefing is to set the timeline and targets. Many people want to just start working, this is not a good idea. People need to talk out problems. Most people relate well to time and urgency.

  • Start by asking what steps have to be taken to get the status quo back.
  • Then ask what needs to be done to determine what caused the problem and prevent it from happening again.
  • Then start inquiring how long each step should take, in a normal situation.

Now there is a set of goals and a general understanding of how long it should take to complete them all. If time is actually lacking, then start asking the tough questions such as, “Which of these steps could we skip, and be operation but not perfectly operational by our deadline?”

This is where leadership matters. This is where ownership of the consequence can shift, and the system administrator(s) can work and feel supported. There is always a chance of failure, and people working in fear are not going to work as well as someone who is being supported by leadership. Also, this process builds confidence. When administrators take time to listen and understand, the barriers come down and an honest explanation and list of issues will surface.

Set Some Rules for Health

Yes, I know how it sounds, but it is important. If you have a team that must pull a 12 hour plus shift, or work in some adverse conditions, then make a plan to keep people healthy. Provide food, drinks, and mandatory breaks. Set points where everyone steps away from the problem, reviews the targets and timeline and reflect on the work. This is a great time to make adjustments and reconsider some priorities.

A manager or leader can control and manage all of these things for the team that is handling the problem(s). It is one less thing the team has to worry about, and they will appreciate it. Odds are, the problem will be more complex than it seemed initially. So having a team that is willing to go that extra mile without being asked will make all the difference.

This is an Opportunity, so Seize it

When things break, and have to be rebuilt, it is an opportunity to make improvements.
It is critical to know why the failure happened, and to mandate that steps be taken to prevent it, not to fix it. Fixing can imply that the old system needs to be patched and kickstarted back to life, only to once again fail.

Seizing the opportunity could cost some more time, but the benefits often outweigh the loss of time. Identify those who will suffer the most for the lack of the resource(s). Explain the problem, and that the idea is not to fix but to expand and improve. Use the word opportunity often, and get the stakeholders to agree.

Your Dude Named Ben is a person. Remember that. If you can form and manage teams, you can help in times of crisis. Trust me, it is not fun being that guy -sitting alone- and knowing everyone is waiting for you to pull-off a miracle.


Tony DePrato



Get Your PING ON

I am declaring war on all network technicians and engineers. I am doing this because they are ruining my life, and the lives of children…THINK OF THE CHILDREN!

As always I was coming home from a day of asking, W*frack, and I sat down to watch a few old episodes of …Kitchen Nightmares.  The shear speed and effectiveness of Chef Ramsay’s methods always inspires me. I always tell people, when introducing them to Kitchen Nightmares, that Ramsay has a formula for great restaurants.

  1. Keep the menu small and focused
  2. Use locally produced products to maintain freshness
  3. Care about everything you make

That is a quick summary, but #3 has an additional bullet point which I would like all network specialists (that now encompasses the terms technician and engineer, see what I did there?) to pay attention to:

3. Care about everything you make

It is a pretty simple concept. Do not let other people eat what you have made, unless you have tasted it first. Network specialists- test your network, as you build it, section by section. I have not seen a single case in the last five years where a network installation was properly tested without supervision from a third-party. Not a single case. Considering the reliance we have on networks in education, you would think that in every contract their would be a paragraph that reads:

For every 100 milliseconds of speed we lose, you lose $5.00 to us, paid in cash weekly. 

In 95% of cases, a percentage I can only support through my anger and conjecture, the network specialist will blame the telecommunications company and say, “Oh ATT&W needs to fix the problem and also maybe you need more bandwidth.”

Of course we need more BANDWIDTH! Everyone does. More bandwidth is awesome, but I am not 10 years old. I was alive during the Apple II, AOL, and Napster. I was doing more online with a 128 kpbs ISDN line than with the two 20 mpbs lines that I have now. I don’t think it is the bandwidth, I think it is everything else.

Oh, and by the way, Mr. or Ms. Network Specialist I can prove it is your fault. You served me the food, and unfortunately for you I have the tools I need to inspect it.

Advanced network testing with tools like Backtrack Linux, is something most people cannot do. Simple network testing is something everyone can do. All you need to know are 4 letters, p i n g.

When you ping a network, a website, or network device you see how long it takes for the information to travel. Based on decades of science you can find the average ping time over a given distance. For example the average ping time for 100 km distance is about .67 milliseconds. So if you ran a ping between your campus and www.moodle.org, and the speed was .700 – 1.000, then probably everything is fine.

If you ping the DHCP server, active directory server, or even your co-workers laptop in your building and the speed is .600- then you need to explode in anger. Sure there could be 100 km of cable between you and your server, but if someone installed 100 km of cable for a 100 meter job, then you still get to scream at the alleged network specialist.

So what do you need to actually take the idea of using ping and turn that idea into evidence?

    • On Windows  you need to be able to open the terminal/command line and on Mac the Network Utility. You also need to know the IP of your default gateway.OS X find the Default Gateway- Scroll Down to the Second Part

      OS X Instructions to Ping

      Window 7 Ping Instructions with Default Gateway Instructions

      When you ping copy the results or take a screenshot. You are not only looking for the speed in milliseconds, but how much it varies. For example, if you get 67, 70, 20, 20, 10, 80, 60, 60, then there is an issue with stability. The speed, even if it is slow, should be fairly consistent.

    • You need the IP Address of a few devices on your network, these are easy to obtain so do not panic.The best way to do this is to ask your network manger for the IP addresses of your: DHCP server, Active Directory Server, Core Switch, and a Switch in your section of the building. If they are not cooperative- find a co-worker, get on their computer and find their IP using the instructions above. Instead of the default gateway, you just need their IP address. Write down the IPs of people in different sections of campus. Note if they are on WIFI or the wired LAN because these speeds will vary.

      Again it is very important to copy your results or take a screenshot.

    • You need to know the external line speed. You may have more than one line so find out.This is fairly straight forward. If you are paying for a 20 mbps line you should expect the test below to be between 15 mbps – 20 mpbs.
    • You need to test the external speed with a simple program like Speedtest.Run speed test two or three times. Look at the speed and the GRAPH. The graph should not have many peaks or valleys. A stable connection should be a straight line.

      Take a screenshot of the results, and try to include the graph.

    • Finally, ping an external site. Any site will do, but do not pick one that is filtered or blocked in your location. Moodle.org is a good one. In the ping command you enter: http://www.moodle.org.Compare the external numbers to the internal numbers. If you can put these side-by-side it will help to facilitate a conversation.

What is the actual point of all this? The point is not for you to understand all the data, or even make a judgement. The point is for you to walk into a room full of network specialists, put data in front of them, and ask them what it means. In fact, I would not even tell them what the internal ip addresses are. I would ask them to look at the results and tell me what they see. Then I would explain the data as I collected it.

It is difficult to argue with data, especially data that they failed to collect. This is equivalent to blind folding a chef, feeding the chef their own food, and asking them to critique it. A bit evil, but very effective.

I believe in being involved in helping with problems, and not just complaining. There is always something a regular person can do in a specialists field, if they choose to act. There is no magic with technology. Technology is based-on rules that were either followed, loosely followed, or not followed at all.

In the span of this post you have the information you need to bring people into a discussion and lead it, without having to be an expert. It is time to level the playing field with the network specialists. It is time to get your ping on.

Tony DePrato