Vacation over

Time to soothe my sore muscles and get back in gear

I’m writing this morning from my father in law’s house up in the mountains. Yesterday we took the family on a seven mile canoe ride. It took us over five hours. The water level was pretty low in several places and our canoes kept hitting the bottom of the small rapids, so there was a lot of pushing and walking in places. Plus it seems we had to stop every half hour to feed the kids.

I dumped our small three-person kayak at stop, along with Missus and Younger. I was getting out to enjoy the water and threw her off balance. I jumped off between our kayak and the larger canoe, Missus was holding on to it in the front and my lunge simultanousley rocked her toward the other boat, which she was holding onto, and pushed her away from it, and it unbalanced her and tipped the whole thing over. Whoops.

We got out of the river just in time, we exited at a ramp under a bridge just as a heavy thunderstorm came over us. There was hail as well. We all piled into my car, which we had dropped off earlier in the day, wet as dogs, and drove back up river to retrieve the truck so we could come back and get the boats.

We spent the rest of the evening watching Hamilton, – it really is quite good – and slathering aloe vera on the spots on our bodies we had failed to cover with sunscreen. I passed out early and immediately after going to bed, and now the whole family save Elder is up, puttering about for breakfast.

Yesterday broke my writing streak. I forgot a plug for my laptop charger, so I have an excuse, but I still haven’t decided what to write for today’s Substack, and we have a three or four hour drive home ahead of us. I don’t know whether it’s better to write a short post and publish on time, or just start writing and publish it when it’s done. Quantity or quality, I suppose.

My FIL has a rental cabin that they manage through a third party site. He mentioned that they’re taking seven percent of his bookings, so I now have a third web development project in the hopper. I had better get cracking when we get back home.

First I have to get there, so I had best start getting things together: bags and cooler packed, car loaded, then get these kids fed and in the car. Then it’s back to the hustle and grind.

Forth of July

black semi automatic pistol with pistol

Prepping for a road trip, and thinking about guns

Today we’re leaving on our trip. It’s only for two days, but making sure the house is ready and that we have everything we need is always an endeavor. Yesterday I tended to our plants, cut the grass, edged, and sprayed some weeds while the girls cleaned the house. Then I managed the girls investments and wrote up a brief for them on our home intranet. Then we had our quarantine family over. The kids watched TV and the four adults played a game of Settlers of Catan. It was the first time our neighbors had played, and it must have had the least amount of trading in a game that I’ve ever seen. By the ninety minute mark we just wanted it to be over as it was getting too late for the kids, and in the end D. won. Turns out it was his birthday too!

We’ve got a four hour drive ahead of us, and while the girls are finally old enough that we don’t need to take the drive while they’re sleeping, taking rest stops during the age of COVID is still stressful. The number of new cases in our state continues to trend in the low numbers, and has opened up to “Phase 3” reopening, which means things are ok, I guess. We continue to wear masks whenever we go indoors, and are still avoiding crowds. The library has reopened, and Missus took Younger there a few days ago.

I’m hoping that we can get out on the water and do some canoeing. I don’t think white water rafting is in store, but I don’t think any lakes are near where we’re going, so maybe a lazy river is in store. We’ll see. I plan on taking the girls hiking to explore some trails that we found off the road last time we were out there. So that should be fun.

Missus dad also invited us to go target shooting, so that Missus can use the .380 that he bought her. That’s got me thinking about the girls. They don’t even know we have a gun in the house. I’ve got it stored away with a chamber lock, the bullets and key are stored elsewhere in the house. But if we’re going to travel with it then I want to have a conversation with the girls about guns and gun safety. Whether or not to bring the girls to any live fire activities is a conversation I need to have with Missus.

When I was growing up, my dad brought me to so-called “turkey shoots”, which is called such not because you actually shoot at turkeys, but because the winner takes home a frozen bird. There’s usually several rounds with varying prizes, contestants buy in per round, are given a single shotgun birdshot round, then step up one at a time to take a shot at one of several targets in a lane. At the end of the round, the targets are collected and whoever has a pellet hole closest to the center of the target wins. Crap shoot would be a more apt term, since the winner is usually based on luck, not skill.

My girls have never even seen a real gun, as far as I know, except maybe holstered on law enforcement. The only thing I’m sure Elder knows about them is what they told her during the active shooter drills in her elementary school. It still pains me to think that is a thing.

My FIL brought Missus the gun after he returned from a two-year stint working overseas. He barely managed to make it home, as the pandemic was taking off. No one was sure how bad things were going to get, so he wanted her to have something to defend herself with if things got really rough. I’d like to think that we’ve avoided that possibility, but given that the number of cases in the US continues to break records, I’m not so sure. Winter is coming, I guess.

For this weekend at least, we’ll just focus on getting out of town for a few days up in the mountains and having a good time. I’ve already got a checklist building in my head of things to pack. I hear the girls rousing upstairs, and I’ve got plenty to do to prep: reset the security cameras, pack food, clothes, and gear that we’ll need for the trip. And now Elder’s downstairs, already complaining that I let her little sister watch TV while I wrote. Sigh.

I usually pack my laptop, iPad, and a couple of books to read. Now Elder has a laptop as well, although I’m not sure I’m going to let her bring it. We literally cannot keep enough books around the house though, as she races through whatever we get her from the library in a few days. The last thing I want though is for her to get to my FIL’s house and then try to park herself in front of the TV there. It’s a challenge.

Well, time for me to get a move on. To my fellow Americans, please enjoy your Fourth of July. And remember, Hamilton is available on Disney+. We’ve only watched a half hour of it, but it’s good.


black DSLR camera near sunglasses and bag

Prepping for a trip, and making sure the future is secure

Tomorrow is the Fourth of July, which means today is a national holiday. Whee! To keep from going insane, my wife has taken off a few days next week. I took Monday off as well, and we will be heading out tomorrow morning to spend a few days with my father in law. Hiking, canoeing, and fireworks will ensue. We’ve got a lot of work to do to get the house ready for our departure. I’ll be cutting the grass and weed-eating, then I need to get our security cameras connected to our new ASUS ZenWiFi AC access points before we leave. We’re also hosting our quarantine family over movie and game night.

I won’t have to worry about Zombie, LLC for the next couple days, but I’ll probably be doing some work for my consulting projects. I just picked up another client yesterday, for a local political advocacy organization. I already got the wordpress site setup, and the client is going to handle the copy and content, so it should be a quick win that hopefully won’t serve as a distraction from my main project, which I’m into the third month on.

It’s Friday, which means that my cron jobs on my workstation upstairs is about to purchase twenty five dollars of BTC and transfer it to the wallet belonging to one of my daughters. All I have to do is keep the funds loaded, since there’s no way to initiate a funds transfer over API. I could do it using the exchange’s automated service, but they’d charge over a dollar for the transaction.

Since it’s the first weekend of the month, it’s probably a good time to review finances and take some optimization steps as well. I’m in the process of moving USD out of my daughter’s Lending Club accounts, converting it to BTC and dropping it in their BlockFi accounts, where it will earn a higher percentage yield. My own BlockFi account is earning a nice amount as well.

My IDEX masternode seems to be paying off now as well, after several years of middling returns. The IDEX token has doubled in price recently, and daily volume has been picking up, so I’m anxiously watching it to see how things progress. I’m currently hosting a level one node, and am hoping I’ve got enough staked that I’ll be able to run a level two node when it’s released.

I was reading something earlier this week that said that one doesn’t have to hyper optimize everything, that it’s ok to be happy knowing that you’re on the right path without worrying that you’re milking every last percentage point out of the markets. I’m currently holding positions in over three dozen publicly traded equities, and have at least a dozen cryptocurrencies in various wallets. Less than a third of them are even worth two percent of my portfolio, so I’m not getting caught up in micromanaging every one of them. Even the recent parabolic run on XHV, while placing it squarely in the top off the profitable coins that I’ve mined in the last two and a half years, hasn’t made my rig profitable.

And that’s why I turned off my mining rig, named lambo1, a few days ago. Managing it is just not worth my time right now. Finding coins to mine is a crapshoot, and keeping the blockchains current for a dozen different bags is just too cumbersome. I’m going to have to spend some time figuring out a way to not only manage what I have, but to make sure that I have documentation packed away in case something happens to me.

And that goes for all the things I’ve mentioned here today. If I was incapacitated, my wife would have to call in an expert just to retrieve my Bitcoin and Ethereum. Showing her how to use my hardwallet has been on my todo list for several weeks. Now that I’ve got a home intranet setup, I can start documenting all the various components of our finances to make sure that everyone knows where everything is. It seems like a great way to make sure that my kids know about the investments that I’m making for them and the family, and that they are crypto-natives as they grow up.

I mean, that’s why I’m into this whole blockchain thing in the first place, isn’t it?

IT fiction:The Phoenix Project

Thoughts on the first half of the business book

I’ve been reading The Phoenix Project: A Novel about IT, DevOps, and Helping Your Business Win the past couple days. It’s an interesting book that takes a fiction approach to teaching “the Three Ways”, which are some devops patterns and principles. It’s really interesting, although some of the setup seems a bit contrived, the writing is good enough that I found myself blowing through half the book in two days, and found myself reading it through past my bedtime last night.

Part one of the book is a journey into enterprise IT hell, as our hero, Bill, is promoted from his small operations group to IT director for the large automotive parts company that he works for. They’re in the midst of preparing for a huge software rollout, which is bound to fail, and Bill struggles to get a grip on things before things inevitably crash and burn. In short it it’s a trainwreck, and the authors start introducing the reader into change management devops concepts.

I think anyone who’s ever worked in an enterprise environment will have PTSD from reading this, I know I sure did. Although it’s aimed squarely at teaching workers in larger firms understand these best practices, I think it may be useful to smaller operators and teams like the one I work with. The book was written more than six years ago, which seems like a lifetime ago in IT, but it doesn’t get into the details of any actual tech tools, instead focusing on the process. In fact, the change management process they use in the book is literally postcards on a whiteboard, and the description of the rest of the environment is literally generic enough that it’s irrelevant.

Part one ends with Bill quitting after too many of his warnings are unheeded by the CEO, and part two starts with said CEO seeing the light and bringing him back in as they struggle to work together and save the company.

I’m already thinking that this will be one of those books that I recommend to all my IT colleagues. I may buy a few copies and send them to a few people I’m working with. I think it could be a valuable book for people who haven’t actually operated in a large corporate environment. It may be good for stakeholders as well. Hell, it might actually be good to give a copy out as a sales tool next time we have a big prospect.

One thing that I’ve taken away from the book so far is the breakdown of four types of work: projects, internal IT tasks, changes, and unplanned work, which I’ve always referred to as firefighting. They describe it as anti-work, which is an apt description, and I’m going to be more cognizant about the type of work that I’m doing from day to day.

The Phoenix Project falls in an interesting class of book that I haven’t run into before, business fiction. I’m curious if there are any others that are similar. I’m sure that the situation told within it is real enough, probably culled together from various real experiences, names changed to protect the innocent and all that. The first-person voice used by the authors is a style that seems familiar from many business books going all the way back to Dale Carnegie, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen it deployed in quite this way, with the book as one large case study.

Besides the operational side of things, there were a couple of work-related things that struck out at me like a sore thumb. During the failed deployment of the new software product, the entire core project team is forced to pull an all-nighter trying to restore operations, and then spend many long days during the following weeks trying to shore things up. After Bill’s promotion to IT director, he seems to lose all grasp on work-life balance. He’s reading a story to his kid and means to lookup something about Thomas the Train when he gets drawn into a work email and then another call. The situation completely disrupts his family life. Another employee at the firm, Brent, the key-man with a hand in seemingly every system at the company has gone years without taking a vacation without being on call.

Apparently these two issues will somehow be resolved as Part Two progresses, but there was one detail about Bill’s circumstances that really had me shaking my head. Near the end of Part One, as he’s fretting over losing his career, he questions how they’re going to pay off their second mortgage and start saving for their kids’ college. Apparently they were just treading water, and the unexpected promotion has finally put them on the right track. This detail caught me, and I found it interesting. Perhaps to appeal to a broader base of people, or elicit sympathy, but to me it struck me as slightly incongruent with the rest of Bill’s disciplined personality.

Maybe I’m reading too much into it. If anything, The Phoenix Project has reminded me of the life that I don’t want. I spent four years working in an enterprise firm, and I came out of there in a rough way. I’m going to need to think long and hard before I think about getting back into a leadership role at a large firm where I have the type off responsibility where I’m going to be on call for emergencies in the middle of the night, or get sucked into some project deployment that’s going to require anything resembling a war room.

I’ll find out how life changes for Bill and the employees of Parts Unlimited soon, as I’ll probably wrap the book up over the next day or two. I’m looking forward to getting copies in the hands of a few more people to see how they like it, and, more importantly, to see what effect it has on our operations and service delivery.

Waiting for the season… altseason

red vehicle

A couple altcoins are seeing action. Are they signs of things to come?

I don’t even know where to start this morning. It’s a new month, and it feels like I’ve got twenty things going on. I spent most of yesterday working on my client’s WordPress project until I was burned out, then I grabbed my iPad and started reading through the WordPress developer documentation until I was ready for bed. I woke up bright and early, and here I am.

I’ve got a lot to dig into today. For Zombie, LLC, I’ve got a remote worker who’s laptop is completely hosed that I’ve got to deal with, a Github implementation and server hardware replacement project that I’m trying to close, and I’m also trying to get onboarded with Apple Business Manager so that I can handle mobile devices for another client. That’s on top of the weekly call with my WordPress client. Plus, I’ve got several tasks for my other retainer client that I need to get on top of. Domain SSL cert renewals, end user email problems. This is the life I want, I suppose.

I turned off my mining rig for the second time in as many months. I had been trying to manage it remotely via HashR8 OS, but couldn’t figure out how to tell which mining pool it was working on. Answer: neither. HashR8 is apparently rebranding as RaveOS or something tomorrow, and I just didn’t have time for it yesterday so I just shut it off. My cards are two and a half years old 1070Ti, and I’ve just blindly been mining Arrow for some time now. I still haven’t dumped any tokens that I’ve mined since I started, and stopped tracking daily values months ago. I check it once or twice a month now, the values of the tokens have been sitting around one third of the original hardware costs for a year now. Apparently Haven has been on a tear lately, since they’re supposedly a month away from going live with their offshore features. We’ll see if they can keep this price action up for long.

XHVBTC price

The Mayer Multiple number (orange) in the bottom pane is the moving average of the current price divided by the 200-day exponential moving average. The current EMA multiple, over four, is quite significant. I went back through and look at the past couple years of the tokens that I’m tracking in my watch list, and most of the short-term parabolic runs only see about one and a half on the EMA multiple. There’s a couple exceptions though, ones that have gone higher, but my point is that those high numbers aren’t sustained for long due to the simple fact that the averages will eventually rise to meet the price level. If I was a trading man, I would probably unload some of my XHV right here and wait for a pullback till the price hits the current plot line. The price could actually be higher by then, of course, it all depends on whether this is the start of a new bull run or not. My position in XHV isn’t significant enough for me to take action at this point. We’ll see if there’s another alt season or 10-100x left for XHV.

While we’re on the subject of altcoins, I do want to note that I am having some serious FOMO around two other tokens, REN, and LINK.

RENBTC chart

REN, as you can see, had a nice run that peaked in mid February of this year, at a 1.8 EMA multiple. It then bounced off of this EMA multiple EMA, before launching again, where it’s currently just over 2x.


LINK has been on a tear. I bought a very small amount during the ICO and really wish I had gotten more. My point to this discussion, though, is that again, is that each parabolic run is followed by a pull back, and one could have made some nice sting trades buying these dips to the EMA, and selling these peaks, around 1.8x.

In fact, my strategy for our next Bitcoin run, if and when it ever happens, will be triggered by Bitcoin’s price in relation to it’s EMA multiple. Most of the parabolic runs have peaked at about 1.5x, but the run in late 2017 that saw it go from five thousand to twenty in just forty days hit 2.88. Based on the current price, I would predict a fast, parabolic run would put us around $25,000-32,000. That said, I’m not planning on unloading all of my holdings. After holding all the way up through the last bull run and subsequent drop, I told myself that I wasn’t going to make the same mistake next time. A price value at 2.88 times the EMA multiple would likely be a local top, and I’m going to take some profits this time.

Generally speaking, I don’t have enough of any alts to worry about it at this point. I’ve got a lot of ETH locked up in BlockFi right now, along with a stake in IDEX that seems to be doing well right now. I don’t know if we’re going to see altseason again, but the action in XHV, REN and LINK are very promising. I’m just waiting for their granddaddy, BTC to show them the way first.

Refining the design process

assorted-color abstract painting

What got me here won’t get me there

Since I was able to get my Substack post out on time yesterday, my focus has turned to my client’s WordPress project. I almost used the word “consulting” for a moment, but I am way too much involved in the design of the site to call it consulting at this point. And I’m having a hard time. Cause despite my familiarity with the tech stack involved in web hosting and CMS systems, my design skills really haven’t moved past the early days of the web.

Just look at this blog, for example, it’s focused on content, I’m still using a basic WordPress theme, and it’s got no color whatsoever. Part of that was intentional, so that I could focus on content generation and not get hung up on design presentation, but it’s hamstrung me. Part of my spiel whenever I talk to people about these project is about the separation of content and presentation. I tend to focus on content, structuring data, changing it. Design is not really my strong suit. It’s much more of a creative art that I’ve struggled with.

When I was in my twenties, I used to love to play around with Photoshop, making designs with filters and creating awesome images. I’m pretty good with typography as well. When it comes time to laying out text and images, and putting together a color scheme on a web page though, I just don’t know where to start. And therein lies my current problem.

The client came to me with a website that had been fully designed and rolled out between 2016 and 2018. It didn’t look like it was up to the design standards, even of that era. I can’t even put my finger on why I know that, but it just does. The site was broken. The first thing I saw when logging into the admin console was that it had a huge mess of plugins, and I couldn’t make heads or tails of it. I needed to figure out what was essential and what we could get rid of. And there were over twenty five hundred registered accounts in the system. Most of them looked like spam. Sigh.

I never ever ever make changes to a client site without testing it in a staging site, so that was the first order of business. I use Infinite WordPress to manage my sites, so the first thing I did was installed that plugin to connect it to my management console, then I started a backup. After we had that under control I cloned the existing site to staging and got to work. It was a mess. There was a lot of content on the site, over two hundred pages and posts, but the site used custom posts types and fields, and had some sort of content controls that were supposed to paywall the content and was just broken. I spent what must have been a week just trying to inventory the plugins to figure out which ones we could disable to speed things up.

The only other production change that I allowed myself was for analytics. I checked the console a couple of days later and found that the site was getting tons of hits. Apparently the blog content had been indexed by Google, and a lot of people were getting referred to it. Converting those hits into leads was now the priority. The site was still broken though. The navigation didn’t work, so most visitors were falling off. Furthermore, while checking the contact forms to see what emails were being used, I discovered that email for the domain wasn’t working. At all.

I was able to get the email up and running, but it took days to figure out where the problem was and to move the DNS records over to my reseller account. Delving into the theme itself, it appeared that the designer had just cloned the WordPress TwentySixteen theme and started editing it directly. I’m not sure if WordPress had child themes back then, but they had just dumped a bunch of custom PHP functions right after the existing ones, and the template codes were full of SQL queries into the custom fields, which didn’t jive with what the plugin documentation called for. I really didn’t want to spend however much time combing through this code to refactor it. So I recommended to the client that we start from scratch.

I’ve got an Envato account that I subscribe to, my process just involves finding a good theme that fits the tone of what I’m going for, throwing it up on the site, and swapping the boilerplate content with custom copy. And I don’t like writing copy for clients. Or, I should say I’ve avoided doing that in the past. It starts coming close to marketing, which I’ve had an aversion to. I’m working on overcoming that aversion, at least for myself and my projects, but doing that level of work for clients requires a level of intimacy with the project/product that I haven’t had the time for. I’d rather outsource it, and that’s just what I did with the last project that I was involved with.

I’m not going to take that route this time, we’re going to plow through this and get it done, come hell or high water.

One of the problems that I’ve found working through this project is that I tend to try and shape my content to fit the boilerplate in the themes I use. It isn’t working. My client gave me a document with the content that they wanted on the page, and my brain seized up looking at it, trying to figure out where to match it to fit. It’s not going to work. I’m going to spend some more time today going over it again to see if I can provide some structure to it, then I’ve got a work session with the client tomorrow to really try and break it down. I don’t think that we’re going to be able to do this part in WordPress directly. I may need some mind mapping tools or something else to make it work.

Pressing up against the limits of my abilities is going to take some work. We’ve got to bootstrap this site into production to get things moving. Maybe then we can engage a professional to help tune things.

For now, that’s me, designer, developer, editor, admin. While I have some downtime today, I’m going to do some research and see if I can find any other resources to help refine the process.

Leisure time

standing woman holding gray blanket surrounded by green grass

Seeking active engagement in the world away from screens

Monday morning is off to the right start. I got to bed on time last night, but woke up a little on the late side, so I’ve really got to get cracking this morning. I was able to complete the draft of the Substack post on Bitcoin, so I’ll be editing that and getting ready to publish. I have a project or two to work on for my day job today, one around mobile device management, and the other around a managed GitHub instance. Then a call at twelve to catch up with a political contact and deal with some lingering issues from my last campaign.

And did I mention I had to do all that while watching the kids?

I finished Fluent Python, last night. I’ll admit I ran through the last couple chapters on metaprogramming without reading too much of the code, but the book was very valuable, and I learned quite a lot from it. Ramalho has a lot of further reading references in the books various chapters, so I plan on going back and looking over the ones the says are “must read”, like the cookbooks from Dave Beasley. Unfortunately, I haven’t been doing any programming in Python lately, since I’ve been writing and working on WordPress mostly, , working with Docker and now trying to learn how manage Nginx reverse proxies. My hope is that once I finish this client site, I can go back and focus on a programming project like my GBTC estimator.

I’m still reading Digital Minimalism as well, and started reading the chapter on leisure. Newport points to the FIRE movement as an example of a community that’s renewed a focus on leisure. This leisure, as Newport defines it, is not the lounging around, watching Netflix, but is the more physically engaged kind, usually involving, vigorous outdoor activity.

I can’t wait for Missus to read this book. She’s deleted Facebook off of her phone a few days ago, and I couldn’t be more happy. Newport says that it’s important for people to have something to fill the void left when people cut the cord on these various technologies, else they may wind up feeling anxious or empty. I have obviously been doing that with writing. I’m still much more comfortable sitting with a keyboard in front of me when I have the choice, but I have been doing a better job maintaining myself. I still spend a lot of time cooking, and doing the yard. And I’m glad to see that Missus has taken after gardening with a bit of zest.

Still, we have two very different responses to free time, and it’s become a bit of a sticking point in the way we’re raising the kids. She’s much more lax about the amount of television that she lets them watch, where I would rather see them doing more active activities. Even playing video games engages the brain more than just watching television passively. As does reading a book, which we all enjoy. For what it’s worth, she would much rather go on vacation to the beach, and lounge with a book, where as I would rather go on a white water rafting trip. I may be trying to fit pegs into holes with this description, but I’ll see what she thinks after she has a chance to read it.

That said, keeping the kids busy is the most challenging part of my day, and biggest impediment to getting deep work done. Thankfully they’ve got their friends down the street to play with. I feel a bit busy that they spend so much time down there. Everytime I tell them to get some outside time, it’s the first thing that they want to do. We’ve been having them over a lot also, so I guess it’s fair.

Fourth of July is this Friday, so we’ve decided to make it a four day holiday and go back up to see my father in law at his house at a ski resort. Last time we were there the kids and I discovered a network of hiking trails in the woods behind the houses, running along a little stream. I’m really looking forward to getting back up there and exploring them with the girls. Our state is supposed to be going into Phase 3 for the reopening plan, so there may even be campgrounds or real hiking trails open. We’ll have to check.

Hopefully it won’t be too hot there in the mountains, under the forest canopy. It’s already started getting warm here in the afternoons. It was ninety degrees on Saturday for the party, but we had shade in the back from our trees for the kids slip and slide. We put our ten foot canopy up on the back deck, over our patio set, and made a little VIP are for the adults. We decided to leave it up, since it makes a nice addition and lets us stay out on the back deck when the sun’s overhead. I’m sitting out here now. It will be interesting to see if the pandemic slowdown has any noticeable effect on temperatures this summer. Hopefully August and September won’t be too bearable, otherwise we’ll be spending a lot more time up in the mountains.

Now that Missus has her work laptop, we’re basically free to work anywhere. And while that’s an attractive prospect, it also means redefining what we do for fun. I often use Costa Rica as my go-to when I’m talking about living FIRE or doing geoarbitrage. I don’t really have a deep-seated to desire to go there, I’ve just heard it mentioned as a popular place for American expats to go.

If we are to make a go of it, Missus and the kids and I will have to redefine what leisure means to us. Maybe this weekend will be a test of what things can be like if we are able to work while on the road. When the kids come and tell me that they’re bored, I say “good”, and leave them to find something to do, but that’s going to be a lot harder if we’re away from home and they don’t have their screens or their toys with them. It will be hard for the adults too, but that seems to be the way to a fulfilling life, away from the stress and anxiety of the world.

Not so lazy Sunday

No rest for the wicked.

So yesterday’s party was a hit, and we’ve been pretty productive for what should have been a lazy Sunday. Yesterday, I roasted a seven pound pork butt and made carnitas out of it, and also wound up making the birthday cake and frosting from scratch. Just call me “Daddy Crocker”. This morning everyone but the birthday girl slept in, and I’m writing this in the middle of the afternoon. I spent most of the day cleaning up the mess from yesterday, and making some changes to this website.

We’ve been getting lots of Google referral traffic for two posts, one for a WordPress hack, and another for an obscure Windows server error message that I wrote about. I’m getting enough of them that I figure I might test whether there’s any opportunity for clients, so I put a Boxzilla popup on the two pages containing a contact form. That was easy enough, but I ran into problems with my WordPress SMTP capabilities that required troubleshooting. I wound up switching to the Post SMTP plugin, since it’s free. So, any hits on the form should send me a notification SMS via my cell provider’s text message gateway.

Now, I wait.

I’ve got a lot to do today, so I’m going to wrap this up and continue working on my Substack, which I’m hoping to get out tomorrow. I’m also overdue on my WordPress project for my client, so hopefully I can manage to get both of those done before the day is over.

Mobile Device Management

two black smartphones

Small business deployments are still too cumbersome

Today is going to be a busy day. We’ve got a small party to attend to host, so I’ve got to do a bunch of household cleanup, roast a pork shoulder, bake a cake, and then host seven or ten children plus parents in the backyard. If that wasn’t enough, I’m behind on both my WordPress project and the Substack post for Monday, which is about bitcoin.

Work picked up a bit last week. I’m helping roll out Git best practices for a software development firm, which is the kind of challenge I’m looking for, and dealing with a failed mobile device management solution (MDM) that I rolled out several years ago and which has been summarily ignored since then. It’s not what I’d rather be doing.

Microsoft’s MDM, Intune, has evolved over the past few years, and like most Microsoft services, has gone through several iterations and is a maze of admin dashboards, documentation, and licensing products. It still seems vastly superior to the product that we’ve been using from IBM, called MaaS360. Still, figuring out the requirements for a small business client is a huge pain. We’ve been dealing mainly with Apple devices, which means managing all the end user accounts. Getting the devices enrolled requires managing a signed certificate from Apple (another account), and then deploying the device requires not only a configuration profile on the device, but additional apps on the device for it to work.

For our initial deployment MaaS360, requirements were pretty simple, the customer mainly wanted to lock down the browser on the phones for content filtering. It was an arduous process, even for a first-time deployment. Setting up the device profiles and testing took me several hours, then another associate of mine had to go through each device, setting up iTunes profiles for each user and downloading our management application. Then, after we deployed it, we discovered that GPS tracking wasn’t working. Permission needed to be granted individually on each device.

This initial deployment went unattended for almost two years. We got a request to pilot a new service app on one of the phones, and when I went back to check the tenant, all but two of the phones hadn’t checked in to the portal in over six months, more than half in over a year.

By some stroke of luck one of the two belonged to the individual who was selected to pilot the new service app, so I was able to proceed with the planning for that. I spent the rest of the morning trying to acquaint myself with Microsoft’s MDM offerings. Since most of our clients are on O365, it makes sense to take advantage of whatever is available through the platform. I was able to get a device policy setup under our partner account, but wasn’t able to get my personal iPhone to report into the console, even after several attempts connecting it to my O365 Exchange account.

Then, several hours later, after getting a Teams notification, I was prompted to install the device management profile, as well as two other apps, one for a “company portal”, and the Microsoft Authenticator app. Then, I was prompted for a managed Apple ID, and that’s where I stopped for the day.

I decided that if I was going to be forced to redeploy management to a dozen or so client devices, that I had best start communicating with the client, so I spoke to them. There had been numerous personnel changes in the past few months, and a lot of other processes were being re-evaluated, which meant that it was a good time to put some processes in place. First off, a freeze on any device purchases or equipment transfers without keeping me in the loop. (Outsource IT is usually an afterthought when it comes to hiring and firing.) Second, we were going to audit all existing devices, and make sure that we have a record of which devices we think we have, and who they belong to. That would give us some time to evaluate whether we can move management over to O365, or redeploy with the current solution.

I pulled some spreadsheets down from the management portal and dumped them into the client’s SharePoint site, then scheduled a Tuesday meeting with the pilot user for the new app.

Next week, I’ll have to do some investigation into Apple Business Manager, to see if it allows us to manage user IDs as well as the devices. We can barely depend on this firm’s employees to manage the one AD accounts, let alone another set of Apple IDs. It’s management hell. I’ll also have to draft some written policies for device and user onboarding and so forth. Eventually, I’d like to enroll the client firm in the carrier’s device provisioning program, to get them enrolled with minimal supervision. That will likely be a slog for this small firm.

On the brighter side of things, this may force me to develop some concrete MDM deployment best practices that will make me a superstar. I’m not aware of any Powershell tools that can be used to automate any of this process. Even turning on MDM within O365 requires clicking a box in the admin portal, and the Apple Certificate provisioning requires setting up accounts and downloading a file from one portal into another. Drafting an SOP for the entire process start to finish would be valuable.

That will have to wait till next week, because today, I have a party and very special birthday girl to attend to.

Finding Solitude

silhouette of man standing on seashore

Carving a space for thought

I’ve stopped counting the days since the COVID lockdown, we’re well in the third month. Yesterday the papers announced that our state was moving into phase 3, which should bring us back to some sort of normalcy. I’m not buying it. Homestead, Florida ran out of beds and that the US is back on a positive track, so it’s clear the rest of the country isn’t dealing with it well. I keep looking at our numbers daily like I’m analyzing the next price move for Bitcoin, and it looks to me like we’re in a consolidation phase before the next bull run.

Source: Bing Covid Tracker

I spent most of yesterday completely useless. Sleep deprivation hit hard in the afternoon, and I spent two hours on the couch reading blogs. By dinner I was snapping at the kids so I tried to lay down with Elder when she went to bed but it just wound up giving me more energy, so I spent an hour on the back porch meditating. It was the longest session I had done in a long time.

My backyard is fairly quiet, we live near the end of a cul-de-sac, near the water. We’ve got a patio and a hot tub out the back door, and maybe a third of an acre in the yard, big enough for two large maples, a shed and playhouse for the kids. There a freshwater drainage ditch with a no man’s land about thirty or fourty feet deep, sort of a mini-forest if you will, and beyond that are some condos in the neighboring subdivision. It’s not completely isolated, but enough so.

We’ve got a variety of animals that wander through from time to time. I’ve seen entire families of deer wander through, and often find signs of them around the yard. Rabbits are prevalent as well, and we’ve found turtles wandering about. There’s also the occasional fox alert on Next Door. Earlier this week I watched a squirrel cut down small twigs off one of our maple trees to build a nest at the base of the branch attachment.

And the birds. There are so many birds, I don’t even know how to describe them. I’ve heard woodpeckers out there, and all kinds of calls that I don’t even have the capacity to describe. A lot of the trees along the no man’s land are probably over a hundred years old, and tower into the sky, and I often see hawks or falcons soaring above them or perching atop them. There’s all sorts of other finches and smaller birds that flit around the yard, last year we had a blue jay visit us, and this year we’ve got a cardinal nest in the juniper bush between the deck and our bay window. If I balance atop the deck railing, with one hand on the house, I can see the chicks.

And there I was yesterday, too wired to sleep but to tired to do anything else, sitting cross-legged on a cushion while the sun went down, watching the birds and fireflies bustle about in the yard, alone. Call Newport talks a lot about solitude in Digital Minimalism, and he uses an interesting definition of it, basically the state when one’s mind is isolated from the influence of others. And he doesn’t just mean people around you or in your social media feeds, but also books and magazines. This is something I hadn’t considered before. He notes that while at Walden Pond, Thoreau wasn’t far off in some wilderness, but just a couple minutes away from town, far enough where he could be undisturbed by people most of the time, alone with his thoughts. He talks about Lincoln at the Soldiers’ Home, away from the bustle of the White House, where he could think in solitude. And Kierkegaard had a penchant for walking, hours every day, which allowed him the time to come up with his works.

I’m normally the type of person that doesn’t stop reading, and yesterday was no exception, I spent most of my miserable afternoon alternating between trying to nap and reading blogs. I had had too much caffeine for the former, and not enough to do anything more productive than cook dinner. After putting the girls to bed, I decided that a bit of solitude would do me good, so I gave myself an hour to sit and think, to let the ideas wander in. In the past I’ve had a bit of general anxiety about forgetting a good idea. I’ve tried keeping a notebook handy in the past, and fought the urge to dictate notes to Siri in the past. I’ve since come to realize that the good ones will come back, or can be retrieved after I’m done sitting, especially if I let them play out in my head instead of trying to dismiss them to focus on breathing or what’s going on around me.

After I was done I walked inside, and Missus was coming down at the same time, phone in hand. She immediately told me about how worked up she was about the latest drama, both at work, and with her family airing dirty laundry in public. I listened, but didn’t want to be drawn into it. I didn’t want to be pulled away from the place I had just spent the last hour getting my mind into. I wasn’t done. So I went upstairs, opened up the voice memo on my phone, and spent ten minutes dumping my brain out of my mouth, then read and went to sleep.

I slept like a baby.

Removing all the social media off my phone has been working out real well. Part of me misses staying hyper-informed on Twitter, but taking a break has made me realize that it’s not really what I need to accomplish my goals. It’ll be interesting to see what my metrics look like after a month, I sign on now and the notifications are just useless someone you follow like this types. It’s like the algorithms have detected that I’m becoming less engaged, and they’re crying out, look at this! Look at this! I dumped LinkedIn off my phone as well after getting too many notifications.

I know that my writing volume has increased notably. And my reading has picked up as well, but I don’t have a real way to quantify it. And whether I’m closer to achieving my goals remains to be seen, but that somehow seems secondary to making sure I carve that space out for myself.