Archive for May, 2009
- after a week in the desert I sure do enjoy all the trees & rain & clouds! amazing what a change of scenery can do for an attitude adjustment #
- delta flight 1936 from atl to chi. rt engine goes out @ 15K feet! we do a 360 bak to atl w/emerg vehicles all over.cheers break out 4 pilot! #
- cubs game almost strikes out for father&son http://woosters.org/dan – forgive the typos, they want me to turn my phone off! #
- bad storm;power out @ half time;generator on to watch cavs beat magic-gotta luv technology when it works! #
- getting things ready for the big sbb cookout; making sure my network is locked down! #
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I’m pleased to be the first person to blog on Ironwood’s very own blog site! This was a result of IronGeekWeek. We first did this event 4 years ago (May 2005) and decided it was time to do another one. The first time, Georg Zimmer and I, from The Worthwhile Company, came for a week & helped our good friend Dennis Mollet with the camp’s IT infrastructure. We also helped Sam Brock, camp director, improve the hosting of his website and email.
This year we brought an additional member on the team, Ian Wagner. Ian is one of my computer science students and is spending his summer interning @ Worthwhile in our growing Summer of Bit Building experience. Ian has proved to be an outstanding member of the team, allowing me to avoid the 2 all nighters the team has done so far this week! We also had another one of my students, Jaclyn Ong, from Chino Hills, join us for a day. It was a huge learning opportunity for this relatively new member of the geek squad from BJU!
A Day in the Life of IronGeekWeek gives a good overview of what we do.
Here is a summary of the hightlights of the week. We post this mainly for our benefit, for unlike most camp volunteers which paint and build buildings (all very atom-based activities), our work is done almost exclusively with bits. We post this list so we can look back and “see what we did”.
- setup a vistor portal that will give camp visitors filtered internet access w/o having to involve Dennis’ time helping them with all the bit settings needed to provide this safe, filtered access – Ian was primarily responsible for this
- installed a virtual host on the camp’s main server and virtualized their existing Business & Exchange Server – Georg was primarily responsible for this and it ended up requiring 2 all nighters in order to minimize the impact on the users
- analyzed the cost/benefit of leaving all the computers on at night in order for Dennis to be able to automate nightly updates for OS & antivirus upgrades – Dan did the research on this and we all agreed that the additional $26/year was a small price to pay for the massive time savings for Dennis!
- implemented to Windows Server group policies needed to keep users from shutting down their computers at night, forcing hibernation instead, so the auto updates could take place
- created an online virtual hosting environment to provide a home for a growing number of web-based applications
- created Ironwood Online as a place to put digital documents for Ironwood customers to download easily – showed Beth and Sam how to fill the shelves of this digital store with bit-based products
- created Ironwood Wiki to facilitate an easy to use online mechanism for posting employee related stuff – Dan used it to store the instructions on how to manage Ironwood Online
- created Ironwood Blog to allow Sam & others a place to easily communicate the blessings of the Lord in the lives of campers – Dan was privileged to create this first official blog here!
- moved the existing proxy server into a VM and created a new one for the visitor portal – Ian did the googling need to figure this out and the entire team had a hand in making it work.
- increased the storage capacity of their server from 1 to 3 terabytes, maintaining the reliability via RAID
- resolved some existing email issues with Exchange Server
- helped Larry the BBQ guy (and great provider of food – see photo below) get his email working properly on his iPhone – and now Dan has been hooked on iPhones!!!
- resolved several DNS issues
- built and setup a new backup server and installed RSnapShot to keep the growing number of valuable bits insured – Georg and Ian worked on this
- created a script to restart IIS everyday @ 3AM to save time and frustration for Dennis – Georg did this one
- helped Dennis install 2 new flat panel monitors which suspend above his desk!
- gave Dennis some worthwhile computer lessons on topics of his choice – firewalls, ports, TCP/UDP/GRE and basic network and application security
- spent 14 hours trying to get a donated backup server to work; finally gave up and built our own in just a few short hours! Lesson learned – beware of donated computer equipment; it may not be worth the time it takes to assess its value to the ministry.
All in all we had a great week! Here are a few photos to help us remember the blessings of God in allowing us to serve him thru this great Gospel ministry which is changing hearts for Christ out here in the high deserts of California.
my son Jonathan & I were aboard delta flight 1936 out of atlanta to chicago to join his girl friend amy baus’ family for our very first chicago cubs game tonite. we had a most uneventful first leg from ashevill earlier in the morning. the plane was heading toward its crusing altitude of 30K feet, the flight atttendant had just imformed us we hadpassed thru the magin “ok to use electronic devices” barrier when all of a sudden we hear & feel some sort of explosion liike we hit something. the flight attendant made some stange remark, then silence for ahilw. finally the pilot comes on, after doing 180 banking turn, and says the right engine went out & he was returning us to atlanta. he further informed us not to be alarmed at all the emergency vehicles that would welcome us back! he finally lands us after what seemed like forever! it was a rougher than normal landing as it felt like the plane kept wanting to bank to the right. the entire group of very tense passengers broke out in cheers & applause for the pilot! it was quite the addition to an otherwise boring trip to the ole ball game! just another day in God’s sovwreigny designed world!
- new age of air travel-in line;cell rings;delta;flight delayed;knew it b4 delta agents!bits r sweet! #
- @ChrisRackley hey, don’t liken me to algore! in reply to ChrisRackley #
- @rundle what was the security lesson I shared from jack bauer? in reply to rundle #
- building secure software is a game of wit & mathematics! #
- 1st day of quintenial #IronGeekWeek! lovely sunrise in high desert of CA! good morning @ianthetechie #
- 1st day of the quintenial geek week @ ironwood is now officially over, terminated by a great western steak dinner! #
- thot4day: when we msg too much, we begin to lose intimacy with others, the natural world, the Creator, and even ourselves – quentin schultze #
- ending a great #IronGeekWeek in the high deserts of the wild west http://wurl.ws/bi0H #
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Take 5 computer geeks + 1 camp in the desert + 50 computer users + lots of computer problems and out comes IronGeekWeek. It began 4 years ago @ Ironwood Camp, located in the high deserts of southern California. Georg (aka Worthwhile #1 bit builder) and I came out to help Dennis Mollet, Ironwood’s IT guy, solve several IT related problems (and probably introduced a few knew ones, unknowingly of course!). The goal is find ways to use computer technology to help the camp achieve its mission more effectively. We did some server & workstation upgrades, setup a backup system, setup an e-commerce store & migrated their major business application from Access to SQL Server. In short, a bunch of bit stuff.
We are back again this year, with some more resources – Georg Zimmer, Ian Wagner & Jaclyn Ong. Ian and Jaclyn are a couple of my computer science majors, just finishing their sophomore year. It is interesting to watch the reaction of the non techie people as they try to understand what in the world we are doing! They can see what the painters & construction crews do. They understand the benefits of the teams that come to help get the camp stuff ready for another summer of campers. But what are these geeks doing here for an entire week? And will my computer be the same after they leave!
Here’s an overview of what we are doing, without all the technical mumbo jumbo.
- listen to the IT related problems they have been having, looking for patterns, cause and affect, related problems, things that will save the most time and positively impact the most people
- for each problem identified
- 1. google for possible solutions
- 2. analyze each potential solution, looking at pros and cons, costs, maintenance, etc
- 3. presenting the solution(s) to each other & deciding which one(s) are worthwhile
- 4. test driving the worthwhile solutions
- 5. choose a final solution
- 6. install the solution
- 7. discuss the maintenance required to keep the solution going
- move on to the next problem
The challenges are many. The opportunites are exciting. The search for solutions is invigurating. By the end of the week our hope is that we can walk away knowing that we solved more problems than we created!
Last week I posted a blog on “10 qualities of worthwhile software“. Today I’d like to expand on #9, security. A good piece of software should “protect the information it is responsible for”. It should “secure the bits”. I have found one of the best ways to gain insights into computer technology (the bit world) is to look for parallels in the “real world” (the world based on atoms). Once one understands the major differences and similarities between bits and atoms, it is much easier to understand how to live in a world filled with bits.
As a husband and father, I take seriously my job of protecting my house and those in it. I’m protecting things made of atoms. I can see them. As a bit builder, I take seriously my job of protecting my clients’ information. In some sense, they cannot be seen nor felt. They are intangible, though in many cases are extremely valuable. One of the major differences between bits and atoms is that atoms can be seen and for the most part, bits cannot be.
Why do I say “for the most part”. Bits cannot be seen by the “naked eye”, the untrained eye. But with the right tools, a trained individual can sort of see the bits. In my 28 years of teaching computer science, I have noticed those that are inherently good with numbers can usually see the bits in their head. That’s because they are good with numbers. Securing bits has everything to do with understanding numbers. Its a “numbers game”.
In the atom world, we secure things in layers. The number and strength of each layer is determined by the value of the item being secured. For example, most of us secure our money in a bank. The bank secures it in a vault. The vault has layers of protection and so on. Now one thing worth noting in the atom world, which is also true in the bit world, the tighter I secure atoms (i.e. the more layers), the more difficult it becomes to access them when I need them. For example most of us use keys to gain access to our cars. Without the keys, accessing the car’s functionality is made considerably more difficult. Not impossible, just more difficult. If I live in a neighborhood in which car jacking has become a way of life, I probably also want to install other layers of security on my car – steering wheel locking bar and LoJack come to mind. An interesting thing to note about the locking bar, it is fairly easy to find something that will “hack through” this layer of security, such as the BUSTER – removes steering wheel locking bars (which, btw, I found in the same google search I used to find a locking bar, so take note – even the crooks use google!). Which brings up an important point about information security – any bits I can secure, can be made insecure by someone else.
Rule #1 – securing bits is a mathematics game
Rule #2 – any bits that one person can secure, can be made insecure by another person willing to put enough effort into it- beware of anyone telling you they can guarantee 100% security!
Rule #3 – increasing security decreases usability (makes things more difficult even for the honest folks)
Rule #4 – like securing atoms, securing bits is best done in layers
Rule #5 – it is harder to know that something you cannot see is secure or not (corollary is – It is easier to secure things you can see)
Rule #6 – securing stuff (bits or atoms) requires being able to think in advance of all the bad things that can happen
It is rule #6 I find to be the most challenging. Consider the events of 9/11. Prior to these events, not many people considered the extreme vulnerability of tall buildings! Now everyone is aware of this. In the early days of web sites which had databases on the backend, not many people considered the extreme vulternability of SQL injection. This is a technique whereby someone can do unexcepted things to your bits in a database – change them, get a listing of them, or simply delete them! Now any developer worth his/her weight in bits is well aware of this problem. In addition, a growing number of tools we use to build web-based software takes this into account to help the developer create systems which avoid this vulnerability. There are hundreds of these types of vulnerabilities to which web applications can be exposed. If you want more details, I recommend CWE/SANS TOP 25 Most Dangerous Programming Errors.
In addition to being concerned about the security of the software, to be totally secure (or as close as the laws of the bit business will allow) the software must be running on a secure network. This topic will be discussed in a blog post coming soon to your browser …….
Another blog post on security - Security Thru Obscurity
Last week I posted my “10 qualities of worthwhile software“. Today I give an example of #1 – correctness.
I use PayCycle.com to do our company payroll. This pay period I forgot to include one employee’s vacation time. He received the paystub email and notified me. I deleted the paycheck and reissued the corrected one. So far so good. Then came the “will it do the right thing?” question! I had already processed the mandatory state and federal tax withholding payment so I was concerned about what would happen next. Would it do the right thing and pay only the difference between the 2 checks or would it do the wrong thing and pay the entire amount for this employee again. To my pleasant surprise (after testing of course, a topic for another day) it did the right thing.
It is so very nice to enjoy using good software as opposed to enduring to use software! Our TexSoft Team @ Worthwhile is committed and passionate about creating software that is enjoyable to use.
At the heart of computer science is of course the computer, but at the heart of the computer is SOFTWARE. To be an expert in the field of computer science, one must have the most in depth knowledge of software. What is it? How does it work? How is it created? How does it interact with the computer? What makes one piece of software superior to another?
Software, in my opinion, is the most valuable intangible product in the marketplace today. Everyone needs it. Everyone is impacted by it. And very few people know how to create it. And no one is able to create it with perfection! To emphasize the intangible nature of software, the term I like to use for the process of creating software is “bit building“. At its most base level, software is nothing more than a string (a very long string, millions and billions) of binary digits. Ones and zeros. I am in the business of training and developing “bit builders”. To help motivate the thoughts of my bit builders, here are 10 qualities of worthwhile software. If one is going to excel in the process of bit building, one must have a clear vision of what makes one set of software bits better than another. While I don’t claim that this list is exhaustive, I have found it to help me analyze and think clearly about the quality of a piece of software.
- correctness – does the software do what it is suppose to do (according to the design specs)?
- robustness – how does the software respond to unexpected conditions (wrong input)?
- user-friendliness - is the software easy to use by users from the intended audience?
- adapt-ability – how difficult is it to modify the software to adjust to an ever-changing world?
- reuse-ability – can parts of the software be easily reused to build other software systems?
- interoper-ability – does the software interface with other software systems?
- efficiency – does the software make good use of its resources (memory, disk, CPU, network)?
- port-ability – can the software be easily ported (moved) to other operating systems (or in today’s world, browser)?
- security – does the software protect the information it is responsible for?
- replace-ability – can the software be easily replaced someday?
My goal is to provide examples of each quality issue to help people understand how to select good software and help bit builders learn how to create such worthwhile software – bits that are enjoyable to use.
- detroit tigers pitcher just gets out of a bases loaded no outs jam-great lesson for business! #
- rain, rain stay in town, helps me get my grading down! #
- today @ bju we launch the next release of computer science graduates for the glory of God! #
- bju grad + furman grad + mothers day weekend = NO MORE RESTURANT SPACE! #
- Happy Mother’s Day to the greatest Mom – my Mother! Just booked our trip to Jensen Beach Florida! #
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