What I do for a living

 

A lot of my friends and family ask me what I do for a living.  When I tell them I’m an IT Consultant specializing in Microsoft technology they just stare at me for a few moments then change the subject that they brought up.  If they don’t change the subject they tell me about a problem with their computer and expect me to tell them how to fix it.  I thought I’d discuss my career a little more.

 

I work for a company called Catapult Systems.  They’re a private company that’s been around for 20 years.  Their headquarters is located in Austin Texas.  Catapult has offices in:

  • Texas – Austin, Dallas, Houston, San Antonio
  • Florida – Ft. Lauderdale, Tampa
  • Colorado – Denver
  • Washington D.C. area
  • Arizona – Phoenix
  • Washington – Seattle

I’ve had the privilege of working in the Austin and Houston offices.  These days I’m part of the D.C. office while living in Western Michigan.  As of 2014 I’ve been with Catapult for 10 years.  Catapult is considered a Microsoft Partner.  A Microsoft Partner basically means Microsoft trusts us to implement Microsoft products and solutions for companies.  It’s more complicated than that but I’m keeping this simple.  What companies do is hire Catapult to, well do stuff for them.  It can be creating a website, designing and implementing a custom application or custom web application, implementing servers with software to support business needs, outsource some or all IT work, and more.  I’m in the infrastructure division.  I work with Microsoft software and a wide range of hardware from HP, IBM, and Dell.  I am not a programmer.  I do not work with code all day getting something to work.  Catapult Systems has people for that.  I’m capable of doing some things like:

  • Migrating mail from one version of mail software to another.
  • Installing server operating systems using best practices.
  • Deploying Windows 7/8 to end users without any user interaction keeping their data and settings.
  • Implementing and locking down firewalls.
  • Configuring and deploying anti-malware software.
  • Making sure workstations receive Microsoft updates.
  • Migrating applications from huge data centers to “the cloud”.
  • Packaging applications to be deployed to workstations silently and without end user intervention.
  • Consolidating user accounts during mergers and acquisitions.
  • Performing health checks of designated environments.
  • Providing organizations a way to see if applications will run on new operating systems.
  • Installing and setup fault tolerant databases.
  • Design data backup strategies.
  • Architect remote access for employees.
  • Assist with having companies have more virtual servers than physical servers.
  • Migrate to newer versions of server type software with minimal downtime for the users.

The lengths of projects that I work on range from 2 weeks to a year depending on what’s involved.  At times I have to be on-site and other times I can work remotely.

I hope this blog helped explain on a low level what I do for a living.  I love what I do and see myself doing it into retirement.

The importance of keeping personal opinions off social media when representing a company

I recently had an encounter on Twitter.  I was tweeting a grocery store when a travel agency decided to reply to my tweet.  They tagged me and the grocery store.  They wanted to let us know that this grocery store “treat their employees like shit” and they “reported them to the ACLU today as well as local tv”.  Later in their tweets they called me a “Fat. Man”.  It’s very important that business owners make sure to keep personal opinions off their company’s social media websites.  This is not only unprofessional but it can lead to decreased business and have a negative impact.  It’s also important to know that once something is said on the internet it really can’t be deleted.  Let me explain what happened in detail.

 

I noticed someone in the grocery store in the twelve item or less self-checkout with over thirty items.  Joking around I tweeted about it and tagged the grocery store.  I said:
@meijer, please reprogram your 12 item self-checkout to have a limit of 18-24 item!. It’s rude to others when customers have 30+ items.”

 

Shortly after that Meijer replied to my tweet saying:
@adamjrafels Thanks for the suggestion, Adam.”

 

After Meijer replied I saw a tweet from Recess Travel Agency @RecessTravel saying:
@adamjrafels I wouldn’t ask much of @meijer. They treat their employees like shit. I reported them to the ACLU today as well as local tv”

 

I was a little thrown off as my tweet was to Meijer.  I didn’t understand why Recess Travel Agency was wanting me to know this.  My reply to Recess Travel Agency was:
@RecessTravel, I thought you were a travel agency. It’s very unprofessional to use that language and post tweets like yours. Grow up.”

 

I guess Recess Travel Agency wasn’t very happy with my response and tweeted:
@adamjrafels go. Away. Fat. Man.”

 

Shortly after that Recess Travel Agency deleted their tweets.  This is probably because they knew what they were doing was not only unprofessional but hurtful by personally attacking someone.  Just because someone deletes a tweet doesn’t mean something was never said. I’m sure Recess Travel Agency wasn’t aware that I receive an email when someone mentions me in a tweet.  They are able to delete the tweets but not the emails from Twitter to me and for those moments before they deleted the tweet it was public(see screenshots below).

Looking at their tweets Saturday night it appears something happened in Louisville Kentucky with the owner or someone he knows.  I believe they felt it was appropriate to vent their disgust with Meijer on Twitter by reaching out to people that tweeted Meijer.

 

Recess Travel Agency’s contact information is below.  If you want to book travel with them be sure to remember how they treated me, a total stranger on the internet.

Jay Rainey Jay@recesstravel.com
http://recesstravelandtours.agentstudio.com/
https://twitter.com/RecessTravel
https://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Recess-Travel-and-Tours/442520759179586

 

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How to choose the freshest coffee

I’m at a hotel, it’s early, and while getting my morning coffee I took for granted some information I know that most people don’t.  I decided to blog about it since I have some time to waste before leaving the hotel.

I’m the kind of person that likes to know why or how.  I love to ask people a question about their job or what they’re doing and just listen absorbing what they say.  That’s how I obtained the information below.

We’ve all seen those coffee dispensers that has the display on the top.  We’ve seen them in hotels, gas stations, and all over the place.  The skin might be branded but you know the ones I’m talking about.

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This morning there were two non-decaf pots out and each one had different markings on the display as shown below.

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I decided to get my coffee from the coffee dispenser that is photographed on the top.  The reason why is because of the pies.  Each black pie represents one hour.  Each black piece of the pie represents fifteen minutes.  Using that information the top pot has been out for thirty minutes and the bottom pot has been out for one hour and forty-five minutes.  If all of them are flashing that means the coffee has been out for over four hours!  The other thing to look for is the level indicator in the middle.  The blacker it is the more coffee in the coffee dispenser.  Both coffee dispensers were half full.  You don’t want to get the last of the coffee as less coffee in the coffee dispenser means the colder it will be as air enters the coffee dispenser cooling the coffee

I know this blog is off topic but hopefully it will help you get a fresher cup of coffee when traveling.

What I use and how I do things at home

Being in Information Technology I have a lot of friends and family ask me for my opinion in regards to their personal computers and home networks. Heck, I even get phone calls from family asking me to install a wireless printer, setup a new computer, or remove pop-ups! I wanted to discuss what I personally do at my house.  The products and methods I use at client sites differ from the products and methods I use at home. Sure I could setup Microsoft Data Protection Manager and deploy agents to my family computers in my house for backups. I could also implement Microsoft Configuration Manager to make sure the few workstations under my roof are up to date with patches and to make installing software easier than sneakernet. Another option would be for me to go with Microsoft Service Manager so my family could submit helpdesk request with Service Level Agreements (SLAs). The fact is what I use at work and what I use at home is and will be different.

There’s a saying about opinions being related to a body part but I’m not going to get into that. Everyone does things differently. The way we do things may be different but the end result is basically the same. I’ve evolved throughout the years and below is what I’m currently using and doing.

Antivirus/Malware
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When you get a new computer from the store it’s usually installed with some trial version of antivirus. Don’t get suckered into using it. Sure they’ll give you a free subscription for 90, 180, or even 365 days but after that prepare to pay a pretty penny. If you have an computer running home editions of Microsoft Windows XP, Microsoft Windows Vista, or Microsoft Windows 7 skip the pre-bundled software mess. Download Microsoft Security Essentials, uninstall the pre-installed AV software, reboot, and install MSE. I’ve been using MSE for so long I can’t even remember what I used before that. It’s a great product for personal home machines. The reason I recommend this product is because it is free and it does a great job protecting from malware.  If you have Windows 8 then Windows Defender is the same as MSE and it’s already built in. I haven’t worked with a Windows 8 machine from a store but I would assume you uninstall the preinstalled antivirus software, reboot, and enable the Windows Defender Service.

Backups
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I use to duplicate my data by using mirrored hard drives. I even went through the backup to CD-ROMs craze (what was I thinking). With my data growing and growing and collection of software increasing I needed something that could also grow. For a long time I used Mozy until they started charging per GB. I didn’t like paying per GB but I loved how you setup the client and it back up offsite. A few years ago I switched from Mozy to CrashPlan. I LOVE CrashPlan. It saved Jody’s rear a few times already. I have the family plan where I can back up to ten machines to their servers without any online size limits. What’s also nice is using the same client I can backup those same computers to my server sitting in my basement. Another added feature is my friends can supply my code and backup their machines over the internet to my server free of charge. I love CrashPlan as it’s a great way to back up my data to multiple locations automatically. My family loves it as their machines are backed up also.

Passwords
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Gosh where to begin. I think the first way I tried to keep track of my passwords was with a password protected Excel Spreadsheet. That worked for a while. After that I used KeePass on my flash drive to keep track of my passwords. Overall I really liked KeePass. Since then I discovered LastPass. I decided to go with LastPass as they’re using the cloud.  Everything on their servers is encrypted so that makes me feel much better about my usernames and passwords. My browser and mobile device does the decryption. That way I know there is no decrypted data on their disks. I can access my passwords from an app on my phone, iPad, iPod, computer, and it even enters my usernames and password into websites. If you want a place to keep your passwords look into LastPass.com. This is a great way to have your usernames and passwords off a disk or flash drive. Tip: you can back up your data to an encrypted file for your own records if you don’t like that a website is the single source for your usernames and passwords.

Bookmarks
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I remember years ago I wanted to create an app that would synchronize bookmarks among different computers and browsers. Well someone beat me to it. Welcome to XMarks. Using XMarks, all of your bookmarks are synchronized across computers and browsers. If your computer crashes just install XMarks and you’ll have all of your bookmarks back.

Notes
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Sometimes you just need a place to have notes and snippets of webpages and such. For this I use Evernote. I can access my notes via an application, webpage, and even a mobile applications. It’s great for jotting down things. I prefer Evernote to Microsoft’s OneNote due to Evernote is a cross operating system(PC, mobile devices, etc.).

Files
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We all start with a few files, then we add/create more. Pretty soon we’re bombarded by data. F
or a very long time I kept my files on a flash drive but to be honest with you those flash drives are not very reliable. Good thing I used Mozy/CrashPlan! With cloud storage I decided to give it a shot. Let’s just say SkyDrive is great. I have a folder on my workstation and an app on my notebook and desktops. It syncs everything in that folder to SkyDrive.com and to my other workstations. Basically I have that file not only on my workstation but in the cloud and on my other workstations. There is a 2GB file size limit so I have some files that don’t sync online. It’s not a problem because if I’m out and about I shouldn’t be worrying about downloading an 11GB video file.

Microsoft Office Applications
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The newest and greatest item added to my bag of tricks is Microsoft Office 365. My work machine has Office but my personal machines do not. The student version of Office was cost effective as it was about $150 and you could install it on up to 5 machines.  We qualified for this as three people were currently enrolled in school. The problem now is activations and a new pricing model. Microsoft will only allow you to install the student edition it on a single machine. Welcome to Microsoft Office 365. Sure it’s a subscription but for $100 a year you not only get the latest version of Office but you can install it on up to 5 machines! If a machine crashes you simply go online and deactivate it freeing up that license. It also integrates with SkyDrive and your corporate versions of Office.  I’ve only been using it for a few days but so far I think it was a good decision.

I hope this blog discussing what I use makes you think if what you’re doing is enough. Any one of my machines can explode and I really won’t care as all of my data is safe and secure ready to be reloaded on a new machine along with some subscription services that makes travel easy

Microsoft Security Essentials
http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/security-essentials-download
Price: Free

CrashPlan
http://www.crashplan.com
Price: Free backing up to another friend’s computer. $33 a year backing up one computer with a 10GB online storage limit. $60 a year backing up one computer with no online storage limit. $150 a year backing up two-ten computers with no online storage limit.

LastPass
http://www.lastpass.com
Price: Free for online and computers. $10 a year for mobile apps and no advertisements.

XMarks
http://www.xmarks.com
Price: Free. $10 a year for mobile applications and added features.

Evernote
http://www.evernote.com
Price: Free. $45 a year to remove advertising and increase in monthly upload limits.

SkyDrive
http://www.skydrive.com
Price: Free for 7GB(if you had SkyDrive before pricing then you got 25GB free). Most expensive plan $50 a year for 100GB online store.

Microsoft Office 365
http://office.microsoft.com
Price: $100 a year for online access and installed on up to 5 computers.

How to Protect Your Data in the Event of a Webapp Shutdown (and Prevent the Problem in the Future) lifehacker.com article

I normally don’t blog about an article someplace else but this one is a must read.  It’s very important to keep you data in at least two places if not more. 

http://lifehacker.com/5893278/how-to-protect-your-data-in-the-event-of-a-webapp-shutdown-and-prevent-the-problem-in-the-future

Reading Microsoft TechNet offline

 

Later this week I’ll be flying to Michigan taking a 4 day mini-vacation.  For some reason I can’t sleep sitting.  I have to lay on my side/stomach with one arm straight under my pillow to lift my head up and I have to have a huggie pillow.  This basically means sleeping on a plane isn’t an option for me.  When flying I generally watch movies, listen to music, play simple games like minesweeper, or read.  This weekend I wanted to catch up on some new Microsoft products by reading TechNet.  Since there isn’t internet on the flight I was wondering if there was an offline version of TechNet.  I found some posting about a codeplex product called Package This!  It’s basically a stand-alone file that allows you to choose what parts of the TechNet tree you want and it creates a chm file that you can save locally.

It’s not perfect.  I noticed that some graphics don’t come over and the format is different but the text is there for reading.

Below are the steps I took to get it working. 

When I tried to create the chm file by using the Package This application it barked at me to install HTML Help Workshop.  What’s funny is IE9 said the htmlhelp.exe for HTML Help Workshop was reported as unsafe from Microsoft’s website(see screenshot)!  I ran it anyway but HTML Help Workshop complained that I already had a newer version but still installed anyway.

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After that you now have a way to save TechNet articles off-line!

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