6 November 2008
Growing up, The Electric Company was one of my favorite shows. I didn’t realize necessarily that it was trying to teach me how to read, or that it had big-name stars acting in it. It was just a fun show to watch after Sesame Street.
While I don’t make a habit of watching kids TV, it is an occupational hazard of having kids and working at home. One day, after one of the kids shows on PBS, there was a preview for something called The Electric Company. No, it’s not what I grew up with, but the segment or two they showed had elements of what I remember.
Then I go find the site PBS has set up for The Electric Company, which is set to premiere in January 2009. While it certainly has a lot of the same educational elements, and includes lots of animated vignettes like the original, they’ve turned what used to be a daily variety show for kids into a weekly show with an actual plot.
This show is coming out in a very different time from the 1970, when the original aired. Educational TV was still a relatively new concept in America, and there wasn’t a whole lot of other choices. There certainly wasn’t computers, the Internet, mobile phones, and who-knows what else. In the early part of the 21st Century, we’ve got 500 channels on TV, a bazillion web pages on the Internet, mobile phones, and more. Much like finding this blog post amongs the infinite bits of the Internet might be a challenge, getting the word out about The Electric Company and breaking through to kids is going to be a challenge.
Why am I writing about this program here, on a technology blog? Very simple: reading is important to technology. It’s important to just about anything else you do in life as well. It’s one of those fundamental building blocks.
And maybe, if you have kids around the 7-9 age range and you happen to stumble across this post, you’ll take a look at this program on your local PBS station when it comes out in January. Maybe the kids will like it, maybe they won’t. Hard to say. Given Sesame Workshop’s past history of excellent educational shows, it’s certainly worth a try.
31 March 2008
When I was 11, which puts me in 6th grade, our school had a couple of Apple ][e’s in the library. There wasn’t any network connectivity to speak of, but I knew then I had a future in them.
However, this just blows my mind. A sixth-grader in Millbrook, Alabama becomes the network administrator for a small, private school. He puts in a firewall, upgrades PCs to run Windows 2000, and generally tries to make the computing life better for the students and faculty of his school. And he has to justify certain expendetures in front of the school board. Talk about a hardcore lesson in the school of the IT business.
Both my kids have been in front of computers ever since they had enough of an attention span. I don’t know that they will have any exceptional aptitude at this, but if they ever want to practice their IT skills, I’ve got the equipment here at home they can practice on.
The scary thing is, this will likely be the most useful part of Jon Penn’s education he will receive. Certainly was for me in college when I was one of a couple of students helping to maintain the main engineering computing lab. Hopefully, he will continue to hone his IT skills and become certified. I bet he’ll make a mint at it, too.
Image from Network World
8 March 2008
A friend of mine just sent me the following, which may be of interest to some of you:
The Academy (http://www.theacademy.ca) officially launches its web site today providing instructional videos for the information security community. For the first time ever, the average user to the most seasoned industry expert will be able to watch instructional videos on how to install popular products, address common configuration issues, and troubleshoot difficult problems. The Academy is a user driven community and videos are created at the request of its members. Vendors can also leverage the site to showcase the features and capabilities of their products. The Academy is an ideal place to find and share knowledge with others practicing or interested in the information security field.
Back when I was knee-deep in Check Point, it would have been nice to make videos of the stuff I was troubleshooting and make them available, much like I did with FAQs and the like. These guys have done just that with Check Point and a number of other security products. You have to register to see the videos, but there’s a lot there!
26 January 2008
Using Google as a kind of a spell checker is great–if you know how to spell the word. Even the automated spell checkers in my browser don’t exactly catch some mistakes. So what did I do? I asked Google.
I first typed in the word exhorborent. It suggested the word exhorborant. When I typed in define:exhorborant, of course, it came up with no definition. That means that not only can I not spell the word right, a bunch of other people on the Internet who didn’t bother to look it up also spelled it wrong. Great, thanks for clogging up the search engines, folks!
The correct spelling of the word? Exorbitant. How did I find the correct spelling? This dictionary, pictured here. A dictionary I could browse quickly and find the word I was looking for.
Google, and just about every other spell checker I had, failed this test. Good thing I have a dictionary around and am not afraid to use it.
15 September 2007
Several months ago, I was contacted by an old friend from my days of supporting Check Point FireWall-1 about a new venture he was working on called SupportSpace. I eventually joined their Advisory Committee.
The basic idea behind SupportSpace is: hooking up people that need help with people that provide that help. It’s like putting your technical skills on eBay and selling them per-hour, per-incident, or however you want.
SupportSpace has developed a custom system for providing online support, tracking the progress of issues, getting people paid, and many of the other unpleasant tasks involved in both providing and receiving online support.
Experts, prior to providing their service, are certified to ensure you’re only going to get people that know their stuff. They are also trained in using their software so they understand what it’s like on both sides of the screen, so to speak.
The screenshot here shows you what experts are online, how they are rated, and what their areas of expertise are. You pick the expert you want, you set up a time that works for you, and get the help you need. SupportSpace, when the service goes live, will take a percentage.
The service, in a private beta, will be free to customers. Experts who sign up will be given an amount per-incident. When the service goes live, the expert will get to set the price they wish to charge.
Since I’m on their advisory committee, my opinion might be considered biased. However, you can check out this blog entry from Ragsdale’s Eye on Service.
20 May 2007
I never thought in my life I would spend almost the entire allowed 6 hour time on the CISSP exam, but I did. And I was oddly zen about the whole experience. Sure, I was a little nervous when I first walked into the testing room as I had no idea what to expect. One of the proctors, whom I met in a CISSP class nearly 6 years ago, checked my ID and paperwork and another proctor led me to a seat, which was to be mine for the course of the exam.
The usual electronic gadgets and gizmos were not allowed at your desk, and if they were present, they were to be switched off or set to vibrate mode and preferably up with the desk where you were permitted to put your snacks and the like (it was a 6 hour test with no lunch break). I left all my gear in the car, though I brought food and water in.
At 8:30, one of the proctors began reading the instructions, which involved filling out a scantron form with specific information. Once that was done and all the other instructions and the like were done, we broke the seal on our test and began. Nothing like filling out over 250 little bubbles.
Bathroom breaks, which I took at least 3 of, involved signing out, one of the proctors escorting you to the restroom (he didn’t come inside), and him escorting you back and you signing back in. I guess they want to make sure you don’t “cheat” in the bathroom. Fair enough.
And while the confidentiality agreement I signed as part of the CISSP exam process forbids me from getting into specifics about what was on the exam, I can say that I felt oddly zen about the experience. Once the test was underway, I stopped stressing about it. I took frequent breaks. I used earplugs. I was methodical and deliberate. I only made one “transcription” mistake (from book to scantron).
I took two passes through the material. The first pass was to answer the questions I was pretty sure about. On the second pass, I double-checked my answers both making sure I transcribed the write answer but that I actually chose the right answer. The ones I didn’t know, and there were a few, I was able to make a semi-educated guess on most of them, the rest I just threw out a guess. It’s not like the SAT’s where you lose points for a wrong answer.
I walked out of the test feeling pretty comfortable with my performance. I’m sure I answered a few questions wrong, but that’s life. Now I just need to wait for ISC2 to come back with my certification results so I can jump through the remaining hoops to be certified.
Meanwhile, I am exhausted after all that. Early bedtime for me.
26 April 2007
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The person who usually doesn’t get what the kids or wife gets picked up a nasty cold from the daughter. My daughter handles it okay during the day, not so good at night. Hopefully, I can lapse into a drug-induced slumber before too long.
Before I do that, though, I feel the need to type up a blog post from my Nokia E61. I would use the Nokia N800 to do this, but it doesn’t have a keyboard. At least, not yet. I ordered a bluetooth keyboard for it. Same one that Ken Camp and Jonathan Greene picked up. It won’t get here until the end of next week.
Today’s major task at work was reviewing resolutions that people in our Technical Assistance Center’s write up, review the technical content, and get them published on support.nokia.com. Given my gruelling training schedule over the past 3 weeks and the resulting backlog, I haven’t been keeping up. The resolution I started working on today didn’t help. It was long, but covered a strangely familiar topic.
After a quick search, I discovered this resolution is a somewhat updated version of a resolution I wrote several years ago. My old resolution was imported from our previous Knowledge Management system and referred to several older resolutions. All of these resolutions now need to be updated, both in terms of content and in terms of style. For reasons of policy, I have to recreate all those old resolutions anew. The result will be lots of new articles to support this one article to support something someone took the time to create. Between feeling sick for much of the day and simply running out of time, I did not get this finished. It will be sitting there, waiting for me tomorrow.
Very few people actually take an active role in managing a knowledge base. Few people even contribute to the process and those who do, because of policy and/or time constraints, do not always contribute in a way that makes it easy for the people that are actually managing it. And in my case, it’s not my only task, either.
A challenge that many organizations have is retaining people with an understanding of the history and evolution of the group. This point came up in the Product Management class I took recently, and it applies to Knowledge Management as well. With some exceptions, most of the knowledge relevant to my team was written since I joined. I spent a lot of time either writing or rewriting many of the articles in that knowledge base. As a result, I can tell you with reasonable certainty if a resolution exists for a particular topic. My brain isn’t a search engine, but at least I have an idea if you’ll find that needle in the haystack.
Keeping track of all that knowledge, keeping it up to date, and keeping it presentable and relevant is not easy. Not all the technical people have writing skills and/or lack the time/know-how to make the knowledge “look good.”
The task, while it takes a lot of my energy, taps directly into something I am passionate about: sharing knowledge with as many people as I can reach. If it’s my knowledge, all the better, but it doesn’t have to be.
I have to wonder how many people share this passion. I also wonder how many people in different parts of Nokia share this view, not to mention in other companies. I wonder how having a person passionate for sharing knowledge involvde in the Knowledge Management process positively or negatively affects their customer support sites.
I think another aspect of this sharing involves, for me personally, the actual learning of new things to share. I can’t help but learn through reading these resolutions, but I also enjoy writing my own as well. How do I do that? Learn something new. It may be a fact about product I support or it may be something completely unrelated. Keep my mind sharp.
I think I’ve rambled enough for one evening. My thumbs are getting tired, as is the rest of me. Next time you go to a company website for help, think about who is behind it and whether or not their passion for the work shows.