20 Years

In 2004 this blog started out as a self-hosted, custom scripted blog site powered by a stand alone php script. It’s traveled to various hosts and back again. Somehow never losing a post or index during migration. I started it shortly my first son Connor was born and he’ll be 21 in September. The main motivation was a digital journal. I never settled on what it would become. It’s a personal mashup of personal photos, now mostly hosted on social media, technical endeavors covering my 28 year IT career, some political ramblings and technical predictions.

In the 20 years a lot has changed in the world. Some of my first posts included installing bitpim to download images from flip phones, the site started before iPhones were invented, and how to break into a Cisco PIX firewall with physical access. My very favorite post ever was recording the day I gave Connor his first gaming laptop at just 4 years-old. It was an Ubuntu system for kids games online. Next year he’ll gradate from William Peace University with a Bachelors in E-Sports and Tournament Gaming Management. Little did I know I was literally setting him down a path for life.

I love this blog. I’m leaving the username and password for my children. They’ll be able to uncover all the private and unpublished posts I’ve collected through the years and hopefully be able to better understand their father.

My love for my family has grown so immense over the time these posts have taken place I feel like it’s a record of us. After all most everyone knows Amy and I met on Match.com in 2001, the predecessor to Matchmaker and most other dating sites. Their success was as great as our marriage as they became the Match Group, which owns and operates several online dating web sites including OkCupid, Tinder, PlentyOfFish. They went public in 2015. If it wasn’t for that site and the internet, I wouldn’t know my children today.

One app ensures most businesses will never escape Microsoft licensing.

Wouldn’t it be nice to envision a day when you never have to use a Microsoft application or operating system again? The outfit from Redmond wouldn’t still have most of the world hooked to their licenses or O365 subscriptions if not for just one tool in their box. It’s not Active Directory, Outlook, Teams or even Word. It’s Microsoft Excel.

No other application has experienced such universal corporate adoption as Excel. No spreadsheet alternative can compete. Arguments can be made for Google Sheet’s capabilities but there simply isn’t an application in existence with more universal adoption across business departments than Excel. First introduced by Microsoft in 1982, it was a harsh knockoff of Dan Bricklin’s VisiCalc which I’m old enough to have actually used, Ugh. Excel wasn’t even popular until 1987, taking a back seat to Lotus 123 on DOS based systems. Then along came Borland’s Quattro Pro. As someone who learned C+ development on Borland’s “Turbo C” I attest that’s one company I wish was still around.

Excel really took off in 1993 at the release of Version 5.0 which for the first time introduced Macros thanks to the inclusion of Visual Basic for applications. Microsoft’s never stopped developing Excel, making it the dominate the CP/M market. That’s “Control Program for Microcomputers” which is exactly the type of app category it fell into, along with Visicalc, Lotus and Quattro Pro. They were not originally called “spreadsheets”.

Flash forward 40 years and Excel is used to design everything from Gamma Radioknife Neurological Surgery procedures to Roller Coasters. Even Excel Power Users don’t realize Excel became it’s own programming language in 2021, considered “Turing Complete” with the addition of LAMBDA function, meaning you can now write any computation in Excel Formula Language. I personally use this feature to write Microsoft SQL queries using Excel functions.

While there is a ton of criticism I personally throw at Microsoft almost daily, I will concede that for the job it does, nothing does it better than Excel. Due to Microsoft’s unwavering commitment to advancing Excel for 40 years I don’t know that anything could catch it now. This is why no matter what direction any company takes, I can’t imagine an accounting department that will settle for anything other than Excel, insuring Microsoft will always have at least one license bought an paid for by damn near every company on the planet, if not every business computer user in the future.

It’s too difficult to buy software now.

I’m pretty certain the complicated resale initiatives in the software industry began as an attempt to thwart pirating. It’s turned into an unmanageable mess benefitting software resellers over target customers. Everything has to be purchased through a “partner” now. Never mind there is no “partnership” between your company and a VAR beside some sales guy trying to get paid. It’s implied these resale hurdles are meant to provide “consultation” and inform the customer. What if I’ve already adopted the application or platform and just want more licenses? Many software development companies understand the madness of the reseller model and have moved to online sales and self-service. But not enough of them.

Take Connectwise and their flagship remote support product, Control. Jake Morgan and his team realized the absurdity of the reseller model even back in the ScreenConnect days, opting to sell DTC. They still do. It’s pretty easy to add Control seats as opposed to Sophos for example, who decided to make it damn near impossible to buy or implement their products. Ironically it’s a lot of security outfits who are failing on this front. CheckPoint acts like their product is too good to sell to anyone without blessings directly from Israel. Their arrogance is off the charts, price be damned. They don’t even want to talk to small customers and won’t even provide renewal purchases from quotes generated in their own portal. I genuinely believe the Israeli CheckPoint team is so arrogant they literally do not want money from a segment of potential customers.

A lot of C Levels in software companies believe making their product hard to procure makes it more important or more secure. Meanwhile a big reason Cisco’s lost so many customers hasn’t been exclusively due to competition but because they won’t end the decades long joke that is Smart Net. “Nobody ever got in trouble for buying Cisco”, until now. Overly complicated and non-intuitive, I find Cisco ios devices easier to configure using a shell and decades old commands. For this Cisco still demands an outrageous premium. Their VoIP phone system is horrible and overpriced compared to RingCentral or Vonage yet they double down on being difficult and expensive to procure.

These days I look for ease of purchase as a qualification in software selection. The modern industry’s failure to deliver is a big factor in the selection process today. Doesn’t matter if it’s intuitive to use, simple to deploy and effective at it’s job, if licenses are hard to buy, involving many reseller quotes and electronic delivery delays I’ll go with the competitive solution that isn’t. It’s a problem software development companies brought upon themselves and until they start listening to those purchasing their product the industry will continue to decline in innovation and effectiveness. From SMB to Enterprise sales the industry is failing to accommodate customers and increase revenue.

Time for a Tech Prediction

In 10-15 years more people will be watching YouTube than any major over-the-air TV network or streaming service. Our kids go to YouTube first and as Google aggregates content for YouTube TV there won’t be a competitive network.

Is there any limit to when Microsoft Teams is not horrible?

In the past week I learned the RingCentral Outlook Add-in for Outlook won’t work anymore. Microsoft conveniently and intentionally broke that. It goes right along with them forcing a Teams Meeting link into every meeting scheduled in Outlook. Sure, this can be cut off in each individual Outlook instance but it’s a Powershell struggle to remove it across a corporate domain. All to force us to use Teams.

Now I just learned Teams doesn’t support using Apple Airpods in meetings. This is absolutely absurd. I didn’t think they could do something to make me hate Teams more.

I wish more C Suite executives understood the creation of Teams was nothing but a Microsoft temper tantrum. Slack wouldn’t sell to them for a billion dollars so, in typical Microsoft fashion they weigh the cost of anti-trust lawsuits against revenue they can earn by forcing their product onto everyone using Microsoft office.

Now I’m in a position to make a call on what software is deployed to hundreds of workstations in a billion dollar company. I’ve supported Microsoft workstations, servers and domains for over 25 years. We are slowly moving to Macs on the desktop. As few Microsoft Office/O365 products as possible will be used going forward, possibly just Excel if I can get there. But it’s expensive. We’re moving to a Zero Trust network without domain authentication as quickly as we can get everything into the cloud, to Infor M3, jumping away from our locally deployed Dynamics GP ERP system.

Why are we working our way from Microsoft as much as possible? Their never ending and relentless push of this work collaboration platform, forced on a user base: Microsoft Teams. They may not lose in court but I am going to personally do all I can to make sure they lose revenue. Sharepoint isn’t much better from a security and administrative perspective.

Update: I’ve also recently learned that Teams has a habit of hijacking AV peripherals without releasing them for use by other applications. So I guess that answers the original question, yep.

All virtual events are ridiculous.

All of them. When you find that blog post claiming production efforts meant to create virtual events that don’t suck, they’re lying. Comparing virtual boredom to in-person trade shows and meetings shouldn’t even be done yet meanwhile charlatans trying to save their trade show businesses stay busy coming up with half-ass reasons virtual is better. These same people can’t wait for trade shows to resume so they can quit selling obvious bullshit.

People email me invitations to virtual events, eager to get their marketing out any way possible. There has never been a greater waste of electricity or bandwidth.

Correct Backups are the key to defeating and ending ransomware.

One of the top articles I’ve ever read regarding ransomware and recovery was written by a Russian out of Boston, Maria Korolov. Since the majority of ransomware attacks originate in Russia I suppose it helps to speak the language? Only thing I’d add to her article is to emphasis NEVER keep backup appliances authenticated to a domain and never allow Active Directory authentication onto them. Any AD authentication should be TO the destination file or folder path on the source server using a designated AD account. Nothing should ever be allowed to authenticate onto the appliance or backup server using AD authentication. The initial harvest of AD credentials, used to perform most ransomware attacks, makes AD authenticated backup systems vulnerable. To date I’ve brought two enterprise environments back on-line within 24 hours post-encryption, no ransom, no keys with zero forward facing downtime to customers or vendors using locally authenticated backup appliances. The information in Maria’s article lays out how it’s properly done.

Windows 11 is… Wonderful.

Since Windows 2000 Microsoft always screwed up the next release. ME, Vista and eventually God forsaken Windows 8. By their own admission it was so bad they tried to salvage it with 8.1 and gave us Server 2012 which still plagues too many data centers to this day. Everyone eventually accepted an increasingly stable Windows 10 and it may remain the gaming platform of choice for quite some time, it’s hardware empire is vast. What less did we expect of Microsoft but to force upon us a release as necessary and comfortable as a moment of lockjaw. But hold on. Windows 11 doesn’t suck.

Windows 11 is brilliant! And say it like a proper, pretentious British ass.

I’m running the Developer release, an in-place Win 10 update, on my Lenovo X1 Carbon with an 8th Gen Core-i7 and 32Gb of RAM. It’s got quite an engine under the hood to ride on. I suspect older machines may require a full wipe and clean install instead of an update. It won’t load on 32-bit hardware, only 64. Which is cool because we don’t need to stop the 2-3 year technology fold just because a few Gen-X dads now hitting our 50s are getting comfortable and complacent. Charge on boys.

The good, the bad and the bad-ass.

There are several good things about Windows 11, some more functional and others more aesthetic. One right click on the desktop and the aesthetics of the menu differences are glaring, better, modern and clean.

The legacy Command Prompt has been replaced by Windows Terminal AKA Powershell.

The new Start menu location has cause some controversy. Yes, Apple did it first. Does that make it wrong for Microsoft to do it now? I’ve been using Windows since version 3.1, code named “Sparta”, in 1992 and I never found the lower left corner appealing, always annoying. Others claim ramming the mouse into that corner is easier than focusing on the center of the task bar. You can put it back over there if you want. It makes a lot more sense to me in the middle. I’m not a Mac user, it just makes more sense and I say good call. Fight me.

The right click options are not laid our the way they used to be and using a button to “Copy” instead of clicking the word “Copy” took some getting used to. And there’s no “Send To” option anymore. But again, that’s all aesthetics without any real change in functionality. Interesting the “Share with Skype” option remains on the menu even though Skype is deprecated.

I’ve only found a couple of things that can be classified as “bad” so far and they are really just glitches in development, likely to be fixed before any consumer release.

  1. Clicking on the clock in the lower right corner near the task manager causes a screen refresh before the calendar and date/time settings can be pulled up.
  2. If I right click on the Desktop and choose “Display Settings” and then navigate to “System” it lists all system settings, as it should. However if I then right click on the desktop and choose “Display Settings” again, it now takes me to “System” settings or the last place the System settings menu was left.
Once I navigate to this System menu any subsequent system setting, such as “Display Settings” takes me back to this main menu by default. We accept these nuances when agreeing to run versions under development.

The bad-ass search. Wow. Apparently this update is indexing every bit of every byte on the hard drive during install because the search is FAST. And it works. Anyone who remembers how pathetic and horrifying the search function was in Windows 8 knows how much work the kids in Redmond had in front of them. Unless they somehow screw it up before release this will be the most talked about and potentially most functional component of the OS. It’s almost easier to search for something than to find it on a myriad of desktop icons or “recent” files in app cache.

So far, so good. It’s really stable even under development. No video, network or Bluetooth issues so far and regardless of it’s blatant similarities to Mac OSx the new, more elegant look is long over due.

Step-by-Step: How to view and control the data Google is gathering about you.

As an Android user since the dawn of smart phones I have always supported Google in the culture wars. This love affair is near it’s end. For the first time since my attempt at carrying an iPhone 6 several years ago I will return to the Appleverse an see if I can scratch-n-sniff my way around an iPhone 12. My devotion to Google ends not because of Apple’s superior hardware (the One Plus 9 may be a better phone than the iPhone 12) but due to Google becoming a horribly controlling and insecure companion, watching and recording my every move with Android devices collecting data at rates 20 times that of Apple units.

But I’ve also learned that changing to an iPhone will only mitigate a slight portion of the information Google is harnessing about me. Maps isn’t the only app tracking my location, Chrome isn’t the only app recording my search history. Turning off “location history” does nothing to stop the collection of location data. Per Google it takes settings in Data and Personalization to really stop apps from tracking your location and collecting data from your searches. Once logged into your Google account through any browser go to: https://myaccount.google.com/data-and-personalization to take back control of the data Google has on you.

  1. Data and Personalization
  2. Activity Controls
  3. Web and App Activity
  4. Location History
  5. YouTube History
  6. Ad Personalization

Without further delay, here are the settings to change and what app services they’ll affect. From your Google account select Data and Personalization.

Under Data and Personalization look for Activity Controls and select Manage your activity controls at the bottom.

Find Manage your activity controls.

You’ll be presented categories of apps and services Google is using to gather data, ranging from your “Web & App Activity” to YouTube and Ad Personalization. Obviously what apps and services you allow Google to collect data from is a personal decision. Here’s how to cut off each and a description of what effect it will have on related apps and services.

First review your Web & App Activity settings. Notice that Google does NOT automatically save audio recordings saved to your devices by default. That’s a win. But they do Collect every shred of data and input into almost every other app or service accessed through Android, Chrome and some other Chromium based browsers.

Pausing Web & App Activity produces a warning detailing what may happen to some personalization in search and location services. You will be notified the “Setting is off” and given an option to “Delete old activity” from your web and app history. Pausing Web & App History is probably the first setting you should change if you’re serious about stopping what Google’s collecting.

Next up, Location History. For a long time people thought Pausing Location History was the thing to do to stop Google from tracking everyday travel to mundane destinations. Nope, for a while it’s been pausing Web & App Activity that really puts the brakes on Google’s data vacuum.

Note: Pausing Location History does not stop Maps from working. It does not stop Find My Device or other Google location services from working either. What you will notice is things like recommended addresses and previous addresses you’ve visited not automatically popping up when you start typing a new destination. Pausing Location History only stops Google from recording the locations you’ve visited, it does not stop apps from tracking location. That’s what Web & App Activity is for.

Your YouTube History is also collected by Google without permission or apology. Cut it off if you don’t want them knowing tracking how many Dr. Pimple Popper videos you’ve watched. I personally don’t fault Google for collecting YouTube history though. We need a recorded history of the pointless insanity warping the minds of future generations. Google’s probably bored as hell with my own YouTube history of cop chases and instructional videos about dishwashers and lawnmower blades. Bored but they’ll sell my contact details to Maytag and John Deere anyway. Just cut it all off unless it is genuinely important to you.

I have to admit Ad personalization was the Activity Controls category that shocked me the most. Click on Go to Ad Settings to really get an idea of the profile Google’s built on you.

In the Ad Settings dialog you will see “How your ads are personalized” using what Google refers to as “factors”. Here you are offered the opportunity to “choose any factor to learn more or update your preferences”. So is Google asking me to groom this data for them so ads can be targeted more effectively? Of all categories Ad personalization will make you feel you’ve been stalked ad-nauseum. The moment you realize Google knows more about you than your spouse or mother. Now for a real kicker, click the Advanced drop down arrow.

How about that? No opt in for Google to share the ad profile they’ve created with their “partners”. Nope. It’s the default. Uncheck this immediately. No telling how many countries Google’s already sold my profile to under the guise of ad targeting.

Once excluded you will be notified that Google will not provide your data for ads to be targeted at you on any non-Google websites.

It’s also important to note that within each category of Activity Controls Google allows you to Auto Delete any of the information they collect 3 months, 18 months or 36 months or you can auto delete any time using the Manage activity link for each category.

Truth is I honestly don’t know how much control over such data Apple provides compared to these Activity controls provided by Google but I do know this: Apple is selling devices for revenue and profit, Google sells your data to advertisers for revenue and profit. Take that to heart when making a decision about which company really has your privacy and security in mind. And make sure to review your Activity Controls in your Google account regardless of which platform you use any Google services on.

Chromebooks need work.

I decided to give it a try. I’m typing this on a 13″ HP, Core i5 with 16GB of RAM running Chrome OS v.87. Google’s got some explaining to do. Why does every Chromebook made still have trouble with stable wireless connectivity? Has Google gotten past blaming customers and their networks? And under these circumstances why in the hell did they decide to remove the option to “Keep Wifi on During Sleep” a few versions ago?

Will Google just ultimately admit defeat in the wireless driver battle and blame Linux like other distros? In their defense Linux has lacked in keeping up with wireless compatibility and drivers, OEM preference in development historically being given to Windows and OSx. Dell, HP and Lenovo are making progress with Linux support for a limited number of models but again, one big reason for the official support limitation is… wireless network adapter compatibility.

I can also add printer compatibility, obvious application compatibility and a few other limitations to the reasons a Chromebook is not suitable for my day-to-day productivity requirements. Until they have more stable network connectivity I’d say they’re barely suited for the Zoom meetings being hosted for children across the country right now. But they’re cheap and better than nothing.