Category Archives: Geek Culture

The Ethics of Geekdom

I have just had my second encounter with a coworker accessing my computer without my permission, on my login.  This means two of the twenty people in my department have some questionable ethics.  I’m laying odds that it’s more than that, but I’ve only known of two at this point, and I don’t want to make too many assumptions.

What really bugs me is that I would never do this to either of the people who did it to me, or to anyone else in my department, much less the entire campus.  There is no reason I would need to, and quite honestly, whatever they are working on is none of my business.  This most recent episode was borne of nosiness, a coworker wanted to know what fun new toy I was getting that she is not.  I had been gone from my desk for about twenty minutes, and came back to find her hunched over my desk with her hand on the mouse, clicking through my recent documents folder.  When she saw me, she made a very lame joke and laughed, as if I would just think it was all some sort of harmless chicanery.

There is nothing harmless about accessing someone else’s files.  It should never occur in the workplace, especially between members of the IT department.  Our jobs, out of necessity, give us access to things that other people on campus don’t have access to.  I have a master key that will let me in any room in any building on campus.  I also have rights to servers and desktop machines, for the purpose of fixing problems or providing training to our end users.  I take my job seriously, and I cannot imagine a time when it would be okay for me to access the files of our campus president, for example, or those of a faculty member.  There is just no rationale for me doing that, and further, my own personal ethics would stop me from doing so.  I equate snooping in someone’s computer the same as snooping through a purse or wallet or dresser drawers.  It just isn’t done.

I have been told by our department manager that I need to lock my computer when I leave my office.  And yes, I know I can lock it and it is easy to do, even though I have to do it three times (three active computers on my desk).  But I don’t feel that I should have to do that.  I should be able to trust my coworkers, the people that sit in the same office with me, the people that I am entrusting work to and accepting work from.  These are people that, presumably, have the same “best interests” of the campus and the department in mind in everything they do.

Of course, presumption and assumption are one thing, and reality can be vastly different.  As a geek with a lot of technical power over users, it is a disappointing to think that our users may not be safe from the geeks tasked with keeping them up and running.  Very sad indeed.

Computer repair shops: the 21st Century’s car mechanic

One of the worst feelings a person can have is seeking the repair of a product that they have a limited knowledge of how it works. How do they know what they are being told is true? How much does it really cost to fix? How will I know if they really replaced anything and it was just a loose screw causing the problem?
I talk to home and small business computer users daily in the course of my job and the one thing I continue to see is how much they distrust any IT person they come in contact with.
I can’t blame them as they may have seen the same stories on the news about the big box computer stores and national computer repair companies and what their technicians have been caught doing to users and their computers.
The more disturbing thing I’m see is how mom and pop repair stores are selling these people bootleg copies of software and loading up corporate networks with “Free for personal use” software.
I had a client ask me how much it would cost to replace Vista on the machine she had bought a few months back. I told her is would be the cost of a copy of XP plus the install time, she turns to me and says, “My old IT guy was able to upgrade our four of our other machines from Windows 2000 for $35 each.”  At that point I looked at the machines and each one of them had the same CD-Key and an activation hack loaded.
I believe independent shops are hurting themselves and others in the field by devaluing the cost of their services and in the end leaving the customer in a bad situation as well as perpetuating the myth that IT people are arrogant and will sell them what ever snake oil tonic they have to make a quick buck.
The main thing I think people should look for when seeking computer repair outside the home is personal recommendations. Talk to your friends and family and see who they have used in the past. Nothing beats the one-on-one interaction with a repairman as well as how they talk to their customers and explain the problems and possible solutions. Also if they say they need to replace a part, ask for the old one back even you have no plan to keep it.
Thankfully I have never been in the situation where I have had to rely on a total stranger to fix a computer of mine that contains family photos, banking information, personal emails and whatever else passes through my computer on a daily basis.
What experiences have you or your friends and family had with these shops and what are your tips on finding a quality shop?
As always I can be reached at jparie (at) gmail (dot) com.

Day 1 From the Noob at CES

Well, as you may know, I took the trip to Las Vegas with Todd and Andy to help with the video of the show. Right now I am uploading some of the Back Channel content. Todd and Andy are at Show Stoppers (I didn’t get an invite), so I am working from the HP CNTR STG suite on the 2nd floor of the Wynn building.

Day 1 of CES was nothing but spectacular. Granted, it’s a little scaled back, but so far I have no complaints. It’s amazing how this event can work so well. I walked through the main CES South Hall floor as they were putting it together on Tuesday. Big stuff for a big city.

One thing I noticed about Vegas – the Stop lights take a LOT longer to change. Holy Carps-bait!

I stopped by Digital Experience last night with the team and recorded tons of content. That is up, now. I’ve also met some names that I have been conversing with throughout my career. Robert Scoble, Joel Evans (formerly from, James and Kevin from JKOntheRun and a lot more. I have also met some great people that blog, report and present.

I have no doubt that Day 2 will be just as awesome as the first. Remember to check out all the Back Channel and Primary Channel stuff.

Even With Technology, It’s Harder to Work when Your Sick…

I have been beefing up my websites. I also have been working on some external projects hard. But all of that came to a crashing halt last week.

Why? I got sick.

I felt this illness coming down on Monday (Nov. 24th). I didn’t think much of it, but after my Podcast on Tuesday, I pretty much knew I should take some downtime and relax a bit while ingesting something like lots of Liquids. (Here is a keynote – If you have a fever and your lips start to dry out quick, you might want to get some water in your system. )

By Thursday I was pretty much on the back and forth thing – Morning I would be OK, but then by evening I was burning up and freezing at the same time. Saturday I had to play with the band and by the end of the 3rd set I was hurting more than I ever hurt before. If it wasn’t for the little catnaps between breaks, I would have probably not made it.

Monday – Feeling better but coughing entered into the mix. Still did my shows. Tuesday – Coughing getting worse. Still did my Podcast – then took a 3 hour nap before going to a local Podcasters meeting I started up here. Wednesday – After 3 PM I went downstairs, plopped in front of the TV and stayed there all evening.

Now it’s Thursday and although I am still not 100%, I have to catch up on everything I’ve missed. I planned to post some videos, but they’ve been sitting on the back burner. I planned a couple GeekNewsCentral Articles, but once again, back burner. Even the contract stuff I do pretty much was set aside as I couldn’t focus or concentrate.

The funny thing is that I could have done any of the stuff in question. With technology today I could have laid on the couch and put the videos together. I might not have been able to write the articles, but I could’ve at least put together some notes.

It’s interesting how an illness can debilitate a person. Thinking “I can do it when I’m better”, then when you are more level headed you realize how much more stress you put on yourself. Still, when you are sick, you really need to put some attention to getting better.

I am not sure how much longer this will go on. I keep hearing “Everybody’s getting this bug”. Hopefully it’s not something that might warrant a doctor visit. But I do know that it’s time to start catching up on my projects or else I might find myself in a hole I can’t get out of.

Do Geeks Like Humans?

I remember reading an interesting quote from the creator of the comic strip “Dilbert” in Fast Company magazine, if I remember correctly. He was talking about how people in office workplaces like their gadgets and often times have almost no interaction with other people. He said he talked to many people who said they kept to themselves with tech gadgets like mp3 players because they “did not like people, ANY people they worked with”. That is a profound statement by any standards. I am an introvert myself so I love gadgets that entertain me instead of having to make small talk with people I will likely never see again. Being an introvert means more than being shy. It means I am content with my own thoughts in my mind without needing other people to entertain me. So I use an mp3 player to increase my knowledge of thoughts & ideas that are already interesting to me. In other words, why should I talk to people who likely have nothing in common with me when I can listen to carefully chosen podcasts or audio books or even watch videos of my choosing? It’s not that I don’t like other humans, as I do meet interesting people at events and gatherings. But most of the time it is small talk or subjects that are not interesting to me. I am not saying these people are boring, but….. These people are boring. Just kidding it is more likely that I am the boring one. I just have different interests than most people I am around.

The podcasts I listen to are about tech (GNC), liberty (Free Talk Live), money (Dave Ramsey), and business (Dan Miller) so it is unlikely I am going to bump into people in my area who are more informed than the hosts of these podcasts. It is possible that I could & if I don’t try then I guess I will not. I am not trying to convert anyone to my views so I don’t need a group to discuss things with. Really the only people I try to influence are my children & my wife (that is a challenge!) unless someone asks my opinion or tries to sell their opinion to me. Then I have to respond if I disagree since I cannot help myself.

It is a mistake to think most people you meet will not be likeable & just keep to your gadgets though. I know this because some of the best people I know could have ignored me instead of striking up a conversation which lead to great relationships. So geeks do need people too they just may not be the first to reach out or pull out their earbuds.

Coffee Shop Without Wifi? Perish the Thought!

When I am stuck, in a funk or whatever, I pack up my laptop and head for the nearest Wifi. spot. In this case, it’s a coffee shop about 2 blocks away. The coffee is not that great but it can be with a little shot of espresso….

I also have a Panera Bread close by. A little farther I can go to 2 different bars and even more places where I can sit and work. Beer and Blogging – my favorites.

Every now and then I look up and see who else is sitting here and what they are doing. Reading books, playing on the Internet, talking business. A few days ago I watched an 18 year old have an interview for a Database job. Yes, I was eavesdropping. It was interesting.

I have to admit, if it wasn’t for Wifi, I would never be in a coffee shop. Most gourmet coffees are not of my taste. Call me crazy, but I like the coffee that comes with your eggs, hash browns and toast.

I wondered how much coffee shops rely on Wifi to bring in customers? Even so, I wonder if that actually helps or hurts the coffee shop.

A couple months ago I reported on my own site that my favorite coffee shop (Caribou Coffee) closed it’s doors by my house in Fitchburg, WI. I knew they weren’t doing that great, but I thought it was just a small slump.

The funny thing about it was that coffee shop usually had people in it. This shop I am in now (the closer one) is not as busy and it’s even bigger than the other one. Nonetheless, that shop had problems.

Last Thursday I spent 7 hours at a coffee shop. I wrote 4 different articles and ran through a lot of business in that time. As I was there I had 3 cups of Coffee, a cookie and a Root Beer. $8 for 7 hours of work. That’s a little over a dollar an hour to rent the space and Wifi. I left a tip.

It does ask the question if a coffee shop actually makes money. Of course, lots of people drink it, some of them go out of their ways for good coffee. You have businesses that order large amounts for the break room, special meetings or other events. I suppose they can get business that we wouldn’t even see.

Nonetheless, I am glad I can go somewhere else to get some work done. I even like the idea I can “Beer and Blog”. It gives me a change of scenery and I get some great food and drink. I hope this doesn’t go away…

The Dark Knight shows us Movie Theatres Aren’t Dead.

Well, I finally went to see the Dark Knight at the local IMAX today and I can tell you I now know why it’s been sold out for the last 2 weeks. Out of all the “Summer Blockbusters”, I have to say this one is the real deal.

Here’s the real impressive details: It’s expected to hit $400 million in sales by the end of this weekend. Since the show I went to was technically sold out (3:40 PM on Saturday – there were 4 tickets left according to the Box Office), I believe they will hit that record. Some are wondering if this will be the best grossing movie of all time.

One thing is for certain: with Home theaters and Bittorrent being a supposed killer of the movie theater industry, this proves that people still want to go to a major theater to see a good show. They’ll pay the $25 per person price for ticket, popcorn and soda. Difference is, they’ll be more selective.

Of course this is not the 60’s: we don’t go to movies to get out of the house, watch a new film, get out of the heat or whatever. The reasons for going to see a movie are completely different. We got AC, large screens and surround sound at home so why should we pack up the crew and pay $70 to see a movie? Simple: We want a true experience.

With new innovations in home theater technology jumping up, we will most likely go back to the “theaters are losing out” theory again soon. For now we have a movie that surpassed Spiderman 3 in opening weekend box office (Spiderman 3 made 151 Million where TDK made 154 Million) and it is climbing the all time box office charts.

Right now it’s at the number 7 spot with the original Spider-Man movie. By next week it should be in the top 5 – and we’re talking movies that have a few years worth of sales under their belts. Titanic, for example, is the all time leader: it has grossed to date 600 Million ($28 Million in it’s opening weekend).

I expect the DVD sales to be just as powerful and The Dark Knight to surpass Titanic.

Getting Blocked of 50% of My Life.

I am a big web user. I get on my website and write or podcast everyday. I get most of my information through many places. I Twitter and Plurk and Pownce and many other social keywords.

Today I am in the car dealership getting maintainence on my car. The process was going to take 3 hours to do, so I asked if they had Wifi. They said yes, and so I made plans just to work from the dealership.

I got connected and opened up the usual stuff (web browser, twhril for twitter, friendfeed). I entered a code and got a “You are logged in for 1 hour” from Websense Enterprise. That is all well and good however when I tried to get to some of my social network sites, I kept getting the block message: “The Websense category ‘Social Networking and Personal Sites’ is filtered.”.

Now for most, this is not a big deal. However for me, I live my life on Social Networking. I use it to find tech information and new articles, and even contact friends to get quotes from them. With this being blocked, it really is like I am working without a limb.

MySpace and Facebook is blocked which is not a big deal. Twitter, Pownce, Plurk, Jaiku and Tumblr is blocked. Fark and Digg are blocked. What is worse is I cannot get to some of my email like Yahoo and personal. Thank goodness the Gmail account is still going.

What is worse is that when I go to pages like Cnet, this connection blocks the CSS. Why? I understand with email disable the CSS and scripts so malware doesn’t get in. I am searching through many sites and it it’s not being blocked for filtering, the CSS-less page is making it difficult to read news.

This makes me wonder if they connect their wifi to their network and the filter is to protect the corporate computers from malware and connection bandwidth. Maybe they have an employee issue connecting up to the free wifi and checking their email?

No matter the reason, I have lost a lot of functionality and pretty much don’t have my usual resources. I understand in blocking certain sites, however these sites are not porn or questionable material. They are so I can get information to turn around and report it to you. When it comes to the dealership, I am glad they offer Wifi, but I don’t think it should be this limited.

If they have this Wifi connection on their main network, they have to move it off. If they have an employee issue, they should deal with it. They shouldn’t block me. We don’t have bandwidth caps and I’m not trying to run illegal business through their connection. It really concerns me when I cannot get into a simple page like Cnet properly.

Good thing I don’t need to VPN into a system or check important information on what they consider a questionable site. Thank goodness I could get to this interface to report about it…. ;)

How Much Do You Trust?

In my J.O.B. I work for the IT department of a college. Because of my position and my responsibilities, I naturally have access to a whole lot of things I don’t really want to have access to. I have been in the same job for eight years, enjoy what I do, and in turn, have taken my responsibility for keeping my nose out of where it doesn’t belong on the servers, even though I have access to just about anything I’d want to see. In addition to having server access, I also have a master key, a physical key that will get me into any interior office, closet or classroom on campus. This means I can walk into the dean’s office, the president’s office, the head of campus police’s office, or the archival room of the library. I can go anywhere in the business office, cashier’s office, faculty offices, etc. I am one of only four or five in my department who has one of these keys.

Over my eight years of employment, I’ve done no more than let myself into a classroom or meeting room, or into our storage areas. While I could let myself into my boss’s office, I haven’t, and wouldn’t, do that, unless he were locked on the other side and begging for help. In my opinion, I have been given a great privilege in having the key, and the server access, and I do not want to ever be accused of overstepping my boundaries.

I know this is not so with others that I work with, and certainly not true for other IT staff around the world. A recent study of IT workers by UK software firm Cyber-Ark reveals that one-third admitted to secretly snooping, while 47% said they had accessed information that was not relevant to their role. I myself have been the target of snooping by members of my own department, with information then passed on to others that should have never left my home directory. And I know of at least two of our staff members that were reading memos and letters in our President’s home directory without permission. Eventually, our department manager had to issue a written policy against snooping, including the “taking over” of machines for repair or updating without letting the user know.

It would seem that a policy would not need to be in place for such things. As an IT worker, I see my responsibility to my clients, who include our campus deans and presidents, as paramount. If I cannot act ethically and responsibly for them, then I am not serving my clients and don’t deserve to have my job in the first place. Snooping is for juveniles with MySpace and FaceBook accounts. I’m a grown woman and hopefully have the ethics to know better than to snoop around where I do not belong.

Where have all the women gone?

Many of the readers of this blog will be familiar with working in male dominated environments. Personally while I have seen much greater numbers of young women entering the tech sector than when I first started, this does not seem to have translated to a significant overall rise in female participation.

Computerworld has an article on a new Harvard study that finds there is a large percentage of women in IT that completely drop out of the industry after about 10 years. While it is not too unusual for women in their 30’s to take a break from work in most industries the majority of those women eventually return. Not so in IT where more than half of those women never return.

What is concerning is the reasons that most women site for dropping out. While some of these are institutional, the study found the largest contributer was a tendency towards machismo and sexism amongst many (definitely not all) IT workers. This begins a vicious circle where the women dropping out create a sense of isolation for those that remain which causes more to leave. This is a really disappointing thing to learn, we get used to the idea that people in IT are supposed to be on the high end of the intelligence curve yet our industry can remain one of the more unfriendly to women.

For the men in IT it is time we do more than just think about our own actions, we need to be actively speaking out when we see bad behavior in others. It would be sad to think that once we recognised that something was not right we did not take active steps to correct it.