Geek Heaven

Okay, so I’m leaving in a little over a week for South Africa. I’m the only sysadmin at the Institute where I work – more to the point, I’m the only technical person on the entire campus with the chops to oversee their servers. (That’s a comment about the Vanuatu environment and absolutely not myself or any other IT professional. There are some very talented people there who simply lack exposure to some kinds of technology.)

The challenge: How to make sure that everything’s ticking along more or less as it should when I’m a continent away, in a locale whose Internet decrepitude is surpassed only by the locale I need to monitor? If I wait until something’s gone so wrong that someone has to contact me, I’ve lost the game already.

The solution: I’ve just hacked up a little OSD display in perl that uses SSH::RPC to poll server stats on all my production machines. It sits in the bottom left corner of my screen. As long as everything stays mostly green, I’m okay.

Total bandwidth usage is about 2 Kbps. Given that this is manageable from my pathetically poorly conditioned 128K DSL line from home, I have every reason to believe that it will be viable in SA as well.

For bonus points, I’m going to configure it so that it just pops up for a minute or so every $INTERVAL (which will likely be 15-30 minutes).

For yucks, if load average gets completely out of hand, it starts shouting that my computer is on fire. (Blame Nik for this one.)

I am one very contented geek.

On Being Right

[Originally published in the Communications column for the Vanuatu Independent newspaper.]

There’s an interesting conversation happening today on one of the geek community sites I frequent. It all started because of some genuinely insightful commentary on Computer World’s website by Jeff Ello. Here’s what set everyone off:

While everyone would like to work for a nice person who is always right, IT pros will prefer a jerk who is always right over a nice person who is always wrong. Wrong creates unnecessary work, impossible situations and major failures. Wrong is evil, and it must be defeated. Capacity for technical reasoning trumps all other professional factors, period.

I wish I had read that in my twenties.

It took me years to realise that, often enough, insisting on absolute correctness is a great way to lose friends (or at least, to be ignored until someone needs help cramming for an exam). You can imagine, then, what a relief it was to discover that the world of IT consists by and large of people who grant respect based on technical competence.

Now, such an environment does have its costs. Try listening in sometimes on a conversation between geeks about which software is best for writing code, or weighing the relative merits of different operating systems. You’ll find yourself wondering if these creatures are from the same species as you.

This innate emphasis on correctness sometimes makes people feel that geeks are arrogant, even antisocial. As Ello puts it, “When things don’t add up, they are prone to express their opinions on the matter, and the level of response will be proportional to the absurdity of the event.

Especially in a society such as we have in Vanuatu, this can sometimes rub people the wrong way. You see, here more than anywhere, it’s difficult to separate the speaker from the speech, the style from the substance.

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