An Ode to Server Fault

Server FaultToday marks a momentous occasion, as I have finally attained 20,000 reputation on Server Fault!  20k is by no means the reputation limit, and there are still plenty of other badges to be earned as well, but it is the last reputation-based milestone in my journey.  It comes with the title of "Trusted User" and grants an extra layer of powers on the site just shy of full moderator power.

It took me almost two years and 490 answers to achieve it. 

In case you don't know, Server Fault is a question and answer site that I have referenced many times before on this blog. It is one site that is part of a larger network of question and answer sites known collectively as Stack Exchange.  Server Fault is specifically aimed at IT professionals.  People who work with servers and networks in an administrative, engineering or architectural capacity to support a business's IT operations.  It is not about programming, nor is it about the enthusiast user at home setting up a Linksys router... though the lines can sometimes be blurry.  People come and ask questions on the site, such as "Halp I broke Active Directory" or "How do I SharePoint?", and we gain reputation for providing answers to those questions and have the community vote on them based on the quality of our answers. (Or lose reputation if your answers suck!)

20k reputation is actually just a drop in the bucket on some other Stack Exchange sites such as Stack Overflow, but the difference is that Server Fault only gets a fraction of the traffic that Stack Overflow gets.  I've chosen to focus on SF as it's most closely aligned with my own professional ambitions and interests.

Q: Why did I choose Server Fault over the TechNet forums or Experts Exchange?

It's been long enough that I barely remember first stumbling upon the site, but I know I stumbled upon it while researching some problem with WSUS or DHCP or Active Directory or something like that.  The site's aesthetic design was very attractive, and the layout made sense to me and it was clean and neat.  The questions covered a wide range of interesting things that were right up my alley.  I liked the idea of being "rewarded" for giving people good answers and rewarding others for their insight. Even if the reputation is totally intangible and practically meaningless, it still gives me a sense of progression and of having earned something.  In a way, it makes a game out of answering people's questions.  I know that the TechNet forums does reputation too, but the website doesn't look and feel as nice or have as many features, the questions aren't usually as varied and interesting, and the community (both the askers and the answerers) generally seem lower caliber.  Serverfault is chock full of features, including a sweet chat room where you can go and shoot the bull with other sysadmin-type people.

I quickly signed up, and before I knew it I was visiting the site every day to see what types of technology people were discussing and if there were any questions there that I could answer.  And after I found out the site ran on a mainly Microsoft stack (IIS, .NET, MS SQL, etc.,) I was totally in love.

My very first answer on SF*My very first answer on SF. The question was from a Windows Server admin, asking what scripting language he should learn.*

One of the quirks about Server Fault that I wouldn't see on the TechNet forums is that there are a lot of questions about Unix and Unix/Linux applications too.  That's a challenge for me because, in case you haven't noticed, I'm a Microsoft evangelist.  But that doesn't mean I'm a Linux hater.  I know that it's a very solid platform used by millions of people around the world and I want to learn about it too.  Even though I tend to opt for using Microsoft platforms and tools, I also get to see other people bringing *nix and Microsoft tech together in fascinating ways, such as this guy, who is setting up 1400 Samba4-based Active Directory Read Only Domain Controllers!

Q: Why would I waste my time answering other people's questions on the internet?

Ah.  This is where it gets interesting, you see, because it's not a waste of time.  In fact, spending time on Server Fault keeps my skills sharp.  Being constantly exposed to new problems, and people applying technology in interesting ways that I had never thought about and running into new types of issues that I had never needed to solve before.  Spending time on Server Fault is an investment in myself.  I know more about my industry because of that site.  It happens again and again that I'll end up reading 3000-word TechNet articles and digging through MSDN documentation on the Active Directory schema just in order to be able to answer someone else's Server Fault question.  That's personal enrichment.

And more importantly, I've made friends there.  People that I've had the pleasure of talking to over the phone and doing business with in real life.  I've stayed up many late, alcohol-fueled nights in the chat room with these guys talking about everything from FusionIO cards to the U.S. Constitution to why I should quit my job and go work with Mark. ;)

In fact, I'm hoping to meet up with some of these guys at TechEd 2014!


Metal Whiskers? In *My* Datacenter?

Metal Whiskers*This image copyright NASA*

Metal whiskers, also referred to as tin whiskers or zinc whiskers, are something that I've read about with some curiosity before. Science does not currently fully understand why many metals and alloys form these tiny whiskers over time. The phenomenon has been known since the early 20th century, but we still don't know much about why it happens or how to effectively stop it.  It is still being studied today, and you can find metal whiskers in the news being blamed for things like fires aboard aircraft.  Obviously, these whiskers can wreak havoc in an electronic system whose components are packed tightly together. These whiskers can grow out of the solder used to manufacture electronic equipment, and they can also grow out of other non-electrified pieces of metal like server rack rails and the metal parts of datacenter raised flooring tiles. These tiny little metal whiskers can then be shaken loose or scraped off by such actions as lifting the floor tile and sliding it across the surface of an adjacent tile, then blown into the air by the datacenter ventilation system, and then subsequently sucked into the power supplies of the computers housed within the datacenter.  Resulting short-circuits can cause electronic component failure, and even fire.

This question was asked today by someone on ServerFault, which rekindled my interest in the subject.  I also recommend reading the Wikipedia on it.  And I highly recommend visiting this NASA page - an entire page devoted to the phenomenon of metal whiskers.

From that page, if you just watch or read one thing from it, I specifically recommend this video, which is specifically about the damage metal whiskers can do in a datacenter environment.

Cyber Monday Sale - Half Off eBooks from O'Reilly

50% off all eBooks today from O'Reilly Media. Man I love eBooks. This is probably my Generation Y showing, but most times I'll take an eBook over print. (I know that makes most book lovers cringe.)

My shopping cart keeps growing...

Lack of IT Content Volume I

Hey guys. No interesting and deeply technical documentation today. I've been pretty busy with work, and also going over Powershell material in preparation of teaching a Powershell Boot Camp at work. In the mean time though, here's something interesting I read today. It's a quote from Nikola Tesla written in the New York Times on the subject of Thomas Edison, the day after Edison died:

"He had no hobby, cared for no sort of amusement of any kind and lived in utter disregard of the most elementary rules of hygiene  ... His method was inefficient in the extreme, for an immense ground had to be covered to get anything at all unless blind chance intervened and, at first, I was almost a sorry witness of his doings, knowing that just a little theory and calculation would have saved him 90 percent of the labor. But he had a veritable contempt for book learning and mathematical knowledge, trusting himself entirely to his inventor's instinct and practical American sense."

Reading that instantly made me think of the more popular, and now more amusing quotes from Edison himself:

"Genius is one per cent inspiration and ninety-nine per cent perspiration."
"I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work."

An interesting perspective on the two diametric inventors, is it not?

Work smarter, not harder, folks.


Here in the US, legislation that enacts radical change in our daily lives so rarely passes, that most people become apathetic towards politics altogether.  The government that we have built in this land is a sleeping giant in that it has the potential to affect our lives in profound ways, but is usually so deadlocked with compromise and fraught with infighting that we see it as mostly harmless.  We become desensitized to it because it moves so slowly.  We hope that it just leaves us alone, and it doesn't pester us enough to act when we should.  It is not without irony that because of this, we become the frog in hot water that doesn't realize what is happening until it’s too late. 

I am hoping that because I write to an intelligent group of people who are particularly enthusiastic and knowledgeable about technology and who understand the Internet, that this missive has a persuasive effect. 

There are bills in the House and Senate right now that threaten to change the face of the Web as we know it.  PROTECT-IP in the Senate and SOPA in the House.  One should not even bother with what the self-parodying acronyms stand for, as those words have nothing to do with the actual meaning, intent or effect of the bills themselves, and only serve to obfuscate the issue and sell the bills to the politicians who will vote on them. 

As an example, SOPA seeks to assign liability to site owners for everything that the users of their websites post.  The site owners could face DNS and search engine blacklisting, jail, and/or heavy fines for the content that their users post.  Furthermore, this bill denies said site owners due process of law by automatically initiating a DNS blacklisting based solely on an assertion made by an individual copyright or intellectual property owner, and without any necessary notification or forewarning to the site owner. 

Imagine all of the websites out there today on which users collaborate and post content.  Facebook, Youtube, every forum on the Internet, Twitter, reddit, LinkedIn, Google+, etc.  Hopefully I’ve mentioned a website that you use and enjoy today. 

Now imagine that those websites can no longer be, or rather can only exist as read-only channels for advertisements, because what website is going to accept the risk of liability for everything posted by the public on their site, moderated or not, under penalty of having their entire website shut down, or worse?  Even if such websites switched to an aggressive moderation/approval process where each and every post was approved by the site owners before it was allowed to be displayed, the site owners would be no less liable for the one offense that the moderators missed. 

What is probably the greatest irony of all is that as the free flow of information and ideas grinds to a halt because of this, the successful passing of this bill stands to benefit no one and the supporters of the bill will have only shot themselves in the foot.  I’ll never go see that movie in the theater because I never read that forum post where somebody posted a clip of it and talked about how awesome it was.  I’ll never buy that album because I never got to see the video where that really cool song was playing in the background.  I’ll never have that great idea because that site where like-minded individuals used to get together and share ideas was shut down. Who benefits from any of this nonsense, other than luddites bent on sending us back to the 20th century? 

On that note, we really need to talk to our Congressmen and women.  I know the person who reads this post is likely an IT pro and is probably really smart, and as such, getting people like us to do something is like herding cats.  But please, go to this site and enter your zip code and street address. (Or your neighbor’s street address if you’re paranoid.)  This will get you the names and phone numbers of the offices of your local representative, and our state senators.  For example:

I know that as a tech-savvy crew, we are used to dealing in emails and texts, but phone calls are more personal and will carry more weight than emails, especially to someone who may not fully understand the far-reaching implications of the bills they’re about to vote on. Take some time before you call to think about or write down what you want to say. Something polite about how you, as a constituent, would like to urge them to reconsider their support of this bill.