Saturday, January 22, 2011

Adventures Of A Sysadmin

Hey, y'all.  Yep, I'm still alive.

As much as this is a Linux Blog, we Penguin Lovers must contend with making a living dealing with - the Other Guys.  Yes, this blurb is about my adventures and misadventures in dealing with what Life has tossed into my lap.

A little while ago my case manager at this employment outfit called to see if I could come up with any ideas or fixes that were plaguing their organization.  Being a non-profit outfit, they were seeking the 'cheap, but great' solution.

Seeing as how I was/am still gainfully unemployed, I wandered over to see what the problem was.  It seems that they run a Resource Room consisting of ten computers for their clients to use in their Job Quests.  The access is free and there is really no time limit plus there are printing resources available at no charge.  A real deal in this time and age.

It seems that the 'clients' had taken it a step further in that in addition to Job Searching, they were also using the facilities to enhance their social lives, add to their music and video collections and chat with their buddies online.  Also, some 'clients' were taking the liberty of printing out complete online novels consisting of hundreds of pages - a clear abuse of the privileges granted to them, but what they Hey, it's all free, right?

So, when this was explained to me with the desire to not alienate these clients because the funding came from the number of people they represented, I offered the solution of configuring the Resource Room in the way other notable Public Institutions have done.  I cited our local Public Library which has computer access which they have submitted in a restricted fashion - no downloading and installing of programmes, apps or other gems of Internet Wisdom and Enlightenment; no gaming;  downloading and saving to the client's own media, eg. USB thumb drives, Floppy or USB portable drives only.  Nothing is saved onto the computer's hard drive.  This is what is called a 'Kiosk' mode where an image of the OS is renewed at every reboot and anything that may have been saved on the previous session has been erased with a fresh, vanilla OS.  Simple, yes?

Also, seeing as how the system was more than likely being run by WinServ2003, the Active Directory app - I must admit that this is a sweet utility because it makes administrating a system so much more manageable - is able to restrict printing rights thereby saving a few more trees.  I suggested that the organization contact their System Administration company and ask them if they could implement such a strategy.  This idea was met with a marked degree of enthusiasm and I left feeling that I had contributed something to society.  Still no job, though.

About a week and a half later, I receive another call from my case manager telling me that their System caretakers were not keen to the idea and quoted them an astronomical fee to implement this new strategy.  I was asked to come and meet with the organization's 'Hefe' to discuss some other solution.  Again, I must stress that this is a non-profit outfit which has a set budget. 

Seeing as how I was wasting away and if you don't use it, you lose it, I suggested that maybe I could come in and configure the Resource Room machines so that the abuse could disappear.  So, over a period of a month, I cleaned out these boxes, upgraded five of the older units which were woefully deficient in the memory department and reconfigured the systems so that no one could download, install or change the desktop configurations.  Sheesh, on two of the units I discovered a number of movies that were downloaded via Torrent utilities configured to run in the background and the results stored in hidden directories - actually, ingenious hacking, if I may say so - I was impressed. 

Also, this outfit specializes in obtaining employment for people with disabilities so the clients are not really in the upper, middle or even lower income brackets - these are poor, poor people.  An idea came about that maybe computers could be built from donated sources to provide these folks with machines to enhance their resources - at a nominal fee, of course, just to cover whatever supplies and parts are needed to achieve this end result.

So, I ended up with a nice room in the basement and a pile of really outdated, obsolete and cast aside computers and related equipment.  It is amazing what one can do when you ferret around and cannibalize stuff.  To date, I have built three very serviceable machines, all running Linux, of course, since we cannot obtain the no-charge, charitable institution or Microsoft Authorized Refurbisher licenses to install XP.

I downloaded and installed the various heavily GUI-orientated, easy-peasy Linux distros which were reputed to appeal to Windows brainwashed folks and for the time being have settled on Linux Mint 10 Debian.  I am using a box with a greatly modified Ubuntu 10.10 (Meerkat, I believe) as my personal machine and have tweaked it so that it almost equals my personal, at-home box.  Man, ya gotta luv Linux because you can make it do almost anything you want - try doing that with a 'Doze box!

Anyway, I had built two systems (excluding the personal one) - box, CRT monitor, keyboard and mouse - $100 including tax with a six month warranty.  I had sold one and have not heard from the client these past four months which tells me that things are going well - a seemingly successful convert to the Penguin Way.  This endevor  has also created a repair business for which I charge a $35 flat rate regardless if the job requires on hour, one day or one week.  So far, the jobs have lasted no longer than two days and that is because of the delightful experience of Microsoft's updates to the updates of the updates to the original updates, sigh!

These efforts have, in turn, called upon my abilities and talents to start servicing the Staff machines.  When the first call came that the 'Internet was down', I was ushered into the 'Holy of Holies' - the Server Room.  A quick view of the Events and a restart of the DHCP Server made me a hero!  Whoopie.

Now, I am integrated within the daily workings of the organization.  Even though I am still a Volunteer, I am awarded a gratuity, a monthly bus pass, which is really, really handy and appreciated and I submitted a request for tools and equipment which I used to have but disappeared at my last job training Federal Parolees.  These tools and equipment have now been replaced which makes my job a lot easier and efficient.  Again, even though I am still a Volunteer, I show up every day, just like a regular job.  I feel that this is good training for that wonderful day when some enlightened employer will realize what a gem I am and hire me.  I will be rarin' and fit to go.

Well, that's about it for now, kiddies.  In the next installment, I shall regale you with tales of Microsoft's dotNET horror and how I used Linux to solve some of those problems.

Later  .  .  .


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