Work

Office WorkerWe all do it, right? In fact when we are not doing it, we are most likely talking about doing it, more specifically how much more of it we have to do. But what exactly is Work? Is it a simple equation or is it more than that?

Work = Time + Effort

More recently, in our information age obsessed culture, we strive to not just complete work, but to be proficient at it. We as knowledge workers have to be proficient, we have to learn to execute more precisely, to eradicate waste, be energy efficient. This is how we come to think of work, not as something we produce, but as to how we perform it. It is not satisfactory to think of work as something we do, but something we need to excel at, to become better at, to improve. It is vital that as individuals we devote ourselves to thinking about how we do work, and less about how much of it we produce. Productivity should not matter to us personally, because productivity is no longer a goal for the individual worker.

What matters is the How and not the What. This is why we learn different types of business improvement models, like LEAN, Six-Sigma, Continuous Improvement, Efficiency, Quality Improvement, improve upon processes and products. If you are thinking, this does not make sense, because my business cares about productivity, and while this is true for the business, it should not be true for you personally.

For example, I once had a fellow project manager relate to me how they did not like how a particular computer programmer spent their time. The project manager was equating a programmer’s work as the amount of time they spent in front of a keyboard, writing code.

Work = Time

My response to the project manager was that we did not pay that person to write code, we paid them to solve technical problems with our system. I then pointed out that the programmer had years of accumulated knowledge and expertise, and just because they were not sitting in front of a computer, did not mean they were not thinking about how to solve our technical problems. It was more important to me, that the programmer provided their best solutions. If I really wanted a quick solution I knew that they could also provide this, but if schedule was not a problem, I always preferred to defer it until later. My advice to my fellow project manager was to manage the project, and not manage how other people do their work, because no one likes that and it does not produce better results.

In the case of project management, I see work as a series of never ending issues, which I run through my own personal system in order to attain resolution.

Work = [Problem = (Knowledge + Communication + Execution + Monitoring)]

Problem:

Issues come up every day, they arrive through email, in person, by phone, text, via your boss, customer, and sometimes by your own assessment of your project. In projects, everything fits into a Scope, Schedule, Cost category, but issues usually span some combination of the three. The other great truth is that in life all problems are people problems, because a process is just a series of steps. It is people who either do not understand the process or are refusing to execute the process, so in the end you have to deal with the people problems first.

Communicate:

This is the hardest part about life. You have to communicate! Ask questions, if someone comes to you with a problem, what is it that they are trying to solve? We are incredibly bad at figuring out what people want from us, if we do not ask questions. Communicate… define the problem, get agreement on what would satisfy all parties, and agree on how to monitor the outcomes.

Knowledge System:

Run the problem through your own personal knowledge system. Many people start out at a job and rely on the company to provide training and if that company has good documentation and processes, this is the system that people end up using. Long term this is not a substitute for a personal system. What I mean by that is that you should be a life-long learner and build your own system for being organized, focused, and having a proper toolbox of skills. There are tools that can help: task managers, Microsoft OneNote & Outlook, etc… try them out, take an online class, take a seminar, find what works for you. Next learn how to take feedback, get a mentor, someone who can give you honest criticism and who you can ask questions. Self improvement: focus on what areas you need for your work, my suggestions: improve your communication skills, learn how to give great presentations, get to know your customers, understand the entire cycle of your business, volunteer to help your peers. Coming back to my previous computer programmer example: accumulate knowledge and expertise. All of this becomes your personal knowledge system in time.

Execute:

Once you have run through all the possible ways to fix the problem and had the discussions with the necessary peers or teams, go and execute the fix, the changes, the solution.

Monitor and Learn:

Solving for X is not the end. You need to take the extra steps to see what the outcomes and perceptions are. You will find that getting feedback is often difficult, but it is important to learn about your mistakes and your successes. For example, one of my favorite tools is Microsoft Excel and though I depend on it, I have learned the hard way to always keep a backup of my original data, to triple check my final analysis, and if at all possible, to have someone else validate my results. The worse feeling in the world is knowing you made a mistake in Excel, five minutes after you have delivered your file. Always have a backup, always validate, always incorporate lessons learned.

Feedback can be as easy as three questions: How am I doing? What could I do better? What can I do different? If you are trying to improve your team, replace the “I” with “We” and keep asking the same questions after every problem resolution, or on a monthly basis. Most of all do not wait to the end of your project, as most people tend to forget what happened in the past.

Make Everyone Better

A famous basketball player once said that it is not enough to be a great player, you have to improve those around you in order to truly win the game. This applies in the work place more than ever.

Success is a measurement that can be shared.

Let’s Encrypt and VirtualMin

Let's Encrypt IconSecurity is now a central concern for technical people and I would argue for most consumers. It is now typical for criminals to target banks, hospitals, and other critical institutions. Privacy is also an issue that is central to a free and progressive society. One solution that gets thrown out is SSL encryption for websites and how we all now need to secure our sites with an SSL certificate. Due to the market though, SSL certificates are one of those things that companies have a hard time making money off of. Most people do not buy SSL certificates, so you wind up with a market that sells bare bones SSL certificates that range around $25 and extended validation certificates for large ecommerce websites that cost thousands of dollars. This is where Let’s Encrypt changes things. Their certificates are free and are recognized by the web browser as a valid secure certificate. This makes SSL encryption a zero cost option for millions of individual webmasters who run websites like WebKeyDesign. There is one other difference with Let’s Encrypt certificates: they are limited to 3 month intervals instead of yearly intervals. However what makes Let’s Encrypt more appealing to webmasters is that the software makes renewals automatic and there is now software integration with cPanel and Virtualmin control panels.

My personal project is a virtual machine that I keep for journal purposes. It allows me the ability to write some thoughts and archive information for later viewing. The virtual machine runs CentOS 7 Linux and can be controlled using Virtualmin. The SSL certificate that was originally setup was self-signed and so I would have to manually add the certificate to iOS, MacOS, and make exceptions in browsers in order to use the website.

Update:
Since writing this, a few things have changed. Let’s Encrypt now requires version 2 of their protocol and old clients are no longer supported. Virtualmin needs to be updated to support the new client. You can read more about the issue on this Virtualmin Forum post. To have this work, on Centos 7, do the following first and then it should work.

yum install certbot
certbot register

I followed TechJourney’s excellent guide: How to Use Let’s Encrypt SSL Certificate Automatically in Virtualmin & Webmin. There were a couple of issues I found out along the way.

Webmin Configuration

The tutorial did not specify the path to the client command. For CentOS, I found this to be:

/root/letsencrypt/letsencrypt-auto

Webmin Let's Encrypt command configuration

This may not be needed. I was able to let Virtualmin automatically find the new client.

Let’s Encrypt SSL for Webmin Login

A secondary problem that I ran into had to do with the separate subdomains. The Apache webserver will respond on your typical www.mydomain.net and mydomain.net, however the Webmin control panel is accessible by another prefix to mydomain.net. Under Virtualmin – Server Configuration – Manage SSL Certificate, the default will be Domains associated with this server. This setting will only pull in the domains that Apache is setup for. If you want to use the Let’s Encrypt SSL Certificate for other subdomains, you have to select Domain names listed here and manually type all your subdomains. You can then under the Current Certificate tab use the Copy to options and use the same certificate for Webmin, Usermin, etc.

Virtualmin Let's Encrypt Manage

If you went ahead and hit the Request Certificate button and then try to add domains, the process will error out. There is no way to reset the certificates from the Virtualmin interface. To resolve the problem, use secure shell and remove the letsencryt directory.

rm -rf /etc/letsencrypt

This allowed me to use the Request Certificate option again and have all my subdomains added to the certificate.

Mushkin Atlas FLUX USB SSD Enclosure

Mushkin Enhanced Atlas FLUX USB 3.0 mSATA III SSD Enclosure Kit (AT-ENCKIT)For this review, I will discuss my experience with a different type of external SSD drive. The Mushkin Enhanced Atlas FLUX USB 3.0 mSATA III SSD Enclosure Kit (AT-ENCKIT) is about the size of Zippo lighter and weighs 2.4 ounces (not including the mSATA drive that you need to purchase separately). Most people would probably prefer a regular USB Flash type drive than this type of solution. The Atlas costs about $20 and then the needed mSATA drive that fits inside can vary from $35 and up. The primary reason I purchased the Atlas, is due to the fact that I had an mSATA drive that I could not utilize for my latest laptop project. The Intel 310 Series 80GB mSATA Solid State Drive SSDMAEMC080G2C1 is an older drive that I purchased on Amazon and which I installed in the Atlas Flux enclosure.

Specifications

Mushkin Enhanced Atlas FLUX USB 3.0 mSATA III SSD Enclosure Kit (AT-ENCKIT)

  • Controller: AS Media 1053E USB 3.0 Controller
  • Attachment: USB Attached SCSI Protocol support
  • Casing: Durable aluminum casing
  • Supported Drives: Supports 50mm and 25mm mSATA drives
  • USB Compatible: USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 Compatible
  • Transfer Speeds: Supports SATA 1.5 Gb/s
  • Plug and Play (PnP) with 3Gb/s and 6Gb/s SSDs
  • Hot-swappable

Intel 310 Series 80GB mSATA Solid State Drive (SSDMAEMC080G2C1)

  • Capacity 80GB
  • Sequential Read – Up to 200 MB/s
  • Sequential Write – Up to 70 MB/s
  • SATA 3.0 3Gb/S
  • Intel Product Page

Installation

The installation is quite simple. Mushkin includes a tiny screwdriver, however I recommend using a higher quality Philips #00 screwdriver. I have big hands and it is easier to use a regular full size screwdriver when removing tiny screws as this. Once you remove the panel, the board inside should slide out, and you should now be able to carefully install your mSATA drive. You slide the mSATA drive at a slight angle and then push it down. A snap on clip then holds the drive in place, similar to memory DIMM slots in a laptop. Finally screw back on the panel and you are done.

On Windows 7

I tested the Atlas Flux with my Dell Latitude e5430 laptop. This laptop has three kinds of ports that this drive can connect to. There is a USB 2 port, a USB 3 port, and an eSATAp port (also referred to as an eSATA/USB combo port). The operating system is Windows 7 64-bit. The main issue I had with the drive is that it is not really hot-swappable. Plugging it in the first time, the drive will appear and you are able to format it. But if you unplug the drive and then plug it back in, it will not appear in Windows again. You can restart Windows and then the drive will appear again. The problem was worse on the eSATAp port. The drive would remount over and over on this port. To fix this issue, with the drive visible in Windows, Go to the Start Menu and type DEVICE MANAGER and click on Device Manager in the results. Under Device Manager, under Disk Drives, find the drive and double-click on it. Now click on Policies and select Better Performance and click OK. The Atlas Flux cannot utilize the Quick Removal feature. This means that you must Eject the drive via the systray USB icon or by right-clicking on it and choosing Eject. The drive will now be stable and you may use it without restarting Windows. (more…)

Setup for Dell Latitude E5430 – Part 2

Dell Latitude e5430In the previous Setup for Dell Latitude E5430 post, we did most of the legwork to create a boot ready flash drive with all the needed add-on software needed to create a clean image of Windows 7 Pro 64-bit. We now shutdown our machine and insert the flash drive into one of the USB ports on the laptop. If you are using the RecoveryTools 4, the Windows installation will be mostly automated. If you are not using Recovery Tools 4, then you will need to install Windows normally. I will cover both methods.

WINDOWS 7 Begins…

The computer will come up to a text only screen asking you to start from the Windows EMS option. Then a Windows screen will appear asking you to choose a language. The next dialog will ask you to choose which version of Windows 7 you want to install. The choice is Windows 7 Professional. At this point if you are using Recovery Tools 4, the process is automated and you will need to wait for Windows to install itself. If you are not using Recovery Tools, then this is a normal Windows 7 installation and you should install Windows normally and skip to the next section.

The machine will reboot and come up in Windows Audit Mode. The Sysprep dialog box will appear on the screen. Always close this box by using the X in the upper right corner of the dialog. You will need to do this every time you restart the machine. Do not click any options in the Sysprep dialog.

(more…)

Setup for Dell Latitude E5430

Dell Latitude e5430My recent project was the setup for a refurbished Dell Latitude laptop that I purchased online. Latitudes are business oriented laptops that Dell sells and leases to a variety of business customers. Many large enterprise level companies lease their machines and return them to Dell periodically as they upgrade to newer hardware. This means that a few times throughout the year Dell amasses a stock pile of old machines that they then rebuild and sell at significant discount prices. Even better, if you browse discount sites such as DealNews and TechBargains they will detail how to get a discount on top the already low refurbished price. Dell has these discounted sales periodically, at the beginning of the year in January or in the middle of the Summer, such as July. If you are going to buy a refurbished laptop, there are some risks. These laptops are not brand new, they have seen some usage, and so if you want a perfect looking laptop you are not going to find one. Your best bet is a Grade A model, which will be priced a little higher. The other factor is that these machines only come with a very short warranty. Three months or one hundred days type warranty will apply. You can purchase an extended warranty from the Dell Refurbish site at the time of purchase, but note that you will be adding to the total price of the machine. You will want to consider this extended warranty price and what it is worth to you personally. In my case, this was a secondary machine that I am not going to worry too much about, so no extended warranty for me. These are older model machines as well and not the latest and greatest technology. Business laptops are not gaming machines either, so if your main emphasis is gaming, consider looking for an Alienware type models instead of Latitudes. Overall my best advice is to wait for the discount from the DealNews.com and then shop for something that you will like and that will cost you about forty-five percent of a new laptop. Once you get higher than fifty percent, I usually think you might as well save up for a new machine that you really want. Given all this, lets get started on setting up the laptop.

Out Of the Box

Dell took about three to four business days to ship the laptop. The machine is serviced by a third party company named Genco. The machine was packaged well and was very clean. The only accessories were the Dell power adaptor and a printed explanation of the standard warranty for a refurbished machine. Below are the specs for the laptop:

Dell Latitude E5430 Laptop (non-Vpro model)

  • 2.7GHz CPU
  • 4GB RAM
  • 1600×900 HD display
  • 320GB Western Digital Hard Drive

There were two types of e5430 models, there is an Intel-Vpro model and then there is the non-Vpro model. This one is the latter. The hard drive inside the laptop was a Western Digital mechanical hard drive and it was dated July 19th, 2013. The laptop like the hard drive is from the the same year as well, in other words I bought a three year old laptop.

The installed operating system is Windows 7 Professional (32-bit). There were no installation disks for Windows included, as the hard drive includes a recovery image.

HARDWARE Upgades

There is nothing wrong with the laptop at this point and it is perfectly usable out of the box. However, I love hardware upgrades and so I couldn’t help myself from adding some things. The best possible upgrade is an SSD hard drive. SSD drives are now much more affordable, and so you can take your pick from a variety of SSD drives out on the market right now. My personal preference is Crucial/Micron and Samsung, but I have purchased other brands such as PNY if they were at a good price. For this project I did purchase the Crucial MX300 750GB – CT750MX300SSD1. I did consider the 525GB model as well, but unfortunately it was out of stock at the time. This SSD drive is a 7mm height drive and a spacer is included so that it fits as a 9.5mm drive. I did utilize the spacer when I switched out the drives.

Next was the memory. In current terms 4GB is not nearly adequate, so I opted for maxing out the memory. Most people might consider upgrading to 8GB memory (2 x 4GB DDR3 modules), since this is a very cheap upgrade to make. The e5430 does in fact support 2 x 8GB modules, for a total of 16GB memory! The easy way to purchase memory for this machine is to visit Crucial and buy direct from them. They will guarantee that the memory will work and are only slightly more expensive than buying from online stores like Newegg.com.

Both the hard drive swap and the memory upgrades are very easy to do. You will need a philips #0 screwdriver and for the lower memory module, I found a plastic spudger handy for pushing down the memory SIMM into place.

Note before doing any hardware upgrades, consider downloading all the required software in the following Software Installation section first if you do not have another Windows machine that you can use to download stated software. Look through Device Manager in Windows and note the type of hardware you have, such as the Network Card, Wi-fi Card, etc. My particular laptop did not have a finger print sensor or Bluetooth. In the Software Installation part we will need to download multiple software, so it is best to use a second machine or read this entire post before doing any software steps.

SOFTWARE Installation

WARNING! I take no responsibility for any use of software or any losses of software or hardware functions. If you do not know how to use DISKPART or any other tool in this post, then perhaps this project is not for you.

Part 1: Win7_Pro_SP1_English_COEM_x64.iso

Now that we have our e5430 laptop upgraded, the big problem is Windows. The image on the original hard drive is Windows 7 Pro 32-bit and not 64-bit. Even if I took the original software image from the drive, it would not recognize my new memory. My goal is to setup this laptop with Windows 7 Pro, the 64-bit version. The machine fully supports 64-bit Windows, so the problem is just the media. The laptop has an OEM license for Windows 7, and so I do not need to purchase Windows 7 Pro 64-bit, I just need to get the installation media.

Here is where nothing is ever easy. Windows 7 ISO images are no longer easily attainable directly on the Internet. There is a long story about this, but I will skip that and simply state that from a Windows machine with IE 11, you can do the following:

First go to Heidoc.net and learn about what you will want to download. In this case a Windows 7 64-bit OEM ISO image. Next download and run his Microsoft Windows Download Tool. This will allow you to download a clean ISO image of Windows 7 64-bit, the exact file name being: Win7_Pro_SP1_English_COEM_x64.iso

Part 2: Flash Drive Setup

Once downloaded, you will need an 8GB or 16GB USB Flash Drive. This will be used as the installation source.

Insert the flash drive and note what drive letter it shows as.

Type CMD in the StartMenu Search and right-click and choose Run as administrator. Use DISKPART to setup the flash drive. Note that for the SELECT DISK command you will need to substitute # for the exact number that the flash drive comes up. Choose wisely, if you are not careful you may destroy your other disks on that computer!

DISKPART
LIST DISK
SELECT DISK # 
CLEAN
CREATE PARTITION PRIMARY
SELECT PARTION 1
ACTIVE
FORMAT QUICK FS=FAT32
ASSIGN
EXIT

With the flash drive setup, the next step is to copy the ISO onto the flash drive. There are multiple ways of doing this. For this step I placed the ISO file in its own folder and then used WinRAR to extract the contents. I then copy and paste into the flash drive root directory.

The Latitude e5430 supports UEFI, which is the replacement for the old BIOS system that most computers have used for multiple decades. We want to take advantage of EFI booting later, so we need to have the flash drive boot with EFI. This requires a different boot file to be in a specific location on the flash drive. The ISO does not have this as default for Windows 7.

From a Windows 64-bit machine that you are already using, there should already be the file file you need.

Look for bootmgfw.efi under C:\Windows\Boot\EFI and copy it to the flash drive here:
\EFI\BOOT\

The file then must be renamed from bootmgfw.efi to BOOTX64.EFI in order to work.

You now have a flash drive that you can boot from in EFI mode.

If you need further details on the flash drive steps see Creating Windows UEFI Boot-Stick in Windows.

More helpful links:

Part 3: Windows Setup With Factory Recovery Partition

What I do like about OEM computers is that they come setup with a hidden partition to reimage your machine in case you want to reset Windows back to a zero ground state. However what everyone does not like about this: is that the OEM image is usually filled with crapware that no one wants and it is not a clean setup of Windows. But how about if you could setup your own? In this section we will cover how to do this. If this is too complicated feel free to skip to the next section.

RecoveryTools 4 uses Microsoft tools to setup an OEM image and recovery tools for a new install of Windows. This software is free, but it is complicated process if you are not coherent with software setups.

  1. Download RecoveryTools 4.05
  2. Place the self extracting file into a separate folder and doule-click on it.
  3. Download the the Windows Automated Installation Kit (AIK) for Windows 7
  4. Place the AIK ISO file in its own folder and then use WinRAR to extract the files to the same directory
  5. Next install the AIK Tools

With the AIK Tools installed, we follow the directions from RecoveryTools for Windows 7. From the Windows 7 AIK, you will need the following files:

  • IMAGEX.EXE (32 and 64 bits version)
  • OSCDIMG.EXE (32 bits version)

If you installed AIK, these files will be located here:

  • C:\Program Files\Windows AIK\Tools\amd64 (for 64-bit)
  • C:\Program Files\Windows AIK\Tools\x86 (for 32-bt)

Copy IMAGEX.EXE (32 bits version) to the RecoveryTools 4 folder path:

  • \Windows 7\Windows 7 Recovery Tools\ImageX\32bits

Copy IMAGEX.EXE (64 bits version) to the RecoveryTools 4 folder path:

  • \Windows 7\Windows 7 Recovery Tools\ImageX\64bits

Copy OSCDIMG.EXE (32 bits version) to the RecoveryTools 4 folder path:

  • \Windows 7\Windows 7 Recovery Tools\OscdImg

Next we want to copy the entire RecoveryTools 4 folder to the root of the flash drive we setup earlier. There are two more files we need.

Under RecoveryTools 4\Windows 7\AutoUnattend\GPT\ there is an AutoUnattend.xml file, copy this to the root of the Flash Drive.
Under RecoveryTools 4\Add-On\ there is an Ei.Cfg file. This file must replace the current file that is under the SOURCES folder on the root of the Flash Drive.

Part 4: Add-ons for Flash Drive

In order to save time, it is best to go ahead and create a DELL folder on the flash drive and add some more add-ons that you will need later on. I will cover these under the Updating Windows section. For now here is the list of recommended installers:

Microsoft:

Dell Specific Updates for a Latitude e5430 Laptop:

  • Intel Chipset Drivers: Chipset_Driver_CPNKY_WN32_9.3.0.1019_A00
  • Intel Management Engine 9: Chipset_Driver_GJVHD_WN_9.5.15.1730_A02
  • Intel USB 3: Chipset_Driver_THK45_WN_1.0.8.251_A05
  • Intel 4000 Graphics Driver: Video_Driver_DCG08_WN32_10.18.10.4425_A18
  • HD Audio: 3330_Audio_Driver_C6HVR_WN_1.0.6491.0_A08
  • Ethernet Network Card: Broadcom 57xx Network_Driver_PGHX7_WN32_17.0.2_A00 (maybe different depending on your machine)
  • Wireless Network Card: Dell 1530 Network_Driver_5RHDN_WN_6.30.223.215_A02 (maybe different depending on your machine)
  • Conexant D330 Modem: CONEXANT_D330-HDA-MDC_JF0K3_A01_SETUP_ZPE, CONEXANT_MULTI-DEVICE_A03_R207060
  • Memory Card Reader: Chipset_Driver_D7TG2_WN_3.0.07.44_A04
  • Freefall Sensor: Chipset_Driver_V6681_WN_4.10.0046_A06
  • Dell Multi-touch Touchpad: Input_Driver_YXX3D_WN32_10.1207.101.109_A03

One more installer will be needed. We are going to install a specific version of Intel Rapid Technology drivers. These are not on the Dell site. The reason for this is that this specific set of drivers work best for this laptop. These are the Intel Rapid Technology E Drivers version 12.9.4.1000. To read more about this topic you can read this Win-Raid.com post. You can download the drivers from Intel or from Win-Raid.com: Intel RSTe Drivers.

Part 5: F2 & BIOS Setup

Take note of what version of Dell BIOS your machine has. If it is not the latest, I recommend you download the latest BIOS (in my case the non-vPro version) and upgrade your BIOS first before continuing.

At this point we have gathered all our software on our flash drive and are ready to almost install Windows 7. We must however make some changes to the e5430’s Setup.

  1. Restart the laptop and press F2 to enter the BIOS Setup.
  2. Under General – Boot Sequence: change to UEFI
  3. Under System Configuration – SATA Operation: change to AHCI
  4. Apply Changes and Exit

Part 6: Hard Drive Setup

This step is optional and only needed if you want to wipe the hard drive. It is included here, in case you need to redo the setup of Windows. To manually wipe a hard drive and convert it to GPT:

Turn off the PC, and put in the Windows installation DVD or USB key.
Boot the PC to the DVD or USB key in UEFI mode. For more info, see Boot to UEFI Mode or Legacy BIOS mode.
From inside Windows Setup, press Shift+F10 to open a command prompt window.
Open the diskpart tool:
diskpart
Identify the drive to reformat:
list disk
Select the drive, and reformat it:
select disk #
clean
convert gpt
exit
Close the command prompt window.
Continue the Windows Setup installation.

We are now ready to start installing Windows! Continue reading Setup for Dell Latitude E5430 – Part 2.