Web Site Monitoring made simple… i.e. no multi-million dollar monitoring systems.

Do you need to monitor a web application, but don’t have an expensive monitoring system available?  Do you have more than one server?  Well, you are in luck.

I have servers in multiple data centers on different subnets that allow me to have one monitor the other.  This is far from foolproof if you lose the network you have lost both, but if the network is down then both are unreachable anyway, monitoring is not important.  Everyone knows that everything is down.

This lightweight monitoring lets you know when your tomcat server or IIS server has stopped.  When your javascript web app has crashed, etc…  or when it failed to start after a reboot

Continue reading


Taking Advantage of Disruption- From ride sharing to media consumption

Disruption is the new buzzword for all forms of business.  From retail to restaurants, it is all about the disruptions.  The first thing one thinks of with disruption is cutting losses.  While that is important the better thought is to find the new opportunities that disruption causes.

When the automobile started mass production the story goes that it put buggy whip makers out of business.  While that is mostly true, it also opened up the opportunity to make tires, sell gasoline, and expand the roadways.

If you were watching the first automobiles arrive in your town and you thought, I need to sell the fuel for that thing, and you did something about it,  you were a winner.  If you stared at the noisy horseless carriage and lamented that the loss of income from carrying horse feed to the barn, you did not come out of that era well.

Today we are seeing the end of Taxi and Limousine services and ride-sharing services like Lyft and Uber are becoming the norm.  There are opportunities to be had.  An example is rental car companies.  Many started losing revenue and people opted to just use a ride share when traveling for business, instead of renting that mid-size car.  What did they do?  Several have partnered with ride-sharing services to rent cars to drivers who want to reduce wear and tear on their own cars.

Media companies are still trying to deal with the disruption of the internet.  They have used market controls and bundling to keep the current methods of delivery alive as long as possible, but even those are starting to unravel.  Even the premier live sport of football is starting to lose its luster and ratings are declining.  NASCAR ratings are dropping but their revenue is not, thanks to cable channel deals that will keep the money flowing for many years to come.  But even these lucrative contracts will not hold off the inevitable changing habits of people.

NASCAR ratings are dropping but their revenue is not, thanks to cable channel deals that will keep the money flowing for many years to come.  But even these lucrative contracts will not hold off the inevitable changing habits of people.  NASCAR fundamentally changed how they choose a champion twice in the past 2 decades.  If you are not a racing fan you may be thinking, your champion is the guy who drives the fastest.  While that is true, it is also about consistency.  Now there is a huge weight placed in winning as well as finishing well.  You might think, 2 major changes that is a lot, but this year they changed the format of all races at all levels to increase interest in the early parts of their 3 hour plus races.

If a sport that started from moonshiners can recognize disruption and react, then any company can do so.  CART racing tried to be a disruptor, and you are thinking CART?  there is a reason for that.  They don’t exist anymore.  Also, ask about the XFL football league and USFL.  Not all disruptors succeed.  But each disruption and each disruptor are pointing out a flaw or failure in the status quo.  Pay attention to disruptors and disruption.

Disruptions happen, they will continue to happen.  They have to be noticed early and taken advantage of, not just reacted to.

Changing Jobs? – Don’t get bitten by COBRA. Short-term insurance is a great option.

So you did it.  You found that job that you want.  You did the research, put in the time, had the phone interviews, did the in person interview, and got the offer letter.  You just sent your resignation e-mail because you cannot find your boss.  You are looking around your office wondering if you need one box or fourteen to get all the things you acquired over the years to your car.  You have a checklist because you are the kind of person who makes checklists.  You have on there to investigate rolling over your 401K, and somewhere near the bottom, you have, “investigate the cost of COBRA.”  You know about COBRA.  More than a decade ago you used it when you changed jobs, with the new Federal Insurance rules it cannot be worse.  So you do not worry about it.  You might want to rethink that.

Then you get that sheet from HR during your exit interview and find out that COBRA cost is almost four times what you are paying per month.  In that instant, sitting in the HR Managers office, you start to think:  Do I need insurance for a month?  Sure if you were single you could risk it, but you have a family.  Maybe you have a health condition.  You can stock up on meds.  You will be fine.  For a fleeting moment, you wonder if you could retract that resignation letter.  Then you go.  It will work out.  People change jobs all the time.  It will work out.

So there you are, sitting at home trying to figure out how you are going to come up with $2000 for one month of insurance.  This new job is starting to look like a huge mistake.  Stop right there.  You realize that there are insurance plans available thanks to the affordable care act.  You can just do that for a month.  It has to be cheaper.  Surprise, it is cheaper, but you have to commit to using it for the rest of the year.  This is now a total disaster.  You are stressed.  What can be done?

You can use short-term health care.  Insurance companies know that there are people like you out there.  People change jobs all the time; people have life-changing events that make it necessary.   So you do not need to forgo food,  cancel your cable, drop your cell phone, and take money from your savings just to cover the cost of your insurance with COBRA.

Short-term health insurance is the option.  A great place to start is https://www.ehealthinsurance.com/short-term-health-insurance.

The deductibles are high; the costs are low, but if something bad happens you are covered.  You will not have to go bankrupt because of a hospital stay.

Things to know, these short-term health insurance providers do have the right to reject customers for pre-existing conditions.  That is why short term policies are cheaper than major medical and or COBRA.  This may mean you have no option other than COBRA if you or a family member has a serious health condition.  These are also short term.  1 to 6 months.  If your new job starts insurance after six months you need to look at something else.  You need to keep these two things in mind.

For most people short-term health is a much better option than COBRA.  It was for me.  Why should changing jobs mean hurting yourself financially?  You have lots of things to worry about: learning new people’s names; where to do to lunch; what are the unwritten rules of the new job; learning your new job.   Taking care of your family should not be one of the things you have to worry about while changing jobs.

Encrypting Database Data for security

I am encountering something more and more, the desire of companies to encrypt row data in production databases to allow offsite or uncleared DBAs to perform administrative functions on sensitive company databases.

This means that a DBA without proper security clearance can make schema changes, security changes, backup, and restore the database but they are unable to read any of the data.

I have seen more than a few cases of security tables being encrypted to protect application security the idea of encrypting all of the data makes database into a giant black box.

In my experience, DBAs provide valuable insight to developers, report builders, analysts, and users.  If you restrict their ability to see the data they are protecting I am unsure if they are able to provide a full range of benefits.

I need to do some more research into this.

Don’t use Cursors in SQL Server

Using cursors in TSQL is like using a paddle to row your car.  It will get you there, but every other way to get there is better.

I was a programmer for a decade before I became a DBA.  I understand the desire to make Turing machines out of everything you can get your hands or keyboard attached to.

Techies who do not understand SQL tend to try to turn it into a procedural programming language.  The desire to create familiar programming structures can be overwhelming, but you must resist it when it comes to cursors and TSQL.

Next time you think you need to make a cursor to plod through a set of data please spend a few moment making a temp table and putting your data there for sorting and adjusting.  Then update the existing data from your temp table.

Database engines are built to manipulate data in relational databases.  Let them do what they do using TSQL.  Put away the paddle and try using the steering wheel instead.

Don’t quote policy. No one cares.

Thanks Jeffrey Gitomer.  I used to be able to just ignore people when they said, “it’s our policy.”   Now that phrase sends me into a rage.  If you have not read Jeffrey’s book “Customer Satisfaction is worthless.  Customer Loyalty is priceless” you may not have the same visceral reaction that I do.

Why is quoting policy so bad?  It is lazy.  It is dismissive and it is a cop out.

I had a vendor say to me, “It is our policy that each customer is only given one account.”  I am a manager with a team.  It is inefficient to have one account and share it, in fact it is poor security, given that we have to write down and share the login information.

Fortunately this vendor cares more about their FTP site that we do, so it is on them.  I just want my update scripts.  I have no concern over their site security.

So why is policy enraging?  I seriously doubt that at this vendors office there is a file labeled user policy, that spells out each customer shall be given one and only one account to access that ftp site.  It is more likely that the administration software for the secure ftp site works most easily if they just have one account.  Sure, if you get in there a little deeper and click on advanced options you can probably setup a second account.

So you are thinking, “Hey, I have policies to enforce.”  Maybe you do.  But say it out loud a couple of times and think, are they really policies or just the way you do business because it is easy for you.

If you are enforcing SOX, Safe Harbor, HIPAA these are written policies and verifiable and understood.  If you are saying you have to use an iPhone 5 not an android phone to check you email, it is probably because you either don’t have the support mechanism in place or don’t know how to support it.  There is no policy memorandum stored in the master policy vault.

Jeffrey suggest that you explain things rather than just quote policy.  His examples are things like, “In order to be fair to everyone…”  or “Because of limited resources…”  It makes the person you are talking with partner with you instead of be your adversary.  If the person comes back and says things like, “I don’t care about everyone else.”  You need to kick in to using you full on people skills, or quickly fake an illness and run away.

If you are an IT support desk working you are not going to give someone access to a system they are not authorized to see.  You don’t say that is against policy.  You say, “We need to get that authorized.”  Then you follow the procedures for getting the authorization.  It will be denied or approved.

If someone asks you for help on a system that is outside of your responsibilities do you say, “It is our policy to not help on that system.”  No you probably say, “We don’t support that, but I know who does.  Let me get them on the phone.”

Hiding behind policy is lazy.  You might as well put your feet up on your desk and read comic books all day.  That is what your customers think you are doing.

At this point you may be wondering, “Lee, how did you resolve the issue with the vendor quoting policy at you?”  Oh, you weren’t?  Sorry, you are going to hear about it anyway.

I took a deep breath.  Acknowledged it was my issue, and not theirs.  I also acknowledged that it was not responsibility to train the support person.  I then asked them to resolve the issue in whatever way they felt most expedient so my team could stay on schedule.   I ignored their policy and empowered the support person to solve the problem and let them know I was only interested in the results not the journey to them.

I walked in the next morning to find a new account has been created and the information was sent to me.  The issue was resolved and I did not need to know the policy.   I also used this with my team to reinforce the lesson from Jeffrey’s book which we all read.