Sunday, February 25, 2018

Embracing Your Inner Über-Geek!

Okay, I'm not trying to imply that I am an Über-geek by any stretch of the imagination.  But, and you knew there would be one, I am well on my way to becoming a member of said class of geek.  How you ask?  Gentle reader, please sit back and prepare to be amazed...or put to sleep.  Either way, you win!  So put on your jammies, sit down with a nice, soothing beverage, and read on.

Besides consuming lots and lots and lots of a certain greenish-yellow, highly caffeinated soft drink, I am enamored with technology.  Not just any technology, mind you.  I am not that mundane, thank you very much!  No, I am enamored with virtualization, cloud computing, and network security.

Why would I be so interested in those three aspects of information technology, especially when there are so many others to be interested in?  Well, let's see here.  Hmmmm...oh, yeah, just about anything we do today has its foundation built upon those three things.  Unfortunately for the third arm of my techno-lust, it is the one area that is either ignored, downplayed or forgotten about completely.

Since this blog posting is about my almost certain accent into Über-geekdom, I am going to focus on what has led me to believe that I am headed in that particular direction.  That focus has a name, sweet as any other, namely (get it) virtualization!  Took your breath away, didn't it?!  I know it did mine...sort of.  Either that or I hit my target heart-rate typing this little missive.  I'll have to check into that before too much longer.  Anyway...

In years past, you had to be employed by a large IT department in order to get your hands on server hardware and the operating systems that ran the services that we have come to rely on so much.  Why?  The cost of entry was extremely high.

For one, the hardware cost several times as much as buying a desktop computer.  Not many of my friends had that kind of money.  And, you still had to have a desktop computer to connect to that server.  Otherwise, what would the server communicate with?  Sort of like buying microwave food and not having access to a microwave.

Then, buying the actual OS was prohibitively expensive.  Whereas you could buy the latest, greatest, soon-to-BSOD-on-you version of Windows 2000 Pro for less than three hundred dollars, Windows 2000 Server, with only five client access licenses, would run you around one thousand dollars.  Again, not too many of my friends had that kind of money to throw at their own personal networking lab.

Fast-forward to today.  Gone are the days of having to dual boot your computer.  With a computer using the latest AMD or Intel CPU, you get built-in hardware acceleration for virtualization.  Virtualization allows you to use your computer, running a suitable OS, to host a variety of other OSes.  You could, for instance, run Windows 8 Pro, use Hyper-V, and install and run Ubuntu Linux.  Or, you could run Oracle Linux Server, use KVM (Kernel Virtual Machine), and install and run Windows 7.  Pretty nifty, no?

I can hear the thoughts in your head right now, asking me why does it matter that I can run one operating system on top of another operating system?  Isn't that a waste of time, money, and resources?  To me, no.  Here is why: I can now use whatever virtualization software I want, on any OS I happen to use, and set up a virtual network.  All without having to invest too heavily in hardware or even software, for that matter.

The virtualization software that one can use allows you to set up virtual servers and workstations, network them together, and let you play, play, play!  You are only really limited by RAM, hard drive space, and the capabilities of your CPU.  So, if you choose wisely, you could have a reasonably priced computer that meets the minimum requirements, and then some, for you to run two or three virtual computers at one time.

So, where should you go so that you, too, can ascend to the heights of uber-geek-dom?  Well, for one, Intel has a great site where you can research whether or not your CPU has virtualization built-in.  It will also let you know how much RAM your CPU supports.  Hint, if it doesn't include that information you will need to go to the computer manufacturer's website to find that out.  Also, you could go to Crucial and find out the maximum RAM of your system or motherboard.  A word of warning, though.  Often the amount quoted is the same amount the computer maker stipulated when the computer was made.  That number may not be the maximum supported as many times they will use the maximum available RAM you could buy at that time.  For instance, I have a Lenovo Thinkpad T420 that has a maximum supported RAM capacity of 8 GB.  The CPU, from Intel, has a maximum supported capacity of 16 GB.  Which one is right?  The CPU is right since the memory controller is built into the CPU.  So, I have successfully installed two 8 GB sticks of RAM and everything works great, no issues.

Aside from hardware, you can go to VMware's or Oracle's sites and pick up the virtualization software.  From VMware you can get their highly respected Workstation Professional ($249) or Workstation Player (free but with some limitations).  Oracle has their VirtualBox software (free).  Each company produces great software so I would recommend downloading both of the free versions and having a go.  Pick the one that you enjoy using the most, that is the easiest for you to set up and use, and that allows you to do the things you want to do.

Now, once your hardware is strong enough to support virtualization and you have selected your virtualization platform of choice (you have done that already, right?  No?!  Well what are you waiting for...I'll wait sweetheart!), you are now (probably) wondering what you can do with all of this virtual goodness.  How about playing with virtual machines?  You can play with Linux (try Ubuntu), where you can download the ISO, which is a virtual optical disc of sorts that you can install from directly.  You can also download some great VMs of Windows (good for 90 days) here.

What does all of this mean for you, dear reader?  Well, that's where things get a bit more complicated.  You must answer one vital question...what do I want to learn?  Do you want to learn about security products?  What about learning a new OS for certification purposes?  What about learning a little networking?  All of those can be done.  Unfortunately for you, it is getting late and I need to get things done.  I know, I know, believe me, I'm disappointed as well.  How about we make a deal?  I'll post one tutorial each for the three scenarios above?  That way you can get started and hopefully gain some practical value out of my ramblings.  Deal?  Great...until next time!

Introduction - Phase 3: Thar's Tech In Them Thar Hills!

Alright, I admit it...the title is way cheesier than I anticipated it being.  Having said that, I'm not changing it.  Not only that, but this posting was supposed to go out nearly four years ago!  On top of being exceptionally tardy, I also didn't write an outline, so I have no idea where this posting was supposed to go.  So, gentle reader, I will start where the last one left off, update you a bit, and we will see where it takes us.

Okay, so...that sounds like a good way to start this.  In the last posting, I took a leap of faith and attended LeaderQuest for some IT training.  If you have no idea what I'm talking about you can go to that post right now.  We'll wait...oh, good, you're done.  I was starting to get drowsy.

I took several classes, which laid a foundation for me to build a career upon.  I took four classes to prepare me for some CompTIA certifications, namely the A+ (220-701, 220-702), the Network+ (N10-105), and the Security+ (SY0-301).  Also took two classes to prepare me for the Microsoft MCSA: Windows 7 exams.  Each of the six classes lasted for one week.

My instructor, Gary Wheeler, was awesome.  A Vietnam veteran with a wealth of knowledge that he readily dispensed.  I couldn't have asked for a better trainer/mentor.

I went to class dutifully from early morning until early evening, five days a week.  Rain, snow, or sun.  Mostly sun.  Mostly, as this is Denver, after all.  I chose to take the two A+ exams on the same day.  Between the third and fourth weeks of training.  Not wise.  Not because I wasn't successful, as I passed each exam.  Not wise because on the testing day I was under the weather and extremely anxious.  My family and I were living with her family and it was very, very important that I make some progress so that I could be set up for a job.  And if you don't know it at this time, certifications are a great way to prepare you for a job and prove to the hiring manager that you are a good candidate.

Thankfully, I passed both exams.  It took me about another month before I was prepared to take the Security+ and Network+ exams.  Now, the first two exams covered material (technology) that I had followed for at least fifteen years.  That knowledge was the foundation that I built on.  With Gary's instruction, I was able to knock those exams out quite readily.

After those exams were passed, I continued on learning from Gary.  First networking, then computer security.  Once the CompTIA track was done, I hopped into the Windows 7 track.  Great stuff.  Taught me a lot of the finer details of Windows 7 that I was lacking.  I also got a lot of hands-on time, which was beneficial.  I waited quite a while before I took those two exams.  Mostly because I couldn't justify the cost of the exams given the job situation at the time.

After finishing up the classes, at the end of the second week of November, I threw myself into my studies.  I knocked out both the Security+ and Network+ exams within a week of Thanksgiving being over.  That really helped to boost my self-esteem.

Now, if you have ever been without a job for any length of time, especially after being employed for twenty-two straight years, then you know how anxious being without a job can be.  Luckily for my family, we had our modest retirement and understanding in-laws to rely on while this process was worked out.  So, I then spent a lot of time pushing out resumes, applications, and prayers.  I don't recall how many applications I put out there between the end of November and when I received a job offer (in late January), but I am certain it was between 100 and 200.

Thankfully, due to my association with LeaderQuest and being a veteran, I was able to apply for, receive an interview, and get offered a job at Level 3 Communications.  The commute was killer (about an hour or so each way in good weather, I don't want to even begin thinking about when the weather was dicey) but the opportunity was a blessing.  I ended up as a Network Operations Center (NOC) technician.

After starting in February, I took stock what it would take to get my family out of the in-laws' house and into our own.  This led me to apply for a job at Best Buy, in their Geek Squad.  Due to my military past and my nifty A+ certification, I landed the job.  That helped us get enough money coming in to rent our own house and get ourselves established in the community.

I worked at both jobs for roughly a year-and-a-half before receiving an offer to become an instructor for LeaderQuest.  Besides a bump in pay, it also cut my commute down to between fifteen and thirty minutes.  While I have been here (yes, I am still here) I have met some of the most amazing students, traveled to Texas, Florida, and Colorado Springs, and made some great friends.  So far, it has been an amazing, exhausting, and fantastic experience.

I am grateful for all the opportunities and can't wait to see what the future holds.

Well, gentle reader...oh, wait, you've fallen asleep.  I guess I'll quietly close this posting out and let you snore on.  Shhhhh....until next time.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Introduction - Phase 2: The New Beginning...Or, How I Learned To Love Retirement

Ok, ok, this blog post has nothing to do with learning to love retirement...carry on!

Ah-hem!  Welcome back, gentle insomniac!  I am glad you decided to slog through part two of my multi-part blog series.

In the last episode, we left our hero firmly in the grips of the...oh, never mind, wrong story.  Since retiring from the Air Force, I moved my family to Denver and started searching for a J-O-B!  A bonafide, no kidding, dyed-in-the-wool civilian job.  Unfortunately, Denver didn't really have a need for my Airfield Management skills, and my security skills would not have garnered a living wage for my family and I to live off of (hence, living wage).

Without the ability to put my highly polished, near super-human, AF developed skills to good use outside of said AF, I had a decision to make.  The decision in question was whether to continue trying to find a job that was similar to my specialty or try to follow after one of my passions, computers.  Most people assume that computers, or IT in general, is highly lucrative and should have been a no-brainer for me.  Not so. It was difficult for several reasons, first being that I had no real professional experience and second, no training.  But, I am getting ahead of myself.  Let's get back to the story...

During my initial job search after the relocation, I went to a job fair at the Sports Authority Field.  There, I met Zach Jacobsen, from LeaderQuest.  He looked over my resume and told me that his company provides job search assistance, as well as training, and that he would like to set up an appointment to meet with me.  I agreed, though I must admit I was a bit weary of doing business with a company that I had never heard of.  I guess I was a bit fearful that they were going to use the job search assistance as a way to scam me into paying for some expensive, but useless, training.

When I went home, I asked my father-in-law if he had ever heard of LeaderQuest before.  He answered, no. little scam detecting radar was starting to warm up...was this a fly-by-night organization?  I needed answers and I needed them quick.  So, I turned to the font of knowledge that every techno-geek turns to...Google!  I did several searches, including using the terms fraud and complaints, just to make sure that I was getting the most accurate information about LeaderQuest that I could.  There wasn't much, at all, about LeaderQuest.

Now, I must admit, my scam detector was working overtime.  Most companies that provide IT training also have a huge, secondary presence on the internet.  Usually, it is the blog and forum world that provides independent verification of worth.  No such luck when dealing with LQ.  So, I looked at the Better Business Bureau's website and noticed that only two complaints had been lodged against them in roughly fifteen years.  I read the details that BBB made available and it would seem that they (BBB) were satisfied that LQ did everything possible to resolve the complaints.  After reading that, I was feeling a bit more comfortable with the company but I wasn't quite ready to let my guard down just yet.

I went to the appointment that I had scheduled with Zach.  He looked over my resume, told me that I had a lot of experience and training that would be useful to many employers in the Denver area.  He also told me that while LeaderQuest is a training organization first and foremost, they were committed to assisting veterans in their job search.  This assistance was without cost and without strings, meaning that I didn't need to use their training services in order to get access to their job resources.  Admittedly, this helped to further allay my fears.

We chatted about my resume, my past experiences with technology, what my passions were in life, etc.  After nearly an hour of conversation, Zach outlined how LeaderQuest could help me in my job search.  Taking a few minutes, he went back to his office to get the literature that he wanted me to review when I got home.  Talk about a "ton" of information.  I almost entered information overload!  Besides the normal "this is the training we provide"-type of literature, Zach also gave me some information on job forecasts which highlighted the benefits of taking the type of training that LeaderQuest offered.

I went home, discussed it with my wife and my in-laws, thought about it, discussed it some more, then decided to pull-the-trigger and go for it.  I made a follow up appointment with Zach to discuss the finer details of how it would be paid for, when the training would start/end, and what could be done for me in the mean time.  Pretty standard stuff, really.

We sat down and talked about how the G.I. Bill would pay for all of the training and that they would assist me in filing the appropriate paper work.  If you've ever encountered government paper work, you know how confusing it can be.  I am quite thankful that LeaderQuest has had the amount of experience dealing with the VA that they have.  I couldn't imagine trying to wade through the miles and miles of red tape that are the stock-in-trade for the VA.  It didn't take very long for us to complete all of the paper work.  I think it took longer for him to print the paper work than it did for me to initial, print, and sign the small mountain of paper work that was necessary before I was officially "in".  All-in-all, as easy and pain-free as one could hope for.

In conclusion, it took a fair bit of prayer, discussion, perusing the paper work that Zach gave me, and researching everything about LeaderQuest to get me to a point where I was willing to take what, in retrospect, was a small leap of faith.  Small leaps of faith can be good for the soul.  And, boy, am I glad that I took that leap of faith!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Introduction - Phase 1: The Military Career

Hello there!  I am glad you have taken the time to stop by my little corner of the internet.  I hope you find this blog useful, interesting, and maybe a bit entertaining, as well.  Enough with the pleasantries, though, as it is time to dig in...

First things first, as the late Dr. Covey would say, my name is Jim Gross.  Glad to meet you.  Recently*, I retired from my career in the United States Air Force.  My twenty-two years of active duty service in the AF (or, as my retirement orders spell out, twenty-two years, one month, and three days) brought me many great opportunities, allowed me to travel about, and introduced me to many, many great people.  My career, though long by some standards, seemed pretty short, to be honest.  In fact, I catch myself, from time-to-time, thinking that I am still that fresh-faced nineteen year old that I was when I first joined.  Naturally, my body reminds me that I am not, in fact, still nineteen.  Drat!

When I first joined the AF, they sent me to Lackland Air Force Base, San Antonio, Texas.  Initially, it was for Basic Military Training, where I was assigned to the 3708th Basic Military Training Squadron (BMTS), Flight 628.  After my six weeks of basic, they put me on a bus and drove to the other side of the base in order to attend the USAF Security Police Academy.  My Air Force Specialty was Security Specialist.  After my six weeks was up and I graduated, they sent me...well, no where.  I was asked to stay behind and attend the M-60 Machinegunner Qualification Course (by asked I mean told...same thing, right?).  That was one glorious week of shooting a fully automatic, belt-fed machine gun, cleaning said gun, putting it back together again, and then, when all was done for the day, going back to my room in order to patch my fingers up.

After that week was done, they sent me to Fort Dix, New Jersey.  In December and January.  To train with the US Army.  Can you say culture shock?  All of our instructors, all of them, were Drill Instructors.  Apparently, Fort Dix was a Basic Training base.  Oh, yeah.  Let the fun commence.  So, after four to six weeks, our modified infantry course was finished and we were released onto the regular Air Force!  Watch out!

So, for seven years, I played the part of a highly motivated Security Policeman for the USAF.  They were gracious enough to send me to Missouri, South Korea, Germany, Turkey, and back to Germany during that seven year period.  At the conclusion of my seven years, I was asked to move into a different career field.  Thus started my Airfield Management journey, a journey that lasted for nearly fifteen years.

Training for Airfield Management starts and ends at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi.  While an Airfield Manager, I was blessed to be sent to Washington State, Turkey, South Korea, South Dakota, and Mississippi, with side trips to Maryland, Qatar, Washington State, Colorado, Tennessee, and Iraq (twice).

My last year in the AF was spent as a Wing OPSEC Program Manager.  Hehehehe...a beautiful job of learning how to make the adversary think one thing while you do another.  That required a side trip to is tough, right?  I had several little side jobs going on, ones we call additional duties.  My favorite, by far, was teaching an introductory OPSEC awareness class to young Airmen.  I have never had so much fun teaching a dry subject than I had teaching that.  The highlight of every class was an exercise that illustrated how social media, the internet, and bad habits can cause you to give way too much information to the adversary.  Average time spent searching Google, Zabasearch, and a few other sites?  Twenty minutes.  Average time to make a young, smiling Airman stop smiling and start thinking really, really hard about what their internet presence said about them?  One minute, max!

So, as you can see, I've been to a lot of places, seen a lot of things, and had a rather long, enjoyable career defending my country.  But, as happens to all good things, it had to come to an end.  That story, my transition to civilian life, is best left for another blog post.  So, in the mean time, thank you for reading this little missive and I hope to see you soon.


*By recently, I mean as of October 2012...might not be recent to some, but it is to me.