Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Fire Escape

I have a new project - one in which will let me out of this closed-in office.  I am reconfiguring approximately 300 Motorola Minitor pagers to the narrow-band settings, namely for the firehouses.  Excitingly, this new task, which comes on the heels of a multitude of other time-sensitive projects, will allow me to get out of the institutional environment and into the wild.  I will be traveling around the county and meeting all kinds of new people on my journey.

However exciting this may seem - to elude my captors, and flee into the night - the feeling is haunted by persistent anxiety from the other forsaken projects.
The link between the EMS tablet units and the new communications infrastructure equipment I am installing in the ambulances, the database records pull for the inmates' information system, the state integration to our CAD servers for the Sheriff, and most importantly of all, the actual replacement of the CAD, which is scheduled this month - all will go on hold (well, maybe not the CAD replacement).  The Hydra-like atmosphere here is one of loom; when one task gets finished, two more spring up, and it always feels like I am not catching up, but furthering myself from the finish-line more by the second, as piles turn to hills.

Theres not enough time, captain!

The mental break will be welcomed, however daunting that looming, growing mountain may be.  And hopefully after I am finished with the reconfig I'll be ready to climb and conquer once again, refreshed.

My office is pretty small, has no windows, and always, always, the server fans running in the background.  So the days when I have a lot of office-work, or systems on the bench, I am slowly driven mad by the subtle hum of server fans, and the brief whirl of hard-drives spinning, clicking, circling.  It numbs me, so that when the phone eventually rings, I am startled out of insanity and hope diligently that the human on the other end is requesting my presence, somewhere else, out of this prison.

I'm being dramatic here, but I will indeed enjoy getting out of the office a bit.  Plus, I will be learning a lot more about the Motorola system.  Getting out will bring a bit of Zen, a sufficient palate-cleanser after a series of cookie-cutter days working on the bench.  We shall indeed see!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Fake I.T. Till You Make It

In my years in IT, I had to learn on the fly almost daily, and in many cases research something for months (as in the case of the iOS and Android apps I developed).  I love to learn about almost anything, from biology to botany, to BIOS, to the Big Bang, to brain science.  In my previous position, I was able to do research on a project to some degree, and perhaps some planning before beginning a project of any value.
However, at my new post with Dorchester County, there is a higher volume of work, so I have had to learn to juggle many things at once; keep many projects running in tandem; know where the status lies with various activities, and ensure they are all completed properly and efficiently - much of it is for the information systems that are used in the process of saving human lives.  No pressure.

When I walked in the door, there were a lot of things I was completely unfamiliar with.  Although I had built domains, worked under one, and knew the standard objects through GPO's, AD, OU's, permissions and securities, etc., as well as systems admin, and the rest, I had never had to administer such a complex set of subnets, different types of units (OU's), so many policies, or odd configurations that made up these several agencies' users and groups - and my mind blanked immediately.

Now I must clarify here that as part of my hiring process (which I often refer to as "The Grilling" because of its intense nature), I was made to answer questions related first to IT, but then on to topics which would gauge my ability to think critically, act rationally, efficiently, multi-task, practice dynamic and deductive reasoning, show high social and technical cognition -  and the skill I sensed they were looking for the most.  The ability to learn.

Many of the questions and topics were mind games and tricks, and one needed to employ a noticeable demonstration of the skill of learning quickly.  At one point the IT Director started a conversation about how certain technologies work, and then another attendee to The Grilling interrupted with yet another question, quickly jumping topic and changing the subjects, while the to-be-boss sat with his answer-sheet un-turned.  Everyone had turned pages, save him.  He was waiting.  I sensed this, and in the short silence and slight reorientation by my interrogators I answered the prior question before his obvious satisfaction.  I won.

I learned much later just how many applicants didn't cut it during that part of The Grilling.  Having all the certifications and a degree in the IT field does nothing if you have not the wherewithal to perform the tasks.  Especially for a 911 center.


After my first week, the boss dumped about 15 projects on me via email, that were left undone, or not started - and I panicked, brain emptied.  I found myself looking into things and re-learning topics I knew intimately just months prior.

It took the first two months just to get my bearings right to some degree.  The county is all linked together, with multiple subnets (my main domain controller alone shows like 20) connecting tons of remote locations and radio towers full of equipment, much of which is my responsibility.  I am now a little more comfortable with the network, many of the several hundred people staffed at this building, and the equipment (I think) I am responsible for.

As each day passes, and more accomplished, I am regarding in an exceedingly brighter light by my peers for my eager work ethic and comprehensive knowledge.  It can be rewarding, but at a high cost at times; and I am still determining whether I like the pace, or the vast ocean of projects, menial tasks, pressure, and sheer work load, will simply overtake my internal buoyancy, and eventually the pace, too fast even for myself, pushes me under.

For now, I am still beloved by most, and the practical educational benefits make today worth swiping my badge, and opening the secured exterior doors which lead to my IT office, yet one more day.  If I can stay aloft and not bugger it up too bad, they will keep me, too.  After all, if one knows well how to learn, one can make it given the right attitude and tools.  Or, just 'fake it till you make it,' as they say.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Hello World

My name is Marshall, and I work for the Dorchester County Technology Department.  I plan to detail and structure my projects and plans, so as to mentally flesh out (and annotate the process) my goals in writing, in hopes that it will assist in accomplishing them.
I am an avid proponent of productivity, creativity, ambition, consistent growth and learning through ongoing education, using a hands-on approach, as well as researching various science and technology -based topics.

Dorchester County provides me with many great technological tools to complete my tasks in the Information Technology position that I hold, under the county IT Director, namely for the Public Safety agencies, such as the 911-Center, Sheriff's Office, detention center (jail), Animal Control, and Emergency Services/Emergency Management agencies, among other minor areas.

I am responsible for over 20 servers, from storage arrays, to domain controllers; and I have many switches and subnets for each agency, in which I employ various security and network topology methods.

The position involves tasks varying from connecting a LifePAK medical device - which can perform EKG's and take blood-pressure readings, etc. - to an information system interface on a tablet for the EMS workers, to replicating an SQL database (or 10) to a secondary server, so that outside (3rd party) organizations can have safe/secure access to some of our data, while not interfering with - or even accessing directly - our Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) system.

One of the newest things that I work with is the 800MHz radio system by Motorola.  I am responsible for 5 tower sites, with an IDF at each location, full of equipment.  There are giant UPS's and generators at each IDF.

I am loving all of the new stuff, although there is always a lot to do, and I am on-call 24/7.  I am provided with a cell phone, computer, truck, and a bunch of other minor things, to ensure that I can accomplish my job.  After all, if something goes wrong in the 911 Center, someone needs to be able to know how to fix it, and quickly!

Before taking the county job, I worked IT for (about) 8 years in the automotive industry.  That was more of a systems admin job, but fun, too.  I built several Linux NAS servers, a metric ton and a half of computers, camera systems, backup, etc etc - a ton of stuff.  I was basically left alone by management to do what I had to do; had a huge IT office with wrap-around work bench and data and power outlets every 5 feet; a nice, fast PC; a Mac for a while; and had a lot of freedoms that made the daily grind not just bearable, but anticipated.

So, there is a little bit about me, and as I said, I will be writing out some of my projects and thoughts as time goes on.  And if anyone wants to read about me, or my tech life, then proceed..

Watching the Watcher: InMotion Technology

I have been asked to put in cameras to the EMS ambulances.  So, I have contacted Sentech (subcontracted, I should say) to give us a quote on the project.

We are already dealing with a company called InMotion, which will provide the WAN functionality over a carrier of our choosing, and rebroadcast a signal inside the vehicle for use with onboard equipment - all encrypted of course, and statically assigned devices.

The cameras should have the ability to record locally to a DVR, but they also want it to retain the function to be viewed from home-base - so they need to have static IP's from the carrier, port-forwarding set up (or let the software do it), and most likely, local installation of the client software at the EMS machine they want to see them on.

Once done - correctly - and depending on a lot of variables, such as coverage area and functionality of the InMotion box, this system should be pretty cool!  And I should be able to tap into the line and evaluate often, perhaps even set up alerts if the system is not working right.

These Inmotion machines are relatively small, and provide the basics in terms of WAN infrastructure.  It only runs - itself - GPS, WAN ability, and Wi-Fi.  It is up to the customer to figure out the carrier, any add-ons like cameras and DVR, and wireless components (we are setting up Bluetooth-connected machines that will service multiple functions for the EMS).

Again, this excites me, namely because it is new, and all of the interesting stuff I am now responsible for is new to me.  I have worked IT for 8 years now, and can never learn enough.  After all, IT is one of the fastest-growing industries; and if you have not resolved to yourself that you will be a life-long student when working in IT, then its not for you.

Now, if I can just get used to Windows 8.1, I can install the (hopefully supported) software these guys need on the expensive tablets they bought!