New site

Since I’m no longer working for myself, I’ve moved most of my old content to this new blog. The same entries should generally be available, although there may be some issues with paths not matching and images not showing by default. If there’s something you’re particularly interested in, use the search to see if it’s there, otherwise let me know and I’ll try to dig it up (or you could just use the Wayback Machine). The best way to get in touch is Github or Twitter, but you can find me through other social media and coding sites as well, usually under the moniker “paulgear”.

Anyone but the majors

(Warning: Contains political content about the upcoming Australian federal election – although not the type you might expect…)

Annabel Crabb hit a nerve with this article opening recently:

You’re one week into a federal election campaign that is going to sprawl malevolently over one sixth of this calendar year. So I imagine you may be reading this in the comfort of your own home panic room. Or maybe you’re living under the surface of a local billabong, respiring shallowly through a straw and emerging only under cover of darkness to scavenge for picnic scraps. All perfectly understandable.

So for a cheery break, I want to talk about endangered animals.

It appears I’m not the only one who is highly frustrated by the current political climate. The double disillusion meme about Shorten vs. Turnbull only scratches the surface of the problem: we have an excess of self-serving, short-sighted narcissists vying for our votes, and a distinct lack of real leadership.1

So I’d like to take this opportunity to remind Australian voters that preferential voting is a key weapon in our arsenal to bring some humility to our so-called representatives.

All you have to do is this: put everyone but the majors before the majors on both the Senate and the House of Representatives ballots. It’s that simple. Still pick the parties which better match your views, but make sure you leave the ones who actually have a chance of getting elected to the end. The new above-the-line preferential voting in the Senate makes this nice and easy.

In the Senate, this has a great chance of actually electing minor party members, as happened during the last federal elections. In the House of Reps it’s far less likely that the non-majors will be elected, but at least those electorates which have prominent independents might see some change (in the way of a swing away from the majors).

Which government would be better for Australia? A Turnbull-led LNP with complete control over the Senate, or a Turnbull-led LNP with 8 minor party senators, 5 of which have to be won over to get any legislation through? A Shorten-led ALP with a clear majority in the House of Reps, or a Shorten-led ALP who needs to get the Greens on board to change anything significant? I think the latter choice would be far preferable in each case.

  1. In our recent local elections, I got so fed up with this that I instituted a new personal voting methodology: I would vote in order of whose face I had seen least often on advertising signs. In the event of a tie, I would vote based on who had seemingly spent the least on hair, makeup, and wardrobe for their advertising photos. This method was 100% successful in predicting the exact opposite of the vote count in our electorate.

An update to "What's in my Podcast Roll?"

I blogged previously about the podcasts I regularly listen to, and the topic came up again this week on the SAGE-AU mailing list, so I thought I’d update it with my current thoughts.

Regular listens from the previous list

  • SANS Internet Storm Centre daily podcast [feed] – Still my “must listen” podcast.
  • Risky Business [feeds] – They have done a little cleaning up on the NSFW content, but they could still do with a little more.  The RB2 feed has been expanded to include “Serious Business”, a light-hearted look at general current affairs with Dan Ilic, an Australian comedian based in the U.S.
  • Packet Pushers [feeds] – Getting a bit too frequent for a full-length (60+ minutes) podcast, but still interesting; they’ve diversified content and now include “Network Break”, a shorter, business-/news-focused show, and “Datanauts”, a “silo-busting” show on data centre topics in general.  One disappointment is that Michele “Mrs. Y” Churbirka’s “Healthy Paranoia” is inactive at the moment.
  • Linux Voice [feed] – Desktop/mobile/freedom-focused Linux podcast from the ex-Linux Format/Tuxradar team.  Sometimes not as technical as I would like.
  • DevOps Cafe [feed] – good interviews, not too frequent.
  • The Cloudcast [feed] – Broad coverage of cloud topics, from both business and technical perspectives.  Some of their guest spots are a bit light on content, but overall still pretty good. Sometimes it’s hard to keep up with the amount of content.
  • Andy Stanley – A profound Bible scholar disguised as a catchy communicator. Multiple podcasts:

Added recently

  • Quirks and Quarks [feed] – weekly science show which features interviews with (mostly) doctorate-qualified scientists talking about their studies.  Compelling stuff – I never miss an episode.  They take a break over the Northern Hemisphere summer, which almost gives me withdrawal symptoms.
  • Software Gone Wild [feed] – Software-Defined Networking from Ivan Pepelnjak, a long-time networking expert.  Discusses interesting projects; not afraid to call out traditional vendors for their hype and vapourware.
  • Arrested DevOps [feed] – Deals a lot with of cultural and organisational issues relevant to the DevOps movement, as well as technical topics.

Podcasts I’ve dropped


ntpq: write to ::1 failed: Operation not permitted

The other day I got a bug report about check_ntpmon, which was reporting UNKNOWN status back to Nagios even though everything seemed to be working fine. A bit of debugging revealed that it was receiving the message on standard error:

ntpq: write to ::1 failed: Operation not permitted

This was a bit strange, because various links I found indicated that this message is usually due to firewalls:

But this host was not blocking anything, not to mention that check_ntpmon’s use of ntpq only ever uses the loopback interface, which is rarely ever touched by firewalls. A bit of further digging showed that indeed it was not the firewall, but a full conntrack table, with dmesg showing:

Aug 4 03:04:19 hostname kernel: [5226949.016837] nf_conntrack: table full, dropping packet

Increasing the conntrack limit fixed the problem.

(Just thought I’d document this here for posterity, since none of the links I found suggested this issue.)


Generic IT career/job seeking advice to the young starter

I’ve been asked a few different times to advise young (and sometimes not so young) people trying to get a start in IT.  Every story is different, but there are a few commonalities.  So here’s my generic IT career/job seeking advice in rough order.  Note that some of it is a bit Australia-centric.

  1. Prove to potential employers that you are a lifelong learner:

    1. If you don’t have a tertiary qualification, get one.  If you’re not sure how good a studier you are, start with a Certificate III or IV or Diploma.
    2. Keep going!  Get a Bachelor’s degree from a recognised institution. 
      • Free MOOCs are fine if you just want to learn a new area with low financial risk, but they’re not worth listing on a resume.  They’re worth every penny you pay for them.
    3. Look for an employer who has a reputation for training their staff.
    4. Work on relevant vendor certifications as you have the time/money; hopefully you’ll find an employer who will at least pay for your exams & textbooks, if not courses.  Make sure the certifications are from reputable sources (e.g. Cisco’s are very good, Microsoft’s about average, many others quite poor); ask colleagues for recommendations.
    5. Think about a Masters, but not until you have a few years’ experience under your belt.  Don’t do it straight after your Bachelor’s.
  2. Make sure you know enough actual computer science to be a decent coder and scripter, regardless of your area of specialisation.  You should expect to automate yourself out of a job several times over the course of your career.
  3. Be prepared to start in a role that involves menial tasks; you’re not an expert in anything yet.  Sometimes the very best thing you might be able to do for an IT department is organise the storeroom, clear out rubbish, and put labels on things.
  4. If you can afford to do it, look for volunteer opportunities and work experience placements.  Do something useful rather than sitting at home sponging off your parents and playing World of Warcraft.  It’s totally legitimate to list volunteer experience on your resume.  Sometimes volunteer opportunities turn into jobs, or great references, or both.  (I started volunteering for Carinity, testing and cleaning decomissioned PCs, and eventually ended up as the IT Operations Manager.)
  5. Join relevant meetups and user groups; meet real people in the real world and try to learn what you can from them.  (Without being a creepy groupie, of course.)
  6. Follow interesting people on Twitter (ask me for some recommendations), and learn to ask good questions of them; sometimes they actually reply!  (Again, don’t be creepy about it.)
  7. When you apply for jobs, actually read the advertisement, and the selection criteria, and actually address the selection criteria in a structured manner in your application.
  8. Have a really clear, easy-to-read, spacious resume.  Yes, spacious; don’t try to fill it with too much.  Less is more if it’s well-designed.  Fit it on 1-2 pages if you can.  Most people reading resumes are reading 40 of them at a time; make yours jump out at them.  My abbreviated resume is 4 pages covering over 20 years in the industry, and I have an additional document containing a 1 page-summary of each major job that I give to people when things progress to interview stage.  (Some recruiters will like to have this earlier – that’s OK too.)
  9. Many recruiters know almost nothing about what actually makes a good IT professional, and don’t know, for example, that Linux, FreeBSD, HP-UX, Solaris, and AIX are all Unix-like OSes, and skills in one will usually transfer to another.  Make sure your resume contains a skills matrix with the right keywords for them to find you in a text search of their database.
  10. Have your work history and educational qualifications published on your preferred social networks – LinkedIn is the one recruiters seem to like most; Google+ and Facebook also have places for it.
  11. Seek seems to have dominated the online job ad market in Australia.  Register with other job sites if it takes your fancy, but definitely make sure you register for relevant email alerts on Seek.