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Monthly Archives: June 2009

Sun Tzu wrote:

6. There is no instance of a country having benefited
from prolonged warfare.

Avoid becoming involved in open-ended projects. Always insist on clear conditions or goals that indicate the project is considered completed. Make sure that deadlines and milestones are realistic and attainable.

No one wants to be involved in a project that is languishing. When deadlines pass and milestones are never reached, those involved in the project become demoralized. This is similar to laying siege. In Sun Tzu’s words from this chapter:

2. When you engage in actual fighting, if victory
is long in coming, then men’s weapons will grow dull and
their ardor will be damped. If you lay siege to a town,
you will exhaust your strength.

So, too will your team lose their enthusiasm and have their creativity become dulled when a project turns in to a siege. One way to combat this is to break a larger project into a series of campaigns with clear objectives which advance the overall goal. Be sure to celebrate the small victories along the way to assure morale stays high.

If you find yourself pulled in to an endlessly mired project, there is only one thing to do. Retreat! There is no advantage to be gained by soldiering on if the end conditions are not clear. Retreat, re-group, re-evaluate and create a new plan which contains clear, achievable conditions for victory.

A single bacterium is more significant to our entire planet
Than our planet is significant to the Universe.

I didn’t take any notes during the meeting itself, so these are the high points as my memory serves:

The focus of this meeting was Security, and we didn’t stray too far off that core topic.

InfraGard is a partnership between the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the private sector.

Some of the interesting security tools or concepts discussed at this meeting:

  • netcat is literally THE Swiss Army Knife of IP tools.
  • port knocking and webknocking involves sending patterns of traffic to a server to trigger it opening ports and services to your IP address.
  • MetaSploit Framework automates the exploitation of the latest vulnerabilities.

After the meeting, a large group of us walked over to Raccoon River Brewery for dinner, drinks and discussion.

Sun Tzu wrote:

26. Now the general who wins a battle makes many
calculations in his temple ere the battle is fought.
The general who loses a battle makes but few
calculations beforehand. Thus do many calculations
lead to victory, and few calculations to defeat:
how much more no calculation at all! It is by attention
to this point that I can foresee who is likely to win or lose.

Whether performing a routine upgrade or making a massive infrastructure change, if you haven’t performed the appropriate amount of planning you will most likely fail. The more planning you perform the more likely you are to succeed, and the more likely you will be prepared for any problems you encounter.

When you make plans your imagination must be fully engaged. Visualize the tasks ahead of you, re-arranging them in time and space, step forward and backward through the process. In this way, you will recognize potential pitfalls and devise methods to avoid or mitigate against them.

As the plans solidify in your mind, document them in written form (Wiki, text document, paper, anything). Use this document to engage the opinions and imaginations of people you trust. Their experience and alternate view of the situation will help bring to light anything you may have missed. Use this information to refine your plans, incorporating their advice.

For small projects, a miniature version of the above process will suffice. You may not even need to write anything down for a small enough project, but don’t neglect planning. When scaling up for larger projects, make sure to build in some checkpoints for re-assessing your plans and dealing with anything which may have cropped up. As projects grow in complexity it becomes more import to build in extra flexibility.

No matter what the time frame, make sure to take time for planning. You will not regret it.

Sixty photos sounded like a good, round number for the final photo in this project.

Now I need to figure out what to do for my next photo-related project. Hmm.

We had six show up for last night’s meeting (6/10/09) at Granite City in Clive, IA. It was mostly a social occasion, so there wasn’t a lot of Virtualization content to record. Here are a few points which stood out in my mind:

  • SuperMicro now offers blade servers which integrate a miniature SAS SAN on the back plane. Sounded pretty cool.
  • Josh More discussed some basic security concepts around Internet-accessible servers — Virtual or otherwise.
  • Had an impromptu “Name That Tune” competition between an iPhone and a G1. The iPhone won. This time. . .
  • Laserdisc video is analog, as I pointed out to some peoples’ dismay.

The conversation was, as usual, quite random so there were many, many more topics discussed than I’ve presented here. I guess you’ll just have to attend the next meeting so you don’t miss out!

Sun Tzu’s The Art of War is considered essential reading in many disciplines, but is not typically a requirement for students of Information Technology. I posit, however, that Sun Tzu’s teachings can be applied across many disciplines (I’ll even go as far as to claim any discipline), including IT.

With this series of posts, I intend to pull out key phrases from The Art of War and show how their principles can be applied within various IT disciplines. Not all of Sun Tzu’s wisdom can be directly applied, so I will not be performing a verse-by-verse analysis. There are, however, some sections or verses which should lend themselves to certain IT situations such as building and maintaining infrastructure, security strategies (lots there) and disaster recovery tactics. Here I intend to share with you my IT-focused ideas, as inspired by Sun Tzu.

For this series, I will read through this translation available from Project Gutenberg. All of my section/verse references will refer to that translation. Note that the translator’s notes are included in this version.

As an aside, I highly encourage everyone to explore Project Gutenburg’s catalog of works, as it is the largest repository of public domain e-texts that I know of, and has many classics available to download for free.

Next time: The core of Laying Plans.

Nothing I’ve presented in this series has been particularly earth-shattering. Wikis are just another Web-based tool out there for collecting and presenting information. Wikis are well-suited for some types of data, ill-suited for others, and there is a huge gray space in between.

Some examples of well-suited purposes are:

  • Encyclopedias.
  • Reference manuals.
  • Infrastructure guides or references.
  • Collaborative writing or other creative projects.

Some examples of ill-suited purposes are:

  • Large databases with somewhat static or homogeneous formatted data.
  • Content Management System (though it could work, just not ideal).
  • Web log or blog.

With proper research and some time taken to think about your community and purpose, you may find that a Wiki fits the bill. Just keep in mind that it will become an on-going project requiring a fair amount of care, feeding and community cultivation. Be ready to dedicate the necessary time to get it off the ground.