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About Free Advice

telephone-196454_640Thank you for stopping by and reading my work. I have fun writing it and am glad people stop by daily to read it. I plan to keep adding articles as time passes. I also plan to improve existing ones as the ideas arrive.

I also like getting comments, except for the spam. Fortunately, WordPress has excellent filters that segregate about 99% of it. Then I delete it without bothering to look it over. For those who have never seen real spam, it’s pretty lame. It’s usually general, non-descriptive, bland, repetitive and says nothing of substance. There’s the bored person with the iPhone at work who found my blog but doesn’t mention anything specific about it. There are the SEO optimizers. Robots write a lot of it. There’s one empty compliment after another, none of which write anything about the page they left the comment on. All want to sneak in a web address to their site, which always sells total crap that nobody in their right mind would want.

If you have an original and interesting site and at least look like you read something, I may keep your comment if the spam filters don’t get to it first.

I will offer general advice in the comments area if I have anything to say.

I won’t provide advice specific to your situation via email. Please don’t ask for any.

I don’t know your budget, capabilities, interests, perseverance levels, or application. For example, one person asked me, anonymously,  for help setting up an inventory system and a wireless network yet to be built. Their PCs were described to the case and power supply levels. (Regarding the case and power supply: try to avoid sharp edges and shocks.)  I don’t know if they planned on using Excel or a full blown ERP package that integrates inventory with purchasing, sales, receivables, accounts payable, and employee time and attendance. Or even if they had employees. Was the  network going to share occasional spreadsheets internally or serve 1080p video to the internet all day?

A professional uses an engagement letter that clearly specifies the scope of the project, expectations and responsibilities of the parties, the names of contact people and their purpose on the project, liabilities, and more. An enthusiastic reader using anonymous email to send me a vague description of a problem that costs time and money to solve is asking me to perform impossible magic. I can’t help you and won’t even try.

Please use the email address to give me ideas of things to write about or for offers of free stuff. If you live nearby, give me a shout-out and maybe we can have coffee someday.

If you still want some free advice, then here you go …

  • Never build what you can buy unless your business is building the thing in question. The only exception would be if building it is your hobby; then have fun with it.
  • Never pay for something you can get legally for free.
  • Open Source software is pretty good and usually free. Look into it.
  • Windows Server 2012 is an exceptionally good server and a terrible desktop client. Read about it here.
  • The blog is titled ‘Advanced Home Server’. While many of the articles here are foundational and others apply equally well to home and business settings, enterprise networking is many levels beyond what’s described here. While I used to design and write large and small enterprise software systems, I would hesitate to set up or alter an enterprise network.
  • Be as self sufficient as possible. You can’t do your own brain surgery but you can read enough ads and articles to better understand the items or ideas you are interested in.
  • Get an education if you don’t have one. Then keep improving on it. A few short years ago, I knew little of what I have written about in Advanced Home Server. If I can learn this, you can learn anything.
  • If you can define the problem well, then you are a long way towards figuring out the solution and your needs. A well defined problem always includes a part of the solution. If you can’t define the problem well, then you don’t have a problem. You have an itch.
  • You don’t always need the newest technology, but sometimes you do. Even Windows XP is still a perfectly good operating system if it never goes near the internet and never runs new software that might introduce an unexpected surprise. My elderly, refurbished, retired Netgear WNDR3400 V1 router with DD-WRT is still a fine router for a lot of jobs and an excellent emergency spare. I have no interest in passing it along to someone else. (Update: gave it to relatives. They’re using it.)
  • If you plan on pushing the technology envelope, plan to buy new equipment, spend money, and break a few eggs. Nobody knows what you want to do better than you. I’ve never met you.
  • If you’re doing something unique or if you encounter a problem you think others will share, send me an email about it. It may inspire an article.
  • Read the site disclaimer.
  • Every solution introduces new problems you never thought of before.
  • If someone offers advice, say “Thank You”. Nobody who isn’t getting paid to help will offer endless suggestions about how to troubleshoot your problems. Don’t make it look like you are really asking someone to provide an instant answer to your problems and, according to you, the easy solutions don’t work. Nobody was born with knowledge of computers. Do what we did. Look it up.
  • My home network is scanned from all over the world, 100s of times a day. Nonstop. So is yours. I see their daily attempts in my various router logs. I have no idea what they want, but I personally assume they are up to no good. Some claim to be ‘security researchers’. I have no idea what that means. To best protect yourself, keep as few ports open towards the internet as possible. Protect the open ones with encryption certificates, passwords, and user ids known only to you. If someone Googles your IP address, the search results might point directly to a door a device of yours created on your home network.Google is amazing in how well it finds places to go on the internet. (This also implies someone with no bad intent can accidentally attempt entry to an exposed device if Google finds it and it’s not protected properly.) Turn ‘off’ the ability to remotely log into your home router unless you really really need that capability. SPI and NAT can’t protect you if a port is left open. You need to take the initiative from there.
  • A lot of forum advice on the internet is really bad and the equivalent of “I don’t know. Probably a virus. Try reformatting your hard drive.”  Some forum personalities expect you to see the world as they do and don’t appear to even try to stand in your shoes and see the problem from your perspective. Sometimes you encounter a troll. Occasionally you get good advice, but don’t depend on it. Some forum ‘experts’ are consultants with ‘too much free time’ or retirees who remember how it was done back in the day. Frequently, your question is ignored after you are chastised for posting in the wrong topic. Or you get the groupthink reply that may or may not have anything to do with your original question. If you find a place that answers questions well, treat it like gold. Unfortunately, your experience level may not permit you to tell the difference and you may confuse groupthink or likeability with useful information. Google and YouTube are usually reliable sources for good answers. If you know of a good forum, write about it in the comments. I may add a link to it.
  • IT and groupthink go together like bacon and eggs. Groupthink gravitates towards aggressive mediocrity. If you run a business, treat the department as a utility. If some aspect of it provides a clear competitive advantage, have that niche report to a competent senior manager related to the application, not an IT supervisor. Groupthink in an IT department is personality driven; one person or a small group use it to promote mediocrity and keep everyone in line, marginalizing the outlier. Groupthink is sometimes called  ‘Standards’ or ‘Best Practices’ to chase away people who challenge it. If someone tries to chase you away, call a meeting and ask for the issue to be explained coherently, showing cause and effect including a general explanation of the cost of not going along. Insist someone take the other side. If it’s a real ‘Best Practice’ this will make it obvious. Sighs, eye rolls, end-of-the-world forecasts, use of scapegoats, and other forms of dismissiveness tell another story. Don’t let your business, or you, yourself, by inference, become subordinate to underachievers like these.

Thanks for reading. Daily page views are rising and, so far, no complaints. Except for the spammer who said I’m a badd spelller.

I can be reached in the comments or at advancedhomeserver at gmail dot com.

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