Category Archives: SysAdmin

I am running for a position on the Board of Directors for LOPSA

I am running for a position on the Board of Directors for the League of Professional System Administrators. I just posted my Candidate Statement on the LOPSA site @ . Here it is in its entirety:

My name is Martin Gehrke, and I am running for the LOPSA board.

Why am I qualified to be on the Board?
While I am relatively new to LOPSA, I feel I have a lot to add. When learning that Pittsburgh did not have a LOPSA chapter, I founded one. We have grown from nothing to meetings of 10+ members. I have also been a leader in the other parts of my life: Captain of my college crew team, Eagle Scout, and the father of 2. Most importantly, I have the desire to be involved. I want to see LOPSA grow into the organization we need for our profession.

Why am I running for the Board?
Local chapters are the face and lifeblood of LOPSA. My experience has given me unique insight into how we can leverage current chapters to expand membership and presence, how we can grow by planting new chapters, and the questions uninformed sysadmins ask about LOSPA. While starting up my local chapter, I found little help or resources. I emailed the board with a number of ideas on how to help LOPSA encourage the growth and planting of local chapters. The Local Chapter Committee has started working on a number of the ideas. As a board member, I would prioritize this initiative. I would like to see the Local Chapter program be as successful as the mentorship program. The board has detailed all the areas of priority ( I will work tirelessly to meet our goals and more.

I want to help LOPSA become what you and I want and need the organization to be. I promise to listen and encourage feedback from all members. I’d appreciate your vote.

Gems of Career Guidance


Gems of Career Guidance

Here are some helpful suggestions edited from Career Success in Engineering by NSPE Past President Bernard Berson, P.E., F.NSPE, and Douglas Benner P.E., F.NSPE.

  • Develop a formal career plan
  • Know your strengths and weaknesses
  • Show enthusiasm for your work
  • Meet your deadlines
  • Deliver on your promises
  • Develop and use a mentor
  • Find a champion
  • Always act and speak like a professional
  • Always dress like a professional
  • Seek diversity in your assignments
  • Never stop learning
  • Never stop networking
  • Have backup plans: not all projects can be highly successful
  • Try to select a supervisor you can learn from
  • Learn to deal with stress
  • Always maintain the highest degree of integrity
  • Time Management: Use the 80/20 Principle, that is, try to spend 80% of your time on the most vital 20% of your tasks.

Sysadmin Resources

There are some great sysadmin resources spread across the internet, but it can be difficult to find them in the morass.

Here are some I have recently stumbled across.

Useless Use of * — a presentation originally given at SCALE 2007 by Jan Schaumann

Teaching System Administration in the Cloud, ;login, The USENIX Magazine, October 2010 also by Jan Schaumann

Other good miscellaneous resources by Jan Schaumann

More for new users but always a good refresher: Getting Started with SSH by Kimmo Suominen

Proxy through SSH by Kimmo Suominen

Tom Limoncelli’s youtube videos about Time Management for Sysadmins

Webcast Review: Conducting a Technical Interview by Elecia White

I have recently been doing an increasing number of phone interviews. I want to make sure we bring in the best candidates while saving my colleagues time by screening out candidates who can’t make the grade.

Click through to see a review I did of a webcast from O’ This review was originally posted at SNAPGH | System and Network Administrators of Pittsburgh. Here it is posted in its entirety.

Continue reading Webcast Review: Conducting a Technical Interview by Elecia White

More Cooling Fun

What is a BTU?

BTU which stands for British Thermal Unit is just another example of the British trying to confuse everyone. While the metric system has gained a stronghold in science and engineering, it seems like heating and cooling are stalwarts against the tide of the metric system.

The British thermal unit (symbol BTU or Btu) is a traditional unit of energy equal to about 1,055 joules. It is approximately the amount of energy needed to heat 1 pound (0.454 kg) of water (i.e. exactly one tenth of a UK gallon, or around 0.1198 US gallons) from 39 to 40 ° F (3.8 to 4.4° C).[wikipedia]

Latent vs Sensible & Dry vs Wet Bulb Temperature

The Engineering Toolbox has the specifics including formulas, but the basics are:

Latent load = Wet bulb

Sensible load = Dry bulb

Links for more info from The Engineering Toolbox:

Cooling Loads – Latent and Sensible Heat

Dry Bulb, Wet Bulb and Dew Point Temperature

Cooling and Heating Equations

Heating & Cooling Formulae

A friend of mine was getting his A/C units service at this data center and the service tech was nice and handed us date books, thanking us for the business. While I never use a date book, there was something very useful inside: a page containing heating and cooling constants and formulae.

The Limoncelli Test: 32 Questions for Your Sysadmin Team

This is a very boiled down version of The Practice of System and Network Administration.

“People often ask me how they can improve their sysadmin team. It takes only a brief discussion to find fundamental gaps that, when filled, will improve the teams’s productivity and the quality of the service being provided. Such a gap doesn’t just create many problems, it creates many categories of problems. “

The Limoncelli Test: 32 Questions for Your Sysadmin Team

Home Sysadmin Projects

One of the easiest easy ways to show your chops as a Sysadmin is to mess around at home. I have known a couple Sysadmins who always asked about an interviewee’s home setup. I have read a couple of articles about how the new programmer’s resume is GitHub or their commits to open source projects. This is the Sysadmin version.  The following are a couple of current projects of different sizes that one can do at home and give you something to talk about during your interview. They are all relatively easy, my intention is not to give you something hard to accomplish but to get your hands dirty.


FreeNAS is an open source storage platform that provides numerous ways to turn your old desktop into a Network Attached Storage appliance.  It has both a web and commandline interface which provide access to various tightly integrated software services: iSCSI, FTP, SSH, torrent, TFTP, NFS, CIFS, rsync and many more. It will allow you to do a number of cool and nifty things. I use the TFTP server coupled with DD-WRT to build a home pxe multi-distro build environment. You can setup a fileserver to share music, movies, or documents across home computers.


DD-WRT is an open source commercial wireless router firmware replacement. You can take your old Linksys or Belkin and flash it with DD-WRT. There are numerous articles all over the web about how dd-wrt will turn your $60 router into a $600 super-router. When you first flash the firmware, it is still just a regular old router. It takes work to utilize all the features. As aforementioned you can couple it with FreeNAS to create a home pxe environment. You can also create multiple wireless and/or wired networks. At one point I had 5 separate networks on my dd-wrt enabled linksys router. Take a look at the dd-wrt features page for more ideas. The more creative the better.

Build a desktop

You would be surprised how many computer programmers could not open up their desktop and upgrade a component. Edsger Dijkstra, of Dijkstra’s algorithm, is a computer science teacher who believe a true computer scientist should never touch a computer. Ask friends for old desktops, visit newegg, or just get a bare bones PC. Tinker, tinker, tinker. Servers and desktops might look completely different but they all have the same innards. It will turn out to be so much more than just CPU, memory, PCI-E cards, etc. Only specific memory works with each motherboard that also requires a specific type of CPU. When Intel upgraded from the Xeon 5500 series CPU to the Xeon 5600 series CPU they completely changed the memory bus configuration and type. You will quickly learn as a sysadmin that you should never throw anything out. Just because you don’t need it today does not mean you won’t need it in 5 years. I have heard of sysadmins digging out their old dial-up modems in 2010 to just mess around.

Install a Linux Distro

There are a myriad of available linux distributions. Ubuntu, Fedora, Debian, are centOS are just a few. Pick one out and install it on an old piece of hardware. If you can’t find hardware, install virtualbox on your current PC and build a guest. Build it, update it, break it, a lot is learnt when trying to fix an issue. After you have installed an Operating System, install interesting packages. LAMP is a common acronym for a Linux, Apache, mySQL, PHP server. You can use it to create a webpage, or install wordpress or another blogging platform. Once you have mastered the easy installs, you can try Gentoo or even LFS (Linux From Scratch).

Other non-project ways to boost your Sysadmin cred:

Someone also brought this discussion to my attention Reddit: Set me some tasks to advance above noob