About Chuck

Human being, geek, nerd, genuinely goodwilled individual.

Presumption : almost always wrong

We all know the adage that when you assume, you make an ass out of you and me: ass|u|me. The adage is meant to warn us not to assume intent of others when viewing actions, communications or decisions. It’s a fair warning, because text cannot imply the intent in the same fashion as the recipient perceives that message. It is in fact, one of the easiest things to twist into a meaning that was never there, never intended and certainly not even contemplated.

William of Ockham, a Franciscan friar and theologian, posited an idea that was true then as it is now. Popularly known as ‘Occam’s (sic) razor’ – the law of parsimony or the idea that entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity. This is commonly paraphrased as the simplest explanation is often best or closest to the truth.

Given the rather acrimonious state of the current world, it seems that principle is often thrown out of the window – tossed aside in an effort to divide from within. People actively presume the worst or jump into hyperbole in order to ‘make points’ that are lost on the audience when they presume some sort of evil intent in any (and often every) action. It isn’t hard to find these examples, a simple viewing of social media, any feedback forum, or any open forum where someone can provide feedback will prove that the complaints far outweigh complimentary feedback.

Maybe it is a by-product of the age, maybe it is a by-product of our current system, or maybe critical thought in education is simply not getting to the point of really communicating the need for emotional intelligence. I am not certain what the problem is, but I do know that there is a large group of people that believe living unfiltered and with anger in their hearts is somehow going to make things change – they seem to think that presumption can be shared as ‘proof of intent’.

I disagree, as I know that people are complex beings and will have differences of opinion. I know that messages are tested and floated as experiments as much as anything else. It would be nice to understand every message’s clear intent, but we should never presume that intention. This is why it is best to seek first to understand. If you do not understand, ask questions to derive intent. This is why no one should design in a vacuum if they expect their product to succeed.

We all know or have examples of products, tools and technologies we use that we question a choice as made. That doesn’t mean it was done to make things wrong or to cause discomfort, and it doesn’t signal evil intent. Although, if you talk to some folks, the first reaction is to launch into a rant about how stupid this or that choice was, or how everyone in that company is to blame for their perception of the state of this thing X.

It simply isn’t so, someone made a choice because they are human beings and because we don’t know their processes, pressures and decisions that are forced upon them. It isn’t very human to fail to seek to understand those choices, decisions and timelines. Every company has the time-to-deliver an MVP on the table in the digital world, and budgets, people and timelines are things that change constantly.

Maybe it’s me, but I don’t ever expect perfection from anything built by humans (or computers for that matter, they were designed by humans after all). I expect reasonably good enough to be functional and get shit done. That is what it is meant to do, solve problems. Code and product do not have ‘intent’ unless there is some written manifesto by the developer saying that their product is intended purposefully to ruin everyone’s day, you can’t presume that is the intent. Well, you can, but you’re just wrong.

The same can be aid to be true of opinions; when they presume intent without seeking to understand first, they’re coming at the issue from preconceived notions. If I don’t like X and I go to every forum that discusses X and denounce it and everyone who discusses X as evil, then I am to blame for being pigheaded and a troll. That isn’t getting shit done, that’s being an arsehole.

What we need to get shit done these days is to learn about that word that we all need to revive: compromise. If that word can’t be used to understand and work on our differences, someone, somewhere will falsely presume intent and nuke us all. Tolerance, understanding and compromise are far too little taught in our system. Critical thinking and seeking to understand what someone means are the best outcomes for all concerned.

If there is anything I hope that we can all share, it is the intellectual curiosity to understand that diverse thoughts can provide unique ways of solving issues. When we fail to listen first, ask questions and derive answers to first understand intent, then we are not learning, thinking or caring for the human beings at the other end of the conversation. There is no perfection in life, there are only attempts to work and cooperate with one another. If we approach each other with humility, humanity and understanding, we won’t presume intent.

If we start from that premise, we can’t be stopped. The we can build partnerships with meaning. I know many won’t agree, but if you’re a reader, I hope you can understand where I come from is a place of seeking first to understand without judgment and without presumption.

Till next time folks. Have a nice day, don’t worry, be happy!

On Citizenship and Stewardship

There are a lot of thoughts that occur to me that I never get to write about. Usually because life, work and the pursuit of trying to make things better is often primary to all other events. However, given the sour state of everyday American life, it has become clear to me that people are being made to feel rather angered, disconnected and falsely entitled. The one thing I always heard when growing up was “the world doesn’t owe you a living” – which translated to the reality that you have to go out and earn a living if you want to live, and you have to do your part to make the world work.

So while it may seem that we’re living in two different realities and worlds, the reality is that we share this land with fellow citizens of the same sovereign nation. We have obligations as citizens, and I think it helps first to remember what a citizen is within the context of the American experience.

A citizen: A citizen is a participatory member of a political community. Citizenship is gained by meeting the legal requirements of a national, state, or local government. A nation grants certain rights and privileges to its citizens. In return, citizens are expected to obey their country’s laws and defend it against its enemies.

American citizens are generally law-abiding, and I would argue that for the most of us, we don’t celebrate, comprehend or tolerate those that do not abide the laws of the land. There are laws that need to change, and that can be done through the peaceful protest against those laws, the rights of petition and the power of the vote. Every real American believes in the right to vote and the power of the American democratic system. We do not believe in denying people the right to exercise those rights, nor do we applaud those that do. It’s simply un-American to want to deny someone their inalienable rights to freedom and the power of the vote.

If we think about it, we also understand that we are all immigrants to this land, with the exception of the indigenous people who were here when we landed upon the American continents. Everyone not initially from this hemisphere is a child of an immigrant. Every single migration has empowered America and enriched that melting pot with new ideas, culture, food and language. There is always something in that equation that ends up building something better than what was and showing us what can be. Everyone came here because of the dream and every bigot today was once a part fo the underclass of America. Only those born into wealth were given a silver spoon, the rest of us have to struggle for a living. We recognize that our strengths are not borne out of a fragility and inability to assimilate differences, but rather from our innate ability to desire to learn and diversify thoughts and habits. Imagine how dull life would be if all you ever ate was the same meal every day. Variety breeds strength, homogeneity breeds defects and weakness (ask any geneticist, botanist, doctor, etc.). We need diversity and we need immigrants to strengthen the country.

Citizens also have an obligation to pay their taxes. That system is a bit of a game for the wealthy at present, and should require serious reform, but it seems that the more lawyers you can afford, the less you pay. Arguably, if you benefit from living here, you should be willing to pay for the defense, the common good, infrastructure, a decent society that cares for its citizens and all that comes from having a working government. If your sole goal is to ‘break’ the government, then you really aren’t acting in the interest of the people, now are you? As a married person, I pay at the single rate, even though that is not required. I want my country to succeed, and I want to live in a decent society that has meaningful laws that serve the country as a whole. I prefer to have roads, bridges, buildings, and equal access to opportunity for all rather than a crumbling heap aging into an empire of rust.

Citizenship also means that I learn to tolerate those who disagree with my views, as long as they do not act violent or threaten the lives of others. Those freedoms end at the tip of your nose as do mine. You can tend to your beliefs as long as they don’t infringe on the rights of others. Acting out in a normal society is the act of a fool, and the learning commences when there are actual consequences for actions. There is no excuse to succumbing to our baser instincts and attacking others because of who they are; your failure to tolerate is not another’s obligation to allow your bigotry, violence or vitriol.

We wrote a Constitution to guarantee freedoms to all Americans. A citizen of this country should believe in the words of the declaration of independence as much as the Constitution and strive to achieve those values. It is within our grasp to do so; if only we exercise the god given utility that we were all born with: our brains. Thinking is a critical part of being a citizen. If you don’t think, then you aren’t engaging in the dialogue so much as a diatribe. There is a significant difference and understanding what that means is the difference between espousing any idea and truly understanding the consequences of that thought.

As I watch this world seemingly lost in madness, I wonder how many people stop and actually think, “Am I being a good citizen here? Am I trying to find solutions or just make a mess of things? What could I do better?”

That is the final part of the piece that seems so often lost in conversation these days. The idea of why we think about things, and that is stewardship. Stewardship is taking care of something like a large household, the arrangements for a group or the resources of a community, or in our case, our country and its citizens. An example of stewardship is the act of making wise use of the natural resources provided by the nation and its people.

If we looked at the ills of our 21st century society, we’d have to think that we have left people behind. From a technology perspective, from an education perspective and from an opportunity perspective, we can and should do better. The wealth gap is killing cultures left and right in America, not because of the lack of willingness to change, but largely because of access to change.

Change doesn’t happen overnight, this has been coming since the last century. It happened so gradual that many of us were taken aback at the changes without understanding the forces that drove them. I recall in the 1970’s the constant upheavals of layoffs and manufacturing losses to ‘cheap foreign competition’ – because the “American worker is lazy” we were told. In the 1980’s the decimation of the independent oil and gas industry due to ‘cheap and plentiful oil’ lead to a marketplace flood and the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs, companies and opportunities. Waves of migration led to the financial industry becoming the dominant industry of the late 80’s through early 2000’s. The wipeout of the healthcare industry in favor of corporate insurance and healthcare destroyed access to rural healthcare – wiping out hospitals, doctors and local practices. We’ve seen call centers sent abroad, our credit history sent overseas and all sorts of loss throughout the industries we developed, built and brought to life through the hard work, sweat and blood of the American worker. It’s been on a continuous roll throughout my life, but it always had one aspect that remained constant. The real beneficiaries were not the workers, but those that could exploit their labours.

Today, I consider myself to be extremely fortunate. My company treats me as a human being, I do work that I find interesting and challenging, and my family is okay. All of this is good fortune, and a blessing. It has not always been so, but that is not the point of my writing. The point of my writing here is that today I do ask myself, how can I make the world a better place? What can I do to act in stewardship to help others?

I can’t be the only one that questions the things I do. It is not easy to not feel like there is something more that can be done, a change made here and there, however small, that can put a bit of positive energy out there to deflect the negative energy so often touted as the state of the world. We all feel overwhelmed at times and I know that it only changes where there is a sea change of realization that we all share the same planet, the same resources and the same goals. Everyone should want to leave this world in a better shape than we found it. That is stewardship, marshaling the better nature of ourselves to work toward real progress.

There is one thing I’d argue for the next decade or so that will make a difference, and that is to provide access to broadband (real broadband, not some watered down version of broadband) to the nation as a grid, or utility. We need to invest now to be able to be the agents of change for the future. We could find the next neuroscientist, the next oncologist, the next humanitarian that delivers peace through having access to education. All of that sound lofty, but we are currently creating hubs of inequality through the lack of access to opportunity without the equal access to the world.

As it stands, moving even a few miles from my present location would mean that I could not work remotely as I would lose access to resources needed to be able to do my job. If it’s impossible for me, imagine someone living in a rural community that depends on some form of access but will never have it. That’s unacceptable as a nation. If we want to lead the world, we need to lead ourselves out of our current rut and start thinking about our stewardship of this nation. Do we want a better outcome for our children and their progeny, or will we be so selfish we allow ourselves to be swept aside due to our inability to think beyond our navels?

As for me, I know where I stand. I’m not in favor of my destiny being one of watching people fail to utilize their brains and simply searching for their victimhood over finding solutions that empower us all. It’s time to start thinking positive thoughts, and remember that there is no “us” or “them” unless you choose to be the problem instead of the solution. Change only occurs when you decide to make it happen. You can make a change if you really want to, and that is the best outcome for all.

Firewalla Gold: My review of the Home Firewall Device

TL;DR: The Firewalla Gold is the best in breed model of the Firewalla devices for internet security. It was purpose built to allow for traffic speeds in excess of today’s 1 Gb/sec standards for Fiber to the premises at present. It isn’t cheap at $418 USD, but for a device built for those inclined to have better insight into their traffic with controls, it is the best-in-class I’ve seen.

Disclaimer: I have no interest or ownership in Firewalla, other than being an owner of the devices themselves. As a consumer, this is my opinion of their product.

Home Firewalls have long been a tool that I have both desired and implemented. I’ve been using them since having a 14.4K modem connection to the Internet was considered fast. They haven’t all been shining examples of well-developed software. Many worked ‘fair enough’ but very few worked at a scale that made them workable for my tastes. There were always issues with the software firewalls, and they don’t prevent the ingress/egress of data so well.

Some software based firewalls dropped off the markets when it was discovered that they weren’t actually there to prevent access, so much as there to facilitate the spread of malware to the consumer market. I won’t name those, but needless to say I do recall that happening in the dark world of phony software provided to users.

The router based firewalls within most internet devices are mostly useless. The Stateful firewalls provide little in the way of configuration, and even less in terms of actual insight into your traffic. I’ve used a lot of tools in routers, but they all lack the comfortable access control that I wanted. At least until I ran into the Firewalla series of devices.

Oh. I’ve run some of the more familiar tools and I would never attach a device to any network without some sort of protection for that device. Some firewalls are extremely noisy, requiring lots of time to adopt and adapt to your patterns in order to facilitate the proper rules you require. Some presume you’re too busy to do anything and just grant access to everything. None really did what I wanted until I found the Gold.

I’ve always dreamed of the firewall that could do some simple things:

  • Allow me to know what is connected to my network
  • Allow me to decide if a device should be trusted and/or granted access
  • Block unwanted traffic (we get a lot of this traffic everyday!)
  • Stop any device that connects to my network from traversal
  • Stops ads without needing additional work
  • Allow me to approve/remove access to devices as needed
  • Allow me to group devices and apply rules
  • Send me a notification of a new device gaining network access
  • Send me alerts/alarms for my network
  • Work with my mobile device

Well, I found such a device in the Firewalla Gold. It checks all of those boxes and more. It has both a web interface and a mobile interface. Better still, it is not a fixed deployment, instead, the developers take a very agile approach and deploy continuously to the devices. If you are like me, you can choose to opt-in to the Beta test program and review the work-in-progress and have early access to new features. You don’t have to do any extra work other than opt-in because the updates are pushed to your device.

If you read the above and started wondering, how do they do that with a web interface on the device and not go slow? The secret is in the way that they deploy the updates. The Firewalla developers have built a system that delivers in the cloud so that they aren’t doing massive push out when a new feature is made available to the web UI. Instead, a user signs in from the mobile UI using a QR code and authorizes access to the purpose spun-up VM for that instance. Features exist on that VM when needed, and are spun-down when not in use. That is brilliant, as newer features can be delivered much faster to users. I can attest that the team are delivering many new features to their users. This feels like a product that delivers on the promise of what I have wanted for a very long time.

For those wondering what the Web UI looks like, here are a few screenshots:

Main Dashboard
Traffic Insights

What is even better than all of this is that the WebUI is not even the best UI for the system. The mobile application has every feature that the system allows:

  • Active Protect
  • Ad Block
  • DDNS
  • DNS over HTTPS
  • Data Usage
  • Device Port Scan
  • Family
  • Firewalla Web
  • Network
  • New Device Quarantine
  • Open Ports
  • Routes
  • Smart Queue
  • VPN Server
  • VPN Client

You can even see which entity is actively probing your network (and being blocked). I am constantly amazed at how brazen some of these actors are, even going so far as to proclaim that they aren’t actively trying to harm your network, they’re just innocent researchers and if you don’t wish to be probed, just send us your details and we won’t (and if you buy that, I can sell you some ocean view property in the center of Death Valley).

It is interesting to see the nation state actors probing (some are better than others in hiding it) networks, but that is to be expected when we have so much spam that they can use to hide the traffic. CAN-SPAM was clear in the title, they CAN spam you after all.

I pair the Firewall Gold with my WiFi and have a lot less worry these days. I’ve tested it by checking device access by allowing a device to have WiFi access to my network. It doesn’t do much for the intruder, there is connection in the form of an IP, but that device is quarantined and not going anywhere. No amount of effort works to move out of quarantine unless granted by the admin. After all, that’s what it is there for to control ingress,access and egress.

If you’ve got the funds, then I recommend the device for the technically savvy. The Firewall Gold can handle traffic up to 2.5 Gb/sec. It’s my future-proof device as speeds and bandwidth increase. This is software delivery with real agility and I am impressed.

It has my vote for Consumer cybersecurity product of the year, and I am a hard person to impress.

Well, that was awkward

So, if you’ve ever thought of taking one of those personality tests, it can be eye-opening. Sometimes it is downright awkward. Not as in embarrassing, but just revealing that image you can’t truly see in the mirror. It’s the reflection of who you are (if you can answer honestly and not try to game the tests to what you want others to know), and it hits close to home.

I want to dissect the results, because well, it’s me, it’s who I am. According to whatever metric this measuring, the result was that my type is a 1w9 which is according to the Enneagram is called the Optimist.

If you’re a friend, I’d just ask for feedback on what you see here. Does this fit your understanding of my personality?


1s look to live in a perfect world and work hard to make themselves, everyone and everything around them better. They are reasonable and conscientious beings who have good self-control, to the point that they are able to exercise restraint on their own impulses, emotions or desires.

Whatever they do, they do it to the best of their ability, based on high levels of professionalism, competence, principle, honesty and integrity. They are disciplined, organized and are often very hard workers. They are passionate about the idea of making the world a better place for everyone and take their work very seriously. They are prepared to give everything to a cause they believe in.

Avoidance compulsion

1s try, often subconsciously, to avoid internal anger at all costs. Being perfectionists directed by morals and ethics, they have a voice inside their head that criticises everything wrong that they do. They try at all costs to avoid mistakes that would put their competence and trust in doubt.

Center of attention and motivation

1s’ attention focuses on the environment, which they look to improve. They pick up on the imperfections and are naturally inspired to rectify them. Thus, they pay a lot of attention to detail and look to maintain very high standards.

1s are motivated by developing the quality of what they do and are always looking to improve. Their actions are based on their norms, morals and principles. They feel the need to live in an honest way and are always pushing to improve themselves, others and everything that surrounds them.

Vice and defense mechanism

When their compulsion takes over (to avoid mistakes), 1s’ ego pushes them to their vice: resentment: to correct all the mistakes they encounter in order to get closer to perfection. They thus have internal anger because to them nothing seems as fair as it should be, and in the same way their defence mechanism: reaction formation, pushes them to suppress this anger with great effort, because to them it is a lack of self control.

If they judge their temptations to be the cause of their anguish, they will do the opposite of the latter: if they are tempted to soften their workload, they will work harder. When their compulsion takes over, they can become irritable and critical towards those who do not respect their high moral standard and their need for organisation and structure.

In harmony

When they are in harmony with themselves and manage their compulsion, 1s are conscientious, dedicated to what they do, responsible, honest, trustworthy and helpful.

They are at ease when everything is running in an organised manner and follows the rules. Especially when things move forward faster than expected.

Then, they reach out to their integration type (type 7), and the latter’s positive traits are incorporated into their own behaviour. This way, they can become more joyful, fun and spiritual. They become more creative, less conservative and more open to anything new.

In imbalance

In the grips of their compulsion, 1s can become inflexible, irritated, too critical, rigid and suppress their emotions. If the situation doesn’t sort itself out, they lean towards their disintegration type (type 4) and the negative traits of the latter are incorporated into their own behaviour.

In this way, they fold in on themselves, feeling misunderstood, and believe that their efforts go unnoticed. They fall into a sad mood, thinking that they made an effort for nothing.


The neighboring types of type 1 are types 2 and 9. The “wing” is the neighbouring type that seems to have the greatest influence on the base type.

  • 1w9s are more relaxed, natural and objective but can also be more stubborn and detached.
  • 1w2s are warmer, more helpful and empathetic but can also be more manipulative.

I invite feedback from those who know me. Honesty matters and useful criticism helps. See a lot of this as true, but then I am very hyper-critical.

Happiness is 2020

Happiness will be 2020 in my rearview mirror if all goes well. If not, we’re likely to see this country reach its end. The abject idiocy on display on a daily basis has me wondering if there is somethign with climate change that increases the gullibility of the average American.

Perhaps there is some hypnotic signal being delivered at the subliminal level that is inducing a trancelike state where people are being lulled into stupidity. Perhaps because I am partially deaf I can’t hear it, or maybe because I refuse to listen to what I know in my heart to be false, somehow I’m immune.

Of maybe, in all reality, people as a species just aren’t bright at all, or at least a certainly much larger percentage of the population than previously known are simply impossible to reach with logic. Have always known that there are those on the extreme fringe of society that never learn or receive a proper education. If you don’t believe me, you have not been along the frayed edges of our country’s rivers, woodlands, hills and other areas where the lost souls still live in primitive conditions.

There are still parts of this nation where there is no access to running water, electricity, or any modern convenience of any kind. There are many places no census worker will ever visit, lest they be shot dead. It doesn’t take to deep of an investigation to know where they are, but it certainly would be a huge feat to get to those folks. They are blameless IMHO, but those who supposedly had access to all of the modern amenities and education that can’t manage to think for themselves is truly surprising to me.

My only hope is that as a society and free nation we stand up and vote, regardless of the impediments that are thrown into the way, to say with one voice that the animus and vitriol must be gone from society, that all Americans deserve the right to freedom, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It is 2020 and I never thought that at this juncture in America we would allow the ugliest side of the American society to run roughshod over the rights of others.

Money cannot buy you happiness in this life. THe corrupt decision to allow corporate money into the voting system has very nearly destroyed this country completely in the few short years that the corporate personhood came into existence. That one criminal change disenfranchised completely the rule of ‘one man, one vote’ – meaning that every voter should count equally under the law.

The obvious fact that for whatever reason has not been put forth is that you can jail a person, but you can’t jail a corporation. If a corporation is truly a person, then when corporate crime is committed, the entire corporation should be jailed.

Rightly, you would point out that the corporation is made of people, not a person, and therefore you can’t jail all the people for the sins of one. To which I retort: if that’s true, then a corporation is not a person, but a figment of imagination corrupting the body politic. The damages done to the public, the unions, the systems of government have all come as a result of the allowance of non-citizen monies into the elections system. Until that ends, we are doomed to be an oligarchy, with dangerous levels of inequality instead of a democratic republic that cares for tis number one resource: the actual people of the country.

My hope today is that we can stand up, think for ourselves and beyond ourselves to do the right thing and make this country whole again. A nation divided is not a nation, but a disjointed group of tribes set against one another. We deserve leaders that don’t set us one against another, and instead unite us all. This election will tell if we deserve to inherit this nation and its ideas, or whether we become the last bastion of what was modern democracy and descend into the fresh hell that some are so eager to sow.

My prayers are that the nation wakes itself from the dream state and realizes the false narrative of two nations is the big con being fed to us by propaganda con artists out for a few bucks. Their only motive is for themselves.

If you think we deserve better, then stand up and vote it out. We can’t have such idiocy destroying our democracy any longer.

With great loss, there is only loss to be found

There will always be an inherent need for trust in order for us to survive. We have to trust one another to be willing enough to speak clearly, candidly and with candor to one another. When we fail to do so, we cause the loss of relationships, spirit and trust. When trust is gone, progress will not be possible. Division only brings about chaos, injury and removal of inclusion by its very intent.

Today, my heart hangs heavy with that loss. Today I know that self-reliance is more important than any other quality you can prescribe. The lesson will repeat, but perseverance does not diminish in the face of adversity. Survival is not an option, it is an imperative. It has always been this way, and the more things change, the more they stay the same.

L’audace, l’audance, toujour l’audace!

Life is meant for living. Either we get busy living or we get busy dying. My choice is clear, life will always outweigh the alternative. Trust is a human quality that is freely given until there is a reason to no longer provide that trust.

My heart is broken today, but I’d rather have that heartbreak than be blind to the reality. Trust once broken can not be given so freely in future. It will need to be earned.

In this reflection I still am me, no matter what paintbrush some choose to use.

Nobody asked me, but …

There is a well-known regular column that uses the tagline above for its title in a professional monthly. It is intended to allow the rank and file to add fresh perspective on daily operations. Those familiar will know of what I refer to, but for those who do not, the idea is to allow an honest and open opinion. What is expressed here is an opinion from my perspective and is intended as advice for others who seek to succeed in Client Support, or know how to achieve better outcomes from their support organisation.

Support is often considered expenditure when compared with obvious revenue-generating Sales, core-product building end of Engineering and Development, or business-branding and lead-generation of marketing. In my humble opinion, that is an understatement of the role that support plays in developing a customer into a client. Support is not an expenditure that “you have to provide” but rather a key differentiator that you “cannot afford to be without.”

There are key things that will provide clients with a satisfying experience, and some operational missteps that should be avoided at all costs. I want to focus here on my thoughts for the keys for Client Support success. My hope in writing this is that many organisations and support personnel will benefit from my perspective and experiences, all of which are by nature subjective, but have stood the test of time. Support is not my first career in life, but in this role, there are many insights and lessons I have learned that hopefully will assist others in achieving success.

The first point here is the simplest to accept, yet all too often is under-delivered: treat the client as you would want to be treated. If all anyone takes away from this post is that statement, it will be enough for me. Those of us in Support should fully understand and implement that practice as routine in order to succeed. Clients are people and as such, they want to work with other people, not automatons.

Secondly, the company we keep matters in order to be effective. If you are to be effective, you need to belief in what you are doing, where you are working, and the products and people you are supporting. If those things are lacking, then it will be self-evident, if not to you, then certainly to the customers that never fully transition to being clients. There is a difference between a customer and a client. A customer buys, but never fully engages with the company or product. A client not only buys, they engage with the product, solution and ideas in a manner to challenge the status quo and drive the product in directions unforeseen by the original developers. They also want to build relationships with vendors that engage them as human beings. If the company takes the right approach, they build and support that type of support organization that will treat C-SAT (Client Satisfaction) as a driver for building those relationships.

If you believe in what you are doing and that you are in the right place doing your job, then your clients will know that you intend to make a difference for them. It does not mean that you are going to resolve everything yourself, but rather that you are doing your best work to assist them. People can tell when they are served well as easily as when they are served poorly. That makes support the differentiator in driving them to the next level of engagement. If that is in place, you can disrupt the market and truly succeed.

Empathy is another required skill when providing support. If you lack empathy, or if you think that your client (soon to be a customer only) “is not as smart as me” – then you are in the wrong role and will provide poor service. It shows and clients know that they have reached a road-block to progress. Remember that an angry person has a problem; it is not your job to take on that anger. It is your job to relax, gather the facts and then work on a resolution plan cooperatively with your client. Empathy is a key driver in gathering control and taking ownership to address an issue. If you cannot express that you understand the issue and want to resolve the issue, you will not earn the trust of your clients. You will then have failed, and that will impact the bottom line.

Empathy cannot be faked in my opinion. It is either genuine or non-existent as people are capable of determining when someone is insincere. Even if you are a technical genius, a lack of empathy is not acceptable in a client-facing role. It turns potential clients off in ways that are not immediately measured, but will have an effect over the long haul. If you do not possess empathy, you will have a tough career in any Client Support role, though you might be pigeon-holed effectively as a person who can “do things” – you just will never have a career so much as a job. There is a difference between a job and a career, and the key there is satisfaction in that role.

My third key for success was taught to me by a friend of my father’s addressed me with a very simple-sounding question in my early 20’s that seemed pretty clear cut at the time. The question was this:

“Talk, what is your best asset?”

At the time, I thought it was intellect and the capacity to adapt and learn. His answer was more enlightened and human; it came as a surprise to me at the time:

“The answer lies on either side of your head.”

“Wait, what?” was about all I could say at the time. It did not fit with my pre-conceived ideas of what mattered in life, largely because at that age, good grades and the ability to do well in school were how we were measured. He did explain how our ears are the best collectors of information made, provided that we actually use them. The lesson of listening is one that people often forget. As human beings, we will be presented with these lessons repeatedly (thanks to Dr. Cherie Carter-Scott for the rules – they do matter) until we learn them, then they will be repeated again even after we learned them.

What my father’s friend taught me was simple: “Listen and learn.”

As Support, we often fall victim to the “rush to correct” when there is a larger issue at hand. Many times this is driven by the need for metrics versus the need for real results. If we truly listen to the client, we can often discern or derive a deeper pain point in an issue that requires resolution. That is a key difference between “correcting an issue” and “resolving a problem.”

We must also not allow ourselves to be driven by results alone. If a problem takes a bit longer to resolve, this should not be a problem; it should be a success story in the making. If we communicate correctly, timely and with clarity, the client should be growing along with us in the resolution and understanding of same. My style of working is to take the time to listen and to take ownership of an issue when I work it. That does not mean that I am any measure of perfection (more on that soon here); that simply means that my communications need to be clear, specific and explain the issue as best I can, setting expectations and goals, deriving a plan to resolve and getting the client on board with the plan. That does not equate with the metrics-driven idea of “you must work X number of tickets in Y number of hours or minutes” as that is a recipe that does not focus on human results.

To be clear, this does not mean that we are to be lazy and work less, but rather that we need to take ownership of the issues we are working on, resolve to get the job done and communicate the plans to the best of our ability to do so. Will we be able to resolve every issue? No. How we handle ourselves and the way in which we address the problem will make a difference though. No one person can resolve every issue, it takes teamwork to resolve issues, but if we never truly take ownership and invest of ourselves, clients will perceive that subtle difference. People are far more perceptive than many in my experience seem to understand and grasp. In my experience, as we grow within our careers, motives and motivation become clearer and my Kindle ™ has more mystery than conversation can conceal.

The next item want to bring to light is one that many refuse to admit. My take is that if we do not admit this, then we will fail due to some false sense of pride that produces no good outcome. We do not know everything, and even if we are the sharpest or smartest person in the room, we will be wrong, make mistakes and errors without any question. I admit this to myself on a daily basis. This will happen because we are all fallible and there are no exceptions. That is a fact, and if someone ever tells you that mistakes cannot be made, then either they have not experienced life, or they are truly insecure in their own skin. We cannot help them (people only do what they are willing to do after all), but we can help ourselves and realise that mistakes will happen. How we learn from that is important.

If you repeat the same mistake five times in a row without ever learning anything, that is an issue that needs to be addressed. If you own and acknowledge a mistake, then there needs to be an understanding of what went wrong and how better to address the issue in the future. If the company you keep is in the smarter category, then they will understand this fact and do what is necessary to learn and adapt. That may mean a post-mortem, not to lay blame, but to gather the facts and plan on how better to address the issue in future. When people lay blame, it is to distract from a lack of security in their own opinion. We all learn that lesson, but we either adapt to the knowledge or refuse to own it. Yes, I have made mistakes and yes, I want to learn from them when they occur. They will occur, but when we become self-aware of them, it is up to us to address them as best we can. No excuses, but rather admission and ownership, try to learn and adapt. Life and people are imperfection writ large, and I have never met anyone who has never made a mistake.

Another item we need to know is how to play to our strengths and how to best utilise our talents to maximise the value we provide. It is tempting to be the best at something in life, and although specialists are in-demand, the need for well-rounded generalists is underrated in my opinion. If we have team members that are the best at resolving issue X and there are team members that excel at issue Y, then we should use those talents to develop a deeper knowledge of the key issues at hand. If you were to ask me to correct an issue with your rocket motor for instance, I might not be the person that knows the fluid-dynamics of the hydrogen fuel injector and how that might affect rotational torque during a boost phase, but I might be able to work with that person to resolve the issue that is presented. If, on the other hand, I was the fuel injector expert, then it behooves me to share that knowledge with the rest of the team in ways that can present value to all. They will not be fuel injector experts, but they might become more effective in their own operational roles.

In my experience, the best teams work together and share knowledge. They derive value from providing an open working environment where all can contribute and learn. If that is not describing your workplace, then there are two options that are available to everyone. The easy way to address the issue is to find a new workplace. The road less traveled is to address the issue by trying to find a way to deliver more value to your clients and your team. Play to your strengths, do what you can, when you can and where you can.

Another trait that leads to success is humility. No matter how smart, talented and wonderful you might think you are, there is always going to be an individual who is smarter, exceeds your talent and is perceived as more wonderful than you. Accept that fact and you will learn to make better relationships in the long run and have an easier time being happy and satisfied in what you do. When you are happy and satisfied (make no mistake, you are the sole arbiter of your happiness), you will experience success, though it may not be the “success” of your dreams. Get used to that fact, it is life, and it is a grand adventure. Being angry, arrogant and unpredictable will not work out well for you. I have experienced many hyper-intelligent persons as colleagues, but the difference that mattered in the long run for success was the ability to be humble in success. No client will want to work with an “attitude”.

Those whose ego is never in-check will find a life of instability because they failed to be human. They often end up trying to find that perfect “there” as their “here” is insufficient to address their ego. They do not take ownership of the fact that treating others poorly is their core issue that requires resolution. To put it simply, when you constantly have to tell everyone else in the room that you are the smartest person in the room, you most likely are not at all that person. That lack of humility is a deficit in social intelligence that basic knowledge fails to overcome.

Finally, success does require competence at some level in order to resolve issues. If you give a Java developer a problem, he will look for a solution in java the same way that a C or Perl or any other developer will look to their core competency first. It is not because they lack the skills to determine where the problem lies, but largely because that is what they know. Support can be very skilled in a core product and do well, but to truly succeed, you need to push your own boundaries and think beyond the limited set of possibilities.

Does that mean that you have to become an expert developer of every product you work on? No, it does not. Yes, we all have to know more than the basics of our job, but if you told me that you knew everything about everything, my first thought would be that you do not even know what you do not know. True, you may be good at ($pickSkillSetHere), but then, why are you in Support? Our role helps enable the client to make the product work. Many times the heart of an issue is only discovered when we dig deep enough to find the issue in heterogeneous networks. That is a far cry from seeing the world through your core competencies alone. The client does not care about your core knowledge as much as they do “Can you help me resolve this problem?”

It is reasonable to think that if you gave a heart surgeon, a lawyer and a priest the same dying man as “an issue to address”, each would come with his own solution. The heart physician might think of a way to keep the man alive a little longer, the lawyer might want to get a will in order and the priest might want to redeem the man’s soul and provide absolution. The same is true for coders who write in many disparate languages, from C, Java, Perl, SQL, etc. Each will tend to focus on their core competency for resolution of an issue. Thinking in code is fine, but first act as a human being. Isolate the issue to the right place and then work to determine if “all things considered” really have been. Do any of the proposed solutions resolve the issue, or do they solely address the issue from a narrow band of perceived need? Success will come when we can look beyond the “single solution” for an issue and can instead step outside of our own comfort zone and open our mind to listening to other ideas.

If this role teaches us anything, it is just how much we do not truly know with clarity and certainty. That does not mean we will not be successful. Support will always have room to improve, because the truth is that products and knowledge evolve over time. No one skill alone is enough to be successful on its own merit. You cannot be “only technical” and succeed in a client engaging role, as that skips the first rule of dealing with other humans: first, be human.

As Client Support professionals, we are in the issue resolution business, but we need to take the time to treat the client as we wish to be treated. To succeed, we must possess empathy for the client, listen and derive problems, and take ownership of the issues, not only the case at hand. In order to be honest with ourselves, we need to admit our failures, own our mistakes and accept that they will occur. When they occur though, we must take the time to learn from them so that they do not recur (though they will at some point – we are human after all). To succeed, we need to play to our strengths and remain humble in our work. We must be competent enough to understand the issues, be we do not need to make the mistake of believing that only our path is the correct path. Keep an open mind, as there is always something to learn from our interactions.

I write this advice as this is the type of advice I would want to have received many years ago in my careers. My learning process came from the need to survive for the most part, as I adapted to change. My final word to all is that being independent in mind and spirit takes significant effort, but it is worth the journey. Success in support requires the ability to think and act independently at times, and to know when to ask for assistance. Even that is a small but important act of independence, as no one tells you when to realise you need help.

I do hope that helps (HTH) and this is solely my opinion and perspective and does not reflect any opinion of anyone else. Have a nice day.

Fix for PHPSysInfo 404 on Ubuntu

One of my favorite tools is phpSysInfo for monitoring my localhost, but every time I install phpSysinfo, I have to remember the stupid trick to make it work. Rather than go back and search this simple fix time and time again, I’ve decided to make a note on  how to simply resolve the issue every time.

When you perform the install: sudo apt-get install phpsysinfo

Ubuntu would make the program available in the past (12.04 Precise it worked fine), but has now broken the link in the default install.

The “fix” is simple, though it requires the knowledge on how to do it every time:

user@host:~$ cd /var/www/html

user@host:/var/www/html$ sudo ln -s /usr/share/phpsysinfo phpsysinfo

Now, simply go to your http://localhost/phpsysinfo URL and it works.

Easily corrected, though why the default install has not done so, not sure. Would seem to be a simple change to the default symlink in the file to make it work.