Staying productive in the winter months

The last month has been quite eventful. A lot of news, so I’ll do my best to cover as much as I can.

For starters, I should mention the wonderful video that was made about what I do at work. If you’re curious to take a look at me on the job, feel free to check it out. Bonus silly-looking facial hair is included (it’s gone now in real life, thankfully).

During mid-February, I managed to scrape together enough money to pick up a Dell PowerEdge 1950, a server from a couple years ago that has two quad-core processors and 16 GB of RAM in it. It’s a pretty beefy box, especially for the price I picked it up at. I set up Citrix XenServer on it and I’ve had a lot of fun putting it together and having fun seeing everything I can do with a dedicated server. Currently, I’m hosting all of my websites on it, running a couple of game servers, and also building a domain, but I have some other plans with it too – I’m planning to work on some desktop virtualization using XenDesktop.

Desktop virtualization and published applications were things that I was fortunate enough to be pretty involved with when I was working at the University of Montana. For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, a desktop virtualization server would allow you to run programs on the server, but have them appear like they’re running on your local computer seamlessly. It works both with individual applications (for example, I could install Microsoft Office on the server and run an instance of Outlook on my local computer) and with full desktops (if I didn’t need to run anything graphically intense, I could have an entire Windows-based desktop environment published to me over the network). At UM, we used low-power computers called thin clients which basically acted as dumb terminals for these published desktops, and people would work entirely off the server. It’s a very cool system that can do a lot of stuff for any company, in my opinion.

I also took the opportunity afforded to me by having this server to move all of my websites off of GoDaddy – now everything’s being hosted from my apartment. This is a nice change because of how much more control it gives me over the way my sites run. Took me a little bit to hack together some stuff to make sure my WordPress sites had the performance they had on commercial hosting, but I think they’re really running nicely now.

Anyway, having the opportunity to do all of this stuff and play around with development on my own time has really been a cool thing. It’s been nice to have the freedom to learn about new technology, experiment and learn in the direction I want to go, and be able to do this without any limitation or oversight. It’s really been great, and I’m looking forward to continuing to further my knowledge.

I’ve been having a lot of fun at work recently, too. As I said in the video above, I recently built a time off request form that also allows for a management backend where appropriate people can approve or deny requests.  That was a lot of fun to build, and it taught me a lot about jQuery and how I can leverage AJAX to build better products.

Speaking of jQuery, I’m really excited – Mainstreethost is sending me to a jQuery conference in Toronto next weekend! I’m looking forward to learning a lot there and building better applications when I come back.  I’m also hoping to apply the knowledge I gain to some of my existing projects and make them a lot more seamless from a user experience perspective.

Of course, Toronto isn’t that far away, so I’m going to be driving up for that – only a couple hours! Unfortunately, I get to do a lot more driving in the next days; my sister’s coming up to Buffalo for her spring break, so as soon as I get back home from the conference, I get to drive out to Indiana to pick her up (a 13-hour driving day, round trip). After driving her back the next weekend (thank goodness I can take two days to do it then), I have a week of downtime before I drive up to Ottawa on the 29th to pick up my girlfriend to come stay with me for a couple of months. At the very least, I’ll get to clock some more miles on my car! (I love my car – it’s the manual-transmission model, and I love driving stick shift.)

The other big trip that I’m excited about in the near future is actually a couple of months off. Over Memorial Day weekend, I’m headed out to the Midwest Morris Ale 2014, a gathering of Morris dancers from all over the U.S. I’m not a dancer myself – I play music for the dancers – but I really enjoy the social aspect of seeing all of the people I’ve met again and enjoying the weekend with everyone. While I think the subject of what exactly Morris is is best saved for another blog, I encourage anyone who’s curious to check out the MWMA website, look at some pictures, maybe check out a video or two about it…and, of course, feel free to ask me any questions!

I’ve been rereading all of my Alistair Maclean books recently. This tends to be a lot of the way I read books these days – I don’t really buy new ones often, so I’ll go binge on a specific author for a week or two. (Now, that said, I am planning to get the new Brandon Sanderson book pretty soon – I wouldn’t want to miss out on that!) As far as Maclean goes, though, I’m getting pretty close to running out of books of his that I own – so I checked his bibliography out and realized that I was missing a couple! I’ve since picked them up, and am looking forward to reading them as soon as I get the time. The Black Shrike looks especially interesting.

Finally, I wanted to take the time to plug a project I just started for public consumption. I’m developing it on my server, and am hoping to have a working product within the next month and a half or so. It’s always going to be free – I won’t be charging for any features, although I will have a donation button somewhere on the site. You can find the project (and track its development) at fastinviter.com, and I’ll have a GitHub repository up in the relatively near future for those of you who are interested in the code.

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