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Tuesday, 31 January 2012 09:15

Does your sysadmin pass the Van Halen brown candy test?




If your desktop environment is littered with unnecessary icons or apps then dig deeper. Apply the Van Halen M&M test.



Van Halen's standard contract contained a provision the rockers were to be supplied a bowl of M&M's but with the clause all brown M&M's must be removed. While this has often been cited as an example of prima donna behaviour and largess David Lee Roth provides a logical explanation in his autobiography.

Van Halen had huge truckloads of equipment, he explains. The band found they would arrive at theatres to perform but girders would not support the weight of their equipment or other technical problems.

Van Halen's contract rider was extremely complex because so many humans and equipment were involved. Articles would state precise voltage and ampere requirements and the like. Then, with seeming incongruity, article 126 stipulated there were to be no brown M&M's in the backstage area, upon pain of forfeiture of the show, with full compensation.

David Lee Roth states if he walked backstage and found a brown M&M then he knew instantly he had to line-check the entire production. To him, this was a fast visual check to show how well the contract had been read with its many complex requirements, some of which may potentially threaten life if not implemented correctly.

So, what's your brown M&M test for systems administrators and the quality of your company's desktop environment? Let me tell you one of mine.

Several years ago I consulted to a company whose remote desktop environment was causing angst - frequent slowdowns, pauses, lock-ups - particularly as the sun travelled and western states began coming online.

Their systems integrator had recently rebuilt the entire platform but expected performance gains were not met.

I logged in to the environment for myself and immediately two things caught my eye: an Adobe Acrobat Reader desktop icon and the Google Toolbar running in Internet Explorer.



Now, don't get me wrong: there is nothing wrong with Adobe Reader or the Google Toolbar in general, but I am not talking about home use but a production environment in a business, servicing some 150 concurrent users.

How do these things get installed? The answer is one and the same. Install Adobe Reader from the Adobe web site and you are prompted to also install the Google Toolbar, with the checkbox enabled by default. After installation, Adobe Reader leaves a desktop icon for posterity.

I don't believe I have obsessive compulsive disorder but I find it unusual when regular users - let alone systems admins - don't notice these things.

Earlier this century I began working for a company and as I worked on laptops and desktops I mused how surprising it was that everyone was using eBay so much! Every machine had an eBay desktop icon and I could only imagine this was a deliberate action of the user.

Then a new computer arrived, using the standard operating environment, which included a Logitech mouse and keyboard set. Load the Logitech software and surprise, it prompts to install an eBay desktop shortcut with - yes - the default set to checked.

Previously, the people installing this paid no heed to this checkbox. Then no further heed to the desktop icon. Nor did the users.

That sort of thing bugs me. Moreso in a server environment.

I put to the systems integrator that the presence of the Google Toolbar could be only one of three causes. Either it was specified as part of the platform, or a user did it and users have the ability to install software on the server, or a systems administrator did it via a blind 'next/next/next'-type software installation. Only the first option was acceptable to me, although it would be surprising.

I made the systems integrator explain why the Google Toolbar was present. (Additionally, why jusched.exe was running for every user). I'm sure they felt I was being petty and focusing on minutiae - after all, it was hardly likely the Google Toolbar was causing the environment to grind to a halt.

Yet, it wasn't about the toolbar; it was about care, diligence and just general quality of work. If something so visible was sub-par then what else?

Ultimately, the root problem was determined, and when resolved it caused a massive breakthrough with huge performance gains.

Obviously, I did not get to that point from the Google Toolbar but the lesson is that I could not trust their previous investigations or set up due to something so simple as the presence of a desktop icon and web browser toolbar.




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David M Williams

David has been computing since 1984 where he instantly gravitated to the family Commodore 64. He completed a Bachelor of Computer Science degree from 1990 to 1992, commencing full-time employment as a systems analyst at the end of that year. David subsequently worked as a UNIX Systems Manager, Asia-Pacific technical specialist for an international software company, Business Analyst, IT Manager, and other roles. David has been the Chief Information Officer for national public companies since 2007, delivering IT knowledge and business acumen, seeking to transform the industries within which he works. David is also involved in the user group community, the Australian Computer Society technical advisory boards, and education.



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