Technology Solutions for Everyday Folks

Matt Zaske Online Blog

Setting Up Key Authentication

Hands playing with a set of keys on a ring.

While I was preparing to write an upcoming post about moving directly to certbot from SSLForFree now that they've merged with ZeroSSL, I realized that I'd not actually ever written a post about one of the components I use all the time, including for my new certbot process: public key authentication.

Read More

Pollinators on the Prairie

Large bumble bee resting in a shady spot.

One of the things I've always enjoyed about our little home on the prairie is the fact we've always a selection of various critters or insects beneficial to the larger environment. Part of this is bolstered by the fact we live across the road from several hundred acres of waterfowl production area owned and managed by the US Fish and Wildlife service.

Read More

Pushing Data Into Google Sheets Sheets (Yes, Multiples)

Screenshot of basic sheet including multiple tabs/sheets (Excel)

If you recall from the last tech post about pushing data directly into Google Sheets, I promised a follow-up regarding the process of adding multiple sheets worth of data to a given parent sheet.

Read More

Interesting Pandemic Electric Usage Pattern

Stock bar graph with trend arrow ending downward

This is a relatively short post, but as I entered our May electric usage into my tracking spreadsheet (see the Energy Use Analysis post from a while back), I noticed something peculiar about this last few months since the pandemic really hit (and we started staying at home all the time).

Read More

Programmatically Push Data to Google Sheets

Screenshot of a very basic CSV file of gibberish test data

I've written in the past about the ability to ship files to Google Drive via its REST API and PHP, which is a super-cool process in and of itself. In the last few months, I've been moving more and more of our internal data shipping processes to Google Shared Drives for ease of end user access.

Read More

Pandemic Projects Aplenty

Tim Allen from Home Improvement showing off sledgehammer

It is no surprise to me that retail outlets catering to home improvement projects have been doing well during the pandemic and various iterations of stay-at-home orders. The sudden 'found' time of folks who might normally spend time on other endeavors is suddenly focused into projects around the house. To some degree this is the same here...

Read More

Character-Perfect Fixed Width Import Files

Flintstones Cartoon Sewing Machine

One of my springtime projects at work was to button up a recently-refreshed process to transmit some billing data between systems. By 'recently-refreshed,' I mean 'finally made a process whereby a human doesn't have to manually generate a file which had been the de-facto process for the better part of twelve years. Due to the cascading effects of some staff turnover in the unit in question, IT was brought into the loop to help find a better way to work this process.

Read More

Shaking The GnuCash Account Tree

Man shaking tree of money

Over the years I've developed a habit where a short part (~30 minutes on average) of most weekends are dedicated to entering the week's receipts, reconciling (or balancing) accounts, updating investment fund values, and so forth. Once familiar with GnuCash, this process is pretty straightforward and easy to do.

Read More

Simple, Yet Powerful Excel/Sheets Functions

Cartoon about functional programming

As a reflection exercise for a project I wrapped up a bit ago, combined as an exercise to make Future Me's life a Better Place, I pulled together a simple Google Sheets workbook to make a quick 'calculator' and balancing mechanism to help keep track of a couple datasets. And in so doing, I again befriended a couple of super simple, and super powerful functions:

Read More

GnuCash For The Win

Parks and Rec "They call me the Swiss Army accountant" gif

As I wrote about a couple months back, GnuCash is my accounting software of choice since ~2010. I wasn't exactly "sold" on it from the start, but it was a free and open-source solution that seemed robust enough to handle pretty much anything I could throw at it, from managing business finances and whatnot to a whole mess of personal accounts.

Read More

Count of AD Groups Ranked by Members

A cartoon/drawn group of random people

A week ago, someone on one of our more generalized Slack channels asked if anyone knew how to make AD Users and Computers (ADUC) filter mechanism rank output based on a group membership count. Now, I don't necessarily understand (or honestly, care) about the particular use case, but I knew the answer was going to be 'no, that can't be done by way of the GUI.' Which was the first part of my answer.

Read More

Energy Use Analysis

Animation of a chart from The Simpsons

A little over a decade ago we had a ground-source heat pump installed for our home heating and cooling. Commonly called a 'geothermal' system, the basic function is that it uses the earth's relative/stable temperature (well below the frost line) to act as a heatsink for air conditioning and heating.

Read More

Powershell Exports AD Computers to CSV

Road sign reading "Export"

A couple months ago I wrote about using Powershell to find and export AD records for the purposes of our Windows 7 End-of-Life project. This post is effectively a second in a series of 'exporting computer records from AD with Powershell' if you will.

Read More

Well, It's Been A Ride These Last Weeks

News anchors flail about

So I wound up putting a bit of a pause on posting this last month or so. Certainly not for a lack of things to say...but certainly for lack of time to nuance them. I've had to schedule and reschedule the various posts I had in progress (but not fully finished) a couple of times now. Hopefully I can get to the point of starting to regularly crank out new stuff on the normal schedule.

But first, this bit of a reset.

Read More

TRIM-ming up for Summer

Trimming hedge with a lawnmower attached to a tractor loader bucket

Not really TRIM-ming for summer, but taking the opportunity to briefly write about Rule #1 when dealing with unknown (or incoming) data.

Sanitize. Thy. Inputs.

Without going into great detail (as it doesn't matter at the end of the day), last week I encountered a vendor that apparently doesn't know how to do this very well. Or at all. What ultimately transpired is the complete failure of a reasonably-routine change process to capture a critical failure in production.

Read More

The Financial Automation Account

Mechanical slide coin sorting machine

A couple weeks ago, I made brief mention of my financial automation account and how I've come to consider it my "free money" account. I wanted to dig into that topic just a bit more, since it's become a key component of my own regular financial well-being.

Why an Automation Account?

Simple: it's thoughtless, once set up.

Read More

Interesting Log Entries (or, Why To Patch Thy Systems)

Random text scrolling from within a terminal window

So far in 2020, I've been keeping a closer eye on the logs of this Drupal site. Back in the day, I used to pore over logs in a sort of 'bender' fashion, presumably as I was bored or something similar. Rarely was something particularly interesting, but it was a good way to figure out and correct some random things. Still is...but it's 2020 and nobody manually looks at logs anymore.

Read More

Financial Literacy Matters

Machine counting $20 bills

As we enter the thick of tax season (I just filed ours this past week), I thought I'd write a short bit about my own take on financial literacy. This idea was originally sparked when I read an article last year about Why Financial Literacy Matters from a more education-based perspective. I suggest giving it a quick read.

Read More

Private Content in Drupal

Glass that turns opaque with an electric current.

When I started going down the Drupal road a year ago, with minor delay after delay after delay, one of the many 'dorky' things I wanted to do was port my old "Start Page" to a real platform.

Read More

Quality Educational Theatre

Man shaking hands following a project's completion.

This past Saturday ended a most marvelous run of the One-Act Play production in which my 7th grader was cast. I'm deliberately not going into any details regarding the production, because it doesn't matter what production was in scope, but how the production went.

It. Was. Fantastic.

Read More

Low-Budget "CI/CD"

Dude with baseball bat smashes monitor off desk

A client project had a database server upgrade in early December, and as I eluded to in a different post from around that time, Git was the shit when it came to making my angle of that migration go smoothly. Past Me made Current Me's life a lot simpler.

Read More

Letting It Go

Viking funeral ship on fire

Last summer we had a pretty gnarly hailstorm, which has ultimately resulted in the need to replace shingles and siding on the house (among several other things). As a result, this has become a launching point for getting some insulation work and window replacement on the project list. Because if we're gonna do the siding, we might as well get those other things done, too.

Read More

Powershell to Find and Export AD Records

Frantically searching through report data

With the very near end of life for Windows 7, as we work through the last bit of known and managed machines to upgrade or replace I find myself needing to do more frequent "searches" of AD computer object records for analysis.

Read More

Cleaning Up and Updating

Suspense while waiting (to update).

I've been a bit remiss in the posting cadence lately (well, since Thanksgiving). Much has been happening in all realms of life (as they are want to be during the "holiday season"). That being said, I don't return to work, proper, until January 6. And so it's time to do some cleaning up and other updates. With any luck, I'll have some material queued up to help buffer the situations when I'm out of time (or random ideas).

Read More

Visual Customizations for Windows 10 in OSD

Windows logo

As we work through the tail-end of our Windows 7 fleet (January 14, 2020 is coming if you haven't heard...), I've found myself rolling a different type of hammer process for the last of the "upgrades." This past week as I was tweaking what amounts to an in-place update (by way of wipe and load) for Windows 7 to Windows 10, I was reminded of how Past Me was indeed awesome (and inspired) since this simple script with all the various background and image sizes still works in Windows 10 19

Read More

High Quality Local Talent

That was an amazing performance

Haven't had a more personal post for a while (hope to rectify that in the next few weeks as I've got some stuff queued up), but it seemed fitting to give a short tribute/shout out to some of our regional performance art talent.

Read More

Tales From The 'Duh!' Archive: Command Syntax

Cartoon character pushes zombie back into grave

I had a very long week, which means I'm writing a short post this time around.

Among several seemingly disparate things I accomplished in the last week or so, I spent some time deploying applications via SCCM (soon to be called Microsoft Endpoint Manager/Configuation Manager/#MEMCM per the announcement at Ignite this week).

Read More

Let's Expand Encryption!

Gif of lock tumbler mechanism

This weekend I performed the quarterly actions to update my various letsencrypt certificates, which I've not written about since early May when I'd performed the first set of renewals. Let's Encrypt and SSL For Free are still outstanding services, and I'm super happy with them!

Read More

Who's Font Awesome?

Puppy pointing with text "Who's Awesome? You're Awesome!"

Earlier this year while working on a client project revision, I decided to spruce up the old and dated icon set. This set had been cobbled together from various sources over time (the way you did these things back in the day), and overall lacked a consistent use and/or feel. Some actions had no associated icon, so educated guesses were made to find a matching icon from the existing set...and so forth.

Ultimately, it was time. But where to start?!

Read More

Time for a Drupal Refresh

Old computer mainframe tape disks

So here we are...just over six months into the new Drupal adventure driving the site. Overall I'm much happier with the transition than I'd originally expected, because the general maintenance and upkeep has been pretty much automatic. Scheduled publishing has been a lifesaver, too, because it's a 'set and forget' thing...unless I cross a month's boundary between create and publish dates (more about that in a bit).

Read More

I Took a Break

Pause

As I've noted a few times in the last few months, things have been remarkably crazy and busy. As it always does, this culminates in a late-August/early-September influx of "survival mode" where most everything centers around keeping the fires to a minimum.

Read More

Collection Variables in SCCM Task Sequences

Hello my name is {X} tag

As I've mentioned a number of times in previous posts, on our campus we perform a roughly-annual refresh of multi-user workstations across the institution. This 'multi-user' scope includes machines in classrooms, computer labs, open learning spaces, conference rooms, and so forth.

Read More

A Brief Respite

My Summer 2018 Outdoor Office Companion, Macho

Ahh, August: that "season" of all things chaotic, crazy, busy, and otherwise rushed. See also: back-to-school season.

A time when the rush of all the things that haven't yet been accomplished through the summer converge and, like it or not, must be completed before the new school year(s) begin.

Read More

Environment Context Troubleshooting

Dashed and dotted lines

Broken Context(s). The story of my weekend project.

Due to a number of reasons, mostly well outside my direct control, I spent part of this weekend working through the application and task sequence refresh process for our multi-user workstations...which will need to be finished by August 27.

Read More

Knit Your Best Life

Subaru car 'quilted' with material and the brand 'fiberartsfest.com'

On Saturday, we made the short trip to [West] Fargo, ND for the Fiber Arts Festival, something we'd not previously visited before. For a small-sized gathering, at first sight I certainly didn't expect to spend half the day at the venue. But it's a good little fest, and we well might go again in the future. Saw lots of folks spinning fiber into yarns, working with said product, and using some neat little machines to do it all.

Read More

Dynamically Created Anchor HREFs

Multiple Arows Crossing Paths

Back in the day, namely before Javascript and jQuery were really a thing, the idea of dynamically creating an anchor's HREF attribute required some serious magic and behind-the-scenes wizardry. Or something like Flash. Those were not the days...

A Bit of Background

Several years ago, during a client's web app rebuild/refresh, I decided to clean up some of the gnarly baggage behind their reporting mechanism.

Read More

To The Moon!

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin during the Apollo 11 extravehicular activity (EVA) on the moon

We spent the weekend away from home taking in a production of Guys and Dolls at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, along with a visit to the Science Museum of Minnesota in St. Paul.

Read More

What's That Join Again?

Visualization of SQL Joins

In the interest of hopefully saving Future Me some time, I'm writing this little bit so as not to have to stumble to remember a simple premise:

How do I LEFT JOIN the same table more than once in a query?

For as many times as I've had to join a table more than once (effectively as a certain type of generic lookup table), you'd think I'd have this memorized. But I always get caught forgetting to proper alias both joins.

Read More

That's A Wrap, and Happy Summer

As I wrote about two weeks ago (while in mid-run), we just had our early summer theatre production. It was, in my opinion, a very successful run...though bittersweet to see it end after two weekends (and six shows). We had a great and consistent audience, which speaks well to the attempt at doing a show over two weekends in June. Our next board meeting will reveal the "final" financial result of our activities.

Read More

Auto-Determine Primary IP Address

IPv4 address representation in dotted-decimal notation

One of the things I've baked into our production task sequence for "multi-user devices" is a secondary way to automatically determine a device's use case while in the WinPE stage. The primary, preferred way to determine use case is by the use of SCCM collection variables, but those require a known object (in the proper collection) to function as designed. Thus, for all rebuilds of known devices, the use case is figured out by collection variable.

Read More

It's A Half-Wrap!

Tortilla Wrap Sandwich

If we've ever met in person, you'll likely know that I'm a theatre (yes, theatre) nerd, and I have been for a long time. I should write about my theatre history at some point in time.

Read More

Batch Ship Data to Google Team Drive

Moving Data

A few weeks ago, I wrote a brief bit about capturing webcam images. This post expands on the initial process: specifically, what to do with the images once procured.

Read More

With Summertime Comes Summer...Projects

Yard work with dog mowing lawn

This was going to be a real post, with some real substance (or at least something).

But then it happened:

Yard Work and Summer Projects

We had a reasonably nice weekend to do some outdoor work. While it's never complete, and always seems to be some sort of re-envisioning, the need to get some stuff done around the house has consumed my time these past few days.

Read More

Capturing Your Internet-Connected Webcam Images

Puppet bird with binoculars

Over the years, we've had a few public Internet-connected cameras pointing at various places around campus. We've used them for publicity and other purposes since the mid-1990's, and starting in around 2010 would sometimes be called upon to create a sort of time-lapse video of activity from one of said cameras.

Read More

Running On Empty

Running on Empty GIF

I have known this for many years, but I reaffirmed my assessment this past week.

I am a creative. I seriously enjoy making things.

Read More

Windows Scheduled Tasks with Powershell

Mechanical Mathematical Calculator

As I struggled to find looked for inspiration for this week's post, I wound up looking within...oddly enough as I was reconfiguring my email out of office response (the below is what I had for my time at MMS):

Read More

MMS: Drinking From the Fire Hose

Drinking from the fire hose

I spent last week at MMSMOA, a conference I cannot recommend enough for anyone working in the Microsoft/Windows/Systems Management space. The main event, held at the Radisson Blu Mall of America, is a solid four-and-a-half days of deep technical material, networking, sharing, and more!

Read More

Hey, Let's Re-Encrypt!

HTTP vs. HTTPS

The time has come...to renew some Let's Encrypt SSL certificates! Doesn't seem like 90 days has passed since I originally wrote about trying out Let's Encrypt as a service to generate free, trusted SSL certificates with a limited lifespan (90 days versus the more commercially-focused 1-3 years).

Read More

What's In Your Lunch Bag?

Winnie the Pooh prepares to eat

Many of those I work and associate closely with know that I'm pretty often a routine machine. I'll be writing more about the various things I've turned into simple routines, automatic processes, and so forth.

Read More

Performance Can Matter

Performance Measure

I've had this written down as a topic suggestion for some time, and to balance/counter my post a couple weeks ago regarding performance, there's absolutely another side to that coin.

Read More

Thoughts? I've had [more than] a few

Herding Cats

I survived!

Yup, three (very different) presentations in as many months. All a resounding success!

Read More

Does the Performance Matter?

Does it matter?

Back around 2015 or so, I wrote a simple Powershell script which basically re-populates Active Directory (AD) group membership based on data procured from our central systems. Two primary AD groups in particular are synchronized to our print management system, PaperCut, which pre-provisions accounts and access so folks handling monetary transactions don't have to create accounts, etc.

Read More

It's Presentation Season!

Wizardry

As I mentioned a month ago, I've taken the opportunity to commit to more speaking/presentation engagements than ever before, in an attempt to better inspire folks and do more technical evangelism. It just happens to be that I have three things lined up in as many months!

Read More

Auto-Transpose Data

Geeks and Repetitive Tasks Graph

Many years ago, an individual in our office retired and the position was not replaced. For several reasons, this was an appropriate decision: the landscape of IT and our localized service portfolio had, for lack of a better phrase, stabilized. Our team was more often innovating in ways involving or prioritizing partnerships over custom builds or infrastructure requirements. We were appropriately consuming centralized services made available as a commodity.

Read More

I Own You, Drupal View!

I Own You

As I tweeted about in victory a week ago, I managed to finally get my Drupal taxonomy term view(s) to do what I wanted:

Read More

Auto-Generate OSD Computer Name

Typos Happen

Last summer while re-designing and upgrading our primary task sequence for the "multi-user devices" in our fleet (computer labs, learning spaces, etc.), I decided to tackle what had become a bit of a perennial problem: device naming.

Read More

Hocus Focus

Focus Cartoon

It's been a long last few weeks. Actually, make that the last month. At times it's felt impossible to focus. On anything. And there are many things:

Read More

We Have Liftoff!

Hovering Cat

Liftoff.

Finally.

Aside from some style tweaks likely to come around, the underlying technical bits I've been ignoring or had on the list to address (looking at you, tag views) are now in place and working as I'd expect. There's a pesky bit I've ended up handling in a more manual sense, at least for the short term: content view by tags.

Read More

"Just Reload It"

I needed to fix a library-level theme item. And since it's been a while since I last made a change like that (this was all before the original switch to the production Drupal instance), I couldn't remember if it involved uninstalling/reinstalling the theme...or simply clearing the cache.

So I chose the heavy-handed option. What could possibly go wrong, right?

WRONG.

Read More

Hey, Let's Encrypt!

As I'd mentioned in the past, one of the key reasons for changing up my personal hosting plan was to support Let's Encrypt, the free and open Certificate Authority. In 2019, there is absolutely no need for a regular old website or service to pay some exorbitant rate for an SSL certificate. The premium options (extended validation and such) are an entirely different arena--think banking and other services--but those are out of scope for everyday Joe.

Read More

Speak your mind caller, we're on the air!

Better late than never?

As of today, the new site is out of maintenance mode and fully live. Hallelujah!

I look at it and see all of its quirks and flaws...and things unfinished. And I let my "good" override my "perfect." For now.

Read More

A Minor Delay

What a week it's been. Primarily holed up inside 24/7 as we reached record lows with windchill. Our lowest temp reached -33°F, and with the wind we had would've made it feel like closer to -55°F. Dangerously cold. "Historically" cold. Things (schools, businesses, etc.) wound up being more or less shut down from about Tuesday morning through Thursday afternoon. It's certainly the coldest I could remember for the better part of 25 years (it was the mid-1990's).

Read More

The Drupal Learning Curve

To embrace the cliché, "The best laid plans of mice and men..."

I was on track.

It was going to happen.

The new site was to be launched as expected.

But my perfectionist side jumped in and started nagging:

If you fix that one thing first...it'll be better.

That function needs some adjustment before you should go live.

Are you sure that style/block/node/view is the right one?

Read More

It's [Well Past] Transition Time

As the last full refresh of mzonline.com was fully thirteen years (!?!) ago, ca. 2006, one can say it was time for something new.

I'm super glad I had built the old site out with a tableless and (for its time) clean and well-structured design. While it's been a bit dated for several years, with the exception of the site itself not being terribly responsive (for mobile and alternate screen sizes) it's had a good run.

Read More