Diary of a Network Geek

The trials and tribulations of a Certified Novell Engineer who's been stranded in Houston, Texas.

4/29/2016

Evernote IT Documentation Templates

Filed under: Fun,Geek Work,Never trust a Network Admin with a screwdriver,Red Herrings,The Day Job,The Tools — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:30 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a Third Quarter Moon

Prepare yourself for some high-intensity geekery!

No, seriously.
So, I’ve been contracting somewhere that has virtually no network documentation and what little they did have got destroyed in a catastrophic event.  For privacy and security, not to mention client confidentiality, I won’t go into details on that.  But, as a result, one of the things I’ve been doing is rediscovering their network and documenting it as fully as possible.  For that, I’ve been searching out and using various templates.
Also, in a seemingly unrelated course of events, I’ve recently started using Evernote as part of my Getting Things Done revival.  I’ve been re-reading Getting Things Done, originally in preparation for starting a new job, and trying to get it going again in all areas of my life to better manage my time and efforts.  My wife raved about both GTD and Evernote, so I splurged and bought the $10 document from David Allen’s web store on setting up Evernote so that it was optimized for GTD.  It was some of the best money I’ve spent in a long, long time.  This combination is so completely awesome!

But, what’s even more awesome is the power of Evernote templates.  Their templates are really just a blank document that’s formatted in a particular way that serves as a starting point for a regular note style that you make over and over again.  They’ve written up a whole article on it; How-to: Save Time with Templates.  If you’re working with Evernote, it’s definitely worth the time and trouble.  My personal template library is hitting 59 items right now, but I’m sure there will be more.
And, that, finally, leads me to my Friday Freebie; EvernoteITDocumentationTemplates. These are a collection of six templates, so far, that I’ve munged together to let you more easily record the basic information an IT professional might need to capture about devices on their network.  I have no doubt there will eventually be more.  In any case, go ahead and download these and enjoy them.
To get those into your personal Evernote, check out their article How to Backup and Restore Notes and Notebooks.  It’s got step-by-step instructions there for getting started.
Good luck and enjoy!

4/22/2016

Curing JetLag

Filed under: Personal Care,Red Herrings — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:00 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a Full Moon

Well, more like mitigating jetlag by controlling one of it’s causes.

Mostly, we think of jetlag as being caused by lack of sleep or a disrupted sleep cycle.  And, there certainly is validity to that, but it’s not the only cause.  It’s also brought on because travel messes up our eating schedule.  That, in turn, aggravates all the other effects of travel.  The way to beat it, according to Jessica Coen of FlyGirl, a Gawker Media site dedicated to travel, is to fast for roughly 12-16 hours before what should be the normal breakfast time at your final destination.  With long distances and time-zones, calculating that can get complicated.  Luckily, they made a handy, web-based, calculator to help you figure it all out.  Just type in your starting city, click the arrow and then type in your destination city and click the next arrow and the FlyGirl Anti-JetLag Calculator will tell you when to stop eating at your departure point and start eating again at your arrival point.

At least, that’s the theory.  Since I don’t really travel much these days, I haven’t tested it.

Also, as a side note, I’m testing a new bit of programming for the blog this week to help the search engines sort out where my writing originated from and where it’s ended up.  It’s important only to Google, so you can mostly ignore it.
Have a great weekend!

4/15/2016

Security In A Box

Filed under: Geek Work,Red Herrings,The Dark Side,The Tools — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:00 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Gibbous

First of all, you should know I’m talking about computer security, not home security.

Secondly, know that “in a box” really means something more like “all in one place”.
I’m suggesting this site this week because security is on my mind.  Not only in a corporate sense, but in a personal sense.  In a professional setting, I’ve brushed up against something that could conceivably heighten scrutiny of my own personal foot-print on the internet.  And, I’ve had a particular address from a particular Eastern European country banging against on of my WordPress installations pretty hard this past week.  All of which added up to me checking my collected links for a security themed site I could share with you all.
The site is called Security In A Box and it’s a collection of tips, advice and links to programs meant to help keep you safe on the internet.  Their advice covers everything from creating good passwords to staying safe on social media.  And, they have group-specific suggestions for special interest groups who might have an additional level of scrutiny, either by other special interest groups or governments.  It’s quite a good site for everyone, of course, but of special interest to anyone who might find themselves at the sharp end of one of the many sharpened sticks running loose on the internet without keepers.

So, stay safe this weekend and enjoy the lovely weather while it lasts!

4/8/2016

Free Network Mapping Tools

Filed under: Geek Work,The Tools — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is in the early morning or 7:30 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

This may not be a post for my regular readers.

So, I’ve been contracting for two weeks now and there’s a ton of work to do.
For those of you who know me, and know how I tend to approach what I do, one of my main goals is to get good documentation.  If you look at my resume, you know that I have changed jobs a lot.  And with every change has come a new, mostly-undocumented network for me to discover and, hopefully, improve.  As a result, I’ve used a bewildering array of network mapping and scanning tools.  Dark Reading has a list of free and low-cost network mapping tools, many of which I’ve used.  Since they review them all, I’ll only comment on the ones I’ve actually used and found useful.
First, there’s the venerable nmap.  Nmap has been around for a while and most of the more hardcore geeks, like me, have used it.  (And, yes, there is a Windows version of it, if you really want to use that.)  It’s probably one of the most complete, and oldest, tools on this list.  Though it’s more of a security finger-printing tool than a mapping tool in the sense that most of us mean.  Still, a security tool old enough and good enough to actually be used on-screen in The Matrix is pretty okay with me.
For simple listing of the IP addresses and hosts on a network, I really like Overlook Fing.  It’s pretty basic and actually command-line based with a Windows launching text interface to configure it.  The output is pretty basic, but you can quickly dump a list of device names and IP addresses, with probable manufacturer information to help identify the machines.  Also, they seem to have added a paid service that monitors your network and alerts you to changes, which seems interesting, but I’m usually on a budget, so I’ll stick with the free option.
If you want a nicer interface and more Windows-optimized IP network scanner, try Advanced IP Scanner.  Again, it’s pretty basic and simple, but it’s also free and super easy to use.  And, starting with at least a list of IP addresses with host names may be more documentation than a lot of new network administrators start with when they take over a network.
And, then there’s Spiceworks, which most folks think of as a helpdesk ticketing system, but actually has some fantastic network management and mapping tools built into it, too.  In fact, I initially installed it at my last full-time gig to keep track of all the user requests I was getting, but really ended up loving it for the reporting tools and ability to track machines on the network.  It’s free, and takes a little bit of work to get setup right for pulling in all the details of your network, but it’s totally worth it.  The user support forums are great and there are a lot of tools and custom reports being added for it all the time.  If you hunt a bit, you can find pretty much every answer to your question on the user forums.  I even found a way to automate emailing the weekly reports to everyone in IT and management.

One tool that Dark Reading does not mention that I find useful is Network Notepad.  Again, a free tool, but with a paid option.  The free tool, which is all I’ve used, is great for making an actual graphic map of your network. It takes a little getting used to, but once you get the hang of it, this is a pretty valuable tool.  For instance, if you add the IP address to the host on the map, you can ping or RDP right from the network map to the device.  In fact, I liked it so well, I whipped together an object library, using someone else’s free 3D icons, that I’ve attached to the bottom of this post.  So, enjoy that and enjoy your weekend!

3DNetworkObjectLibrary

4/1/2016

Expense and Tax Tools

Filed under: Geek Work,Life, the Universe, and Everything,Red Herrings,The Tools — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:54 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Crescent

So, it looks like I’m going to be an independent contractor for a bit.

And, that means tracking expenses and tracking billable hours, as well as the taxes I have to pay on that.  Since I’m an iPhone user, that means that, yes, there’s an app for that.  Or, ten apps, actually.  From eWeek, Ten Tax Filing, Expense Tracking Tools to Keep the IRS Happy.  Because, really, we all just want to avoid an audit or any Imperial entanglements.
And, frankly, I’m exhausted this week and all my creativity and wit has been drained into trying to help my client rebuild from a devastating data-loss that may ultimately result in some legal action.  It’s bad.  Really bad.  And, I’m pretty worn out this week.
So, I posted this and hopefully, you’ll get something better next week.  Maybe a review of the network audit tools I’ve been using to catalog what they have, and will have again.
(And, no, I don’t even have the energy to run an April Fool’s joke.  Seriously.  I’m that drained this week.)
Have a great weekend, y’all!

3/25/2016

How Not To Get Hired

Filed under: Fun,Fun Work,Red Herrings — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Dragon which is in the early morning or 9:17 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

Do you sense a theme in my posts lately?

So, yes, I’m still looking for work and it’s still on my mind.
I’ve had some phone interviews and I think something is about to break, but I don’t want to jinx it by going into details.  So, instead, I’m going to talk about what terrifies a job candidate most; the interview.  Let’s face it, even those of us who have done a bunch of these still dread them.  I, personally, think I interview well, but I still hate having to do them.  I’m always sure that I’m going to say the wrong thing and submarine my chances.  And, to be completely honest, at least once, I did.  Granted, that was fourteen years ago and I’ve learned from the mistake, but, still, I think about it every time I get ready to interview.
But, it’s Friday, so let’s not dwell on the existential dread of job interviews.  Instead, let’s laugh about them!  Vitamin T, with the help of the Webbys and Upright Citizens Brigade, have put together four uncomfortably funny videos about How Not To Get Hired In the Tech Industry.  I can tell you that I’ve encounter all four types of people in the tech industry, though, thankfully, not when I was a hiring manager.

In any case, it’s Friday and the videos are funny, so enjoy!  (And have a Happy Easter!)

3/11/2016

Positive Thinking

Filed under: Criticism, Marginalia, and Notes,Deep Thoughts,Fun,Life, the Universe, and Everything,Things to Read — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Dragon which is in the early morning or 9:23 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

I think everyone could use a little positive thinking this week.

I know I sure could!
I have read more than my fair share of self-help books and the one thing they all mostly have in common is the idea of “positive thinking”.  Whether it’s The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale or How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie or Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill or A Better Way to Live by Og Mandino,…
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3/10/2016

Re-Organizing

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Career Archive,Geek Work,Life, the Universe, and Everything,Personal,Red Herrings,Things to Read — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Dragon which is in the early morning or 9:29 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

It’s time to clean up my act.

Seriously.
My wife is a professional organizer and decorator, so those of you who know me well know how she suffered when she first moved in with me.  I hadn’t devolved into a complete hoarder, but I had gotten an unfortunately significant start.  She dug me out.  Honestly, I wish I had her ability to let go of things, but I tend to hold on to too much.  Naturally, when she asked me to read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I just about had a panic attack.  But, I did read it and, once I got past some of the ways the author talks about discarding things, I could see why my blushing bride loved the book.  In spite of whatever reviews you may have read about the extreme method described, it’s really not so terrifying.  The essence of it is to get rid of the things that you don’t use or need or want any more, to make room, both literally and figuratively.
I’m not saying that it’s been easy for me to do, because it hasn’t, but I do find myself thinking about what I really need and use quite a bit.  The reality is, I have too much stuff to really keep track of it all.  So, I’ve been taking some of the time I have, while I wait to get connected to my next work opportunity, to reevaluate and clean out.
I have told myself for a long time that I don’t like change, that I’m not good with it.  But, that’s not really true.  Sure, I like to control change, but in many areas of my life, I’m constantly changing, growing, trying new ideas and methods, keeping what works and discarding the rest.  One area that I haven’t been working at as much lately is my personal organization and scheduling.  I’ve been very reactive and not nearly proactive enough to suit me.

I used to be a “to do list” fanatic.  Every day I’d start my day with a fresh list, carrying over the things I didn’t finish from the previous day, and adding to it.  On Friday, I’d set my list up for Monday before I left the office.  First thing Monday, I’d review the list and see if I thought of anything else to add over the weekend, because my brain just will not shut off and stop thinking about work.  It’s how I’m wired, I guess.
Mainly, though, I loved crossing things off my list.
I know, it’s a strange thing, but the idea of crossing something off my list actually gave me a little thrill.  And, when I’d get to the end of the day, I’d see all the things I’d crossed off and think about how great it was to get all that stuff done.  Somewhere, though, in all the jobs and the “life stuff”, like getting married, divorced, beating cancer and getting married again, I lost that habit.  I tried to “leverage technology” and my smart phone to get a to do list app that would synchronize with my computer, but, frankly, nothing ever worked to my satisfaction.  And, of course, it was a convenient excuse for why I stopped doing it.
Some time back, I read Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen and I sort of made a half-hearted attempt to set some of his system up, but, honestly I never put enough effort into it. At the time, his book didn’t have a lot of technological help for geeks like me that wanted to use the cloud to keep things synched up.  I need to find out what’s changed, because the time is ripe for me to re-read that book and, as my wife and I reorganize our physical space, get my mental space in order and prepared for a new job.  This is the perfect time to get reorganized and have my system in place, ready to go, before I land somewhere and have an endless stream of projects to track.

So tell me, gentle readers, what do you use to stay organized?  If you’re a fan of the GTD method, what tech tools do you use to stay on track?


Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"The person who WILL NOT read is no better off than the person who CAN NOT read."

3/8/2016

Unemployment Payment Requested

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Career Archive,Deep Thoughts,Life, the Universe, and Everything,Personal — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Dragon which is in the early morning or 9:41 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a New Moon

For the first time in almost fourteen years, I’ve requested a payment from unemployment.

I’ll be honest, it’s not a great feeling.  I’d really rather be working.  Not that I think I don’t deserve the payment or that I begrudge anyone else their benefits, either.  I paid into that system for more than twenty years, if you include both Illinois and Texas, and I am well within my rights to get my fair share back out of it.
But, I’d really rather be gainfully employed.

I have a friend who shakes his head in dismay at how eager I am to work hard.  I think that’s what he finds so incomprehensible; that I want to not just work, but work hard at what I do.
It’s not that I really enjoy long hours or wrestling with budgets or any of those things, though I have to admit I do love wrestling with technology and bending it to my will. I love getting things done.  Sure, most of what I do professionally can be undone with a couple of keystrokes, but, still crossing things off my to do list or watching the closed ticket count stack up gives me a sense of satisfaction.

I hate being out of work.
The last several times I’ve changed jobs, it’s mostly been under my control.  At least once, in the past fourteen years, I interviewed just before a project failed and I was out on my ear.  I was out of work for all of a week, not even enough time to actually request payment.  And, it could have been less, but I wanted a bit of a break before starting the next thing.
I honestly could barely relax at all that week.

So, here I’ve been out of work for three, full weeks and I’m done.
The Texas Workforce Commission requires that I perform at least three job-search-related activities per week to be eligible for unemployment benefits.
I do that much every week before 8:30AM on Monday.
I know I love work, but that bar seems pretty low to me.  Keep in mind, that doesn’t mean just applying for three jobs per week, but talking to a recruiter, or having a job interview, or going to a job fair, or even searching for new jobs on a job website all, apparently, count toward that requirement.  In my job search log, I only record actual job applications made or email or phone conversations with recruiters or potential employers.  I must seem like a real over-achiever to the Texas Workforce Commission staff.

Yes, I have the benefits coming.  And, yes, I feel perfectly justified in requesting them.  But, honestly, I’d rather be working.


Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"Justice may be blind, but she has very sophisticated listening devices."
   --Edgar Argo

3/4/2016

A Free Civilization

Filed under: Art,Fun,Red Herrings — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is in the early morning or 7:22 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Crescent

No, this is not a political post.

I do my best not to openly participate in politics, frankly, because it all seems like a fool’s game.  On the other hand, simulation games have been known to unduly entertain me for embarrassingly extended lengths of time.  For a lot of my childhood, I played role-playing games.  For those of you familiar with my chosen profession probably won’t find that too surprising.  It seems like all the middle-aged professional geeks I know played…
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