Diary of a Network Geek

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

9/30/2008

Review: Little Brother

Filed under: Deep Thoughts,Fun,Life, the Universe, and Everything,Linux,News and Current Events,Review,Things to Read — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is in the early morning or 7:18 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a New Moon

I finished Little Brother by Cory Doctorow this weekend.

I cannot recommend this book enough. It is so, so worth braving the Young Adult section of the bookstore or library to get and definitely worth getting for your own young adults. Don’t be put off by the fact that it’s geared toward a younger audience, because there’s actually a bit more sex in it than most science-fiction I’ve read this year! Seriously!
Little Brother, in short, is about the Department of Homeland Security. Not quite the way it is now, but where it might be going if we’re not careful. The story is about a somewhat precoscious teen named Marcus who’s a bit of a geek. He plays live-action role-playing games and works with computers and subverts his school’s security measures to get out of class to play alternate reality games. But, he and several of his friends get caught up in a bad situation while doing this one day. In the story, terrorists blow up the Bay Bridge in San Francisco while Marcus and his friends are skipping school. And, the DHS sweeps them up with other questionable people and interrogates them.
Frankly, the interrogation techniques are probably what you’ve read about already. Simple humiliation by not being allowed to use bathroom facilities, sleep deprivation, isolation, aggressive and extended questioning sessions, you know, the usual. The kinds of things that are used all the time to get information out of alleged terrorists. Only Marcus isn’t a terrorist and he hasn’t even been charged with a crime. The DHS is only questioning him because he seems a little suspicious and out of the ordinary. You know, the usual. The usual nightmare that anyone in the wrong place at the wrong time just being a regular, normal citizen might go through because we’re handing over our freedoms with the idea that we might gain security in exchange.

Well, they release Marcus and two of this three friends. Marcus got the worst of the questioning, but all of them are worried about their missing friend. Only Marcus, he’s gotten angry at how he was treated. Much the way I imagine many otherwise innocent people have gotten angry at how they’ve been treated or “questioned”. So, Marcus decides he’s going to get back at the DHS. And, thanks to his talents as a young computer hacker, he does.

I won’t ruin the story by telling you all that happens, but it is a gripping read, not lessened by the fact that it’s something which could happen right here in our country. In fact, some people feel it is happening. One of the many things I liked about this book was how accurate the computer security was. Doctorow really researched this well and even called in contacts like the infamous Bruce Schneier to help get it right. As a matter of fact, they get it so right that I’d recommend this book to anyone interested in getting the basics of computer security. They explain public key cryptography, protocol tunneling, and several other key concepts in modern computer security that, frankly, are somewhat hard to explain.
If you’re worried about the future of your country, or just the future of your children, I encourage you to read this book. If you want to encourage the next generation to be politically aware and have a good understanding of the issues, buy this book for them.

I may not always agree with Cory Doctorow’s political agenda, but Little Brother is a great book and will provide many topics of discussion for interested classes and families.
Read this book!

9/26/2008

Whiskey of Mass Destruction

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,By Bread Alone,Fun,Red Herrings — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:28 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Crescent

I love single-malt Scotch.

I don’t drink very much these days, due partly to age and partly to getting broken of it during chemotherapy. But, I still like a good single-malt Scotch now and again. Apparently, I’m not the only one. According to an article that ran on Wired’s Danger Room blog, there’s a particular distiller that noticed their webcams getting a lot of traffic from the Pentagon. After a discreet inquiry, it turns out that the distilling process they use, and, one presumes, the equipment, is very much like a process used to refine weapons of mass destruction. What was happening is that trainers were using these webcams to train weapons inspectors! Whiskey as a training aid! Yea for government work!
And, apparently, in honor of that, the fine folks at the Bruichladdich Distillery made a “WMD – The Inspectors” whiskey. Sadly, this seems to be a collector’s item and, in the States, you have to settle for “WMD II The Yellow Submarine 1991 “, which can be found about halfway down this page.

No word on how good, smooth, etc. it is at all. Or, if there’s a government discount!


Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"No matter what goes wrong, there is always someone who knew it would."

9/25/2008

HOUSTON — Clark and Mark Flood — Sept 27

Filed under: Art,Criticism, Marginalia, and Notes,Fiction,Fun,Personal,Things to Read — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Horse which is around lunchtime or 12:21 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Crescent


HOUSTON — Clark and Mark Flood — Sept 27

Originally uploaded by Domy Books

Well, the title says it all, more or less.

My friend Mark Flood and his twin Clark have an opening Saturday night at Domy Books in Houston. If you’re in Houston, and like art and literature, it’d be worth checking out.
I have church that night, so I’m not sure if I’ll make it in time. It all kind of depends. I may make a special effort, though, just to get pictures. Besides, I’ve been meaning to get to Domy for some time now.

I’ve lost track of which is which, but Mark has a book coming out and I believe they’ll both have art there. Though, I’m fairly certain that Mark won’t be showing any of his lace paintings like the one I have.

You can get details about the opening at the Domy website.

UPDATE: Well, it looks like I’ll be there taking pictures.  I was actually somewhat undecided as to whether or not I would attend after church or go out to dinner with the gang, but after a talk with the artist, I’ll be headed over to take pictures with my trusty Canon XTi.

9/24/2008

It’s Wednesday

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Deep Thoughts,Life, the Universe, and Everything,Personal — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 4:55 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Crescent

Just a short entry today.

I was tired last night and went to bed reasonably early, for me. Not sure if it’s the lack of cable or what, but I’ve just felt a little more tired this week. But, still, it’s Wednesday and time for, well, something. Some thought or some vague semblance of a statement about, well, something. Because it’s Wednesday and, if you look back at the last couple of months archives, you’ll see that the pattern is for me to post something on Wednesday. Or, more precisely, to post something every other Wednesday. That pattern of posting has become a promise of sorts. A promise of consistency to the small hand-full of readers who still show up to see what strange ramble, screed or rant I’ve thrown against the wall. Will it stick?

When I think about it, it bothers me a little that I’ve written so much here, but so few have read it. I suppose that my playing it safe and being careful what I write has lead to that steady decline in commentors, if not readers. Oddly enough, when I was in the middle of my divorce and not caring at all who saw my raw emotions was, perhaps, the hey-day of this blog, its peak. But, then, as I started to worry and fret over future employers seeing this blog and thinking that I might alienate them, or potential dates, via something that I wrote, my topics changed and got safer and my audience dwindled, or at least changed.

I don’t know what that all means, really, other than the fact that I’ve noticed it. Oh, thankfully, there are a few die-hard fans who stick with me, even through the boring, normal life periods like this one. If they hold on long enough they know that things will turn and I’ll get hooked up with a disgruntled house-wife looking to score some Hemingway or some Poe, maybe if I’m lucky, she’ll be looking for Lovecraft. Then things will get lively again with tales of being shot at by angry husbands or chased by dogs.
Or the cancer will come back and give me something to whine about.
Or some other horribly funny tragedy will befall me and compel me to write about it, much to the amusement of … Someone.

In the end, of course, I’d probably write this blog just to write. I don’t think I could keep from writing it, not even if I wanted to!
And, in the end, I suppose the compulsion to write is as good as any excuse to spit up these words on a page for everyone to read.

So, I’ve got that going for me.


Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"Sticking to good habits is like having a savings account: when hard times come, we can take the 'investment' we've made and overcome our problems."

9/22/2008

Less is More – Hurricane Ike Followup

Filed under: Apple,Criticism, Marginalia, and Notes,Deep Thoughts,Life Goals,Life, the Universe, and Everything,Personal,The Network Geek at Home — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:57 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a Third Quarter Moon

Hurricane Ike may not be over for a lot of people, but I’m thinking about how I should change my life in response to what happened.

I don’t mean that I’m scarred for life or that I have post-traumatic stress syndrome as a result or anything so melodramatic as that, but this slap on the butt from Mother Nature has made me think.  It’s made me think about what I need, what I want and how I spend my time.  As I’m sure many have found this week, we need far, far less than we think we do.  In many ways, I got along just fine without power.  Oh, maybe I cooked a bit more meat and ate a bit more in general than usual, but I got to read more and sleep more than I usually do.  And, at this point, I’ve gone without cable long enough that I’m starting to wonder why I still keep it.  I mean, I say that I have it for the History Channel and Discovery and IFC and the Sci-Fi Channel, but I’m not sure that’s really true anymore.  For one thing, I haven’t watched a whole program on either the History Channel or Discovery without some kind of interruption in so long I can’t remember.  And, honestly, most of the movies I watch on IFC are available through Netflix anyway.  And, really, I’ve gotten so tired of what the Science-Fiction Channel has become – the Ghost Buster Channel or the Cryptozoology Channel or something worse.  So, why do I hold onto this video pacifier?  Have I gotten so afraid of peace and quiet and, possibly, even my own thoughts that I have to keep background noise going all the time?

For the longest time, I’ve worried that I suckle at the glass teat so long that I would starve without it.  And, yet, it’s a love/hate relationship we have.  I feel somewhat compelled to watch it, but, at the same time, I feel like it sucks so much of my productive time away from me that I’d be better off without it.  If I spent half the time I wasted watching television cleaning my house, or re-working my home network, or writing, well, I’d probably be famous by now.  You know what I did most of last weekend?  I read.  Yeah, I ended up reading two entire books last weekend and almost half that time was spent reading by flashlight!  So, without any of the “conveniences” of modern, high-tech life, I was more productive and more rested than I am when I’m totally plugged-in and choking on information over-load.  But, of course, that’s not a new theme, is it?  I mean, people have been telling us that for a long time now, right?  How we should un-plug and tap into our full attention and focus.  I have to admit, though, that, while I heard that and thought I understood the principle, I’ve never tried to put it into practice or had an opportunity like this forced on me.  Now, I have.

So, here’s what I’m thinking.  I’m thinking that what I need to do is cancel cable.  I need to take that roughly $100 a month and save it.  When I have enough, I’m going to buy all the bits and pieces for a Linux-based multimedia computer.  Something that can rip and burn DVDs, that has a Dolby-capable sound card worthy of a home theater system, that has a high-quality video card with HDMI output I can hook up to my HDTV, that has a remote and a wireless keyboard and mouse, and, maybe, that has a television decoder on it.  Obviously, it’ll need a truckload of hard drive storage and the maximum amount of RAM.  Oh, and a nice, high-speed connection to the network so I can grab stuff from YouTube and other video sites, not to mention weather data in hurricane season and, possibly, to get to Netflix for “instant” movies, too.  It actually won’t be all that expensive, and probably not as time-consuming to create as has seemed to me in the past.  Besides, I know people have done similar things before so there’s got to be a HowTo on it out there somewhere.  And, I’m equally sure that someone has given this enough thought that I won’t have to figure out which distro is best, either!  Ha!  Sometimes not being on the cutting edge can, in fact, work to one’s advantage!

But, beyond all that, I hope that having fewer distractions, or at least taking a tighter rein on my regular distractions, will help me focus more on writing, too.  Ironically, saving money by canceling cable may also enable me to earn more money by writing fiction, like I’ve always said I wanted to do!  How funny would that be!
That shift is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.  I guess more so since doing Habitat for Humanity a couple weekends ago, or maybe even as far back as when I was told my lymphoma was in remission.  I want to be less of a consumer and more of a producer.  I want to make more than I use, to contribute more than I take.  Right now, today, I don’t think that’s true, but I think I can change that.  More importantly, I know, deep in my bones, down in that place that even Death himself can’t touch, that I want to make that change.  I need to make that change, to give more than I get.
I’ve dodged so many theoretical bullets and gotten so many second chances that, were I superstitious, I’d say it was some force, some being, some power in the Universe, trying to tell me something.  As if God Himself were nudging me in a direction, toward the light, toward the positive.  Some of you reading this may not believe in that, and that’s okay with me, but I know something has been working for my personal good, even amidst the danger, sorrow and tragedy, to keep me safe and to keep me coming out okay.  And, no matter what you believe, I know that whatever that force or power is, call it God if you wish, that energy wants me to work toward the good of others with whatever meager skill and talent I may feel I possess.

So, what does it all mean?
Hell if I know.  All I know is that right now, the way I live my life, while not damaging to anyone else, it’s not worth much to me, either.  I’m just coasting.  Gliding through life on the energy of others or just circumstances.  I want to live a life worth living, a life worth the efforts M. D. Anderson spent trying to keep going.  To do that, I need to change.  Not much, really, just a little.  The difference between giving more than I take is just a hair’s breadth.
But, that small margin makes all the difference in the world.

9/19/2008

Hacking is Sexy

Filed under: Fun,Fun Work,Geek Work,News and Current Events,Red Herrings,Rotten Apples,The Dark Side — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:44 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

Stop laughing.

Okay, so this is totally no joke. Marketing people now use sex to sell absolutely everything. Even hacking. Yes, over at SexyHacking.com they have hot chicks dispensing computer security information and techniques. Really. And, apparently, they were supposed to be at Blackhat, one of the big security conferences in Vegas, this year, too.  Not sure if they actually were or not.
Well, thank you, to the Security Monkey for pointing this out to us.

So, sex sells. Go figure.
(Oh, and don’t forget, today is “Talk Like A Pirate Day“.)

9/18/2008

My Review of Reliance Fold A Carrier – 2.5 Gallon

Filed under: Calamity, Cataclysm, and Catastrophe,Criticism, Marginalia, and Notes,Personal,Review — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Snake which is just before lunchtime or 11:46 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

Originally submitted at REI

Carry extra water conveniently in this collapsible water carrier.

Great for hurricanes!

By RyuMaou from Houston, TX on 9/18/2008
4out of 5

Pros: Durable, Good Capacity

Best Uses: Survival

Describe Yourself: Casual Adventurer

I used two of these during Hurricane Ike and they worked great. I filled them the night before with good, clean tap water and sat them on my kitchen counter before the storm. I ended up letting a friend borrow them because I had water and he didn’t! When he found out how inexpensive these were, he decided to go get two himself for the next hurricane! Can’t think of a stronger endorsement than that.

(legalese)

9/17/2008

Almost Normal – Hurricane Ike Part 7

Filed under: Calamity, Cataclysm, and Catastrophe,Criticism, Marginalia, and Notes,Geek Work,Life, the Universe, and Everything,News and Current Events,Personal — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Dog which is in the evening time or 9:51 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

Well, I do have power again.

Many still do not, but, at long last, I do.
Yesterday, at about 4:30pm, my power came back on. I’d lost my land line, though, so, I figured I was batting .500. Then, an hour and thirty minutes later, or so, that came back, too. Cable has come in and out, but, really, that’d be all gravy as far as I’m concerned. So, mostly, things are back to normal for me.
I expected to work until dusk cleaning up tree debris in my back yard, but my lawn guys had done most of it. So, before next Wednesday, I plan to have a case of beer for them and I’ll have a bonus in cash the next time I pay them, too. I spent about an hour cleaning up what they didn’t quite get. Mostly it was stuff still partly in trees or still attached. Saturday, I have a friend coming over to see what we can do about the fence.

There is something special about having electricity again. As a guy at work put it, there’s not quite anything like the sound of ice cubes tumbling from the automatic ice maker in the refrigerator into the bucket. Though, I have to admit, the sound of air-conditioners is very much like the sound of generators. It’s an irony that I cannot escape or ignore.
There’s a friend of the boss who’s got a mailserver that he’s trying to find a temporary home for, due to power loss. It’s his own server, but, I have to tell you, this is why if you’re going to run servers at the house you need a recovery plan, just like you would if you were a small business. Of course, I say this, but I don’t have one. At least, not yet.

It’s been a crazy couple of days here in Houston. People have been at both their best, and their worst. I’ve seen things like my lawn guys pitching in and clearing my yard without asking or being asked and like the guy at work who gave me half an ice chest of ice to let me save some food. And, I’ve seen people cutting each other off and running through intersections endangering themselves and others. I’ve heard just as many stories for either side. Still, it’s not like what happened after Katrina in New Orleans. There have been a few stories of looters, but not many. I’d like to think we’re more evolved, but, the truth is, I think the police were just better prepared. Either way, I’m glad that there have been more stories about neighbor helping neighbor than not.

So, things are settling down. I’m glad for that, too.
I hope my readers from the Houston area who aren’t back to normal will be soon.
Oh, and here’s a bit of fun everyone can look forward to! Friday is International Talk Like A Pirate Day! So, by then, I hope everyone can tell me what a pirate’s favorite letter is!

9/16/2008

Still No Power! – Hurricane Ike Part 6

Filed under: Calamity, Cataclysm, and Catastrophe,Criticism, Marginalia, and Notes,Dog and Pony Shows,Life, the Universe, and Everything,News and Current Events,Personal,The Network Geek at Home — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Rooster which is in the early evening or 6:01 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

Well, as of about 1:00pm today, I still had no power.

Of course, a lot of people still don’t have power, but most people out by me have for several days now. Hopefully, I’ll have power soon.
I have a lot of fence debris and tree debris in my backyard that I have to get cut up by next week Thursday. Not sure that I’ll be able to do that since the City of Jersey Village wants all the nails pulled from the fencing. I don’t think they truly understand how difficult that’s going to be to get done in a week. I have a friend coming to help this weekend. I’ll work on it some tonight and tomorrow, at least. So, so glad I did laundry and dishes before this hit. We’re still officially under orders to boil our water, but I’ve been taking quick, warm showers. Thank God I have natural gas in my house!

I’m getting a little tired of eating so much meat, frankly, but it’s what was thawing first and would go bad fastest. Thankfully, yesterday, a guy at work brought in a bunch of ice and Seatrax, my company, lent me a cooler to keep it all in, so I’ve managed to save a lot of my groceries. I used to be able to eat so much more! Ah, well, at least my dog, Hilda, has been enjoying eggs and sausage and more sausage for breakfast the past couple of days. Not to mention the teriyaki salmon “burgers” we had last night. She’s certainly been living well!

Okay, I see my cell phone and my laptop are charged now, so I can go home, but I did want to call your attention to the Twitter “thing” over in the right corner of my blog. Yes, being without blog access for several days got me to breakdown and setup a Twitter account. Now, as long as I have cell access, I can update my blog and let all my non-Texas friends and relatives know how I’m doing, even when hurricanes hit Houston.

9/15/2008

Breakfast The Morning After – Hurricane Ike Part 5

Filed under: By Bread Alone,Calamity, Cataclysm, and Catastrophe,Criticism, Marginalia, and Notes,Deep Thoughts,Life, the Universe, and Everything,News and Current Events,Personal — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Sheep which is in the early afternoon or 2:00 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous


BreakfastTheMorningAfter2

Originally uploaded by Network Geek

Well, I survived Hurricane Ike, so far.

I’ve been without power since Friday night and we’ve been on an order to boil water since Saturday night, but the house took no damage that I can see. The car port and the covered porch lost their corrugated fiberglass roofing, but are otherwise intact. The back fence is 2/3 gone, not to mention one of the smaller myrtle trees, but otherwise things are good. I’ve been cooking things as they thaw, which means I’ve eaten more meat in the past three days than I’d normally eat in a week, but at least I haven’t wasted too much food that way. Oh, and my dog, Hilda, has been eating like a queen! She thinks sausage for breakfast is fabulous! And, as I’ve mentioned before, I can face just about anything if I have a good cup of coffee in the morning, so my camp coffee pot has been working out really, really well.

Work is open and has power and phones. In fact, that’s where I’m writing this entry. And, if you click the link, it’ll take you to my Flickr photostream and you all can see the pictures I’ve uploaded so far. I know this may not be a priority for many people, but, well, I wanted to let folks outside of Houston know what’s going on.
So far, we’re surviving. I’ll be happier when I get electricity again and can restock my frozen foods. I’m afraid I’m going to have a lot to throw out when I get home from work later. So much has gone bad or is too iffy to be trusted right now. But, I’ll tell you what, Houston is a can do city so I’m sure it won’t be long before we’re up and rolling again.

In any case, I’ve survived. Hilda and I are doing well, so far. We’ve a ways to go, but we’ll get there, and we’ll get there faster than the tragedy that was New Orleans after Katrina, too.
There’ll be more later, but, for right now, I’ve got to get back to work!

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