Diary of a Network Geek

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

4/29/2009

Problems with Solid State Drives?

Filed under: Geek Work,News and Current Events,Red Herrings — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:08 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

Seems like these might not be all they’re cracked up to be.

I’ve wondered about these since first reading about how they worked. Basically, these solid state drives, or SSDs, are giant flash drives. And, apparently, just like flash drives, they tend to slow down with use. Maybe I’ve just had too much bad luck with flash drives going suddenly strange and needing a reformat, but I wonder what else might go wrong with them in time?

4/28/2009

Rain Delay

Filed under: Calamity, Cataclysm, and Catastrophe,Life, the Universe, and Everything,News and Current Events,Personal — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Dragon which is in the early morning or 8:29 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

I wish I’d had my camera with me.

Not sure when, or if, I’ll be getting into work today.  I’m on the wrong side of a low point in Houston, apparently.  Normally, I go over F.M. 529 from the 290 feeder, but this morning, the underpass on 529 that goes under the railroad tracks was flooded to the point that pickup trucks were completely submerged and the Jersey Village Police Department actually had blocked traffic to keep idiots from making it worse.  I think I counted more than six cars and trucks floating, yes, you read that right, floating under the tracks there as I rolled by, looking for another way to work.
West Road was flooded on the far side of the railroad tracks there, too.  And, again, police were on hand to keep things from getting worse.  Though, at West Road on the far side of the water, there was quite a bit of traffic backed up and stuck.  I’m sure everyone rushed up to try and get through when 529 was blocked and were as surprised as I was when they weren’t able to get through.  So, I made a semi-U-turn back onto the feeder headed back toward home and slowly, gently made my way back to Jersey Village.  And, yes, as far as I could see, the big project they spent so much money on to deal with all the flooding back when tropical storm Allison hit has been worth it.  One of the reasons I was so surprised at how bad things were is that Jersey Village, formerly famous for flooding, was so high and dry that I didn’t think it’d be a problem anywhere else.  Surprise!

So, do like the nice folks on the radio are saying today, Houston.  If you don’t have to travel, stay home.  That’s what I’ll be doing, at least until the water goes down some and the crazy people get off the road.

4/26/2009

Shitty First Dates

Filed under: Bavarian Death Cake of Love,Fun,Life, the Universe, and Everything,Red Herrings — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Snake which is just before lunchtime or 11:18 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

Okay, I should probably save this, but I’m totally not going to.

Let’s not ask why I posted this when I should have been working out on a Sunday morning.  I’ll get to the workout in a minute, after I finish the post.  Let’s also not ask what I was searching on when I found the blog that linked to what I’m about to share.  And, let’s ignore the adult language, because, c’mon, people talk that way and it’s sort of integral to the bit.  But, most of all, let’s just skip right past the part where it’s not my first date we’re talking about.

Just click the link to the funny first date story found on Craigslist Portland.  The funny thing to me is that even after what happened, he still wanted to date her again!  The link, incidentally, loads a graphic on Picasa for you to read and loads in a new window.

4/24/2009

Video Tour of the ISS

Filed under: Deep Thoughts,Fun,Life, the Universe, and Everything,Ooo, shiny... — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:11 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a New Moon

That’s International Space Station for those of you who may not be aware.

Now that there’s a geek in the top office, maybe we’ll see more action in science and space spending. I hope so, since I think that our future really does rest in the stars. Literally, though, not in the sense of astrology.
I know I’ve been on a bit of a space kick this month, but, as a fan of NASA and space travel, when I saw Slashdot link to a series of video tours of the ISS, I had to share it.

Enjoy!

4/22/2009

Upgrading My Laptop Hard Drive

Filed under: Fun,Fun Work,Geek Work,GUI Center,The Network Geek at Home — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:18 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Crescent

Right, so this weekend I upgraded my laptop’s internal hard drive.

SeagateMobileSATA500GB

My trusty Toshiba Satellite, which I used all through my chemotherapy treatments almost two years ago, came with an 80 GB hard drive and was starting to fill up. All the pictures I take add up, I guess, especially when I shoot in RAW format. So, I decided that with drives being as cheap as they were, it was time for an upgrade. As I wrote Monday, I scooted over to MicroCenter and picked up a 500 GB Seagate 2.5inch, mobile, SATA drive on Saturday. They were on sale for $115, which is, I think, a pretty damn good price. I got a couple other things, too, since the drive upgrade and a previous memory upgrade makes my laptop the most capable machine in my house, outside of the servers upstairs. (Why are so many non-tech people surprised when I mention that I ran cable and have a server room, with servers?) Oh, and before I get too far, let me mention that you can click on any of the pictures here for larger versions if you want a closer look than the thumbnail. Just click back when you’re done admiring my work.

KingwinEZ-Connect02

The other essential piece of hardware to start out with is an external USB drive adapter of some kind. I bought the Kingwin EZ-Connect, pictured here. I got that at an earlier trip to MicroCenter, with whom I do NOT have an endorsement deal, by the way. I just love their store. In any case, I got this particular one for two reasons. First, it was under $30. Second, it could handle the three major types of drives that I’m likely to encounter on a regular basis.

KingwinEZ-Connect01

What you get in the box, as you can see, is a USB cable, a drive adapter, a power adapter and a power supply. Oh, you also get a small CD that has some drivers, which you don’t actually need if you’re using Windows XP, and some simple backup software. I didn’t actually use this software, but, rather, I went to Seagate’s website and downloaded their free utility called DiskWizard. There were a number of reasons why this made sense for this situation. For one thing, I didn’t want to just back up the drive, but I wanted to make a bit-for-bit mirror copy of the drive so that I can replace the old one and still have a bootable, working computer. For another, I’m familiar with Seagate’s utility and have successfully used it before.

So, after installing DiskWizard following the default prompts, I hooked up my new drive via the USB adapter.

CloningDrive

I did install the included software and the drive was immediately recognized. Then, again, I simply followed the DiskWizard prompts with a single false step when I had to go back and change an option in the cloning configuration to make sure the new drive was set to be bootable. I cannot stress that enough! When doing this, you absolutely must make sure that the new drive is being configured to be bootable, system drive. If you don’t do that, your machine will not boot when you change out the drive. If you use DiskWizard, it will require a reboot. In fact, after setting your configuration, the software will prompt you to reboot and, after the software reboots your machine, it will automatically launch and start the cloning process. The actual drive cloning took about an hour or two. I was running around doing other things, so I didn’t get a good time on it. Best just to allow several hours and, like I did, do other things to amuse yourself while you wait.

UnplugandRemoveBattery

Now, it’s important to remember to both unplug your laptop and disconnect the battery. Just unplugging won’t be enough to make your laptop safe to work on. As long as that battery is in there, you could suddenly have a jolt of electricity jump through the circuits and make any planned upgrades pretty much useless. Also? A little jolt of juice can bite you pretty hard, especially when you’re not expecting it!

The next step, obviously, is to remove the old drive.

OldDriveOut

In my case, it was pretty easy. In the past, on some laptops, getting the drive out required taking the whole machine almost totally apart. I’ll never forget having to take a laptop’s entire keyboard off the top of the case to get to drive bay! I had to take the screen off at the hinge and everything! It was a dangerous, delicate mess! But, on today’s laptops, you mostly just have to take off a single panel, as you can see in the picture. The drive was in there really snugly, thanks, in part, to the rubber, anti-vibration sleeves meant to keep the drive quieter in a laptop. What I found interesting, however, is that there were no screws holding the drive itself in. No cages or straps or anything outside of the SATA connections and the tightness of the fit. Because, the drive bay door fit very snugly and I had to apply pressure to get it in place correctly and screwed shut again.

NewDriveIn

On the right, you can see the drive bay still open with the new, freshly cloned drive in it and the old, small drive laying next to it.

This was actually a pretty simple upgrade to make. It was what I generally refer to as a “one screwdriver job”. By that I mean that I could mainly have done it with the tiny pocket tool I carry with me in my pocket. Though, in this case, I used the old, cheap red-handled screwdriver in the picture. It’s a freebie that is often used as a giveaway by tool companies. I’ve had that one since my first IT job, back when I worked for Hyatt Hotels. It’s a little beat up now, but it can still handle a nice, easy job like this.

NewDriveVeryGood

As you can see, the formatted drive is a little smaller than advertised. Also, they tend to round up a little and bytes and megabytes and gigabytes aren’t round numbers, so the math gets a little funky. Oh, and there was a special 251Meg partition that couldn’t be clearly identified by DiskWizard, even though it cloned the partition just fine. So, when you factor in all those things, you can see the nice, big partition, which is mostly empty and waiting for me to fill it up with great pictures!
Well, that’s the plan at least.

In any case, now you have some idea how to change out a laptop hard drive if you should ever want to upgrade for yourself. I really left out a lot of the nitty-gritty detail that I felt was either self-explanatory or that you should really know how to do before attempting this in the first place. Perhaps not the best tutorial, but at least a good step-by-step overview of how to get it done!

4/20/2009

Busy Weekend – Coolness To Come

Filed under: Fun,Life, the Universe, and Everything,Ooo, shiny...,Personal,Red Herrings,The Network Geek at Home — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:52 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Crescent

Of course, that could describe almost any week or weekend for me.

So, Saturday, I got up early to run out and get a few parts to upgrade my laptop, braving the near cataclysmic, torrential downpour.  Naturally, I was far from the only geek hard core enough to weather the storm to spend some quality time at MicroCenter.  Though I have to admit, it wasn’t nearly as crowded as I thought it would be, even with the flooding.  I know that Fry’s Home Electronics is more popular with some geeks, but I think MicroCenter’s prices are competitive and I think I get better, less aggressive, more knowledgeable, service there.  Though, in this case, I knew just what I wanted.  My main purpose was to get a bigger internal drive for my laptop, because all the pictures that I take suck up drive space like a drunk soaking up free booze and I was starting to feel the pinch.  But, I also wanted to get a wireless, “laptop” mouse that I can throw in my bag when I hit the road, since my laptop is quickly becoming my creative workstation.  I also grabbed a bunch of magazines that I usually don’t find in my usual haunts.  Mainly Photoshop stuff, but some others that I wouldn’t normally get like Practical Web Design and Giant Robot.  The particular issue of Practical Web Design has an article about time-sensitive, dynamic stylesheets that seemed pretty cool.

In any case, after that, I ran home to start cloning my laptop drive…  In fact, I’ll have a better, detailed post on that later this week.  Once I got the cloning process started, I ran over to some friends’ house with the intention of all of us going to the Friends of the Houston Library book sale.  However, after having my car almost get caught in water far deeper than it seemed, which was made worse by a jackass in a pickup cutting me off and throwing up a wave of water almost over the hood of my car, we thought better of making the attempt.  So, instead, I did a little work on her laptop, getting it on their wireless network and running some antispyware on it.  (Though, it sounds like it already could use another cleaning, so I’ll probably be back.)

After that it was church and dinner.

Sunday, I got up early to get in a good workout.  I’ve been getting into a bad pattern of exercising late, staying up late and dragging all day long without enough sleep.  After watching another friend at dinner who’s burning her candle at both ends, I made up my mind to not let that happen this week.  So, I got my lazy bones out of bed and got breakfast and coffee and got my behind in gear for a good, longer, workout before 10:00AM.

After that I was editing some photos for a project a friend of mine in New York is putting together.  Naturally, I hooked up my new wireless mouse to get better control of my editing tools.  I got a Logitech “laptop” mouse and it works great.  It’s a little smaller than a regular mouse, but not uncomfortably so.  What’s cool about it, though, is that it has a little USB dongle that links the mouse to the computer.  When it’s not in use, it fits on the bottom of the mouse and, when you slide it on and off, it automatically turns the mouse on and off to save battery life.  That may seem like a little detail, but it’s a great feature that helps not waste batteries when you’re on the road.  That can be a big deal sometimes.  In any case, that probably took longer than it should but my graphic editing skills are weak, weak, weak.  So, the practice no doubt did me good.  Also, it was flattering to have her invite me to submit some of my photos for her project.

I also managed to get in a little reading and some photography, too.  Not much, but, still, every bit counts!  Obviously, when I get through with the book I’m reading, I’ll review it.  And, sadly, I still didn’t get any work done on the WordPress themes I want to build or the creative website either.  As busy as I get, I’m not sure how I’ll manage time to work on that as regularly as I’d like.  I am trying to leverage Google Alerts to get some of that work done, but, there’s still a component of it that requires quite a bit of work from me, so…  Well, I’ll get there somehow.  (And, yes, I count the new site as part of the “coolness to come”, along with the step-by-step post on upgrading a laptop hard drive.)

4/17/2009

Green Grass in Space

Filed under: Criticism, Marginalia, and Notes,Fiction,Fun,Garden of Unearthly Delights,Life, the Universe, and Everything,News and Current Events,Things to Read — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:02 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a Third Quarter Moon

This is not new.

Setting aside for a moment the fact that there is nothing new under the sun, there are some ideas that have been around for a long time that are just now seeing the light of day. The idea I’m thinking about today is regenerative life-support systems for long-term space exploration. The idea is simple, really. You just create a tiny, self-sustaining ecosystem on a spacecraft and send it on its way toward Mars or Jupiter or wherever you’re interested in going. The astronauts tend the garden which provides them with both fresh produce and breathable air. Of course, actually implementing this system is much more challenging than it seems on the surface. Discover takes a little closer look at the problem in a recent article on their blog.

You can read a short-story about this, or at least with this as a theme, in the New Yorker on-line called Lostronaut. It’s good and it inspired the Discover blog posting. Also, it’s science-fiction published in the New Yorker, so it’s worth reading.

4/15/2009

18 Ways for Geeks to Make “Quick” Money

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Career Archive,Criticism, Marginalia, and Notes,Hoffman's Home for Wayward Boys,Red Herrings,The Network Geek at Home — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:37 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

Okay, I know I’m starting to make a bad habit of this, but…

But, you know I’m going to do it anyway.
So, I’ve recently seen two lists of ideas for making money. One is pretty specific to computer geeks, but the other is more generic. I’ll summarize and link to them below:

First, from TechRepublic; 10 Ways for Techs to Make Extra Cash

  1. Subcontracting
  2. National Account Work
  3. Database Consulting
  4. Teaching
  5. Software Training
  6. Home Networking
  7. Telecommunications
  8. Financial Software Consulting
  9. Security System/DVR Integration
  10. Online Expert

Okay, I have a few issues with this list. First of all, several of these things would really cut into a full-time gig! I mean, if you’re already in a consulting business of some kind, then branching out might be good, but some of these really aren’t for everyone. For instance, I know I’d be a bad fit for financial software of any kind. I mean, I don’t have any real Accounting training and can barely balance my checkbook, so that doesn’t seem like a great idea, does it? And, I know plenty of people who do a lot of what I do that would have no clue about database design or phone systems. The fact that I do know these things is a fluke, really. But, when times are tough, I suppose every network geek has the potential to become a consultant.

The second list is from MSN; 8 Ways to Boost Your Income

  1. Sell Your Junk
  2. Get a Second Job
  3. Sell Your Skills
  4. Rethink your Rent
  5. Claim Unclaimed Assets
  6. Adjust Your Tax Withholding
  7. Get “Paid” to buy the stuff you already do
  8. Hit up Mom and Dad

Okay, some good ideas, but again, I have some issues with it. Some of these are the old standbys, you know? The renting out a room thing, though, is a good idea. Well, mostly. If you pick the right person. I’m a little sketchy about the finding forgotten assets thing, though. I don’t really think I have anything I’ve left behind anywhere. I’m also a little dubious about playing around with taxes too much, too. That can go wrong in a hurry, and did for me during my divorce. (Of course, I made up for that by selling her junk instead of mine!) And, frankly, buying things on a card that “pays you back” seems like a pretty dangerous choice, too. That can go wrong fast, as my massive consumer debt shows. But, the worst is that last one. Uh, sorry, but I’m not moving in with my mom and dad in the “Over 55″ community they live in now. Just not an option.

So, there you are. There might be a few ideas in there, but, honestly, I doubt there’s anything all that new to anyone who worked in IT during the late 90’s after the Internet bubble burst.
I hope all my readers are doing reasonably well, in spite of the downturn. And, if you all have more or better ideas, please, leave them in the comments!


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

4/13/2009

Review: 99 Coffins

Filed under: Fun,Review,Things to Read — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:23 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

I stayed up late Saturday night to finish reading 99 Coffins by David Wellington.

As you may have guessed from both my predilections and the title, this is a vampire story. In fact, it’s the second in a series by David Wellington, who is a relatively new voice in horror fiction. At least, he’s part of what I think of as the “hot, young turks” who have used the Internet and blogs to promote their own work quite effectively. Wellington’s brilliant first vampire novel, 13 Bullets, which is the first in this series, was originally released on a blog. I found it via Amazon, while looking for something new and interesting to read. 99 Coffins is just as exciting and engaging as 13 Bullets, and that’s saying something.

Wellington has created a new kind of vampire. Or, rather, he’s reimagined the traditional monsters in a new way that updates them, makes them different and interesting, but doesn’t make them any less monstrous or any more romantic and “human”. In short, these are the best vampires and vampire novels I’ve read since Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Yes, I think they’re that good.
Wellington gives us vampires that are two-legged, thinking, reasoning land-sharks that can speak to humans and command awesome personal power. They’re deadly and smart and the best and worst of our natures crossed with an insatiable thirst for human blood. In 13 Bullets, there was just one active vampire to start with. In 99 Coffins, there’s also just one, but with a twist.

The book opens with a historical dig on a Gettysburg battlefield. No one expects to find much, since this area has been heavily mined by archaeologists and is pretty well documented. However, a grad student digs up a mystery; a hidden cellar under an old gunpowder magazine filled with coffins. An interesting enough find on its own, the historical mystery is made even more interesting by the fact that each coffin holds the skeleton of what are obviously vampires. Thankfully, they all seem to have had their hearts removed making them almost totally harmless. Of course, even a sleeping, crippled vampire is never completely harmless.
That’s why the local authorities call in former U.S. Marshall Jameson Arkeley and his erstwhile protege, Pennsylvania State Trooper Laura Caxton, the last two vampire killers who exist. Arkeley is old and crippled from their last encounter with these toothed horrors and Caxton just wants to forget about it. She’s done her bit to protect humanity and now she just wants to serve the State of Pennsylvania and her people. But, neither Arkeley nor the newest vampire to prowl the streets will let her forget. At first, she just agrees to give Arkeley a ride to the site and be his eyes, but when she sees the 99 coffins, each with its sleeping vampiric skeleton, and the one smashed coffin, she can’t just walk away. Oh, she tries, to be sure, but when that one missing vampire attacks her on the street in scenic Gettysburg, she can’t just leave the local police to try and handle something they don’t even believe exists.

As you might imagine, it’s an uphill battle for Trooper Caxton, the last vampire hunter. Not only does she have to fight the vampire, but also ignorance, bureaucracy, local politics, vampire “fans”, and her own fears. Her struggles are interspersed with notes and letters from people involved with the historical vampires in those other coffins. The tales intertwine to tell a frightening story indeed. A story far older than the Battle of Gettysburg.
I won’t ruin the story by giving you more detail than that, but, let me assure you, it’s well worth the price of the book. Wellington is a wonderful writer, giving just the right level of detail while keeping the action moving along wonderfully well. Of course, I knew that from having read the first book in this series and I like his work so well, that I bought the third in this series already and have piled it on with the rest of my “to read” books.

If you’re a fan of vampire books at all, you have to get 99 Coffins by David Wellington and read it. Of course, you’ll want to start with 13 Bullets, but, once you’ve read that, if you don’t want to read the rest of the series, I’ll be amazed. Seriously, David Wellington is one of the best new authors I’ve read in the past several years and his vampire stories are absolutely wonderful. I promise, if you’re looking for a new take on an old monster, you’ll love these books.

4/10/2009

Star Ship Drives

Filed under: Fun,Life, the Universe, and Everything,News and Current Events,Red Herrings — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:03 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a Full Moon

NASA, making science-fiction real.

So, it looks like NASA is working on a plasma drive that will take us to Mars in 60-70 days, instead of a longer time period required of a conventional rocket.

And, if we ever get past that hurdle, someone has created a warp drive. Or, at least, theoretically. I mean, all they have to do is figure out how to manipulate theoretical dimensions and they’ll have it licked in no time! (Okay, okay, even the article admits that “Warp drive isn’t doable now, and probably won’t be for the next several millenia,” according to the scientist interviewed. But, still, a guy can dream, right?)

Also, if you haven’t voted in the poll, please, feel free!

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