Diary of a Network Geek

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

2/26/2010

Harris County Atlas Obscura

Filed under: Art,Fun,Life Goals,Red Herrings — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:21 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Gibbous

Houston is a strange town.

Now, I don’t mean that in a bad way!  I like strange.  Strange is different, interesting.  The problem is, finding it.  Think of all the chance encounters that have led you to something weird and beautiful.  How often does that happen?  If you’re like me, not often enough.

Back when I started doing “Friday Fun” posts, I used to scour the Internet for unusual bits of flotsam and jetsam. Now, I usually let my feed reader bring them to me.  But, the fun, weird, wonderful things are all around us.  In Harris county, we have plenty of interesting, unusual things to find.  Some of these have been collected at the Harris County page of the Atlas Obscura.  If you haven’t been there, go take a look.  They talk about a couple things of interest, but I encourage you to find and add more.

Incidentally, of the things they mention, I’ve only been by David Adickes’ studio and seen the giant heads outside his workshop.  I have heard of the Museum of Health and Medical Science and the National Museum of Funeral History, but I have to admit, I haven’t been to either yet, not to mention the several places of interest that I hadn’t even known were here before.
You know, now that I think about it, they do seem like great photo adventures that would be easy to do, and I have all that nice, new flash gear….

2/21/2010

Review: Shutter Island

Filed under: Fun,Movies,Review — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Monkey which is mid-afternoon or 4:27 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Gibbous


ShutterIsland

Originally uploaded by Network Geek

I saw Shutter Island Friday.

I have to admit, I was a little surprised by this one. I’m not entirely sure what I expected here, but it wasn’t this. Incidentally, I’m not a big Leonardo DiCaprio fan, but he did a really good job with this one, as did the rest of the pretty amazing cast, including Ben Kingsley, Max von Sydow, Michelle Williams, Patricia Clarkson, Jackie Earle Haley, and Ted Levine, to name a few.

DiCaprio plays Teddie Daniels, a U.S. Marshal investigating a disappearance on the infamous detention facility for the criminally insane, Shutter Island. Apparently, this very special and secure federal institution has a secret, too, and Daniels has an axe to grind in finding it. We meet Daniels on the ferry to the island, getting very seasick in the head. We meet his partner, Chuck Aule, played by Mark Ruffalo, at the same time he does, on the ferry. They’re met at the only dock on the island, the only safe way on or off, by the assistant warden who informs them of the rules, which include surrendering their sidearms. Obviously, they’re not happy about that, but it’s the only way the doctors in charge will let the Marshals into the patient wards to investigate.
The institution is separated into three wards; Ward A for the male offenders, Ward B for the female offenders, and Ward C for the ultravolent cases. The patient who disappeared vanished from her cell in Ward B was the delusional murderer of her children and, frankly, doesn’t seem like she’s capable of escaping from this sort of prison. But, that’s not the real reason Daniels is here.

Teddy Daniels has come to Shutter Island because something’s not right. People come to the island and all record of them is lost. People with relatively minor problems come back from the island broken, changed, and more unstable and dangerous than when they went there, though most are simply never heard from again. And one former “patient” told Daniels that they’re doing experiments on the patients, surgeries that make the most violent men easier to control, but no less violent. That, and the search for what happened to the man who’s responsible for his wife’s death, are the real reason that Daniels has come to Shutter Island. But, even that’s not so straight forward.

Now, before I give too much away, because frankly, there are more plot twists in this movie than any I can think of in recent memory. Keep in mind, this is all happening in a mental institution, so many things, and people, aren’t what they seem. Also, the movie takes place a few years after World War II, so there are plenty of references to veterans and what we now call post traumatic stress syndrome. And, yes, Daniels is a war veteran who helped liberate Dachau, so that factors into some of the plot.
This is far from a straight, linear, direct movie. And, while there is plenty of action, it’s mostly a psychological thriller. In fact, though I did like the film quite well, the first two-thirds of the movie are actually quite slow. Things pickup near the last third and then run from there through the end. And, while this is a bit of a spoiler, the ending leaves you wondering just a little bit what’s really just happened. It’s pretty remarkable, actually, and still a satisfying ending.

So, while I don’t think this was a great movie, it certainly was very good. DiCaprio did a very good job of portraying a driven man, who had issues, and was spun through a bewildering psychological landscape. Of course, Ben Kingsley and Max von Sydow were fantastic as the slightly sinister doctors who had some mystery they were trying to hide. Really, the entire cast delivered good individual performances. There were a few weak scenes and a couple of holes in the plot, but, by the time you get to the end of the movie, I think those inconsistencies are actually explained, at least in an indirect way.

It’s an interesting film and well worth seeing. If you are a DiCaprio fan, you’ll definitely want to see this movie. However, if you just want to see something different than I think you’ll see all year. Incidentally, based on a book, this really is an unusual story these days, especially to see from Hollywood. In fact, one of the things I liked about this movie was that it was a bit of a surprise to me how some of the plot ran, which is pretty unusual, frankly. Not that I’m a genius or anything, but I read a lot and see a lot of films and when you combine that with my own study of plot and attempts at writing, plots become sort of predictable after a bit. So, again, there are some pretty surprising twists in the plot that make this movie really different and interesting.

In the end, I think this movie was well done and well worth the money to see it in the theater. Go check it out for yourself and see if you agree. I think you’ll like this one.

2/19/2010

iPhone Projector

Filed under: Adventures with iPods,Apple,Art,Fun,On The Road,Ooo, shiny...,Red Herrings — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:24 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

Okay, I know the iPhone is amazing, but this really is cool!

So, when I was on the road a lot, I would occasionally have to do presentations.  That usually meant lugging a laptop which I could hook up to a projector, if they had one available.  Often, it meant added pounds for a day trip just to show a team a few screen captures or a short slideshow.  Not good.
Well, now, if you’ve got an iPhone, you can carry a tiny projector with you instead and reduce your overhead without losing any production value.

Okay, it’s not quite available yet, but it will be soon.  Personally, I can’t wait to see how much it runs!  And, with everyone talking about the new iPad that isn’t quite available yet either, I thought it’d be okay to talk about a vapor-ware add-on for an existing product.

2/16/2010

Review: The Wolfman

Filed under: Movies,Review — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Pig which is late at night or 11:41 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent


Wolfman

Originally uploaded by Network Geek

I saw The Wolfman Friday night.

It was okay.
I mean, mostly, it was good. An old story being retold in a new way, with some new twists. The older version, of course, is a classic. I don’t think this version will withstand that particular test of time, but it wasn’t as bad, say, as Legion.
This new version parallels the old one in many ways, but doesn’t take long to depart significantly from the original plot. In a nutshell, a brother, Larry Talbot, played by Benicio Del Toro, estranged from his family, drawn back to his childhood home by the sudden and slightly mysterious death of his brother. He comes back for the funeral, but ends up getting drawn into a murder investigation by his deceased brother’s fiance. That private investigation brought Larry to a gypsy camp. While there, a beast of indeterminate, but vicious, nature runs through the camp, savaging many of the townsfolk and gypsies and, of course, Larry, too.

That incident changes Larry.
He turns into a werewolf, a lycanthrope. And, that’s pretty much where things start to really change in regards to the plot as well. The similarities between the two movies, new and old, depart drastically here.
In this version of The Wolfman, Larry fights his transformation aided by his father, in a way, and his father’s manservant, who is a Sikh. The townsfolk all want to kill Larry for what they think he’s become, but his brother’s fiance doesn’t care what he is, because they’ve fallen in love.

Well, I suppose the story is somewhat predictable. He can’t control himself or the transformation and, most importantly, he can’t control what he does when he transforms into the werewolf. This, naturally, is the conflict that drives the plot of this movie. So, to tell you more would ruin the movie, which means, of course, I won’t tell you about it.
I will tell you, though, that there are a few new twists which, while interesting, are no less predictable. And, near the end, it gets weak. I mean, really weak. Not just predictable, but, well, pretty thin. And, frankly, it took an otherwise okay movie and, well, sort of drove it into the ground. Also? The absolute end could have redeemed this movie, but, sadly, it doesn’t.

So, in the end, unless you’re a huge fan of someone in this film or Rick Baker’s makeup and effects work, I can’t really recommend it. At least, not at full price. If you need to see this movie, hit the matinee, or just wait for it to come out on DVD.
In spite of a pretty good premise, a classic movie for seed material, and a great cast, this movie comes out all mediocre. It’s sad, but there it is. Better ways to spend your money in this economy, so save it and see something else.

2/12/2010

Get Ript!

Filed under: Art,Bavarian Death Cake of Love,Fun,Life, the Universe, and Everything,Red Herrings — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:13 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Crescent

Oh, yeah, now this is equality.

Look for years you ladies have complained about clothes and makeup and all the unfair things that you all feel pressured by society to do, right?  You blame women’s magazines for “body image” issues, among other things.  Oh, I know, I heard it all, especially when I was married.  Guess what?  Men have the same “body issues” from the magazines we read.  No, seriously.  It pains me to think that I’ll never look like one of the cover models on Men’s Health.  And, no, no amount of working out or dietary change will make me all buff and ripped like them.  At least, not if I have to hold down a full-time job and sleep.

Well, for years, you gals have had your “control top” hose and girdles and all manner of amazing engineering to help you with those “issues”.  Finally, men have the same thing.  Ript!  Essentially, a t-shirt/girdle for men, to create the illusion of us being, well, ripped under our dress shirts.  And, it’s just in time for St. Valentine’s Day!
Go look at the site.  I couldn’t stop laughing, either.

2/11/2010

Lifetime Security Certification

Filed under: Career Archive,Certification,Life Goals,Linux,Novell,The Dark Side — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:45 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Crescent

So, I’ve been thinking about getting yet another professional certification.

I’ve been a Certified Novell Engineer for about fifteen years now.  In fact, I upgraded that cert three times after initially certifying back in 1993.  In 2003, I got the CompTIA Linux+ certification.  All at more or less my own expense.  Now, I haven’t heard anything about Novell updating their certification requirements lately, but I suppose it might happen one day.  I don’t think I’ll pay to re-up that cert, though.  I haven’t really used Novell in any significant sense for about five years now, so there’s not much point in maintaining it.
The lack of continuing education requirement is one of the things I liked about getting the CompTIA Linux+ certification.  One test, one cert, for life.  It seemed like a good idea to me, a good investment.  About the time I ended up getting divorced, I gave up on studying for the CompTIA Security+ certification.  There seemed plenty of time.  Well, as it turns out, there may not be after all.

Earlier this year, CompTIA announced that there would be continuing education requirements for several of their certifications.  Well, the great mass of IT professionals raised such a hue and cry about it that they modified that stance somewhat.  We not have until the end of this year to get the certifications if we want to escape the re-up requirements.  That goes for the A+, the Network+ and, yes, the Security+ certifications.
So, it looks like I’ll be buying the Exam Cram Security+ book and, probably, investing in the SelfTest Software pre-exam study software, too.  It’s not that big an investment monetarily, but I suspect it will be a little more difficult to knuckle down and study to take the test.  I haven’t worked at that sort of thing for quite some time now, and I’m almost afraid I’ve forgotten how!

Of course, the real question is, in a way, whether or not it’s even worth getting the certification at all.  I mean, it just sucks me even deeper into the bottomless pit that is the IT profession.  It’s a never-ending treadmill of oppressive hours and thankless work that few people truly appreciate.  Of course, it does pay pretty well.  And, it does beat digging ditches.  Most days.
Naturally, my hope is that the Security+ certification will make me more marketable in the long-term, should something happen to my current job.  Not that I think that’s likely, but still, it never hurts to be prepared.  And, frankly, security is going to continue to be a big issue going forward, so getting this particular certification surely can’t hurt my resume any.

Over all, the investment is small for the potential return.  And, it will probably do me good to stretch my poor, feeble, little mind to work at something like this again.
Besides, I may know a beautiful, young college student or two who could help me study.
Stranger things have happened!

2/8/2010

Review: From Paris With Love

Filed under: Fun,Movies,Review — 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


FromParisWithLove

Originally uploaded by Network Geek

So, Friday, I saw From Paris With Love.

At dinner, one of the guys I went to see the movie with went on at length about how the reviewers had panned it, but I figured there would be a good body count, so we went ahead and saw it. And, keep in mind, I’m not a fan of John Travolta or, honestly, anything that even indirectly benefits anything connected to Scientology, so this was a bit of a stretch for me.  But, it was a stressful week at the office and a nice, high body count really takes the edge off that, so, I was willing to take the risk.

As it turns out, I was rewarded for my faith.
I went into this movie expecting very little.  Even before the last minute, dinner-time warnings of suckitude, my expectations were low.  My expectations were met and exceeded.
The movie opens with James Reece, played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers,  a nobody flunky at the American Embassy in Paris, getting a call while working with the ambassador and slipping out for a “secret” mission.  It’s not much, really, just flipping plates for higher-grade operatives, so that they’re not “made” by the locals.  Then, as his fiance essentially proposes to him, he gets the call he’s been waiting for; his new assignment is to partner up with a top-shelf, special-ops agent, Charlie Wax, played by a bald John Travolta.  When we first meet Charlie Wax in Customs at Charles De Gaul airport, he’s carrying on like a maniac about getting his energy drinks through security.  Reece, though amazed at the crazy partner he’s gotten hooked up with, uses a little lateral thinking and a knowledge of bureaucracy, along with a “Diplomatic Mail” sticker to get them out and on their way.  Naturally, nothing is quite what it seems to poor, inexperienced Reece.

After getting out of customs, and arming up, Wax drags Reece through a seedy underworld of Paris that he never knew existed.  Or, at least that’s how it seemed.  Chasing through everything from Chinese restaurants to back alleys to whore houses, all the while shooting and being shot at by just about everyone there.  In theory, chasing drug dealers responsible for the overdose of a high U.S. official’s niece, but, again, not everything is as it seems.
Also, along the way, Reece keeps trying to rein in Wax and get in touch with his fiance who he left at the last minute to chase off on this wild ride through Paris.

And, as usual, I’ll stop there before I give too much away.
Mostly, this movie was a simple and entertaining romp through an ultraviolent Paris.  The body count was satisfyingly high and the action was pretty non-stop, which was good.  It was good mainly because it distracted us from whatever it was that Travolta was trying to do with the character.  I suppose it was acting, though, why he was trying for subtlety in a movie that painted action with such a broad brush is beyond me.  Still, it took nothing important away from the film.
There was a bit of a plot twist, though it wasn’t a big surprise to me, frankly.  Just keep an eye on the fiance through the movie and see if you spot something that’s not quite right.

All in all, not a bad film.  Not a great movie, either, but if you want a mindless action movie, this is pretty much your best bet right now.  It’s fun, in a violent death sort of way, and a nice distraction from the stresses of my everyday life.  And, after all, isn’t that what we go to see movies for anyway?

2/5/2010

Fancy Knot

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Bavarian Death Cake of Love,Fun,Red Herrings — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:19 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

Does anyone even wear neckties any more?

Seriously, I can’t remember the last time I wore one.  Probably for a funeral, or possibly a wedding.  I used to enjoy it, really.  I would very carefully match the tie and shirt and jacket so that it all complimented each other.  And, yes, I would choose the knot for the tie depending on the occasion.  For formal events, I would tie that trusty Full Windsor.  For events that were somewhat less than the very most important, I might use the Half-Windsor.  And, for everyday, like going to work, I’d usually just do a quick Four-In-Hand and be on my way.  So, yes, I enjoyed knowing things like how to tie more than one kind of knot for my tie.

Here’s a new one from Lifehacker, which also has “geek cred”.  It was the knot used by the Merovingian in the second Matrix movie.  How cool is that?  So, if you’re into that kind of thing, check it out.  The link will take you to a video teaching you how to tie the knot.
And, Gents, with VD Day just around the corner, I hope you all are planning on taking your woman out to a restaurant where wearing a tie would be appropriate, if not expected.  And, if you’re going to dress up, why not try a new knot?


Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"It took me a long time not to judge myself through someone else's eyes."
   --Sally Field

2/1/2010

Review: Edge of Darkness

Filed under: Fun,Movies,Review — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:53 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous


EdgeOfDarkness

Originally uploaded by Network Geek

I saw Edge of Darkness Friday night.

You know, as many movies as I see in a year, I still wish I had time to see more. Especially right now when there are so many great films out.  And, this is one of them.
I don’t read thrillers much or mysteries, but I do love a good mystery/thriller movie.  That’s what this is, a thriller.

Edge of Night stars Mel Gibson as, Thomas Craven, a Boston Police detective who is a widower who lives for the job, and his adult daughter.  The movie opens with Gibson’s character picking her up from the train as she’s coming home for a visit.  Before they can enjoy each other, though, she starts to get violently ill, vomiting blood and hemorrhaging blood from her nose.  As they leave out the front door to rush to the hospital, a masked man guns down the young woman.  It’s assumed that he was actually after Craven for some old case, but not everything is what it may seem on the surface.

His daughter worked for a contractor with a government security contract, but she won’t talk about it because of her contract, not even to her father.  So, after she’s killed and things start to point toward something not on the up-and-up, one of the places he goes to try and figure things out is his daughter’s work.  Turns out they make radioactive ordinance, and other things, for the U.S. government.  They also seem to be run by a psychotic megalomaniac who’s so narcissistic and lacking in empathy that Craven is suspicious of him almost on sight.
Before Craven gets too far into his investigation, he’s approached by an unidentified agent who steers him toward key people and gives him insightful advice about how to proceed.  It’s unclear who’s side this man is on, pretty much throughout the movie, even through the very end.  It is clear, however, that he’s dangerous, but still surprisingly moral, considering the other people involved in mystery.

It turns out Craven’s daughter was suspicious that something wasn’t right at her company and, after exhausting all legal avenues open to her, hooks up with a crazy environmental group who try to expose dangerous and illegal goings there.  She helps them sneak into the labs where she works so they can gather the evidence they need to bring her employer to justice.  The only problem is, they don’t survive the attempt.
Naturally, this all comes out during Craven’s investigation and, as a father trying to avenge his deceased daughter, he pulls out all the stops and crosses all barriers to get the answers he needs.  That’s where the action comes in.

Now, to tell you more might ruin the plot, but it’s a living, breathing conspiracy that goes all the way up.  Craven is just a Boston cop with nothing left to lose who goes out looking for answers, and Mel Gibson plays him well.  There is an interesting cast of characters, each with their own agendas, and each played by interesting actors.  The end result is a fast-paced, intriguing and action-packed film.  It does keep you guessing, though not on all the points, and yes, even I was surprised by the ending.  I won’t go into details, so that the film still works for you, but, rest assured, the people who need to be punished are, and justice is served, after a fashion.

The acting is good, solid, no-nonsense stuff and everyone is on their game in this one.  It’s gritty and violent, but it’s about a man seeking justice above all things.  A man driven to solve the murder of his only daughter and the center of his life.  It grips you and doesn’t let you go until the credits roll.
Probably not in the top ten films of the decade, but a good, solid film well worth getting out to see.  Gibson is really good as the hardened cop, even if he seemed to have a bit of a problem maintaining that Boston accent.  I suppose we can forgive an Australian for not being all that great at a very specific American regional accent.  And, really, that’s the weakest part of the film.  Everything else, well, just works.

So, if you’ve got the time, Edge of Night is definitely worth seeing.


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