Diary of a Network Geek

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

3/26/2010

Image Search Engine

Filed under: Fun,Geek Work,Red Herrings — 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 Waxing Gibbous

But, not the way you think.

Have you ever had an image that you downloaded from somewhere, but then forget where, but you’d like to find more like it?  Or, how about this scenario, say you downloaded a picture, but you’re sure the site where you found it isn’t the creator, and you want to find the creator.  Or, even better, say you’re a photographer and are looking for who’s taken your photos.  How do you go about finding those things?

Well, one way might be TinEye Reverse Image Search Engine.  You feed it the image and it searches for that image out on the Internet.
How cool is that!?

3/25/2010

Review: Repo Men

Filed under: Art,Fun,Life, the Universe, and Everything,Movies,News and Current Events,Review — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 4:47 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Gibbous


RepoMen

Originally uploaded by Network Geek

I saw Repo Men last Friday.

I loved this movie!
No, really, I was half expecting it to be total cheese, but it was surprisingly good. I read a review before hand wherein a reviewer complained that there was no dark humor in this film. Frankly, I wonder if we saw the same movie, because, though there wasn’t a laugh track, there was tones and tones of dark humor. Though, maybe some of it was lost on the reviewer and, frankly, the audience I saw the movie with, too. Thankfully, my usual movie companion is a fellow cancer survivor who has a similar sense of humor and we were laughing at the same things.

So, first, know that this is a bloody film. It’s not gory in a slasher sense of things, but there is a lot of carving on people as well as shooting and other fighting action.
Remember, the basic premise of the film is that, in the future, The Union has cornered the market on artificial, replacement organs. Anyone who has a problem with, say, their liver or their kidneys or their heart or their lungs, can go to The Union and get a perfect artificial replacement. For a fee. In fact, for very, very large fees, which the Union will let you pay them off at “reasonable rates to fit any lifestyle”. Of course, those “reasonable rates” aren’t very reasonable. And, the Union will send someone to repossess their property if payments aren’t made. Yeah, that’s right, they’ll repossess your heart.

The story follows two repo men as they hustle their way through this futuristic dystopia of corporate greed and consumer debt. They’re hard, brutal men, like many repo men are, only more so.
Jake, played by Forest Whitaker, loves his job. He loves the work, the people, the fear that he strikes into the hearts of others. His partner, Remy, played by Jude Law, is less into the work and he’s getting pressure from his wife to get into a safer, more savory, line of work anyway. But, then, something happens on what Remy plans as his last job. There’s a malfunction, a short-circuit and Remy finds himself in need of the Union’s special hardware. He wakes up with a Union “heart” keeping him alive and a massive debt schedule. The only problem is, now, he doesn’t have the heart to repossess other people’s organs.

So, that’s the setup, and if you want to avoid the spoilers, stop reading here.
The problem is, Remy defaults on his heart and goes on the run. Naturally, the barely human local Union rep, Frank, played by Liev Schreiber, sends Jake, Remy’s old partner, to collect. Remy knows all the tricks, though, and off he goes into that strange place that’s off the grid in a future world ruled by a network of data that we’re only just starting to be aware of now. Along the way, he picks up a torch singer who also happens to be riddled with organs on which she’s defaulted. She introduces him to the black market and the underground economy. The chase is long and winding and ends up in the heart of the Union itself. I won’t tell you how it ends, but it is a surprise and a twist, but it’s not disappointing in the slightest and it is a real surprise.

Now, there are a couple of things that I think are interesting about this movie.
First, I can’t tell if they’re making an homage to Blade Runner, or if they’re making fun of it. The sets and settings all remind me, and every other reviewer out there, of Blade Runner and Ridley Scott’s vision of a future L.A. It also reminds me of William Gibson’s descriptions of a gritty future. But, it still works, either way. Also, that future is interestingly contrasted with a shrinking suburban landscape where Remy lives. A setting, incidentally, that also becomes a backdrop for at least on bloody repossession by Jake. The contrast is, well, a little shocking, even to someone as jaded as me.
Secondly, there’s a scene where Remy and Beth, the torch singer, cut into each other to scan their defaulted organs. Remy only has the one, but the part of the scene where he inserts the scanner into her goes on, um, somewhat longer. Though this was a bloody and gruesome scene, it was also disturbingly erotic, which I found a little unnerving. It’s not an entirely bad thing, but it was a surprise to see in a major motion picture, even one that’s R-rated. So, you’ve been warned.
Thirdly, the music was used expertly in this movie. The contrast of happy, pleasant “elevator” music during a violent scene is, at first, funny, but eventually, a kind of beautiful, violent dance that takes on a kind of surreal feel that was really fantastic. Music can certainly enhance a film and the director really makes fantastic use of it in this movie.

Right, so, here’s the thing. I loved this movie which I found fun and yet insightful and filled with the darkest of black humor. The entire theme is a commentary on the current health care crisis and the American personal debt crisis as well. I found a personal connection with that bit because of my own medical bills as a cancer survivor. They do seem never ending and oppressive at times as I’m sure they do for millions of other Americans who are far worse off than I am. So, I’m not sure how that will sit with the general viewing public, but it really hit home for me and, yet, also tapped into my own, personal reserves of black humor.
So, as I was mentioning, I loved this movie, but I imagine it’s not for everyone. It is dark, and violent, and bloody, and bleak, in it’s way, in the outlook on where things are going in our society, especially in regards to healthcare, debt and personal responsibility. But it does end with a kind of hope, in a strange and twisty way.

I can’t recommend this film for everyone, but if you’re open to something new and different and dark and violent, then this is your film. I suggest you take a chance, roll the dice and go see it, especially if you like science fiction, but even if you don’t.
If you’re not sure, then hit a matinee and minimize your risk.
Go ahead, take a chance.

(Sorry this is so late this week, but I’ve been busy and working late.)

3/21/2010

The Ultimate Home Network

Filed under: Deep Thoughts,Fun Work,Geek Work,Linux,MicroSoft,Novell,The Network Geek at Home — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Snake which is mid-morning or 10:12 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

A pretty bold statement, isn’t it?

Well, I’m not going to tell you how to build the “ultimate home network”, but, rather, suggest some things that you may want to consider to build your own, personal, “ultimate” home network.  Everyone needs something different from a home or small office network.  Some of us have side jobs that require a fair amount of data transfer or storage, like, for instance photographers.  For some of us in the IT business, having a home “test” network is almost assumed, though, perhaps not as much as it used to be in the boom days of the Internet.
I’ve been thinking about it this past week because my old BorderManager firewall finally has died.  I’m using a backup firewall at the moment, which is “good enough”, but I’ll be taking this crash as an opportunity to start rebuilding my home network from the ground up, using mainly free, open source software, starting with a Linux firewall.  In fact, I have three that I’ll be looking at and, yes, writing reviews of, in the coming weeks.  This will be an on going series of posts, too, as I evaluate software and, piece by piece, integrate it into my working, live network.  My needs will probably be different than yours, but all home networks will have some similar items and considerations.
So, what should go into your own personal, “ultimate” home network?  It depends on what you do, but here are some ideas.

The Actual Network.
Obviously, the first thing is setting up the actual, physical network.  And, in this case, by physical, I’m including wifi routers and the like.  Back in the old days, having a home network meant running cable.  That’s not as true as it used to be, but don’t just go wireless without considering at least some wired connections.  If you’re concerned about security, for instance, especially, regarding financial transactions, nothing is as secure as a wired connection.  Keep in mind, though, that at some point you still connect to an outside source to get to your bank.  Also, since most laptops have built-in wifi and have gotten so inexpensive, if you don’t already have one, consider getting a laptop.  For most people, laptops can inexpensively do everything we need to do and have the advantage of portability, so if you need to leave, say in case of a hurricane, you can take at least part of your home network with you.
There are a wide range of network switches and routers out there to choose from, but I suggest sticking with a name brand that is relatively well known and established. It’s no guarantee that you won’t have problems, but it’s a good start. I personally like Linksys and DLink brands, but there are many others that will work well, too.

Security.
Don’t forget that you need to have at least some security on that home network.  At a bare minimum, you need a firewall and some kind of antivirus.  If you’re connecting to broadband internet, either cable or DSL, most often the router they give you from the service you use has a firewall on it.  If you’re using wifi, the wifi router almost certainly has a firewall on it.  Use them!  Most importantly, actually set them up and change the default password to something else that you’ll remember but that strangers won’t guess.  If you’re not sure if you have a firewall on your network equipment, then at least use the built-in Windows firewall, but use something!
If you don’t want to spend big money on either McAfee or Norton for antivirus, good news!  You don’t have to spend anything!  Yes, that’s right, you can download AVGFree and run it for nothing at all.  So, now, what excuse do you have to not be running some kind of antivirus again?
And, please, for your own sake, use passwords.  Use hard to guess passwords, not your kids names or your birthday or even your license plate number.  In fact, try not to use dictionary words at all, or, if you do, substitute other characters for letters, like $ for S or @ for A, to make it more difficult to guess.  Also, use numbers with the letters, for the same reason.

Networked Storage.
Just having storage isn’t enough, really.  On a home network now, you may have a laptop, or two, a desktop, a DVR or any number of different networked devices that share data.  They all need to store it somewhere.  And, even if they store the data locally, they need to be backed up somewhere.  The answer is network based storage.  There are a lot of options out there, and Rick Vanover at TechRepublic has a good article on several.  I know one solution that’s popular with photographers is the Data Robotics Drobo series of devices.  I don’t have any direct experience with these, so I have no opinion on them specifically, but these days, decent network attached storage is so cheap, it would be foolish to ignore that as an option.

Virtual Server Environment.
Now, obviously, this isn’t for everyone.  Back in the day, I used to run a small, two server Novell network in my house just to keep everything fresh in my mind.  Novell isn’t always the most popular networking environment, even for hard-core network geeks like me, so I always wanted to make sure I knew how to do some of the more “interesting” and challenging things in that environment and ran a test network at home for that reason.
Now, you can do all that through virtualization.  In fact, that may be the newest buzzword that’s already worn thin on me!  But, buzzword or not, setting up a virtual test network is something that’s been talked to death in the industry, but I’ve only seen one article recently on setting up a home virtual test network.  You can read more about it in an article by Brad Bird over at TechRepublic, but, again, for those of us who work in a lot of different environments, it’s not a bad idea to make a series of virtual machines to experiment on.  There are still some hardware costs involved, of course, but there is the advantage of being able to roll back to an earlier state if something gets too screwed up.  Try that on your old-fashioned home network!

Even Fancier Stuff!
Of course, there’s almost no limit to what you can do on a home network these days.  Many inexpensive printers come with network interfaces built in, some even have wifi networking built in.  Of course, I’ve mentioned things like Windows Home Server and Linux servers here before, too.  It is, after all, what I do.  Though, with the low prices on network attached storage, I’m not sure I’d recommend that option for the average user.
And, this post hasn’t even touched on integrating any audio visual equipment into your network, or a home security system, or some of the fancier bells and whistles that are out there.  The sky, literally, is the limit.

So, the thing is, everyone will have a different idea of what the “ultimate” home network is, but these are some things to consider, and a few you don’t want to forget.

3/19/2010

Free Website Malware Scan

Filed under: Fun Work,Geek Work,The Dark Side — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:00 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

This is only of interest to people who have webservers, but it’s worth writing about.

According to TechRepublic, QualsysGuard Malware Detection is letting you scan your webservers for free.
You have to be able to verify the domain with an e-mail address, so it really is for serious folks who actually have a webserver and verifiable e-mail, but it is free.  No word on how long it will be free, but, for the moment, it is, so go get it!

3/12/2010

Remindd

Filed under: Criticism, Marginalia, and Notes,Fun,Red Herrings — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:56 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Crescent

“Never forget anything again.”

That’s the claim that they make on the Remindd website.  Honestly, this may be an idea that’s come and gone with smart phones and Google and all, but, it’s still worth mentioning.  Okay, mainly, I’m mentioning it because it’s free, on the web, and automated.

Also?  Today, someone I know is going to want to remember this date.  Later today, I’ll be putting on a monkey suit and standing up at someone’s wedding.  Hopefully, it’ll be a day to remember, not a day they try to forget!

3/10/2010

Review: The Crazies

Filed under: Criticism, Marginalia, and Notes,Fun,Movies,Review — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Pig which is late at night or 11:10 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Crescent


TheCrazies

Originally uploaded by Network Geek

I saw The Crazies Friday night.

I’m not normally a big fan of horror flicks, but, well, there weren’t a lot of really palatable options Friday night, so we decided to roll the dice on this one. My expectations were low, but it was actually a pretty good movie. Keep in mind, though, I tend to pick these movies apart for sport. I’ll try to warn you before there are any spoilers, but, still, this is sort of your first warning, okay?

So, the premise of the movie is simple; there’s something making the townsfolk of a little, rural Iowa town go, well, crazy. In fact, to be more specific, there’s something making people become homicidal maniacs. The first “crazy” we see is on the local high-school baseball diamond on opening day. He’s the town drunk, even though he’s cleaned up, with a shotgun. Obviously, this ends badly for him and, frankly, doesn’t do much for the sheriff who has to kill him. He’s married to the town doctor, just to keep the main stereotypes all in the family.
Obviously, the sheriff’s all broken up about having been forced to kill the town drunk, but, his doctor wife assures him that he had no choice. Sadly, that’s just the start of the crazy behavior in town. From there, well, more people start going nuts and before long that other mainstay of the modern horror film, the U.S. Army, shows up to “help out”.

Naturally, the Army’s idea of “helping” is to contain the problem and, basically, kill the town. The only problem is, the sheriff and his wife, and his deputy and her medical assistant, are going to try and make a break for freedom. So, yeah, without giving anything away, that’s the movie in a nutshell. Pretty basic. Something bad gets into the water and makes the town go crazy and our ragtag band of survivors has to, uh, survive, both the bad thing and the alleged good guys trying to save the rest of the world from whatever is killing the town.

Now, there are a short list of problems I had with the movie. Also? Here there be spoilers, matey!
First, the town is filled with crazies and the Army herds the town into holding pens, until they go crazy and try to get out. This results in mayhem, of course, and a bunch of dead bodies. No problem so far, right? Here’s the thing, though, the survivors have access to an unknown quantity of military-grade automatic weapons at this point, but they leave them all behind. They don’t even look to see if they can scavenge one and some ammunition to use! Not ONE! At this point, I pretty much think these people might not have the survival skills needed to make it through this.

Second, they cut cross-country to get to a farm where there’s a car they can use to escape. Why? Well avoiding the roads until they get the car will help them avoid roadblocks. Okay, sure, makes a kind of sense. But, aren’t they supposed to be in rural Iowa? They’re going to a farm, right? But, no one has horses? Really? No one thinks, hey, horses would let us cut cross-country all the way to a major town or city, avoiding roadblocks all the way? I’m pretty sure it was at this point that I decided for the long-term viability of mankind, these fools no longer deserved to survive.

Thirdly, after all this, every time these trained law-enforcement officers go into a building or even room, they never, ever check it. Not just for blind spots or crazies in the back hall, I mean they don’t check a damn thing. Nothing. Nunca nada. Seriously? I’m just a dude who’s seen too many cop shows on TV and I’d be checking every damn thing before I’d relax at all.

Fourthly, they started to have incredible luck and exhibit completely out of place skills. For instance, at one point the sheriff finds a Zippo in a display that’s fully loaded with lighter fluid and ready to go. Pretty sure, that’s not how those things ship because, you know, they might accidentally catch fire. But, it was an important prop that drove the plot later, so we’re supposed to overlook that.
Also, they finally find a semi that just happens to be fully fueled and ready to go in a garage. Why, it’s almost like it was waiting for them! And, naturally, the sheriff knows how to drive a big rig. Now, I’m sure it’s a pretty straightforward skill to learn, but, uh, don’t they advertise schools for that sort of thing on matchbooks? Seriously, I don’t think that a sheriff is likely to know how to drive a semi, not even in a small town. This guy is young, for one thing, and, frankly, more likely to have been former military, as a lot of guys like that are, which makes it even more likely that he would have picked up one of those handy automatic weapons! (Yeah, that one really bothers me, because, c’mon, that’s just basic stuff, man!)

So, yeah, the movie takes you on a merry chase away from the infected town and the nasty government men who are going to nuke the town to save the rest of us from this terrible thing which killed the town. There are the standard horror movie moments, though, I have to admit, the director did a better than average job of setting those up. Most of the movie really is believable, with a few, uh, notable exceptions. And, people do react mostly as you would expect, again with a few notable exceptions.
So, as horror movies go, it was pretty good. No, I wasn’t scared. At least once or twice I was startled but that was as much the crowd effect and the music as anything else. And, granted, my expectations were set pretty low, but they were met and greatly exceeded.

So, to sum up, if you’re a horror or slasher flick fan, then this movie is totally worth seeing in the theater. If you’re not into that sort of thing, then wait until it comes out on DVD.

Oh, and don’t forget, I’ll be at a wedding this Friday (no, not my own!), so I won’t have a movie review next week.  Maybe I’ll review the Warren Zevon biography I read recently instead.  We’ll see.

3/7/2010

Government Seeks $1.4 Million in H1-B back pay!

Filed under: Career Archive,Criticism, Marginalia, and Notes,Deep Thoughts,Geek Work,Life, the Universe, and Everything,News and Current Events — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Monkey which is mid-afternoon or 4:57 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a Third Quarter Moon

Long time readers will know how I feel about the H1-B visa issue.

Look, in the IT business, the H1-B visa program is well known for the rampant abuse and the undercutting of salaries for American workers.
For you who are new to the blog, here’s the basic run-down.  I think American workers should get jobs, of all kinds, not just tech jobs, before we import workers.  But, we should import skilled workers who will pay taxes before we send those jobs off-shore.  The reason I don’t like the H1-B visa program in particular is because I know for a fact that it was used to unfairly, and apparently illegally, undercut American workers and put them out on the street in favor of grossly underpaid imports.

Well, in a small bit of good news there, eWeek is reporting that the Federal government is going after $1.4 million in wages that H1-B visa holders were cheated out of via Peri Software Solutions.  For those of us in the industry, I don’t think it’s any surprise that these folks had offices in India and had cheated 163 Indian IT people out of more than $1.4 million dollars in fair pay.  Pay, incidentally, that they would have paid taxes on to the U.S.

While I think this is a great step, I can’t help but wonder, how many more companies like this are there who haven’t been caught or prosecuted?  How many people have been unfairly abused this way?  How many jobs were lost?  How long will it take to do something and fix this broken system?

3/5/2010

Art PC

Filed under: Art,Fun,Ooo, shiny... — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:07 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

I almost never think of what I do as “art”.

I mean, I’m mostly a network plumber, you know?  I make functional networks and good, solid, dependable machines that, well, that just run.  But, there are people who take hardware to a new place, where they are, in fact art.
The Edelweiss by Pius Giger is just that, the PC as art object.

Don’t believe me?  Just click the link and go look at it.  Trust me.

3/4/2010

UnMovie Friday

Filed under: Life, the Universe, and Everything,On The Road,Review,Things to Read — 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 Gibbous


UnMovieFriday

Originally uploaded by Network Geek

By this time of the week, my regular readers know I’ve usually reviewed a movie, but not this week.

This past Friday, instead of seeing a movie, as is my usual habit, I was on a plane coming back from Belle Chasse, Louisiana.
Now, to those of you who haven’t done a lot of business travel, this may sound fun and exciting, but, honestly, it wasn’t. I caught a 7:30AM flight out of Houston Intercontinental to New Orleans, where I was picked up and driven to our local office. There, I did some basic troubleshooting and got the “new guy”, who’s only part time so far, up to speed on a couple of things. Also, we got a problem or two that he’d not dealt with before knocked out pretty fast.
Mainly, though, I was there to make folks feel better and assure them that everything was as it should be. In other words, outside of a couple things I probably could have done on the phone, I was mainly there to take people out to lunch.

The books you see in the attached picture are what was in my bag.
I’m still wrapping up A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway, who is one of my favorite authors of all time. It’s been ages since I read anything by him and, frankly, this book is making me fall in love with language all over again. Hemingway has that effect on me. And, considering how concise he was and how conservatively he used words, I find that deliciously ironic. Still, there’s just something about the way he crafts a good sentence that just makes me want to write.
“Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know.”

The other books are something else again.
Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl is about finding hope in the most hopeless of situations. It’s about finding a purpose in life, no matter how small that purpose my seem to others, and clinging on to it for dear life. It’s the book I was reading when I was diagnosed with cancer and I really need to re-read it and refresh my spiritual memory of the lessons that book brought me.
The Canon Speedlite System Digital Field Guide by Brian McLernon will be, I hope, the guide that gets me going finally with hot shoe flashes, both on and off-camera, for DSLR. I brought that with me Friday in the hopes of being able to get to it and finally start to play with my new camera equipment that my tax refund bought me.
No such luck.
Thankfully, I still had Hemingway to keep me company.

So, movie reviews again next week, but the week after, I’ll have been at a wedding on Friday, so I’ll probably miss my regular review then, too, unless I hit a matinee.
Who knows? Anything’s possible!

3/3/2010

Hedge Fund Buys Novell

Filed under: Career Archive,MicroSoft,News and Current Events,Novell — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Dog which is in the evening time or 9:54 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

Wow, maybe Novell isn’t quite dead yet after all!

According to this story at Computer World, the New York-based Elliot Associates, LP, a hedge fund that is already Novell’s largest stock-holder, has made a public bid for the company.  They claim to have extensive experience and good fortune turning around tech companies, and they see the potential in the once great Novell.

I’m not holding my breath, but I hope it works.
It’d be nice to see a company like Novell get turned around.  Their products consistently win awards, but their marketing never seems to get them where they need to be.  Novell basically started the local area network market, but now they’re very much the “also ran” in that category, coming in far, far behind Microsoft.
Again, I’m not holding my breath here, but I hope they can do it.


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