Diary of a Network Geek

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

1/28/2011

Giga-Pixel Camera

Filed under: Art,Fun,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 5:57 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Crescent

Yeah, you read that right.

It’s no secret that I love my digital camera.  Not quite enough to give it a name, like some photographers I know, but, still, I love the little fist-full of magic that lets me take amazingly detailed digital photographs.  I remember when my ex-wife got her digital camera, it was a big deal that it was something like 3-megapixels.  Now, my iPhone has a camera at least as good as that built into it!  The camera I use now is a 10 megapixel camera and that’s really just an entry-level DSLR, which is 3 years old.  The better cameras start at 20 megapixels and go up from there these days.  That, let me assure you, is capturing a lot of data.  We’ve come a long way in a short time.

But, researchers are working on cameras that make those look primitive.
According to Scientific American, DARPA researchers are experimenting with gigapixel cameras.  That’s over a billion pixels.  That’s like 333 times better resolution than an iPhone camera.  That, in short, is pretty amazing.  And, not only does the camera take amazing shots, but it looks amazing, too.  Check out the slideshow at Scientific American that shows the camera and a picture it’s taken.

There’s something to think about as you snap photos of your friends this weekend!

1/25/2011

Dealing With Death

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Calamity, Cataclysm, and Catastrophe,Deep Thoughts,Life, the Universe, and Everything,News and Current Events,The Network Geek at Home — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Rooster which is in the early evening or 6:14 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

No, not the idea, but the actual event.

Two stories ran recently about dealing with the parts of us left behind after death.
First a story about a “better” coffin that screws into the ground.  Okay, I’ll grant you, this is less serious than morbidly amusing to me.  Still, I do like the idea of having a low-cost disposal method for what I’ll leave behind once I “shuffle off this mortal coil”.  That it screws into the ground, just tickled me.
And, for anyone keeping track, I’d just as soon be cremated and scattered to the Four Winds where the Chicago River meets Lake Michigan just outside the Loop.  Seriously.

The second two were a little more serious.  Two stories about social media applications dealing with the accounts of the dead and, more recently, one from the New York Times Magazine, online, of course.
Back before everyone was on the web all the time, I used to have an envelope that was labeled “Open upon my death or disappearance”.  Seriously!  I used to keep it tucked under my keyboard.  I had one at work, too, for those folks, though that was in a safe.  In each envelope was a series of usernames and passwords for people to use to get access to my accounts should I go missing, or should something happen to me that left me incapacitated or dead.  I’m honestly not sure if anyone knew about the one under my keyboard, but I figured it would have turned up when someone cleaned up after me.  So, basically, I was giving someone who survived me access to my e-mail and other, similar accounts.
I got rid of that sometime shortly before the divorce, for some obvious reasons.

Now, though, there are so many accounts and websites and blogs and such that I’m not sure I could easily list them all.  And, frankly, who would bother to pay for my website?  Who would care enough to maintain an archive of this blog, for instance?  I don’t have a huge readership, though you are a pretty loyal lot, so I don’t expect anyone to really want to preserve what I have here.
How many of you have though about what will happen to your blogs and websites and so on when you die?  What about if you were to die suddenly from, oh, say, cancer?  What then?  If I went missing for a month, would anyone notice here?
Well, for WordPress blogs, there’s a plugin called Next Of Kin that might help, a little.  You can set it to post some message to your blog if you fail to login to your blog for a set amount of time.  And, just to be sure, it will send you a reminder or warning e-mail to check and make sure that you haven’t just forgotten to visit your blog.  It’s far from enough to take care of all of your digital needs after death, but it is a pretty good start!

So, what have you all got setup in case of your untimely death?  Does anyone know your passwords?  Have you given anyone instructions on what to post to Facebook or Twitter after you’ve gone?


Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"Real happiness is when you marry a girl for love and find out later she has money."

1/21/2011

Sci-Fi Locations

Filed under: Art,Fun,Red Herrings — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:51 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

I love science-fiction and I love travel!

Okay, not really.  I actually kind of hate traveling now, thanks to Bin Laden and the TSA, but it would be the only way to see the locations of famous sci-fi films.  I tend to forget that Tatooine was filmed on location.  No, seriously!  All the Tatooine shots were filmed in Tunisia!  For real!
And you can check out a slideshow of a lucky thirteen well-known science fiction movie locations over at Salon.  They’ve got everything from Planet of the Apes to Blade Runner to, yes, Star Wars.

Oh, go ahead and look at the slideshow!  It’s Friday, what else were you doing?

1/20/2011

Helpful Hints for Technology Sales People

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Criticism, Marginalia, and Notes,Geek Work — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:15 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

Okay, look, this is getting ridiculous.

I’m a one-man IT shop.  Okay, technically, I do have someone else and some consultants, but they’re all at other locations and, pretty much, everyone still comes to me first anyway.  So, effectively, I’m a one-man IT shop.  That means I’m busy.  No, really, I’m busy pretty much every minute that I’m even close to the office.  And, I’m trying to get out of the office by 5:00PM.  Well, by 5:30PM.  Okay, honestly, I try not to stay past 6:00PM more than twice a week.  Which means my time is a very precious commodity and if you waste it, I will have strong negative feelings toward you.  Strong negative feelings.

This should be pretty apparent to anyone who watches me work, or try to work, and answer phone calls from every cold-calling, knuckle-dragger who’s been tasked with trying to get me to notice their product for which I do not have the time to implement or, most likely, the budget to purchase.  Now, to be fair, the average sales drone who’s tasked with calling me doesn’t know this.  They can’t know it, as they have never met me before or been to the morass of paper and spare parts that I call a server room, er, rather, that I call my office.  But, I’m going to do them a favor and outline some sure-fire ways to lose my sale.

First, like I’ve already mentioned, don’t waste my time.
Don’t show up unannounced at my office pretending that we have a meeting.  I will leave you sitting in the waiting room all day long.  For real.  I’ve done it.  I don’t even feel very guilty about it.  Why?  Well, you were willing to waste my time, so why should I worry about wasting yours?
Don’t call me and tell me that you have a great product or service or idea or whatever to tell me about, but refuse to give me any details about unless we meet in person.  Worse, if I seem interested but want to know about pricing, since I have a very limited budget, don’t be coy about giving me the information.  I know how to read a proposal and a tiered-pricing spreadsheet.  Honest.  I’ve done this for almost 20 years at this point.  I don’t need you to hold my hand.  Really.

Second, be honest.
If I ask you a direct question, give me a direct answer.  Look, I work in IT now, but I have a degree in Marketing.  Sure, it’s a little old and dusty, but, you know what?  Sales techniques haven’t actually changed that much since I did that kind of work.  So, when I ask if you do something or if your product does something, don’t give me some circular answer about interfacing with one of your business partners.  I asked you.  Can your product do what I asked or not?  It’s simple, really.  It’s binary, like computers.  Yes or no.  Often the answer to the direct questions I ask take care of the first problem for both of us.
Also?  If I ask you a deeply technical question about your product and you don’t know? Just admit that you don’t know.  Don’t guess.  Don’t try to play off my question.  And, again, don’t offer to involve another company in “our” solution.  I just want to know what you’re asking me to pay for out of my very limited budget.  It’s okay to get back to me later with an answer and pricing.
Just a word of warning about this, if you promise me that your product will do something it cannot do, I will not pay you.  It’s that simple.

Third, high-pressure techniques do not work with me.
Maybe they work with someone, but the harder you push me, the less inclined I am to give you money.  I honestly don’t care if you have a great deal, because if you try to rush me into something, I suspect that you’re trying to keep me from taking the time to think about what you’re doing.  And, if you are trying to get me to spend money without thinking it all the way through, there’s a reason.  Usually, a reason that is not to my benefit, but yours.
Also?  High-pressure sales went out with loud ties, junk bonds and easy mortgages.  And, I’ll be honest, they didn’t work on me then, either.  Nothing has changed for me since then.  I still tend to respond to high-pressure sales techniques with barely restrained violence.  If you’re still using them, go back to blood-sucking, parasitic, low-life school and learn something new.

Fourth, I do not care that you are a hot chick.
Yeah, this sounds sexist and misanthropic, but I see plenty of beautiful women in tech sales.  I get it.  Really, I do.  I’m a one-hundred-percent, red-blooded, American male and I love to look at beautiful women as much as the next guy, but I don’t care about that when you’re selling me tech gear.  For real.  For one thing, I was married to an absolutely gorgeous woman, so I know just what kind of hell their personal life really is like.  For another, I’m pretty sure that I will never, ever have access to a budget that will entice one of you to sleep with me, so, again, I just don’t care.  It doesn’t matter.  Not even if you flirt with me.  Honest.  So, you know, it’s okay to just stop.  Really.  Because it will not effect my decision to buy, or not buy, your product.
So help me, if another company sends me some Barbie doll who just blinks at me when I ask a marginally technical question about their technology product, someone will be hurt.  Seriously, at least put people in the field who know how to get me a Support Tech faster than just calling the 800-number on the back of the package.
And, yes, I’m sure there are many very attractive sales people in tech companies who do know what they’re doing.  I haven’t met any in the past eight or nine years, but I am sure they’re out there.  Somewhere.

So, really, is that too much to ask?
I just want competent technical sales people who can answer my questions about their product, don’t waste my time and know that, well, “No, means NO”.  Okay?  Everybody on board for that?
Thanks.

(This rant was brought to you by a high-pressure copier toner sales “person” and the most helpless software sales “person” I’ve ever had to circumvent.  All in the same week.)


Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"The real art of conversation is not only to say the right thing in the right place but to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment."
   --Lady Dorothy Nevill

1/14/2011

Free Fiction from Ted Chiang

Filed under: Art,Fun,Life, the Universe, and Everything,Red Herrings,Review,Things to Read — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:16 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Gibbous

What are you doing today?

If you’re at work, you probably aren’t getting anything done because it’s Friday and, frankly, if you’re reading this blog, you probably aren’t going to get much done no matter where you are, so you might as well check out some of the best damn science-fiction I’ve ever read. And, no, I don’t think that’s exaggerating. At all.
So, go read Ted Chiang’s The Life Cycle of Software Objects at Subterranean Press.
Seriously. Go read it while it’s still up and free!

1/12/2011

Name Security

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Geek Work,Rotten Apples,The Dark Side,Things to Read — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Rooster which is in the early evening or 6:21 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Gibbous

No, not your personal name, network names!

Yeah, since I’ve been thinking about computer security a little in this new year and new decade, I’ve noticed a slightly disturbing trend.  Spammers have been working at redirecting you to compromised domains.  One way they do it is something called DNS cache poisoning.  Another is straight-up DNS hijacking.

Okay, let me back up a second.  For my slightly less-technical readers, DNS stands for Domain Name System.  That’s the system of servers that translates website names, like “www.google.com”, into addresses that your computer understands and can connect you to via a browser.  It’s how you found my blog, though you may not have even realized it.
DNS Hijacking is usually accomplished via a “rouge” server, which is a server setup by spammers to publish bad information.  The more usual method, I think, and more insidious, is DNS cache poisoning.  With that method, spammers trick good, valid DNS servers into updating their records with bad information.  Giving them poisonous information, if you will.

So, now, back to the hard-core server admins.  Last week I was reminding everyone that the start of a new year is a great time to change passwords, but it’s also a great time to check on other security issues, like your DNS.  Luckily, Michael Kassner over at TechRepublic has written a blog post titled Test your DNS servers for spoofability.  It’s worth a read and worth running through.  Maybe even making it a regular practice, to see if your DNS has been compromised.

Oh, and if you all want to read more about DNS, and how to implement it, there’s a great book from O’Reilly titled DNS and BIND that’s well worth owning.  Trust me.


Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"Never tell your girlfriend that her diet's not working."

1/7/2011

Start the Year with Hope

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Art,Fun,Life, the Universe, and Everything — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:34 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

I have lots of hope for the new year.

No, seriously, I do!
We, as a race, the human race, are capable of amazing things.  We live in the future.  Our lives are filled with science-fiction, which has always been the language of wonder and hope, even when it’s filled with warnings about where we may go wrong.  But, now, right now, we have people who live, albeit in a limited way, in space.  And that, gentle readers, has always inspired hope in me.
Here’s a link to some beautiful photographs which inspire that hope in me, courtesy of NASA and brought to you via Yahoo: Astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson looks down at Earth.

I hope you have a new year filled with wonder and hope, people.  Truly I do.  Be good to each other this year, okay?


Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"People may doubt what you say, but they believe what you do."

1/4/2011

Change Your Passwords!

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Geek Work,News and Current Events,Rotten Apples,The Dark Side — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Rooster which is in the early evening or 6:35 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a New Moon

Yeah, yeah, happy New Year to you you, too, now, go change your passwords.

No, seriously, change your passwords.  Think about how long it’s been since  you either setup that account or changed the password on it.  Now, consider that there have been some significant security breaches in the past year, including the issues at Gawker and their family of popular websites, and think about how many places you’ve used that same password.  It’s your favorite one, right?  The one you use for all your accounts, because it’s so, so easy to remember?  Guess what, it’s also probably easy to crack and is probably in a database on some hacker/cracker website right now matched up with the e-mail address you used, too.  How long will it be, do you suppose, before someone gets into all your accounts?

Right.
So, go change your passwords.
Not sure how to pick a good one?  Well, if you trust the U.S. Government for security, you can go to their Computer Emergency Readiness Team (aka US-CERT) for advice on choosing a secure password.  If you’re like me, though, you categorically do NOT trust a government agency for your personal security, in which case I recommend that you check out premier security expert Bruce Schneier’s advice for picking a secure password.

I’ll offer two bits of advice on the topic.
First, if any system lets you, choose a password that includes numbers and special characters, not just letters.  The example I always use is “@2brutus”  And, yes, that means I will NEVER again use that as a password. *sigh*  I like to substitute numbers for letters which resemble them, like the number one instead of the letter L or the letter I.  In the example, I’ve taken a  whole word out “et” and substituted the “at” symbol, or “@”.
Secondly, try to use something that is not a single word, but a phrase.  Again, in the example, I took my bastardization of “et tu brute”, which I remembered as “et tu brutus” and mashed it up a bit.  I have known people who use short sentences, however.  One guy I worked with occasionally used lines from Lewis Carroll’s Jaberwocky, which adds the extra security of words that will most likely never be found in any standard dictionary of any language.

So, trust me on this, if you haven’t done it, start the new year right and change your passwords.


Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"Good habits are not made on birthdays, nor Christian character at the New Year. The workshop of character is everyday life. The uneventful and commonplace hour is where the battle is lost or won."


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