Diary of a Network Geek

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

3/28/2014

Psychadelic GIFs

Filed under: Art,Fun,Life, the Universe, and Everything,Red Herrings — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:30 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Crescent

That’s pronounced like the peanut butter brand, by the way.

At least, that’s how the original creators pronounced it, back when Compuserve was a thing.  They created the GIF as a compressed graphic format to minimize data usage back in the “Days of Dial-up” for Compuserve when modems ruled the Earth.  But, I bet they never thought that their “little” contribution to computer culture would go so far.  For instance, when the GIF came out, it didn’t have animation as a…
Read More

3/25/2014

Keyless Entry Tools!

Filed under: Fun Work,Life Goals,Never trust a Network Admin with a screwdriver,Review,The Dark Side,Things to Read — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is in the early morning or 7:21 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Crescent

RetirementPlanningKeyless entry tools may be a bit of a misnomer, but, technically, that’s what I’m talking about in this very special Tools for Tuesday post.

Actually, since I missed posting a tool last week, I’m going to mention several tools in this week’s post.  The difference is that these tools are all related.  Of course, all these things are related to lock picking, sometimes referred to as “lock sport” or “steel-bolt hacking”.
We’ve all seen this on TV or in the movies.  The hero, or anti-hero, needs to get into a room for some reason, only to be confronted with a locked door.  A locked door that would stop the average person, but not the hero of the story we’re watching.  Instead of being stymied by this apparently insurmountable obstacle, our hero, or heroine, simply pull out a set of lock picks with which they proceed to fiddle about with, often by the light of a flashlight held in their mouth, until the formerly locked door is suddenly, almost magically, opened.  Who among us has not wanted to be able to do the same thing?  How many times have we found ourselves on the wrong side of a locked door, wishing we had a set of lock picks with which to quietly gain entry to whatever is on the other side of said door?  And, perhaps more commonly, how often have we simply forgotten our keys, to home of office, and wanted to avoid the inconvenience of going to fetch them or find someone who could let us in?

Well, I have long wanted to be able to do all those things at one time or another.
In August of 2012, while attending DEF*CON 20, I finally got my initiation into the world of lock picking.  Or, as I more often prefer to euphemistically refer to it; keyless entry.  I spent several good hours at the Lockpick Village put on by TOOOL, The Open Organization of Lockpickers.  It was there that several very patient people taught me the basics of lock picking.  There were other opportunities to learn things like bumping and impressioning, as well as learning how to bypass locks other than the standard door lock or keyed padlock.  I haven’t had the time, or opportunity to explore those non-picking tools too much yet, but several of the tools in the photo above came from TOOOL.  TOOOL sells a fine starter’s set of lock picks and tension bars, which I bought at DEF*CON and can be purchased via their Equipment page.  You can see the two picks I use most often, and a tension tool on the right, resting on top of the TOOOL leather case.
I like these picks and tension tools because they’re light, but sturdy and relatively economical.  They also have nice sized grips which feel comfortable in my meat-hook-like hands.  It’s important that I feel like the tools I’m using to open a lock aren’t constantly in danger of breaking off in said lock, further complicating my opening of it.  These tools do that quite well, and look good while doing it.

The other thing in that photo which came from TOOOL is the progressive training locks, as they call them, though they’re really just specially prepared tumblers.  They’re in the large-ish grey thing near the middle of the photo, which I refer to as a lock picking vice, perhaps incorrectly, and which I’ll describe in a minute.  Actually, to be specific, the three training locks in the vice are the first three of a complete set of ten.  They start with a single pin in the tumbler and go all the way up to six pins in a tumbler, for the first, “normal” training locks.  The last four are a special spool-shaped pin, which is harder to pick, and go from one pin up to four pins in the “security” training lock set.  To get the entire set of ten ran me $120 before tax and shipping, but they are totally worth it.  In theory, I could have gotten ten of my own locks, stripped them down to just the bare necessities and pinned them out myself, but I can guarantee that they would not look as neat as these.  And, that’s assuming that I could find a source for the spool-shaped security pins for those last four.
I just got these recently, and I think it was just in time because my skills were getting pretty rusty!  I hadn’t touched my picks in a couple of months and found myself completely unable to pick a simple padlock that used to take me a couple of quick seconds to open.  It was mortifying!  I should note, these training locks are a little looser and easier to pick than a real-world lock, but that’s intentional.  The idea being, of course, that you need to get the feel for it before graduating to a real lock.  Incidentally, a standard padlock usually has four pins.  The average American door lock, like we normally use on houses, has five pins.  And, I’m told, that normal European door locks, like would be used on most residential doors, use six pins.  So, that’s why the training locks are pinned the way they are.  They make a logical progression of difficultly with real-world application.

When I found the Tri-Pik, as I call it, I was actually looking for something else, but I was thrilled.  The “Deluxe Adjustable Tri-Pik LOCK PICKING Holding Fixture“, as it is called on the website where I found it, is pretty fantastic.  In fact, I’d just about call it essential to my reintroduction to lock picking.
The basic idea is this; a real lock would be surface mounted in, say, a door, and would leave me both hands free to manipulate the tension tool and pick, and this tool lets you simulate that.  Without this, I would be holding the training lock in one hand, keeping tension on the cylinder via the tension bar with that same hand, while manipulating the pins with the pick in the other hand.  A fine way to learn, but not very realistic.  The Tri-Pik fixes that.  It is so named because it’s designed to let me mount up to three training locks in it at once, locking them in place via a hand-tightened set screw from below.  It’s quite a good system.  Simple, but effective, and reasonably priced at $35 plus tax and shipping.  I cannot recommend the Tri-Pik enough to someone learning how to pick locks.  It’s really, really fantastic.

Oddly enough, I found the Tri-Pik while looking for the fourth tool I’m mentioning today; the Southard Jackknife Lockpick Set.  I had seen this at DEF*CON, but I was a little hesitant to buy one, since I was flying back to Houston afterwards and didn’t want to have it mistaken for a knife and taken from me by a TSA agent.  But, now that I’m back, and it turns out the NSA has been watching all of us all along anyway, I decided to go ahead and get one of these little beauties.  Eventually, I’ll add this into my “every day carry”, so I’ll always be able to open doors, but first, I need to practice with it a bit.  Obviously, the idea is to fold it all up like a pocket knife and carry it with you, but the genius, in my opinion, is how they handle the tension tool.  It fits over the top of the folded-away picks, with one end sliding into a tight, narrow opening in the center of the main body of the tool set, using tension to keep it all together.  It works quite well and provides the amateur locksmith with a complete set of tools including; the tension tool, a long hook pick, a diamond-shaped pick, a half circle pick, a “snake rake”, an alternative rake and a diamond-shaped broken key extractor.  Add to that a really nice mechanism hold the picks in both a closed and “ready to use” position and you’ve got a great, portable toolset here for just under $40, before tax and shipping.  A fantastic deal in my opinion.

The last “tool” is really a book.  Namely, the very good lockpicking primer, The Visual Guide to Lockpicking.  I have to admit, even though I had this book long before I learned how to pick locks at DEF*CON, I found it just a little too intimidating and confusing to use before I had some hands-on experience.  Now that I do, however, I can see just how good a resource this is.  It covers the majority of mechanical locks that a self-taught locksmith might encounter and have to deal with, including tubular locks and locks with pins on both the top and bottom of the cylinder, which are both challenges I have yet to master.  While no substitute for a good teacher, this book really is a great place to start if you can’t get direct instruction and has fantastic illustrations explaining the entire process.  It’s well worth the $15 or so that Amazon.com is asking.  (And, yes, if you buy a copy from that link, I get a credit.  Thanks!)

Incidentally, if you can’t quite figure the connection between “network geek” and “lockpicking”, the answer is far simpler than you might imagine.  In the early days of computers, the best of the best were pretty much all at M.I.T.,where it is widely believed the term “hacker” originated, and, to get access to computer labs, and a place to crash while programs ran on the big, old iron that were computer systems back then, the hard-core computer geeks all became locksmiths so that they could get the tools to pick locks and never be on the wrong side of a locked door.  Or, at least, that’s what I read in Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution by Stephen Levy back when I was just getting started in IT.
So, yeah, that’s a mess of tools for Tuesday this week and a peek into the crazy way my mind works.  I hope it makes up for missing last week!

3/21/2014

Fast Fiction

Filed under: Fiction,Fun,Red Herrings — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:30 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

In this case, really fast.

I’ll be honest, I’m not normally a huge fan of gimmicky flash fiction, but I do make exceptions.
The basic idea is to write a story with the fewest number of words possible.  According to literary legend, Ernest Hemingway did it with just six words; “For Sale: Baby shoes, never worn”.  That was allegedly to win a bet with Ezra Pound, as I recall.  In any case, it’s still a gimmick and one that’s gotten a little…
Read More

3/18/2014

Misfire!

Filed under: Never trust a Network Admin with a screwdriver,Personal,Red Herrings — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Dragon which is in the early morning or 9:30 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

Whoops! I just realized that it was Tuesday and I hadn’t written a “Tools for Tuesday” post!

I knew this would happen sooner or later, but I had planned on later rather than sooner.
Oh, well, it is what it is, I suppose.  In any case, don’t worry I have a lot more to write about, but the time to write it may be a bit more elusive than I had anticipated.

So, hopefully, next week, I’ll have another review of one of the many, many software or hardware tools I use on a regular basis.
Keep coming back to see what I review next!  (Even if that’s in two weeks not just one!  Please!)

3/14/2014

T-Shirts

Filed under: Art,Fun,Red Herrings — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:30 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Gibbous

People who know me, know that I love my goofy t-shirts.

You know, it’s been a long couple of months and I’m pretty drained creatively, in part due to being super busy at my day job, so I’ve kind of given up sharing anything but purely fun links on Fridays for the next couple of weeks. Deal with it.

This week, it’s t-shirt sites.
Yes, I wear a lot of strange and interesting t-shirts from a lot of places.  I don’t remember why…
Read More

3/11/2014

Systemometer

Filed under: Geek Work,Never trust a Network Admin with a screwdriver — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:30 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Gibbous

A screensaver that monitors your server.Systemometer

This may not seem like much of a “tool”, since it’s pretty passive, but when you have a server that’s getting old and failing, being able to quickly glance at what its performance is like can be a real benefit.  And, for the past eight months, I’ve been running a server that, to be honest, was a little too old to be in production.  People would complain about it pretty much constantly, even, I suspect, when it may not have been the actual problem they were suffering from.  I’ve since replaced the server, but I kept running Systemometer on both the old server, which now serves as strictly a backup server, and the new, shiny, Windows 2012 server, just so everyone can see the difference.

But, let me be really specific about this; Systemometer is a configurable monitoring tool that shows system performance and resources in a spider chart. Seeing the varying shapes of displayed polygon, representing a visual pattern drawn based on normal, or critical, system states. Once you get used to it, this snapshot view helps to read the overall system status at a glance. Just looking at the screenshot in this post, which will enlarge if you click on it, you can see that a lot of information is displayed.  Notice, for instance, that there are 12 “CPU”s listed.  Since this is a modern, multi-core server, those are really just all the cores being displayed, with the current processor time in yellow and the average processor time in green.  If I wanted to, I can also set Systemometer to display the maximal processor usage, but as this is a new server, I haven’t bothered to set that.  The same goes for the number of processes the server is handling, as well as the number of threads.  Also displayed is the physical and virtual memory usage, total drive space used and the hard drive seek time.  Notice how almost everything falls well within that red circle on the display?  That’s because the server is new and being used well below it’s capacity, by design.  This is the second server upgrade I’ve done since I’ve been at this company, and I’d like to not have to do one again soon.  That’s also why the number of threads is reading like it’s in the red, even though it’s not.  The new server is so new that not all metrics have been calibrated to display correctly.
Also, notice that the two performance polygons are yellow and green.  The yellow is the current usage while the green is the average usage.  It may be hard to tell the difference between the two because I took this screen shot on a Sunday afternoon with minimal usage.  Of course, the server being primarily a file server and an Active Directory server, the average usage is pretty constant in any case.

It may not be obvious from the screen shot, but I’m running this as a screen saver, which is only one option for using Systemometer.  It can also be used as a kind of replacement performance monitor instead of using the built-in Task Manager for that function.  Actually, one way I validated the results I was seeing from Systemometer was to run it next to Task Manager and compare the displayed performance information.
Personally, I like running it as a screen saver because I can quickly check on my server as I walk past the screen into or out of my office.  Also, it seems to impress people who see it and can’t make heads or tails of what they’re seeing.  It’s not big, fancy monitoring system, but unless you really know what you’re looking at, the average person isn’t going to figure that out!

Finally, the other reason I use Systemometer is that it’s free!
Yep, that’s right, absolutely free.  Of course, it may not ever get updated again, but I’m okay with that, as long as it still works as it has been so far.

3/7/2014

Free Movies

Filed under: Art,Fun,Red Herrings — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is in the early morning or 7:33 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

Some are better than others, but at least they’re free.

So, yeah, I’m pretty tapped out when it comes to creativity or creative content this week.  It’s kind of been a busy, challenging week in a lot of ways and I just am drained of whatever little bit of creativity I may have this week.  I mean, I’m just out.  But, I post something every Friday, so I’m trying to maintain that little bit of consistency at least.
At least my frustration…
Read More

3/4/2014

Ultraedit

Filed under: Never trust a Network Admin with a screwdriver,PERL — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:01 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

Real programmers code in text editors.

And, for what it’s worth, so do I!     RyuMaou - Prel Monk
Look, I’m the first to tell you that I’m not a programmer.  Honestly, I think it would kill me to sit in front of a monitor all the time and do nothing but bang out code, then re-read that code for errors and spend endless hours debugging it.  Still, I have done a bit of Perl programming.  And, I am, as of this writing, a Level 11 PerlMonk, which is something that makes me proud.  I’ve also done some pretty heavy customization of my blogs and, on the rare occasion that I muck around in the HTML and CSS, I do it in a text editor.  Actually, to be specific, I do it in UltraEdit.

UltraeditScreenCapI’ve used a couple of versions of UltraEdit, but the screen-shot a the right is from version 20.00.0.1056 which is the most current version at the time of this post.  As you can see, it’s easy to have multiple files open and to transfer back and forth between them by simply clicking on the tabs with their names at the top.  Also, the built-in file explorer makes it easy to find and open your target file.  Again, referencing the screen-shot, you can see that UltraEdit has built-in code highlighting, which can be turned off if it becomes distracting.  Frankly, that was one of the features I first came to love about this program, along with the spell check.  But, what really sold me was the “search and replace” function, which lets me easily replace line breaks with tabs or other characters.  That may not seem like a big deal, but when you’re dealing with a lot of raw text which needs to be manipulated in particular ways for input to other programs, or to fix output from some programs, that feature becomes invaluable.  Along with that is “Column Mode”, which will let you treat large sections of text more like columns in a spreadsheet than just raw text.  Believe me, that alone has saved me an enormous amount of time when I have to reformat text taken from a web page that has no export function!  Add to that the super simple sorting functions that include the ability to remove duplicates in a huge list and the really flexible macro system and you have a system administrators new best friend!

Of course, as I mentioned already, I also use UltraEdit to work with all the code I have to manipulate.
My “day job” doesn’t require that I code anything, thankfully, but for my own interests, I often find that I’m creating or editing a lot of different kinds of code.  I play with everything from Perl to PHP to HTML to CSS (which is what’s in that screen-shot above).  The fact that UltraEdit automatically adjusts the code highlighting as I switch between the different files by default has been super convenient and, at times, really helpful.  Most of the time, I’m updating or fixing someone else’s code for my own purposes and trying to remember where the closing tag in an HTML or PHP document that I didn’t create is can be daunting.  Code highlighting has really helped that.
That’s also where the built-in macro functions have been a big help.  I can record one, small action and repeat it as many times as I need to throughout a file with just a few keystrokes.  That can come in really handy when duplicating lists of variables, for instance, or converting a list of text elements into an array.  I can just insert the code which defines the element as part of the array in front of each bit of text in a matter of seconds.  Again, a huge time-saver.

Currently, this very useful utility is $80 for a new license or $40 for an upgrade, which is what I got.  I think an old employer actually paid for the original copy that I upgraded.  Either way, though, the price was worth it to me!  If Perl is the duct tape of the internet, then this is my utility knife!

UPDATE: Somehow I missed telling you all about one of the coolest features of UltraEdit – additional syntax highlighting files.  IDM has an incredible list of additional code/syntax highlighting files that you can download for free here.  My favorite?  The Cisco IOS code page that makes the huge ASA5500 configuration files I’ve been looking at for my latest gig easier to read (i.e. “actually comprehensible”)!  The instructions for adding them are on that page, too.


Powered by WordPress
Any links to sites selling any reviewed item, including but not limited to Amazon, may be affiliate links which will pay me some tiny bit of money if used to purchase the item, but this site does no paid reviews and all opinions are my own.