Diary of a Network Geek

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

4/15/2016

Security In A Box

Filed under: Geek Work,Red Herrings,The Dark Side,The Tools — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:00 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Gibbous

First of all, you should know I’m talking about computer security, not home security.

Secondly, know that “in a box” really means something more like “all in one place”.
I’m suggesting this site this week because security is on my mind.  Not only in a corporate sense, but in a personal sense.  In a professional setting, I’ve brushed up against something that could conceivably heighten scrutiny of my own personal foot-print on the internet.  And, I’ve had a particular address from a particular Eastern European country banging against on of my WordPress installations pretty hard this past week.  All of which added up to me checking my collected links for a security themed site I could share with you all.
The site is called Security In A Box and it’s a collection of tips, advice and links to programs meant to help keep you safe on the internet.  Their advice covers everything from creating good passwords to staying safe on social media.  And, they have group-specific suggestions for special interest groups who might have an additional level of scrutiny, either by other special interest groups or governments.  It’s quite a good site for everyone, of course, but of special interest to anyone who might find themselves at the sharp end of one of the many sharpened sticks running loose on the internet without keepers.

So, stay safe this weekend and enjoy the lovely weather while it lasts!

4/8/2016

Free Network Mapping Tools

Filed under: Geek Work,The Tools — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is in the early morning or 7:30 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

This may not be a post for my regular readers.

So, I’ve been contracting for two weeks now and there’s a ton of work to do.
For those of you who know me, and know how I tend to approach what I do, one of my main goals is to get good documentation.  If you look at my resume, you know that I have changed jobs a lot.  And with every change has come a new, mostly-undocumented network for me to discover and, hopefully, improve.  As a result, I’ve used a bewildering array of network mapping and scanning tools.  Dark Reading has a list of free and low-cost network mapping tools, many of which I’ve used.  Since they review them all, I’ll only comment on the ones I’ve actually used and found useful.
First, there’s the venerable nmap.  Nmap has been around for a while and most of the more hardcore geeks, like me, have used it.  (And, yes, there is a Windows version of it, if you really want to use that.)  It’s probably one of the most complete, and oldest, tools on this list.  Though it’s more of a security finger-printing tool than a mapping tool in the sense that most of us mean.  Still, a security tool old enough and good enough to actually be used on-screen in The Matrix is pretty okay with me.
For simple listing of the IP addresses and hosts on a network, I really like Overlook Fing.  It’s pretty basic and actually command-line based with a Windows launching text interface to configure it.  The output is pretty basic, but you can quickly dump a list of device names and IP addresses, with probable manufacturer information to help identify the machines.  Also, they seem to have added a paid service that monitors your network and alerts you to changes, which seems interesting, but I’m usually on a budget, so I’ll stick with the free option.
If you want a nicer interface and more Windows-optimized IP network scanner, try Advanced IP Scanner.  Again, it’s pretty basic and simple, but it’s also free and super easy to use.  And, starting with at least a list of IP addresses with host names may be more documentation than a lot of new network administrators start with when they take over a network.
And, then there’s Spiceworks, which most folks think of as a helpdesk ticketing system, but actually has some fantastic network management and mapping tools built into it, too.  In fact, I initially installed it at my last full-time gig to keep track of all the user requests I was getting, but really ended up loving it for the reporting tools and ability to track machines on the network.  It’s free, and takes a little bit of work to get setup right for pulling in all the details of your network, but it’s totally worth it.  The user support forums are great and there are a lot of tools and custom reports being added for it all the time.  If you hunt a bit, you can find pretty much every answer to your question on the user forums.  I even found a way to automate emailing the weekly reports to everyone in IT and management.

One tool that Dark Reading does not mention that I find useful is Network Notepad.  Again, a free tool, but with a paid option.  The free tool, which is all I’ve used, is great for making an actual graphic map of your network. It takes a little getting used to, but once you get the hang of it, this is a pretty valuable tool.  For instance, if you add the IP address to the host on the map, you can ping or RDP right from the network map to the device.  In fact, I liked it so well, I whipped together an object library, using someone else’s free 3D icons, that I’ve attached to the bottom of this post.  So, enjoy that and enjoy your weekend!

3DNetworkObjectLibrary

4/1/2016

Expense and Tax Tools

Filed under: Geek Work,Life, the Universe, and Everything,Red Herrings,The Tools — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:54 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Crescent

So, it looks like I’m going to be an independent contractor for a bit.

And, that means tracking expenses and tracking billable hours, as well as the taxes I have to pay on that.  Since I’m an iPhone user, that means that, yes, there’s an app for that.  Or, ten apps, actually.  From eWeek, Ten Tax Filing, Expense Tracking Tools to Keep the IRS Happy.  Because, really, we all just want to avoid an audit or any Imperial entanglements.
And, frankly, I’m exhausted this week and all my creativity and wit has been drained into trying to help my client rebuild from a devastating data-loss that may ultimately result in some legal action.  It’s bad.  Really bad.  And, I’m pretty worn out this week.
So, I posted this and hopefully, you’ll get something better next week.  Maybe a review of the network audit tools I’ve been using to catalog what they have, and will have again.
(And, no, I don’t even have the energy to run an April Fool’s joke.  Seriously.  I’m that drained this week.)
Have a great weekend, y’all!

3/25/2016

How Not To Get Hired

Filed under: Fun,Fun Work,Red Herrings — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Dragon which is in the early morning or 9:17 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

Do you sense a theme in my posts lately?

So, yes, I’m still looking for work and it’s still on my mind.
I’ve had some phone interviews and I think something is about to break, but I don’t want to jinx it by going into details.  So, instead, I’m going to talk about what terrifies a job candidate most; the interview.  Let’s face it, even those of us who have done a bunch of these still dread them.  I, personally, think I interview well, but I still hate having to do them.  I’m always sure that I’m going to say the wrong thing and submarine my chances.  And, to be completely honest, at least once, I did.  Granted, that was fourteen years ago and I’ve learned from the mistake, but, still, I think about it every time I get ready to interview.
But, it’s Friday, so let’s not dwell on the existential dread of job interviews.  Instead, let’s laugh about them!  Vitamin T, with the help of the Webbys and Upright Citizens Brigade, have put together four uncomfortably funny videos about How Not To Get Hired In the Tech Industry.  I can tell you that I’ve encounter all four types of people in the tech industry, though, thankfully, not when I was a hiring manager.

In any case, it’s Friday and the videos are funny, so enjoy!  (And have a Happy Easter!)

3/11/2016

Positive Thinking

Filed under: Criticism, Marginalia, and Notes,Deep Thoughts,Fun,Life, the Universe, and Everything,Things to Read — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Dragon which is in the early morning or 9:23 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

I think everyone could use a little positive thinking this week.

I know I sure could!
I have read more than my fair share of self-help books and the one thing they all mostly have in common is the idea of “positive thinking”.  Whether it’s The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale or How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie or Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill or A Better Way to Live by Og Mandino,…
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3/10/2016

Re-Organizing

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Career Archive,Geek Work,Life, the Universe, and Everything,Personal,Red Herrings,Things to Read — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Dragon which is in the early morning or 9:29 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

It’s time to clean up my act.

Seriously.
My wife is a professional organizer and decorator, so those of you who know me well know how she suffered when she first moved in with me.  I hadn’t devolved into a complete hoarder, but I had gotten an unfortunately significant start.  She dug me out.  Honestly, I wish I had her ability to let go of things, but I tend to hold on to too much.  Naturally, when she asked me to read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I just about had a panic attack.  But, I did read it and, once I got past some of the ways the author talks about discarding things, I could see why my blushing bride loved the book.  In spite of whatever reviews you may have read about the extreme method described, it’s really not so terrifying.  The essence of it is to get rid of the things that you don’t use or need or want any more, to make room, both literally and figuratively.
I’m not saying that it’s been easy for me to do, because it hasn’t, but I do find myself thinking about what I really need and use quite a bit.  The reality is, I have too much stuff to really keep track of it all.  So, I’ve been taking some of the time I have, while I wait to get connected to my next work opportunity, to reevaluate and clean out.
I have told myself for a long time that I don’t like change, that I’m not good with it.  But, that’s not really true.  Sure, I like to control change, but in many areas of my life, I’m constantly changing, growing, trying new ideas and methods, keeping what works and discarding the rest.  One area that I haven’t been working at as much lately is my personal organization and scheduling.  I’ve been very reactive and not nearly proactive enough to suit me.

I used to be a “to do list” fanatic.  Every day I’d start my day with a fresh list, carrying over the things I didn’t finish from the previous day, and adding to it.  On Friday, I’d set my list up for Monday before I left the office.  First thing Monday, I’d review the list and see if I thought of anything else to add over the weekend, because my brain just will not shut off and stop thinking about work.  It’s how I’m wired, I guess.
Mainly, though, I loved crossing things off my list.
I know, it’s a strange thing, but the idea of crossing something off my list actually gave me a little thrill.  And, when I’d get to the end of the day, I’d see all the things I’d crossed off and think about how great it was to get all that stuff done.  Somewhere, though, in all the jobs and the “life stuff”, like getting married, divorced, beating cancer and getting married again, I lost that habit.  I tried to “leverage technology” and my smart phone to get a to do list app that would synchronize with my computer, but, frankly, nothing ever worked to my satisfaction.  And, of course, it was a convenient excuse for why I stopped doing it.
Some time back, I read Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen and I sort of made a half-hearted attempt to set some of his system up, but, honestly I never put enough effort into it. At the time, his book didn’t have a lot of technological help for geeks like me that wanted to use the cloud to keep things synched up.  I need to find out what’s changed, because the time is ripe for me to re-read that book and, as my wife and I reorganize our physical space, get my mental space in order and prepared for a new job.  This is the perfect time to get reorganized and have my system in place, ready to go, before I land somewhere and have an endless stream of projects to track.

So tell me, gentle readers, what do you use to stay organized?  If you’re a fan of the GTD method, what tech tools do you use to stay on track?


Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared."
   --Buddha

3/8/2016

Unemployment Payment Requested

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Career Archive,Deep Thoughts,Life, the Universe, and Everything,Personal — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Dragon which is in the early morning or 9:41 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a New Moon

For the first time in almost fourteen years, I’ve requested a payment from unemployment.

I’ll be honest, it’s not a great feeling.  I’d really rather be working.  Not that I think I don’t deserve the payment or that I begrudge anyone else their benefits, either.  I paid into that system for more than twenty years, if you include both Illinois and Texas, and I am well within my rights to get my fair share back out of it.
But, I’d really rather be gainfully employed.

I have a friend who shakes his head in dismay at how eager I am to work hard.  I think that’s what he finds so incomprehensible; that I want to not just work, but work hard at what I do.
It’s not that I really enjoy long hours or wrestling with budgets or any of those things, though I have to admit I do love wrestling with technology and bending it to my will. I love getting things done.  Sure, most of what I do professionally can be undone with a couple of keystrokes, but, still crossing things off my to do list or watching the closed ticket count stack up gives me a sense of satisfaction.

I hate being out of work.
The last several times I’ve changed jobs, it’s mostly been under my control.  At least once, in the past fourteen years, I interviewed just before a project failed and I was out on my ear.  I was out of work for all of a week, not even enough time to actually request payment.  And, it could have been less, but I wanted a bit of a break before starting the next thing.
I honestly could barely relax at all that week.

So, here I’ve been out of work for three, full weeks and I’m done.
The Texas Workforce Commission requires that I perform at least three job-search-related activities per week to be eligible for unemployment benefits.
I do that much every week before 8:30AM on Monday.
I know I love work, but that bar seems pretty low to me.  Keep in mind, that doesn’t mean just applying for three jobs per week, but talking to a recruiter, or having a job interview, or going to a job fair, or even searching for new jobs on a job website all, apparently, count toward that requirement.  In my job search log, I only record actual job applications made or email or phone conversations with recruiters or potential employers.  I must seem like a real over-achiever to the Texas Workforce Commission staff.

Yes, I have the benefits coming.  And, yes, I feel perfectly justified in requesting them.  But, honestly, I’d rather be working.


Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"Everything is funny as long as it is happening to somebody else."

3/4/2016

A Free Civilization

Filed under: Art,Fun,Red Herrings — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is in the early morning or 7:22 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Crescent

No, this is not a political post.

I do my best not to openly participate in politics, frankly, because it all seems like a fool’s game.  On the other hand, simulation games have been known to unduly entertain me for embarrassingly extended lengths of time.  For a lot of my childhood, I played role-playing games.  For those of you familiar with my chosen profession probably won’t find that too surprising.  It seems like all the middle-aged professional geeks I know played…
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2/26/2016

Interview Questions

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Career Archive,Geek Work,Red Herrings — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Monkey which is in the late afternoon or 5:11 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

I’m prepared to answer these, are you?

So, I’m still looking for work, but at two weeks, I suppose that’s to be expected.
I’ve had a couple phone interviews and I’m waiting to have a couple more.  Generally, if I can get an interview with a technical manager, I can sell myself well enough to get a job I have the experience to actually do.  Often, I can sell myself well enough to land I job I don’t know how to do, yet.
In either case, the only way to do it is preparation.  Know the questions I’ll be asked and know my answers.

U.S. News and World Reports has a great slideshow of the ten most common interview questions, with some advice about answering them.  That’s a great place to start.
Glassdoor expands that list to fifty of the most common interview questions, and while I certainly would recommend reading those, having answers that are prepared without looking memorized is the real key here.
Monster.com takes that list even further, to 100 interview questions, and goes way beyond the common ones.  While it certainly can’t hurt to peruse them, I’d really focus on the short list.
If you need help preparing, check out How to Ace the 50 Most Common Interview Questions on Forbes.com.  There’s a brief video on that page that auto-plays, so be aware.  Frankly, I really respect Forbes and they give some great advice about how to answer questions in an interview.

In the end, it really comes down to preparation and practice.  Sadly, I’ve had a lot of practice on job interviews.  The important thing is to be honest and consider how what you say reflects on you and whether or not your prepared answers will show your true colors.  Also, practice with a friend who can give you honest feedback.  Or, barring that, record yourself so you can see what you look like while interviewing and hear how you sound in giving responses.  It may be enlightening!

If you’re out there looking for work like me, I wish you the best of luck!


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

2/19/2016

Job Search Log

Filed under: Career Archive,Geek Work,Life, the Universe, and Everything,Never trust a Network Admin with a screwdriver,Red Herrings — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Sheep which is in the early afternoon or 2:48 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Gibbous

So, I was laid off Tuesday.

I wasn’t surprised by it, for sure, since they’ve been laying off two and three people a week for the past six weeks or more.  I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed, though.
A couple weeks ago, another sort of IT person, who’s here from the real parent company in China, was sent over to my location to gather up all the passwords and access I had.  Probably to make a copy of my laptop, too, but I kept that with me or locked up.  I know they were trying to be sneaky or subtle when they did it by distracting me with a phantom project, but, really, when someone is sent for the passwords, there’s really only one thing to think.  Then, when I asked why the theoretical project I was supposed to be working on hadn’t been implemented when it was first sent out for bid 18 months ago, I was told that it was due to lack of funding.  If there weren’t funds then, when the company was doing well, where were the funds going to come from now that so many people were being laid off?  I got the answer to that question on Tuesday morning, so I went in and packed up my desk, just in case.  You see, ever since I worked for a company that got liquidated, I’ve kept my personal belongings at work limited to what I can easily put into one, small box, which I keep under my desk.  Just in case.
Apparently, the fact that I went into my final interview with a 99% packed desk shocked the people firing me.  But, then again, they were always underestimating me at that job anyway.

So, regardless of all that, when I got home Tuesday afternoon, I applied for unemployment with the Texas Workforce Commission.  I was able to go on-line and sign up, which is an improvement over the last time I was out of work, when you had to call or go in person.  Sadly, I won’t be able to apply for a payment until the 28th, but I’ve started my job search.  Well, really, I’ve just intensified my job search as I’ve been looking for about a month.  And, while I’ve had a couple phone interviews and at least two really good prospects, I still need to keep the requisite job search log.  The Texas Workforce Commission has a downloadable form on their website, but, honestly, I kind of hate it.  So, instead, I made my own spreadsheet.  I’ve shared the blank one at the bottom of this post.
Some of the columns have drop-down choice boxes in them and the form has gotten kind of big to accommodate all the new fields they have on the original form.  It is, however, formatted to print all on one page for easy verification should it be requested.  And, yes, for those of you wondering, I verified with the Texas Workforce Commission helpline that a spreadsheet is just fine for recording your job search activity.

So, grab a copy of the form and good luck in your job search!

jobsearchlog-blank

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