Diary of a Network Geek

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


A Vulgar Tongue

Filed under: Art,Fun — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:04 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

Language is the key to culture, real or imagined.

Regular readers of my blog will know that I am a dyed-in-the-wool geek. I mean, totally hardcore. I started playing Dungeons and Dragons in the Seventh Grade and did, on and off, through college. I still, to this day, have a significant bookshelf of roleplaying games, including some D&D books. These days, I don’t have time to play, and the books are mostly there for theoretical inspiration, if I can ever get writing again. But, way back in the dark ages, before the internet, I had a subscription to Dragon Magazine, which was the official D&D magazine. It was there that I was first exposed to invented languages. Later, as I read more and after the internet became a thing, I discovered a community of like-minded wierdos who created languages, too. “Conlangs”, we called them, short for “constructed languages”. Some of the most famous are Klingon, Dothraki, and Tolkien’s famous Sindarin, more popularly known as “Elvish”, but there are hundreds, if not thousands, of them now.
Most of the results of my peculiar hobby, or “secret vice”, as Tolkein called it, are safely tucked away where no one will ever see them. Though, I did setup a page of resources and links over at my fantastic fiction site, Fantasist.net. I had some tools there that got so popular, they were crashing my webhost’s servers, so I had to take them down. I’d always meant to get back to porting them to a new, more stable and less resource-intensive programming language, but I never did. Now, though, there are so many people sharing things like this, and better than the stuff I made, that I don’t really feel bad about it. And, new tools for creating languages from the ether are springing up all the time.

Recently, someone shared a tool on the newsgroup I’m part of for conlanging, CONLANG-L, that raised quite a ruckus. It was originally shared by Boing Boing, and I saw it there, too. It’s a web-based language generation tool called Vulgar. The page I’ve linked to there is the “free demo”, but that will gin up a pretty decent start for a language, especially if, like me, you’re not a linguist. There are a surprising number of options, if you want to take advantage of them, and even more if you’re willing to cough up $19.95 for the downloadable version. That downloadable version still runs in your web browser, by the way, so there’s not any compatibility issues between Windows, Macintosh or Linux. Now, of course, this isn’t going to get you a fantastic artificial language, but, if you’re a starving fantasy author who wants to whip up something that sounds reasonably okay with a very little effort, this isn’t a terrible start. For me, it’s fun, but probably not more than an amusing toy to play with on a quiet Friday morning.
And, based on the frenzied reactions on that conlang email list, my sharing it and saying that it’s not bad, will irritate some folks. Which is a different kind of fun.

Either way, go, try it and have fun. And enjoy your weekend!

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words


Altap Salamander

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 a First Quarter Moon

AltapSalamander3.01 A file-manager that was originally forced on me, but which I’ve come to rely upon for my daily work.

About ten years ago, I was hired by Oceaneering for a world-wide roll-out of an imaging and support project.  I won’t mention the name of the manager who hired me, because, well, we ended up having a problem.  As it turns out, he didn’t want to take on the project.  What’s more, he wasn’t big on hiring guys “like me”, who had certifications and so on, but he was forced to do just that by the same CIO who thrust the desktop imaging project on that manager.  The CIO, from what I understand from third-party sources, has since “retired”.  I don’t know if the ill-fated project ever was completed because both of the people originally assigned to it, including me, were encouraged to “find other opportunities to excel”.  Internal politics aside, I mostly blame my divorce for costing me that job.  It turned out okay, though, since I landed at Seatrax shortly thereafter and have been quite successful there.

The other good thing to come out of that mess was that manager forcing us all to use a program called, at the time, “Servant Salamander”.  As you can see from the thumbnail included on this post, it’s a file manager.  But, it’s more than just that.
There’s a lot of history with this utility.  Some of my readers may be familiar with the old Norton Commander, which inspired Petr Šolín to make the earliest version of Servant Salamander as freeware.  Or, they may be more familiar with the text-menu-based utility for Linux called “Midnight Commander” which is sometimes just referred to as “MC”, since the name of the actual command is “mc”.  This tool looks almost identical to Altap Salamander and if you’re used to Linux systems, running Salamander may make the transition a little easier.

Of course, the basics are there.  The side-by-side default view of two directories lets you easily copy or move files from one directory to the other via a quick series of clicks to select files and either hitting the F5 or F6 key respectively.  You can also use the context-sensitive menu to rename and delete files or directories, create directories, edit files or use the built-in viewer to preview files, all with the touch of a function key.  You can also connect a network drive, if you happen to have a local fileserver of some kind with available shared directories.
In fact, while there are menus, virtually every command can be accomplished via a series of keystrokes or a combination of keys.  For instance, while I usually use the mouse to navigate directories, a simple shift+F7 will bring up a dialog where I can type my desired destination directory.  Or, I can do  a search with a quick Alt+F7.  (And, the search function built into Salamander is quite good, if you need to find something.  At least as good as the built-in Windows search!)

But, what really makes this utility shine are all the extras.
For instance, sometimes, I have to deal with a lot of files in big directories that need to be synchronized between servers.  Salamander has a built-in function to compare directories.  It will even compare subdirectories, if it comes to that.  As someone who manages multiple websites, the FTP plugin for Salamander, which allows me to quickly connect to a remote server and then navigate it like any other directory, has been such a time saver and is so convenient for me, it may be the main reason I have continued to use Salamander!  I can even maintain a list of regular FTP sites so I can simply select them almost like I would change to any other drive on my system.  And, yes, once connected, I can transfer files back and forth with the same commands as I do on local drives.  (Though, I have to admit, every time I install Salamander on a new computer, I forget to set the default options for the FTP plugin to “Use passive transfer mode”, which seems to be the standard for all the FTP servers I connect to on a regular basis.)
Another plugin lets me view ISO CD or DVD disk images, which can be very helpful when you’re a system administrator and trying to retrieve a single file from an ISO downloaded from a vendor.  And still others do everything from opening compressed archives to comparing files to copying entire disks.  Further, if you managed both Windows and Linux servers, as I have, the WinSCP plugin makes it much easier to transfer files to a Linux host securely, though, at the moment, there’s not a 64-bit plugin, just a 32-bit version.  Again, all very handy things to be able to do, especially for an IT professional!

While there is a free, trial version of Altap Salamander, after having used the licensed version, I really prefer that and recommend that you spend the money on it.  As of this writing, if you get the latest version, along with all the plugins, only some of which cost extra, it will run €44.80, or about $63, for a single license.  And, that will give you access to a year’s worth of updates.  That may seem like a lot, but, trust me, the extras are all worth it and Petr updates it quite frequently.
Personally, I don’t know how I would make it through my day without using Altap Salamander!


PogoPlug Multimedia Sharing Device

Filed under: Apple,Fun Work,Geek Work,Linux,Never trust a Network Admin with a screwdriver — 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 Gibbous

I love this device!

Almost a year ago, I took a photography class from Syl Arena and he mentioned, in an off-hand comment, that he used a PogoPlug to access his files from home while on the road.  Now, I’d heard a little about the PogoPlug before that, but not much and with all the cloud storage services, like Dropbox, around, I didn’t really pay too much attention to it.  After hearing Syl go on at length about how easy it was to use, I read a little bit more about it.  I was suitably impressed, but just didn’t have the time or cash to really go ahead and follow through on a purchase.  Then, thanks to Gizmodo, I saw that Adorama had the entry-level PogoPlug on sale for $17.99, including free shipping.  The price has since gone up a dollar or two, but it’s still cheaper than full price and, let me tell you, completely worth it!

In brief, the PogoPlug is a network device that allows you to hook up USB-based drives to share on a network and the internet.  The device has six connections; one for power, one for the network cable, and four USB connections for storage.  I got mine hooked up in about five minutes.  Really, all you need to do is connect it to your network, attach storage to it and sign into your free my.pogoplug.com account to configure the device.  There’s an option once you sign in to check for new PogoPlug devices and, once yours is found, to configure the sharing services, if you want, or to upload files.  And, that’s pretty much all there is to the setup.  It really took me all of five minutes, and that was because I had forgotten to turn on the external USB hard drive enclosure I had attached to the PogoPlug.  Then, I just started uploading files.  And, the next day, to verify that I had done everything correctly, I signed in to the iPhone app while I was at the office and checked to make sure I could see my data remotely.  And, I could!  It really was just that easy!

I was even more excited when I discovered the slightly hidden ability to upload files directly to the PogoPlug without having to go through their webpage!  All I had to do was download and install the companion software which they offer for free.  They have both Android and iPhone clients as well as clients for Windows, Mac and Linux.  That downloadable software also let’s you do regular backups from any device you load it on to your PogoPlug, even over the internet!  Once installed, it makes your entire PogoPlug available to you as if it were a mapped drive with a drive letter and everything, just like any other network attached storage, except, of course, it will let you attach to that PogoPlug over the internet.  I’ve tried other things that claim they’ll let you have your own “personal cloud”, but they’ve all had problems when they bump up against the security I run on my network at home.  The PogoPlug, however, was even easier than advertised.  It was amazing!

There’s only one, small problem I’ve encountered with the PogoPlug and, really, it was only with the Android app.  I run a rooted Nook which I often use to read PDF files.  When I open PDF files through the Dropbox Android app, they launch right into Adobe’s PDF Reader without any issue.  But, when I try to do the same from the PogoPlug app on that rooted Nook, it gives me a message about downloading the file, but it never opens.  I hope that bug will be corrected in future versions of the app, but it’s a relatively minor issue, all things considered.

I really cannot say enough about how fantastic this device really is.  I haven’t tried just plugging in a regular USB thumb drive yet, or the outer limits on size, though I do have another USB drive enclosure and a 2 Terabyte drive that I’m itching to get hooked up.  Not to mention how deeply I want to dig into the software capabilities.  Also, I’m hoping I can get another cheap 2 Terabyte drive and figure out how to clone from one to the other to create a backup.
But, again, even if I can’t and I’ve seen all the possibilities of this device, it’s still awesome!
(And, yes, that link to Adorama which has sales information about the PogoPlug is an affiliate link, so I’ll make a little money of it if you buy it that way.)


Open Source Digital Darkroom Software

Filed under: Art,Fun,GUI Center,Linux,Review — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:55 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

I would imagine by now the few regular readers of this blog have figured out that I love both photography and free software.

I, personally, use Lightroom.  And, yes, I paid for it.  I’ve gotten used to it and I understand the workflow and I can get the little bit of editing I do to photos done that way.  But, I am always on the look out for software that I can recommend to people unwilling to make that kind of…
Read More


Opensource Writing Tool

Filed under: Art,Fun,GUI Center,Linux,MicroSoft,NaNoWriMo,The Network Geek at Home — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:46 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

In honor of the first Friday of NaNoWriMo, I’m bringing you a free writing tool and not from my usual main site.

This week, I’m originating my regular Friday Fun Post from JKHoffman.com, where I hope to move most of my more creative work, instead of my regular Diary of a Network Geek.
If you’ve given serious thought to writing, you have probably heard of both National Novel Writing Month, AKA NaNoWriMo, and a writer’s program called Scrivener.  Personally, I’ve done most…
Read More


Essential Tools for System Admins

Filed under: Geek Work,GUI Center,MicroSoft,Review — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is in the early morning or 7:09 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a First Quarter Moon

There are more free sysadmin tools for Windows than you can shake a memory stick at these days.

But, here are a few of the better collections of them.
First, from Infoworld, 15 “Essential” Open Source Tools for Windows Admins.  I’m not sure I’d say these are all essential, but they are a pretty good start.  I can only vouch for three of them on this list; Wireshark, Nmap, and ClamWin Antivirus.  Though I’m familiar with them from the Linux/Unix world, these are the Windows equivalents and they work just fine.  Old network geeks will recognize Wireshark and Nmap as a reliable packet sniffer and a security vulnerability scan tool, respectively.  You may not be as familiar with ClamWin.  It’s based on the ClamAV engine, which in its Linux boot-disk incarnation, has saved my bacon more than once!  There are a couple inventory tools in this list I plan on looking more closely at, not to mention the add-on for Nmap they talk about.  Good stuff and worth checking out!

Secondly, from TechRepublic, there’s Five Free Windows Registry Cleaners.  Again, I’ve only used two of these five; CCleaner and Wise Registry Cleaner.  CCleaner does everything I generally need in regards to shoring up old, creaky registries, but I’m always looking for new tools.  The version of Wise Registry Cleaner I used was an older one, but it worked well enough.  And, it does have the nice feature of being able to backup and restore older versions of your registry.  Believe me, that can come in handy sometimes!

Thirdly, also from TechRepublic, Five Microsoft Tools to help with Server Management.  Of these five, again, I’ve only used one; dcdiag.  Naturally, it’s the only command-line tool in the bunch.  Though, I hear Microsoft has been talking about going back to a command-line, terminal interface for their server products.  I’m a little leary of any security utility that is based on a wizard, but I have to admit, at least it’s something that might encourage Windows sysadmins to do some work at securing their servers more.  And, I have to admit, I wish I had known more about the file server migration wizard a few years ago.  It sure would have helped me more than once!

And, finally, the venerable, but ultimately useful, More Sysinternals for Windows Admins.  Now, these I’ve used quite a bit!  At least, some of them.  All the disk usage utilities have been super helpful over the years in determining who has been sucking up all the drive space on my servers!  And I’ve used PsInfo to attempt to gather information in various attempts to inventory my various networks.  And, these days, everyone will need the RootKitRevealer sooner or later.  Sadly, almost everyone has been, or will be, effected by a rootkit virus of some kind.  It seems inevitable.

So, there you go, system administrators.  There’s my gift to you in the form of links to tools to do your jobs, faster, easier and more efficiently.  Enjoy!


Free Installers

Filed under: Fun Work,Geek Work,Linux,MicroSoft — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:08 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Gibbous

Let’s start the year slow.

So, I’m sure a lot of you got new PCs or laptops, or upgraded your old ones, this holiday season.  Maybe it was a Christmas gift.  Maybe a Christmas gift to yourself.  Maybe you just took advantage of the post-holiday sales.  Whatever it was or how ever you got it, you probably are feeling the pain of reinstalling all those “essential” programs that you use on a regular basis.  Things like Firefox and Mozilla or Chrome and Skype or Winamp or Flash or .Net or iTunes or LibreOffice or any number of similar little things.  You’ll be feeling the pain of having to go to all those individual websites to collect the various install files to run.

Well, I have the solution to the problem you didn’t realize you had.  It’s a little site called “Ninite” and they call themselves “…the fastest way to install, reinstall or upgrade free software”.
You go to the site, check the different bits of software and click the “Get Installer” button and the site will serve up a downloadable installer file that will install the free software you checked on the form.  You run the file and your software gets installed.  That simple.  Oh, and the basic service itself is free.
Now, if you want to maintain that free software and keep it updated, they have a very reasonable service for that, too.  For the personal edition for a single computer, it’s just $9.99 a year, at the moment, but, of course, that may change.

Both the free and pay services are available for Windows or Linux, which I think is pretty damn extra cool.

Anyway, there’s your first fun/cool/useful link for the new year.  I think it bridges the fun, the free and the very geeky stuff that this blog is, I hope, known and appreciated for sharing.
Happy New Year everyone!


Some Linux Distros to Know

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Career Archive,Geek Work,Linux,Novell — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Rooster which is in the early evening or 6:40 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

There are a lot of Linux distributions.

No, really, I mean there are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of Linux distributions out there.
Frankly, it can get a little overwhelming sometimes.  But, I think about them and what they all are and what they do.  I think about them because it’s my job, and because I’m always thinking about what’s coming next in the IT industry.  So, what Linux installs do I think about?  Funny you should ask….
I think about Android.  Yeah, that’s right, the operating system that runs those Droid phones is a kind of Linux.  That’s kind of amazing to me, really, but there it is.  And, I think about it because Android seems to be on more and more devices these days.  Everything from phones to tablets to who knows what next in the consumer market.  But, I try to pay attention to Android because so many people at my office have Android based phones and they all expect me to help them figure their phones out.
I think about Fedora, which is the open source version of Red Hat, which enjoyed pretty good market penetration when they first got going.  They’ve got a lot more competition today, but, still it’s in an IT professional’s best interests to be at least familiar with Fedora.
That goes for openSUSE, too.  openSUSE was bought out by Novell some time ago, so there’s no telling where it’s going to end up with all the buying and selling around Novell’s bits and pieces these days, but it’s still a pretty heavily installed Linux distribution.  My brief experience with it was good, though, I have to admit, that was on older hardware for a personal project, not a corporate gig.
If you’re an Oracle shop, you’ll probably know about Oracle Linux, which is basically Red Hat Linux after Oracle has made modifications to it.  Oh, and jacked the price up.  Still, if you work with Oracle a lot, it’s probably worth looking into.
Eweek recently ran a slidwshow about these, and several other, versions of Linux under the title 10 Linux Distros Every IT Manager Should Know.  Obviously, I agree with some of their listing, but clearly not all.  And, I think they left some off.

For instance, what about the live CD editions?
Two I think anyone in IT should know are Ubuntu and Knoppix.  Knoppix has been around a longer, but Ubuntu has a slicker interface and, I think, is a little better at detecting hardware than Knoppix.  Also, you can install Ubuntu from the live CD media, if you would like, and plenty of people do run it as a desktop.  The real plus is that there’s a pretty healthy community around these two installations, especially Ubuntu.  So, if you need help with either one, there are a lot of resources on the internet to answer your questions.
I use these two all the time to recover data of damaged installs of Windows.  I even used one to build a PC imaging system before I started using Clonezilla, which is also, incidentally, based on Linux.

If you’re worried about security, Linux can help with that, too.
For quite some time, the National Security Agency has sponsored SELinux, which is a pretty secure, hardened version of Linux.  They designed it to be reasonably secure right as a default, since an insecure default install is usually where security problems start.  Of course, you may not trust the NSA.  And, while this is “sponsored” by them, it’s not actually an official US Government Linux install.
For that, you have to go to the US Airforce.  Their Lightweight Portable Security distro is the first official US Linux distribution.  I haven’t actually tried it myself, but ZDNet has a pretty good review of it.

So, as you can see, if you haven’t looked into Linux much before, there are a lot of things to investigate.  And, as a computer professional, I DO recommend that you check out at least some flavor of Linux.  It’s so prevalent and so flexible and handy to have that if you haven’t bumped into it yet, you will.  So before you need to know it, investigate it some on your own.  You’ll be glad you did.
(And, I’m sure every seasoned IT pro has their favorite distro, like Debian, but there are too many to list them all.  If you have opinions about any, please, leave comments!)

Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"Get busy livin', or get busy dyin'.
   --from "The Shawshank Redemption


The Worst Kind of Cross-Platform Porting

Filed under: Apple,Linux,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 6:58 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

Hackers are porting Linux viruses (virii ?) to OS X.

Last week Monday, ZDNet reported that hackers have ported code for a trojan from Linux to Apple’s OS X.  For those of my readers who don’t know what a trojan is I’m referring to a malicious program that opens the door for other, usually even worse, programs to come into the infected operating system, like the Greeks did in the classic stratagem known as the Trojan Horse.  It hasn’t been seen in the wild yet, but apparently the C source code for this has been available for quite some time.

Frankly, I’m surprised that this doesn’t happen more often than it does.  In the old days, virus writers had to really know something because they used assembly to create them.  Now, with Windows and all the other object-oriented programming languages filled with bloated libraries of programming calls, along with the availability of existing code on the internet, they hardly have to know anything to write fairly nasty malware.  And, as I’ve mentioned before, as Apple laptops become more popular, more malware will start to show up there.  I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before they figure out how to infect iPads and iPhones, too, if they haven’t already.

I hate people like this.
I spent most of my day today cleaning a malware infection off a machine.  This little bugger had not only disabled the Windows Task Manager, which is pretty common these days, but it also cleaned out the Start Menu, including all the built-in things like the link to Control Panel and My Documents and all those things on the right side of the Windows XP default Start Menu.  But, it also flagged most of the drive as Hidden and System, making it even more difficult to load the software I used to clean it.  I had to go into Safe Mode just to get the system clean enough to restart into Safe Mode with Networking so I could update Malwarebytes, which is what I eventually used to get rid of the beastie.   (I used Spybot Search and Destroy to keep the malware from loading to make the machine useable with networking support so I could update Malwarebytes, incidentally.)
So, yeah, these slimeballs keep me in a job, but, really, I’d appreciate it if they stopped helping me stay employed.  I promise I can find plenty of other things to do!

So, look lively out there people!  Be suspicious of what you download and click on!

UPDATE:  Apparently, this has been found out in the wild now.  And, according to TechWorld, it has a purpose; to use your system to generate BitCoins for it’s evil masters.  Very clever.  Nasty, but, still, very clever.


The Value of Tech Certs

Filed under: Career Archive,Certification,Criticism, Marginalia, and Notes,Geek Work,Linux,Novell — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Snake which is just before lunchtime or 11:59 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

No, that’s not candy.

Though, I have to admit, sometimes the industry treats them like candy!
No, I’m talking about technical certifications, which are, I think, the bane of the IT industry now.  Folks over at TechRepublic are talking about tech certs and their relative value.  Personally, I don’t think they are that valuable any more.  Oh, back in the day, I think they were and, to a degree, they solve certain problems for hiring managers, but, I don’t think they matter as much any more.  Of course, maybe that has something to do with where I am in the industry and job market, too.  I am, frighteningly enough, a seasoned professional.  So, my work history and experience count for a lot more than the handful of certifications I have.  (For the record, I’ve been Novell certified since 1994 and Linux certified since 2003.)
As far as I’m concerned, the only thing my certs are good for any more are getting past a Human Resources person acting as a firewall to the hiring manager.  Usually, if I’ve done all my homework like I should before even applying for a job, once I get to the hiring manager, I’m pretty much in.  And, honestly, they don’t normally care about my certs.  They care about my ability to execute.

So, what do you think?  Are professional certifications like this worth the paper they’re printed on any more?

Next Page »

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.