Diary of a Network Geek

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


Unleash your Creativity Scientifically

Filed under: Deep Thoughts,Fun,On Creativity — 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 Waning Gibbous

I am NOT feeling creative this week.

And, I mean, not at all. Not even a little bit. So, what’s to do? Well, for one thing, I’m going to go ahead into work and be not creative there. I might as well collect a paycheck for not feeling creative and force myself to solve problems for profit. Honestly, when I read about breaking writer’s block, one of the most cited solutions is to just sit down and write anyway. I know for me, having a set routine helps me a lot. But, I’m a big believer in science, so what can science do for me when I don’t feel creative?

As it turns out, quite a lot, and Scientific American magazine happens to be running a special issue on just that subject. So, what I’m going to do is go into work and do things and leave these links here for you.
Six Articles on Creativity from Scientific American:
1. Your Fertile Brain At Work
2. The Science of Genius
3. Triumph of the City; Engines of Genius
4. Answers In Your Dreams
5. Living in an Imaginary World
6. Let Your Creativity Soar:

Hopefully, one of those will appeal to you and help you have a more creative weekend. Read them quick before they disappear behind a paywall!
And, we’ll see you next week!

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words.


Photographic Software Tips

Filed under: Art,Fun,Photography — 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 a New Moon

The fourth post in this month’s themed series of useful photography information focuses on the big two photographic software programs; Photoshop and Lightroom.

So, while the information is free, the software isn’t.
Personally, I try to get as much right in the camera as I can. Photography is my hobby and I work on computers all day long, so I’m not particularly interested in spending a lot of time on using software to “fix” my pictures. Still, I don’t know where I’d be without the software I do use. Mostly, I work in Lightroom, with the occasional Alien Skin add-on, but I also know that Photoshop is the “gold standard” in the minds of many photographers and creative professionals. So, the first ling I’m sharing this Friday is Are you a Photoshop Master? Even you may not know these ten features! It’s a short video of some helpful, but lesser known, features in Photoshop. It seems like every big program like this has at least one hidden feature almost no one knows about, so it’s always cool to find some, even for software I don’t use a lot of the time.
On the other hand, I do use Lightroom after pretty much every photography session. And, lately, I’ve been very interested in printing my work for easy display around the house. Of course, I’m mostly going to send those to a specialty printing company, but I still want to proof them and, possibly, try them in a spot on the wall before committing to a more expensive print. Or, I may want to do a little more “pre-procesing” before sending my work to the printer. No matter my goal in regards to printing, the Photofocus tutorial on Mastering Lightroom Print Layout Styles will definitely help me save time. Honestly, it’s a feature in Lightroom that I haven’t used, but I hope to use more this year.

So, there you have it. Two tutorials in the most popular photographic software packages to round out the month.
See you next week!

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words.


Actual Writing Tools

Filed under: Fun,NaNoWriMo,On Creativity,Stimulus and Production,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 Waning Crescent

Now, you’ve got your setting, characters and story, so all you have to do is write it. Easy, right?

Okay, maybe not so much, but still totally doable, so don’t despair.
This week I’m going to talk exclusively about tools to do the actual writing with.  There are a lot of fancy software packages for this out there and what you choose to use is a personal choice based on who you are and how you write.  That said, let me share some of the more popular programs and tools to go with them.  First off, I would imagine a majority of people use Microsoft Word, because they have it available to them.  It’s not a bad way to go, actually, because you’re probably already familiar with it via school or work, so it won’t get in the way.  If you go with Word, William Shunn has some free, downloadable templates that will let you get started with a pretty standard manuscript format.  If you like Word, but don’t want to pay Microsoft for it, check out Libre Office instead.  It’s a free, open source alternative to Microsoft Office and it includes a very good replacement for Word called Writer.  And, I even have a basic manuscript template you can download and use for Libre Office Writer, also free.
If you want to get fancier, there are a lot of alternatives, but Scrivener is specifically written for fiction writers and is often offered at a discount to people attempting NaNoWriMo.  And, while I have absolutely nothing against the creator of Scrivener, there is a free, open source alternative called Plume Creator.  I don’t have any real experience with either of these, but I always favor the free, open source alternatives whenever possible.

For myself, while I used to mostly work in whatever word processing package I was currently using, I’ve gone to pretty much only using straight text.  I made that change for a number of reasons, but I was heavily influenced by an email exchange I had with Steven Brust about his writing tools.  I was surprised to find out that he wrote exclusively in emacs.  I found out after a bit of digging around that he’s not the only one.  Vernor Vinge, a brilliant science fiction author, also uses emacs to write his fiction, though it’s less surprising to me since he also teaches computer science at the collegiate level.  So, now, while I’m still working on the actual text, I just use my favorite text editor, which in my case is the same tool I use to write Perl code and edit server scripts and web pages, UEStudio, which is an extension of UltraEdit, a tool familiar to serious programmers.  Incidentally, keeping everything in straight text with out any formatting not only limits distractions, but makes for the most compatibility between systems, which, ultimately, is why I decided to make that change.

So, now, finally, you should have all the characters, setting, plot ideas and writing tools you need to get started with National Novel Writing Month.

This post originally appeared on The Fantasist’s Scroll.


Project Music

Filed under: Art,Fun,On Creativity,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 a Full Moon

Or, more specifically, music for your projects.

Clearly, I’m not talking about a manufacturing project here, but, rather, music for your creative project.
Maybe you have a dream project that you’ve filmed on your iPhone and want to add some cool background music to your creation before uploading it to YouTube.  Or, maybe you need a little musical intro for the background of your podcast credits.  Or, something cool to add ambiance to your artisanal website.  Whatever you need, Music for Makers probably has you covered.  You can sign up for free and get limited numbers of tracks, sent to you one at a time on a daily basis.  Or you can pay and get more access. Just remember, you can use their music in as many personal and commercial projects as you like without paying royalties or including attribution, but you can not sell or redistribute that music in its original form.

If, however, you really just want some background noise to distract you from the hum of the fluorescent lights above your cubicle, try the free Zenmix, instead.  With this webpage, you can mix together various looped ambient sounds, like a waterfall or birdsong or rain, to create your own custom blend of white noise distraction from the terrible sounds your co-worker’s lower intestine is making after lunch.  Or whatever you may need a distraction from.  (And, all the tracks on Zenmix are from Music for Makers, which gives you an idea of what you can do with those tracks.)

So, there you go, that’s two free things for you this Friday.  Enjoy!

This post originally appeared at Use Your Words.


Building Resumes

Filed under: Career Archive,Geek Work,Red Herrings — 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 a New Moon

No, I’m not talking about building the skills that go on resumes, but the resume itself.

For reasons that are best left unexplored, I’ve been thinking about resumes lately.  Specifically, writing them and formatting them.  It’s a chore.  And, it’s hard to do well, frankly.  For example, I’ve been using the same basic resume format since I made my first resume almost thirty years ago.  Granted, I’ve moved some things around and dropped some of the earliest jobs, especially those that don’t relate to my current field, but the basic resume hasn’t changed.  I’ve started to wonder if that works against me, making me look antiquated and out-of-date.
So, I nosed around a bit and found two resume-building tools that might help me reformat all that, and, of course, I’m sharing them with you so you can get the advantage of my research.  Besides, let’s be honest, it’s about time to update your resume any way, isn’t it?

Well, no matter how you feel about your resume, here are the tools.
First, there’s Standard Resume.  It’s a free web-based app, but it does require a login which collects your email.  The interface is pretty simple and about like every other job search or resume related form you’ve ever filled out.  What’s nice about it, though, is that when you’re done you’ll have printable PDF copies of your resume, a web-based version which you can link to from a webpage or email to an interested party, and they even make the web-based version mobile friendly for viewing on the go.  For free, that’s pretty impressive.  I’m not sure how they’re paying for all this, so I’d expect they’ll be either advertising to you directly or selling your information to someone.  Still, it might be worth it for the super nice looking resume that’s consistent across print, web and mobile.
The other tool is Creddle, which is similar to Standard Resume, but with some important differences.  For example, while Creddle used to have a direct import from LinkedIn that no longer works due to changes in the LinkedIn backend, they can still take your exported LinkedIn resume in PDF form and import that information, saving you the hassle of retyping it.  The interface is a little more challenging, also, but gives you much greater control over your finished product.  Creddle also adds cover letters to the mix, to help you get started with that as well.  Frankly, I find the prospect of writing cover letters almost as daunting as trying to sum up my entire career in two pages or less, so that’s real added value to me!  Finally, just like Standard Resume, Creddle requires an email to set up an account and will also give you a link to a easily sharable webpage of your resume.

So, there you have it, two helpful resume building and formatting tools just in time for a long weekend of revamping your work life.
I hope they help!

This post originally appeared at Use Your Words.


Aerial View

Filed under: Art,Fun,GUI Center,MicroSoft,Photography — 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

One more aerial view thing next week and I’ll have an actual theme for the month.

Once upon a time, I used to watch a lot of the food and restaurant related reality television that seemed to run on the more obscure cable channels. One of my favorites was Bar Rescue. And, one of the coolest things I saw them do was setup a kind of “virtual window” system in this one bar that had really uninspiring night views. Basically, they were huge monitors that looked like windows and would loop these gorgeous displays of apparently live views from around the world. I loved that! And, ever since, I’ve kind of been looking for a way to recreate it.

Well, I still haven’t found a way, really, but I think I do have a very nice substitute. A developer by the name of John Coates whipped up a cool screen saver for Apple TV called, Aerial, which he offered up for free on the open source source code sharing site GitHub. And, that would be spectacular, if I had an Apple TV, which I don’t. Luckily, thanks to Mr. Coates releasing this code under an open source license, another developer, Dmitry Sadakov, reworked the code into the Aerial for Windows screensaver. It’s awesome! Installation is a little hands-on and manual, but the link, which is also to GitHub, has both the download and installation instructions.

So, go, grab it and enjoy your weekend!

This post originally appeared at Use Your Words.


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!



Cutting The Cable – Streaming Services

Filed under: Better Living Through Technology,Cutting Cable,Movies,The Network Geek at Home — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Snake which is just before lunchtime or 11:30 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a Third Quarter Moon

Streaming content changes your relationship with television programming.

Of course, so did the DVR, but this is different.
I was probably a little ahead of the curve here, because I’ve been streaming Netflix since, at least, 2007.  So, back when it was still just starting to be a thing, really, I had gotten totally comfortable with the idea of streaming content.  In fact, the first of the three services I’m going to talk about might as well be Netflix.  As it turns out, when I decided to drop cable the first time, after Hurricane Ike in September of 2008, Netflix was the only service I had.  I didn’t realize at the time that had only really been possible since January of that year, but it didn’t matter.  I bumped my subscription up to the level which allowed me to have four discs out at a time and I actually watched more content that way than any other.  Let me tell you, binge watching Lost, four episodes in an evening, really opened my eyes.  Not only was it far more understandable and easier to follow the plot of an otherwise complicated and confusing show, but it let me indulge the obsessive side of my personality to my heart’s content.  Most of the time, I prefer movies to regular serial television anyway, but this really let me dive deep into whatever show was popular.  Well, whatever show was popular last year.  At the time, there wasn’t a lot available for streaming, but that changed pretty quickly and, for several years, I got caught up on  a lot of movies I’d missed and shows that I’d come to late in their life.
Now, Netflix has changed, but I still keep them.  And, I currently have an account that allows streaming and up to two discs at a time.  I have upgraded to the Blu-ray option, though, since I’ve upgraded my home theater system to a Blu-ray system.  I do that because there are a lot of things that I might want to watch which I can’t get via streaming.  That being said, for movie content, Netflix still has some of the best options around.  Currently, a streaming-only plan is $8/month for a single screen at a time, but will go up shortly.  I have a grandfathered plan that includes streaming on up to 4 screens and two Blu-ray discs at a time which runs me about $25 /month.  I expect that will go up at the first of the year, based on some news reports I’ve seen, but I think it’s still a bargain.  (You can check the latest prices at NetflixReview, though I don’t know how often the update them.)  Until I bumped up my network speed, we had a lot of issues with buffering if either of us were doing anything else on-line, but that’s not a problem any more.  If we start to have issues again, I’ll bump us up an additional tier, though.  We haven’t done it yet because at least one of our goals here was to save money.

When I first started asking people who I knew had cut cable what they streamed, a surprising trend emerged.
It seemed like all of them had Amazon Prime.  As it turns out, besides getting free shipping on anything that’s sourced from an Amazon warehouse, Amazon Prime includes a lot of free, streaming video. They also have a lot of on-demand streaming video you can buy.  So, the old cable “pay-per-view”, basically, only streaming and with at least as wide a selection, if not larger.  It really feels like Amazon is still building their video catalog, but they do have things that I can’t find on Netflix sometimes.  They seem to have a lot more television than Netflix does for streaming, too.  And, most of their stuff seems more current.  By that I mean, Amazon has more things that aired more recently.
Also, Amazon has some content that they produced.  Of course, Netflix does, too.  I have some those in my queue, at both Amazon and Netflix, but I haven’t gotten around to watching it yet, so I don’t have any comments.  Though, I know Amazon won several Emmy Awards this year for their work.  In fact, in celebration of that, Amazon Prime was on sale some time back, and I got it then for $67/year for the first year instead of the usual $99/year.

The other streaming service I heard people mention a lot was Hulu.
Initially, I started streaming everything via my Sony home theater system and, since Hulu was one of the options available, I decided to try it.  I figured it was cheap, at $7.99/month for “limited commercials”, and they seemed to carry a lot of programming that interested me, like the SyFy Channel.  What I really like about Hulu, though, is basically two things.  One, is that it has a lot of the series I like and a ton of anime, which I love, but haven’t watched a lot of in recent years.  And, two, I can get a lot of shows that recently aired, like Agents of SHIELD, usually, the day after they aired on regular TV.  So, in some ways, Hulu has replaced a lot of what I used my DVR for in the first place.
Hulu also has a lot of more obscure shows, many from Canada, which I’ve never heard of or seen before, which can be fun.  And, the “limited commercials” are just that, limited.  On most shows, the ads are less than 30 seconds long and only show two or three times during an episode.  In some cases, like when my wife and I are watching different shows on different devices, only one of us will actually get ads that interrupt our show.  And, lately, the ad I see the most is from Hulu itself, trying to tempt me into upgrading my service to the “commercial free” level.  For an additional $4/month, I’m tempted, to be honest, but the commercials aren’t very disruptive as they are now.

All three streaming services we’re using have their own content.  So far, though, I’ve only watched original content on Amazon Prime.  Specifically, I’ve watched the first two episodes of Man In The High Castle, which is based on a book by Phillip K. Dick.  It’s been pretty good so far.  I’m also looking forward to watching Daredevil and Jessica Jones, which are both produced by Netflix and are Marvel properties.  They’ve gotten great reviews, even though the general public only has access to Daredevil so far.  Hulu’s original content is mostly comedy and doesn’t really appeal to me that much.  And, I have to admit, the original content is all just icing on the streaming cake for me.  None of the original work had any real bearing on the choices we made regarding streaming services.

All that being said, there is actually one more streaming service that I haven’t gotten yet, but plan to add; Sling TV.  They’re new, but they sound promising and they may be the only way we can replace some of my wife’s favorite programming, namely classic movies.  So far, Sling TV is the only way to get her favorite channel, Turner Classic Movies.
But, that’s going to be a post all on its own at a future date.

Hey, if you made it through all this and still have something to add about your favorite, or least favorite, streaming service, please, leave me a comment!


Apollo Archive

Filed under: Fun,Photography,Things to Read — 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

I love space.

Recently, thanks to the Martian, there’s been a lot of attention on NASA and space exploration.  Frankly, I think there should be more attention paid to the incredible work that NASA does and a larger portion of our National budget should be spent on what they do.
As a photographer, I admire the large volume of images that they release to the public domain every year.  Images that inspire.  Images that educate.  Images that, I hope, lead us to…
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WordPress Training

Filed under: Fun,Never trust a Network Admin with a screwdriver,Ooo, shiny...,Red Herrings — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:30 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Crescent

Free training, of course, for my favorite content management system; WordPress.

Not familiar with WordPress?  Well, you should be since it runs or manages a significant percentage of the web.  As of this writing, “significant” means about 25% of all websites.  Yeah.  That’s a lot.  And, there are a lot of reasons for that.  For one thing, it’s well supported and lots of developers work with it, so getting help and customization work done is relatively easy.  For another, it’s easily…
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