Diary of a Network Geek

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

7/31/2015

Work Related Changes

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Geek Work,News and Current Events,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 Full Moon

So, last week, we finally had layoffs at my company.

No, I wasn’t one of them, and, in fact, we lost fewer people than some of our other offices.  Or, for that matter, many of the other people I know who are in the oil and gas industry.  And, while I don’t expect to lose my job any time soon, since I’m one of the few IT people here, there’s no telling what the future holds.
So, in short, I’m not quite…
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Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"You may give out, but never give up."
   --Mary Crowley

6/21/2015

Digital Assets After Death

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Dragon which is in the early morning or 9:37 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what happens when we die.

Recently, a friend of my wife’s died very suddenly and unexpectedly.  She was not, as far as anyone knows, ill in any serious way.  Nor, again, as far as anyone knows, did she have any medical condition that might lead one to expect a sudden death.  It was a very shocking surprise.
Her husband, who is also a friend of ours, was suddenly responsible for all the things she had been taking care of, including paying all the bills on-line.  Naturally, she had her email linked to all that, but, as it turns out, he didn’t have all her email passwords, because, well, who would?  I certainly don’t have all my wife’s passwords memorized, if I even know them.  Not that she keeps secrets from me, but, who can think of every system and password?  And, I have my own passwords to keep track of, which, thanks to my work, are many and not all chosen by me.  Our friends didn’t have much more in the way of “digital assets”, really, beyond email, their phones, and their Facebook account.  But, my wife and I have several websites between us.  Obviously, I have this one and my other, more personal site, JKHoffman.com.  She has her business website, The Organizing Decorator.  And, then there are the sites I’m still developing, FindMyPhorographer.com, FindMyDecorator.com and LookingForLawyers.com  Although those are still under development, we hope that they will one day be thriving businesses that will continue even if one of us were to die.
But, how?

Well, for the simple passing on of information, there are a lot of methods.  There’s the tried-and-true method of simply having the information, like a list of passwords for assorted systems, in a sealed envelope with instructions for delivery after a certain condition or date.  I’ve actually had that kind of thing with employers when I was at small companies.  Just a sealed envelope in a fire safe with the administrator password and other relevant details.  But, this relies on someone coming to find it or knowing where to look.  Also, there’s not as much control over who gets it, even if that envelope is left with someone trustworthy, like a lawyer.
Another method, that’s the higher-tech equivalent of this, is the software-based “Dead Man’s Switch”, which I wrote about back in 2009.  In addition to the resources there, now there is also the service Deadman.  The idea is all the same and based on an old idea from the train industry.  The so-called “dead man’s switch” is a device that someone must actively keep engaged or the train, or other piece of machinery, will shut off.  Here the “dead man’s switch” is just something that has to be reset by a certain time or some series of events will occur, like sending an email to one or more people with important information in it.  I used to use a bit of freeware based on this called “DMS”, which was, obviously, an abbreviation.  The software did, among other things, some encryption to protect vital information from people who might get nosy after my departure from a company, especially if that departure came as a surprise to me.  That worked great until I got cancer and was suddenly hospitalized and unable to reset the timer!  Whoops!  The creator is no longer supporting the software, and it has some obvious dangers, but you can still download it here.  There is a decryption tool, but, it may be best not to use that at all.  Also, I’m not entirely sure how well it will work on Windows 7 or newer machines.  It’s pretty old.
If you’re a WordPress blogger, you can try the Next of Kin plugin, which sends out an email per your configuration if you don’t log into your blog in a certain amount of time.  It hasn’t been updated too recently, but it is more up-to-date than the DMS software and runs on what is hopefully a more reliable system than your desktop, at least in the long-run.
(Of course, if you’re a spy or a whistle-blower of some kind, these services and software packages have other uses!)

So, what might one need to pass on to the living once we have passed?
Besides the previously mentioned email passwords and banking access passwords, there may be website and web hosting accounts and passwords, social media accounts and passwords like Twitter and Facebook, PINs for your ATM, credit cards and home alarm, device passwords for phones, laptops and desktops, and password storage software, if you use any.
Honestly, this list can go on and on in our connected world.  A site called Tuts+ ran a two-part series about this very subject and I highly recommend that if you want to think through all the things that you may need to transfer access to after one’s passing.  The first article, Preparing Your Digital Assets For Your Eventual Death, has a lot of food for thought.  The author, like me, knew someone who lost their spouse and was confronted with the sudden loss of a spouse, which is what inspired his writing of the articles.  However, it took on a much more personal sense of urgency when, after starting the articles, he was diagnosed with a, thankfully, operable brain tumor.  And, as a cancer survivor, I can tell you that this is not the first time these issues have been on my mind.

If you have a self-hosted blog, like this one, or another kind of website, you have an additional set of challenges in addition to the normal ones that pretty much everyone faces today in our digital world.  First of all, there’s the domain name.  Now, you can register that somewhere for an extended period of time.  The last I checked, though, ten years is the longest one can pre-pay for that service.  Most registrars have an auto-renew feature, as long as you have a good credit card listed in the payment section.  Or, have it linked to a PayPal account that has funds in it.  In theory, web-hosting can work in a similar fashion.  In fact, the popular and well-known registrar GoDaddy has hosting options as well, so, if this is a real concern, it may be possible to achieve both goals at a single vendor.
But, of course, the question ultimately becomes one of how reliable in the long-term any of these companies are or may be.  Do you want to host your content for 100 years after your death?  The internet itself hasn’t been around that long yet, so who knows what any of this digital landscape will look like that far into the future?  Jeff Reifman talks about these issues in greater depth in the second of his articles at Tuts+, Hosting Your Website After Death.  It’s an on-going series and I recommend that you check it out if you have any interest in these topics at all.

 


Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"You see things and you say 'Why?'. I dream things that never were and say 'Why not?'"
   --George Bernard Shaw

4/10/2015

Fast Workouts

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Fun,Life Goals,Personal,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 Waning Gibbous

No, seriously, modern science has given us a workout that can be done in 7 minutes.

Loyal readers will know that my weight has gone up and down several times over the years.  The heaviest I ever remember being is 238, which was just before I lost my job in 2001 and ended up being out of work for a year.  I took the weight off pretty quickly then, which was made easier by stress and fear and the occasional lack…
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Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"A merry heart doeth good like a medicine."
   --Proverbs 27:22 (KJV)

1/16/2015

Stay True to You

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Criticism, Marginalia, and Notes,Deep Thoughts,Red Herrings,Things to Read — 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

Don’t listen to the media.

Seriously, they don’t have your best interests at heart.  They want to sell advertising, not good news.  And, they sure don’t want you to like yourself or feel comfortable with the world around you.  Because, after all, if you feel safe and happy, they don’t know how to sell you things.  Do you think I’m lying?  Then let me give you an example: health and fitness magazines.

I’ve known for years that my favorite health and fitness…
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Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"One day you'll love me as I have loved you. One day you'll think of me as I've thought of you. One day you'll cry for me as I've cried for you. And one day you'll want me and I won't want you."

5/27/2014

Keeping Windows XP Alive

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Geek Work,MicroSoft,Never trust a Network Admin with a screwdriver,News and Current Events,The Dark Side — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Snake which is just before lunchtime or 11:49 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Crescent

First, let me say that I don’t endorse this as a way to avoid upgrading.

Second, let me fully affirm that this is completely awesome!  And, as someone who maintains a Windows XP virtual machine to run some older software for my camera, I am thrilled to have this option, for as long as it lasts.
The hack is pretty simple, basically just adding a small entry to the Registry.  First published by Wayne Williams at BetaNews a day ago, it’s been all over the internet today.  I did it earlier on an old machine at work and it worked great.  Your results may vary.  The steps are simple and in that linked article, but I’ve included the 32-bit version of the registry file that you can just download and import to your machine or virtual machine.

Use at your own risk!
And upgrade as soon as possible!
(Here’s the link to the REG file.)


Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"Whatever the majority of people is doing, under any given circumstances, if you do the exact opposite, you will probably never make another mistake as long as you live."
   --Earl Nightingale

2/7/2014

Get Started!

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Criticism, Marginalia, and Notes,Deep Thoughts,Life Goals,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 6:34 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a First Quarter Moon

So, we’re a month into the New Year.  What have you done so far?

Last month, I posted my fun, hopefully funny, Random Resolution Generator, because, well, everyone seems to make those annual New Year’s Resolutions, but who ever follows through?  As it turns out, almost no one does.  In fact, most people don’t even start, much less follow though.  And, really, getting started is everything.

Go read that last article I just linked to, then come back.  It’s okay, I’ll wait.
Back…
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Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"The best thing about the future is that it comes only one day at a time."
   --Abraham Lincoln

5/21/2013

Backups and Data Recovery – Home Edition – Part 2

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Calamity, Cataclysm, and Catastrophe,Geek Work,The Network Geek at Home — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Horse which is around lunchtime or 12:07 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Gibbous

So, I’ve finally heard back from DataRetrieval.com!

(Actually, I heard back a couple weeks ago, but I’ve been a little busy and haven’t had a chance to write things up.)

After a couple days of trying to get a response from an actual human being as to what was going on with my drive, I finally got a quote.  Well, actually, two quotes, which was kind of confusing.  The first quote was for about $300 and the second quote was for $1800.  But, I got no explanation of what the two quotes meant!  After a whole lot of back and forth over the course of more than a week with what seemed like an email autoresponder, I finally got in touch with a customer service representative to find out what was going on.
As it turns out, the quote for $300 was the minimum price to just get started.  Let that sink in for a minute.  They wanted $300 up front before they even started working on this drive with no promise whatsoever of actually retrieving data.  The $1800 quote was an estimate of the entire cost for retrieving all my data.

DataRecoveryReturnDrive Obviously, that wasn’t going to work for me and I told the service rep that.  Then, apparently, we started negotiations.
He came back with a counter offer price, which was still way too high and I told him so.
A day later, he came back again with another, lower offer.
In the end, that $1800 got cut down to about $500, which made me wonder just what they were charging me for in that first outrageous quote!

Finally, I convinced them that I wasn’t going to use their service and that I just wanted my drive back.  They charged me $25 for shipping, which I thought was fair enough, and they sent my drive back to me.  And here’s where they really lost me as a customer ever.  To the left, you see the box they sent my drive back to me in.  In case you forgot from the first post about this incident, since it was so long ago, I sent the drive to them in a larger box that was specifically designed to ship drives in, to keep them as safe as possible.

At the right, you see how they packed things inside the box.DataRecoveryReturnDrive-3
After all the strongly worded warnings and disclaimers about making sure you ship your damaged drive to them well padded so they won’t be liable for any additional damage or data loss, they don’t return the drive with anything like that same consideration.  I suppose they don’t feel like they need to since they won’t be making money off the drive, but, damn, that kind of disrespect for potential customers really says something bad about them as a company, at least in my mind.  I mean, there wasn’t *any* padding whatsoever!  It was just wrapped in two plastic shipping bags and shoved into the box!
Thankfully, the drive doesn’t seem to be damaged at all, or any more than it was when it crashed, so I’m probably no worse off than I was before I sent it to them.  Still, it’s the idea that they’d show so little care with my data that makes me question their entire service.  I know that I, personally, won’t ever trust them to attempt a data retrieval again, that’s for sure!

Also, based on what I’ve read, the problem is most likely a bad board on the drive.  A board which I can get off eBay for about $40, replace myself, and quite likely retrieve all my old photos.  I haven’t actually decided if I’m going to try and run down the board that matches the BIOS on my particular drive, but I may.  Kind of a huge difference, though, between $1800 and $40, plus a little of my time, isn’t it?

In any case, if I decide to get the board and fix the drive myself, now that I finally have it in my possession again, I’ll post another follow up with how that went.  And, possibly, even a tutorial on changing out that board.


Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"Every experience that involves one of us, involves others who also need what the experience may teach. We are not alone, ever."

4/4/2013

Backups and Data Recovery – Home Edition – Part 1

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Calamity, Cataclysm, and Catastrophe,Fun Work,Geek Work,Personal,Review — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:24 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Crescent

“Two is one and one is none”.

I’ve quoted that a lot over the years.  I’ve reminded people over and over again that just moving your data to an external drive is NOT a backup.  If you can’t afford to destroy it, then it’s not backed up.  I’ve said all those things.
And, yet, on Tuesday, I lost data because it wasn’t backed up.

As many long-time readers know, I’m an amateur photographer.  In the past five years, I have taken over 18,000 photographs.
On Tuesday evening, the network attached storage device, an IOMega two terabyte personal cloud edition NAS, to be exact, died.  Or, more specifically, the drive inside it died.  The sad thing was that I was preparing to copy it all to another device when it bit the dust.  Oh, sure, I still have a little over 4,000 of the best shots uploaded to my Flickr photostream, but, it’s not the same.  (I talked a little bit more about the backup portion and the loss over at my other site, JKHoffman.com)
So, here’s what I’ll be doing; First, I’m investigating the data recovery services of DataRetrieval.com and Second, I’ll be ordering two more large drives for my Pogoplug to store and backup my photos from here forward.

Let’s take these in reverse order.
I plan on adding a new feature to this blog called “Tools for Tuesday” which irregularly reviews various tools, software and hardware and even non-computer, that I’ve used and enjoyed over the years.  One of those early reviews will be of the fantastic Pogoplug.  In a nutshell, for those who aren’t familiar, this little beauty lets me attach up to four USB-based drives at a time to my network.  They can be any kind of USB drives I happen to have available.  Right now, I have two one-terabyte drives in generic enclosures hooked up to it.  They are set up as a master and a mirror drive.  In other words, one drive is where I put all my “stuff” and the Pogoplug automagically mirrors it to the second drive.
It’s really, really nice and when I have the right software installed on my various machines, I can map a drive to that device via the internet and upload to my own personal cloud in my server closet at home.  It’s very nice, albeit a little slow sometimes when I’m away from home.  Still, it’s private and reasonably secure and automatically backing itself up.  I’ve confirmed that two of these devices in separate locations can be used the same way, make a truly redundant mirror, if you really want to do that.  (I do, but I haven’t gotten around to getting the second Pogoplug and setting it up on another network somewhere.)
I really cannot convey how happy I have been with this setup.  I’m super, super impressed with this as a low-rent solution for the small or home business person, or, like me, the hardcore hobbyist.
So, by the time you all are reading this post, I’ll have ordered two three-terabyte USB drives of some kind.  And, clearly, I’ll be setting them up in a similar configuration as the ones I already have, so that one backs up the other.

I’m also sending my drive off to DataRetrieval.com to get an estimate on restoring the data.
I chose them because they had an office in Houston, and I like using local businesses.  Also, they sent me a free shipping label to send the drive to them to get an estimate, which I like.  And, yes, I did try several things to get the data back myself, including the ultimate hard drive “Hail Mary”; the “frozen drive” trick.  I only got as far as seeing the drive, but not being able to access any of the partitions.  And, based on the horrible clicking noise it was making, I’m pretty sure it’s going to take getting the platters out and mounted in their special recovery equipment to get the data off.
I’m choosing slow over expensive, so it may be a couple weeks before I hear back from them with an estimate.  And, depending on how pricey it gets, I may not even decide to follow through and have them recover it.  But, I have to admit, it really hurt to lose five years worth of my photography, even if I don’t really go back to the old stuff all that often.  Now, if I were a professional photographer, or a business owner, I’d pay through the nose to get that data back, but for me, it’s really not hugely important.  Still, I’ll be interested to see, and share, what the quote is and how it’s handled by the service techs at DataRetrieval.com

So, stay tuned!  I don’t know how long it will take, but I promise to do a Part 2 when I get the data recovery quote!


Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"Why not go out on a limb? Isn't that where the fruit is?"
   --Frank Scully

1/1/2013

Day One

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Deep Thoughts,Life Goals,Things to Read — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Monkey which is in the late afternoon or 5:20 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

On this day, in 1660, arguably the most famous diarist in history, Samuel Pepys, made the first entry into his personal diary.

He kept his diary for approximately nine years, detailing everything from his personal life to the news of the day to even what he ate.  Although he clearly kept his diary purely as a personal exercise, he must have suspected that it may eventually prove interesting to future generations based on the care he took to bind it and…
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Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"May you live all the days of your life."
   --Jonathan Swift

12/28/2012

Random Resolutions, Again

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Fun — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:15 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a Full Moon

So, those of you familiar with my blog will recognize my annual New Year’s Resolutions post.

Yes, I’m pretty shameless about it, but, well, it was one of the earlier things I programmed and I still find it amusing and the New Year will fast be upon us.   Besides, this is fun and so many people take their New Year’s Resolutions too seriously.  Not to mention how serious it seems like  this year has been for people with the elections and the worries about the economy and all.  So, rather than be serious, why not try something more fun this year and generate your resolution randomly with the Diary of a Network Geek’s New Year’s Resolution Generator!
It’s fun! It’s FREE! And, I have to admit, it tends to lean toward resolutions that involve hard liquor and inappropriate behavior, especially with strangers.
Trust me, you’ll love it. Be sure to share it with all your drunk friends this weekend at your parties!
See you next year!


Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"Character may be manifested in the great moments, but it is made in the small ones."
   --Phillips Brooks

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