Diary of a Network Geek

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

10/10/2014

Freebies for Friday

Filed under: Art,Fun,Fun Work,GUI Center — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:32 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

Traditionally, I’ve tried to give you free stuff on Friday.
This week is no different.

But, I’ll be honest, it’s been a crazy week with budget planning and strategic planning for the next five years at work, so I haven’t really prepared anything special.  And, that means I’ll be digging into my collection of strange links for two totally random freebies for you to enjoy!

First, since I always fool around with designing websites, or at least talk about it a lot, I…
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9/26/2014

The Medium Is The Message

Filed under: Art,Fun,Fun Work,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 Waxing Crescent

Marshall McLuhan said that, and it may be one of the few things I remember about him from my Marketing classes.And, I’ll be honest, outside of it being a catchy phrase, I’m not entirely sure it applies to this post.  But, I suppose, in a way, it does.

Take a look around you and think about how you receive information.  While a “picture is worth a thousand words”, the vast majority of the way we communicate information is via the written…
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9/12/2014

Download The Latest Themes From Automattic

Filed under: Art,Fun,Fun Work,GUI Center — 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

It’s a great time to be a blogger.
No, seriously!  For one thing, if you’re an old guy like me, who’s been blogging for ten or fifteen years, the golden time we all knew was coming has arrived; according to The Atlantic, Millennials are finally craving long-form reads.

So, you can finally setup that blog you’ve been dreaming of and write to your heart’s content.  And, while you can always setup a free blog on WordPress.com, I would personally suggest that you…
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9/5/2014

Style Maker

Filed under: Art,Fun,Fun Work,Geek Work — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:50 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Gibbous

Hopefully, you all won’t be too disappointed to not see links to a bunch of other blogs today.

I hate to admit it, but I wrote this at the last minute because I’ve been so busy.  So, if you all think this is lame today, well, I don’t blame you.  I’ll try to do better for next week and the rest of the month.  No promises, though.
As you may know, I dabble in WordPress, which just updated to a new version…
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6/27/2014

An Easy Way to Share Your WIFI Password

Filed under: Fun,Fun Work,Geek Work,Red Herrings — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:43 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a New Moon

I’m going to take a slight departure from my normal free stuff on Friday posts.

Don’t worry, this is still free, but it’s not just a “click here and look at this thing” kind of post.  This week, you’ll need to actually do a couple of things to get the full benefit of this post.  Basically, it’s a little Summer DIY project for the mildly geeky and social.

Have you ever been to someone’s home and had to ask for their WIFI…
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5/30/2014

Create Ebooks from Webpages

Filed under: Fun,Fun Work,Things to Read — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:33 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

Okay, this isn’t exactly a new idea, but it’s still worth sharing.

I got this from Lifehacker back in 2012, but I’ve been behind in my link sharing, so I’m just getting to it now.
The idea is simple.  Reading on-line is rarely the best, most comfortable, most convenient way to keep up with all the things we want to read, especially all the “long form” articles that really get in-depth on topics we care about.  That’s where Readlists comes into play.

This…
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3/25/2014

Keyless Entry Tools!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2/18/2014

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.)

1/21/2014

Free LogMeIn Alternative

Filed under: Career Archive,Fun Work,Geek Work,PERL,The Network Geek at Home — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Sheep which is in the early afternoon or 2:22 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

Looks like the free LogMeIn option is going away.

It had to happen eventually, but it kind of sucks for those of us who relied on it to get certain things done.
They sent an email this morning, giving free users, like me, about a week to either pony up for a pro account or find another solution.  I figured I would have to search around for a while to find an alternative, but, thankfully, the folks over at Slashdot were already talking about it in the thread Short Notice: LogMeIn To Discontinue Free Access.  The ever helpful commenters had a lot of suggestions, with varying levels of snark and technical skill required and, you know, actual usefulness.  There were some interesting and baroque solutions to this pretty common problem.
Now, I’m a devote of Perl, so the idea that “there’s more than one way to do it” is near and dear to my heart, but some of those solutions on Slashdot were more hassle than they were worth!

The solution I looked at and quickly tested today was the Chrome Remote Desktop plugin.
I chose this for a couple of reasons.  First, it was free.  Frankly, that was probably the most important requirement.  I don’t have a budget for a lot of things I don’t use everywhere or every day, so I need to be careful how I spend that money.  Secondly, it was easy to implement and use.  There were several options discussed on Slashdot, but most of them were going to take creating one or more accounts on services like DynDNS or something similar, or they would need a new server or other dedicated machine.  That wasn’t going to work for me either.  I need something simple to install and use.  Mostly because I’m lazy, but still, the requirement is there.  And, thirdly, there had to be some kind of security on it so random users couldn’t log into machines.
Now, the “down-side”, such as it is.  This solution requires that Chrome be installed on any machine you want to get access to or from.  This is a Chrome plugin, so, obviously, it won’t work without Chrome.  Secondly, to get it and install it, you need a Google account of some kind, even though it’s free.  Gmail will do, and in fact was what I used to get the plugin from the Google App Store.  And, yeah, that was pretty much the only “bad” thing about it.  Again, for me, it wasn’t a big deal because I tend to install Chrome on any machine I happen to work on for any length of time, but it could be a hassle for people who don’t use or know Chrome.

Setup was easy and prompted me to enable remote connections to my machine then immediately asked me to set a PIN to restrict access.  I like that it did that.  Also, the PIN is required to be at least six digits, which is decent enough security.  I, personally, made it seven digits, but for the truly paranoid, you can make it longer.  I first set the plugin up on my work machine and then set it up at lunch on my home PC.  Again, I was asked for a PIN.  I happened to make it the same, but I’m pretty sure that PIN was unique to each machine, so, again, for the truly paranoid, you can lock this down pretty well.  After that five minute install, I was able to take over my machine at work.  Boom!  Just that easy.

As a further test of the plugin’s ability, I checked the box that allowed for “off-line access”, then I shut down my Chrome browser at home.  Once I got back to work, I tried remotely accessing my home PC.  I was asked for the PIN and then I was right in!  Again, just that easy.
Also, I should note that my work PC has only one monitor, but my home PC has two and Chrome Remote Desktop plugin flawlessly displayed both monitors.  It was absolutely amazing!  And, the connection was fast!  Frankly, it was faster than LogMeIn was most of the time.  It was great!

So, I know that LogMeIn won’t miss my business, since I never really gave them any, but I cannot say that I’ll miss them.  This is a great solution to the problem of remote access and I cannot be happier with it.  We’ll see how things go over time, of course, but this looks like a great, easy and free replacement for LogMeIn.
If you all find other solutions or solutions that you think work better, leave the information in the comments!

11/8/2013

5 Random Writing Tools

Filed under: Fun,Fun Work,NaNoWriMo,PERL — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:26 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

So, in support of NaNoWriMo, this month, I’ve decided to serve up nothing but writing-related links.

At a week into the process of writing your novel, you should be well on your way.  But, maybe there are some back-story details you’d like to fill in.  Maybe a character who needs an odd name, or who’s pockets you need to fill with random stuff.  Maybe you need a fictional timeline for a fictional nation.  Or, maybe you need a wacky science-fiction invention…
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