Diary of a Network Geek

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

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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5/27/2014

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:
"A critic is a man who knows the way but can't drive the car."
   --Kenneth Tynan

5/23/2014

Two Free Security Plugins

Filed under: Deep Thoughts,Geek Work,The Dark Side — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:32 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Crescent

This week I’ve got two very serious freebies for you.

Security, as some of you may know, is near and dear to my heart.
In my day job, I’m a system administrator and constantly worried about security.  It’s a huge issue.  Lately, you all may have been hearing news stories about the “Heartbleed SSL vulnerability” which, in theory, could endanger your personal login information, as well as other account credentials or other things you’d want to keep private.  It’s not entirely clear…
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5/6/2014

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!

3/11/2014

Systemometer

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 Waxing Gibbous

A screensaver that monitors your server.Systemometer

This may not seem like much of a “tool”, since it’s pretty passive, but when you have a server that’s getting old and failing, being able to quickly glance at what its performance is like can be a real benefit.  And, for the past eight months, I’ve been running a server that, to be honest, was a little too old to be in production.  People would complain about it pretty much constantly, even, I suspect, when it may not have been the actual problem they were suffering from.  I’ve since replaced the server, but I kept running Systemometer on both the old server, which now serves as strictly a backup server, and the new, shiny, Windows 2012 server, just so everyone can see the difference.

But, let me be really specific about this; Systemometer is a configurable monitoring tool that shows system performance and resources in a spider chart. Seeing the varying shapes of displayed polygon, representing a visual pattern drawn based on normal, or critical, system states. Once you get used to it, this snapshot view helps to read the overall system status at a glance. Just looking at the screenshot in this post, which will enlarge if you click on it, you can see that a lot of information is displayed.  Notice, for instance, that there are 12 “CPU”s listed.  Since this is a modern, multi-core server, those are really just all the cores being displayed, with the current processor time in yellow and the average processor time in green.  If I wanted to, I can also set Systemometer to display the maximal processor usage, but as this is a new server, I haven’t bothered to set that.  The same goes for the number of processes the server is handling, as well as the number of threads.  Also displayed is the physical and virtual memory usage, total drive space used and the hard drive seek time.  Notice how almost everything falls well within that red circle on the display?  That’s because the server is new and being used well below it’s capacity, by design.  This is the second server upgrade I’ve done since I’ve been at this company, and I’d like to not have to do one again soon.  That’s also why the number of threads is reading like it’s in the red, even though it’s not.  The new server is so new that not all metrics have been calibrated to display correctly.
Also, notice that the two performance polygons are yellow and green.  The yellow is the current usage while the green is the average usage.  It may be hard to tell the difference between the two because I took this screen shot on a Sunday afternoon with minimal usage.  Of course, the server being primarily a file server and an Active Directory server, the average usage is pretty constant in any case.

It may not be obvious from the screen shot, but I’m running this as a screen saver, which is only one option for using Systemometer.  It can also be used as a kind of replacement performance monitor instead of using the built-in Task Manager for that function.  Actually, one way I validated the results I was seeing from Systemometer was to run it next to Task Manager and compare the displayed performance information.
Personally, I like running it as a screen saver because I can quickly check on my server as I walk past the screen into or out of my office.  Also, it seems to impress people who see it and can’t make heads or tails of what they’re seeing.  It’s not big, fancy monitoring system, but unless you really know what you’re looking at, the average person isn’t going to figure that out!

Finally, the other reason I use Systemometer is that it’s free!
Yep, that’s right, absolutely free.  Of course, it may not ever get updated again, but I’m okay with that, as long as it still works as it has been so far.

2/23/2014

Flawless Victory!

Filed under: Geek Work,GUI Center,MicroSoft,Pressgram — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:37 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Crescent

Okay, so maybe not “flawless”, but victory nonetheless.
What this is, is a screen shot of me remotely accessing my new, upgraded server, after about 11 hours of work, with a break for dinner.  I migrated the complete Active Directory server, as well as the DNS and DHCP servers.  (Which for you non-geeks means I moved all the network services that let people get to both this server and the internet.)  Trickier still was getting the print services moved to the new server.  For some very strange reason, in my opinion, the import of the exported print configuration wouldn’t work unless I had the Windows Firewall turned on for the new Windows 2012 server.  That’s just crazy to me.  Why does print services care that the firewall is turned off?  It should be able to ignore that and just go!  Damn Microsoft….  (Grumble, grumble.)

In any case, after 10+ hours of work, the upshot is that most people won’t even realize that the server was upgraded on Monday.  (At least, I hope that’s the case.)  I may still have a few issues with printing on Monday morning with some people, but, I hope, those will be few and minor.  We’ll see, I guess.  But, everything else went about as well as I could hope for.
No, it wasn’t quite “flawless”, but I was able to work it all out, so that’s good enough.
Besides, what I really get paid for, in my opinion, is not the fact that I make few mistakes, but that I make virtually no catastrophic mistakes and I can work out pretty much all of the mistakes, catastrophic or not, that I do make.
In shot, I’m very good at what I do for a living.  As a character from an old Western, “The Guns of Will Sonnet”, used to say, “That’s not brag, just fact.”

So, now, it’s off to church to give thanks for not completely fucking this up!

Published via Pressgram

2/21/2014

Weekend Plans

Filed under: Geek Work,MicroSoft,Pressgram,The Dark Side — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Monkey which is mid-afternoon or 4:23 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a Third Quarter Moon

Guess who’s spending the weekend upgrading the company’s main server?

Finally after dealing with an aging server for too long, we’re upgrading.  And, not a minute too soon, either.  I have the joy of migrating Active Directory from a Windows 2003 server to a Windows 2012 server.  Not to mention, I get to migrate printing services, an iSCSI array connection, DNS and DHCP.  Wee!  What fun!

Well, I suppose that’s why I get the “big bucks”, right?  A system administrator’s work is never done!

Published via Pressgram

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!

11/7/2013

Security Screwed

Filed under: Geek Work,Never trust a Network Admin with a screwdriver,Pressgram — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Snake which is just before lunchtime or 11:16 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

A new screwdriver set, with a complete set of long-shaft bits, and a special set of “tamper resistant” bits for work. Purchased because the original in-house installers of a projector are all claiming ignorance now that we have to replace it.
Luckily, Harbor Freight Tools had a sale and this whole set was less than $20!

The screws in question, incidentally, are the “hex” or “Allen wrench” style with a post in the center.  Kind of deceptive and frustratingly hard to identify when you don’t know their name!

Published via Pressgram

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