Diary of a Network Geek

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

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!

2/7/2014

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 ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."
   --Martin Luther King

11/1/2013

Let the writing begin!

Filed under: Art,Fun,Life Goals,NaNoWriMo — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:58 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Crescent

NaNoWriMo starts today, but I won’t be participating this year.

Maybe next year, after my life is just a little more settled and I’ve spent a year getting my writing chops back.
Writing here, or any non-fiction, is relatively easy for me these days, but writing fiction is another kettle of fish.  I used to write all the time and, especially right after college, it flowed easily and well.  I would say, in my own estimation, that I was writing fiction at…
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9/11/2013

IT Dreams

Filed under: Criticism, Marginalia, and Notes,Geek Work,Life Goals,Life, the Universe, and Everything,Personal,Red Herrings — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:48 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

You know what I’d like to do?

I’d like to run a large-ish IT shop with a clear and well-defined budget.  I’d like to plan for rolling upgrades so that no one had a workstation or laptop that was older than five years old.  If the budget allowed for it, so that no one had equipment that was older than three years old.  And, I’d like to take that old, retired equipment and donate it to worth causes, like the Boys and Girls Clubs of America or the Red Cross or Goodwill or something like that.  Local charities, too, but all causes that would use that equipment to better someone’s actual life.

I’d like to have servers that were under-utilized for a change, instead of always headed toward being out of resources.  Servers with so much room to grow that they still were running smoothly even after a five or six year period, but that were upgraded before they were ten years old anyway, just because that’s the right way to do it.

I’d like to have staff that I could develop and grow and train to be the best IT personnel that techs could imagine being.  And, I mean that both through having a training budget to send them out for classes, but also on a personal level.  The one thing I really, really miss about being more than a department of one is that chance to teach someone how to do it the right way.  (And, yes, there are many ways to get IT stuff done, but, honestly, there are some ways that are more right than others.)

I long for a neat wiring closet again.  And an orderly server rack.  I miss having a dedicated server room with it’s own A/C and raised floors.  Can’t there be a way for even small companies to do that?  Shouldn’t we find a way for that to be a thing?

Okay, Universe, there it is.  I’ve said it.  Now, go make it happen!

1/18/2013

Vitamins from Food

Filed under: By Bread Alone,Fun Work,Life Goals — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:52 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a First Quarter Moon

A healthy mind is a creative mind!

And, let’s face it, a healthy mind is supported by a healthy body.  Exercise is one aspect of that, but at a more fundamental level, properly fueling our bodies and minds is, I think, the most important first step.  Last week, I linked to a site to help you put your diet on autopilot.  This week, I’m suggesting that you maximize your vitamin intake.  Not through taking supplements, though that’s not a bad idea…
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1/11/2013

Put Your Diet on Autopilot

Filed under: Fun,Life Goals,Life, the Universe, and Everything,Red Herrings — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:07 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a New Moon

So, we’re eleven days into the New Year.  How are  your resolutions holding up?

If you’re like most people, you’ve made a personal commitment to eat better and lose weight in the coming year.  But, like most people, that little resolution won’t last through the end of the first quarter.  Well, the good news is that this is easier than committing to adding exercise to your daily routine!  No, the answer isn’t to go out and buy Tim Ferriss’ books, the 4-Hour…
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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:
"The fact that no one understands you doesn't make you an artist."

12/12/2012

Another Birthday

Filed under: Criticism, Marginalia, and Notes,Deep Thoughts,Life Goals,Life, the Universe, and Everything,Personal,Red Herrings — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:09 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Crescent

So, today marks another lap around the Sun for me.

Honestly, I don’t hang a lot on birthdays, especially my own.  I mean, for the most part, they’re just another day.  Another marker of many in my life and, frankly, a rather arbitrary one at that.  I’m more impressed with the fact that I’ve paid a third of my mortgage than that I’m turning 44 today.  Of course, the fact that I’ve made it this far is actually sort of an…
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8/24/2012

Enough Money?

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Fun,Life Goals,Life, the Universe, and Everything — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:18 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a First Quarter Moon

Yes, I’m a little obsessed with money this month.

No, it’s not because I can’t pay my bills.  Rather, it’s about work.  Now, for the most part, I enjoy my work.  I find it challenging, but not too challenging, and interesting and the pay is pretty good.  Also?  I have a ten-minute commute.  Hard to beat that!  But, the reality is, at heart, I’m a lazy bastard.  If I could skate by without working another day in my life, I totally would do that.  For real.
The problem with that, of course, is paying all those bills.  So, how to do it?  What kind of money do I need to be able to tell the world to, essentially, and pardon my language, “Fuck off”.  (Yes, what I’m talking about is commonly referred to as “Fuck You Money”.)  So, what would that take?  I don’t need to live like a king, but, to not work, I will need to keep getting money somehow, like through investments.  But, the question is, how much will it take and what kind of investment do I have to make to keep it coming steadily enough to pay the bills?

Luckily, a smarter gentleman than I, Nilesh Trivedi, has posted an Excel spreadsheet that will help you calculate just how much you need to start with and how good your investment needs to be so that you never have to answer to another boss again.  Download that, and read his explanation, here: How Much Is Enough? : A Formula for FU Money.  (And, if  you’re like me, you’ll start by saving the money you might have spent on Microsoft Office and open that spreadsheet in LibreOffice instead!)

So, there’s a little something to think about while you wait for the weekend! Enjoy!


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

8/17/2012

6 Personal Finance Apps

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Fun,Fun Work,Life Goals,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 5:54 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a New Moon

Can we ever have enough money?

Or be too thin or too good looking?  Well, I don’t know, but I do know that I’ve struggled at times with money.  It seems to slip through my fingers like water.  The harder I squeeze to hold on to it, the faster it seems to slip away.  But, I know that about myself, so I do what I can to stop the bleeding, so to speak.  For me, the first step is tracking where it all goes.  And, I mean, tracking every last dime.  Nothing is too small or too big to count.  Back in the day, I used to record every 50¢ can of soda I had at lunch and could tell you, to the penny, how much money I had in my pocket at any given moment.
Sadly, that was some time ago and I’ve slipped back into some of my old ways.  But, now, at least, I know how to tackle the problem.  In my case, the tool I use to capture my financial info has been Quicken, though I need the newest version still.  What’s changed since I had this problem last, though, is the miracle of smart phones.  So, I was quite thrilled to see PC Magazine review 6 personal finance apps.  I use an iPhone, so I tend to focus on iPhone apps, like those reviewed in the article, though I’m sure there are plenty of Android apps, too.

I’m not sure I’m ready to trust an app that synchronizes with a website, like Mint.com, for my personal finance needs, but some of the other ones reviewed looked interesting to me.
So, how about you all?  What do you use to keep track of your finances?

(Yeah, I know, not quite as “fun” as my regular Friday links, but I’ve been thinking about a more serious Tuesday post that just features tools of various kinds that I’ve used.  Thoughts on that would be welcome in the comments, too!)

 


Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"The real art of conversation is not only to say the right thing in the right place but to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment."
   --Lady Dorothy Nevill

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