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!

10/17/2013

ServerLift

Filed under: Geek Work,Never trust a Network Admin with a screwdriver,Review — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Rooster which is in the early evening or 6:44 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Gibbous

Where was this when I needed it?!

If you don’t work in the IT industry, you may think of us all as the stereotypical “pencil-necked geeks”, but you’d be wrong.  That’s especially true of those of us who have had the pleasure of doing regular work in large data centers or server farms.  When you see those long racks of endless servers in ads on TV, consider this, someone had to lift them all into place.  And, if you think that laptop you have to lug through airport security is heavy, then you never, ever want to have to lift a server into place in a server rack.  Consider this; a Dell PowerEdge 2950 server, which is a pretty standard or average size, weighs almost 60 pounds.  When you have to lift that into a server rack, you have to hold it steady while lining up the sliding rail assemblies so that they lock into place in that server rack.  Now, imagine controlling 60 pounds with that kind of fine motor control over your head.
Yeah, and that’s not even mentioning the big UPS units that often run more than 200 pounds.
So, that’s why so many IT people are really actually quite well built, at least when it comes to upper-body strength.  (It’s those damn chairs and keyboards that make the weight stack up around the middle!)

But, today, I got an email from a company advertising a product called ServerLift.
Now, regular readers know that I’m pretty mercenary, so I rarely advertise anything for free, but this product looks like genius!  This thing will, according to their product literature, will lift up to 500 pounds and will let you wheel that load right up to the rack and glide it right in.  I haven’t used one myself, because I don’t work in a big server environment at the moment, but the video makes it look like lining things up is pretty simple.  And, best of all, it looks really stable and secure, so there’s less possibility of dropping a server or, like I have, bending a rail that wasn’t quite lined up right.
I cannot tell you how many times I have wished for a product just like this one!  And, so help me, if I ever get into a position where I’m in charge of a big data center again, I’ll be finding out how much these are so I can work it into the budget.
I can only imagine how many broken toes this would have saved over the years!

7/26/2013

Open Source Digital Darkroom Software

Filed under: Art,Fun,GUI Center,Linux,Review — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:55 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

I would imagine by now the few regular readers of this blog have figured out that I love both photography and free software.

I, personally, use Lightroom.  And, yes, I paid for it.  I’ve gotten used to it and I understand the workflow and I can get the little bit of editing I do to photos done that way.  But, I am always on the look out for software that I can recommend to people unwilling to make that kind of…
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7/12/2013

Free Image Viewer, And More

Filed under: Art,Fun,Fun Work,Review — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is in the early morning or 7:11 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

Last week, I shared my favorite free image editor, but this week, I’ve got a bit of software that’s every bit as useful and important.

But, really, it’s more than just a viewer.  This little gem can do every thing from slideshows to file format conversions to cropping.  It can even do some simple editing like sharpening or blurring.  You can choose to view all the graphics in a directory in thumbnail format, or scroll through them one at a time…
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7/5/2013

Free Image Editing

Filed under: Art,Fun,Linux,Review — 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 Waning Crescent

Long-time readers of my blogs will know that I’m a cheap bastard.

So, with that in mind, it shouldn’t be a surprise that I’m an advocate of free software.  I’m especially in favor of free software that can replace, or mostly replace, expensive, high-end software.

As a photographer, I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with Adobe and their flagship product, Photoshop.  I love the tool and all the amazing things it can do, but I hate the price.  I’ll grant that they…
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6/7/2013

Picking New Fiction

Filed under: Fun,Life, the Universe, and Everything,Red Herrings,Review,Things to Read — 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 Waning Crescent

I like to read.

In fact, I like to read a lot, as anyone who’s spent time with me can tell you.  I have to admit, I read a lot of trash, but, still, at least I’m reading.  And, since getting my newest Nook HD+ back around Mother’s Day, I’ve been reading more than ever.  I cannot tell you how much I love this thing.  I suppose the Kindles are the same way, but since Barnes and Noble has upgraded their…
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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:
"A pessimist is one who makes difficulties of his opportunities; an optimist is one who makes opportunities of his difficulties."
   --Reginald B. Mansell

3/8/2013

Rating Ramen

Filed under: By Bread Alone,Fun,Red Herrings,Review — 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 Waning Crescent

Remember how I wrote last week that this month was going to be a little random?

This is what I meant.

So, people who know me well know that I love instant ramen noodles.  In fact, just back in January, I was going on about the joy of ramen and how much I loved it in all its reconstituted glory.  Well, once upon a time, I thought I would share my love of ramen with the world by rating all the different…
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1/31/2012

Essential Tools for System Admins

Filed under: Geek Work,GUI Center,MicroSoft,Review — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is in the early morning or 7:09 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a First Quarter Moon

There are more free sysadmin tools for Windows than you can shake a memory stick at these days.

But, here are a few of the better collections of them.
First, from Infoworld, 15 “Essential” Open Source Tools for Windows Admins.  I’m not sure I’d say these are all essential, but they are a pretty good start.  I can only vouch for three of them on this list; Wireshark, Nmap, and ClamWin Antivirus.  Though I’m familiar with them from the Linux/Unix world, these are the Windows equivalents and they work just fine.  Old network geeks will recognize Wireshark and Nmap as a reliable packet sniffer and a security vulnerability scan tool, respectively.  You may not be as familiar with ClamWin.  It’s based on the ClamAV engine, which in its Linux boot-disk incarnation, has saved my bacon more than once!  There are a couple inventory tools in this list I plan on looking more closely at, not to mention the add-on for Nmap they talk about.  Good stuff and worth checking out!

Secondly, from TechRepublic, there’s Five Free Windows Registry Cleaners.  Again, I’ve only used two of these five; CCleaner and Wise Registry Cleaner.  CCleaner does everything I generally need in regards to shoring up old, creaky registries, but I’m always looking for new tools.  The version of Wise Registry Cleaner I used was an older one, but it worked well enough.  And, it does have the nice feature of being able to backup and restore older versions of your registry.  Believe me, that can come in handy sometimes!

Thirdly, also from TechRepublic, Five Microsoft Tools to help with Server Management.  Of these five, again, I’ve only used one; dcdiag.  Naturally, it’s the only command-line tool in the bunch.  Though, I hear Microsoft has been talking about going back to a command-line, terminal interface for their server products.  I’m a little leary of any security utility that is based on a wizard, but I have to admit, at least it’s something that might encourage Windows sysadmins to do some work at securing their servers more.  And, I have to admit, I wish I had known more about the file server migration wizard a few years ago.  It sure would have helped me more than once!

And, finally, the venerable, but ultimately useful, More Sysinternals for Windows Admins.  Now, these I’ve used quite a bit!  At least, some of them.  All the disk usage utilities have been super helpful over the years in determining who has been sucking up all the drive space on my servers!  And I’ve used PsInfo to attempt to gather information in various attempts to inventory my various networks.  And, these days, everyone will need the RootKitRevealer sooner or later.  Sadly, almost everyone has been, or will be, effected by a rootkit virus of some kind.  It seems inevitable.

So, there you go, system administrators.  There’s my gift to you in the form of links to tools to do your jobs, faster, easier and more efficiently.  Enjoy!

1/14/2011

Free Fiction from Ted Chiang

Filed under: Art,Fun,Life, the Universe, and Everything,Red Herrings,Review,Things to Read — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:16 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Gibbous

What are you doing today?

If you’re at work, you probably aren’t getting anything done because it’s Friday and, frankly, if you’re reading this blog, you probably aren’t going to get much done no matter where you are, so you might as well check out some of the best damn science-fiction I’ve ever read. And, no, I don’t think that’s exaggerating. At all.
So, go read Ted Chiang’s The Life Cycle of Software Objects at Subterranean Press.
Seriously. Go read it while it’s still up and free!

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