Diary of a Network Geek

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


Cutting The Cable – Roku

Filed under: Better Living Through Technology,Cutting Cable,Fun,Review — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Snake which is just before lunchtime or 11:30 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a New Moon

This is probably old news to long-time streaming fans, but I love the Roku!

Since starting to stream most of our television viewing, my wife and I have run into one significant problem; how to stream.
As I’ve already mentioned, I started out streaming on my Sony home theater system and my wife had an older Blu-Ray player that streamed, too.  But, her Blu-Ray was limited because it was old enough, for instance, that she couldn’t stream Amazon Prime video.  Mostly, it wasn’t an issue, because we’ve mostly been watching TV together on the bigger screen.  But, she can only take so much of my anime and Stargate Atlantis, and I can only take so much of her Regency dramas and Lark Rise to Candleford, so we often will watch different things in different rooms.  So, I started looking into different players.  The one that seemed to get consistently good reviews is the Roku family of devices.

Being cautious, and cheap, I went to eBay and found a gently used Roku 1 for about $30, including shipping.
The day it came, I got it hooked up to the second TV and connected to our wifi in less than 5 minutes.  Then, because I didn’t already have an account, I signed up at roku.com and got the device registered.  That literally took about another 15 minutes because I was doing it all on my iPhone and the tiny screen didn’t lend itself to fast typing.
Next I started the process of adding our credentials to the Netflix channel, the Hulu channel and the Amazon Prime channel.  By the time I got to the third one, I had pretty well mastered the Roku remote and virtual keyboard.  It wasn’t an incredibly fast process, but, still, in less than 30 minutes, I had all our current streaming systems setup on the Roku.  Then, my wife and I started exploring channels, first on the Roku itself and then on the website.  I was stunned at how many free channels there were!  And, yes, a “channel” on the Roku is roughly equivalent to a “channel” on cable.  Except, of course, for the fact that these are streaming channels and not live.

There are, as I already wrote, an amazing assortment of streaming channels available via the Roku.
Not only are there hundreds of free channels, but there are also quite a few that you can get a-la-carte for a low monthly charge.  Even better, though, are all the options now to get HBO and Showtime in streaming-only versions, completely cutting out the cable companies and their over-priced bundling!  We are actually not going to avail ourselves of that option, but what we have is fantastic.
Also, one feature that’s very nice is that the Roku makes binge-watching even easier as it will automatically advance your viewing queue, which our Sony home theater does not when it streams.  It’s honestly not something I realized I was missing until I had it back.  It makes the experience much more like watching regular TV.
Oh, also, if you’re a sports fan, which neither my wife nor I are, you can choose from a wide array of sports channels here, too.

I cannot tell you how impressed I am with this device!
For one thing, the setup was super easy.  This is the older version of this device, superseded by three versions now that the 4k version has been announced, and it’s still spectacular.  The complaint I see the most is about the “primitive” interface, but I see it as being simple and easy-to-use.  Honestly, this thing is so easy to setup, I’d recommend one to my 80+ year-old parents.  I make my living with technology so it’s often hard for me to judge how hard or easy something is to use.  I’m not a good test-case.  Instead, I judge it based on whether or not my poor mother could get it sorted out without calling me more than once or needing additional outside help.  I feel confident that she’d have no problem with this at all, especially if she knew to setup an account on roku.com first.
Then, once setup, adding and removing channels was really easy.  And, of course, actually viewing the content was no more complicated than using a DVR or similar device.  Really, in spite of the criticism, the interface made it all very easy to use and figure out.  On a media player, that’s precisely what I want; ease of use.
The one thing I don’t like is that you have to manually refresh your device when you add channels via the website before they show up.  As a technologist, I understand why they probably went that route, but it’s still a little annoying sometimes.  Still, that’s pretty much the only thing I don’t like about the Roku.

So, yes, I highly recommend this device.  In fact, later this week I’m going to order Sling TV and take advantage of their deal to get a Roku 3 at half-price for pre-paying three months of service.
When we get that setup and I feel confident about a decent review, I’ll post something here.
Also, I had an ulterior motive for getting this older version.  My next project is to setup a homemade DVR and, based on some research, the only way to get some of the streaming services onto a DVR is via analog.  The HDMI standard now includes a signal that prevents digital recording.  Analog recording, however, is still not blocked.  The Roku 1 has both the HDMI connectors and analog connectors.  So, at some point, I’ll be able to use this to record things for more convenient play-back at a much later date.  At least, in theory.  I’ll let you know how that eventually goes, too.


Cutting The Cable – Streaming Services

Filed under: Better Living Through Technology,Cutting Cable,Movies,The Network Geek at Home — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Snake which is just before lunchtime or 11:30 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a Third Quarter Moon

Streaming content changes your relationship with television programming.

Of course, so did the DVR, but this is different.
I was probably a little ahead of the curve here, because I’ve been streaming Netflix since, at least, 2007.  So, back when it was still just starting to be a thing, really, I had gotten totally comfortable with the idea of streaming content.  In fact, the first of the three services I’m going to talk about might as well be Netflix.  As it turns out, when I decided to drop cable the first time, after Hurricane Ike in September of 2008, Netflix was the only service I had.  I didn’t realize at the time that had only really been possible since January of that year, but it didn’t matter.  I bumped my subscription up to the level which allowed me to have four discs out at a time and I actually watched more content that way than any other.  Let me tell you, binge watching Lost, four episodes in an evening, really opened my eyes.  Not only was it far more understandable and easier to follow the plot of an otherwise complicated and confusing show, but it let me indulge the obsessive side of my personality to my heart’s content.  Most of the time, I prefer movies to regular serial television anyway, but this really let me dive deep into whatever show was popular.  Well, whatever show was popular last year.  At the time, there wasn’t a lot available for streaming, but that changed pretty quickly and, for several years, I got caught up on  a lot of movies I’d missed and shows that I’d come to late in their life.
Now, Netflix has changed, but I still keep them.  And, I currently have an account that allows streaming and up to two discs at a time.  I have upgraded to the Blu-ray option, though, since I’ve upgraded my home theater system to a Blu-ray system.  I do that because there are a lot of things that I might want to watch which I can’t get via streaming.  That being said, for movie content, Netflix still has some of the best options around.  Currently, a streaming-only plan is $8/month for a single screen at a time, but will go up shortly.  I have a grandfathered plan that includes streaming on up to 4 screens and two Blu-ray discs at a time which runs me about $25 /month.  I expect that will go up at the first of the year, based on some news reports I’ve seen, but I think it’s still a bargain.  (You can check the latest prices at NetflixReview, though I don’t know how often the update them.)  Until I bumped up my network speed, we had a lot of issues with buffering if either of us were doing anything else on-line, but that’s not a problem any more.  If we start to have issues again, I’ll bump us up an additional tier, though.  We haven’t done it yet because at least one of our goals here was to save money.

When I first started asking people who I knew had cut cable what they streamed, a surprising trend emerged.
It seemed like all of them had Amazon Prime.  As it turns out, besides getting free shipping on anything that’s sourced from an Amazon warehouse, Amazon Prime includes a lot of free, streaming video. They also have a lot of on-demand streaming video you can buy.  So, the old cable “pay-per-view”, basically, only streaming and with at least as wide a selection, if not larger.  It really feels like Amazon is still building their video catalog, but they do have things that I can’t find on Netflix sometimes.  They seem to have a lot more television than Netflix does for streaming, too.  And, most of their stuff seems more current.  By that I mean, Amazon has more things that aired more recently.
Also, Amazon has some content that they produced.  Of course, Netflix does, too.  I have some those in my queue, at both Amazon and Netflix, but I haven’t gotten around to watching it yet, so I don’t have any comments.  Though, I know Amazon won several Emmy Awards this year for their work.  In fact, in celebration of that, Amazon Prime was on sale some time back, and I got it then for $67/year for the first year instead of the usual $99/year.

The other streaming service I heard people mention a lot was Hulu.
Initially, I started streaming everything via my Sony home theater system and, since Hulu was one of the options available, I decided to try it.  I figured it was cheap, at $7.99/month for “limited commercials”, and they seemed to carry a lot of programming that interested me, like the SyFy Channel.  What I really like about Hulu, though, is basically two things.  One, is that it has a lot of the series I like and a ton of anime, which I love, but haven’t watched a lot of in recent years.  And, two, I can get a lot of shows that recently aired, like Agents of SHIELD, usually, the day after they aired on regular TV.  So, in some ways, Hulu has replaced a lot of what I used my DVR for in the first place.
Hulu also has a lot of more obscure shows, many from Canada, which I’ve never heard of or seen before, which can be fun.  And, the “limited commercials” are just that, limited.  On most shows, the ads are less than 30 seconds long and only show two or three times during an episode.  In some cases, like when my wife and I are watching different shows on different devices, only one of us will actually get ads that interrupt our show.  And, lately, the ad I see the most is from Hulu itself, trying to tempt me into upgrading my service to the “commercial free” level.  For an additional $4/month, I’m tempted, to be honest, but the commercials aren’t very disruptive as they are now.

All three streaming services we’re using have their own content.  So far, though, I’ve only watched original content on Amazon Prime.  Specifically, I’ve watched the first two episodes of Man In The High Castle, which is based on a book by Phillip K. Dick.  It’s been pretty good so far.  I’m also looking forward to watching Daredevil and Jessica Jones, which are both produced by Netflix and are Marvel properties.  They’ve gotten great reviews, even though the general public only has access to Daredevil so far.  Hulu’s original content is mostly comedy and doesn’t really appeal to me that much.  And, I have to admit, the original content is all just icing on the streaming cake for me.  None of the original work had any real bearing on the choices we made regarding streaming services.

All that being said, there is actually one more streaming service that I haven’t gotten yet, but plan to add; Sling TV.  They’re new, but they sound promising and they may be the only way we can replace some of my wife’s favorite programming, namely classic movies.  So far, Sling TV is the only way to get her favorite channel, Turner Classic Movies.
But, that’s going to be a post all on its own at a future date.

Hey, if you made it through all this and still have something to add about your favorite, or least favorite, streaming service, please, leave me a comment!


Cutting the Cable – HD Antenna

Filed under: Better Living Through Technology,Cutting Cable,Fun,The Network Geek at Home — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Monkey which is in the late afternoon or 5:30 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a First Quarter Moon

Or, getting your shows the old-fashioned way; over the air.

So, a couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that my wife and I were cutting cable.  At first, I think it was a slightly terrifying idea for both of us, but, as it turns out, there are loads of options besides the standard, mainstream “cable” television providers.  As I explore some of the options, I’ll write them up here and try to keep things up-to-date regarding any changes we make.
First, though, before getting into any of the various streaming services, I’d like to remind you all about how we used to get our television.  Back in the Before Time, as I like to refer to my distant childhood, television meant an antenna of some kind, usually sticking up high on a roof somewhere.  Actually, the higher the better!  And we’d risk life and limb to get those monstrosities all lined up just right to receive the clearest signal, which, of course, translated to the clearest picture, that we could manage.  For those of you too young to remember those times, count your blessings.  Viewing options were few and far between.  Generally, you could only tune in about four or five stations, if you were lucky, and they often would all be broadcasting things like the news at the same time.  Once cable television entered the picture, if you’ll pardon the pun, regular broadcast television died a swift, merciful death.

But, as it turns out, not really.
You can still get broadcast television, now in high-definition.  (Or HD as all the kids say!)  All you need is a television with a tuner built into it and a good HD antenna.  I recommend the Mohu Leaf 50 Amplified Indoor HDTV Antenna.  This is a really great, little antenna.  It runs less than $70, less than $40 if you get a refurbished model, at Amazon, which is where that link leads to, and can pick up a surprising number of stations.  The actual number and variety obviously vary from area to area and I can’t tell you how well this will work outside of large cities, but in Houston, we get quite a few stations very clearly.  Granted, more than a third of them are non-English oriented stations, but we do get some great programming over the air.  For instance, we watched “Big Bang Theory” just fine via the our Mohu Leaf 50 the first week we had it.  And, we had plenty of time to go get snacks during the commercials!
Okay, yes, the big drawback of this technology is that you don’t automatically get a DVR or rewind option with it.  Of course, over-the-air digital video recorders to exist, but they will cost extra.  At some point, I know my wife and I will invest in one.  I’ve been toying with the idea of rolling my own, but that will probably be a series of posts on its own!

Not sure what’s available in your area?
No problem!  Check out AntennaWeb.  The front page is a little tricky, so look for the pale blue button that says “Click Here to Start”.  That will take you to a page where you can fill in your address and some other information and get a good idea of what broadcast channels you’ll be able to pick up in your area.  Notice, though, that it depends on the antenna that you use and how high up it is.  My wife and I have noticed that height and position of the antenna really do make a significant difference regarding what you can get and how well it comes in.  Even with the fancy, amplified antennas we use.  The nice thing about this site is that it will also give you some idea of the kinds of antennas you can use to get what channels.  Though, again, we really have been pleased with the Mohu Leaf 50 so far.

But, how do you know what’s on?
You don’t get a viewing guide on-screen with over-the-air broadcasts.  But, there are plenty of places to find what’s playing in your area.  My wife’s favorite is TitanTV.  You can sign up for a free account that will let you save your preferences and customize settings for your location or locations.  It’s a pretty comprehensive listing and you may not get all the channels.  (In fact, the listings include cable channels so, under the premise that you’re cutting cable like we are, you definitely won’t need all the listings they provide.)  Also, they have an app for your phone, so you can have a handy guide to what’s currently on TV in your hand and don’t need to be logged into your computer for that.
Two of my wife’s favorite broadcast channels are Antenna TV and MeTV, both of which play re-runs of old, syndicated television.  Antenna TV is going to start playing the old Tonight Show from when Johnny Carson was on it in January of 2016!

Notice, that both of the last listed websites advertise some over-the-air DVR systems.  I can’t vouch for any of those, yet, but I know I’ll be looking into them in more depth eventually.  So far, the one thing we do miss a little, is our DVR and the option to rewind the last couple of minutes of broadcast to catch what someone was saying when we weren’t paying close enough attention.  It’s not a big loss, but I know I’ll have to address it eventually.

Also, I’d like to note that if you don’t get a lot of channels right away, try moving your antenna around a bit.  We did that and, after rotating one of ours 90 degrees to a different wall, we got 30 more channels that we did initially.  We had to “upgrade” our antenna cable from the 16 foot cable that it came with to a 25 foot coax cable, but for about a $10 investment, it was totally worth it to add some stations that we hadn’t been getting.


Cutting The Cable

Filed under: Better Living Through Technology,Cutting Cable,Never trust a Network Admin with a screwdriver,The Network Geek at Home — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:11 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

It seems to be all the rage, but I think we’re going to do it anyway.

I killed “cable” television a number of years ago, after having lost it during Hurricane Ike in 2008.  I used Netflix, before streaming was really a thing people did, and binge-watched shows a disk at a time.  Lost made a lot more sense when I watched four episodes a night, and not one a week.  The plot continuity between episodes was a lot easier to follow and I really enjoyed it.  I found that I read more and wasted less time.  I was more productive and more relaxed than I had been in a long time.  And, I really didn’t miss having all those channels that I didn’t watch to surf endlessly, trying to find something “good to watch”.  In short, it was no loss to me, outside of the cost, to cut cable.
But, in early 2012, I met a girl and things changed.

Okay, so that’s a little poetic license.  She’s not “a girl”, but is, in fact, a woman my age.  However, like virtually all significant change that has occurred in my life, a woman, whatever her age, was at the heart of it.
Seriously, though, after four, solid years with nothing but books, the internet and Netflix for entertainment.  But, before my future wife moved in, I got the television service for AT&T’s U-Verse again.  I got the U-300 package to get her some specific channels that she wanted to watch.  Most important to her was Turner Classic Movies, because she is an old-film buff and part of several on-line old-movie communities.  To not have that would have been a “deal breaker” and, well, that wasn’t a deal I was willing to break.  So, in the spring of 2013, I got cable TV again and got two wireless DVRs as part of the package.  Wow, did she widen my horizons with the introduction to the DVR!  I don’t know how I managed to get by without one before.

In any case, all of that is to say, we’ve decided for various reasons, including costs, to cut cable again and go to streaming services.
And, I’ve decided to document the transition, outlining the choices we made and why we made them.  This post will anchor the series and give you a reference point for what we have now.  Specifically, we have AT&T U-Verse, with the 6 MBPS “Elite” internet package and the U-300 channel package with one wired DVR receiver and two wireless DVR receivers.  Additionally, we have Netflix streaming with HD and two-disks-at-a-time rental with the Bluray option.  Our current total is roughly $200/month or $2400/year.  I’m fairly confident that we can cut that in half with some judicious changes.  And, also because a handy savings calculator told me so.

Want to run the numbers for yourself?  Get your bills and click over to the “Should you cut the cord?” Calculator at Slate.com.  You may be surprised.
And, keep coming back here for details and updates on how we do what we do, saving money and gathering information as we go.
Just do be warned, this is primarily a blog by geeks for geeks, so at some point I’ll probably get into some technical stuff as I work to replace or improve some of the systems we’ve grown used to having.
The updates won’t come every week, but I’ll try to keep them regular.  And, they won’t normally come on Friday after this one, either.


Hurricane Preparedness

Filed under: Calamity, Cataclysm, and Catastrophe,Dog and Pony Shows,News and Current Events,Red Herrings,The Network Geek at Home — 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

Hurricane season started on Monday, June First. Are you ready?

Here in Texas, hurricane season is kind of a big deal.  Or, at least, it is to this kid from the Heartland.  Of course, most of the time, we have plenty of time to prepare because you see these things coming from a long, long way off.  Still, it’s better to be prepared early rather than competing with everyone for bottled water, bread and canned food.

So far, since I’ve been in…
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Random Fiction Helpers

Filed under: Fun,NaNoWriMo,Red Herrings,The Network Geek at Home — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:00 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a Full Moon

Last year, I shared these tools to help people participating in NaNoWriMo and, since it’s that time of year again, I’m going to share them again.

Maybe one year, I’ll be able to get myself together again and give this a try.  Maybe this coming year, I’ll have all my regular posts queued up and ready to go and have a story idea and all the research done and have been practicing my writing and…  Well, maybe.  In any case, until…
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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!


Moveable Type Changes License

Filed under: Criticism, Marginalia, and Notes,Deep Thoughts,Fun Work,Geek Work,News and Current Events,PERL,The Network Geek at Home — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Snake which is just before lunchtime or 11:43 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a Third Quarter Moon

And becomes completely irrelevant.

Apparently, I missed this last month, but Six Apart is changing their license so that Movable Type will no longer have a free version.  Now, when it was Ben and Mena Trott running Six Apart, when they made a mistake with licensing, which I think they did back in 2004, you can understand and forgive.
Ben and Mena were like us, just two fellow geeks out there coding and blogging.  They came up with a great idea and everyone loved it.  But, then, money got involved and things got complicated.  They did things to make money, and, honestly, I probably would have done the exact same things.  When they first changed things to make the license more restrictive back in 2004, I was, I admit, outraged.  How could they betray us like that?  They were like us!  How could they throw this all over to just make money!  In retrospect, the question is, how could they NOT?

But, then there was WordPress.  Many of us made the jump, including me.  WordPress was a new way of doing things.  This Open Source thing was new to many of us and it was exciting!  Software that was mostly free that the community built!  People who were just like us!  Code geeks and blog geeks and graphics geeks all coming together to make cool things happen.  What could be better?  And, from my perspective, WordPress was easier to extend and develop for in many, many ways.  Also, it seemed to have fewer resource issues than the Perl-based Movable Type.  Better still, as I understood the license, WordPress would always be free and if it stopped being free, we could fork the code and make it free again.

Somewhere back in there, after the 2004 license debacle, Movable Type added an Open Source version.  They tried to get us back, but, frankly, for most of us, it was too little, too late.  After one license change like that, how could we be sure that it wouldn’t happen again?  And what about charging money to be part of the developer’s group who had access to the documentation you really needed to understand Movable Type enough to develop for it?  I know I couldn’t afford that!  Besides, as Six Apart got more and more corporate, I just felt like something else bad was coming, if not soon, then eventually.

Now this.
Well, it actually happened in July, but I just read about it on Mark Jaquith’s blog.
So, finally, after nine years, that other shoe has finally dropped.  Of course, a lot has changed in those nine years.  For one thing, I’ve gotten both married and divorced and am getting ready to be married again.  Interestingly, to me, Ben and Mena who started Six Apart have gotten divorced, too.  Ben still seems to be involved in the day-to-day development of Movable Type and related stuff, but Mena seems less involved.  I can’t imagine the toll their meteoric rise took on their relationship.  It must have gotten truly unbearable after a while.
You know, I hope they made out well.  Sure, this latest license thing is, I think, a final nail in the coffin of Movable Type, but, damnit, Movable Type also launched the blogging era in many ways, and paved the way for WordPress.  And, it was two people who started it.  Just two.  Two good people.

So, it’s sad, to me, to see how things have gone.  I’m sad to have been right about Movable Type all those years ago.  I wish they had proven me wrong.
But, with this, I think they proved me right not to trust the Movable Type license any more.  And, honestly, they taught me something about how to treat my audience and my customers.
And, yes, it makes me sad.  It’s the end of an era, of sorts.
I’m sorry to see you go, old friend.


Backups and Data Recovery – Home Edition – Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"If the minimum wasn't acceptable it wouldn't be called the minimum."


Naming Your Systems

Filed under: Fun,Fun Work,Geek Work,Novell,The Network Geek at Home — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:15 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Crescent

Naming kids is easy, but naming systems is hard!

And, no, I don’t mean giving your phone a pet name.

I have gone on at length in the past about the importance of naming systems.  It’s a big, big deal, especially if you ever have to go back and change any of those names!  Granted, it’s not as bad now as it was in the old days when you had to manually update dozens, or sometimes hundreds, of host files or configuration files, but, still, it’s a pretty big deal.  So, naming systems are often a topic of discussion, especially among hardcore network geeks.  I’ve been in more than one meeting about choosing a naming scheme that devolved into name calling.
So, there are many schools of thought on this.  One group of people think that the name should be meaningful, giving location and function information.  That’s a good idea, but it often results in names like HOUNOVFILESERV001.  (And, yes, that’s actually a name I used on a server once, for a company that no longer exists.  It stands for HOUston NOVell FILESERVer number 001.)  Sure, it tells you what you need to know, but they quickly become unwieldy to type and maintain.
Another group would say to name your servers, or routers, or what have you, after any group of things that will be easy to remember, like the names of the Seven Dwarves, or characters from the Dilbert cartoon, or, even, at one place I worked, the names of the old Space Shuttle fleet.  And, while I’m not a huge fan of that for many things at a business, it can be fun to ping a Cisco router named Elvis just to get the response “Elvis is alive”.  Certainly at home, I tend to favor a more fun approach using something light-hearted, like the names of cartoon characters or mythological beings or something similar.  But, my problem is always, which set of “things” to choose?

Well, the Naming Schemes Wiki solves that particular problem.  Yes, someone has started a wiki that gathers all the different naming schemes you all can think of in one place for your viewing pleasure.  And, in spite of any protests from your significant other, you can select, at your leisure, a naming scheme to use on your network that makes you smile.  (And, stop looking at me that way!  I know I’m not the only person in the world with a home network big enough or complicated enough to warrant having to choose a naming system for it!)  The maintainer also encourages you to add your own scheme, if, somehow, it’s been missed on this site.  Or, to add to any of the existing pages if you have something to contribute.

So there you have it!  All the endless naming possibilities for your home networking project this weekend!
Y’all have fun!

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