Diary of a Network Geek

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

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!

8/29/2013

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.

5/21/2013

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:
"They don't hold meetings about rainbows."

2/8/2013

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!

1/1/2013

Year in Review

Filed under: Fun Work,Geek Work,News and Current Events,The Network Geek at Home — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Sheep which is mid-afternoon or 3:16 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

No, not a long, melancholy post reviewing the past year’s emotional highs and lows.
Just a link to an autogenerated infographic summing up this blog’s traffic for 2012.
Enjoy!

11/30/2012

PriorityDigital Free Utilities

Filed under: Geek Work,Red Herrings,The Network Geek at Home — 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 Gibbous

I don’t know about you, but I love free stuff.

I do a lot of stuff on the web every day.  Yeah, I know you can’t tell that from how neglected this blog is these days, especially compared to the old days when I was posting pretty much every day, but, trust me, I’m always buzzing around the web doing something.  Sometimes, it’s building websites like this one.  Not very pretty, but pretty functional and sometimes, not even sites for me.  When I build a site, I generally leave it to the owners to come up with the actual content and just help them get the framework setup, including all the legalese that seems to be pretty much de rigueur these days.
Well, now, thanks to PriorityDigital.com, I think I have a slightly better solution.  They have a page of free utilities that include a Privacy Policy Builder, a Disclaimer Builder and a Non-Disclosure Agreement Maker, among others.  So now, you, or I, can go to these utilities and fill in a few relevant details and quickly get a fairly generic, but still useful, privacy policy, general website disclaimer or non-disclosure agreement without having to pay a lawyer!  Granted, they are pretty generic, but, still, for most of us, they’ll handily take care of our needs.

So, okay, yeah, kind of lame for a Friday, but, still it might give you a little something extra for your side project this weekend.
Enjoy!

11/9/2012

Creative Generators

Filed under: Art,Fun,PERL,The Network Geek at Home — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:20 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Crescent

So, in keeping with the theme this month of NaNoWriMo, I bring you creative time-wasters!

Okay, so maybe I call them “helpful utilities” when I use them, but, still…
Back in the day, I was much more of a Renaissance man that I am now.  I dabbled in all kinds of things not least of which was either writing or programming.  And, I tend to live by the dictum that one cannot really learn anything worthwhile without a project or goal.  When you combine those things, well, you get some interesting projects.
The first programming language of any real weight I taught myself was Perl.  Perl has sometimes been called the duct tape of the internet, because so many system administrators use it to keep old, clanky systems running.  That was also the reason I learned it, because I often found myself maintaining old, clanky systems!  But, mostly, I used it for my various webpages.  Then, of course, came WordPress which ran on a fancy new language called PHP.  Naturally, I set about teaching myself PHP.

Well, the projects I used were random generators, primarily to help people who were writing and needed a little help.  One of my earliest was a little tool, originally inspired by shareware, that let you randomly come up with what might be in fantasy character’s pockets.  If memory serves, the shareware program was developed as a utility for Dungeon Masters in AD&D campaigns that had a lot of thieves who were always wanting to pick the pockets of townsfolk!  But, it was fun and useful as an exercise.  You can find that one here: Fantasy Pocket “Litter” Generator.
Recently, after adapting that to the new PHP language I was mentioning, I got the idea to extend that idea to a more modern setting and came up with the Random Daily Carry Generator.  So, instead of having magic frying pans and enchanted daggers, a character may have an encrypted USB drive and a loaded Glock 21.  Just the thing to fill the pockets of random story characters, as needed!  Also, this one is still under development a bit, so as I think of things, I’m adding them in.  Visit often for new stuff!

And, of course, all those things and more can be found at my old World-Building page at my almost defunct writing site; Fantasist.net.
So, if you’ve hit that first week stumbling block on your NaNoWriMo project, go check these pages out and see if anything helps.  But, most of all, have fun!

11/2/2012

Opensource Writing Tool

Filed under: Art,Fun,GUI Center,Linux,MicroSoft,NaNoWriMo,The Network Geek at Home — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:46 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

In honor of the first Friday of NaNoWriMo, I’m bringing you a free writing tool and not from my usual main site.

This week, I’m originating my regular Friday Fun Post from JKHoffman.com, where I hope to move most of my more creative work, instead of my regular Diary of a Network Geek.
If you’ve given serious thought to writing, you have probably heard of both National Novel Writing Month, AKA NaNoWriMo, and a writer’s program called Scrivener.  Personally, I’ve done most…
Read More

11/9/2011

A Personal Wiki

Filed under: Art,Criticism, Marginalia, and Notes,Fun Work,The Network Geek at Home — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Rooster which is in the early evening or 6:20 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a Full Moon

Like Wikipedia, but on the micro scale.

It may surprise some readers here that I’m a geek in my professional life.  (Okay, so it may not have surprised many readers, but, still…)  And, as such, I tend to use computers in a lot of my daily life, including my creative life.  One tool that I’ve been experimenting with a bit is tiny, low-overhead wikis, sort of like a tiny, personal Wikipedia, only it’s on my desktop and not publicly available via…
Read More

(Incidentally, this is a great way to setup pretty painless documentation for a small IT department.  And, in fact, I’ve started doing just that!)

10/19/2011

A Word On Writing Well

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Criticism, Marginalia, and Notes,Geek Work,The Network Geek at Home,Things to Read — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:09 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a Third Quarter Moon

Okay, a bit more than a word…

“Content is king”, they used to say. The idea was if you wrote enough compelling material for your blog or website, then the readers, and search engines, couldn’t help but find you and rank you well. Sounds like a great idea, right? Then why do so many people write such bad content?

I don’t know either.
What I do know is that everyone and their brother have an idea about how to write good, compelling content for your blog or website. Take SEO Book, for instance, who ran a post about writing better blog posts back in December of 2008. They, in turn, referenced Seth Godin and a book titled On Writing Well.
Now, I’ll grant you, I tend to share links to other resources, offering an opinion about them usually, but not as much original content as I’d like.  But, still, I think that even those posts are written reasonably well.  And, I think it’s worth taking the time, even on a blog, to write well.  Not to improve my rankings in search engines, but because writing well, communicating clearly, is a worthy pursuit.  It may not always be obvious here, but I actually worked quite hard to become a competent writer well beyond things like English class in high school.  One way or another, I’ve written for years and take pride in my ability to write clearly, concisely and in an entertaining manner.

You see, the thing is, as much as we love video and photos and graphics and the like, in the end, we use words to actually communicate.
The next time you’re driving down the street in whatever town you live, notice how many signs have writing on them.  Or, better yet, notice how many signs are, in fact, themselves, writing.  Words, and writing, is still the medium we use to express ourselves, even on the web.  How we write is an expression of how we think.  Writing well is an essential skill that displays our intelligence and our education.  Writing poorly, with sloppy grammar and with “text message” abbreviations, subtly tells people that we are not as smart as we claim to be, and not to be trusted or believed.  Writing well, on the other hand, assures our reader that we are smart, trustworthy and competent enough to be relied upon.  Our writing, especially on the internet, can be, as they say at Google and Wikipedia, considered “authoritative”.
I have argued with people via e-mail and comments who, when they found themselves in metaphorical quicksand, insisted that they would argue circles around me in person.  I questioned how that would be possible if they couldn’t write sufficiently to defend their position when they had all the time they needed to consider the argument at hand and edit their work before replying.

Which brings me to the real point of this little screed; editing and revision.
I know the web is a fast and furious place and that fresh content is the most important thing, but, I do think we have the time to edit and revise articles, even short ones, before making them public.  And, we can all use spellcheck now.  In fact, the version of WordPress that I’m currently running has spellcheck and grammar check built into it.  I would think more people would take advantage of this feature, as well as the ability to save posts in a draft format for later review before posting.
Granted, not every post is going to garner that sort of care and attention, but shouldn’t more of them get it rather than less?  If we are our words on the internet, shouldn’t we care more how we sound and what we say?  I think so.

I think it’s worth writing fewer words, or even writing fewer entire posts, so that a certain minimal attention may be paid to the content and style.
In short, I think if it’s worth saying, then it’s worth saying well.


Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"Unhappiness is in not knowing what we want and killing ourselves to get it."
   --Don Herold

Next Page »

Powered by WordPress