Diary of a Network Geek

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

9/20/2006

Attention Deficit

Filed under: By Bread Alone,Career Archive,Criticism, Marginalia, and Notes,Deep Thoughts,Geek Work,Life, the Universe, and Everything,Personal,Red Herrings,Rotten Apples,The Dark Side,The Network Geek at Home — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is in the early morning or 7:34 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Crescent

I have a dream.

It is a simple dream. No, not winning the lottery, or world peace, or the perpetual motion engine, or even a mythical trip to the Playboy Mansion. No, my dream is that I might get through an entire task without interruption, distraction, mishap, mayhem, or… Sorry, lost my train of thought because the dog started barking at something outside. Now, where was I?

Right, so, Monday, I started out with a few simple bullet items to accomplish. Easy, uncomplicated goals. Just configure a laptop and run a couple of cables out in the shop. Seems fairly straight-forward, doesn’t it? Sadly, those two simple, easy, straight-forward things are still not done, two days later.
Instead, I dealt with spy ware installed on a machine in Bellechasse. A machine that I personally cleaned of spy ware last week. In some cases, deleting, by hand, files and directories and Windows registry entries to kill the offending malware. Two full days I spent on this infernal machine, meticulously cleaning every last scrap of naughty code, only to have it completely reinfected not more than five minutes after it was powered on by the user. Why? Because, no matter how many times I tell my users not to click on any random link they get in e-mail from Bubba Mussolini or Archimedes Hirohito or Kwabena Mieles, no matter how fascinating their offer sounds. Nor should they click on any stupid web page that comes up in a search they can’t imagine would be a problem, no matter how personal it might be. And a guy who’s used AutoCAD for years asked me for help on printing. Me, who’s never so much as opened a drawing in the latest version of AutoCAD, much less tried to send it to a plotter. Naturally, I’ve got him printing in less than thirty minutes.
Then, at home, I made marinara which proceeded to find every piece of clothing I was wearing. That was followed by an attempt at a berry smoothie, made with frozen strawberries, blueberries and raspberries. A smoothie that was so thick and frozen it “poured” like a blender full of half-solid mud. The splash from that minor accident found the clothes that the marinara missed. But, before I could try to stop those stains from setting, I had to hurry and nail up some boards from the fence because my dog had tried to chase a squirrel through the rickety, old thing. Oh, and speaking of dogs, Hilda found something dead and nasty to roll in, after having had a bath Sunday. Now, even though I live far enough away from the city that I pass cows on the way to work, they’re still not in my backyard. Nor am I so close to the projects that she should have found a diaper in the backyard, so what she rolled in, I’m not sure, but, at least now, you have some idea what I was smelling while I tried to get it off her. Again.
(As an aside, I should note that Monday evening, while I was actually having fun installing a blog for a fellow blogger plagued by comment spam, I saw a gecko that was about the size of my pinky scurry across the floor. An hour later, I saw a cockroach by the back door that was at least twice the size of pinky. Who lost the bet with God that allowed roaches twice the size of their natural predator?)

Tuesday, was more of the same, but spiced with visits from phone switch vendors trying to sell me things that I’ve been told I can’t buy. Instead, I have to explain, carefully, to these people that I have two choices for phone switches because a mysterious, invisible “consultant” of some kind, who I’ve never met or talked with, has convinced someone who matters in my company that those are the only two choices that matter. Oh, and the guys in the shop who’ve been waiting on that cable since last week asked about it. And the director of sales needs a photo editor for the Mac he doesn’t want to use, so he can resize pictures to send to clients. And, the engineering department has rehired a former employee, so I need to shuffle people around to get to a computer that has to be totally reconfigured by Monday. (Which is actually an improvement, since I normally get an hour or two’s notice before the guy starts.) And, a giant monitor went out and needed to be replaced. And I have to spec out PCs and a new server, which I’ll have to go install, for that Bellechasse office. And… I’m sorry, something shiny passed by my screen. Where was I?

Oh, right, I should be planning for … Something. Shouldn’t I? Shouldn’t I be planning projects? Planning to improve their IT infrastructure? Something? Who knows. And, what’s more, I don’t have time to worry about it because about the time I have more than two minutes to string together, something else will distract me.
Well, at least they’re still paying me!
But, on the upside, tomorrow night I go in for my last therapy appointment. My head-shrink has pronounced me well. Or, at least, well enough to be turned loose without a keeper, which is all anyone can really hope for, right?

Well, now, if you’ll pardon me, it’s time to head off to work, so I need to put my cup and mouth guard in before I pull on my stain-resistant body armor.
You know, it really didn’t seem like such a big, impossible dream when I got into this business. Ah, well, maybe next year.

9/19/2006

International Talk Like A Pirate Day

Filed under: Fun,Personal,Red Herrings — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:05 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Crescent

Yarr, today be International Talk Like A Pirate Day, me blog maties!

Few are the holidays made for such as we, ye digital sea dogs, but this be one of ’em. Ye don’t ‘ave to be a data pirate or music pirate or any kind of law breakin’ pirate at all to join in the fun. Ye just ‘ave to like talkin’ like a pirate, ya’ scury dogs! So, whether ye be a privateer, a corsair or a buccanner, or ye just wanna be, go on the account fer just the day and chase ye booty, while ye may! Then finish ‘er off w’ a bit o’ good grog and throw in a hearty “yo, ho, ho”. Then set aside the sweet trade fer the life of a land lubber fer another year, but, ’till this great, glorious day rolls ’round again, dream o’ dubloons an’ grog, and International Talk Like A Pirate Day.

9/15/2006

Big Kid Gadgets

Filed under: Adventures with iPods,Art,Fun,Ooo, shiny... — 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 a Third Quarter Moon

A little Friday Fun for the big kid in all of us.

Let’s start with the ladies.
This past week has brought me all kinds of Hello Kitty goodness.  First, there was the Hello Kitty exhaust pipe. Then, there was the Hello Kitty TV shaped like an Apple (the fruit, not the computer). THEN, there were the Hello Kitty iPod cases!  The Hello Kitty Cabal just keeps cranking them out!  But, wait, there’s more!  The Hello Kitty Skype Headset and Mic!
And, for those of you ladies who are Hello Kitty-ed out, there are the Ear Phones that look like Eer Rings.  (Actually, those are pretty cool looking.) And, last, but not least, the Pink PS2.

But, don’t worry guys, I haven’t forgotten some cool stuff for us, too.  I’ll lead with a counter to all the Hello Kitty stuff, the Astro Boy Phone! (Okay, this might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I loved Astro Boy when I was a kid.)  And, I don’t know how good this suit is, but a men’s suit that includes iPod control fabric can’t be all bad, right?

And, finally, something that both sexes will be able to geek out over together: Tetris Fridge Magnets!

Well, that ought to be enough Friday Fun for anyone!  Oh, don’t forget, Tuesday 9/19 is International Talk Like A Pirate Day!

9/13/2006

Holy < Expletive Deleted > !

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Bavarian Death Cake of Love,Criticism, Marginalia, and Notes,Deep Thoughts,Life, the Universe, and Everything,News and Current Events,Personal,Personal Archive,The Network Geek at Home — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Dog which is in the evening time or 8:37 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

Ahem.

Well, I got quite a surprise this morning. I opened my mail and there was a note from “G_______ @ aol . com”. That girl I knew in college. I think it’s best if I edit myself and not let loose with what I really said, for a change, but I was quite rather stunned. It’d been so long since I sent her the e-mail that I thought I’d never hear from her. I figured that the e-mail address was wrong or that she’d decided she didn’t want to hear from me or… Well, it doesn’t really matter what I thought, since she e-mailed back.

“What a surprise. Of course I remember you.”
That was how she started the very brief note she sent me. It’s been almost 20 years since we last communicated. How do you summarize that much time? “Of course” she remembers me, she writes. “Of course”, as if that one semester should automatically mean as much to her as it did to me. How silly of me to think that 20 years might have erased me from her memory. Honestly? I cannot tell you how relieved I am that she does, in fact, remember me. So…

So, now, what the hell do I say?
Anyone have any advice for your Uncle Jim?


Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"It took me a long time not to judge myself through someone else's eyes."
   --Sally Field

9/12/2006

A Rare Treat

Filed under: Career Archive,Criticism, Marginalia, and Notes,Fun Work,Geek Work,Linux — 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 Waning Gibbous

Today, I bring you an actual technical tip.

Sadly, it’s not a tip I bring to you via actual experience, but via a regular e-mail I get from the fine folks at TechRepublic. Among the many e-mail news updates I get, they send me a Linux “tech note” filled with helpful information. Today’s was particularly useful, or would be if I were still actively using Linux at work. In the Windows world, a standard setting is to have the Windows password expire every so often, forcing users to create new ones. This usually prompts them to throw out their old yellow sticky note stuck to the bottom of their keyboard, too, but that’s just a side effect of improved security. Now, thanks to this article, you can enable password aging on Linux, too.

Before you start creating users, edit the /etc/login.defs file. Change the following settings:

PASS_MAX_DAYS   99999

(Change this from 99,999 days to something more like 60 or 90. That will force users to change their password more often.)

PASS_MIN_DAYS   0

(Normally, you wouldn’t need to change this.)

PASS_WARN_AGE   7

(This gives them a full week of warnings to change their password. You know your users, but I think “less is more”. Five days should be more than enough.)

You will also want to edit the /etc/default/useradd file, looking for the INACTIVE and EXPIRE keywords:

INACTIVE=14

(This would make an account that has allowed its password to expire to go “inactive” after two weeks. That’s a week of warnings and a week of not working. Should be plenty.)

EXPIRE=

(This sets a specific date for an account to “time out”, regardless of when the password was set. Normally, I’d leave that alone, but if you really want to set it, it’s done in the format YYYY-MM-DD.)

That should get you through most “normal” situations, but if you’ve already got existing users or want more information, read the article at Tech Republic.
Wow, that was fun. For me, at least. Now, all I need is a job that lets me actually use those Linux skills that are rusting like a horse-drawn plow in the Winter snow….

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9/11/2006

Rest In Peace

Filed under: Calamity, Cataclysm, and Catastrophe,Criticism, Marginalia, and Notes,Deep Thoughts,Life, the Universe, and Everything,News and Current Events,Personal — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Rooster which is in the early evening or 7:53 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

Many people will be thinking back to what happened on this day in 2001, when a group of tragically misguided fanatics created terror on a previously unimaginable level by flying two passenger airplanes into the the World Trade Center twin towers and a third into the Pentagon. Some fewer people may recall the heart rending heroism of the passengers on the fourth plane, who managed to wrest control back from the hijackers and, sacrificing their own lives, crashed their plane in a field where the damage and horror could be minimized, if such a thing is possible.
Many will remember the heros who went and did their job in the face of impossible odds, trying to save as many victims of that terrible tragedy of hate and terror and politics as they could. Many paid the ultimate price in that effort, giving up their own lives in exchange for others.

The terrorists who rained destruction on us five years ago wanted us to be crippled. For a time, we were. I don’t think much work got done terrible day, five years ago. Though, I remember working a full day, even as people around me went home to sit glued to the television, frozen, impotent, and frustrated. I remember the shock and unreality of the whole thing. It didn’t seem possible, but it had happened. And, five years later, we still feel the after-shock from that event. We still deal with the repercusions.

I hesitate to add my voice to the multitude. My message less uplifting, less hopeful. I worry that those brave people sacrificed their lives only to see us less free than we were before that terrible day. In the years since that horrific day, that event has been used to justify some of the worst abuses of power and violations of our freedom ever recorded. Which is precisely what the terrorists were after. They want us to be afraid. They want us to change our way of life based on their actions. They want us to live in such fear that we willingly give up what generations have fought for in this country; Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.
I’ve heard the arguments for why I shouldn’t mind having my every move watched by government “keepers”, all of whom, I have been repeatedly assured, are there for my own good. I’ve been told that if I have nothing to hide, I shouldn’t mind the invasions of privacy or the loss of freedom. Interestingly enough, similar arguments are used for things like gun control. Why should I need to have a hand-gun to protect me? The government keeps me safe, right?
My response is the same, to both arguments. “Where do you draw the line?” and “That’s what Chancellor Hitler told Germany, too.” The second argument for what I shouldn’t let the people in power erode my civil liberties comes right from my old neighborhood. From men and women with numbers tattooed on their arms. Men and women who remembered how things started there. How the loss of small freedoms, meant to “improve” life, led down that slippery slope into Hell. They remembered, but there aren’t many left. Those survivors are mostly gone, lost to age and illness and time. We think we know better now, but we don’t. As has been said before, those who do not remember history are destined to repeat it. We must remember. We must never forget either of these things and find the balance between protect ourselves and throwing away all the things that we have worked and sacrificed so very much to have. We’re still the “freeist” country in the world, but that means less today than it did.

“Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety deserve neither Liberty nor Safety”
-Benjamin Franklin

9/8/2006

Atari In Your Pocket

Filed under: Art,Fun,Personal,The Network Geek at Home — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:34 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a Full Moon

Oh, yeah, this is cool!

Remember when the world was young and Atari was the only home entertainment system? Well, those times might be long gone, but Atari is still here. And, now, it’s small enough that you can stick it in your pocket. Yes, thanks to ThinkGeek, you can hang a teeny, tiny Atari game on your keychain. And, yes, it works. You can hook it up to a TV or monitor and actually play this game! How cool is that?!  Yeah, well, maybe it’s only cool to geeks like me, but, still, it sure brings back memories.
Hey, it’s Friday, why not find out What’s New at ThinkGeek?

9/6/2006

“Cheated Death Again.”

Filed under: Deep Thoughts,Geek Work,GUI Center,Life, the Universe, and Everything,MicroSoft,On The Road,The Dark Side — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Monkey which is in the late afternoon or 5:56 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a Full Moon

I really don’t mind flying with my boss, but I wish he’d stop saying that.

So, Thursday last week, things started to go wrong with our server in Bellechasse, or, as I think of it, the Sweaty Armpit of the Gulf Coast. First, it was a user who just couldn’t seem to connect. Then, there was another user who couldn’t connect, though that turned out to be a totally unrelated problem. After dinking around with the server and the workstation over the phone, we finally rebooted the server and the problems seemed to be solved.

Turns out, not so much. Friday I got a call shortly after 8:30AM letting me know that now four users can’t connect to the server. So, again, after a few minutes of screwing around with a work station, I had them reboot the server, figuring that what worked the day before should work again. Seems like sound logic, right? Well, it is a Windows 2000 server, so logic probably wasn’t the best tool to apply. Everything seemed fine, right up until the server hung up at the “Preparing network connections” message. We rebooted the server at least three times after that and even tried Safe Mode, but, to no avail. So, I broke the news to my boss who was barely able to contain his joy at having an excuse to fly.

I should mention that I’ve flown with him on several occasions without incident and, as far as I can tell, he seems to be a very fine pilot. Certainly the flight itself has been smoother than most commercial flights I’ve been on. And, being able to bypass any sort of security checkpoints or limited schedules is really nice. It means, generally, that I can fly over, fix the problem and fly back in the same day. All with out needing to fill out an expense report, I might add.

So, well before sunup on Tuesday, we flew over to a little flat spot on the edge of New Orleans they call Lakefront Airport. This trip, I noticed that the same roofs seemed to have the blue FEMA tarps over them, but more yards had the pre-distressed FEMA trailers in them. Not sure if that’s progress or not, but, somehow, it seems like it should be. At least more of the traffic lights were working. Certainly, that has to be considered progress.
In any case, we got to the office about 9:00AM and I walked right to the server and got to work. I started by rebooting, just to see if I was going to get lucky. Naturally, I wasn’t or this post would’ve just ended. So, I cycled through several different boot options and finally, after much weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth, I got the server into a semi-stable state by booting into Safe Mode with Networking Support, but via the Repair Mode on the Windows 2000 install disk. (No, don’t ask me to recreate the steps because I wasn’t taking notes and I was probably running a fever.)

So, guesses on what was wrong? Out of disk space. Or rather, there wasn’t enough disk space for Active Directory to run properly. So, I killed a bunch of temporary files and cranked down on the size of the virtual memory paging file. Sure enough, when I rebooted into “normal” mode, the server came up and everyone was able to log in and all was well with the world. All done before lunch, I might add!
And, so it was that I humbly asked to be brought an oyster po’boy, dressed, sans tomato, with fries for lunch while I attempted to kill all spyware and adware and other such nastiness. What I got was a catfish po’boy, two hours later, and one machine that still has some spyware remnants on it that need to be cleaned up. How fleeting is glory… Oh, and that’s not to mention the several requests I got that were far, far outside the scope of “fixing problems”, which was, in fact, my stated purpose.

Interestingly enough, when we touched down again in Houston an essential piece of navigational hardware in the boss’ plane locked and threw an error message. Then, up popped the infamous Windows NT “Blue Screen of Death”, upside down on that oh, so essential monitor. Yes, boys and girls, our lives depended on hardware that runs the most unstable, buggy, crash-prone version of Windows I’ve ever worked with.
Yeah, we sure cheated death again. Barely.

9/1/2006

Web 2.0 Business Plan Generator!

Filed under: Career Archive,Criticism, Marginalia, and Notes,Fun,Fun Work,Life, the Universe, and Everything — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:17 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Gibbous

Oh, so you thought a fancy title was enough?

Ah, I remember those fabulous days in the web bubble when everyone around me was selling out and making giant bank.  Not me, though.  Oh, no, I stuck to my principals and fought the noble fight for things like security and longevity and all that sort of silliness.  Ah, well, according to Wired magazine, those times may be fast approaching again.  So, this time, I’ll be prepared with the Web 2.0 Business Plan Generator!  This time, I’ll be able to get some of that venture capital for myself!!

Oh, well, maybe not, but at least making a random generator in PHP was fun.
Hey, it’s Friday, cut me some slack!

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