Diary of a Network Geek

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


Desktop in your Pocket

Filed under: Fun,Fun Work,Geek Work,MicroSoft — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:19 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

Ever wanted to carry your whole desktop in your pocket?

Now you can with PortableApps.
Also?  PC Magazine has some ideas about carrying your PC in your pocket.

I’m not entirely sure I’d rely on a flash drive to carry my life on it, though.  I’ve had too many flaky problems with flash drives and no warning when they fail, either.  Still, as a backup or a temporary, traveling desktop, it might not be such a bad thing to have.  In any case, it’s something to think about.

Oh, and these particular articles focus on Windows, just so you know.


On Vacation

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Criticism, Marginalia, and Notes,Geek Work,Life, the Universe, and Everything,News and Current Events,On The Road,Personal,The Network Geek at Home — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Dragon which is in the early morning or 8:31 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

I’m on vacation.

Yes, vacation.  Of course, for a one man IT department, “on vacation” means something a little different than normal.  I ran in on Saturday, after picking up a rental car, to get a couple things squared away.  I have a “backup” person, but it’s really not his full-time gig, so I tried to make sure that he won’t really have anything to do.  Hopefully, I’ve succeeded.  But, in case I didn’t, I should be in cell-phone range the whole time, and my hotel has high-speed Internet.  Probably won’t take time to post, except the regular, automagic post I already have queued up.  I do worry quite a bit about leaving the network and my usesers untended.  I can think of so many things that can go wrong and, frankly, they’ve become so, so used to me being there to make last minute magic happen that they’ve come to expect it.  Of course, maybe that’s the best reason to take a couple of days off.

Also, I’m not going anywhere that I anticipate being any particular fun or even deeply interesting; Lawton, Oklahoma.  Why?  Because my nephew is graduating from Basic Training as he joins the Army National Guard, full time.  Still, it will be nice to see family and I’m looking at it as a photo opportunity.  Not sure what kind of shots I’ll get from the road, but I’ll certainly take as many of him and the graduation ceremony as possible.  When I’m back, I’ll post a link to Flickr.

So, now, it’s time to grab the last bags, toss thee roll of toilet paper into the car, and head out.  Be good while I’m gone, kids!

(And, yes, while I was typing this, I got a call from the office about someone moving their equipment and not able to connect.  See why I worry?  That’s also, incidentally, why I always travel with at least a partial roll of toilet paper in the car.  You just never know what might happen on the road!)

Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"A bone to the dog is not charity. Charity is bone to the dog, when you are just as hungry as the dog."
   --Jack London


Is that Ubuntu in your pocket?

Filed under: Fun,Linux,Things to Read — 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

Or are you just happy to be using opensource software?

I never know if I should capitalize “opensource”. Should it be OpenSource? Gah, I hate stuff like that!
But, I love Linux. I may not be incredibly well versed in the ways of Ubuntu, but, that’s okay because now I can download a free pocket guide to Ubuntu in PDF format. Of course, you could buy the $10 print version, but why?

So, c’mon you Linux geeks and wannabe Linux geeks! Go get it!


All stressed up and

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Career Archive,Criticism, Marginalia, and Notes,Life, the Universe, and Everything,News and Current Events,Personal — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Rat which is in the wee hours or 1:14 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Crescent

…No one to choke.

I’ve been living with a lot of stress lately.  It sneaks up on me when I least expect it.  I noticed it this past week when I almost snapped at church while driving one of the vans to pick up women from a local shelter to bring them to church.  Yeah, I know, that totally sounded like a self-serving, self-aggrandizing, self-promotion statement, but that’s what I was doing.  The additional stress of doing that for the first time, not knowing where I was going or what the procedure was combined with driving essentially a small bus, which is the largest vehicle I’ve driven in years and years, in the rain, had me about ready to snap.

But, here’s the thing, I didn’t notice that the stress was building up until it was right on top of me.
Looking back, I can see all the warning signs.  I’ve been eating too much and exercising not enough.  Nor have I been sleeping enough.  Witness the fact that I’m writing this at about 1:00AM after not working out because I fell asleep on the couch after eating a huge bowl of left-over mac-and-cheese-and-Spam.  Don’t judge me, you hypocrites who are all acting shocked because I ate Spam.  You have your comfort foods, too.  Mine just happens to be high-fat, processed meat with delicious hickory flavoring added right in for your convenience.  And, I’ve been eating donuts and candy at work, too.  But, the other signs are worse.  I’ve been clenching my jaw for weeks now, to keep myself from saying the things I don’t want to say out loud, at work and elsewhere.  I don’t want to be the asshole that turns loose with the biting sarcasm at the least provocation.  Well, I don’t want to be that guy again.  Oh, sure, it’s funny, but it doesn’t exactly make me the kind of person who other people want to get close to and be honest with.

Worst of all, I’ve noticed that I’m not getting everything done at work that I want to get done.  My users have come to expect a certain level of service that I’m proud to be able to deliver.  I try to make things run smoothly enough that no one waits for more than a few minutes for anything really important and most things aren’t really important.  But, that has its problems, too.  Now, I think that my users are used to not waiting, so some of them get impatient when they don’t have instant results.  Worse, I’ve made the impossible happen on short notice so many times now that everyone seems to expect that to be the norm.  Apparently, I haven’t made it clear enough that I’m making an exceptional effort to accomplish some of these things on short notice so everyone seems to think I can just produce at that level all the time.  Well, guess what?  I CAN’T! I know, I know, I should take time off, right? Because a little time off will make it better, right?  Well, not so much.  I am, in fact, taking several days next week to go watch my nephew graduate from Basic Training, but I’m so worried about what’s going to go wrong while I’m away that I can’t hardly sleep at all, unless I pass out from exhaustion on the couch, like I did tonight.  And, yes, I know this is getting more and more panicked and ranty sounding, but that’s in part because I feel more and more panicked and stark, raving mad the closer I get to trying to take a couple of days for myself like everyone else in the company does, because I’m so terrifed that nothing will work while I’m away or that the office will call all the damn time while I’m on the road that it will be worse than actually being there and just disappointing my nephew. I mean, if the users can’t wait five minutes for me, how are they going to wait five days?

I try to remind myself that I’m lucky to have a job.  And, I know I am, but sometimes the stress is enough to make my heart explode in my chest.  And, I know they did survive when I was getting treatment for cancer, but there are more of them now and it took weeks to sort out the mess that was the result of me being away so much that year.
There’s nothing much for me to do about it, either.  I try not to hate the person I see myself becoming.  I try not to backslide too badly on my exercise and generally better diet.  I try to pray.  I try to sleep.  I try to just relax.  But, I’ll be honest, gentle readers, I’m just not designed to run this hot anymore.  I used to live at this stress-level all the time, but that was a long time ago.  Besides, I was a real asshole when I lived like that.  And, I really, really don’t want to be that guy again.  But, I’m starting to wonder if that’s not the only way to deal with it, if that guy is the guy who’s designed to work under those conditions.  Maybe.  I hope not.
Or, somehow, conditions will have to change.  Soon.

Well, until then, I guess I’d better try to catch a few hours of sleep before getting up and doing it all again.
I hope your collective weeks are going better than that, my faithful readers.
And, with that, we return you to your regular internet drivel.

Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"A critic is a man who knows the way but can't drive the car."
   --Kenneth Tynan


Photographer’s License

Filed under: Art,Criticism, Marginalia, and Notes,Deep Thoughts,Fun,Life, the Universe, and Everything,News and Current Events,Red Herrings,The Dark Side — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:27 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Crescent

I saw this article on Boing Boing last week about a guy who’d made a fake DHS Photographer’s License.

At first, it seemed like a great idea.  Right up until I started thinking about the penalties for producing false identification for a police officer.  Not good.  But, I was put in mind of two things that are substantially more useful.

First there’s Bert  P. Krages’ Photographer’s Rights Flier.  Now, keep in mind that I am not a lawyer, and I’m not clear on just how far this can be pushed, but, if I’m taking pictures in a public place of people who have no reasonable expectation of privacy, it should be legal.  Luckily, I don’t have to work that stuff out for myself, though, because the author of the flier is, in fact, a lawyer and a photographer and he’s done a bit of research into this.  He’s also the author of the Legal Handbook for Photographers.  Mostly, if I’m taking pictures from a public space of non-classified areas, it’s pretty much okay.  I’m not sure I’d try to take photos of the C.I.A. Headquarters in Langley, even from a public area, for instance, but, I think you get the idea.

But, I know that having a badge of some kid often makes minimum wage rent-a-cops feel better, so, secondly, there’s the BigHugeLabs Badge Maker.  This would let you make a semi-official looking badge or ID to wear and seem like more than just a hobbyist photographer to slide past most of the low-end yahoos.  Probably wouldn’t do much with a real police officer, but, how often do you really see them these days?  Honestly, I think I see cops at the local theater more than I do anywhere else!  And that one is a dork riding a Segway!  (Okay, actually, in the town I live, surrounded by Houston, I see our police officers all the time, but they’re really nice to me because I’m a resident.)

Also, as a follow-up, if you live in New York, read this article at the New York Post: Shutterbugged.  Then, go to Craphound, Cory Doctorow’s website and download this JPG copy of the New York City Police Department’s operating orders about photographers.  Everybody else, though, should be covered with the other stuff.
Good luck and enjoy!


Review: Vampire Zero

Filed under: Art,Fun,Review,Things to Read — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:23 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Crescent

I finished Vampire Zero by David Wellington Friday night.

Vampire Zero is the third, and apparently last, book in the vampire series by Wellington that started with Thirteen Bullets and was followed by Ninety-nine Coffins.  I’ve already reviewed those here and, if you read those reviews, you’ll know that I think David Wellington has done a great job reinventing the vampire genre with his vision of the vampire as monster.  But, to me, that’s worth repeating, because I really hate the humanization and romanticizing of vampires that’s gone on in modern literature.  Wellington’s vampires, though, are monsters.  They’re like bipedal sharks who live on blood and think as well as humans and have their own form of culture.  But, they are like sharks.  They’re predators and they hunt humans.

In Vampire Zero, Wellington presents us with the last vampire hunter, Pennsylvania State Trooper Laura Caxton, who’s trying to hunt down her old mentor, Jameson Arkeley.  In 99 Coffins, he took on the vampire curse to help Caxton lay the brood of Civil War era vampires to rest, because she just couldn’t quite manage it herself.  In that book, Arkeley claimed he would dispatch those beasties, and then turn himself in to Caxton for his own execution.  As you might imagine, he wasn’t quite able to pass that final test and retreated out into the world.  Naturally, Caxton is the only one really qualified to hunt and kill vampires, so she ends up trying to track Arkeley down before he gives into the bloodlust of the vampire curse and starts killing humans, or, worse, starts making more vampires.   Before he becomes “Vampire Zero”.  The term, of course, is derived from regular epidemiology, where “patient zero” is the first known case from which all other cases of a disease derived.  In this case, however, the disease is even more deadly than anything we’ve ever imagined.

Naturally, she doesn’t quite manage to stop Arkeley from making more than one new vampire, but it’s a long, twisty ride to that point.  Caxton stays hot on her former mentor’s trail, becoming more and more like him along the way.  She even becomes a Special Deputy U.S. Marshall, just like Arkeley was before he turned.  The difference, of course, is that Caxton can see what’s happening.  She can see how she’s becoming harder and colder and more driven, while caring less and less about other people’s feelings, as she gets closer to her mentor-turned-vampire, in more ways than one.  But, she also has to fight the system, the bureaucrats, the paper-work and the less motivated public servants.  It’s no easy job, even for someone far less human and caring than Laura Caxton.
It’s brilliant work.  Both Caxton’s and Wellington’s.  The writing and the story are both really, really engaging and compelling.  No less so for the fact that humanity’s future may well hang in the balance.  Something, incidentally, that Caxton is quite aware of pretty much all the time.  But, Wellington’s writing and Caxton’s awareness don’t distract from the action at all.

In short, this is a great ending to a great series.  Though, the way the book ends, there is room for a sequel.  At least one more.  I hope Wellington writes that eventually.  I do love his work and these books.
So, hopefully, I’ve given you enough warm, fuzzy feelings about a vampire book and series to get you to check out Vampire Zero, after hitting the other two books, of course.  It was a damn fine read.


“Zombie Attack”

Filed under: Criticism, Marginalia, and Notes,Fun,Life, the Universe, and Everything,Movies,Personal,Red Herrings — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Horse which is around lunchtime or 1:00 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a Third Quarter Moon

Actual conversation before going to see X-Men Origins: Wolverine for the second time last night…

J: “So, uh, what’s the axe by the door for?”
Me: “In case of zombie attack.”
J: “Shouldn’t that be a shotgun then?”
Me: “Don’t want to run out of ammunition.”
J: “Aren’t you worried about getting, you know, swarmed by overwhelming numbers?”
Me: “Naw, the plan is to funnel them to the door and take ’em one or two at a time.”
J: “Won’t you get tired?”
Me: “Eventually, I guess, but by then, it’ll be a whole different problem, right?”
J: “Hmmm…”
Me: “So, do you want to do dinner before or after the movie?”
J: “After, I think.”
Me: “Okay, let’s roll then, eh?”
J: “‘Kay.”

Everybody talks that way, right?


Alternate Reality Games

Filed under: Art,Fun,Fun Work,News and Current Events,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 5:10 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

Would you like to play a game?

Have you heard of these things? Giant games that take place at least partially in the real world, that are a total immersive experience? They’re the latest thing. Okay, not the latest thing, since they’ve been around for years and they’ve been used to market everything from the video game Halo to the Steven Spielberg movie, A.I., but they’ve recently gotten popular again, thanks to Nine Inch Nails and Wired magazine. If you, like me, have gotten curious about them, the fine folks at the mental_floss Blog have a primer on them called A Beginner’s Guide to Alternate Reality Games.

I have to admit, I’ve never played in one, per se, but the Guide has a description of one that is very familiar from high school and college. Of course, we called the Assassination Game then, and these folks have added a twist to it by vastly enlarging the scale, but, still, it brings back the memories. Sure, it’s a geeky thing to admit to, but I can see how it’d be fun. And, a challenge on either side of the fence. Running a network of websites that dole out clues and cross-reference phone numbers and text messages and e-mail lists and all that, too. Wow. Hmm, in a slow year, maybe this is a new hobby people can use to distract themselves….

Well, in any case, no matter how geeky it may be, I think it’s worth checking out the article. It could be the Next Big Thing!


Free, Inspiring Resources for Designers

Filed under: Art,Criticism, Marginalia, and Notes,Fun Work,Things to Read — 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 Gibbous

It may be obvious by now, but I’m not a graphic designer.

Still, I appreciate the work. I mean, I understand the effort and appreciate the people who put in the work to make good design. And, I have to admit that design, good and bad, fascinates me.
So, to make amends for my various bad design, I offer the few good designers who might stumble across my site some nice bits.

I don’t know about full-time, professional designers, but I need a good bit of inspiration now and again. I often get photography and graphic design magazines just to stare at and get ideas. But, they get very proud of those magazines and charge dearly for them, so, in this new, tighter economy, what are we to do? Well, why not look at free, on-line design magazines! How about 42 Free Online Magazines for Designers?
Need more inspiration? Well, personally, I’m obsessed with logos, so I found the Logo Designer Blog endlessly entertaining.

Of course, when we’re creating for the web, content, as they say, is king. In this case, that means words. Lots and lots of words. In marketing school they called those words “copy” and the process of churning them out was “copywriting”. It’s an art, too, in its way. An art that all too many graphically creative people don’t seem to get, especially on the web. At least, I’ve seen a lot of sites that sure could use work on their words. Well, GrokDotCom has help for them at the GrokDotCom Ultimate Copywriting Cheat Sheet. Even if you think you’re very good at this, this page is worth a look. Trust me.

So, there you go.
Now go make something.


Review: Star Trek

Filed under: Art,Deep Thoughts,Fun,Movies,Review — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:03 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous


Originally uploaded by Network Geek

Well, yeah, of course, I saw Star Trek this weekend.

Okay, first of all, if you’re an old-school, Trek purist, you will hate this movie. But, if you like fun, watchable, well-acted, well-directed science-fiction movies, and can accept that this movie isn’t the series and steps outside the established television canon, then you might just enjoy this film. Seriously, if you can set aside your ideas about what this movie should be because it’s a “Star Trek” movie, you’ll enjoy it a whole lot more. Personally, I liked the movie just fine.

So, this is a new origin. This movie throws out the old Trek history and writes it anew for a whole new audience. In fact, director and producer J. J. Abrams has basically said that this movie is for a new generation of potential Star Trek fans, and not really for the “old guard” at all. Now, the hard-core Trek nerds are all irritated by that, but, well, that’s tough. This movie is just what the franchise needed; a total reboot. Well, actually, it’s not a total reboot, since Leonard Nimoy does, in fact, show up as an old Spock, but, mostly, this is a fresh start. Obviously, box office receipts will determine if an sequels are made, but, from what I’ve seen so far, I can’t imagine that this will be the last we see of the Enterprise.

So, here’s where potential spoilers start. If you don’t want me to accidentally reveal anything really integral to the plot, stop reading now and skip down to the last paragraph for my final review summary.
Right, now that the pansies are all gone, here’s the dirt.
This movie breaks canon in a number of ways. For one, all the major characters get brought together in this first mission. And, when I mean all the major characters, I mean not just Kirk and Bones and Spock, but also Scotty, Sulu, Uhura, Chekhov, Nurse Chapel, and even Captain Pike. So, yeah, that’s totally not how the series went at all, but, you know what? It was done pretty well. I mean, I bought the whole thing. It worked. And, we got to see a little history for the two really big characters, Spock and Kirk. Again, different than the series, but very good. In many ways, it was more believable, to be honest, more adult in a way that I would hope to see in the movies.

In the series, Kirk was always portrayed as a bit of a lothario, but in the movie, we actually see him hitting on women. We get to meet Bones as he’s running away from his ex-wife and debts, even though he’s terrified of space. We get to see Spock as a troubled youngster and a stiff-necked Starfleet Academy instructor. In fact, he’s the one who programmed the infamous Kobyashi Maru scenario which no one was supposed to be able to beat, and just how Jim Kirk beat it. In fact, once they work through that little bit, it forms the basis of their friendship. It’s all done in such a way that the narrative flows well and everything makes sense, but in a cinematic way which is really better, I think, than the old series. And, yes, I did love the original Star Trek series, so if you’re holding on to that as “better” because it was the original, get over it.

Now, I’ll bet you’re wondering how Nimoy’s Spock gets worked into the movie, right? If you’re a real fan of the series, I’m sure you’ve already worked it out. Time Travel! And, yes, there is at least a brief discussion of the time travel paradox that always seems to get set up when that happens. Solved, as always, with that handy theoretical construct the alternate time-line, or parallel universe. So, what’s been set up here is a brand new Star Trek universe with the great characters that Gene Roddenberry created, but the possibility of new adventures done in surprising ways. Yay! Finally, a reboot of a classic setting done with something approaching brilliance! And, it’s all internally consistent with the original universe.

Now, I know this weekend was big for this film, but it remains to be seen how the fans will embrace it. Personally, I think if they’re fools if they don’t get behind this film. The series has been played out and run into the ground. The Star Trek franchise absolutely needs to have a complete reset like this and if we really want to see new movies, we need to get the old guard out to see this movie and enjoy it. Or, maybe not. Maybe the new fans will drive this film and all the great new Star Trek films it will produce. I hope so.

So, in short, I think the new Star Trek is a great movie. I would totally be willing to see this again, which, again, is good because I very well may be going with friends who couldn’t go when I saw it Friday. Also, I completely, whole-heartedly recommend this film to people who loved the old series and people who weren’t big fans, but love good science-fiction films.
It’s a great movie and I think everyone should get out and see it at least once, if not twice.

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