Diary of a Network Geek

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

11/29/2019

Security Tags

Filed under: Better Living Through Technology,Fun — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Rat which is in the wee hours or 1:00 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

I sort of hate “Black Friday”.

Yes, I have given into the base consumerism of the so-called holiday, even though it goes against so much of what I believe is important in life, and even though it follows Thanksgiving, a day meant to remind us of all we have for which to be actually thankful. Still, it’s a reality. It’s a thing that’s going to happen. Even I will call up Bell’s Farm to Market and order up my Northern family’s Christmas gifts to have them delivered. I do that mostly out of nostalgia, because I have fond memories of my uncle in Florida who would send fresh fruit for Christmas every year. Back in those days, it was a real treat to get fresh oranges in December. Not just because things like that cost more when I was a kid, but, honestly, in retrospect, because I think money was pretty tight for my parents and having food sent for Christmas was a real help no matter what it was. Of course, not getting rickets was a real bonus, too. So, I send that stuff now, not because anyone I send it to is hurting for it, but because it reminds me of a favorite great uncle and, I hope, reminds my siblings of him, too.

But, of course, you, dear readers, are not here to read my maudlin holiday remembrances. You’re here for your Friday link! And, boy, do I have a doozy for you. Now, before I share it, let me say that I do NOT endorse theft of any kind, least of all from retailers this time of year. However, if you’re out in the mad dash of Black Friday spending and somehow spend your hard-earned cash on clothes that some poor, harried, over-worked and under-paid sales clerk accidentally doesn’t remove the anti-theft dye tag from before hustling you out the door, this link is for you. Brought to you via BoingBoing, here’s the Lockpicking Lawyer, on how to remove an inventory control tag. So, if you somehow bypass the shitty security these tags provide and get out of the store with one still on your new shirt or pants or whatever, now you can most likely remove it without having to face the snarling mob at the store.
But, again, not advocating this as a way to steal anything from the stores on the busiest shopping day of the year, when security and store personnel will be stretched thin. Honestly, if you absolutely must buy things on Black Friday, do it on-line and avoid the crowds.

Most of all, though, enjoy your family this holiday season and focus on what really matters; them.

This post originally appeared at Use Your Words!

11/22/2019

Procedural Fun

Filed under: Art,Fun — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:30 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Crescent

I like my fun to be automatic, free and semi-random.

Way back in the day, I was ahead of the curve on autogenerated “stuff”. In my case, it was semi-random language generation that I ran over on Fantasist.net. Let me tell you, back when I started doing it, I took an incredible amount of flack from the constructed language people for automating any part of the language creation process. Now, of course, there are plenty of the youngsters out there doing it, but it wasn’t always like that. I’m grateful they are though, because my stuff wasn’t programmed all that cleanly and got used so hard it used to crash the servers at my hosting company.
But, other than taking a moment to self-aggrandize, I only bring it up because I love that kind of automated fun. And, to me, that absolutely is fun. I love random generators, which you can still see on the Fantasist.net World Building page, but, since I’m a frustrated writer, all my work deals with text. This week, I’m bringing you something a bit more interesting. First, there’s the Medieval Fantasy City Generator, which, as you may have guessed, randomly generates a pretty good, albeit simple, city map for your stories or adventures. It’s quick, and detailed enough, but loads of fun. The programmer, Watabou, as they’re known on /r/proceduralgeneration at Reddit, has actually made several related generator toys like this. My other favorite is the One-Page Dungeon. It’s a neat, little dungeon that’s perfect for a quick FRPG adventure, if you’re so inclined. And, I thought, with the holidays nearly upon us, that friends gathering with limited time, might like such a thing to game with. Also? They’re just fun to look at. At least, if you’re an old game geek like me.

So, there you are, just some quick, procedurally generated fun on the Friday before Thanksgiving!
And, be sure to check out the other stuff Watabou has shared, too! There are some fun, free games as well.
Enjoy!

This post first appeared at Use Your Words!

11/19/2019

Managing Up

Filed under: Career Archive,Geek Work,Never trust a Network Admin with a screwdriver,The Day Job — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Snake which is mid-morning or 10:00 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a Third Quarter Moon

“Managing up” has to be one of my least favorite business buzzword phrases, and the most condescending.

I’m grateful I don’t hear this phrase as much as I used to earlier in my career. The last time I heard someone use it, they were commenting on how little they thought about their direct supervisor’s ability. When you think about it, the phrase, and the idea behind it, is pretty insulting. The implication is that I know better than the person above me in the company organization chart and, essentially, have to do their job for them because they’re incapable of managing me. For one thing, it starts from a false premise, though one that a lot of technical people seem to buy into, namely that my work requires knowledge and abilities beyond the management layer above me. I’ve never found that to be actually true.
I prefer the term “managing expectations”. It’s more accurate and applicable to all levels of the org chart. It’s also something I do regularly. For instance, if I’m working on a project for someone, I want to make sure they know what’s involved and the kind of time that might take so they have some idea why I’ve set a delivery date. Or, more importantly, why the delivery date the stakeholder might expect is unreasonable. There are times, of course, that I find myself able to deliver well within the expected time, but, unfortunately, that’s much more unusual.
The other way I manage expectations is in what can be delivered at all. I will grant that to many the computer systems I work with on a regular basis are a bit like magic. Black boxes of mysterious abilities that miraculously produce information and reports when working correctly. Or, evil, possessed infernal machines that are blamed for keeping some other department from producing results when they aren’t working well. Obviously, my goal is to make sure the technology in my care is always working well, but that’s not always possible. And, when I’m asked by someone to produce something new, I want to give them an accurate idea of what precisely I’ll be able to deliver to them on whatever timetable is likely. Of course, like most technical people, I follow the lead of Montgomery Scott, Chief Engineer of the starship Enterprise and do my best to set expectations low so that when I am able to exceed them I seem like a miracle worker. Like the time I told someone I’d “do my best” to recover some of the more than three terabytes of engineering drawings that the previous IT person had lost to a cryptolocker virus, then found a decryption tool after everyone else had left early for a long holiday weekend that restored all the lost data.
Yes, I worked what seemed like a miracle, but before I did, I set the expectation that the data was going to be lost because the last tech hadn’t tested the backups. So, rather than “managing up”, manage expectations of what kind of results, and when those results, can be delivered. Everyone, not just your managers, will appreciate it more.

This post originally appeared on my LinkedIn profile.

11/15/2019

Talking Dog

Filed under: Fun — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:30 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

Hey, that dog can talk!

Okay, so not literally, but pretty close.
I have a friend who has this idea he calls “the talking dog theory”. It goes like this. Dog lovers talk to their dogs as if they’re people who might answer back. And, what if those dogs could talk back? Would we care what the dog said? Or would we be so amazed to get a response that we’d sit with rapt fascination, thinking, “How incredible! This animal can talk!” So, what if we applied that to people in a meeting that were annoying us with the banalities? Instead of getting annoyed with them, maybe we should simply be amazed that that animal can talk!
Well, amusing anecdotes aside, what I have for you this week is an actual talking dog, sort of. I’ve seen this multiple places, but I’m sharing the link from BestLife, about Stella the “talking” dog. Stella’s owner is Christina Hunger who is a speech pathologist. She made Stella a “sound board” with some common words that her darling doggie might want to know, like “out” and “ball” and “play”. Then she set about teaching Stella what the buttons all met. Now, Stella uses the sound board to “talk” to her owner and tell Ms. Hunger what she wants. The video is pretty remarkable.

Honestly, though, I don’t think I want to give my two dogs any more encouragement to try and tell me what they want. Lily would always be hitting the buttons for “hungry – feed – me” and Penny would be always asking for “out – squirrel” or “rub – tummy”. And I know what they want already.
In any case, great videos and fun, even if you’re not a dog lover! Though if you’re not a dog lover, I’m not sure I’d care for your opinion anyway.

Enjoy!

This post originally appeared at Use Your Words!

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11/8/2019

Like The First Time

Filed under: Fun — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:30 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Gibbous

When was that word first used?

When I was in High School, I remember being fascinated by the idea that James Hilton’s book Lost Horizon was so popular that his invented paradise, Shangra La, entered into the public consciousness and common usage. That may have been the first time I realized the power that an author may wield. And, here’s the thing, that happens more than we realize. I think we’re taught that English is this monolithic thing that is static and fixed, but it’s not. It’s not at all. New words are being added to our cultural vocabulary all the time. Eventually, they get added to the dictionary, mostly as a recognition of language that’s already in use. Sometimes, though, we can know who coined a term, and when they did it, like “cyberspace”. That was first used by William Gibson in a short story titled “Burning Chrome”, published in Omni Magazine in 1982. That story, along with Frank Herbert’s Dune are what made me want to be a writer, before paying bills drowned that creative impulse almost completely.
But, all that aside, my point is, every year, writers add to our English vocabulary. Merriam-Webster’s Time Traveler can tell you what new words were added in what year. Go, look. Even if you don’t find it as inspiring as I do, it is occasionally fascinating to know how long some common words have been in use. For some it’s longer than we realize, but for others, it’s not as long as you might suppose!

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words!

11/6/2019

Project Success

Filed under: Career Archive,Geek Work,Never trust a Network Admin with a screwdriver,The Day Job — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Snake which is mid-morning or 10:00 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Gibbous

Clear goals make for more successful projects.

There is no way to guarantee a successful project, but I can sure tell you the best way to make one fail; don’t set a clear goal.
When I was in Boy Scouts, I earned my Eagle Scout award. That was a long time ago, and I know some things have changed since then, but one requirement that hasn’t changed is running a successful service project. At the time, the bar for success was set pretty low, and, of course, I had lots of help from Scoutmasters and advisers on how to set up and run my service project. What I learned in Scouting, I carried forward into my working life and still use to this day. The single best way to stack the odds in your favor of success is having clearly defined goals that include a deadline. My goals, whether personal or professional, need to be so crystal clear that I can express them to someone not involved in the project in thirty seconds or less. If I can’t do that, I need to rethink whatever project I’m gearing up.
For instance, as a technical specialist focused on IT infrastructure, when I’m getting ready to refresh datacenter hardware, I should be able to tell my CIO or CFO what servers and drive arrays are being replaced, how the data will transfer from the old hardware to the new equipment, what the time involved will be and what my fall-back plan is in case of catastrophic failure at some level. Simple, clear and direct. And, I should be able to state that in a non-technical way for non-technical staff who might need to know. If I’m upgrading a wide-area network from a series of point-to-point connections in the old-fashioned spoke-and-star configuration with a software-defined WAN configured with a mesh of redundant connections, I need to be able to clearly describe that end result, with the advantages and disadvantages and any potential risks, to non-technical executive staff.
I need to be able to do all that not only so they can hold me and my department accountable for our success or failure, but also so that I can keep everyone on the project focused in the right direction. This is the lesson I learned so many years ago working on my Eagle Scout service project. A clear, concise goal is easier to explain and share with outsiders, but it’s also essential for project participants, to keep everyone focused on the same goal and headed the same direction. No one can lead a team, whether on a short project or on a larger team, without clear, shared goals and deadlines. A project without a clear, shared goal is doomed to failure because no one will be working together on the same shared goal, except by accident.
Success should never be an accident. It should always be a plan.

This post originally appeared on my LinkedIn profile.

11/1/2019

What makes a safer knife?

Filed under: Fun,Personal Care,Red Herrings — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:30 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

A sharp knife is a safe knife.

I know that doesn’t seem to follow, but, trust me, it’s true. When I was in Boy Scouts, one of the many things I learned is that a sharp knife is actually safer than a dull knife. A sharp knife is less likely to snag and jump when you make a cut, and therefore, less likely to get out of your control when using it. Also, a sharp knife takes less effort to use, which also makes it easier to control. But, if you should mess up and have an accident, a sharp knife makes a cleaner cut. Trust me on this; clean cuts heal faster and better than messy, jagged cuts. I have plenty of both kinds to know the truth of that!
I bring this up because two of the holidays most focused around food and, therefore, the kitchen are just around the corner; Thanksgiving and Christmas. I fully expect that most of my readers, few of you as there may be, will find themselves in the kitchen carving a turkey, a goose, a ham or some other delicious and festive meat product. That means, gentle readers, that there will be knives. And, if you’re like most people that means a carving knife that you likely haven’t used since last year at least. So, before you grab for that dull, under-used blade, now would be a great time to sharpen it. Not sure how? Well, thanks to our friends at Boing Boing, I have a link to a video on the basics of knife sharpening. It’s about 30 minutes, which is probably a bit longer than is strictly necessary, but it covers pretty much everything. They even have links there for whetstones of progressing fineness of grit to really get a good edge on that carving knife. The one criticism I have from my time in Boy Scouts is that the video shows him drawing the blade toward his body and in short strokes. I was taught it should *always* be sharpened *away* from the body and I was also taught to use the longer strokes he uses for the last phase of sharpening. But, I will say, his technique of using a sharpie to see where you’ve sharpened is pretty smart. Though, I’d have use the acetone over the sink, not my whetstones. And, after going through all the trouble of sharpening the knife and all, when you wash the acetone off, do it by hand. Dishwashers tend to dull knives because of all the banging around that happens.
So, you’ve got plenty of time and few excuses! Go sharpen up before it’s time to carve the turkey!

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words!


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