Diary of a Network Geek

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

6/30/2017

Improved Gutenberg

Filed under: Art,Fun — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:05 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

Well, there goes my dastardly scheme to sell “improved” free books from Project Gutenberg!

Okay, I wasn’t seriously thinking of that, but I do know that there are people doing it. Seriously, if you go look at the cheap ebooks on Amazon or Barnes and Noble, you’ll see quite a few that are really just repackaged books taken from Project Gutenberg. Sometimes, those repackaged ebooks have improvements to them, like a nice cover or improved typography, but often, they don’t even have that. They’re just the same basic ebook that volunteers at Project Gutenberg have made from copyright free material with a poorly made, low-end “cover” attached to it. Usually, they’re not even worth the dollar or two these repackagers are asking. Now, though, they’re worth even less.
Now, there’s Standard Ebooks, which takes ebooks from sources that include Project Gutenberg, cleans up the editing, pretties up the typesetting and adds what look like much nicer “covers” and then offers them to you for free. Yes, for free! They’re relatively new, so their library of free, open-source, public domain ebooks is still growing, but their volunteers are hard at work adding more. Frankly, it seems like the perfect place to grab some classic reading for a free beach or pool-side read!

Give them a look and we’ll see you next week with something new and exciting.
Well, at least new and probably free.

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words.

7/22/2016

Amazon Price Tool

Filed under: Better Living Through Technology,Fun — 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

Our streaming-only television plans may have failed, but I’ve been enjoying the Amazon Prime membership we got for it.

There’s a part of me that’s a little terrified of Amazon, because that much power in the hands of one commercial organization is scary, but there’s another part of me that really likes the incredible variety of products they sell at amazing prices. So, while I do shop there, taking as much advantage of our Prime subscription as possible, I still think I’m right to be a little suspicious of them and vigilant. For instance, I think it’s better if I can comparison shop and make sure that Amazon really does have the best price. That’s not always easy to do. But, a new-ish set of tools on a website called CamelCamelCamel.com can help. Among other things, they have trackers that help you find the best price and watch for price drops, not to mention tools that show you the price history of a particular item. And, they have a browser add-in called The Camelizer that help you do all that right from your favorite browser. If you sign up for a free account, you can set up notifications for price changes or even set a target price notification so you can snag what your heart desires at the best price possible.
And, if you have the problem my wife and I always seem to have, and need to fill in just a couple dollars worth of something to get the free shipping, there’s the handy website FillerItem. All you need to do is hit the site, put in your minimum dollar amount and FillerItem will serve up a list of things from Amazon that will tip you over the limit. It’s pretty clever.

So, there you go, some tools to help your conspicuous consumption this weekend.
Enjoy!

This post originally appeared at Use Your Words.

12/11/2015

FanFic

Filed under: Art,Fiction,Fun,Things to Read — 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 New Moon

No, I’m not writing it, but I’m not knocking it, either!

I know a lot of people do look down on fan fiction, mostly because it traditionally hasn’t been the best quality.  In fact, back in the old days, when I first was trying my hand at writing, it was very much denigrated and no one really wanted to admit that they wrote “fan fic”.  It was, after all, problematic in a number of ways.  For one thing, it was never…
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11/10/2015

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.

10/20/2015

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.

5/1/2015

Things To Read

Filed under: Fun,Life Goals,Life, the Universe, and Everything,MicroSoft,Red Herrings,Things to Read — 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 Waxing Gibbous

I’m a little suspicious of lists put out by booksellers of books I ought to read.

I’m especially suspicious when it’s a list of 100 “books to read in a lifetime” being suggested by Amazon.  But, when Matt Mullenweg, founder of Automattic and one of two founding developers of WordPress, I have to admit, I pay a little closer attention.  For one thing, I’ve heard spectacular things about him from at least one of his old high school buddies and for…
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2/25/2014

Nook HD+

Filed under: Never trust a Network Admin with a screwdriver — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:49 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Crescent

I love my Nook!Barnes and Noble Nook HD+

I love books and I love reading, but I never thought I’d like any of the ereaders.  There were just too many potential problems with it.  For one thing, I didn’t want to get locked into one particular ebook system or store.  But, I still wanted it to be easy to use and adaptable to my needs.  For years, I was pretty much out of luck.  Then, I read an article about rooting the Nook Color so that you could load Android apps on it like a tablet, while still being able to use it like a regular Nook.  Finally!  So, naturally, I did that and loaded up the Kindle app and, just like that, I was around my biggest concern.  Okay, there was also the fact that it was less than half as much as an iPad, too, because, sure, I could have loaded the Nook app and the Kindle app on the iPad and been okay that way, too.  But, that’s not how a geek like me rolls, yo.

And, all was well, until I got that Pogoplug about a year ago.
I wanted to move all my files, including all my PDF documents to my Pogoplug, but the rooted Nook couldn’t download the most up-to-date version of the Pogoplug app, which meant I had the devil’s own time opening PDFs on it.  Argh!
Then, I heard that Barnes and Noble had added the ability to download apps from the Google Play store on their Nook HD series readers!  Wow!  I couldn’t believe how lucky I was!  Suddenly, without even rooting, I could upgrade my device and get all the things I really wanted on a cheap tablet!  Blammo!  Even better, though, when I went in to get the Nook HD, the smaller of the two modern Nooks, I found out they were all on sale!  So, with very little prompting from my fiance, I gave myself an instant upgrade and got the larger, more powerful Nook HD+.  In fact, I got the 32G version, for the extra storage, because, well, one never knows.

Now, I’m addicted!
And, sadly, the Nook will probably be going away some time this year.  Or, at least, if the pundits are all to be believed.  We’ll see, I suppose.  In the mean time, I’ll keep using my Nook HD+ and upload the books to Google Play, which you can now do, thankfully.  At least, up to 1,000 or so, which should be enough for me.
(But, I’ll be honest, I’m hoping Barnes and Noble doesn’t kill the Nook line of products, because I really do love mine.)

6/14/2013

Short Fiction for the Nook

Filed under: Fun,Life, the Universe, and Everything,Red Herrings,Things to Read — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:42 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

Can you tell I’m really enjoying my new Nook HD+?

I hadn’t really intended for this to be my focus this month, my personal choice of ereader, but, well, sometimes these things just happen.
I love my Nook and I enjoyed my last one, too, which, honestly, is a surprise to me.  I used to be one of those hipster snobs who “preferred actual books” to these new-fangled, science-fictional tablety reader things.  And, now, here I am.
Another reason I love it is…
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6/7/2013

Picking New Fiction

Filed under: Fun,Life, the Universe, and Everything,Red Herrings,Review,Things to Read — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:43 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Crescent

I like to read.

In fact, I like to read a lot, as anyone who’s spent time with me can tell you.  I have to admit, I read a lot of trash, but, still, at least I’m reading.  And, since getting my newest Nook HD+ back around Mother’s Day, I’ve been reading more than ever.  I cannot tell you how much I love this thing.  I suppose the Kindles are the same way, but since Barnes and Noble has upgraded their…
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1/28/2010

There’s An App For That

Filed under: Adventures with iPods,Apple,Deep Thoughts,Fun,Linux,News and Current Events,Things to Read — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Rooster which is in the early evening or 6:03 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Gibbous

No, I’m not going to write an article about the guy who saved his own life in Haiti with an iPhone app.

Because, frankly, everyone’s been talking about that already.
No, in this case, what I’m about to ramble about is the news that Amazon is opening the Kindle for developers.  Now, this might not sound like a big deal, but I think it is.  Here’s why…

First, this is a low-power, always-connected computer.  Oh, don’t kid yourself into thinking this is just a “reader”.  What’s under the hood is basically a small computer.   Now, I’m not sure what the operating system is, but I know, for instance, that the Nook is rumored to be based on Android.  Regardless, it’s a basic tablet that can connect to the web.  That, frankly, opens up some real possibilities.
I can see, as an example, a tech like me carrying around a virtual “stack” of manuals in ebook form, while still being able to use the device to troubleshoot problems, like pinging IP interfaces or hitting the web to Google for answers to problems.
But, compare it to, say, the iPhone which has a Kindle app.  And, a Barnes and Noble Reader app.  And, frankly, as my friends are probably tired of hearing me say, an app for everything.  It’s like carrying magic around in your pocket!  (Which does, in fact, sound a little dirty when you say it out loud.)  So, they sort of have to do this, just to keep up.

Secondly, this will definitely up the ante for everyone else’s device.  There were a lot of new ebook readers out at CES this year and I’ve heard a lot of buzz over the past year about how “everyone” is coming out with a new reader.  Again, I reference the Nook, but also the Sony entry and others.  So, now, people will be thinking about all the ways that a tablet will be more useful.
Now, don’t get me wrong, ereaders are great and all, but, honestly, I think there’s more of a market for an easy-to-use device that can do a whole lot more than just display books.  Again, I reference my own experience with the iPhone.  Sure, having a phone that can get your e-mail and handle your schedule is great, but a real smart phone is an animal of an entirely different stripe.  My iPhone enables me to do a whole range of things from check for movie times to checking the weather to checking my checking account to handling my schedule and calendar to, yes, remote access to my servers.  And, it has the ability to read ebooks.  Now, why would I want a single-purpose reader?

And, finally, the biggest, best reason this is important is because Apple has announced their new tablet device, the iPad.  Of course, the iPad is a whole lot more than a simple ebook reader, and not just because it has an after-market for accessories already, either.  So, now, with two app stores for two devices, we will hopefully have competition which will drive improvement in all these devices and give us, the consumer, the best device possible.  At least, in theory.

Personally, after my experience with the iPhone, I’m hoping that the iPad adds some more service and drops in price significantly over the next couple years.  Then, I’ll probably skip the Kindle all together and get an iPad, generation 3.  (Yeah, I’ll probably skip generation 2, as well, due to pricing and budgets.)
Personally, I look forward to our new Apple overlords!  (Not really, but they do design some great products!)

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