Diary of a Network Geek

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

3/21/2010

The Ultimate Home Network

Filed under: Deep Thoughts,Fun Work,Geek Work,Linux,MicroSoft,Novell,The Network Geek at Home — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Snake which is mid-morning or 10:12 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

A pretty bold statement, isn’t it?

Well, I’m not going to tell you how to build the “ultimate home network”, but, rather, suggest some things that you may want to consider to build your own, personal, “ultimate” home network.  Everyone needs something different from a home or small office network.  Some of us have side jobs that require a fair amount of data transfer or storage, like, for instance photographers.  For some of us in the IT business, having a home “test” network is almost assumed, though, perhaps not as much as it used to be in the boom days of the Internet.
I’ve been thinking about it this past week because my old BorderManager firewall finally has died.  I’m using a backup firewall at the moment, which is “good enough”, but I’ll be taking this crash as an opportunity to start rebuilding my home network from the ground up, using mainly free, open source software, starting with a Linux firewall.  In fact, I have three that I’ll be looking at and, yes, writing reviews of, in the coming weeks.  This will be an on going series of posts, too, as I evaluate software and, piece by piece, integrate it into my working, live network.  My needs will probably be different than yours, but all home networks will have some similar items and considerations.
So, what should go into your own personal, “ultimate” home network?  It depends on what you do, but here are some ideas.

The Actual Network.
Obviously, the first thing is setting up the actual, physical network.  And, in this case, by physical, I’m including wifi routers and the like.  Back in the old days, having a home network meant running cable.  That’s not as true as it used to be, but don’t just go wireless without considering at least some wired connections.  If you’re concerned about security, for instance, especially, regarding financial transactions, nothing is as secure as a wired connection.  Keep in mind, though, that at some point you still connect to an outside source to get to your bank.  Also, since most laptops have built-in wifi and have gotten so inexpensive, if you don’t already have one, consider getting a laptop.  For most people, laptops can inexpensively do everything we need to do and have the advantage of portability, so if you need to leave, say in case of a hurricane, you can take at least part of your home network with you.
There are a wide range of network switches and routers out there to choose from, but I suggest sticking with a name brand that is relatively well known and established. It’s no guarantee that you won’t have problems, but it’s a good start. I personally like Linksys and DLink brands, but there are many others that will work well, too.

Security.
Don’t forget that you need to have at least some security on that home network.  At a bare minimum, you need a firewall and some kind of antivirus.  If you’re connecting to broadband internet, either cable or DSL, most often the router they give you from the service you use has a firewall on it.  If you’re using wifi, the wifi router almost certainly has a firewall on it.  Use them!  Most importantly, actually set them up and change the default password to something else that you’ll remember but that strangers won’t guess.  If you’re not sure if you have a firewall on your network equipment, then at least use the built-in Windows firewall, but use something!
If you don’t want to spend big money on either McAfee or Norton for antivirus, good news!  You don’t have to spend anything!  Yes, that’s right, you can download AVGFree and run it for nothing at all.  So, now, what excuse do you have to not be running some kind of antivirus again?
And, please, for your own sake, use passwords.  Use hard to guess passwords, not your kids names or your birthday or even your license plate number.  In fact, try not to use dictionary words at all, or, if you do, substitute other characters for letters, like $ for S or @ for A, to make it more difficult to guess.  Also, use numbers with the letters, for the same reason.

Networked Storage.
Just having storage isn’t enough, really.  On a home network now, you may have a laptop, or two, a desktop, a DVR or any number of different networked devices that share data.  They all need to store it somewhere.  And, even if they store the data locally, they need to be backed up somewhere.  The answer is network based storage.  There are a lot of options out there, and Rick Vanover at TechRepublic has a good article on several.  I know one solution that’s popular with photographers is the Data Robotics Drobo series of devices.  I don’t have any direct experience with these, so I have no opinion on them specifically, but these days, decent network attached storage is so cheap, it would be foolish to ignore that as an option.

Virtual Server Environment.
Now, obviously, this isn’t for everyone.  Back in the day, I used to run a small, two server Novell network in my house just to keep everything fresh in my mind.  Novell isn’t always the most popular networking environment, even for hard-core network geeks like me, so I always wanted to make sure I knew how to do some of the more “interesting” and challenging things in that environment and ran a test network at home for that reason.
Now, you can do all that through virtualization.  In fact, that may be the newest buzzword that’s already worn thin on me!  But, buzzword or not, setting up a virtual test network is something that’s been talked to death in the industry, but I’ve only seen one article recently on setting up a home virtual test network.  You can read more about it in an article by Brad Bird over at TechRepublic, but, again, for those of us who work in a lot of different environments, it’s not a bad idea to make a series of virtual machines to experiment on.  There are still some hardware costs involved, of course, but there is the advantage of being able to roll back to an earlier state if something gets too screwed up.  Try that on your old-fashioned home network!

Even Fancier Stuff!
Of course, there’s almost no limit to what you can do on a home network these days.  Many inexpensive printers come with network interfaces built in, some even have wifi networking built in.  Of course, I’ve mentioned things like Windows Home Server and Linux servers here before, too.  It is, after all, what I do.  Though, with the low prices on network attached storage, I’m not sure I’d recommend that option for the average user.
And, this post hasn’t even touched on integrating any audio visual equipment into your network, or a home security system, or some of the fancier bells and whistles that are out there.  The sky, literally, is the limit.

So, the thing is, everyone will have a different idea of what the “ultimate” home network is, but these are some things to consider, and a few you don’t want to forget.

10/12/2007

Linux Home Server

Filed under: Fun Work,Geek Work,GUI Center,Linux,MicroSoft,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 5:58 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

This is old news.

So, lately, there’s been a bit of buzz about Windows Home Server. The press has gone on at length about how this was such a brilliant idea who’s “time has finally come” and patted Microsoft on the back for thinking of it.
Well, this is really old news. As I was going through some old magazines recently, before throwing them out, I saw a short article on the Memora Servio Personal Server. A Linux-based home server that did everything from share files to filter e-mail to act as a firewall for home users. The device was auto-configuring and sat between your home network and your broadband connection and even could be ordered with wireless built in. The magazine was from 2001.

Sadly, the company doesn’t seem to be around any more, though you can see the old Memora About page, thanks to Archive.org. Again, this company was doing this six years ago and, from what I can tell, only seemed to have closed up shop in the past year or two. I wonder how well this product sold? What’s more, I wonder if anyone has the distro around, with the configuration programs on it? I know, I’d love to get my hands on that!

So, some of my readers are geeks, too. Ever heard of this product? Or, maybe, something like it?

(And, if you haven’t looked at my pictures yet, scroll down to untill you see them, then vote on the sidebar!)

12/6/2006

Business Class Phone and Internet Service

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Career Archive,Geek Work — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:37 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

So, I’ve been getting quotes on a lot of service providers lately.

Wow, this is why I don’t put phone tech on my resume. I hate doing phone work! But, still, since most phone switches are now digital, at least, and mostly a specialized computer, it does make sense. But, along the way, I’ve had a couple of issues with providers. That means that I’ve been doing a lot of comparison shopping. If you get stuck doing this, here’s two sites that will help:
AllInternetNow and BridgeOne Broadband Locators
I’ve actually used the latter of the two most recently and the response was phenomenal! Within fifteen minutes, I had a phone call from someone who confirmed my information and fired my information off to four providers to bid on the service. No more than fifteen minutes after that, I had one of those providers calling me. Oh, and did I mention that was a free service? At least, it was free to me, which is all that matters. Not bad.

Anyway, I just thought I’d share that for those of you who get stuck in the same spot I often do. Hope it helps someone!


Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"A man is not old until regrets take the place of dreams."
   --John Barrymore

8/14/2006

Travel Report

Filed under: Adventures with iPods,Advice from your Uncle Jim,Deep Thoughts,Dog and Pony Shows,Fun,Fun Work,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 Pig which is in the late evening or 10:39 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

(Note: This “post” was written over the space of two long waits in airports after gliding through easy and over-hyped security.)

08/11/06

Well, there wasn’t any free wifi at the airport that I could find, even using a cool new tool I found for Linux called Wifi-Radar. Super slick little proggie that scans for available open wifi networks and automagically attaches you to the network of your choice. Pretty cool. Anyway, security was a breeze. As usual, the blood-sucking, bottom-feeders in the alarmist media totally overhyped the delays. I got Hilda checked in, stopped for gas and slipped into the Park-N-Fly by about 10:45 AM. The shuttle got me to the airport no later than 11:15AM and I was checked in and through security in less than 20 minutes. That’s with an eTicket and a driver’s license that still has my last name misspelled with an extra letter. You’d think that would raise a red flag, right? Hell, it doesn’t even raise a damn eyebrow.

Feeling extra secure yet? So, we hear all kinds of stuff about how bad security is going to be, but, as far as I could see, the only thing added to security was that they were restricting fluids on the plane. Yeah, so, no drinks through security, which, of course, means that everyone was buying drinks in the terminal. I didn’t look at how much I was gouged for my bottle of water and masked the whole cost with a couple of magazines. No Maxim, though. Just PopSci, Scientific American, Men’s Health and Real Simple. You know, I may end up getting a subscription to Real Simple instead of Dwell. It’s more my style. Not quite so avant-garde and infinitely less expensive. I was very glad to have gotten my iPod back, though. And, I even managed to sync all of Tristan und Isolde to it before I took off in the morning. Sadly, I didn’t have quite enough time to create a playlist that let me listen to the entire opera in order, but, still, I have it in there. According to iTunes, I have almost three days worth of continuous music on my Nano. Based on the silly media hype, it sounded like I’d need it, so, I was thrilled.

The one interesting thing was that I was almost on the news. No, not because I tried to sneak something dangerous on the plane. Though, God knows, I have done just that so many times it really makes me question the supposed security training they give those TSA agents. Anyway, there was some cute, Hispanic news chic there with her cameraman interviewing passengers about the virtually non-existent security delays and they saw my “Sunguard Secure, Disaster Recovery Experts” shirt. Right away the camera guy is all “So are you a disaster recovery expert?” and I start laughing at them both. I explain that, yes, I am an IT disaster recovery expert, but not the kind they were looking for. Oh, sure, I could have gone on TV and made a credible security expert, but that’s mainly because I’m well read and I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about security for IT, which includes physical security, not because I’m a real anti-terrorist expert. But, why? Why the hell would I want to have my mug all over the TV news? I hate them, the alarmist fear-mongers always whipping the mass of unwashed humanity into a damn frenzy. Idiots. They’re not journalists anymore, just talking heads. It’s all about jumping on that fear-hype bandwagon, not about reporting real information that people can actually learn something from anymore. I don’t know, maybe it’s time to get a subscription to a local paper again. Ha! “A” local paper, that’s funny, isn’t it? It’s either the Chronicle or an out of town paper, like the Chicago Tribune or the Wall Street Journal. Oh, well, it’s almost all bad news anyway….

08/14/06

Well, here I am again, killing time in an airport waiting for my flight after breezing through security. I can’t tell if it’s just the media blowing things so far out of proportion or just people stupid enough to argue with the TSA agents and trying to break the rules. Honestly, I think it’s the TV news media who have to justify their existance by whipping everyone into a frenzy about the terrorists who weren’t even on US soil. Sure, I’ll grant you, getting blown up in a plane would really ruin my travel plans, but we’ve been living with this since 9/11 and, frankly, I think it’s about time we just adjust to higher security than we used to have. I mean, really, compared to most of the world, we’ve been skating along pretty free and easy. They’ve been dealing with terrorists in Europe for years and the British were more relaxed about this last incident than we were, even though it was their countrymen that were going to be blown up! This is just going to be a fact of life from now on. We need to get past the panic and fear and make our adjustments and move on with our lives, otherwise the terrorists have already won. So, in any case, I glided through security, in spite of not shaving, having a scruffy goatee and being loaded down with electronics. I guess it helps to just blank your face and go with the flow. Not like I have a choice, after all, so I might as well just accept the process and go with it. Seems to make things a lot easier. So, crazy security concerns aside, I had a good visit with the family.

Turns out, my parents were wrong and I wasn’t going to be presenting my nephew with his Eagle award, but it really did seem to mean a lot to him that I was there. Actually, it seemed to mean a lot to everyone to see me. I guess I shouldn’t be so surprised, but I never realized how important I was to my family. Of course, I spent some time setting up my parent’s new laptop and transferring settings and files over from the old one. I first thought that I’d be able to do that via a USB thumb drive, but there was just a little too much there to get onto a single one gig drive, so I had to use the network cable and crossover adapter that I’d brought with me. Good thing I have a little bit of experience being an IT consultant on the road and thought to bring some “extra” stuff I probably wouldn’t need, just in case. Sadly, I forgot to bring the copy of Word that I had for Mom and scratched the first CD of the Works install set, so I’ll have to ship them the CD and walk Mom through the install. Oh, the funny thing about her new laptop is the wireless connection. I cranked up that laptop and found five or six networks in the area with at least two that were unsecured, so I used that to piggy-back to the Internet. I think that ease of use just about convinced her to invest in broadband at their new house when the finally move in. They already have digital phone service through their cable, so I’m pretty sure they’d get a discount on the Internet connection, too. That along with a wireless router would really have them in the modern age of computing. And, I think they’d use their laptop more. Well, at least, Mom would. Dad mainly tells her what he wants and sends her off to do it, but he thinks he’s pretty high-tech, which is kind of funny. Actually, if you ever met either of my parents, it’d amuse you think of either of them being all that high-tech.

Though, somehow, they turned out at least two of us that make our living via technology. That’s just one of many things my brother and I have in common, though… It was nice talking with him some, though, I think we both wouldn’t have minded talking more. Eleven years apart and a vast difference in life experience, but we’re still the same in so many ways. Sadly, we both have many of the same things to fight through and over come. Both shy, each in our own way. Soft-spoken, but determined and, often, very single-minded of purpose. I honestly think that my brother has a PhD. because someone told him he couldn’t do it. We’re funny that way. Sometimes, that’s an asset, but not always.
Still, we often have very similar political views and, talking with my sole niece, Rachel, I was surprised to see how well our philosophies about kids meshed. That “little” girl has grown into quite a young woman. Just barely fifteen, but almost as tall as I am and, thankfully, looking more like her mother every day. I sat with her after her brother’s Eagle Ceremony and talked with her a bit, since I realized I didn’t really know her that well these days. The boys all center on me like iron filings on a magnet and that often seems to leave little room for Rachel. The last time I was home, she spent most of the time with Allison, my former step-daughter, and I didn’t get to talk to her. In any case, I took the opportunity to chat with her about a lot of different things, including driving, boys and her future plans. She didn’t have a boyfriend right now, but she’s already had two, which, at fifteen seemed like a good, slow start. She broke up with the last one, she told me, because he’d been smoking marijuana. Smart girl. Already learned that guys who smoke enough dope lose all motivation and ambition. It’s not just a stereotype. So, she was single, but didn’t seem in a big hurry to find the next guy, which I though was a good attitude, too. When I asked her about school and ideas for a career, she told me she wanted to go into nursing. Like I said, smart girl. It’s a good field and she has the right kind of personality for nursing. Even at fifteen, she was worried about her poor, old Uncle Jim standing when everyone else was sitting at the reception. I was glad for the chance to sit and talk with her. I just wish Allison had more of an opportunity to know her former cousin. I think Rachel would have been a good influence on her. Ah, well, maybe they’ll reconnect one day. Stranger things have happened.

Her little brother, Michael, my youngest nephew, is a whole different animal. This poor kid has no small amount of adversity to overcome. As a little guy, he got repeated ear infections and is, as I recall, legally deaf. But, since he was very small, he’s worn a hearing aid in each ear and does quite well. He has a very slight speech impediment, but he seems to make up for that with enthusiasm and volume. He certainly has no trouble making himself understood when he wants to get a point across! But, he also has a fairly rare back and spine condition that will require him to wear an obviously uncomfortable back brace for most of the next three years. He’s a good kid and doesn’t complain much when his parents tell him to get his brace back on, but it can’t be something he likes to do. I don’t know if any of the kids at school give him trouble for it, but I think his mother has already given her permission to pop the little wiseasses if they do sound off. And, if I ever hear about any grief, I tell you, Mike will have a mean uncle from Texas coming up to crack a couple of skulls for him. He’s a good boy and puts up just a tiny fuss at having to deal with all his physical troubles. And, in spite of all his reasons to be unhappy, I’d say he’s the most gregarious and, well, “jolly” of all my nephews. Always smiling and laughing and joking, even when irritation occasionally creases his forehead, it sure doesn’t cloud his world for very long at all. I know quite a few adults that could learn thing or two from this young man.

Then, there was my “redneck nephew”, as I like to call him.
John Dwight is a big kid. He looks slow and ponderous and even sounds a little thick, but he’s not. He’s a smart kid who lives in a town that doesn’t put much stock into “book learnin'” and it shows. Mainly, I think he’s just not very motivated. I think he sees the futility of his situation. He can only go so far in that little town outside of Rockford, Illinois. After that, if he wants more and bigger opportunities, he’ll have to leave. Based on how his mother and father have dealt with that decision, I doubt he’ll leave. Though, he is talking about enlisting in the military. He claims he wants to be a sniper, but with less than perfect vision, I think that’s not going to quite work out for him. He likes to work on cars, though, and seems to think he can bide his time waiting for the sniper program while being a mechanic. I don’t think he understands the military enough to know that once he starts as a mechanic, he’s likely to stay a mechanic, but, at least he’ll have a skill and a way to make a good living after mustering out. It would be a good way for hime to go.
He shadowed me for most of the time I was working on my Mom’s new laptop. I think partly because he wants to get a shiny, new laptop himself, but also because he’s interested. I talked with him about what I was doing and promised to send him one of the super cheap 1 Gig USB thumb-drives I’d found at MicroCenter and was using. He seemed genuinely excited about that. I’ll send that to him after I get back along with a Knoppix CD, so he can learn a little Linux. If he learns Linux and is still interested, I might send him an old Dell laptop with Redhat or Novell’s free OpenSuSE loaded on it. That would be another direction he could go. A little military experience and a couple of professional certifications and he could really go far.

Finally, my oldest nephew and godson, Bill…
As I write this, he’s on his way to his first year of college. He’ll be a Physics Major at Purdue University. Kid’s going to be a genius PhD, like his father. He has a girlfriend, Jenny, who’s nice enough, but tries a little too hard to be liked. When she forgets to work at it and relaxs, though, she’s a nice kid. Bill and I had a little talk on Friday night when his family came over for dinner. (Mom made “creole chicken”, a soulfood recipie that my grandmother picked up on the Southside of Chicago.) He’s so much like his father that it’s almost scary. I was touched Saturday when I figured out that he really just wanted me at the ceremony because he missed his Uncle Jim. I made sure to give him my cell number and told him he could call for anything but bail money. I hope he takes me up on the offer. I gave him the best advice I could for a Freshman going into that big, wide world of college. “Never go into a weekend without twenty bucks and a condom.” I explained that to him, but those stories will have to wait for another time on the blog. My plane is boarding, so I’m shutting down the laptop. Next stop, Houston!

Update:
Made it home safe and sound. Got my poor Hilda from the vet today. Apparently she barely ate, hid from the “keepers” and generally trusted no one. On the upside, she did learn to use the “doggie door” really well! That’s where she ran to get away from the people who were supposed to pamper her. *sigh* She wouldn’t even eat her home-made treats. Apparently, she just didn’t trust the kenel staff enough to take even the yummiest of muffins from them. (In fact, they said they smelled so good they almost ate some themselves!) She was so excited to see me, I could barely get her car harness on her. She wolfed food when we got home. And treats. And attacked a new rawhide chewie bone I’d gotten her. Well, she’s like her old dad, doesn’t trust anyone new and is loyal to a fault. She’s my dog, sure enough.
Glad to be home. And, finally, after all this time and all this trouble, this is home.


Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"It is better to be approximately right than precisely wrong."
   --Warren Buffet


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