Diary of a Network Geek

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


Star Wars Animals

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 Gibbous

The creatures are the best part.

Okay, maybe you disagree there, but one of the things I’ve always loved best about any science-fiction is the creatures. That’s true whether it’s the sandworms of Frank Herbert’s Dune novels, the low-rent costumed animals in the original Star Trek TV series, or the vast array of alien creatures in the Star Wars films. Now, I’m not a huge fan of all of the CGI revisions that Geore Lucas made to the original trilogy (ie Han shot first! And the original Death Star explosion was fine, thanks.), but I absolutely love the combination of practical effects and computer graphics that made all the creatures on all the planets come to life. Whether it was bantha or the rancor, the original trilogy had great and setting appropriate animals that made the Star Wars universe seem a little more real. And, whatever your feeling about Episodes I, II, and III, Industrial Light and Magic really earned their name with the beasties on Naboo, not to mention the other creatures that show up in the least likely places.
So, when I saw this video from the Star Wars Kids channel titled Every Creature in the Star Wars Movies, I had to share it with you. It’s literally less than five minutes and still manages to cover all 90 named alien animals in all the movies so far. Definitely worth a quick look on a Friday when you’re trying to avoid a bit of work.

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words!


Review (Two of Three): Avatar

Filed under: Art,Fun,Movies,Review — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Sheep which is mid-afternoon or 3:41 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous


Originally uploaded by Network Geek

This was a fantastic movie!

No, really, Avatar was quite possibly the most important movie of the past several years.  Certainly, I think it was the most visually stunning and will launch us into an entirely new world of digital animation that will get better and cheaper as time goes on.  In fact, this movie was so fantastic, that when I saw it in a regular, non-3D, non-IMAX theater, I knew I would eventually see it in the full, 3D IMAX version.  So, instead of this just being the second of two slightly stale reviews, I’ll be combining in the review of the 3D version, too.

Right, so, this has been one of the most anticipated science-fiction movies ever.  People have been talking about this for months, at least.  In fact, it’s been around so long that when we first started hearing rumors about it, no one quite knew what it was really going to be about at all.  Just that it was going to be big, that James Cameron was behind it, and it had something to do with people taking over bodies via some science-fiction thing-a-ma-bob.
I purposely avoided reading about it as long and as much as I could.  Early on, people were tossing around terms like “revolutionary” and “ground-breaking” and that sort of thing always makes me nervous.  So often, that just sets up consumers like us for a movie that, frankly, can’t possibly live up to expectations.
Well, this one did.

I saw it first in 2D and I was impressed.
For most of the movie, you forget that it’s almost all computer generated graphics.  The backgrounds and sets that are digital just look real.  In the best CGI films, like this one, the effects are forgotten, mostly, and just, well, part of the background.  The movie, the story, is what you see, not the effects.  And, this is just what happens in Avatar.  As spectacular as the CGI is, at no point did I feel that the story took a backseat to the graphics.  The Navi, the indigenous aliens, are all computer graphics, but they’re so well done that you never really think of them as anything but real.  Truly fantastic.
And, that’s the story, really.  There’s a planet that has a very valuable mineral on it and we’re there mining that mineral.  The problem is, the Navi, those native aliens are sort of in the way.  In fact, there’s a big tribe of them right on the richest deposit of that very valuable mineral.  Enter Jake Sully, played by Sam Worthington, who, due to a quirk in genetics, timing, circumstances, ends up “riding” a genetically engineered “avatar” which looks just like a local.  He replaces his twin brother, who was a scientist, on the mission and ends up getting into a bit of trouble early on which separates him from the rest of his team and lost in the very alien woods.  That’s where he meets one of the local girls, who reluctantly takes him under her wing.  Turns out, she’s the chief’s daughter and her mother is the local tribal shaman.  Mommie dearest is the one who insists that Neytiri, the little local girl, played by Zoe Saldana, teach Sully their alien tribal ways.  And so it goes until the fateful day that the miners show up to destroy the tribe’s home camp so they can get at the huge mineral deposit.  And really, that’s the the plot, in a nutshell.
Now, I won’t tell you who wins, but I asure you it’s the good guys.  All you have to do is figure out which they are.

So, the thing is, it’s not a revolutionary plot.  The characters, while fully fleshed out, aren’t anything overly special.  The music is mostly good, though there are a couple of times that the songs aren’t particularly great.  The acting is solid, which is sort of remarkable, considering that much of it’s done through motion-capture CGI.
But, somehow, it all comes together.
I think that’s the genius of James Cameron.  Somehow, he can make the magic work.  And, in this movie he really does make the magic happen.  He takes these disparate elements, none of which are particularly interesting on their own, and marries them to the best and most advanced CGI anyone has ever spent the money to make.  It’s at that point that things get really interesting.  That, in a nutshell, is what makes this film something new and special.
People have compared it to Star Wars in its import.
I’m not sure it’s quite that, but it certainly is a bit of a game-changer.

Now, this may not be quite obvious if you see this in 2D, but when you see Avatar in 3D you will see a miracle on screen.
This may seem like an exaggeration, but I assure you it is not.  The 3D is so good, so seamless, so real that you will flinch when things fly at you.  You will believe that you are seeing documentary footage of an alien planet with an alien landscape filled with alien flora and fauna.  You will forget to blink.  Seriously, I had to remind myself to blink.  That’s really how good it is.  It really is the most remarkable thing I’ve seen on screen since, well, I think since Star Wars.
The level of detail is incredible.  The insects fly off the screen at you like something actually alive.  The glowing plants are so realistic that you feel like you could order them off the damn internet.  All the crazy stories about all the bullheaded determination that Cameron pours into his movies and with which he tortures his crew must be true because his end product is like being immersed in an entirely different world.  And, that, of course, is what you’re paying to see.

And that, in the end, is my reccomendation to you.
What’s more, go see it in IMAX 3D.  It may cost you a bit extra, but it is worth every penny you pay to see this film as Cameron intended you to see it.  Also, waiting until you see it on home video will not be the same.  I promise you, it will be a good movie no matter what the format, but the way to see this film, the way that will make sure you don’t feel like you’re missing something big and important, is to get yourself to an IMAX theater and slap those goofy 3D glasses on your face.
Trust me.  You will love it.


I Resolve…

Filed under: Criticism, Marginalia, and Notes,Fun,PERL,Personal — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:08 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a New Moon

It’s almost New Year’s Eve, so I thought a link to a New Year’s Resolution Generator would be appropriate.
Originally, I did it to try and cheer up two special ladies who were having a rough holiday season. Honestly, I don’t know that it helped, but at least it kept my PERL CGI skills sharp and, I think, it’s a little bit of fun. And, yeah, the probabilities are weighted toward tequila drinking and kissing strangers. Hey, I’m single, it’s almost New Year’s Eve and if I can’t slant things in my favor, what’s the point of knowing a programming language at all?
Anyway, don’t take it too seriously and have a happy and safe New Year’s celebration!


Auditor’s Toolbox

Filed under: Career Archive,Fun Work,Geek Work,Linux,The Network Geek at Home — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is in the early morning or 7:26 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

Some tools for thought for security auditors…

Some time ago, I speculated on what a network “rescue” kit should contain. Well, the other day, I was cleaning up around the house and found an old copy of Information Security that had an article about security audits. They included a sidebar of suggested tools for performing an audit.
Some of them were fairly obvious: ping, traceroute(tracert), nslookup, and grep. Then they listed several free tools that were, well, a little bit more “robust”:
First, there was Nmap, which is an OS fingerprinting tool that is well-known to the Linux community.
Next, there was Crack, which is a well-known password cracker, as well as John the Ripper. There were two that I was not familiar with, namely which is apparently a BIND version checker. (That can be good to know, considering how many pesky security problems have been found with old versions of BIND/) And, finaly, ghba.c, which is a tool for extracting machine names and IP addresses for a class B or C subnet. (Those last two are actually links to source code that has to be compiled before it can be run.)

The article went on to talk about several commercial and Open Source scanners that check for security vulnerabilities. I won’t bother to mention the commercial ones, since they have big advertising budgets. But, I will list off the high-powered open source tools. I’m familiar with the first one, Nessus which has gotten very good reviews in several Linux magazines. The second one is a relative of SATAN, which got press right about the same time Linux really started to get going, Security Auditor’s Research Assistant (aka SARA). I’ve just started hearing about the next one, Whisker, which scans for CGI script vulnerabilities. That’s a nice one to know if you do as much CGI stuff as I have lately! And, finally, Hping2, which I’ve never heard of but seems to be a generic port scanner.

In any case, my point is that there are lots of tools out there that don’t cost a thing, but time, to use in your pursuit of a more secure environment. And, if you’re just reading this wonderint what a security audit is, or why it should be done, it looks like it’s time to get out there and start reading! (I’d start with a free subscription to Information Security magazine.) Happy hunting!


Digital Sharecroppers

Filed under: Criticism, Marginalia, and Notes,Deep Thoughts,Geek Work,PERL — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is in the early morning or 7:04 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a New Moon

Are you working for “The Man”?

Should you be? This very interesting article on Tim BRay’s web raised some interesting questions for me about what I want to spend my time learning. (And, it doesn’t hurt that what little development I do is in PERL and usually for web-based CGI.)
Actually, I’ve felt for a long time that we’re really all just serfs serving feudal lords. All this fancy talk about “freedom” and “democracy” really is just that. We’re all still in thrall to the economic equivalent of a duke or king. We rely almost wholly on the generosity of our economic superiors. Should they turn against us, we are very much like the Medieval “out law”. We become excommunicated from our economic patron and, like a plant without water, we wither and die.
So, I find the sharecropping analogy quite apt.
In any case, it’s interesting stuff. Read, think, discuss.

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More CGI

Filed under: Fun Work — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:27 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Gibbous

Never enough!

Well, I wasn’t satisfied with the way the CGI script was running on Fantasist.net, so I kept working on it. Now, I have it so that it reads the stylesheet for the entire site and formats the output accordingly. Took me a bit, but I did finally get it.
Now, of course, I’m trying to adapt the script that makes proper names to CGI as well. Unfortunately, I’m not being quite as successful! Of course, I’ve just started working on this and it took me a year to get this far, so I’ll get it eventually. Just a matter of time and motivation. Not that I’ll ever really be a programmer, of course, but I do like to keep edging into new areas. Always comes in handy for surprising people.


CGI Programming

Filed under: Fun Work,PERL — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:22 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

It took a year, but I did it!

Did what, you might be wondering? I finally figured out a CGI script for Fantasist.net that I’ve been working on for almost a year.
See, I love words and languages, especially foreign words and languages. In fact, I love them so much that I’ve tried to create them on several occasions, just like J.R.R. Tolkien did. But, since I’m not a trained linguist like Tolkien, I’ve always cast about for help creating the words. I want them to sound authentic, but not be actual words from an actual language. I’d hate to put together words that I thought were quite alien and unique only to find out that I’d insulted a publisher in Istanbul or Delhi! So, I searched for help with that on the web. Boy, did I find help! One of the best places, though, was Chris Pound’s Name Generation page. Chris is a linguist and has made several PERL scripts that generate new words based on input from an existing language. Finally, I could get words that were phonetically similar to an existing language that were new and unique!
But, of course, I wasn’t satisfied with that. I had to go further. What about people who couldn’t figure out PERL? I mean, it’s taken me forever to tweak things and get a good handle on the basics. What about all those potential conlangers who just aren’t up to PERL? My 11-year-old daughter, for instance, has recently gotten into conlanging. How could I make this available for her, without trying to teach her PERL? The answer, of course, is the web. So, I modified Chris’ scripts and played with data until I understood it fairly well. Then, I tried to get it up on the web. I was a miserable failure.
Until last night, that is. I started with a very basic CGI tutorial and started building upward from there until I had a simple form that would give me simple, html-friendly output. From there, it was a simple matter of tweaking the original PERL script, and an html form, until I had a good combination. And, though, I have to work out formatting and style-sheets, here it is at Fantasist.net: WordGenerator.

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