Diary of a Network Geek

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

11/2/2018

Payment Plans for Flying

Filed under: Better Living Through Technology,Fun — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is in the early morning or 7:05 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Crescent

Plan ahead and pay in installments.

Air travel is expensive. There’s just no way around it. In fact, when I had over $50k of credit card debt a few years ago, a lot of that was related to air travel. Before I moved down to Houston from Chicago in 1998, I spent way too much money flying down to see my now ex-wife. And, yes, I’d still say it was too much money to spend even if she weren’t my ex-wife. That debt was crushing.
But, even though I’m remarried, my family is still mostly in Illinois, which means I still need to fly. So far, I’ve managed to do it without going back into consumer debt, but I’m not sure that I’ll be able to keep that up forever. Maybe, though, with the help of Airfordable, we may be able to swing it. Now, full disclosure, at the time of this post, I haven’t actually used the service yet, so all reports about it are anecdotal. What they do is let you buy a ticket well in advance of your flight and then make regular installments until it’s paid off before you actually fly. Obviously, one advantage of this is that you get your ticket price locked in, because, let’s face it, airfare rarely drops in price. And, yes, there is a service fee for doing this, but it’s considerably less than paying all that interest at 15% or more on a credit card. Also, it lets you be sure you have a flight booked for, say, holiday travel, before you may have the money for the entire ticket.

So, let me know, faithful readers, have you used this service or one like it? How did it work for you?
And come back next week for more travel-related posts!

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words!

2/16/2018

Hacker Games

Filed under: Fun,Fun and Games,The Day Job — 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

Sounds like a good title for a book!

Except it’s not.
In my day job, I’m a professional geek. And, what I mean by that is that I work with computers for money. It seems like the vast majority of the guys my age who got into computers professionally did so because they were inspired by the movie War Games. Not me, though. I fell into it a little sideways and my interest in the computer security angle of my work came from Sneakers. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be Martin Bishop? A computer geek that looks like Robert Redford and could swing sleeping with Mary McDonnell? Seriously, sign me up!
The reality is, of course, a little less sexy. Trust me. No one who looked like Robert Redford was walking around DEFCON. Though, to be fair, I did learn to pick locks sitting next to a very nice and more than moderately attractive young woman. Who, incidentally, learned lock picking faster than any guy at the table.
In any case, times have changed since the early 90’s and all the harmless exploration I did when I first got into IT is mostly illegal now. Though, I’ll never forget helping an international guest at the Hyatt Regency Chicago get remote access to her VMS and find the program she needed to run. She had authorization, of course, but no idea how to find what she needed and I was blind in a VMS system for the first time. When I get her into her program, I think she clapped and then hugged me. It was cool! And FUN! But, opportunities like that are few and far between. And, there are plenty of places that won’t hire someone who has a criminal record. So, how do you recreate that experience without risking jail time?
Wargames by OverTheWire. These fine hackers have put together more than a dozen “games” meant to test your skill at electronic breaking and entering. And, honestly, a little bit more. Each game let’s you connect to it, most often with SSH via its own, dedicated SSH port, and then let’s you go after the rest. I haven’t had the chance to do much here yet, honestly, but the OverTheWire gang suggests you start with Bandit, which is aimed at absolute beginners and consists of 27 “levels”. Each “level” gives you information to “beat” the next “level”. It sounds like fun, but, then again, I am a pretty hardcore computer geek.

So, there you go! It’s a free introduction to computer security in game form. The perfect Friday diversion for the aspiring network geek or hacker!

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words, my ironically non-computer-geeky blog!

9/22/2017

Money from Equifax

Filed under: Red Herrings — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Horse which is around lunchtime or 1:10 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

Your credit information has likely been stolen.

As you’ve probably read in the news, or heard on telly, Equifax, one of the three largest U.S. credit bureaus, was hacked earlier this month, exposing over 143 million American’s personal information. And, trust me, no matter how bad it sounds, it is most assuredly worse than you think. What’s more, it seems like this breach was strictly due to negligence on the part of one of their system administrators, who didn’t keep up to date with patches on some of their backend software, leaving them vulnerable to the attack. But, unless you’re a professional geek like me, you probably don’t care about that. Rather, what you care about is what to do next.

Luckily, Consumer Reports has some suggestions on how to respond to the breach of your personal data, and they’re pretty good suggestions. Thankfully, since my wife and I recently refinanced our house to get out of most of our consumer debt, I have some credit monitoring already in place. If you don’t though, now is a good time to get that going. And, as always, it’s best to keep a close eye on your credit reports and bank accounts regularly. Breach or no breach, that’s just a good habit to get into these days. Identity theft is big business in the digital underworld. It’s unfortunately a “growth business”.

But, none of those are the links I’m really intent on sharing with you this week. No, this week, the very important link I have for you is via Boing Boing and it’s a chatbot that will help you sue Equifax for your loss of privacy and personal data. It’s not available for all states yet, just the ones that have class-action lawsuits filed already, but I’m sure more states will be “piling on”, as we used to say in Chicago, in the coming months. Also, the app is being hit pretty hard, as you can imagine with almost 45% of all U.S. Citizens potentially being effected by this breach. There are a lot of people that might be trying to use this chatbot!

So, hang in there and good luck! And, come back next week for something a little lighter to take your mind off the financial trouble of almost half the U.S.

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words.

9/1/2017

Flood Sensors

Filed under: About The Author,Better Living Through Technology,Calamity, Cataclysm, and Catastrophe,Marginalia and Notes from the Editor,News and Current Events,Red Herrings — 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

This is mostly of local interest and probably would have been more help last week.

But, I’m hoping it will serve as a convenient place to find this information next year when the hurricane season starts again. And, yes, this is mostly relevant to the greater Houston area, where, dear readers, you will recall has been home since I moved here from the Chicago area in 1998. Since then, I’ve experienced a severe tropical storm, and the direct or indirect effects of three hurricanes (Katrina, Rita and Ike), before our latest Hurricane Harvey. Tropical Storm Allison was about the worst flooding event I had ever seen. My ex-wife and I were in an apartment with her daughter and woke up to find our part of town cut off from the rest of Houston by flooding. But, that flood didn’t stick around incredibly long and we were able to get out and drive the next day. That drive around my current neighborhood let us see which of the houses we had been looking at flooded. Obviously, we chose the one that didn’t and that’s where I live today with my current blushing bride. I’m pleased to say that we didn’t flood this time, either.
The thing people don’t realize about living down here is that it’s not usually the hurricane itself that causes the most damage. Rather, it’s the flooding caused by the rain that comes before, during and after. Hurricane Harvey dumped more than two feet of water on the greater Houston area. Some places got more than that. What was worse, though, is all the water running down from beyond the Houston area raising the levels of all the water ways that everyone here calls “bayous”. In theory, they should move all the water away from where we live and send it down to the Gulf. In reality, Houston is so over-built that they can’t always manage to do that.
My wife and I got lucky this time. The only water we got in our house was down our chimney and what came in on our dog. Our cars were both safe and dry. I know at least one person who’s parents have probably lost their house and two people who lost cars while trying to evacuate. This is the worst flooding that anyone can remember in Texas, and let me tell you, that’s saying something.
So, my link today is to the Harris County Flood Control District, who is the governmental group in charge of mitigating flooding events in Harris County, where Houston resides. Frankly, it’s not a job I envy, especially this week. But, for those who are concerned, they have a LOT of information about flooding in the area. Most importantly to me this past week or so, they are responsible for creating and maintaining the Harris County Flood Warning System, which has links to water-level sensors in bayous. If you go to their Interactive Mapping Tools, you can put in your address and find the closest sensors to you and what bayou is most likely to effect flooding in your area. I spent a good amount of time this weekend watching several of those sensors very, very closely. It was, to say the least, nerve-wracking, but, if things had gotten bad enough, I would have known right when I should either head to our second story or try to get out of the area if it was still possible.

Over the coming months, after hurricane season officially ends in November and before it starts again next year, I plan to add some resources here for emergency preparedness, starting with putting together a “go bag” in case of evacuation. Because, frankly, it’s never too early to start planning for next year.

And, next week, hopefully, I’ll have something a lot more fun to share with you than the grim reality of climate change, unchecked over-building, and preparing for the inevitable flooding disasters to come.

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words.

6/24/2016

Submarine Google View

Filed under: Fun,Marginalia and Notes from the Editor,Personal,Photography — 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

Those who know me best, know my obsession with submarines.

I have loved submarines, especially the World War II era subs, since I was a kid growing up in Chicago and going to the Museum of Science and Industry.  There I would always want to make sure and tour the famous U505; a German U-Boat that was captured intact and towed through the Great Lakes to her final resting place in Chicago.  I’ve probably been through the U-505 more than a dozen times.  It’s incredible.
If I’m ever in a city where I can tour a submarine, I do my best to make it a priority.  For instance, the last time I was in San Francisco, I made sure to see the USS Pampanito, a retired U.S.N. submarine.  Similar in many ways to the German boats, but not quite as cramped.
I’ve read a number of books about World War II submarines, as well as modern subs, from both the Allies and the Axis.  I’ve never been aboard a Japanese submarine or a British submarine, but, now, thanks to the magic power of Google, we can take a virtual tour of one.  The HMS Ocelot has been pretty completely mapped by Google and you can get a really good look at what she was like.  Nothing replaces actually being in one, but this is about the next best thing.

Besides, it’s Friday and you’re probably avoiding work like most everyone else is, so why not have some educational fun and do a virtual tour of a piece of history!?
Enjoy and have a great weekend!

This post originally appeared at Use Your Words.

2/12/2016

Get More from Your Commute

Filed under: Fun,Geek Work,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

Our commutes don’t have to be dead time.

Who doesn’t have a commute any more?  Mine is relatively short now.  Less than 30 minutes, actually.  But, when I lived in Chicago, it was at least an hour each direction, whether I was behind the wheel driving or riding on a train or bus.  I used to read during the riding part of my commute, but, when I was driving, I would have loved Commute Kit.

Commute Kit is a website that gathers…
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11/20/2015

Naming Names

Filed under: Fiction,Fun,NaNoWriMo,Red Herrings — 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

Naming is hard.

Naming things can be one of the most difficult tasks for an author. Whether it’s naming people, places or things, the endless work of finding just the right name, one that sounds realistic and fits the circumstances, can be trying work. For me, place names are the hardest to do well. No matter what the setting, naming towns and streets can be challenging. As it turns out, it can be challenging in the so-called “real” world, too. Back…
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3/14/2014

T-Shirts

Filed under: Art,Fun,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 Gibbous

People who know me, know that I love my goofy t-shirts.

You know, it’s been a long couple of months and I’m pretty drained creatively, in part due to being super busy at my day job, so I’ve kind of given up sharing anything but purely fun links on Fridays for the next couple of weeks. Deal with it.

This week, it’s t-shirt sites.
Yes, I wear a lot of strange and interesting t-shirts from a lot of places.  I don’t remember why…
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5/18/2012

Historic Houston

Filed under: Art,Fun,Things to Read — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:02 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Crescent

It should be no surprise to the few, brave souls who still come and read this blog that I’m just a little obsessed with photography.

As I’m sure people have guessed, I’m not from here.  Here, of course, being Houston, Texas.  I moved here back in ’98 and, well, just stayed.  In fact, I like to say that I’m nothing but a damn Yankee carpet-bagger who’s only here for your money and your women!  But, all that aside, I’ve learned to love this town and all its quirks.  I’ve even learned a little bit of the history here, though, I have to admit, I’m surprised at how much Houston history is still around.  In Chicago, where my family is from, we have a long-standing tradition of preserving our historic buildings and there are quite a few.  But, I was quite surprised to find that Houston has a lot of historic buildings still standing, too!
So, you can imagine that when a friend sent me a link to a site that combined photography and Houston history, I was pretty impressed.  And, that’s what the HoustoricProject is all about; photography and Houston’s architectural history.  The idea is simple, they take old photos and photograph them out in the world, in front of the historic building that is in the original photo.  It does an amazing job of placing the old photo in both time and space, relating it to how things are now.  It’s quite an interesting project, in a number of ways.
For me, I just love the photography and the history combined in a creative way.

But, hey, don’t take my word for it, go check it out yourself!  Seriously!  I mean, it is Friday after all, and you deserve a creative break, don’t you?  Of course, you do!  So, hit the link and be inspired.

2/14/2012

From The Heart

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Bavarian Death Cake of Love,Deep Thoughts,Life, the Universe, and Everything,Personal,Red Herrings — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Horse which is around lunchtime or 12:01 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a Third Quarter Moon

Today is St. Valentine’s Day.

Today, for reasons that are mostly attributable to the evil machinations of greeting card companies, we are expected to engage in a conspicuous display of romantic passion.  People mistakenly call it “love”, but, in my experience, love often has little to do with what we celebrate on this strange, little holiday.  We put so much pressure on each other, and ourselves, to be in the right kind of loving, romantic, passionate relationship that, frankly, it’s almost guaranteed that things will go horribly wrong.  And, yet we continue with it anyway.

For years, I was single on St. Valentine’s Day, and wished beyond all reason to be in a relationship with someone, anyone, with whom I might share the day.  Then, of course, I was and the event couldn’t possibly live up to any of the expectations I had set up for the holiday, my partner, nor myself.  It seemed to me that with every passing year, whatever I did was less and less appreciated.  More fault was found with how I tried to make the day special for her, until that last year, my ex-wife was actually complaining about the roses I’d saved my lunch money, literally skipped lunches out with the people at the office, to pay for to continue what I’d hoped was a tradition.  For ten years, I bought her at least a dozen red roses, usually, a dozen red and a dozen white, carefully requesting that they not include baby’s breath, because she was allergic to it, only to have her complain that the flowers I’d been so proud of getting in spite of financial difficulty, were aggravating her allergies and always had.  For ten years, she let me buy those flowers and complained about them, often behind my back, and let me think I was doing a good thing.  All for “love”.

Well, I can’t speak for my ex-wife, but I don’t think I knew what love really was when we were together.
In church, Sunday, of course, they read First Corinthians, Chapter 13, verses 4-7, which are “Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. Love does not demand its own way. Love is not irritable, and it keeps no record of when it has been wronged. It is never glad about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.”  Now, I doubt that Paul was talking about romantic, passionate love in this letter, since he wasn’t particularly in favor of marriage, among other things, but, still, it’s often invoked as the kind of love we should have for a partner.
It’s certainly an ideal I strive for these days, on that rare occasion that I find myself involved with someone of the fairer sex.  But, it’s also how I simply try to treat everyone, regardless of how they feel about me.  Of course, some days I do that better than others, but it’s a goal for all days, not just this artificial, high-pressure holiday that was seemingly invented to make so many feel so inadequate.

And, I have to admit, my feelings about this holiday aren’t aided by my interest in history, especially Chicago history.  You see, I think of this day as the anniversary of when a fellow Chicagoan, Al Capone, rounded up seven of his closest buddies and gunned them down in the back alleys of the South Side of Chicago. Yes, that’s right, I’m talking about the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre! It was on this day, in 1929, that the rivalry between Bugs Moran and Al Capone reached its violent and bloody peak, leaving seven, bloody corpses in its wake, along with damaging both Moran’s North Side Gang and, ultimately, bringing so much attention to Capone from the FBI that it effectively ended his criminal career, as well.
Truly, a turning point in the criminal history of Chicago.

So, you all go out and have your romantic dinners and make cow-eyes at your object of desire, but, have yourself an extra bloody steak and remember how they used to celebrate this romantic holiday on the South Side in the old days.  And, remember, your relationship isn’t measured by how well or poorly things go today, but how you treat each other the other 364 days of the year.

 


Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"Not a shred of evidence exists in favor of the idea that life is serious."

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