Diary of a Network Geek

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


More Low-Budget Scifi Shorts

Filed under: Art,Fun,Movies — 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

More video shorts in the low-budget scifi vein.

Thanks to technology, low-budget does not mean low-quality.
I learned that when I took the chance and invested in the Ghosts With Shit Jobs film project on Kickstarter. So many of those projects never finish or don’t bear the promised fruit that it really was a risk that nothing would come of it. Instead, when I got was a cool, indie DVD and the joy of knowing I encouraged a really creative person’s vision and career. That artist, Jim Munroe, is kind of a creative genius, in my opinion. I learned about him via his fantastic graphic novel, Therefore, Repent!, and he’s followed up with other movies. Check out his websites for more details.
But, I’ve already told you about Ghosts With Shit Jobs last week! This week, I have a new creator to share with you, gentle readers! His name is Pete Majarich and you may already know him for his work at A Movie Poster A Day from 2016. But, today, I want you to take a look at his one-man, scifi short, featured at Lost At E Minor called The Visitor. He filmed it with just a Mavic Air drone and a knock-off astronaut helmet from eBay in the deserts of southern Utah. It’s very short, but very powerful, and just the thing for a quick break on a Friday.
Check it out!

This post first appeared on Use Your Words!


Throw Away Drives

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Never trust a Network Admin with a screwdriver,The Dark Side,The Day Job — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Rooster which is in the early evening or 7:00 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

Please, be careful.

We tend to treat USB thumb drives as essentially disposable these days, which, considering their low cost, they basically are.  At least, in one sense.  The problem is, those cheap, little drives still store an awful lot of data.  I recently read an article titled “You left WHAT on that USB drive?!” where the authors talk about several studies, formal and informal, where researchers scooped up random USB drives, either from eBay or the lost and found, to see what was on them.  The results are a little terrifying.  According to the article, “…about two-thirds of second-hand USB memory sticks bought in the US and the UK have recoverable and sometimes sensitive data. In one-fifth of the devices studied, the past owner could be identified.”  What’s more, in the case of one study, out of 200 drives, only 34 of them had been properly wiped out.  That’s just 17% of the drives.  Several had been formatted, but still had data that could be recovered off them.  Yes, that’s right, even reformatting the drives does NOT guarantee that they will be properly wiped out.

What’s more, the data that was left behind was of a very sensitive nature in many cases.  Everything from tax information to naked photos to photos of a soldier on deployment and at home, including the soldier’s address.  And, again, reformatting is not enough.  At least 8 drives out of the 200 examined had been reformatted, but had data on them that could still be recovered!  So, what can be done?
Personally, I tend to use USB drives until they absolutely don’t work at all any more, and I try not to put personal data on them in any case.
One solution is to get a USB drive that can be encrypted.  I’ve used several versions of the LaCie Imakey that includes an encrypted partition and utilities to manage it, but that doesn’t seem to be available any more.  A replacement might be the Kingston Digital Data Traveler Locker, which lets you set a password to restrict access, as well as doing hardware encryption of some kind and even backing up to the cloud in case the drive gets lost.  Granted those drives can get a little pricey, but how much does it cost to deal with the potential identity theft that lax personal security might bring?

If you have drives, USB or otherwise, that you’re looking to get rid of, then at least sanitize them before they go.  There are a lot of articles and utilities available to help you with that.  One that covers pretty much every drive you might have is How to securely erase external hard drives, SD cards, or flash drives, which details the steps as well as suggesting utilities to help you.  Now, for the most part, I assume that if you read this blog, as opposed to my other blog, Use Your Words, then you’re a geek like me and can handle more than consumer-grade procedures and software.  If that’s the case, or you’re feeling particularly brave, one great utility I’ve used is Darik’s Boot and Nuke aka DBAN.  It’s a free ISO you can download to make a bootable disk/drive that will let you securely wipe a drive before disposing of it.  It’s simple to use and free, but if you’re not comfortable burning an ISO to a disk or thumbdrive, then I’d recommend getting a more consumer-friendly product.

Either way, it’s a scary world out there to let your precious data roam free without a keeper, so be careful with those cheap, “throw away” drives.  If you’re not careful how you use them, they could get pretty expensive.

Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"The weakness of men is their facade of strength; the strength of women is their facade of weakness."
   --Warren Farrell


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.


Backups and Data Recovery – Home Edition – Part 2

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Calamity, Cataclysm, and Catastrophe,Geek Work,The Network Geek at Home — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Horse which is around lunchtime or 12:07 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Gibbous

So, I’ve finally heard back from DataRetrieval.com!

(Actually, I heard back a couple weeks ago, but I’ve been a little busy and haven’t had a chance to write things up.)

After a couple days of trying to get a response from an actual human being as to what was going on with my drive, I finally got a quote.  Well, actually, two quotes, which was kind of confusing.  The first quote was for about $300 and the second quote was for $1800.  But, I got no explanation of what the two quotes meant!  After a whole lot of back and forth over the course of more than a week with what seemed like an email autoresponder, I finally got in touch with a customer service representative to find out what was going on.
As it turns out, the quote for $300 was the minimum price to just get started.  Let that sink in for a minute.  They wanted $300 up front before they even started working on this drive with no promise whatsoever of actually retrieving data.  The $1800 quote was an estimate of the entire cost for retrieving all my data.

DataRecoveryReturnDrive Obviously, that wasn’t going to work for me and I told the service rep that.  Then, apparently, we started negotiations.
He came back with a counter offer price, which was still way too high and I told him so.
A day later, he came back again with another, lower offer.
In the end, that $1800 got cut down to about $500, which made me wonder just what they were charging me for in that first outrageous quote!

Finally, I convinced them that I wasn’t going to use their service and that I just wanted my drive back.  They charged me $25 for shipping, which I thought was fair enough, and they sent my drive back to me.  And here’s where they really lost me as a customer ever.  To the left, you see the box they sent my drive back to me in.  In case you forgot from the first post about this incident, since it was so long ago, I sent the drive to them in a larger box that was specifically designed to ship drives in, to keep them as safe as possible.

At the right, you see how they packed things inside the box.DataRecoveryReturnDrive-3
After all the strongly worded warnings and disclaimers about making sure you ship your damaged drive to them well padded so they won’t be liable for any additional damage or data loss, they don’t return the drive with anything like that same consideration.  I suppose they don’t feel like they need to since they won’t be making money off the drive, but, damn, that kind of disrespect for potential customers really says something bad about them as a company, at least in my mind.  I mean, there wasn’t *any* padding whatsoever!  It was just wrapped in two plastic shipping bags and shoved into the box!
Thankfully, the drive doesn’t seem to be damaged at all, or any more than it was when it crashed, so I’m probably no worse off than I was before I sent it to them.  Still, it’s the idea that they’d show so little care with my data that makes me question their entire service.  I know that I, personally, won’t ever trust them to attempt a data retrieval again, that’s for sure!

Also, based on what I’ve read, the problem is most likely a bad board on the drive.  A board which I can get off eBay for about $40, replace myself, and quite likely retrieve all my old photos.  I haven’t actually decided if I’m going to try and run down the board that matches the BIOS on my particular drive, but I may.  Kind of a huge difference, though, between $1800 and $40, plus a little of my time, isn’t it?

In any case, if I decide to get the board and fix the drive myself, now that I finally have it in my possession again, I’ll post another follow up with how that went.  And, possibly, even a tutorial on changing out that board.

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


Al Fresco

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Calamity, Cataclysm, and Catastrophe,Life, the Universe, and Everything,News and Current Events,Personal — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is in the early morning or 7:45 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Gibbous

We take modern plumbing for granted.

No, seriously.
I’ve spent the better part of this past week without a sewer connection.  That means that I’ve been pestering my friends who live nearby, all three of them, for showers all week.  It also means I’ve been urinating “al fresco”, under the cover of darkness.  Let’s not ask too many questions about other bodily functions though, okay?  Let’s just say I’ve been going into work early most days this week.

My point is, plumbing is what makes civilization even more than farming.
In school, they always taught us that modern civilization, as we know it, started with farming.  They taught us that as people stayed to tend crops instead of follow the herds, they built permanent camps which became villages which, eventually, became cities.
I would argue, however, that real modern civilization was born when the Romans first got the idea to enclose their plumbing.  When that first, genius Roman city planner decided to put sewers underground and replace the foul stench of open trenches, which had been the norm until then, and replace that malodorous tradition with construction projects, civilization as we know it truly began.
And brought with it a host of modern problems.

In my case, the problem was one I initially tried to handle myself.
When the shower first backed up, thanks to several loads of laundry, I poured all kinds of hazardous and noxious chemicals down the drains.  I bought and used things that were so terrible, so dire that the warnings printed on the packaging sounded more like plans to deal with a spill in a chemical plant than something the average Home Depot shopper should be screwing around with in their bathroom.  In fact, these things were so bad at one point that leather gloves which had accidentally gotten soaked in water containing some of those chemicals actually started to melt away.  Seriously.  I have pictures!  And, I thought all was well.  For about two weeks.
That’s when the shower started to back up when I was, well, running the shower.
So, for three days, I took what we used to call “Navy showers“.  Basically, I got wet, then turned off the water and lathered up, then turned the water back on just long enough to rinse off.  I’m sure it helped the planet with all the water I conserved, but it was starting to get a little uncomfortable.  So, off I went to Home Depot to buy supplies.  I bought even more chemicals, a CO2-based plunger, and a plumber’s “snake”.  I used them in turn, spending the most time trying to get the snake working right.  It was one that you hooked up to a drill, to add extra power, and, though I hate to admit it, I screwed the first one up bad enough that I broke it.  Unfortunately, none of that worked.

So, defeated, I called a plumber Sunday afternoon.
I called Mr. Rooter, because I’d used them before and I knew they didn’t charge extra for working on the weekend.  I also knew they did good work at what I think is a reasonable price.  Sadly, there wasn’t anyone available in my area by the time I called Sunday afternoon, which meant waiting until the next morning, but I figured what was one more night wallowing in my own filth?
Well, the plumbing technician showed up early Monday morning and got right to work.  He ran through at least three obstructions and at one point I could hear things gurgling in my bathroom, which seemed an encouraging sign.  Sadly, it was not.  The technician called me out into the yard where he found the only “clean-out” in my line.  A clean-out, incidentally, that was far, far further out than it should have been.  He’d run his camera down that line and found the problem, or, at least, the first problem.  I feared the worst, but my fears turned out to be child’s play compared to what was actually wrong.

The problem was roots.
Not roots that had grown through the pipes, as I had feared, but roots that had grown under the pipe and lifted a thirty foot section of it.  Lifted it so high, in fact, that it made my shower the lowest point in my personal sewer system.  So, yes, it was a big problem.
The other two problems were with the main sewer.  First, when they built the house, apparently, a builder took a short-cut and lifted my sewer connection to link it up with the city sewer main.  So, it was higher than it should have been in the first place!  But, to make matters worse, when the guys from Mr. Rooter went to make the connection, the found the city main choked with roots!  I love the live oaks in my backyard, and, in fact, they’re part of why I bought the house with my ex-wife, but they certainly seemed out to get me this week.  In the end, there was really only one thing to do: replace the whole sewer line to the city main.

Now, for those of you who aren’t homeowners, let me tell you how this feels.
Imagine being neck deep in a mucky, fetid swamp, trying not to make waves because you know it could drown you.  Got that?  Do you have a handle on the perilous and uncomfortable feeling of knowing you’re inches from sucking stagnant water up your nose and suffocating on swamp muck?  Great.  Now imagine that someone is throwing stones at you.  Stones big enough to knock you unconscious.  Imagine having to hold your breath while that water with God only knows what kind of diseases in it is lapping at your mouth and nose, trying to find its way into your lungs.  Can you feel the horrible panic?  Can you feel your chest tightening from the fear of drowning in a sloppy, green sea of homeowner’s debt?  Fantastic.  Now imagine looking up and seeing one of those stones on a collision-course with your head.  You know it’s coming and you can already feel the lump forming even as your gut tightens because you’re about to be fighting for consciousness so you don’t drown, alone, in this swamp.
That was pretty much how I felt when the tech told me what was wrong.

His estimate was not much more reassuring.
Let’s just say it started somewhere over $10K.  In the end, because the folks at Mr. Rooter are fantastic, caring, decent human beings who haven’t lost their humanity in this tight economy, I ended up owing less.  I won’t say how much less, but, less than the original $10K.  Still an impressive sum for which I needed a lot of help.
Sadly, the finance company was less caring and more cut-throat.  I won’t give them any free advertising by mentioning their name, but I will say that, until dealing with them, I thought loan-sharking was illegal.  Apparently, not if you do it right.  Thankfully, I had some benefactors who were willing to lend me the money I needed at lower rates.  They’ve asked to remain nameless, otherwise I’d sing their praises, too.

In any case, I got enough money together to get them started and WOW, did they!
The next afternoon, there was a crew of four guys digging up my backyard with a small backhoe.  They dug a trench easily 120 feet from the back of my house, around my ponds, between my trees and to the city sewer main at the back of my yard.  I took pictures of it because words leave the spectacle of the thing,well, in the dust.  This trench started out about three feet deep and got down to almost five feet deep near the sewer main.  It runs at least four feet deep for a significant portion of it’s length and was dug in less time than it’s taken to write this entry.  It was amazing!  If not for the roots in the city sewer main, I’d have had service restored that first night!  Unfortunately, the rest took longer.
The city did come out the next day to clear the roots and make the connection to the city sewer main, but, by then I’d had to make a nuisance of myself with friends to beg showers so I could get into work and not knock people out.  I didn’t shave, really, but used my beard trimmer to keep my stubble under control.  Still, I looked pretty rough by the end of the week.
And, yes, I really did get tired of “urination al fresco” and holding it until dark, or going in to work hours early for the same reason.

So, the good news is, now, I have a working sewer line and I can flush my toilets!  Not to mention shower, shave, do laundry and dishes, all of which I was frantically doing Thursday night.  Friday afternoon, the main technician who was working on this project the entire time, got my second toilet hooked up, so everything in the house should be working now.  I still have the trench until the city inspects and approves the work according to the permit.  I’m not as worried about that, frankly, since I’m able to bathe and eliminate with the modern ease with which I have rather grown accustomed.
Other good things of come of it, too, though.  Some I won’t got into in detail except to say that I have a new appreciation for my friends and family who were all more than willing to come to my aid.  I was pleasantly surprised, to be honest, at how willing everyone I knew was to help.  Since my divorce, I have felt pretty alone down here in Texas, so it was nice to be reminded that I did have friends and, though they may be a little way away, family who really do care.

I also really was reminded about how well I live, really, and how comfortable I am.  That’s sort of a double-edged sword, though, as I’ve gotten, I think, a little too comfortable with things that really needed to change.  I’ve gotten a little stuck and a little complacent.  My financial situation, for instance, has been just good enough for me to not really feel the need to really grab hold and make some positive changes.  I’ve just gone “with the flow”, if you’ll pardon the metaphor in a post about sewers, for far too long.  I need to relearn to set my sails and make my way regardless of the current.

Of course, I do still have a huge bill to pay before I’m done, but that may turn out to be a good thing, too, since it’s finally motivated me to actually start selling my ex-wife’s abandoned jewelry.  Yes, I have finally listed my first item on eBay.  In this case, it’s my ex-wife’s gold and ruby ring.  If you’re interested, go bid on it and help me out!  Don’t worry, stalkers, there will be more items if you want to own a piece of the Network Geek’s history.

Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"Swing hard, in case they throw the ball where you're swinging."
   --Duke Snider


Hey, buddy, wanna’ buy some jewelry?

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Criticism, Marginalia, and Notes,Deep Thoughts,Life, the Universe, and Everything,News and Current Events,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 Waxing Gibbous


Originally uploaded by Network Geek

No, for real. I’ve got some jewelry I’m selling.

So, this weekend, I got a real education in the economics of despair. I’ve never been to a pawn shop to sell, only to buy. It’s an entirely different experience.
As I mentioned in an earlier entry, thanks to Ike, I’ve had some unexpected expenses come up around some damaged fences. Because of my darling Hilda, I really need to have a fenced yard. Or, I suppose, a better trained dog. But, since the fence is easier, that’s the choice I’m going with. For the sake of ease, and block politics, I decided to use the same guy who did the fabulous job on the neighbor’s fence. Incidentally, I’ll be paying some small fraction of that, too, since it’s shared, which is only fair. So, after I asked him, the fence guy came back with a quote of $1475, which isn’t as bad as it sounds when you consider the size of the fence, the height, and how quickly he seems to work. Also, I’m figuring it’ll buy me a little “good neighbor” currency with my oldest neighbor, the lawyer. Yeah, you can see why I like to stay on his good side.

Naturally, this guy doesn’t really do fence work as his main gig, which means this is a strictly cash business, otherwise, I’d pop it onto American Express and work out the details later. And, he’s going to want to be paid on completion, which is going to be, probably, Thursday. The time crunch really puts the squeeze on my poor, tiny, cold-slowed brain and, well, I started to get a little panicky. I’m not proud of that, but money being tight for as long as it has, a little blip on that front really throws me off. This has been no different.
Naturally, trying to handle it all on my own with as little help as possible, I hit on the idea that I can sell some of my ex-wife’s abandoned jewelry. Sounds great, right? I mean, my lawyer’s office pretty well confirmed that, based on the documentation we have of her demanding certain items be sent and leaving the rest, and the amount of time that has passed, that, in essence, salvage rights apply. In other words, this stuff is all mine to do with as I see fit. Great, right? Not so quick.

I saw fit to sell it to a jewelry store. The only problem is, I couldn’t find a jewelry store that would buy it. That meant checking out pawn shops. Naturally, that brought up all kinds of fears for me. Fears of getting cheated, scammed, you name it. But, screwing up my courage, I start asking around to see if anyone knows a good, relatively honest pawn shop. It came as no surprise that someone I know from church has a relative who owns a pawn shop. Her grandmother, in fact. There is, however, one small, um, “catch”. She’s a beautiful, young, athletic woman who is, intrinsically, attractive and I’m, well, not, and, frankly, still, even at my advanced age, get a little nervous and tongue-tied around that kind of woman. It’s sad, really, but, well, there it is. Thankfully, I have e-mail to save me.

So, I e-mailed her and she told me the name of the place and that her cousin runs it, usually, and if not him then her uncle will be. Then, she also told me about their other businesses that for various reasons, including at least one or two legal ones, I’m not going to mention. I think it was at about this point that I started to wonder just how good an idea this really was. I mean, if the most reputable pawn shop I can find with a recommendation from a church-going woman, no less, still has that faint, musty odor of potential illegality, well… Of course, none of this has ever stopped me before, and it doesn’t this time, either, but it makes me a bit more nervous and cautious.
In any case, I do trust this woman from church, and I’m starting to feel a bit of pressure to come up with the cash, so, setting aside my reservations, I get a shower Saturday morning and head over to check things out.
The closer I got to the shop, the more I recognized the neighborhood I was driving into as being, um, less than the best. I wasn’t worried, per se, but I suspected that I should be careful with stuff to sell in my hand, just in case someone got the idea to mug me. It was a longshot, but, still, I grew up outside of Chicago, so I’m not entirely naive. By the time I actually roll up on the place, I’ve gotten a bit nervous that these guys are going to see a desperate sucker coming and take me for all I’ve got. So, as I park, I resolve not to just jump at the first offer and see where the whole thing goes. And, it does occur to me that telling these guys no could end up reflecting poorly on me with this woman from church or get her into an uncomfortable spot with her cousin or uncle or something. None of which would be good, if for no other reason than I genuinely like this lady. I mean, besides being very attractive, she’s a pretty straight-forward sort of gal, and after dealing with the Queen of the Damned, that’s pretty nice.  Though, please, understand that, no matter how much I would like to be, I’m fairly certain I could never, ever be her “type” and that’s okay because I dig her anyhow, even if it’s just as friends.

As I hopped out of the car, I saw two guys loading or unloading something from a trailer, like a generator or pump or something pretty big. One was a younger guy, at least younger than me, and the other looked a little older than me. I kind of wonder if the older guy wasn’t her uncle, but I never did find out or even think to ask. The younger guy sort of squinted in my direction and then walked over toward me and where I parked as I headed into the pawn shop. Before I got too far in and could head toward any counter, the young guy kind of scooted in behind me. He seemed tense or nervous, which didn’t help me, but he was also pretty eager to find out what I wanted. I can’t blame him, since I looked and felt a little out of place. I introduced myself as a friend of the lady from church and tell him she said to ask for her cousin or uncle. He got even more nervous and admitted to me that he was her cousin. Now, keep in mind, this young woman has a couple of tattoos, but they’re tasteful and pretty easily hidden and, when they are, she’s the picture of respectability. The guy I was talking to was… Well, to use her words, dressed a little “thug”. I mean, he fit the role he was filling. Or, at least dressed the part, right down to his shaved head. Oh, also, he work a loose shirt, untucked from his baggy shorts, so I pretty well assumed that he was carrying a gun. Turns out, I was probably right.
Well, the poor guy seemed even more shocked that I knew his cousin or that she’d sent me, but we got down to business pretty quick. He didn’t want to even touch the pearls or the tennis bracelet, and I can’t blame him. They’re a little iffy without an appraisal. The ruby ring was only worth the gold in it, to him and the platinum rings were only had value based on weight. After looking at the rings and weighing them, he ducked into the back for a couple minutes. At first, I thought he might have been calling his cousin to check on me and my story, and then it occurred to me that he was probably checking on the price of platinum. Later, when I talked to his cousin, she confirmed that was probably just precisely what he was doing.
So, then he made me his offer.
Earlier in the week, I’d priced this stuff on eBay, just to get an idea of how much it might sell for. I figured I might get half of that price from these guys, which would have been enough.
They offered me less than a quarter of what I thought I could sell this stuff for on eBay.

In just a few seconds, I went from initial shock to trying to figure out how to tactfully say “no thanks” to a guy who may, or may not, be involved in criminal activity and who may, or may not, actually be strapped as I was talking to him and not insult him or cause trouble for this cute, sweet, and all around nice, woman from church. In that gap, filled with a small breath sucked in through tight lips and my clenched teeth, he gave me my out.
“Hey, if you think you can get a better price somewhere else, go for it. We’ll still be here.”

And with that, I scooped up the jewelry, dropped it into the Ziploc freezer bag and walked out, thanking him out loud and God silently.
When I got into my car, I noticed something was different, but I was a good three blocks away before I realized that what had made the guy nervous when I drove up was the fact that I was driving what looked like an unmarked police car, just like what the Feds drive. Combine that with being, um, ethnically incorrect for the neighborhood and I’m fairly certain he thought I was a cop, of some kind, coming to bust him for something.
You see, what I’d noticed was that the spot-light on the outside of my car had been moved so that someone could check the registration. After thinking about it for a minute, I was sure that what he’d done was check to see if I had a city or federal parking tag or registration on the windshield. I’d probably made him more uncomfortable than he’d made me!
And, when I got home, I called my parents, who were more than happy to lend me the money to pay the fence guy until I can sell the jewelry on eBay, or whatever. But, I sure did get a taste of how desperate you have to be to actually sell something at a pawn shop. I understood just how bad things had to have gotten for someone to be there and really not have the choice to walk away. Just take their offer or do without, somehow. Today, I’m very, very thankful that wasn’t my only choice.

On the upside, while I was waiting, I saw some very reasonably priced power tools. So, you know, when I do get a little working capital and want some tools, they’re probably going to be my first stop!

Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"Real happiness is when you marry a girl for love and find out later she has money."



Filed under: Deep Thoughts,Life, the Universe, and Everything,News and Current Events,Personal,Red Herrings — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Dragon which is in the early morning or 8:39 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Gibbous

So, in a few minutes, I’m going to head down to M. D. Anderson Cancer Center to get the results of my scan from last week.

I wanted to post a picture of the outside of M. D. Anderson, but when I was taking them last week, a security guard came and hassled me. Normally, I’d have hassled back, especially since there were no signs or other posted warnings against photography. Also, I was outside taking pictures and avoiding shots of people. I mean, I was a cancer patient, after all, and I know how sensitive I was about pictures, so I wouldn’t want to stress anyone else out about it. In any case, I owe them some money and didn’t have the time to be arrested or anything like that, so I complied with the “nice officer’s requests”. I actually did try to get the “proper permission”, but no one with the right “authority” would reply to me. So, the long and short of it is, no pictures. Oh, well!

In any case, I’ll spend most of my morning waiting around to see my doctor, which is fine. I’m sure the results will be clear because, other than a little head cold and congestion, I feel fine. I’m not sure if I have a fever any more or not because as I was going to check my temperature last night after work, I dropped the thermometer. I wonder if the mercury will show up on blood work? So, I’ll probably stop on the way home and get a new, cheap digital thermometer. And, maybe, if I talk to my oncologist real sweet, she’ll write me a prescription for something that will help clear out this congestion and whatever else is holding on in my head and lungs. I suspect she will, not only because they’re good like that in the Lymphoma clinic, but also because I think it would look bad if I died from pneumonia after they saved me from cancer!

Oh, yeah, if anyone knows a good place in Houston to sell jewelry, let me know in the comments. I’ve got to come up with a little over $1500 fast to pay for a replacement fence. I’m sure I could borrow the money from several people, but I’d rather get rid of my old platinum wedding bands and some of the jewelry I bought for my ex-wife that she left behind and pay for it that way. I hate the idea of taking it to a pawn shop, because I’m sure they’ll screw me royally on the price. I may borrow the money and try eBay for the jewelry, too. Might be easier all the way around.

Anyway, I’ve got to run to the clinic now. I’ll definitely post an update later with results from the scan, good, bad or indifferent!

UPDATE: Didn’t feel like writing a whole new entry just to say I’m still cancer free.  *yawn*  And, the doctor did write a prescription for antibiotics, just in case.  And, I got chewed out a little bit for not getting to see an eye doctor like I was supposed to do.  But, all that aside, I’m still cancer free. (Yea!)


Phisher Frustrator

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Criticism, Marginalia, and Notes,Fun Work,Geek Work,News and Current Events,The Dark Side,The Network Geek at Home — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Monkey which is in the late afternoon or 5:36 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a Full Moon

I probably shouldn’t have done this, but…

You know, sometimes, I just get so irritated with the scams I get via e-mail that I just can’t help myself. This morning I read one too many eBay phishing scams in my inbox and, well, I had to do something about it.

eBay Phishing e-Mail

So, this is the e-mail I got that sent me over the edge.
Notice how this looks like a legitimate e-mail from eBay. It has all the same things that the official notices from eBay would have, including links to what look like official notices and actual sign-in screens.
The only real problem with this is that it was sent to an account that’s not associated with my eBay account and I haven’t bought or sold anything on eBay in over a year. What bothered me, though, was that I know people who would click on this and get scammed.
For fun, I hovered over the links to see where they led. If you look at the bottom of the linked screen capture here, you’ll see what I saw, but with the IP address obscured for safety’s sake.

eBay Phishing Scam Page This is the page that the phisher wanted me to go to.
Again, notice how it looks like a legitimate page on eBay’s website. It looks so good because the phisher’s page actually links to the graphics on eBay’s site. But, if you look in the address bar in the browser in the linked screen capture, you’ll see what led me to mess with the scammer.
The link is to an FTP site and includes logon information, complete with password.
Naturally, this was just too good for me to resist.
So, I popped open a DOS prompt and loaded the default FTP client on my Windows machine. When I connected to the FTP address listed in the link, I was prompted for a userID and password. When I used the credentials in the link, the FTP server let me in!

Phishing Scam Warning Naturally, this was far too good an opportunity for me to pass up.
So, while keeping the connection open, I renamed the phisher’s scam page from “ne.html” to “nono.html”. Then, I created my own “ne.html” and uploaded it.
In the linked image to the left, you can see that it gives anyone who loads it a warning not to click on just any old link they get in e-mail. Hopefully, this will serve to not only frustrate the phisher, but also educate anyone who might click the link.

Naturally, I don’t expect this to be up for very long on the phisher’s site, but, I figure if I help anyone with this little stunt, it will have been worth it. Though, you will notice that I obscured the IP address in my graphics to protect anyone the phisher may have hacked to run his scam. Also, it’s entirely possible that I was technically breaking the law by doing this, but I don’t expect the phisher is going to actually try to prosecute. After all, just how would one explain this to a judge?

Oh, and when I checked on it just before posting this, the phisher had changed the files back.  So, I did it again.

Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"A bone to the dog is not charity. Charity is bone to the dog, when you are just as hungry as the dog."
   --Jack London


Update and Review: The Spirituality of Imperfection

Filed under: Bavarian Death Cake of Love,Criticism, Marginalia, and Notes,Deep Thoughts,Life, the Universe, and Everything,Personal,The Network Geek at Home — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Pig which is in the late evening or 10:08 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a New Moon

Okay, so here’s a two-parter, since everyone is so worried.
First, a review. I finished The Spirituality of Imperfection: Storytelling and the Search for Meaning Saturday and started on Year Zero Sunday night.
The Spirituality of Imperfection was a good book, but got a little redundant to me. As you might imagine from the title, this is a book about being, well, less than perfect. In a nutshell, the premise of the book is that only God is perfect and, since we aren’t God, we’re imperfect. What’s more, this is how things are supposed to be and, when one takes this logically, it’s really somewhat silly to expect that we could ever be perfect. The book goes on to explore the different ways that we, as imperfect human beings, deal with this lack, this flaw, and how our search for the meaning of this short-coming leads us closer to God and a deeper spiritual life. Naturally, this search is why I chose this book to read. Though it was given to me by Doc as a late Christmas gift, I set aside the book on Buddhist meditation I was about to start in favor of this because of the many recommendations I got about this one. And, it was, in fact, a good book.
Now, it got a little redundant for me not because of the message, but simply because I know that already. I never had a problem understanding that I wasn’t perfect, but, rather, why I always felt so much pressure to be perfect. My parents always challenged me to simply do the best I could and leave it at that. Of course, I was always asking myself if that was really the best I could do. I was always pushing myself to do more and better, even when I felt that I had nothing left. No matter how depleted I felt, I still pushed to dig deeper still and find that hidden reserve to draw on to do more than anyone else around me. That was in grade school. Yeah, the year, or so, of therapy has helped a lot. So has the support group that I’ve attended for the past four years and my return to church and God.
The last chapter, though, redeemed all the redundant messages. That chapter, titled “Being At Home”, capped this one off very well. The only way to end a book like this is to wrap things up with a chapter about being at ease with one’s imperfection. I’m still working on that, but, well, it’s progress.
(Year Zero, incidentally, is a pot-boiler about a plague from the First Century that gets released into today’s world. It’s interesting so far!)

Now, for the update…
Tomorrow, the Salvation Army will be picking up twenty bags of clothes and shoes from my house. No, not the stripper shoes. Those will go to eBay, most likely. No, these were regular, women’s shoes. An entire 20 gallon, black, plastic garbage bag full of them. And, nineteen more filled with clothes. Yes, that’s twenty (20) bags of children’s and adult’s clothes going out in one, fell swoop. I’m sure as I get rolling on this stuff upstairs, there will be more. And, then, there’ll be the books and furniture and jewelry and… And, I’m just getting started.
Speaking of just getting started… Someone asked about Match.com. Well, we started out strong, then, things tapered off. I’ve sent several women e-mail, but gotten no response yet. Might never get a response. I got one Wink this afternoon from Galveston, but, well, she wasn’t quite my type. (And, no, I don’t mean that she wasn’t my type because she was interested in me!) I don’t know, maybe I’m too picky. I mean, whatever her faults, my ex-wife was quite the looker. Of course, beauty fades fast, but, still, I do have standards after all. And, not to be catty or anything, but there is a very significant difference between “curvy” and “a few extra pounds”. C’mon, let’s be honest. I rated myself as “About average”, but I have to admit, I lean more toward “A few extra pounds” myself. In part, that’s what’s behind the push to get my one room cleaned out. After I get rid of all my ex-wife’s junk, that will become a workout room. She left a Soloflex and I have a free-standing heavy bag. Between the two, I should get a pretty good workout going. I really used to love the heavy bag. When I was in shape, I used to do 20+ minutes on that three times a week. That will definitely trim the fat right off my lazy butt!
Oh, and I haven’t quite given up on the Bookstore Method, either. Unless things go terribly wrong, I plan on hitting the River Oaks Borders tomorrow night. (That’s Tuesday, in case you don’t see this until the morning after I post it.) After that, though, unless things go very well, I’m going to change to the Barnes and Noble by the Galleria. I think the Fourbucks in there should attract the kind of victim, er, potential date, I’m looking for. We’ll see!

Anyway, it’s late and I’ve been drinking Scotch, so I’m off to brush my teeth, set up the coffee for the morning, read a bit and slip off to dreamland.


I Can Cook!

Filed under: Criticism, Marginalia, and Notes,Deep Thoughts,Fun,Life, the Universe, and Everything,News and Current Events,Personal,The Network Geek at Home — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Pig which is in the late evening or 10:17 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Gibbous

Hey, I remember this!
Back in the Before Time, your Uncle Jim was a pretty adventurous cook. Far from gourmet, but, still, not bad and I usually did it by the seat of my pants. Er, make that, on the fly. Okay, by guess and by golly. There, that doesn’t sound nasty, does it? Well, I’ll admit, it was usually chicken all done up fancy with rice, white or wild, on the side. Occasionally, I’d even do a vegetable.
So, guess what I did tonight for the first time in a very long time? Yeah, I cooked. And I don’t mean pasta. That’s not cooking so much as it is doctoring sauce. Nope, tonight it was Uncle Jim’s Mango Rum Tilapa with broccoli and rice. And, it wasn’t bad, either! Just a big hunk of tilapa, which is white fish, equal dashes of lemon juice and lime juice add an even coating of Old Bay Seasoning and smother in Captain Morgan’s Mango Rum. Broil for about 40 minutes, if fish is still frozen, which mine was, or until done. I did all that in an open packet of aluminum foil with the broccoli. The rice was done in a large rice cooker. Best thing my ex-wife ever convinced me to spend money getting!
In any case, it was yummy, if I do say so myself! I guess having my mother, who loves me, clean my kitchen inspired me to get cooking again. See, ladies? If you hit on me, these are the lovely things that you can expect to come out of my out-of-date kitchen. As I always say, it’s not the tools that determine the finished product, but the artist who uses them.

Oh, and I started sorting out which of my ex-wife’s things I’m going to start selling on eBay. If you’re interested in platinum wedding bands, let me know. Hers was hardly worn!

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