Diary of a Network Geek

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

11/6/2020

D&D Renaissance and Questing Beast

Filed under: Art,Fun,Fun and Games — 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

After 2020 so far, I feel like we all want to retreat to a fantasy world.

I’m writing this before Election Day, and, I’m sure, well before we know the outcome of the election itself. I hope that it’s a very definitive result, but, I think a lot of us are braced for it all to be a long, drawn-out process. Combine that political insanity with the devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions and, well, it’s no surprise that fantasy role-playing games are enjoying a resurgence. And, of course, the great-grand-daddy of role-playing games is Dungeons and Dragons. I haven’t played myself in at least thirty years, but I do own a LOT of the game books. I keep them around for the inspiration they give me and the ways they spark my imagination, though I understand that, somehow, playing D&D has become cool again, with famous actors and Hollywood people playing. In any case, those strange circumstances have brought about a surprising amount of new interest in the game and resources to play. All of that brings me to a post on Boing Boing by Gareth Branwyn about a podcast reviewing FRPG zines. The podcast is on YouTube and is called “Questing Beast” and their channel has all kinds of video podcasts about fantasy role-playing games, but in particular D&D in various forms. Look, like anything, some of these are better than others, but they’re mostly fun if you’re into the game, or if you’re interested in getting back into the game. And, obviously, they’re super into role-playing games, so they’re ultra sincere about the reviews and so on. Oh, and there are a bunch of different “channels” that are part of Questing Beast, each with their own quirks and themes.

Anyway, if you have any interest in this subject at all, I hope this podcast gives you a little bit of distraction from the flaming dumpster fire that has been 2020!

This post originally appeared on my non-technical, much more personal blog, Use Your Words!

10/23/2020

Getting Away From It All

Filed under: Fun,Personal Care — 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 a First Quarter Moon

My favorite daydream is more than a vacation.

I’ve mentioned this before on my blog, but when things get really bad, I’ve had the same recurring fantasy; sell everything, buy a tricked out motorhome-tiny-house and run away. Now, I know I would have a hard time actually doing that because not only do I love stuff that takes up a lot of room, like books, but we’d have a hard time fitting our two sixty-five-plus pound dogs into anything mobile on a permanent basis. But, that doesn’t stop me from dreaming about it. Some people fantasize about running away on a sailboat, but my jam is more of a land yacht. Now, as in intellectual exercise, I’ve considered the various options and their attendant advantages and disadvantages. For instance, if one were to get a towable tiny house, getting a truck large enough to tow it becomes a necessity. On the other hand, that towed tiny house can be parked while the truck is used to run errands without bringing the entire house along. With a full motorhome, everything comes with, which actually could be fine for a lot of things, but, also, one person could theoretically be sleeping in bed while the other drives to another destination. Well, it turns out I’m not the only one who’s been thinking about this lately. I’ve looked into it for quite some time and have some hands-on experience from when I was a kid, but there are apparently a lot of first-time buyers. If you’ve been thinking about jumping on this trend, Lifehacker has an article titled “The Beginner’s Guide to Buying The Right RV”. It doesn’t include the tiny house options, but it does run you through all the other options for running away from your life without jumping on a sailboat. You can also scan through Tumblr’s “van life” or “vanlife” to see some of the nicer, cooler setups that people have. (You can also look at their “tiny house” selection to see some other options, though these aren’t all mobile houses.)
Anyway, it’s been that kind of week and that’s where my head has been at lately. So, show up again next week because you never know what I’ll share next!

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words!

10/2/2020

Kinetic Sculptures

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 a Full Moon

Just a quick share this week.

I know I keep hinting that I’ll review that hot shoe splitting flash cable I got the other day, but I’ve been so busy, I have hardly had the chance to use it. So, I do still intend to review it, eventually.
Until then, though, I thought I’d share a fun link. This comes via Boing Boing and is just under ten minutes long. It’s a short video of Ten Kinetic Sculptures by Anne Lilly. It’s not very long and the sculptures are fascinating to watch. If you’re like me, you’ll watch the video several times just to see the beauty of their movement. The artist is quite talented.
(And, yes, there are reasons I’ve been so busy, but I’m not quite ready to share them yet.)

Anyway, have a great week and hopefully, I’ll have more to share next week!

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words!

9/25/2020

Can you Spot The Troll?

Filed under: Fun,Fun and Games,News and Current Events — 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

For the next two months, “Don’t feed the troll” should be our mantra.

According to the Urban Dictionary, a “troll” is “…[s]omeone who deliberately pisses people off online to get a reaction.” And, while that’s true, I feel like it’s not a complete description anymore. Since I’ve been on the internet, back in the “Before Time” of the early 90’s, trolls have been around, in one form or another, purposely irritating people for laughs. But, sometime in the last ten years or so, professional trolls with a political agenda, and often backed by a nation-state, have sprung up in attempts to sway elections and disrupt the democratic process. A lot of those trolls aren’t even people at all but are robots. They’re automated scripts that just constantly harass actual people who happen to trigger certain keywords. Being able to spot the trolls is a lot harder than most people realize.
So, in preparation for the upcoming election, I’m sharing a website called “Spot The Troll”. It’s s short quiz that shows you social media profiles and asks the simple question “Troll or Legit”? All you have to do is pick. And, then afterward, either way, there are a series of screens showing the “red flags” that should have tipped you off to the troll. Or, things that might have tricked you into thinking a legit human was actually a troll. I scored 7 out of 8. Not bad, I think, considering how sophisticated the trolls and their programmers have gotten.
Take the quiz and see how you do!

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words! You can leave comments there.

9/18/2020

Lens Simulator

Filed under: Art,Fun,Photography — 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

Explore the relationship between focal length, aperture, and depth of field.

Along with some other settings and factors.
As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been getting back into photography a little bit. That means, for me, relearning a whole bunch of stuff, like how aperture and depth of field are related and how to control that. Well, thanks to a free “lens simulator” by Korean lens maker, Samyang, you can play with those settings, and more, to see how they’ll affect your photo. It’s pretty simple and straight forward for even a returning rookie photographer like me to make adjustments and see the changes. The one drawback, if you can call it that, is that the simulator uses Samyang lenses as the default settings. You can adjust it and simulate virtually any settings, but the pre-set ones are all based on their lenses. Which, really, shouldn’t be a surprise. Anyway, it’s fun and easy and, best of all, free.

I’d hoped to have a review of a hot-shoe-splitting flash cable I got this week, but, well, I haven’t had the time to actually use it yet, so it’s hard to give an actual review. Maybe for next week.

And, that’s all I’ve got this week, really. I’m feeling a little worn down and depressed, which I think is just the COVID-19 lockdown finally catching up to me. Well, and the mostly submerged grief over losing my father. For various reasons I don’t want to go into right now, I found myself really missing him last week. I had news that I’d have normally shared with him and asked his advice, but, well, he wasn’t there to ask. Of course, as my mother and another friend said, at this point, I can pretty well tell you what he’d have told me. Though, right up until the end, Dad could sometimes surprise me with something new.
Anyway, y’all have a good week and stay safe.

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words!

9/4/2020

Mont Saint-Michel Flyby

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

After three weeks of pretty heavy contemplation, I thought I’d share something a bit lighter.

In France, there’s a famous 16th-century castle that is also an island named Mont Saint-Michel. I find it fascinating because the tides only allow access to this historic location twice a day. As a defensive strategy, it’s pretty brilliant and I can only imagine the difficulty involved in actually building this structure more than four centuries ago. Honestly, I find it incredible that it’s even still standing. Of course, it’s become a bit of a tourist trap now, as often happens to enduring pieces of physical history. Still, it’s pretty amazing. One day, I hope that I might visit for myself, but, until that day, I’ll have to content myself with virtual visits.
Here are two flybys of the Mont Saint-Michel for your Friday enjoyment.
First, there’s FPV drone pilot Benoit Finck’s flyby filmed with a GoPro HERO8, which won him a GoPro Awards prize for the two-minute, high-speed tour of the castle.
Secondly, there’s another video filmed with a RED EPIC camera, via a DJI Inspire 2 by Wanaii films, which also shows some of the surrounding countryside.
Both films are quite epically beautiful and certainly a bit more interesting than reading me go on about grief and missing my father. Though, I do have to admit, my blog readership was at its highest point when I went into gruesome detail about my divorce and my attempts to date afterward. I suspect, if I’d had the brainpower to manage it, details about my cancer treatment might have inspired similar morbid curiosity.

Anyway, that’s all I’ve got this week. Maybe I’ll have something more or more interesting next week. I do have a few creative projects that are percolating in the background, so there’s no telling when I’ll create something more compelling to share.

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words!

7/24/2020

Programming Widgets

Filed under: Better Living Through Technology,Fun,Fun and Games,GUI Center,On Creativity,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

I’m anything but a professional programmer, but occasionally, I make stuff.

Sometimes, in my day job, I have to solve a particular problem and the only way I can manage that is via some small bit of programming. Usually, it’s just a little script of some kind; PowerShell or Perl, mostly. I taught myself Perl seventeen or eighteen years ago, in an attempt to stay busy at a job that severely underutilized my talents. Demonstrated, I think, by teaching myself Perl in my downtime. A lot of techs I knew would have just scrolled a news site or played solitaire or some other useless thing. I tried to expand my portfolio of skills. I learned a long time ago, though, that I need a project to guide my learning. It almost doesn’t matter what the project is, as long as it gives me problems to solve and obstacles to overcome. Solving those problems, with the new thing I want to learn, is what teaches me. Granted, I don’t always learn the best way to accomplish my task, or at least not the most commonly accepted way, but I still learn the skills involved in a way that embeds them pretty deeply.

Since I’m mostly self-taught in IT, which is my chosen professional field, I’ve had to find ways to keep learning on my own interesting. Having personal projects is one of them. So, projects are how I teach myself new things. As I work toward a larger goal, whatever that may be, I find problems and solutions to those problems and my knowledge extends into new areas. I did that with Perl a number of years ago. First I tried to teach myself Perl for extending MoveableType, the blogging software that I used to use before their licensing debacle. But, that was a bit too arcane and involved a place for me to start. So, several years later, I found some simpler scripts that did some language processing and were useful for another low-key hobby of mine; conlanging. (That’s constructed language making, for the less geeky.) And, so, I had a project to work with that was within my skill level. In the end, I made those scripts something that could run on a webpage and it drove massive traffic to my site. It was sweet! But, it crashed the server because it was so popular and it drove TOO much traffic to that site. Ultimately, I had to take them down. By then, though, not only had I learned Perl pretty well, but I had moved my blog to WordPress and started looking at this fancy new language for the web called “PHP”. That mostly ran in a way that didn’t put a strain on the servers, so it was better for high-traffic sites. The only problem was, I couldn’t move the functions from the Perl scripts to PHP easily. So, I started looking around for projects to teach myself PHP.

The project I found to let me dig into PHP was a random generator. No, not some random piece of electronic equipment, but a little web toy that randomly generated things. It’s pretty simple, really. You have something, like a title or a sentence that has variables, like nouns and adjectives, like Mad Libs. Those variables become, well, variables in the program. So, I just need to list a bunch of whatever that variable is into the program which randomly chooses those and fills them into the sentence or title and then gives me the result. Sounds simple, right? Okay, it kind of is, which is why I started with that. But, then I went about making it complicated. I added more variables and started reading them in from external sources and getting fancy with the output formatting. But, what it did was let me learn, bit by bit, PHP. You can see a bunch of those at my World Building page at Fantasist.net. When I got good enough at it, I dug back into WordPress and started looking at ways to use my new PHP skills to modify WordPress. What I came up with was the Dale Reckoning Calendar Plugin. For its time, it was pretty good. Now, I look at it and, well, I’m not quite embarrassed by it, but I’m not as proud of it as I was. It does work, but it requires the user to modify their theme and, essentially, become a bit of a coder themselves. That never sat well with me. And, I wanted to have something that would randomly, or semi-randomly, conjure up weather conditions for a particular day. Why? Because, if you’re gaming in a big campaign, things like weather start to matter a little. And, it was fun. It let me use old skills and old code and extend them to something new and stretch my learning even more. So, that’s why I kept coming back and eventually came up with the Forgotten Realms Weather Widget. It works better as a widget in the sidebar than as a daily update on posts. Though, I may still revisit the idea and see if I can’t improve my old plugin to not require the end-user to modify their theme to make it work. Again, for no real reason other than it’s fun to me and it would make my brain work more on something technical, which I’m already good at, but not for my day job. Mostly, though, because it would be fun to me. Oddly, it wouldn’t be fun if I had to do it for a paycheck. By the way, in moving some of the code from the old plugin to the new widget, I did find some ways to tighten the code a bit. I’d still be a little embarrassed to have a professional coder look too closely at it, but at least I’m improving.

And, I’ll keep working on it, though I’ll need to set some better boundaries so that I don’t get so obsessed that I miss much more sleep working on it. In any case, you can see the results for yourself at Forgotten Realms Weather Widget.
It’s free and only for WordPress and there may be bugs that I haven’t seen yet, so let me know if you use and find any. I can’t promise when I’ll fix them, but I promise that I’ll work on them.

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words!  And, that’s where you should leave any comments or bugs you might find.

5/29/2020

Embracing My Inner Geek

Filed under: About The Author,music,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 a First Quarter Moon

Because, that’s who I really am.

So, this week I was going to write about the error message I’ve seen filling up my logs which is due to some issue in the AuthorWrite theme I use here. But, thanks to some prodigious sleep procrastination, I was able to find the error and the fix it last night, with the help of Professor Google. Apparently, there are some security and encryption salts that are technically optional, but really should be added into the config on WordPress that I hadn’t done. Frankly, I blame that on being so far out of date on WordPress development that it’s ridiculous. The joy of it is that I don’t need to be up to date. Back in the old days, when I was running MoveableType, I had to know how it all worked because there was no one who was going to help me figure it out. But, now, with how popular WordPress has gotten and how many great programmers are working on it, I hardly have any issues. And, when I do have an issue, it’s almost always related to a theme or plugin that needs to be updated. In a couple of cases, plugins have been abandoned, and don’t work because the underlying architecture has changed and there’s no one updating the plugin code. That’s sad because there are some great plugins that I’ve had to stop using due to them not being supported and causing issues on my sites. Yes, I can almost always find a replacement for them, but, sometimes, the old plugins have nice features or an easy-to-use interface that I miss. Oh, well, life is change. Either way, the issue is resolved.

But, all that nerdy goodness got me thinking a bit. Being a computer geek is absolutely built into who I am now. It’s funny because back in high school, I was a little obnoxiously well known for hating computers because I already saw so many of my peers relying on them instead of thinking for themselves. That’s pretty remarkable when you consider that I graduated high school in 1986. Of course, some of those people I went to school with are now big shots in the technology industry, but, hey, I still prefer to think for myself. Not that I mind making a living off malfunctioning computers. It provides me and my family a pretty damn good living. But, I do find myself gravitating toward the, well, shall we say, darker side of computers and networks? When I attended DEF CON 20 in 2012, it was pretty life-changing. It truly opened my eyes to a whole new world of computer security. But, it also showed me that I already knew more than I was giving myself credit for! Beyond the security aspects of things, the idea that computer geeks might also be gun geeks or music nerds was sort of a new idea. My buddy, famous artist Mark Flood, knew about the hacker rappers that performed at DEF CON, but it was news to me. And, apparently, there’s a whole slew of nerdcore music and musicians that I’ve not heard of before. It’s an event he and I still talk about on a regular basis. Things we saw there are still trickling out into the mainstream, like smart car hacking. It makes me a little sad that DEF CON is Cancelled this year, at least in person. I still hope to get back one day to experience it all live and in person, but, if you have the time, this year’s virtual event August 7-9 is a great opportunity for you to safely check it out. Just make sure you’ve got all your antivirus and security patches up to date! (Just kidding! I’m sure it will be 100% safe! Trust me!) And, I’ve already ordered two DEF CON is Cancelled t-shirts, which will get here in a couple weeks. They’ll pair well with my Guy Fawkes COVID-19 mask that I should have by the end of the day!

And, if you just want to relax a little, not think about big issues like computer security and nerdcore music and COVID-19, then try unlocking some browser games with help from Lifehacker. Yes, all three major browsers have them, though some are easier to get to than others, not to mention more fun.

Try to enjoy your weekend and week and do something you love.

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words.

5/15/2020

Escape The Confines Of Your Mind

Filed under: Fun,Fun and Games,Stimulus and Production,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 a Third Quarter Moon

Feeling a little trapped? Me, too.

So, I usually have a theme to these Friday posts, but even I have to admit they’ve gotten pretty thin lately. And, while I’ve started working some days back in the office, I’m still home more than I’m not and I can feel the mental pressure some days. I haven’t gone quite so far as to ask the dogs for advice about IT management. Honestly, I think if they could, they’d have some good ideas. At least, they can’t have any ideas worse than some I’ve heard out in project meetings over the course of my career.
In any case, until those animals start to talk, I’ll have to contend with the rest of the circus animals walking around talking up a storm. It’s enough to make me want to flee the scene. Actually, that’s a pretty common day-dream fantasy of mine; packing my life into a van or boat or something contained and portable and just, well, running away. I know it’s possible, because Brian and Karin Trautman have been living on a sailboat for 10 years, and they love it. I, personally, lean more toward the camper van or tiny house thing, but, hey whatever works. It’s the idea of being portable and light and having fewer attachments. I have a lot of attachments and absolutely recognize that the source of all my real problems come from those attachments. But, hey, knowing is the first step, right?
One other way I escape from my own brain is to lose myself in movies and books. But, weirdly, I need my escapism to feel real. I know, that’s a bit of oxymoron, but, well, as old Walt Whitman said, “Do I contradict myself? Very well, I am large. I contain multitudes.” So, with that in mind, I really enjoyed watching a former FBI agent reviewing mobster movies and, conversely, a former mob boss reviewing gangster films. It’s a nice contrast. It’s funny, because I remarked to an old friend just the other day online that for whatever reason, ultra-violent gangster movies are very calming and soothing to me, especially if they’re about the yakuza. Go figure.
And, since we’re talking about movies and, well, everyone is working from home these days, I thought I’d share this disturbing, but also fascinating mashup of The Office and The Matrix. Watch it!
And, finally, for the word nerds out there, like me, I have This Word Does Not Exist, a site that creates a new word and defines it for you. I think we should all pick one of those generated words and work it into our everyday conversations until we get someone else to adopt it. Because I’m bored with email and video meetings. And, I want to lead you astray.

I’d have had better links and a better post for you, but it’s been the busiest week of the pandemic for me. Seriously. I’ve barely had time to eat lunch most days. On the plus side, I have been getting up earlier and writing Morning Pages. Though, I’ve been doing it via the keyboard, which is verboten by the traditionalists. The average length of a page of a trade paperback is about 500 words, I’m told, so I’ve been doing 1500 words. It may not be the officially sanctioned method, but, hey, it works for me. I’ll try to remember to let you know how it goes.
See you all next week!

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words!

4/24/2020

More Links For Pandemic Quarantine Distraction

Filed under: Fun,Fun Work,Personal Care,Red Herrings,The Tools — 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

It just keeps going and going and going.

Honestly, the worst part about all this is that I’ve been so busy I can’t even enjoy the fantastic boredom that everyone keeps complaining about. I’ve read all the “inspirational” and “motivational” tweets that tell me I should come out of this quarantine with a new skill or new business or, at least, a new “side hustle”, but honestly, I’ve been so busy doing actual work and not defrauding my employer by only pretending to work from home that I just haven’t had the time. Seriously, I get that their point is all the excuses about not having enough time shouldn’t be an issue for all the people who are “bored” at home with nothing to do, but I really, in all sincerity, have been busier working from home in all this than I would be in the office. No joke.
But, I do still manage to find you, dear readers, links to amuse and distract in this time of fear, uncertainty and doubt. Here they are.

First, a little something for the geeks, via Boing Boing: 108 Rare and Bizarre Media Types. My fellow computer geeks, I promise you this will hit at least ONE data storage media that you’ve never heard of before. Utterly fascinating and, again for the geeks here, a wonderful way to spend about 35 minutes learning about more of the deep history of our profession.
Now, if you are, somehow, able to create in this climate of terror, may I suggest that you try creating a tiny ‘zine? What, you may ask, is a “zine”? Excellent question. According to The Bindery blog, “[a] zine is a self-published, non-commercial print-work that is typically produced in small, limited batches.” So, basically, a small, short-run, DIY magazine, of sorts. They can be pretty much whatever you want. And, if you want to save on paper and make literally small ones, as in from one sheet of paper, “Teen Zine Workshop” – Zine Instructions and Zine Template + Layout Document, both from Umami Design. You’ll have to decide what goes into it, but those links give you the tools to lay a zine out and get it assembled. And, if you’re hurting for ideas, you can always go back to last week’s post and write some funky COVID-19 haiku!
If those two options don’t strike your fancy, you can always check out David Brin’s Science Fiction Recommendations to find something to read. He’s an award-winning science-fiction author and a genius; just ask him! Seriously, though, he really does write brilliantly smart scifi and is an actual scientist, so, genius isn’t really an unreasonable assertion. Or, if you’re looking for something shorter, you can try Tor’s Must-Read Speculative Short Fiction: March 2020, or the Internet Archive’s collection of Amazing Stories magazine, or their collection of detective pulp magazines or their collection of fantasy pulp magazines. There may be some overlap there, but all good, free, reading material.

And, finally, again from Boing Boing, if you’re worried about your food situation, here’s How long you can safely keep condiments in your pantry and fridge. They reference an article off-site, but they give you the shelf life of some of the most common condiments you probably have. But, if all that is too much for you, Make Magazine has 15 Drink Recipes From Latte to Mead to help take the edge off. (I’ll leave you, dear reader, to decide the appropriate alcohol content of your libations.)

And, that wraps another fun and exciting week in the COVID-19 quarantine zone! See you next week!

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words!

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