Diary of a Network Geek

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


Freebies for Friday

Filed under: Art,Fun,Fun Work,GUI Center — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:32 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

Traditionally, I’ve tried to give you free stuff on Friday.
This week is no different.

But, I’ll be honest, it’s been a crazy week with budget planning and strategic planning for the next five years at work, so I haven’t really prepared anything special.  And, that means I’ll be digging into my collection of strange links for two totally random freebies for you to enjoy!

First, since I always fool around with designing websites, or at least talk about it a lot, I…
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Fast is Slow

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Career Archive,Geek Work,Life, the Universe, and Everything — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Monkey which is in the late afternoon or 5:38 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Crescent

But, slow is fast.

I’m not sure where I heard that first, but boy is it true.
I’ve never served in the military, but I used to hang out with a lot of guys who did and, frankly, were pretty intense about it, when I was younger.  And, yes, I do love me some action movies with big guns blazing, so there’s no telling where I picked up that little bit of military wisdom.  I tend to associate it with BUD/S training, which is better known to the general public as the SEAL program.  In essence, the idea is this; the faster you try to rush something along, the more mistakes you make and the longer it takes to actually achieve your goal.  But, it also has some other connotations.  The one that I forgot to take to heart this past week was to not let circumstances rush me into doing a sloppy job.

This past week I was supposed to get a new server installed and configured for a sister company.  It’s a startup, really, so there’s not an existing network, which means I’m basically setting everything up from scratch.  Now, in some ways, this makes things easier.  I don’t have to worry about conflicts as much, for instance.  I mean, however I configure the first equipment will determine the entire network configuration.  Whatever naming conventions I set will be carried forward.  I’m working with a blank slate.
But, that blank slate has its disadvantages, too.  As an example, there is NO infrastructure in place at all.  So, not only do I have to setup the server, but also the switches, the firewall, and even the rack and UPS that will hold it all!  Luckily, I didn’t have to run the actual cable, but, pretty much everything else will be something I install myself.  Not that it’s all bad to do it myself, either, because I don’t have to worry about someone else doing it the wrong way or undoing something I’ve already done.  But, it does all take time.

Again, I’ve done this before.  Not only have I been a “department of one”, as it were, but I’ve setup networks from scratch for years.  I’ve been doing this since 1992, so, for the past 18 years, I’ve networked all kinds of crazy things together.  And, some of that was back in the old days before Windows clients and GUI interfaces made it all work together right out of the box!  Still, I forget things sometimes.
I forget that I should get help racking servers, for instance.  Getting the weight up into the rack isn’t so difficult, but doing that and getting those damn little pins into the recessed slots on the rails at the same time can prove challenging.  I should know that.  But, this week, giving into the pressures from end-users at a startup, I tried to rush things.  What ended up happening was me losing my grip on a server and twisting a rail all out of shape.  Luckily, I never throw out spares and I had another set of rails that I could use as a replacement.  And, the second time around, I was smart enough to get help to rack that server.  And the APC SMART-UPS 5000VA UPS that weighs in at about 130 pounds and has sharp edges.  With that help, nothing else got out of hand and I didn’t have to replace any more rails.
Of course, when I went to set everything up, it turned out to have the wrong power adapters to plug my servers into.  Why?  Because I was in a hurry and didn’t double-check the specs and trusted that someone else would do their job right.  So, now, @Dellcares on Twitter, who heard my rage at having the wrong UPS, is helping me get things straight.

Did I get the server installed?  Well, yes, I plugged directly into the wall long enough to setup and configure the server to meet my deadline for next week, but, I struggled with one of my most basic character defects first; sometimes, I just need to ask for help.
Of course, I also lost sight of one of the most basic principles of IT, which seems so counter-intuitive in such a fast-paced industry:
Fast is slow; Slow is fast!

Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"When the only tool in your toolbox is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail."


Linux Imaging – Update

Filed under: Criticism, Marginalia, and Notes,Fun Work,Geek Work,Linux,MicroSoft — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:20 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a Third Quarter Moon

So, I figured it was about time for another hardcore geek post.

I’ve been using the Linux-based imaging solution that I detailed here and here for quite a few weeks now. Mostly, it’s been going very well.
Okay, once I figured out it was better to start with a small drive partition as my base system, from which I created the standard image, the process got easier. The thing is, it’s always easier to start with a small partition and then use tools built into the Knoppix live cd to grow the partition larger than to try and shoe-horn a big disk partition onto a small disk. And, by “easier”, I mean it’s the only way to do it. I spent quite a bit of time trying to make it work the other way, but I never did. On the other hand, starting with an image based on a 30 gigabyte or less partition then expanding it to fit a 150 gigabyte hard drive has worked just fine.
Incidentally, I used a bootable gparted cd to make that change.

Also, I had a small problem with a particular Intel motherboard chipset. Specifically, it was the Intel 965 chipset, and the problem may effect other motherboards. In short, the problem was that Knoppix didn’t see the SATA drive to mount it. If Knoppix can’t see the drive, it can’t image it or take an image from it. Luckily, there is a work around. If you’re using my method to image WindowsXP machines running the Intel 965 chipset, ensure the BIOS is set to AHCI. To do that, get into your system’s BIOS and go to Advanced > Drive configuration > Configure SATA as AHCI. Then, when booting into Knoppix, hit F2 and use the following command-line to boot:
knoppix 2 all-generic-ide pci=nommconf
This will start Knoppix in text-only mode, so you can run everything from there instead of opening up a terminal session.
After you put the image on the fresh machine, you need to ensure the BIOS is NO LONGER set to AHCI. To do that, get back into your system’s BIOS and go to Advanced > Drive configuration > Configure SATA as IDE. After reconfiguring the BIOS, you can boot into the new Windows XP clone and proceed as I’ve already described in the other posts.

Oh, one last thing on this…
I kind of cheated on reimaging machines in text mode with that Intel 965 chipset.  Because the tools I used to resize NTFS disk partitions were all GUI based and XWindows was having a problem running on those Intel 965 boards, I installed one machine from scratch and just grabbed the larger partition table and master boot record.  Then, when I made the new machines, I just used the larger partition and MBR images to get everything out of the disk.  I still used the smaller data disk partition images, but I used NTFSResize to expand the NTFS partition to fill the disk.  Worked like a charm.

Anyway, I apologize to my non-geek readers, but, hey, I am a professional network geek and I love this stuff.  I think I strutted around for a full five minutes after figuring out that set of little tricks the same afternoon.  Of course, it wasn’t long before some other stupid thing brought me right back to reality, but that couple of minutes where I was the king of the world, network geek genius extraordinaire, made it all worthwhile.


Technical Update

Filed under: Deep Thoughts,Fun Work,Geek Work,Linux,Novell — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Dog which is in the evening time or 8:02 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

I spent the majority of my day with the pre-sales engineer from Novell today.
And, that was a good thing. I learned a number of things today. (If you’re a non-geek or don’t feel like asking me to translate this into English for you, feel free to skip down to the paragraph break.) First, the bug I reported yesterday was totally false. The problem with Novell’s Open Enterprise Server running on SuSE Linux was that I’m so old school and security conscious. “How’s that?” you ask? Simple, I had a password that started with a dollar sign character. How’s that a problem? Well, it’s like this. The GUI installer takes the information to install eDirectory, Novell’s premier claim to fame, and throws it all at a command-line installer at a hidden console window. Sadly, in bash, the standard Linux shell, when you throw an unescaped “$” at the prompt programatically, it thinks you’re trying to define a string variable. That little misunderstanding throws the command-line eDirectory installer for a loop and it sits there, at its hidden console, prompting for a password and patiently waiting for you to supply it. Then, it misinterprets that and fails. Once the eDirectory install fails, everything afterward, that relies on eDirectory, also fails.
In other words, because I have more admin experience than Novell’s guys in the field and I’m committed to using secure passwords, I found a bug that no one thought to look for EVER BEFORE.

The other thing I learned today is that I know a hell of a lot about all kinds of strange, esoteric, varied and otherwise unrelated computer stuff. And, that is very, very cool.
Now, I’m going to go do something. No, I don’t know what and neither will you. Tomorrow, I’ll post something else. Good night.


Everything Old is New Again

Filed under: Apple,Criticism, Marginalia, and Notes,Deep Thoughts,Fun Work,Geek Work,GUI Center,Life, the Universe, and Everything,Linux,MicroSoft,News and Current Events,Novell,Ooo, shiny... — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Rooster which is in the early evening or 7:55 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Crescent

Looks like I’m going to be a Unix admin!
Yeah, it definately looks like we’ll be using some form of Linux at the new place. If not Novell’s Open Enterprise Server on Linux, then Red Hat Advanced Server. Of course, I’ll end up running SMB as a Windows PDC, for the login scripts, but, hey, at least I can do it! And, it almost sounded like the boss was actually leaning toward Novell’s solution. It actually worked out to be about the same, cost-wise, as Red Hat. Though, the Novell pricing doesn’t include any support if anything went wrong. But, I suppose we could pay by incident. I mean, I hardly ever call Novell anyway these days. Their online knowlegebase has most of the answers I need.
And, of course, there’s all the Mac and OS X stuff, too. That’s BSD, essentially, with a Mac X Windows front end. Funny, it all comes around to that GUI, doesn’t it? All point and click. Oh, for the good, old days when all we had was a command prompt and we were darn lucky when we got that! These kids today don’t have any appreciation for what a good command prompt can do. Why, I remember, back in the “before time”, messing around on an old HP-UX system and figuring out how to read mail from reading the man file! So, here I am, again, back where I started, about to become a Unix admin again.



Review: Advanced Perl Programming

Filed under: Fun Work,Geek Work,PERL,Personal,Review,Things to Read — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is in the early morning or 7:10 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

It’s beyond me today, but…

Well, let’s just say this gives me something to shoot for in my PERL goals. I found Advanced Perl Programming on the discount shelf of a local bookstore, so I snapped it up, but it’s going to take me a while to “get” everything in this book. I mean, they’re talking about really advanced database access, incorporating C programs, and making GUI interfaces with Tk. That’s way, way beyond the little bit of text processing that I’ve managed with my own PERL efforts. Still, I’ve always felt that getting in “over my head” and fighting my way to the top, so to speak, is the best way for me to learn anything of value. And, it does tend to keep me challenged. So, while I love where this book is going, I probably need to stick with the PERL Cookbook. But, I’ll get there eventually. I swear it.

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