Diary of a Network Geek

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


Naming Your Systems

Filed under: Fun,Fun Work,Geek Work,Novell,The Network Geek at Home — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:15 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Crescent

Naming kids is easy, but naming systems is hard!

And, no, I don’t mean giving your phone a pet name.

I have gone on at length in the past about the importance of naming systems.  It’s a big, big deal, especially if you ever have to go back and change any of those names!  Granted, it’s not as bad now as it was in the old days when you had to manually update dozens, or sometimes hundreds, of host files or configuration files, but, still, it’s a pretty big deal.  So, naming systems are often a topic of discussion, especially among hardcore network geeks.  I’ve been in more than one meeting about choosing a naming scheme that devolved into name calling.
So, there are many schools of thought on this.  One group of people think that the name should be meaningful, giving location and function information.  That’s a good idea, but it often results in names like HOUNOVFILESERV001.  (And, yes, that’s actually a name I used on a server once, for a company that no longer exists.  It stands for HOUston NOVell FILESERVer number 001.)  Sure, it tells you what you need to know, but they quickly become unwieldy to type and maintain.
Another group would say to name your servers, or routers, or what have you, after any group of things that will be easy to remember, like the names of the Seven Dwarves, or characters from the Dilbert cartoon, or, even, at one place I worked, the names of the old Space Shuttle fleet.  And, while I’m not a huge fan of that for many things at a business, it can be fun to ping a Cisco router named Elvis just to get the response “Elvis is alive”.  Certainly at home, I tend to favor a more fun approach using something light-hearted, like the names of cartoon characters or mythological beings or something similar.  But, my problem is always, which set of “things” to choose?

Well, the Naming Schemes Wiki solves that particular problem.  Yes, someone has started a wiki that gathers all the different naming schemes you all can think of in one place for your viewing pleasure.  And, in spite of any protests from your significant other, you can select, at your leisure, a naming scheme to use on your network that makes you smile.  (And, stop looking at me that way!  I know I’m not the only person in the world with a home network big enough or complicated enough to warrant having to choose a naming system for it!)  The maintainer also encourages you to add your own scheme, if, somehow, it’s been missed on this site.  Or, to add to any of the existing pages if you have something to contribute.

So there you have it!  All the endless naming possibilities for your home networking project this weekend!
Y’all have fun!


The Ultimate Home Network

Filed under: Deep Thoughts,Fun Work,Geek Work,Linux,MicroSoft,Novell,The Network Geek at Home — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Snake which is mid-morning or 10:12 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

A pretty bold statement, isn’t it?

Well, I’m not going to tell you how to build the “ultimate home network”, but, rather, suggest some things that you may want to consider to build your own, personal, “ultimate” home network.  Everyone needs something different from a home or small office network.  Some of us have side jobs that require a fair amount of data transfer or storage, like, for instance photographers.  For some of us in the IT business, having a home “test” network is almost assumed, though, perhaps not as much as it used to be in the boom days of the Internet.
I’ve been thinking about it this past week because my old BorderManager firewall finally has died.  I’m using a backup firewall at the moment, which is “good enough”, but I’ll be taking this crash as an opportunity to start rebuilding my home network from the ground up, using mainly free, open source software, starting with a Linux firewall.  In fact, I have three that I’ll be looking at and, yes, writing reviews of, in the coming weeks.  This will be an on going series of posts, too, as I evaluate software and, piece by piece, integrate it into my working, live network.  My needs will probably be different than yours, but all home networks will have some similar items and considerations.
So, what should go into your own personal, “ultimate” home network?  It depends on what you do, but here are some ideas.

The Actual Network.
Obviously, the first thing is setting up the actual, physical network.  And, in this case, by physical, I’m including wifi routers and the like.  Back in the old days, having a home network meant running cable.  That’s not as true as it used to be, but don’t just go wireless without considering at least some wired connections.  If you’re concerned about security, for instance, especially, regarding financial transactions, nothing is as secure as a wired connection.  Keep in mind, though, that at some point you still connect to an outside source to get to your bank.  Also, since most laptops have built-in wifi and have gotten so inexpensive, if you don’t already have one, consider getting a laptop.  For most people, laptops can inexpensively do everything we need to do and have the advantage of portability, so if you need to leave, say in case of a hurricane, you can take at least part of your home network with you.
There are a wide range of network switches and routers out there to choose from, but I suggest sticking with a name brand that is relatively well known and established. It’s no guarantee that you won’t have problems, but it’s a good start. I personally like Linksys and DLink brands, but there are many others that will work well, too.

Don’t forget that you need to have at least some security on that home network.  At a bare minimum, you need a firewall and some kind of antivirus.  If you’re connecting to broadband internet, either cable or DSL, most often the router they give you from the service you use has a firewall on it.  If you’re using wifi, the wifi router almost certainly has a firewall on it.  Use them!  Most importantly, actually set them up and change the default password to something else that you’ll remember but that strangers won’t guess.  If you’re not sure if you have a firewall on your network equipment, then at least use the built-in Windows firewall, but use something!
If you don’t want to spend big money on either McAfee or Norton for antivirus, good news!  You don’t have to spend anything!  Yes, that’s right, you can download AVGFree and run it for nothing at all.  So, now, what excuse do you have to not be running some kind of antivirus again?
And, please, for your own sake, use passwords.  Use hard to guess passwords, not your kids names or your birthday or even your license plate number.  In fact, try not to use dictionary words at all, or, if you do, substitute other characters for letters, like $ for S or @ for A, to make it more difficult to guess.  Also, use numbers with the letters, for the same reason.

Networked Storage.
Just having storage isn’t enough, really.  On a home network now, you may have a laptop, or two, a desktop, a DVR or any number of different networked devices that share data.  They all need to store it somewhere.  And, even if they store the data locally, they need to be backed up somewhere.  The answer is network based storage.  There are a lot of options out there, and Rick Vanover at TechRepublic has a good article on several.  I know one solution that’s popular with photographers is the Data Robotics Drobo series of devices.  I don’t have any direct experience with these, so I have no opinion on them specifically, but these days, decent network attached storage is so cheap, it would be foolish to ignore that as an option.

Virtual Server Environment.
Now, obviously, this isn’t for everyone.  Back in the day, I used to run a small, two server Novell network in my house just to keep everything fresh in my mind.  Novell isn’t always the most popular networking environment, even for hard-core network geeks like me, so I always wanted to make sure I knew how to do some of the more “interesting” and challenging things in that environment and ran a test network at home for that reason.
Now, you can do all that through virtualization.  In fact, that may be the newest buzzword that’s already worn thin on me!  But, buzzword or not, setting up a virtual test network is something that’s been talked to death in the industry, but I’ve only seen one article recently on setting up a home virtual test network.  You can read more about it in an article by Brad Bird over at TechRepublic, but, again, for those of us who work in a lot of different environments, it’s not a bad idea to make a series of virtual machines to experiment on.  There are still some hardware costs involved, of course, but there is the advantage of being able to roll back to an earlier state if something gets too screwed up.  Try that on your old-fashioned home network!

Even Fancier Stuff!
Of course, there’s almost no limit to what you can do on a home network these days.  Many inexpensive printers come with network interfaces built in, some even have wifi networking built in.  Of course, I’ve mentioned things like Windows Home Server and Linux servers here before, too.  It is, after all, what I do.  Though, with the low prices on network attached storage, I’m not sure I’d recommend that option for the average user.
And, this post hasn’t even touched on integrating any audio visual equipment into your network, or a home security system, or some of the fancier bells and whistles that are out there.  The sky, literally, is the limit.

So, the thing is, everyone will have a different idea of what the “ultimate” home network is, but these are some things to consider, and a few you don’t want to forget.


Less is More – Hurricane Ike Followup

Filed under: Apple,Criticism, Marginalia, and Notes,Deep Thoughts,Life Goals,Life, the Universe, and Everything,Personal,The Network Geek at Home — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:57 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a Third Quarter Moon

Hurricane Ike may not be over for a lot of people, but I’m thinking about how I should change my life in response to what happened.

I don’t mean that I’m scarred for life or that I have post-traumatic stress syndrome as a result or anything so melodramatic as that, but this slap on the butt from Mother Nature has made me think.  It’s made me think about what I need, what I want and how I spend my time.  As I’m sure many have found this week, we need far, far less than we think we do.  In many ways, I got along just fine without power.  Oh, maybe I cooked a bit more meat and ate a bit more in general than usual, but I got to read more and sleep more than I usually do.  And, at this point, I’ve gone without cable long enough that I’m starting to wonder why I still keep it.  I mean, I say that I have it for the History Channel and Discovery and IFC and the Sci-Fi Channel, but I’m not sure that’s really true anymore.  For one thing, I haven’t watched a whole program on either the History Channel or Discovery without some kind of interruption in so long I can’t remember.  And, honestly, most of the movies I watch on IFC are available through Netflix anyway.  And, really, I’ve gotten so tired of what the Science-Fiction Channel has become – the Ghost Buster Channel or the Cryptozoology Channel or something worse.  So, why do I hold onto this video pacifier?  Have I gotten so afraid of peace and quiet and, possibly, even my own thoughts that I have to keep background noise going all the time?

For the longest time, I’ve worried that I suckle at the glass teat so long that I would starve without it.  And, yet, it’s a love/hate relationship we have.  I feel somewhat compelled to watch it, but, at the same time, I feel like it sucks so much of my productive time away from me that I’d be better off without it.  If I spent half the time I wasted watching television cleaning my house, or re-working my home network, or writing, well, I’d probably be famous by now.  You know what I did most of last weekend?  I read.  Yeah, I ended up reading two entire books last weekend and almost half that time was spent reading by flashlight!  So, without any of the “conveniences” of modern, high-tech life, I was more productive and more rested than I am when I’m totally plugged-in and choking on information over-load.  But, of course, that’s not a new theme, is it?  I mean, people have been telling us that for a long time now, right?  How we should un-plug and tap into our full attention and focus.  I have to admit, though, that, while I heard that and thought I understood the principle, I’ve never tried to put it into practice or had an opportunity like this forced on me.  Now, I have.

So, here’s what I’m thinking.  I’m thinking that what I need to do is cancel cable.  I need to take that roughly $100 a month and save it.  When I have enough, I’m going to buy all the bits and pieces for a Linux-based multimedia computer.  Something that can rip and burn DVDs, that has a Dolby-capable sound card worthy of a home theater system, that has a high-quality video card with HDMI output I can hook up to my HDTV, that has a remote and a wireless keyboard and mouse, and, maybe, that has a television decoder on it.  Obviously, it’ll need a truckload of hard drive storage and the maximum amount of RAM.  Oh, and a nice, high-speed connection to the network so I can grab stuff from YouTube and other video sites, not to mention weather data in hurricane season and, possibly, to get to Netflix for “instant” movies, too.  It actually won’t be all that expensive, and probably not as time-consuming to create as has seemed to me in the past.  Besides, I know people have done similar things before so there’s got to be a HowTo on it out there somewhere.  And, I’m equally sure that someone has given this enough thought that I won’t have to figure out which distro is best, either!  Ha!  Sometimes not being on the cutting edge can, in fact, work to one’s advantage!

But, beyond all that, I hope that having fewer distractions, or at least taking a tighter rein on my regular distractions, will help me focus more on writing, too.  Ironically, saving money by canceling cable may also enable me to earn more money by writing fiction, like I’ve always said I wanted to do!  How funny would that be!
That shift is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.  I guess more so since doing Habitat for Humanity a couple weekends ago, or maybe even as far back as when I was told my lymphoma was in remission.  I want to be less of a consumer and more of a producer.  I want to make more than I use, to contribute more than I take.  Right now, today, I don’t think that’s true, but I think I can change that.  More importantly, I know, deep in my bones, down in that place that even Death himself can’t touch, that I want to make that change.  I need to make that change, to give more than I get.
I’ve dodged so many theoretical bullets and gotten so many second chances that, were I superstitious, I’d say it was some force, some being, some power in the Universe, trying to tell me something.  As if God Himself were nudging me in a direction, toward the light, toward the positive.  Some of you reading this may not believe in that, and that’s okay with me, but I know something has been working for my personal good, even amidst the danger, sorrow and tragedy, to keep me safe and to keep me coming out okay.  And, no matter what you believe, I know that whatever that force or power is, call it God if you wish, that energy wants me to work toward the good of others with whatever meager skill and talent I may feel I possess.

So, what does it all mean?
Hell if I know.  All I know is that right now, the way I live my life, while not damaging to anyone else, it’s not worth much to me, either.  I’m just coasting.  Gliding through life on the energy of others or just circumstances.  I want to live a life worth living, a life worth the efforts M. D. Anderson spent trying to keep going.  To do that, I need to change.  Not much, really, just a little.  The difference between giving more than I take is just a hair’s breadth.
But, that small margin makes all the difference in the world.


Securing Your WiFi

Filed under: Geek Work,The Dark Side,The Network Geek at Home — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:59 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Crescent

At least, as much as you can secure anything.

Some time back, I pointed you all toward an article about extending your wireless connection. Some of you expressed concern regarding security in relation to wireless connections in general and, specifically, after expanding the range of your wifi router. So, I thought I should get you all some links on how to batten down the hatches, so to speak.
I do think it’s important, though, to say a little something about security in general first.
Nothing is totally secure. If a computer is on a network, it can be compromised eventually, given enough time and money. Security is a matter of degrees, of balancing ease-of-use with peace-of-mind. And, while having wifi makes mobile communication easy, it is, by it’s very nature, insecure. Anything that broadcasts over an unsecured medium can only be so secure, you know? So, I think it’s important as you look at the links below to keep in mind that a determined attacker is going to get into your wifi network, no matter what you do. And, personally, I am more than a little paranoid, so there are just some things I wouldn’t do over a wireless network.

Okay, so, without further ado, here are the links:
First, if you don’t mind the pop-ups on About.com, here are Ten Tips for Securing Your Home WiFi Network. They’re not bad, but, really, some of them aren’t all that secure. Or, rather, they just give a somewhat inflated sense of security. Still, they’re better than nothing.
Better than those tips, though, is the Lifehacker Guide to Setting Up a Wireless Home Network. This takes you through setting up a wifi router and network from scratch and gives you fairly good tips about securing it along the way. (But, make sure to follow the link to their article ToDo – Secure Your Wireless Home Network!) Better still, follow the article at Ars Technica titled The ABCs of Securing Your Wireless Network.
Freakishly, Microsoft, who’s not known for their security practices, has an article about making Windows XP wireless a little more secure. If you run XP, it’s worth a look.
And, finally, for those of you with a little extra time, some spare computer resources, and a high level of paranoia, read the Step-by-Step Guide at SearchWindowsSecurity.com titled How To Create A VPN For Your Wireless Network. (Or, if you’d rather download a printable PDF, check out TechRepublic’s A Secure Wireless LAN Hotspot For Anonymous Users. It’s another way to do the same thing.) Frankly, it doesn’t get much more secure than that!

Hopefully, that gives all those curious minds out there enough to chew on to keep you off the streets at night!


Linux Home Server HowTo

Filed under: Fun,Fun Work,Geek Work,GUI Center,Linux,The Network Geek at Home — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:41 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a Full Moon

So, you want to build your own Linux server for home?

Okay, you’ve seen me write about it and many of you think it’s too geeky to do on your own, but I swear to you, it’s not. In fact, here is a list of easy howto sites:

Who needs Windows Home Server with Linux around?
Linux Home Server HowTo at LinuxQuestions.org
Build It: Linux Home Server
The Australian Linux HowTo

And maybe, just maybe, when I finally get around to doing this on my home network, I’ll write up some documentation on how to do it. Or, at least, how I did it.


Review: Time Management for System Administrators

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Career Archive,Geek Work,Life Goals,Review,Things to Read — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Dragon which is in the early morning or 8:54 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Gibbous

Wish I’d found this sooner.

No, really, I wish I’d found and read Time Management for System Administrators a long, long time ago. This book was great! Some of the techniques in the book I already do, but I had to learn them the hard way. But, there were many more things that I either had never thought of, or hadn’t thought of in the context of time management or improving my personal efficiency.

For instance, I’ve used ToDo lists in the past, in fact, I’d started using one again recently. But, I’ve never looked at using them the way the author, Thomas Limoncelli, suggests using them in Chapter Five: The Cycle. The idea, in short, is to manage everything on your ToDo list today by either doing it, delegating it, or moving it to tomorrow’s ToDo list. No matter what you do with it, it gets managed and everything on today’s ToDo list gets dealt with, one way or another.
Another theme that Limoncelli harped on was, whichever way you choose to keep track of tasks and ToDo lists, it has to be a way that you keep with you. Either you learn to carry your organizer with you everywhere, or you have to adapt something that you do carry with you to hold the information you need. In my case, I decided to use the organizer functions on my cell phone. So far, that’s been working well for me.
After reading this book, I was also inspired to document my workstation imaging system in much more detail. Now, I have the start of documentation that can, essentially, replace me. This particular document is now detailed enough that just about anyone with a little experience on computers can setup our standard workstation with all the programs installed already. This way, if I ever end up in the hospital again, someone else can keep making workstations. I’ll do some more documentation of this kind and write some policies, too. In a couple of weeks, or months, I’ll have a fairly complete set of IT documentation for this company and I can customize it for any place I might work again. (And, yes, I might post some of it here for you all to steal.)
As part of that documentation, I started a network diagram. I had started this before using an old copy of Visio, but that wasn’t working too well. I got all obsessed with making the autodiscovery function work just right, and it wasn’t, but until I read what Limoncelli had to say about the value of a quick, simple network diagram that isn’t obsessively correct. After that, I grabbed a copy of Network Notepad, a freeware network diagram tool, and all the extra libraries. Then I spent a quick couple of hours getting used to the way Network Notepad works and creating the simple diagram. After using it a bit, I decided I really like it. It has some nice features, so it’s worth checking out. And, I’m going to use it to diagram my home network, too.
I’m still working on formalizing my life goals and implementing the stuff from the stress fighting chapter, but I am getting there. It was very much the right book at the right time for me. But, I do have to admit, if I’d found it sooner in my career, I might be doing better today than I am. Well, maybe not, but I’m glad I read it now.

If you’re a system administrator, no matter if it’s on a Windows network or Unix, or whatever, or, if you work on an IT helpdesk of any kind, get this book, read it and put it to use. NOW.

Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"The greatest use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast it."
   --William James


Linux Home Server

Filed under: Fun Work,Geek Work,GUI Center,Linux,MicroSoft,Red Herrings,The Network Geek at Home — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:58 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

This is old news.

So, lately, there’s been a bit of buzz about Windows Home Server. The press has gone on at length about how this was such a brilliant idea who’s “time has finally come” and patted Microsoft on the back for thinking of it.
Well, this is really old news. As I was going through some old magazines recently, before throwing them out, I saw a short article on the Memora Servio Personal Server. A Linux-based home server that did everything from share files to filter e-mail to act as a firewall for home users. The device was auto-configuring and sat between your home network and your broadband connection and even could be ordered with wireless built in. The magazine was from 2001.

Sadly, the company doesn’t seem to be around any more, though you can see the old Memora About page, thanks to Archive.org. Again, this company was doing this six years ago and, from what I can tell, only seemed to have closed up shop in the past year or two. I wonder how well this product sold? What’s more, I wonder if anyone has the distro around, with the configuration programs on it? I know, I’d love to get my hands on that!

So, some of my readers are geeks, too. Ever heard of this product? Or, maybe, something like it?

(And, if you haven’t looked at my pictures yet, scroll down to untill you see them, then vote on the sidebar!)


Naming Conventions

Filed under: Art,Fun Work,Geek Work,The Network Geek at Home — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:18 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

“Give a thing a name and it will somehow come to be.”
Names matter. Network device names matter a lot and, since it looks like I’ll be redoing my home network, I’ve been thinking about names and naming conventions. I’ve worked with just about any and all naming conventions that you might imagine. Everything from the very practical LocationFunctionSequencenumber scheme (ie. HouAcct01, ChiMIS13, etc. ) to servers named for NASA spacecraft (ie. Challenger, Discovery, etc. ) I’ve seen stuff named for fantasy fiction characters and Greek mythology and Milton’s angels or devils. I even knew a guy who named his routers after dead musicians just so he could send out pings and see the response “Elvis is alive”. No joke. I personally have also used titles of positions in the Yakuza gang structure, as well as various authors and artists. I’ve even heard of guys using their favorite cartoon characters.
Personally, I like to have something with an underlying meaning to it. So, for instance, when I used the Yakuza schema, the main NDS server was “Kumicho”, which is the “boss of bosses”. And, on a whim, I named the printer Hokusai, after the famous artist. The guy who used angels named them based on what each angel had providence over, such as naming his “alerter” Gabriel, who blew his horn to sound the end of the world, if memory serves.
I’ve thought about using both Norse and Voodoo god names, since they’re somewhat unusual, but their “function” is well documented. I’ve also thought about using the various sefiroth of the Kabbalistic “Tree of Life”, for similar reasons. Greek mythology is far too passé to use and, for home, the LocationFunctionSequence method just isn’t fun enough.
So, anyone have any thoughts or suggestions?

(BTW, the quote is from George R. R. Martin in Dying of the Light which is one of the greatest “soft” science-fiction books I’ve ever read. It’s perfect after a breakup.)


From Novell To Linux

Filed under: Geek Work,Linux,News and Current Events,Novell,Personal,The Network Geek at Home — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Sheep which is mid-afternoon or 3:51 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Crescent

Man, I hate to admit this…
But, my home network is illin’, yo. I have run Netware at home for years. My firewall has been Bordermanager, because who the heck knows enough about it, besides me and the guys at Novell, to crack it? Yeah, yeah, I know, security through obscurity is a Bad Thing, but sometimes it does work. Anyway, I have one Netware server that crashes hard with the slightest power fluctuation, even with line conditioners in place. Just the littlest bit of power blip makes it shutdown. Not reboot, mind, but shutdown. And, several weeks ago when it did that, the data volume took a dump and never came back. I have no idea how much data I lost there, or how mad my wife is going to be because of the data she lost there, but I don’t think it’s coming back this time.
So, that got me thinking… Why should I stick with Netware? I’m more of a Linux guy now anyway, so maybe it’s time to look into Linux firewalls.
Any suggestions? And, anyone have any suggestions for ways to try and recover that crashed Netware data volume?


IT Black-Ops

Filed under: Deep Thoughts,Geek Work,Linux,News and Current Events,The Network Geek at Home — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is in the early morning or 7:19 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

No, that is not what I’m doing these days.
But, as you regular readers know, I do love computer security. So, when I saw this article on WiredNews about the U.S. Military’s l33t hacking unit, I had to blog it. There was a time when I thought I’d love to do this kind of work. Who knows, maybe I still have a chance to get in, though I think I’m a little too old for that now. And, I have to admit, I’m no where near being the kind of computer geek that they’d most likely be looking for anyway. I certainly haven’t done anything even close to illegal in years. In fact, lately, I haven’t even done much normal security work around the office! Though, that may be changing soon.
You know, this article got my juices flowing so much about hacking and security that I might just build myself a Linux security box. You know, something with NMap on it and some other tools for scanning and testing network security. I could run it against my own, personal home network and, if I can get permission, I can test the security at the office, too. It would be fun, and it might just show a little bit of initiative on my part. These days, everyone is worried about data security, or they should be, so having a methodology for testing security where I work could be a Good Thing, as Martha Stewart would say.
Well, a neat article and something to think about. Enjoy!

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