Diary of a Network Geek

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


My First Geek Gathering

Filed under: Art,Bavarian Death Cake of Love,Career Archive,Criticism, Marginalia, and Notes,Fun,Fun Work,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 Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:05 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Gibbous

So, Friday I went to my first geek networking event.

Okay, now, to be clear, I mean the first event I’ve ever been to that the point was to get to know other geeks, not work on computer networking. It was the first of what I think will be many. The event is a monthly “Geek Gathering” put on by Jay Lee and Dwight Silverman of TechBytes and the Houston Chronicle. I was convinced to come out this time by Kristie “Suburban Goddess” MacLaughlin. Though, I have to admit, I think she did it simply to get me active on Facebook, since the event was announced there. We’ve followed each other’s blogs for some time now, and exchanged a few e-mails, but never met. And, before any of my regular readers who are often eager for me to get involved with someone, mainly for the jokes that come out of my so-called love life, let me hasten to emphasize that this was not a date! She’s quite happy with her boyfriend and doesn’t need my uncivilized self mucking things up. Just in case anyone was wondering.

Still, she was quite eager to get me out to meet Jay and Dwight and “the gang”. Now, I did meet those folks, but I got caught in ugly traffic, so I got there a bit late and didn’t get to meet everyone I might have liked to know. For instance, I missed meeting the guys who run the Houston-based Japanese animation and manga convention known as ONI-CON. I did meet a couple of very nice journalists who got laid off from the Chronicle, however, who were there networking as well.
Funny thing about that, the networking thing. I’ve never really done it before, and I think it showed. Living alone, my conversational skills have atrophied so as to be almost non-existent! Thankfully, I was surrounded by people who were good at it and gracious. Donna, aka @Cottonwood2009, was very nice and kept my end of the conversation up as well as her own. And, of course, it seemed that everyone was on either Twitter or Facebook or both. I’m on Twitter for the tools I can add to this blog in case of losing my connection to the Internet again during a hurricane, so my family up North will know that I’m still alive. (They worry.) I was on Facebook, but hadn’t really done anything with the account. Since meeting a few folks, most notably Dwight and Jay, my Twitter followers have more than tripled in the space of two days and my Facebook friends have gone from one to eighteen.
And, I got to talk with several people about photography, too. In fact, it seemed like every third person there had a camera in hand. I didn’t take many pictures this time, but you can see the few I did at my Flickr page, under Geek Gatherings. There will be more eventually.

I remember when the on-line world and the “real” world were mostly separate. I’ve blogged for almost nine years now and never actually expected to meet most, if not all, of my readers. But, as the song goes, the times, they are a-changin’ and now, I fear, I’ll be meeting more and more of them. Perhaps I’ll have to start writing better and more relevant things! Good gravy, I may have to start writing technical posts again! What a strange turn of events that would be.
I have to be honest, and in all seriousness, meeting some of my readers makes me, well, a little uncomfortable. It’s bad enough that my readers often think that they know me based on what I write here, but now… Now, having met me in person, I’m afraid that the lines will become even more blurred. And, anyone who’s read my blog for a long time knows how I like my life neatly segmented and clearly defined. Still, what else is there to do? It’s either that or keep talking to the dog and, frankly, I think she’s getting a bit tired of hearing the same jokes over and over.

But, it was good to be out of my comfort zone Friday. It was good to go to a new place and meet new people. And, it was even good to put some faces to names that I’d seen on-line in any number of venues. I may not be very good at this networking thing, as ironic as that seems considering the title of my blog, but I’m going to keep working at it. It’s the one thing that I should have been working at harder all these years. Who knows, maybe I would have had a better series of jobs than I did? Maybe even a better series of girlfriends? Well, maybe not, but a guy can dream! Certainly going forward, if anything happens to me at my current job, I’ll be better off if I have a good, strong, professional network. If you’re in Houston and a geek like me, it would be worth checking out next month.
And, who knows, maybe one of these times I’ll meet the future ex-Mrs. Hoffman?


New, Improved Kindle

Filed under: Criticism, Marginalia, and Notes,Fun,News and Current Events,Ooo, shiny...,Review — 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 Waning Gibbous

Right, so I’m sure a couple of my readers are waiting for me to weigh in on the new Kindle.

Yeah, yesterday, Amazon released the new, very much improved Kindle eBook reader. Lot’s of folks were talking about it; Lifehacker, the Houston Chronicle’s TechBlog and, of course, Gizmodo. The most coverage is at Gizmodo, though, as they did a liveblog through the release.
In a nutshell, what they’ve improved is the design itself, the battery life (by 25%), the memory (now two gigabytes, or about 1,500 books), the screen and graphics. So, you know, just about everything on the physical device is better. Also, there’s an experimental feature that reads the books to you, which actually sounds sort of cool. And, now, apparently, you can move books from reader to reader, though they did seem to be only in one place at a time. You know, I’m actually okay with that, if I can transfer the book to someone else’s Kindle, because then it’s no different than a physical book that can only be in one place at a time. If, and that’s a big if at this point, if that’s how it works, I may just have to get me one of these.

The one “downside” to this is that the price is staying the same. Now, I think it may just be worth paying that $359 for this device. I mean, it really seems more worth it to me. Oh, and the cover which came with the older version is now an extra $25, or so. So, that bumps the price up a bit, but, still, I’d probably be looking at a better cover anyway.

The one thing that I haven’t seen any coverage on is adding my own documents to the Kindle. I have a lot of personal documentation of one kind or another that would be really nice to have on a reader like this. PDF files and text files filled with all sorts of custom and personal manuals and instructions and the like. If they made it easier to get that onto the Kindle, then, I may just be sold.


WiFi Free Houston!

Filed under: Criticism, Marginalia, and Notes,Fun Work,News and Current Events,Ooo, shiny... — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Snake which is just before lunchtime or 11:07 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

Okay, it doesn’t have the same ring as “Radio Free America”, but it still rocks!

So, according to Dwight Silverman over at the Houston Chronicle’s TechBlog, Houston now has free wifi in limited areas.  So far, according to their Houston WiFi Finder, it looks like it’s mostly downtown, but that’s still pretty cool.

Hey, you’re getting this in time for lunch, so you can take your laptop with you and make it a working lunch in the park.  Well, at least until the rain starts.


More News on the PI License for Texas Techs Law

Filed under: Career Archive,Certification,Criticism, Marginalia, and Notes,Geek Work,Life, the Universe, and Everything,News and Current Events,The Dark Side — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Snake which is just before lunchtime or 11:52 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a New Moon

The Houston Chronicle has an update on the law I mentioned the on Tuesday.

The Austin office of the Houston Chronicle did some more digging about the new law that would seem to require PC Techs in Texas to also become Private Investigators. According to the bill’s author, state Rep. Joe Driver, R-Garland, we’re all misinterpreting his new law. He claims that the law means “…anyone who retrieves data from a computer, analyzes it and makes a report to a third party must obtain a private investigator’s license.” To me, it’s almost the same thing.

As I read it, the law would require anyone performing computer security duties in *any* setting in Texas to get a PI License. That means that a corporate computer security officer, who’s job may include computer forensics, would be required to also be a PI.
Frankly, I’m torn between thinking that maybe this is a good thing and maybe it’s excessive. On the one hand, for someone who does independent security work, that background check and finger printing might be a good idea! On the other hand, it might make it impossible for someone in a small company to *legally* do their job.

I’ll give an example…
A small company may have a one or two person IT department who cover everything, like, for instance, me. If there’s a break-in to one of their systems, they would then have to be a licensed PI to investigate that, or they’d have to spend a similar amount of money on a consultant who was. In this case, I’d bet the law just would get ignored.

But, for the independent operator, who might not have any other controls or credentials which a consumer or consulting client can use as a measure of relative security, it might actually be a good thing. Again, I doubt that criminal background checks are being done on all independent computer security consultants right now and maybe they should be.

In any case, like many laws of this nature, they seem like a good idea on paper, but often have much further reach than their author intended.


Ownership and Personal Computer Security

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Criticism, Marginalia, and Notes,Deep Thoughts,Geek Work,Life, the Universe, and Everything,News and Current Events,The Network Geek at Home — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Monkey which is in the late afternoon or 5:40 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Gibbous

Oh, I’ll never learn.

So, I read a lot of blogs. Not a big surprise, really, all things considered. One of the blogs I track is the Houston Chronicle’s TechBlog. Recently, they ran a post titled “Spy on your spouse’s online habits, go to jail“. Now, as a currently unmarried person, you may think I don’t have a dog in that fight, but, well, I kind of do. Allow me to explain.

See, about three years ago, my now ex-wife was cheating on me with her latest husband. (in fact, tomorrow, it will be three years to the day that I told her I “knew” what was going on and she bolted rather than face up to any problems we were having.) I was tempted to install spyware, or do other kinds of traces, on her communications. And, I think I would have been within my legal rights, since the computer was in my house and, technically, shared property. Now, I’m not a lawyer, obviously, but as part of my job, I do have to be fairly up to date on legal issues regarding computer security.
It’s unclear from the article whether or not the man in Austin who got four years for installing spyware on his wife’s computer had physical possession of the PC in question, but I’d imagine not. Now, I got confirmation of my suspicions by reading a raw mail file on a server I rented space on. The account was one I paid for, but my ex-wife foolishly used to tell nasty lies about me. (And, yes, also some uncomfortable truths, but they were mostly obscured by the rather outrageous lies.) At the time, my lawyer’s office agreed with me that it seemed like I was legally in the clear when I read the e-mail file. Though we didn’t actually have to test the law, in general, I would have been considered the rightful owner of the file in question, ergo, I had the right to read it.  And, ownership, to me, is the issue.  If I own the computer in question, don’t I have the right to install software on it that captures information?  In that situation, in a private residence, who has the right to expect privacy when using that machine?
In any case, I made comment and then, later, read some other comments on the post.
One person made some rather sweeping generalizations with which, naturally, I disagreed. A small, tepid debate ensued. The other commenter made comments about legality in an absolute sense, as in “…it is illegal to crack a password of another adult, for any reason, no matter where the software comes from – the guy is going to do 4 years in jail?” And, therein lies the rub. It’s NOT illegal to crack a password of another adult “for any reason”. There are, in fact, many legal reasons I’ve cracked passwords at work. For one, someone illegally locked files with a password to hold a company hostage. The company in question clearly had ownership of the password-locked files, but there was no way to recover the file without cracking the password. There are other examples, but any time someone starts talking in absolutes about the law, I know they’ve had no real experience with actual legal matters. A good lawyer can argue for a lot of exceptions to any law and, if they’re good enough, win. The fact that this guy is going to jail means that his lawyer couldn’t do that, if he even had anything more than a public defender. That’s all.
And, to me, the real question here is one of ownership. If I own the computer, I can install software on it to make sure it is being used the way I see fit. On the other hand, there is the question of a user’s expectation to privacy. If the user on the computer I own expects a certain level of privacy, for whatever reason, and hasn’t been informed otherwise… Well, let’s just say the law gets a little hazy at this point. Really, in most things legal, there just aren’t any absolutes. Ask a lawyer, they’ll pretty well tell you the same thing.
The other points that the commenter made about raising children and marital affairs leads me to believe that he is simply inexperienced or naive. When he wrote, “I guess how you raise your kids is your choice, unfortunately. None of mine have ever been in any trouble whatsoever so I will keep my ways going…”, it never occurred to him that his kids might be in trouble, but he hasn’t found out yet. Same thing about the state of his marriage.
Again, I’m not saying I’ve got the only answer, just that there isn’t any absolute answer to this whole issue. What’s more, he falls into the fallacy of ascribing meaning and intent to my disagreement that was not there. When he said that the better way to check up on your possibly cheating spouse was to have them followed by an “ex-cop”, I disagreed. Strongly. Being an ex-cop does not guarantee any level of success in trailing and catching a cheating spouse. And, while “pictures speak louder than words”, often, words from incriminating e-mail speak loudly enough.

Naturally, I don’t advocate breaking the law, but there’s a lot of question about where that threshold is in the digital world. And, simply trusting everyone you have a relationship with is, well, naive at best.

But, all that aside, I wrote this here because I had something left to say, but didn’t see the point of continuing the “discussion” over there.

Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"Man is the only kind of varmint that sets his own trap, baits it, and steps in it."
   --John Steinbeck



Filed under: Criticism, Marginalia, and Notes,Fun,News and Current Events — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Snake which is just before lunchtime or 11:59 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Gibbous

Howdy, y’all!
I’ve been told that the Houston Chronicle has linked to my blog. I don’t know if I should expect issues with the site as a result, but, if the server doesn’t crash, welcome. Please, comment profusely and read obsessively. Note that your e-mail addresses are kept private, except, of course, from me and every comment is moderated, so they may take some time hitting the site.

Thanks for stopping by!


Dell moves Call Center back to US

Filed under: Criticism, Marginalia, and Notes,Deep Thoughts,Geek Work,News and Current Events — 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 Waxing Crescent

Now, we’re getting somewhere!

According to this story in the Houston Chronicle, Dell has heard their customer’s demands for service and moved a corporate support call center back to the US from India. Apparently, business cutomers were complaining that it was too hard to understand the Indian service operators and that they weren’t really helpful. Of course, that’s been the joke about phone support helpdesks in general for years. They follow a script and if they can’t find the answer in their database, you’re out of luck. But, the overseas phone support desks were the worst. Not only were they not helpful, but they were hard to understand most of the time, too!
So, this is what can happen when consumers vote with their hard-earned money. We, as consumers, can make a change in the way companies do business! And, in the process, help make jobs for American workers.


Fewer H1B1 Visas

Filed under: Criticism, Marginalia, and Notes,Geek Work,News and Current Events — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Dragon which is in the early morning or 9:42 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

A victory for the American Worker!

Rejoice, my Worker Comrades! According to this article in the Houston Chronicle, Congress has no plans to extend the higher level of H1-B visas currently active in the US. That drops the number from 195,000 to 65,000. That’s 130,000 jobs reclaimed for American Workers! At least, that’s what will happen if they don’t act before October 1. Let’s hope they don’t!

Let me add, though, that I’m all in favor of legal immigration to the United States. I’m not a racist, as I’ve been accused, but a nationalist. Indeed, a patriot. If people from other countries want to come here, become citizens and get jobs, that’s great! In fact, I welcome it! We’re a great melting pot of diversity here, and I like it like that, but I’m against the idea of American companies sending jobs overseas. We should keep American jobs for Americans, no matter where those Americans were born.


Cosmonaut Marries from Space

Filed under: Criticism, Marginalia, and Notes,Fun,News and Current Events — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is in the early morning or 7:17 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

Hey, this makes NASA all worth while!

No, really! According to this article in our own Houston Chronicle, NASA let a woman who moved to Houston from Russia get married to a Russian Cosmonaut in their command center this past weekend. And, considering that she plans to move back to Russia to be with her new husband, it was mighty generous of them. Too bad we couldn’t get him to move to Houston!
Anyway, a fun story for a Friday.

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