Diary of a Network Geek

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

11/2/2018

Payment Plans for Flying

Filed under: Better Living Through Technology,Fun — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is in the early morning or 7:05 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Crescent

Plan ahead and pay in installments.

Air travel is expensive. There’s just no way around it. In fact, when I had over $50k of credit card debt a few years ago, a lot of that was related to air travel. Before I moved down to Houston from Chicago in 1998, I spent way too much money flying down to see my now ex-wife. And, yes, I’d still say it was too much money to spend even if she weren’t my ex-wife. That debt was crushing.
But, even though I’m remarried, my family is still mostly in Illinois, which means I still need to fly. So far, I’ve managed to do it without going back into consumer debt, but I’m not sure that I’ll be able to keep that up forever. Maybe, though, with the help of Airfordable, we may be able to swing it. Now, full disclosure, at the time of this post, I haven’t actually used the service yet, so all reports about it are anecdotal. What they do is let you buy a ticket well in advance of your flight and then make regular installments until it’s paid off before you actually fly. Obviously, one advantage of this is that you get your ticket price locked in, because, let’s face it, airfare rarely drops in price. And, yes, there is a service fee for doing this, but it’s considerably less than paying all that interest at 15% or more on a credit card. Also, it lets you be sure you have a flight booked for, say, holiday travel, before you may have the money for the entire ticket.

So, let me know, faithful readers, have you used this service or one like it? How did it work for you?
And come back next week for more travel-related posts!

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words!

6/29/2018

Hurricane Season Preparations

Filed under: Calamity, Cataclysm, and Catastrophe,News and Current Events,Personal Care,Red Herrings,The Network Geek at Home — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is in the early morning or 7:00 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

The Gulf Coast is well into Hurricane Season. Are you prepared?

Here in Texas, hurricane season is kind of a big deal. And, with global climate change making tropical storms more frequent and more severe, it’s getting to be a bigger deal all the time. Usually, we have more than enough time to prepare, if you’re paying attention, but it never hurts to get ready well in advance so you’re not fighting for bottled water, bread and canned food with everyone else at the last minute.
So far, since I’ve been in Houston, I’ve been through one horrible tropical storm, and near miss and two actual hurricanes. After that first tropical storm, since my ex-wife and I were looking for a house, I chose one that wasn’t pulling up carpet. That turned out to be a pretty smart decision as not far away the neighborhood has some flooding issues. Thankfully, in the 18 years I’ve lived in my house, that’s never been a problem. But, all that said, I still worry about hurricanes and do try to take some reasonable precautions.

There are a couple of philosophies when it comes to hurricanes. Mostly, it’s either stay or go.
If you stay, you need to think about what you need to get by for an extended period of time. Most emergency preparedness sources suggest that you need to have food, water and other supplies for at least 72 hours. A great resource to help you plan is the Ready.gov site for hurricanes. They go over what to expect and even have really helpful PDF downloads to help you plan and prepare. And, actually, Ready.gov has a lot of resources for other kinds of disasters, too, like Wildfires, Tornadoes, Volcanoes, Floods and more. It’s definitely a resource worth checking out.
If you’re in the Houston area, like me, the city has their own disaster preparedness site, Ready Houston. It’s a good site and they offer a free DVD you can use to help you plan for emergencies with advice specifically for the Houston, TX area. They have videos on the site, too, as well as links to training other places, like FEMA.
One thing to consider if you have pets, for instance, is what to do with them during an emergency. FEMA has a training course for helping you with your animals in an emergency situation, which I found via the Ready Houston website. (They also have a more general, but, apparently, pretty complete course in general emergency preparedness.)

If you decide to make a run for it, you may want to put together what’s alternately called a “go bag” or a “bug out bag”. Personally, I feel the name “go bag” seems less paranoid and crazy-survivalist sounding, but it amounts to the same thing.
The idea is simple, really, it’s just a bag with all the things you need for anywhere from three days to a couple of weeks, ready to go on a moment’s notice. Not unlike a hospital bag for a pregnant woman, the main thing is that it’s packed and ready so when panic hits, you can just grab the bag and, well, go. Personally, I do NOT have a regular go-bag already prepped, because I frankly don’t have anywhere I’d run to in an emergency. And, if I did, I’d be neck deep in other people doing the same thing. But, again, you can take this as far as you’d like, assuming anything from temporarily relocating to another city and staying in a hotel to running off and hiding in the woods for a couple weeks. It’s up to you. But, either way, consider what might go into that bag. For some good examples, check out Scott Kelley’s Bug Out Bag on Kinja, who even provides links to what he bought so you can get it easily, too, and the oddly less woodsy approach to a bug out bag by American Rifleman Magazine, though I’m less convinced that you really need to be overly concerned with being armed. Remember, it ultimately comes down to just being ready for what ever you think might happen wherever you are.

I would also suggest that you have some long shelf-life food on hand, like every good IT guy has in his desk. In the past, I’ve used Millenium Food bars, actually, since they provide a lot of calories and energy with a five-year shelf-life, but really any good protein bar will do in a pinch.
One really good idea is to scan important documents, like a home-owner’s insurance policy and financial information and IDs and put them all on a LaCie USB key Flash Drive, or something similar that you keep on your keys, in case all the original documents get destroyed during a disaster or when you’re not at home.

So, in short, the idea here is to be like the Boy Scouts, prepared.
Have you gotten ready for hurricane season yet? Start now!

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words by J K Hoffman.

12/12/2017

The Traditional Birthday Post

Filed under: About The Author — 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 Crescent

So, today marks yet another lap around the Sun for me.

Honestly, I don’t hang a lot on birthdays, especially my own. I mean, for the most part, they’re just another day. Another marker of many in my life and, frankly, a rather arbitrary one at that. I’m more impressed with the fact that I’m still married, healthy, and just $5,000 away from being entirely out of consumer debt than that I’m turning 49 today. Seriously, though, the fact that I’ve made it this far is actually sort of an accomplishment, I think. There are many who haven’t, and, God knows, I’ve had my share of brushes with death, but, even that’s not altogether unusual, really. In fact, according to the actuarial tables, I should expect about another 30 years, or more if I’m particularly lucky. Which is a good thing because, in spite of being statistically middle-aged, I come from an unusually long-lived family and I have many, many things yet to accomplish.

It’s been a mostly good year, really. My wife and I refinanced the house, letting us fix it up and clear the majority of our credit card debt. I also moved from being an over-paid contractor always in danger of being out of work to being the best bargain in IT Infrastructure Management for a company five minutes from my house. Even in Houston, that’s a hard commute to beat. And, of course, for a brief while, my other blog, Diary of a Network Geek was on the first page of Google search results for the search term “network geek”. It’s always fun when that happens. I’ve read a lot of good books, though I’ve been mostly too busy to review them like I used to do. I’ve had as low-stress a year as I think I’m capable of having, frankly. Of course, the Zen meditation helps with that. I’ve done that for over four years now.
And, then there’s the fact that I’m still married to Sharon. My blushing bride does tend to make every year a little sweeter for me. I’d like to think that we’re finally easing into that place where we know each other well enough to truly start enjoying the other’s company. There’s also the possibility that I’ve finally started to mellow with age. At least, that’s her theory.

And, of course, my birthday wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t mention all the other famous people who had the good luck to be born on this particular day. Famous people like Frank “Chairman of the Board” Sinatra, Jennifer Connelly, Bob Barker, Gustave Flaubert, who is the author of Madame Bovary, the painter Edvard Munch, and Wells Fargo founder, Henry Wells. Not to mention, Mike Pinder of the Moody Blues, Tim Hauser of Manhattan Transfer, Dickey Betts of the Allman Bros, jazz musician Grover Washington Jr, and former mayor of New York City, Ed Koch.
All heady company to be sure, but for whatever reason, it tickles me the most that I share a birthday with Frank Sinatra. I guess it’s because he was such a unique and original character who really fought against and beat some long odds to become an amazingly famous, generally well thought of character. I can only hope to do the same, one day.
Also, I think it’s interesting to note that on this day in 1896 Marconi first demoed radio and, again on this day, in 1901 made his first Trans-Atlantic transmission. (Though, of course, all right-thinking people know that Tesla was really responsible for those first advances in radio.)

So, I really have no idea what the coming year will bring, but I’m looking forward to it. We’ve talked about maybe selling our house and moving into something smaller, that we can retire into and maintain easier. Then again, we know this house doesn’t flood, so we may just stay. Either way, I’ll just keep on going, because, at this point I don’t know what else I’d do, frankly. And, it doesn’t matter, so long as Sharon and I do it together, or at least near each other. (Yes, that was a parallel play joke. Deal with it.)

All in all, life is going along okay and I’m sure it’ll be good coming year.

This post originally appeared at Use Your Words.

9/29/2017

Cold Fish

Filed under: By Bread Alone,Fun,Red Herrings — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Horse which is around lunchtime or 1:00 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Gibbous

Sushi. That’s what my ex-wife used to call me. “Cold Fish.”

That’s a quote from Blade Runner, my favorite movie, possibly of all time, and it’s about one of my favorite foods; sushi, the most science-fictional food of all when Blade Runner came out. Next week Friday, the new one, Blade Runner 2049, is coming out. But, I’m sharing this today not because of the new release, but rather because yesterday was my fourth anniversary. And, not to my ex-wife, but my new wife. And, not because my blushing bride calls me “cold fish”, but because I proposed to her in a sushi restaurant.

And, what am I sharing?
The Mental Floss Visual Guide to Eating Sushi! They specifically reference “eating sushi in Japan”, but the rules are about the same here in the States, too. Or anywhere, really. Sushi, as it turns out, is sushi. My first sushi experience was in suburban Mississippi, which seemed a very brave thing to eat, considering the location, but sushi, and Japanese culture always seemed so perfectly alien and futuristic to me. I think for a Westerner, it’s the closest we can come to experiencing an alien civilization. Also, sushi was a featured food in all the most futuristic anime I watched as a young adult that it just came to represent the ultimate in exotic experiences.
Anyway, if you have been wanting to try it but a little intimidated by the idea, this guide should help ease your fears.
And, if you’re in Houston, check out Sushi Choo Choo, which is a sushi bar that features a brilliant conveyor belt that’s a very popular feature in Japan.

And come back next week when I babble about something else that may, or may not, relate to Blade Runner!

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words!

9/1/2017

Flood Sensors

Filed under: About The Author,Better Living Through Technology,Calamity, Cataclysm, and Catastrophe,Marginalia and Notes from the Editor,News and Current Events,Red Herrings — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:00 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Gibbous

This is mostly of local interest and probably would have been more help last week.

But, I’m hoping it will serve as a convenient place to find this information next year when the hurricane season starts again. And, yes, this is mostly relevant to the greater Houston area, where, dear readers, you will recall has been home since I moved here from the Chicago area in 1998. Since then, I’ve experienced a severe tropical storm, and the direct or indirect effects of three hurricanes (Katrina, Rita and Ike), before our latest Hurricane Harvey. Tropical Storm Allison was about the worst flooding event I had ever seen. My ex-wife and I were in an apartment with her daughter and woke up to find our part of town cut off from the rest of Houston by flooding. But, that flood didn’t stick around incredibly long and we were able to get out and drive the next day. That drive around my current neighborhood let us see which of the houses we had been looking at flooded. Obviously, we chose the one that didn’t and that’s where I live today with my current blushing bride. I’m pleased to say that we didn’t flood this time, either.
The thing people don’t realize about living down here is that it’s not usually the hurricane itself that causes the most damage. Rather, it’s the flooding caused by the rain that comes before, during and after. Hurricane Harvey dumped more than two feet of water on the greater Houston area. Some places got more than that. What was worse, though, is all the water running down from beyond the Houston area raising the levels of all the water ways that everyone here calls “bayous”. In theory, they should move all the water away from where we live and send it down to the Gulf. In reality, Houston is so over-built that they can’t always manage to do that.
My wife and I got lucky this time. The only water we got in our house was down our chimney and what came in on our dog. Our cars were both safe and dry. I know at least one person who’s parents have probably lost their house and two people who lost cars while trying to evacuate. This is the worst flooding that anyone can remember in Texas, and let me tell you, that’s saying something.
So, my link today is to the Harris County Flood Control District, who is the governmental group in charge of mitigating flooding events in Harris County, where Houston resides. Frankly, it’s not a job I envy, especially this week. But, for those who are concerned, they have a LOT of information about flooding in the area. Most importantly to me this past week or so, they are responsible for creating and maintaining the Harris County Flood Warning System, which has links to water-level sensors in bayous. If you go to their Interactive Mapping Tools, you can put in your address and find the closest sensors to you and what bayou is most likely to effect flooding in your area. I spent a good amount of time this weekend watching several of those sensors very, very closely. It was, to say the least, nerve-wracking, but, if things had gotten bad enough, I would have known right when I should either head to our second story or try to get out of the area if it was still possible.

Over the coming months, after hurricane season officially ends in November and before it starts again next year, I plan to add some resources here for emergency preparedness, starting with putting together a “go bag” in case of evacuation. Because, frankly, it’s never too early to start planning for next year.

And, next week, hopefully, I’ll have something a lot more fun to share with you than the grim reality of climate change, unchecked over-building, and preparing for the inevitable flooding disasters to come.

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words.

2/12/2016

Get More from Your Commute

Filed under: Fun,Geek Work,Red Herrings — 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

Our commutes don’t have to be dead time.

Who doesn’t have a commute any more?  Mine is relatively short now.  Less than 30 minutes, actually.  But, when I lived in Chicago, it was at least an hour each direction, whether I was behind the wheel driving or riding on a train or bus.  I used to read during the riding part of my commute, but, when I was driving, I would have loved Commute Kit.

Commute Kit is a website that gathers…
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10/20/2015

Cutting the Cable – HD Antenna

Filed under: Better Living Through Technology,Cutting Cable,Fun,The Network Geek at Home — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Monkey which is in the late afternoon or 5:30 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a First Quarter Moon

Or, getting your shows the old-fashioned way; over the air.

So, a couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that my wife and I were cutting cable.  At first, I think it was a slightly terrifying idea for both of us, but, as it turns out, there are loads of options besides the standard, mainstream “cable” television providers.  As I explore some of the options, I’ll write them up here and try to keep things up-to-date regarding any changes we make.
First, though, before getting into any of the various streaming services, I’d like to remind you all about how we used to get our television.  Back in the Before Time, as I like to refer to my distant childhood, television meant an antenna of some kind, usually sticking up high on a roof somewhere.  Actually, the higher the better!  And we’d risk life and limb to get those monstrosities all lined up just right to receive the clearest signal, which, of course, translated to the clearest picture, that we could manage.  For those of you too young to remember those times, count your blessings.  Viewing options were few and far between.  Generally, you could only tune in about four or five stations, if you were lucky, and they often would all be broadcasting things like the news at the same time.  Once cable television entered the picture, if you’ll pardon the pun, regular broadcast television died a swift, merciful death.

But, as it turns out, not really.
You can still get broadcast television, now in high-definition.  (Or HD as all the kids say!)  All you need is a television with a tuner built into it and a good HD antenna.  I recommend the Mohu Leaf 50 Amplified Indoor HDTV Antenna.  This is a really great, little antenna.  It runs less than $70, less than $40 if you get a refurbished model, at Amazon, which is where that link leads to, and can pick up a surprising number of stations.  The actual number and variety obviously vary from area to area and I can’t tell you how well this will work outside of large cities, but in Houston, we get quite a few stations very clearly.  Granted, more than a third of them are non-English oriented stations, but we do get some great programming over the air.  For instance, we watched “Big Bang Theory” just fine via the our Mohu Leaf 50 the first week we had it.  And, we had plenty of time to go get snacks during the commercials!
Okay, yes, the big drawback of this technology is that you don’t automatically get a DVR or rewind option with it.  Of course, over-the-air digital video recorders to exist, but they will cost extra.  At some point, I know my wife and I will invest in one.  I’ve been toying with the idea of rolling my own, but that will probably be a series of posts on its own!

Not sure what’s available in your area?
No problem!  Check out AntennaWeb.  The front page is a little tricky, so look for the pale blue button that says “Click Here to Start”.  That will take you to a page where you can fill in your address and some other information and get a good idea of what broadcast channels you’ll be able to pick up in your area.  Notice, though, that it depends on the antenna that you use and how high up it is.  My wife and I have noticed that height and position of the antenna really do make a significant difference regarding what you can get and how well it comes in.  Even with the fancy, amplified antennas we use.  The nice thing about this site is that it will also give you some idea of the kinds of antennas you can use to get what channels.  Though, again, we really have been pleased with the Mohu Leaf 50 so far.

But, how do you know what’s on?
You don’t get a viewing guide on-screen with over-the-air broadcasts.  But, there are plenty of places to find what’s playing in your area.  My wife’s favorite is TitanTV.  You can sign up for a free account that will let you save your preferences and customize settings for your location or locations.  It’s a pretty comprehensive listing and you may not get all the channels.  (In fact, the listings include cable channels so, under the premise that you’re cutting cable like we are, you definitely won’t need all the listings they provide.)  Also, they have an app for your phone, so you can have a handy guide to what’s currently on TV in your hand and don’t need to be logged into your computer for that.
Two of my wife’s favorite broadcast channels are Antenna TV and MeTV, both of which play re-runs of old, syndicated television.  Antenna TV is going to start playing the old Tonight Show from when Johnny Carson was on it in January of 2016!

Notice, that both of the last listed websites advertise some over-the-air DVR systems.  I can’t vouch for any of those, yet, but I know I’ll be looking into them in more depth eventually.  So far, the one thing we do miss a little, is our DVR and the option to rewind the last couple of minutes of broadcast to catch what someone was saying when we weren’t paying close enough attention.  It’s not a big loss, but I know I’ll have to address it eventually.

Also, I’d like to note that if you don’t get a lot of channels right away, try moving your antenna around a bit.  We did that and, after rotating one of ours 90 degrees to a different wall, we got 30 more channels that we did initially.  We had to “upgrade” our antenna cable from the 16 foot cable that it came with to a 25 foot coax cable, but for about a $10 investment, it was totally worth it to add some stations that we hadn’t been getting.

6/5/2015

Hurricane Preparedness

Filed under: Calamity, Cataclysm, and Catastrophe,Dog and Pony Shows,News and Current Events,Red Herrings,The Network Geek at Home — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:00 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

Hurricane season started on Monday, June First. Are you ready?

Here in Texas, hurricane season is kind of a big deal.  Or, at least, it is to this kid from the Heartland.  Of course, most of the time, we have plenty of time to prepare because you see these things coming from a long, long way off.  Still, it’s better to be prepared early rather than competing with everyone for bottled water, bread and canned food.

So far, since I’ve been in…
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7/18/2014

Photography Link Grab Bag

Filed under: Art,Fun,Movies,Red Herrings — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:00 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

Since I start my new day job this coming Monday, I’m slacking a little and just sharing some kind of random links about basic photographic technique.

One of the things you see a lot of photographers do, especially if they want to “go pro” and shoot portraits, is something called “seamless paper”.  Basically, it’s a huge, long roll of colored paper that you tape up to a wall or hang from a pole to get a smooth, uninterrupted, but still plain…
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4/22/2014

WordPress – Blogging, CMS and more

Filed under: Never trust a Network Admin with a screwdriver — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:17 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a Third Quarter Moon

So, my “Tools for Tuesday” posts are getting a bit more challenging for me time-wise and quality-wise.

That’s why I missed last week, actually.  I was just too busy to get a good review post done and shared in time.  And, I think maybe it’s time I start scaling that feature back, just a bit, to one post every other week.  I hope it will let me maintain both the quality and quantity of “Tools for Tuesday” posts.

And, now that bit of house-keeping is out of the way, on with the big show!WordPressThreePointNine-2
Or, at least the main post.  This week, I’m sharing something that is probably familiar to many, if not most, of my readers; WordPress.  WordPress is the blogging software that I use to run this blog, not to mention my other old blog at Fantasist.net, as well as the entire site at JKHoffman.com and my wife’s site at OrganizingDecorator.com.  It will also be what I use to run two other projects that I’m working on developing, Find My Photographer and Find My Decorator.
As you fellow devotees know, this past week saw the release of WordPress 3.9, but I’ve been using this free, open source software since version 1.2!  Before that, I used MovableType like many early bloggers, but with their “great license debacle”, many of us jumped ship and found our way to WordPress.  I know one reason I, personally, chose to go that route was because the lead developer of the project is Matt Mullenweg, who happens to hail from Houston, where I live currently.  I liked the idea that I might run into him at one of the local computer groups that were around at the time.  I never did, but I did go to DEF*CON with someone he used to play in a band with back in 2012.

In any case, I’ve used WordPress for a long time, especially in “internet years”.
Back in the day, it was really only a blogging platform, but it was super easy to setup and maintain.  And, perhaps more importantly to me, especially back then, it was easy to extend.  I haven’t written any plugins lately, but WordPress is so easy to use and code for that even I could write add-ons for it.  I’ve even done some pretty significant modification of themes, and anyone who knows me knows that I’m about as far from a designer as you can get.
WordPressThreePointNineSince those early days, though, WordPress has really grown up!  Now, not only can it handle simple blogging, but it can run your whole site.  There are detractors, of course, who say that it’s not really a full-featured content management system, but they’re wrong.  WordPress has built-in features that make running an entire site easy, like the ability to set a static home page and super-simple page management.  Add to that a completely customizable appearance through themeing, limited only by the designer’s vision and ability and you can see why WordPress runs about 19% of the internet and has been downloaded at least 46 million times.  But, what’s even better is that there are so many people doing add-on development in one for or another that there is a theme, widget or plug-in that will pretty much do anything else you could want that’s not already rolled in.  And that’s really saying something because WordPress “ships” with a pretty robust gallery and media management system already rolled into it.  Other important features include good, reasonably secure user management, a commenting system and an easy to use interface.  Granted, the interface is always being worked on and improved, so it’s always changing, but it’s never been a distraction for me.

WordPressFourPointZeroOther features include autosave, spell check, automatic upgrading, built-in plugin installation, sticky posts, comment threading/paging/replies, bulk management of posts and comments, image editing, a Trash/Undo feature, bulk plugin and theme updating, a multi-site option allowing multiple custom blogs to be run from the same installation, it comes in at least 70 languages and it’s even pretty optimized for search engines!  But, it think what matters most to me is that WordPress has a huge community around it, supporting it going forward, developing for it and making it better, even though it’s free.  I can download the latest version of this beauty any time I want, install it on the webserver of my choosing, and make my voice heard on the internet.  I can build with it or I can build on it to make it do whatever I need or want and anything I create with it is all mine.  No one owns a piece of it and, as long as I write my own posts and pages, I keep and maintain all rights to all the data that I shove into it.  That’s pretty incredible when you think about it.

And, yes, it really is easy to install and use, so if you’re thinking about starting a website, I highly recommend using WordPress to do it.  Don’t listen to the nay-sayers that claim WordPress isn’t up to the task either, because a lot of really incredible websites use WordPress.  You can check some out at the WordPress Showcase.  You might be surprised at some of the high-profile sites that you have already been to that use WordPress!  All that power can be yours, too, if you just take the time to download, install and use WordPress!

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