Diary of a Network Geek

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

9/21/2018

Explore the Universe From Your Desktop

Filed under: Art,Fun — 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 Waxing Gibbous

Fly around the universe, virtually, from your Windows desktop.

Yes, sadly, this is for Windows users only. I try to make these posts as universally appealing as possible, but, sometimes, what I’m offering up is specific to an operating system and just too good to pass up. This is one of those.
Now, of course, I’m a big science-fiction geek and I love the fantasy of zooming through space to other planets and star systems. I suppose it has something to do with growing up watching Star Trek or seeing the original Star Wars (ie. Episode IV) in the theater as a little kid. Whatever the reason, I’ve never gotten past the idea that I’d like to leave Earth and discover the wonders of the universe like the captain of my very own interstellar craft. Sadly, the laws of physics are working against me on realizing that dream. So, until then, I’ll have to just explore the universe with my imagination. Thankfully, according to Lifehacker, there’s a desktop program called SpaceEngine that will help me do just that. If you head over to SpaceEngine.org, you can download the app for free. It’s huge, so it will take some time, but it’s worth it. You may get some warnings from your antivirus when you try to download it, but I found that the fifth “mirror”, which was a Google drive space, seemed to be okay. Once you have it installed, you can soar off to distant stars and planets and let the wonders of our universe wash over you. Frankly, it seems like the perfect escape for a Friday afternoon, especially if you’re reading this blog instead of working.
You’ll want to make sure to read the manual and be patient with the program, though, it is still in beta, after all.
So, check it out and come see what I have for you next week!

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words!

3/12/2018

An OS Inside An OS

Filed under: About The Author,Better Living Through Technology,GUI Center,Linux,Never trust a Network Admin with a screwdriver,The Network Geek at Home,Things to Read — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is in the early morning or 7:55 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Crescent

As you might have guessed from the title of this blog, I’m a geek. In fact, I’m actually a professional geek. Rumor has it, being a geek is cool now. I’ll get back to you on that.
In any case, one of the ways my geek has expressed itself is in early support for Linux.  I’ve used Linux, one way or another, for more than twenty years.  It’s hard to believe, but it’s true.  What’s more, I’ve been Linux certified for more than ten years!  Strange but true!  I don’t use Linux as my main operating system, though, because I live in the real world, not a Techno-Libertarian Utopia.  And, yes, that means, I use Windows.  At home, it’s Windows 10, because that’s what came installed on the laptops I got for my wife and I while I was a highly-paid contractor in 2016 and we were refreshing all our electronics.  But, much to my surprise, there’s a way to run both Windows and Linux, together on the same machine!  Without having a dual-boot system!  Thanks to an article from the Linux Journal, which almost went the way of the dinosaurs last year, I have activated Windows Subsystem for Linux, which is ONLY available on Windows 10, and then installed Ubuntu, which is free, from the Microsoft Store.  The little screen-shot at the top of this post is Ubuntu, running in its own, little window, on my Windows 10 laptop.

This is exciting!
Now, I can brush up my bash scripting by setting up a series of rsync jobs to keep my two Western Digital MyCloud drives in sync, essentially backing one up to the other.  From the literature, I had thought that was built into the models I got, but it wasn’t.  I tried to use SSH to get that setup directly on the MyCloud devices, since they’re running some limited *nix kernel, but something about the way they were configured made connecting one directly to the other and running rsync from working “as expected”.  This, though, should get me around all that.
Now, all I have to do sort out the syntax for properly mounting the Windows shares I’ve set up in the Ubuntu virtual machine app.  So, I’m not 100% there yet, but this is a great start!

 

10/10/2014

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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11/15/2011

Some Linux Distros to Know

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Career Archive,Geek Work,Linux,Novell — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Rooster which is in the early evening or 6:40 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

There are a lot of Linux distributions.

No, really, I mean there are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of Linux distributions out there.
Frankly, it can get a little overwhelming sometimes.  But, I think about them and what they all are and what they do.  I think about them because it’s my job, and because I’m always thinking about what’s coming next in the IT industry.  So, what Linux installs do I think about?  Funny you should ask….
I think about Android.  Yeah, that’s right, the operating system that runs those Droid phones is a kind of Linux.  That’s kind of amazing to me, really, but there it is.  And, I think about it because Android seems to be on more and more devices these days.  Everything from phones to tablets to who knows what next in the consumer market.  But, I try to pay attention to Android because so many people at my office have Android based phones and they all expect me to help them figure their phones out.
I think about Fedora, which is the open source version of Red Hat, which enjoyed pretty good market penetration when they first got going.  They’ve got a lot more competition today, but, still it’s in an IT professional’s best interests to be at least familiar with Fedora.
That goes for openSUSE, too.  openSUSE was bought out by Novell some time ago, so there’s no telling where it’s going to end up with all the buying and selling around Novell’s bits and pieces these days, but it’s still a pretty heavily installed Linux distribution.  My brief experience with it was good, though, I have to admit, that was on older hardware for a personal project, not a corporate gig.
If you’re an Oracle shop, you’ll probably know about Oracle Linux, which is basically Red Hat Linux after Oracle has made modifications to it.  Oh, and jacked the price up.  Still, if you work with Oracle a lot, it’s probably worth looking into.
Eweek recently ran a slidwshow about these, and several other, versions of Linux under the title 10 Linux Distros Every IT Manager Should Know.  Obviously, I agree with some of their listing, but clearly not all.  And, I think they left some off.

For instance, what about the live CD editions?
Two I think anyone in IT should know are Ubuntu and Knoppix.  Knoppix has been around a longer, but Ubuntu has a slicker interface and, I think, is a little better at detecting hardware than Knoppix.  Also, you can install Ubuntu from the live CD media, if you would like, and plenty of people do run it as a desktop.  The real plus is that there’s a pretty healthy community around these two installations, especially Ubuntu.  So, if you need help with either one, there are a lot of resources on the internet to answer your questions.
I use these two all the time to recover data of damaged installs of Windows.  I even used one to build a PC imaging system before I started using Clonezilla, which is also, incidentally, based on Linux.

If you’re worried about security, Linux can help with that, too.
For quite some time, the National Security Agency has sponsored SELinux, which is a pretty secure, hardened version of Linux.  They designed it to be reasonably secure right as a default, since an insecure default install is usually where security problems start.  Of course, you may not trust the NSA.  And, while this is “sponsored” by them, it’s not actually an official US Government Linux install.
For that, you have to go to the US Airforce.  Their Lightweight Portable Security distro is the first official US Linux distribution.  I haven’t actually tried it myself, but ZDNet has a pretty good review of it.

So, as you can see, if you haven’t looked into Linux much before, there are a lot of things to investigate.  And, as a computer professional, I DO recommend that you check out at least some flavor of Linux.  It’s so prevalent and so flexible and handy to have that if you haven’t bumped into it yet, you will.  So before you need to know it, investigate it some on your own.  You’ll be glad you did.
(And, I’m sure every seasoned IT pro has their favorite distro, like Debian, but there are too many to list them all.  If you have opinions about any, please, leave comments!)


Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"You can't go back and have a brand new start, but anybody can start now and have a brand new end."

10/31/2011

The Worst Kind of Cross-Platform Porting

Filed under: Apple,Linux,News and Current Events,Rotten Apples,The Dark Side — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Rooster which is in the early evening or 6:58 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

Hackers are porting Linux viruses (virii ?) to OS X.

Last week Monday, ZDNet reported that hackers have ported code for a trojan from Linux to Apple’s OS X.  For those of my readers who don’t know what a trojan is I’m referring to a malicious program that opens the door for other, usually even worse, programs to come into the infected operating system, like the Greeks did in the classic stratagem known as the Trojan Horse.  It hasn’t been seen in the wild yet, but apparently the C source code for this has been available for quite some time.

Frankly, I’m surprised that this doesn’t happen more often than it does.  In the old days, virus writers had to really know something because they used assembly to create them.  Now, with Windows and all the other object-oriented programming languages filled with bloated libraries of programming calls, along with the availability of existing code on the internet, they hardly have to know anything to write fairly nasty malware.  And, as I’ve mentioned before, as Apple laptops become more popular, more malware will start to show up there.  I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before they figure out how to infect iPads and iPhones, too, if they haven’t already.

I hate people like this.
I spent most of my day today cleaning a malware infection off a machine.  This little bugger had not only disabled the Windows Task Manager, which is pretty common these days, but it also cleaned out the Start Menu, including all the built-in things like the link to Control Panel and My Documents and all those things on the right side of the Windows XP default Start Menu.  But, it also flagged most of the drive as Hidden and System, making it even more difficult to load the software I used to clean it.  I had to go into Safe Mode just to get the system clean enough to restart into Safe Mode with Networking so I could update Malwarebytes, which is what I eventually used to get rid of the beastie.   (I used Spybot Search and Destroy to keep the malware from loading to make the machine useable with networking support so I could update Malwarebytes, incidentally.)
So, yeah, these slimeballs keep me in a job, but, really, I’d appreciate it if they stopped helping me stay employed.  I promise I can find plenty of other things to do!

So, look lively out there people!  Be suspicious of what you download and click on!

UPDATE:  Apparently, this has been found out in the wild now.  And, according to TechWorld, it has a purpose; to use your system to generate BitCoins for it’s evil masters.  Very clever.  Nasty, but, still, very clever.

5/3/2011

Mac OS X Not “Safe”

Filed under: Apple,Geek Work,MicroSoft,News and Current Events,Rotten Apples,The Dark Side — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Rooster which is in the early evening or 6:02 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

The myth of an operating system that is somehow safe from virii or malware is being busted.

No, seriously, I know all you Mac users are always bragging about how much more safe your operating system is because there isn’t any malware written to attack it.  I hear it all the time.  Well, guess what kids?  You’re wrong.  There is at least one OS X Crimeware Kit, in the wild.  And, really, that’s just the one that we’ve seen lately.  If researchers have found one, there are probably others.  And, I know that there are other exploits in the wild, too.  Not as many, sure, but they are out there.  And, thanks to you all bragging about how you’re safe and being all fan-boy about your OS and telling all your friends how great it is, you’re making OS X a more and more attractive target all the time.
Remember, the reason that Windows has so many exploits written for it is because it’s installed on so many computers.  It’s marketing, really.  Where’s the biggest potential market for software?  Right, on the biggest installed base of whatever the popular operating system is.  Now, if you were a virus writer, what would you write a virus to run on?  Same thing.  So, as markets expand, so will the exploits.

Brace yourself.  The world is changing.

10/13/2010

A little about RAID

Filed under: Geek Work,Linux — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Dog which is in the evening time or 8:52 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

I spent two days trying to teach someone just part of this once.

Now, you may think my failure in this regard is due to me being a bad teacher.  Sadly, it was not.  Two other people, one of whom I had already taught about RAID, and more specifically, SCSI RAID configurations, couldn’t teach this to my failed student either.  Shockingly, when I was “encouraged to find other opportunities to excel”, outside that company, naturally, that student took over my job.  Oddly enough, a few years later, I heard the person who had made that organizational choice had also been encourage to find other opportunities to excel.  Funny how that works.

So, now, in part to make up for not being able to educate that person, and also to spare someone the same teaching fate I faced, here are two articles about RAID.
First, from ExtremeTech, RAID 101, Understanding Multiple Drive Storage.
And, secondly, from TechRepublic, Choose A RAID Level that works for you!

You can go to those articles and get lots of detail, but I’ll break it down for you in brief here.
Something that people tend to forget, for some reason, is that RAID stands for Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks.  That’s not as true as it used to be, thanks to server pricing and how cheap SATA drives have become compared to SCSI drives.  Back in the day, we always used SCSI and I still do for server systems, mostly, because it tends to be faster and more reliable than anything else.  That’s not as true as it used to be thanks to improvements in SATA, but if you still want to do a BIG array of disks, SCSI is pretty much the only real option.
There are a bunch of RAID “levels”, but, realistically, you’re mostly going to deal with three or four: RAID 0, RAID 1, RAID 5 and, maybe, RAID 10.

RAID 0 is generally referred to as “disk striping”.
In a nutshell, what this configuration does is stripe data across multiple drives.  Generally, this is done to make more available disk space and improve performance.  The down-side is that there is no redundancy.  In other words, with RAID 0, you can take several disks and make them perform like one larger, faster drive, but if one disk crashes, they all do.

RAID 1 is generally referred to as “disk mirroring.”
And, that’s essentially what it is, a system which saves everything to a duplicate drive or drives.  Most often in server configurations, you’ll find the operating system on two drives that are mirrored.  That means that if one drive goes bad, the admin can reconfigure the other drive to take over running the server.  In theory, this works pretty well.  In practice, it takes a little finagling sometimes to get that mirror drive reconfigured as the primary.  The other thing to remember is that the second drive is essentially lost storage.  In other words, if you put two 1 terabyte drives in a RAID 1 array, you only have 1 terabyte of available storage when the system is running.
This is pretty much bare-bones, bottom-of-the-barrel redundancy.

RAID 5 is what most people think of when you talk about RAID arrays.
In RAID 5, data bits and “pairity” bits are striped across three or more drives.  Basically, data is broken up and written to multiple drives and then another, sort of “record-keeping” bit of data is written, too, so that the RAID 5 system knows where all the pieces of the data are.  Now, that’s a bit of an oversimplification, but, what it means is that if one of the drives in a RAID 5 array fails, the array keeps running and no data is lost.  Also, when a replacement drive is put into place, the RAID 5 array automatically rebuilds the missing drive on the replacement!  This, my friends, is like system administration magic!  Somehow, with a lot of really big math, that I frankly don’t understand, they can tell what the missing bit is based on the stuff they do have and fill it in.  This is the best invention since sliced bread!
Also, an option on many RAID 5 systems is something called the “hot spare”.  The hot spare is a drive that is part of the array but not active, until one of the other drives fails.  Then, the hot spare becomes active and will automatically start to rebuild the missing data on that new drive.  That means that the system admin and order a new replacement drive at their leisure and actually schedule down-time to replace it.  What a concept!  Not always doing things at the last minute or under fire, but planning ahead and taking your time.  It’s unheard of!
Finally, the best option available on many RAID arrays is the “hot swapable” drive.  In that case, you don’t need to schedule downtime at all, but only need to pull the damaged drive out of the array and pop the replacement right in.  All without even shutting the production system down for even a minute!  Again, this is like magic!

The last “common” RAID level is RAID 10.
Basically, this is a combination of RAID 1 and RAID 0.  In other words, it’s a set of mirrored arrays.  This setup requires at least four drives and is fairly pricey.  It’s mainly used for redundancy and speed and, realistically, is almost only used for database servers.  In fact, I can’t think of any other instance that I’ve heard of this being used, outside of database servers.

There are other levels, too, of course, but you can hit the articles for more info about them.  They’re pretty uncommon outside of really high-end or experimental configurations of one kind or another.
Oh, one last thing…  RAID can be implemented either via hardware or software.  In general, software RAID, such as you might find in Linux, is cheaper, but is slower and more prone to having issues if something goes wrong.  Hardware RAID is faster, a little more expensive, but a far more robust solution.

So, there you have it, RAID in a nutshell.
And, yes, for those of you who have noticed, articles like this are me turning this blog back toward its roots as a technical blog.  I hope to have more basic info like this as well as some new projects over the next 18 months or so.  Certainly, more than there have been in the past two or three years.
I hope you’ll keep coming back for more!

9/26/2010

Windows Password Recovery Tools

Filed under: Fun,Fun Work,Geek Work,GUI Center,MicroSoft,The Dark Side,The Network Geek at Home — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Horse which is around lunchtime or 1:44 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

Remember, these are “administrator utilities” not “hacker tools”.

In my business, it pays to make the distinction.
When people call me for help outside the office, the calls usually fall into a couple categories; a virus, a slow computer, a lost password and “how do I do X?”  Sadly, I’ve been doing a lot of virus and spyware removal, but, also, lately, I’ve had a couple of “lost password” calls.  I actually love getting those, for a couple reasons.
First, lost passwords are surprisingly easy to recover if you have physical access to the machine.  It’s funny to me how few people get that.
Secondly, I find recovering passwords fun.  In a way, it was one of the first things that drew me into the business.  I was one of those guys who got hooked by the security bug not by War Games, but by Sneakers.  Yeah, I know, most guys my age especially will tell you it was War Games that really got them hooked.  What can I tell you?  I’ve always been kind of a late bloomer.  And, my dirty, little secret is that after seeing Sneakers, I wanted to be Marty Bishop.  Seriously.

Anyway, my recent experience with Windows password recovery requests gave me an opportunity to refresh my tools.  After Googling a bit, I found a handy About.com page titled “Top 6 Free Windows Password Recovery Tools“.  I downloaded several, most of which were based on bootable CDs of one kind or another.  I like those kinds of toolkits because they don’t require even limited access to operating system, just the ability to reboot the machine from the CD toolkit.
In the end, I tried two; 0phcrack and the Offline NT Password & Registry Editor.

Now, I’m not positive, but I’m pretty sure that 0phcrack is the free, opensource fork of l0phtcrack.  Now, for an old-timer like me, l0phtcrack was THE password cracker to have, back in the day.  Created by a group of well-known hackers, some of whom famously testified before Congress, it was not free.  At least, theoretically.  If you knew where to look, you could get copies.  And, yes, I  them.  But, this version IS free and seems like it had some improvements.
For one thing, the old version had a slightly clumsy text-based interface.  This version has a much nicer interface that seems to use X-Windows.  It’s also far more intuitive to use.  It ran pretty fast, really, though, sadly, didn’t seem to be able to crack the non-dictionary word used as a password on the Windows 7 box I was using it against.

On the other hand, the Offline NT Password & Registry Editor has been around for several years, and had several updates, though it retains the text-based interface.  I don’t remember when I used this the first time, but, so far, it hasn’t let me down in a pinch.  This time was no different.  So, yes, even though it has “NT” in the name, I’ve used it on everything from Windows 2000 through Windows 7 without a hitch.  Of course, your results may vary.  The bonus of this product is also it’s most potentially dangerous drawback; it directly edits the registry and password files.  This is dangerous, in a way, because if something goes wrong, this could, theoretically, lock you out of your machine permanently.  In practice, this has never actually happened to me.
One advantage of this utility is that you can change or simply remove the password for any active user on the system.  Also, you can use it to promote an active user to being an administrator equivalent.  Now, by “active user” what the developers mean is any account that is not disabled.  Though, I think there may be the option to activate a deactivated account.  I’m not positive, though, because I’ve never had to look for it or try to use it.  And, yes, this worked like a charm to simply blank the password on the Windows 7 machine that had apparently forgotten its own password.

So, there you have it.  Two tools to recover lost Windows passwords.
Oh, and, just a quick disclaimer here.  I’m not responsible for any damage you might accidentally do to your machines with these utilities.  Nor am I advocating using them to break into your ex-spouse’s computer to read their adulterous e-mail to their lover.
I’m just sayin’….

7/10/2009

Custom Bootable Ubuntu CD

Filed under: Fun,Fun Work,Geek Work,Linux — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:07 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

So, last month, I was talking about rolling your own distro.  This week, it’s rolling your own LiveCD.

Over at TechRepublic, they ran an article on using some tools built into Ubuntu to make your own, custom Ubuntu LiveCD.  For those of you not in the know, a “LiveCD” is a bootable version of an operating system, in this case Linux, that will run from the CD without installing on the workstation.  It’s a great way to try out a new operating system or bring a portable, emergency software toolkit with you without damaging or changing a PC.

The tool, for my fellow wireheads, is called Reconstructor and the article pretty well takes you through step-by-step on how to do it.  Well worth the read if you’re a Linux geek, most especially if your distro is Ubuntu.

12/18/2008

Novell Cancels BrainShare

Filed under: Career Archive,Certification,Deep Thoughts,Geek Work,Linux,MicroSoft,News and Current Events,Novell — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Snake which is just before lunchtime or 11:29 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

Whoa!

Okay, this is for the geeks, specifically for the Netware geeks, like me. Novell has canceled next year’s BrainShare. It’s not clear whether this is just due to a really bad economic situation this year, or whether this will be permanent, but, after 20 years, Novell has canceled their premier convention/training session/user-conference. It does not give me a good feeling for the future of Novell or Netware in general. (If you’re interested, you can read the actual announcement here: Novell BrainShare.)

Wow.
I’m just so shocked I’m not sure what else to say.

Netware was the first real, viable Local Area Network operating system that wasn’t UNIX or some other mainframe system. Yes, there were others, Banyan VINES, SCO XENIX, and even the early Windows Server, but none were as robust and easy to use in those early days as Novell’s Netware. And, you could load it on what was basically a high-powered desktop machine. It might not run well on that, but you could do it.
Novell was the first certification I got when I was new to the network-geek-game. Back in the day, Netware was the thing to know. Now, it seems like a dead, or dying, technology. Now, we’re all learning Linux and UNIX, which, of course, was what Netware was modeled after. Wow, the times, they are a changing.

So, if you’re a fellow network geek like me, I’d love to hear your opinions in the comments. I have to say, I’m really shocked by this news. It cannot mean good things for Novell, even if they only cancel for this year and start up again next year.

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