Diary of a Network Geek

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


Wallpaper From Above

Filed under: Art,Fun,Fun Work,Photography — 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 Crescent

Or, better living through data mining satellite imagery.

I’m not a big fan of the goofy, “Web 2.0”, startup-app naming convention that drops vowels out of words to make domain names, but, in this case, I’m going to make an exception.  Mostly because it’s free, but also cool, in spite of the name.  Besides, since WLPPR relies on freely available satellite imagery gathered by scientific agencies funded by the U.S. government, I figure we all have this one coming.
What it is, is a website that gathers up some of the most beautiful, and pretty abstract, images shot from far, far above the Earth and crops them to the right size for you smart phone’s wallpaper.  (That’s where the vowel-less name comes from; WaLlPaPpeR, get it?)
The site gives you the previews and there’s a link to the app for your iPhone, with an Android app in development.  The iPhone app is free, too, by the way.

So, hey, why not check it out and pretty up your phone with government data your tax dollars already bought?
And, have a great weekend!

This post originally appeared at Use Your Words.


Writing Science Fiction for the Government

Filed under: Art,Fiction,Fun,News and Current Events,Things to Read — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:06 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Gibbous

Yeah, it’s kind of a mind-bender, isn’t it?

So, the few regular readers who are left at this sad, old, mostly-neglected blog know that I’m a big fan of science-fiction.  And, when I have time, I read a lot.  Granted, since college I think I read more non-fiction than fiction, but, still, I manage to hammer away at it and more than exceed the national average of three to four books per year.  Also, I tend to think of myself as a bit of an amateur futurist.  By that I mean that I like to look at news stories and speculate on just where that particular trend is headed and what it will mean for us in the future.  As it turns out, the U.S. government has similar leanings.
Now, I’ve heard stories about how they gathered together some great sci-fi authors of the moment to brain storm some alien invasion defense ideas, but, frankly, that’s old hat and, well, kind of boring to me.  I mean, I think the alien invasion thing is kind of played out now, don’t you?  What’s far more interesting to me is a recent story from Wired about science-fiction book pitches to assorted U.S. Government agencies.  Apparently, the government can be more forward thinking than you might imagine from more recent news and a number of agencies have solicited book pitches from science-fiction authors based on the agencies’ area of specialty.  Yes, basically what I’m saying is they were looking for propaganda pieces cleverly disguised as sci-fi novels.
And, shockingly, some of them actually sounded like they might be good.  Imagine, your tax dollars finally put to good use; writing compelling, new science-fiction!

In any case, it’s Friday and you’re bored, so why not go check it out?  You might be surprised by who pitched what to the government!


Change Your Passwords!

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Geek Work,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 6:35 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a New Moon

Yeah, yeah, happy New Year to you you, too, now, go change your passwords.

No, seriously, change your passwords.  Think about how long it’s been since  you either setup that account or changed the password on it.  Now, consider that there have been some significant security breaches in the past year, including the issues at Gawker and their family of popular websites, and think about how many places you’ve used that same password.  It’s your favorite one, right?  The one you use for all your accounts, because it’s so, so easy to remember?  Guess what, it’s also probably easy to crack and is probably in a database on some hacker/cracker website right now matched up with the e-mail address you used, too.  How long will it be, do you suppose, before someone gets into all your accounts?

So, go change your passwords.
Not sure how to pick a good one?  Well, if you trust the U.S. Government for security, you can go to their Computer Emergency Readiness Team (aka US-CERT) for advice on choosing a secure password.  If you’re like me, though, you categorically do NOT trust a government agency for your personal security, in which case I recommend that you check out premier security expert Bruce Schneier’s advice for picking a secure password.

I’ll offer two bits of advice on the topic.
First, if any system lets you, choose a password that includes numbers and special characters, not just letters.  The example I always use is “@2brutus”  And, yes, that means I will NEVER again use that as a password. *sigh*  I like to substitute numbers for letters which resemble them, like the number one instead of the letter L or the letter I.  In the example, I’ve taken a  whole word out “et” and substituted the “at” symbol, or “@”.
Secondly, try to use something that is not a single word, but a phrase.  Again, in the example, I took my bastardization of “et tu brute”, which I remembered as “et tu brutus” and mashed it up a bit.  I have known people who use short sentences, however.  One guy I worked with occasionally used lines from Lewis Carroll’s [amazon_link id=”0810911507″ target=”_blank” ]Jaberwocky[/amazon_link], which adds the extra security of words that will most likely never be found in any standard dictionary of any language.

So, trust me on this, if you haven’t done it, start the new year right and change your passwords.

Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"Real happiness is when you marry a girl for love and find out later she has money."


Review: Edge of Darkness

Filed under: Fun,Movies,Review — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:53 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous


Originally uploaded by Network Geek

I saw Edge of Darkness Friday night.

You know, as many movies as I see in a year, I still wish I had time to see more. Especially right now when there are so many great films out.  And, this is one of them.
I don’t read thrillers much or mysteries, but I do love a good mystery/thriller movie.  That’s what this is, a thriller.

Edge of Night stars Mel Gibson as, Thomas Craven, a Boston Police detective who is a widower who lives for the job, and his adult daughter.  The movie opens with Gibson’s character picking her up from the train as she’s coming home for a visit.  Before they can enjoy each other, though, she starts to get violently ill, vomiting blood and hemorrhaging blood from her nose.  As they leave out the front door to rush to the hospital, a masked man guns down the young woman.  It’s assumed that he was actually after Craven for some old case, but not everything is what it may seem on the surface.

His daughter worked for a contractor with a government security contract, but she won’t talk about it because of her contract, not even to her father.  So, after she’s killed and things start to point toward something not on the up-and-up, one of the places he goes to try and figure things out is his daughter’s work.  Turns out they make radioactive ordinance, and other things, for the U.S. government.  They also seem to be run by a psychotic megalomaniac who’s so narcissistic and lacking in empathy that Craven is suspicious of him almost on sight.
Before Craven gets too far into his investigation, he’s approached by an unidentified agent who steers him toward key people and gives him insightful advice about how to proceed.  It’s unclear who’s side this man is on, pretty much throughout the movie, even through the very end.  It is clear, however, that he’s dangerous, but still surprisingly moral, considering the other people involved in mystery.

It turns out Craven’s daughter was suspicious that something wasn’t right at her company and, after exhausting all legal avenues open to her, hooks up with a crazy environmental group who try to expose dangerous and illegal goings there.  She helps them sneak into the labs where she works so they can gather the evidence they need to bring her employer to justice.  The only problem is, they don’t survive the attempt.
Naturally, this all comes out during Craven’s investigation and, as a father trying to avenge his deceased daughter, he pulls out all the stops and crosses all barriers to get the answers he needs.  That’s where the action comes in.

Now, to tell you more might ruin the plot, but it’s a living, breathing conspiracy that goes all the way up.  Craven is just a Boston cop with nothing left to lose who goes out looking for answers, and Mel Gibson plays him well.  There is an interesting cast of characters, each with their own agendas, and each played by interesting actors.  The end result is a fast-paced, intriguing and action-packed film.  It does keep you guessing, though not on all the points, and yes, even I was surprised by the ending.  I won’t go into details, so that the film still works for you, but, rest assured, the people who need to be punished are, and justice is served, after a fashion.

The acting is good, solid, no-nonsense stuff and everyone is on their game in this one.  It’s gritty and violent, but it’s about a man seeking justice above all things.  A man driven to solve the murder of his only daughter and the center of his life.  It grips you and doesn’t let you go until the credits roll.
Probably not in the top ten films of the decade, but a good, solid film well worth getting out to see.  Gibson is really good as the hardened cop, even if he seemed to have a bit of a problem maintaining that Boston accent.  I suppose we can forgive an Australian for not being all that great at a very specific American regional accent.  And, really, that’s the weakest part of the film.  Everything else, well, just works.

So, if you’ve got the time, Edge of Night is definitely worth seeing.


Review: Julie And Julia

Filed under: Art,Life, the Universe, and Everything,Movies,Review — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:40 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Gibbous


Originally uploaded by Network Geek

I saw Julie and Julia Friday with my usual movie-viewing pal.

I love movies and see as many as I can in any given year, a fact that regular readers know quite well. And, yes, I tend to enjoy more than the usual action thrillers you might suspect a guy like me would favor. Really, romantic comedies are mostly my favorite. Now, I wouldn’t quite classify Julie and Julia as a rom-com, but that’s closer than almost anything else.

It was a cute film, but a good one. The movie is really two parallel stories, one following Julia Child as she discovers French cooking and becomes the famous chef and teacher we all know, and the other following Julie, who blogs about a year of cooking every recipe in Julia Child’s famous book Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The two stories work surprisingly well together for a number of reasons. For one thing, both women are trying to “find themselves”, each in their own way. They’re both trying to “fix” their lives and they both try to do it through cooking.

Of course, the stories are vastly different in many ways; location, time, people. None of those are the same. But, the universal problem of defining, or redefining, who we are as human beings is what drove both women to seek a way to become someone new. And, each in their own way, that’s just what they did.

Julia was married to a man who worked for the U.S. government, though, they had met during World War 2 when they both worked for the O.S.S. Yes, that’s right, Julia Child was a spy. Oh, they joke about her being a file clerk, but she was quite a bit more than that. Incidentally, that’s something to keep in mind when seeing the movie as it will open up a couple small, inside jokes for you. But, at the time, the 1950’s, diplomat’s wives were expected to be little more than busy and social, which, as you might imagine didn’t sit well with Julia. So, she tried a number of things, before finally finding cooking in Paris, where she and her husband were stationed. The rest of her story follows the history of how she came to co-author Mastering the Art of French Cooking and, well, and become famous.

Julie’s story is a little different.
She’s about turn thirty and feels like all her friends are far more successful than she. She’s a writer, who seems to have a hard time getting published. It’s a character and situation to which I can deeply relate. She toils away in a cubicle feeling under-appreciated and unfulfilled. So, to fight her way back to a bit of control over some aspect of her life, and with the encouragement of her husband, she decides to cook her way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking in a single year and keep a blog of her adventures along the way.
The effort changes her life in more ways than she could have ever expected. And, that, to me is the aspect of both stories that tie them together and made the movie good.

Both women discovered that life is an adventure. An adventure that happens in small increments on a daily basis. Those small moments that we meet with no fanfare or crowd which change us in some small way, over and over again, are what make life both interesting and worth living. But only if we pay attention to them and look for them.
To me, that was the message of the movie and why I recommend that you see it. If you’ve missed it in the theater, rent it. It’s a nice, little movie and I think you’ll enjoy it.

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