Diary of a Network Geek

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

4/26/2019

Government Sponsored Font

Filed under: Art,Fun,The Tools — 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 a Third Quarter Moon

Your tax dollars at work for better design!

No, seriously, this is actually US tax dollars working to develop a “better” font. Not even kidding.
Believe it or not, there’s a little something called the United States Web Design System that’s collaborative team specifically started to “…make it easier to build accessible, mobile-friendly government websites for the American public.” And, as it turns out, they have some resources that might be helpful for non-governmental web designers, too. One such is a simple font called Public Sans, which they call “A strong, neutral typeface for text or display.” Which it is, actually. It can be downloaded from their GitHub page, which further describes the font as “principles-driven” and “open-source”. It’s also a fairly nice, and free, change from Helvetica. Oh, and it includes webfonts, so you can, in fact, use it to unify your on-line and off-line branding identity.
And, again, all freely available and all brought to you, one way or another, by the United States of America Federal Government.
Sometimes, the government really IS here to help!

Enjoy!

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words!

4/23/2019

Throw Away Drives

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Never trust a Network Admin with a screwdriver,The Dark Side,The Day Job — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Rooster which is in the early evening or 7:00 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

Please, be careful.

We tend to treat USB thumb drives as essentially disposable these days, which, considering their low cost, they basically are.  At least, in one sense.  The problem is, those cheap, little drives still store an awful lot of data.  I recently read an article titled “You left WHAT on that USB drive?!” where the authors talk about several studies, formal and informal, where researchers scooped up random USB drives, either from eBay or the lost and found, to see what was on them.  The results are a little terrifying.  According to the article, “…about two-thirds of second-hand USB memory sticks bought in the US and the UK have recoverable and sometimes sensitive data. In one-fifth of the devices studied, the past owner could be identified.”  What’s more, in the case of one study, out of 200 drives, only 34 of them had been properly wiped out.  That’s just 17% of the drives.  Several had been formatted, but still had data that could be recovered off them.  Yes, that’s right, even reformatting the drives does NOT guarantee that they will be properly wiped out.

What’s more, the data that was left behind was of a very sensitive nature in many cases.  Everything from tax information to naked photos to photos of a soldier on deployment and at home, including the soldier’s address.  And, again, reformatting is not enough.  At least 8 drives out of the 200 examined had been reformatted, but had data on them that could still be recovered!  So, what can be done?
Personally, I tend to use USB drives until they absolutely don’t work at all any more, and I try not to put personal data on them in any case.
One solution is to get a USB drive that can be encrypted.  I’ve used several versions of the LaCie Imakey that includes an encrypted partition and utilities to manage it, but that doesn’t seem to be available any more.  A replacement might be the Kingston Digital Data Traveler Locker, which lets you set a password to restrict access, as well as doing hardware encryption of some kind and even backing up to the cloud in case the drive gets lost.  Granted those drives can get a little pricey, but how much does it cost to deal with the potential identity theft that lax personal security might bring?

If you have drives, USB or otherwise, that you’re looking to get rid of, then at least sanitize them before they go.  There are a lot of articles and utilities available to help you with that.  One that covers pretty much every drive you might have is How to securely erase external hard drives, SD cards, or flash drives, which details the steps as well as suggesting utilities to help you.  Now, for the most part, I assume that if you read this blog, as opposed to my other blog, Use Your Words, then you’re a geek like me and can handle more than consumer-grade procedures and software.  If that’s the case, or you’re feeling particularly brave, one great utility I’ve used is Darik’s Boot and Nuke aka DBAN.  It’s a free ISO you can download to make a bootable disk/drive that will let you securely wipe a drive before disposing of it.  It’s simple to use and free, but if you’re not comfortable burning an ISO to a disk or thumbdrive, then I’d recommend getting a more consumer-friendly product.

Either way, it’s a scary world out there to let your precious data roam free without a keeper, so be careful with those cheap, “throw away” drives.  If you’re not careful how you use them, they could get pretty expensive.


Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"Be careful about the bridges you burn, because one might turn out to be the one you later want to cross."

4/19/2019

A Conspiracy of Facts!

Filed under: Fun — 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 a Full Moon

What if “facts” are what actual “news publishers” wanted you to know?

Since the last US Presidential election, there’s been a lot of focus on “news” and “fake news” and what the difference between the two might be. Many have suggested that it’s the super vague and click-bait-able nature of the “information” being shared. I tend toward Marshall McLuhan’s idea that “We become what we behold. We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us.” At first, we responded to these eminently shareable factoids because they didn’t mean much. It was the mental equivalent of a junk-food snack. Not harmful in and of itself, but not very satisfying either. Then, because the little independents were getting more clicks and more “eyeballs”, the big boys started doing it and now, well, here we are.
But, it’s Friday and I refuse to let these thoughts curb my enthusiasm for life! So, I today I share with you the humorous and ironic Prospiracy Theories! It takes the tone of those terrible social media conspiracy posts and substitutes real, actual facts!
It’s hilarious and accurate. What could be better?

Enjoy!

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words!

2/22/2019

SEAL Training

Filed under: About The Author,Fun,Personal Care — 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 Gibbous

Get into SEAL shape!

I’m too old to join the military any more, but I still hang out with guys who are or were active duty. I love these guys, and they’ll be the first to tell you that no matter how we romanticize military service, at some point, it’s like a lot of other jobs. Yes, there are some special requirements and goals are often a lot more dangerous than other jobs, but there’s nothing magical about the military. They do a hard job and the United States military does that job better than anyone else in the world, but it’s done by regular men and women. Even our special forces, which, again, are clearly the best of the best, are regular people who have just committed to working harder, training harder, and staying in better shape than other military forces. They do that with a combination of mental toughness and rigorous, scientific physical conditioning. I think the mental toughness is something that can be learned, and possibly taught, but the majority of us just aren’t willing to be that kind of tough. But, most of us, myself included, can be in better physical shape.
There are a lot of exercise programs out there meant to get you in to “fighting shape”. Some of them are designed to get you to a gym and buy a membership. Personally, I’ve always been more motivated when I didn’t have to convince myself to drive somewhere, change and interact with strangers, so I’ve always been more of a fan of things I can do at home. And, I’m cheap, so I prefer things that don’t need me to spend a lot of money on a piece of equipment, which means mostly body-weight work and inexpensive weights like dumbbells and kettle bells. Now, again, I’m too old to enlist, and I was never in shape to compete with the top echelon of the military operators by any stretch of the imagination, but I do okay for a fifty-year-old civilian. I’ve been in better shape, for sure, but every time I go through that climb back to fitness, I end up doing what is more or less old-fashioned calisthenics. No one does that kind of simple, effective workout better than the military. So, if you haven’t given up on your New Year’s Resolution to get back into shape, here’s some help for you and it comes directly from the Official Naval Special Warfare Website. Seriously. There’s only two exercises that need a machine more complicated than a kettle bell or dumbbell and the ones that need a bench can probably get done with a chair. Either way, you could do worse than following the Official Naval Special Warfare Website training videos. They’ve got an introduction that page, and also suggest checking out the forum post Strength Training: Start Here, but also, check out Get Your Body In Shape for BUD/S with the Naval Special Warfare Physical Training Guide.
Of course, be sure to consult with a physician before significantly changing your exercise routine to make sure you aren’t about to do any damage to yourself, but most of us can stand to be a little healthier. If you admire the brave men and women of our armed forces, let them inspire and motivate you to be better. Just remember, they’re human, too, just like you. They started somewhere and only got to where they are with determination and hard work. Don’t give up!

And, next week, I’ll have some other random thing from the internet that catches my eye.

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words.

7/20/2018

The Greatest Time To Be Alive

Filed under: Fun,News and Current Events — 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 a First Quarter Moon

In many ways, the world is actually improving.

I know this isn’t my usual Friday Fun Link fare, but, frankly, with terribly depressing news media and the horrible sense of that everything good is long behind us, not to mention the dumpster fire that is U.S. politics these days, it just seemed like maybe it was time to share something that was more positive. Sure, I could have given you another simple distraction, like videos about chocolate production or the fascinating science behind flatulence, but it seemed like maybe sharing some good things that are a bit more meaningful was appropriate this week. So, here are just five ways that the world is actually showing some improvement.

1. Over the last 20 years, the proportion of people living in extreme poverty has almost been cut in half.

2. The share of homes that had electricity in 1870 was exactly zero. Today the proportion of people with electricity is 85%.  I, personally, have known two people who were born before electricity in homes was normal or common and they both said it was life-changing in ways we can’t imagine.

3. In 1800, among all babies who were ever born, roughly half died during their childhood. Life expectancy was just 30 years and no country had a life expectancy above 40. Life expectancy at birth was only 45 years in 1870. The average life expectancy around the world today is 72.

4. The violent crime rate has been on a downward trend since 1990 in the U.S. Just under 14.5 million crimes were reported in 1990. By 2016 that figure was well under 9.5 million.

5. Retirement is still is a relatively new concept. In the past most people simply worked until they died. In the year 1870, for those who lived past age 65, the labor force participation ratio for males was close to 90%. Today it’s less than 20%.

You can read 45 more ways the world is getting better at the same place I got these; 50 Ways the World Is Getting Better, by Ben Carlson.
So, this weekend, when someone starts in on how terrible things are in the world, remind them that, actually, things have gotten better in the last 100 years or so.
Next week? Back to the videos.

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words.

2/16/2018

Hacker Games

Filed under: Fun,Fun and Games,The Day Job — 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

Sounds like a good title for a book!

Except it’s not.
In my day job, I’m a professional geek. And, what I mean by that is that I work with computers for money. It seems like the vast majority of the guys my age who got into computers professionally did so because they were inspired by the movie [amazon_textlink asin=’B0011EQBOS’ text=’War Games’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’jkhoffman-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’38c6d846-0d15-11e8-a8f6-f12f91a6eb2a’]. Not me, though. I fell into it a little sideways and my interest in the computer security angle of my work came from [amazon_textlink asin=’B00WGUWDVG’ text=’Sneakers’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’jkhoffman-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’53433e58-0d15-11e8-991f-01aca75f720d’]. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be Martin Bishop? A computer geek that looks like Robert Redford and could swing sleeping with Mary McDonnell? Seriously, sign me up!
The reality is, of course, a little less sexy. Trust me. No one who looked like Robert Redford was walking around DEFCON. Though, to be fair, I did learn to pick locks sitting next to a very nice and more than moderately attractive young woman. Who, incidentally, learned lock picking faster than any guy at the table.
In any case, times have changed since the early 90’s and all the harmless exploration I did when I first got into IT is mostly illegal now. Though, I’ll never forget helping an international guest at the Hyatt Regency Chicago get remote access to her VMS and find the program she needed to run. She had authorization, of course, but no idea how to find what she needed and I was blind in a VMS system for the first time. When I get her into her program, I think she clapped and then hugged me. It was cool! And FUN! But, opportunities like that are few and far between. And, there are plenty of places that won’t hire someone who has a criminal record. So, how do you recreate that experience without risking jail time?
Wargames by OverTheWire. These fine hackers have put together more than a dozen “games” meant to test your skill at electronic breaking and entering. And, honestly, a little bit more. Each game let’s you connect to it, most often with SSH via its own, dedicated SSH port, and then let’s you go after the rest. I haven’t had the chance to do much here yet, honestly, but the OverTheWire gang suggests you start with Bandit, which is aimed at absolute beginners and consists of 27 “levels”. Each “level” gives you information to “beat” the next “level”. It sounds like fun, but, then again, I am a pretty hardcore computer geek.

So, there you go! It’s a free introduction to computer security in game form. The perfect Friday diversion for the aspiring network geek or hacker!

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words, my ironically non-computer-geeky blog!

1/26/2018

When To Buy What

Filed under: About The Author,Personal Care,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 Gibbous

Yes, you can save money by buying at the right time.

About a week ago, our dryer died. Or maybe our washing machine died. All we know is, right in the middle of a load, my wife started to smell the most horrible stench of burning electronics. She turned everything off and unplugged it all, but the fried electric smell of dead appliances lingered in the air for a couple days afterward. It was sad. But, on the other hand, that washer and dryer were over sixteen years old and, frankly, due for replacement. Actually, that’s one reason we’re not entirely sure which one became a deadly house fire potential hazard. When we refinanced our house last year, we agreed that when either of these appliances died, we would replace them both. We even set aside the money to pay for them, so that we wouldn’t go back into credit card debt after working so hard to get out from under those immoral interest rates. Sadly, they didn’t wait until the right month so that we could save money with a good sale, because the best time to buy household appliances is apparently November, especially around “Black Friday”. (Which is okay, really, because we already knew what we wanted to get and they almost never seem to go on sale.)

Are you surprised that I know there’s a good time to buy appliances? Don’t be. I only know because finance websites always seem to publish a guide to what month is best to buy what consumer good. This year, take a look at the one at Time’s Money section’s Month-by-Month Guide for the Best Time to Buy Everything. For instance, they suggest that the best time to buy a TV or other consumer electronics is the second half of January and February. Or that May might be the best time for furniture sales, which I did NOT know! In any case, if you can afford to wait and plan, you might be able to score yourself a good deal with their guide.

Good luck with your saving and spending in 2018!
(And, for those of you who are curious, we bought an American made washer and dryer; Speed Queen, though we actually got two separate units, not the combo.)

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words.

 

9/22/2017

Money from Equifax

Filed under: Red Herrings — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Horse which is around lunchtime or 1:10 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

Your credit information has likely been stolen.

As you’ve probably read in the news, or heard on telly, Equifax, one of the three largest U.S. credit bureaus, was hacked earlier this month, exposing over 143 million American’s personal information. And, trust me, no matter how bad it sounds, it is most assuredly worse than you think. What’s more, it seems like this breach was strictly due to negligence on the part of one of their system administrators, who didn’t keep up to date with patches on some of their backend software, leaving them vulnerable to the attack. But, unless you’re a professional geek like me, you probably don’t care about that. Rather, what you care about is what to do next.

Luckily, Consumer Reports has some suggestions on how to respond to the breach of your personal data, and they’re pretty good suggestions. Thankfully, since my wife and I recently refinanced our house to get out of most of our consumer debt, I have some credit monitoring already in place. If you don’t though, now is a good time to get that going. And, as always, it’s best to keep a close eye on your credit reports and bank accounts regularly. Breach or no breach, that’s just a good habit to get into these days. Identity theft is big business in the digital underworld. It’s unfortunately a “growth business”.

But, none of those are the links I’m really intent on sharing with you this week. No, this week, the very important link I have for you is via Boing Boing and it’s a chatbot that will help you sue Equifax for your loss of privacy and personal data. It’s not available for all states yet, just the ones that have class-action lawsuits filed already, but I’m sure more states will be “piling on”, as we used to say in Chicago, in the coming months. Also, the app is being hit pretty hard, as you can imagine with almost 45% of all U.S. Citizens potentially being effected by this breach. There are a lot of people that might be trying to use this chatbot!

So, hang in there and good luck! And, come back next week for something a little lighter to take your mind off the financial trouble of almost half the U.S.

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words.

7/1/2016

Fireworks Photography

Filed under: Fun,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 Waning Crescent

Seems like I end up posting about this every year. Almost like a tradition.

For those of you outside the U.S., Monday is the day we celebrate our independence as a nation by barbecuing and carousing and having parades and, most of all, by firing fireworks. All across the country this weekend, there will be fireworks displays, both large and small, and there will be photographers at every one of them with tons of gear trying to capture that exuberant feeling of freedom in an image. My personal suggestion is to just go and enjoy the show, but, if you absolutely must take photographs, check out the links below for tips before you go!

First, and always one of my favorites, are the annual Ten Tips for Photographing Fireworks from Photofocus. For most of us, these are the tips that matter most.
But, also, check out How To Photograph Fireworks at Digital Photography School. They also have ten tips, but their tips are slightly different, so definitely worth a look.
And, finally, you can never go wrong with Fireworks Photography Tips from National Geographic. Even if you are burned out on fireworks photography tips after the first two links, it’s worth following this link for the inspirational photography, if nothing else!
Or, if you’d rather just watch a video tutorial, Photofocus has updated their regular guide into a How To Shoot Fireworks video on YouTube.

Just remember, being polite to those around you while you’re trying to setup your shots will go a long way to improving everyone’s enjoyment of the spectacle. Just because you have a camera doesn’t make your viewing experience more important than anyone else’s. And, of course, be safe! Don’t get so worried about getting a good photograph that you let someone sneak up and steal your camera gear in the dark or that hot ashes from the fireworks land on your gear, or you! Safety first!
But, most of all, enjoy the Independence Day holiday and festivities and appreciate the fact that, no matter how much the NSA listens to your phone calls, we still live in a free and glorious country!
And, most of all, have a Happy Independence Day!

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words.

9/4/2015

How much money are you making?

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Fun,Life Goals,Life, the Universe, and Everything,Red Herrings — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:45 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

How much money are you making right now?

I mean, as the time ticks by, are the dollars and cents racking up? And how does the rate at which you make money compare to other people in the US?  They say that comparison is the root of all unhappiness, but, when it comes to salary and money, I don’t really know.  I mean, I hate to admit it, but I very easily lose perspective on where I fit.
I have a friend who…
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Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"A pessimist is one who makes difficulties of his opportunities; an optimist is one who makes opportunities of his difficulties."
   --Reginald B. Mansell

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