Diary of a Network Geek

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


Old School Newsletters

Filed under: Fun,News and Current Events,The Infinite Library — 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

Not so old school that they’re printed, but, still, pretty old school.

I’ve always been an email sort of guy. And, I pretty much hate the modern forums. I hate having to go to a web interface and deal with all their junk and advertising. Also, as regular readers may have noticed from my blog, I’m a pretty text-heavy sort of fella. When I started in IT, fancy interfaces were the stuff of science-fiction. We did our work in the digital uranium mines via text interfaces, and we liked it!
Okay, all joking aside, my first work with computers pre-dated both Windows and the web, and maybe I never got over the simple beauty of straight, text-based information. No real fancy formatting or anything, especially in email. I still tend to view and write email messages in plain, raw text.
In any case, back in the day, the way we shared information was the old-fashioned newsletter. And, let me tell you, there were some ultra exclusive email lists that people fought to get included on. My favorites were the slightly secret UNIX security email newsletters. It felt very, very exclusive and, as they said far too often in the movie Hackers, “elite”.

Now, mostly, that time is gone. People, including me, use blog aggregators and RSS feed readers to keep up on the latest news. But, the venerable email newsletters aren’t entirely dead. As the folks at Discover write, “There is something beautiful about the personal newsletter. We love the depth and admire writers who cover niche topics in great detail. We love the intimacy of seeing these notes arriving in our inboxes directly from our favorite authors. And we love the serenity of reading every word without being interrupted by notifications. … We often wake up in the morning, eager to check if the latest issue by our favorite author has arrived, much like we used to check the mailbox for the daily newspaper or weekly magazine in the old days.” And that sums up why I like email newsletters better than anything else. It IS like a very specialized electronic newspaper emailed to me on a regular basis. Like Dave Pell’s NextDraft, which I look forward to every week day.

So, if you’re like me and enjoy information at a slightly slower pace than firehose that is the web, check this out and subscribe to some of these personally curated newsletters.
Hope to see you back next week, and, until then, enjoy your reading!

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words.


Essential Tools for System Admins

Filed under: Geek Work,GUI Center,MicroSoft,Review — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is in the early morning or 7:09 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a First Quarter Moon

There are more free sysadmin tools for Windows than you can shake a memory stick at these days.

But, here are a few of the better collections of them.
First, from Infoworld, 15 “Essential” Open Source Tools for Windows Admins.  I’m not sure I’d say these are all essential, but they are a pretty good start.  I can only vouch for three of them on this list; Wireshark, Nmap, and ClamWin Antivirus.  Though I’m familiar with them from the Linux/Unix world, these are the Windows equivalents and they work just fine.  Old network geeks will recognize Wireshark and Nmap as a reliable packet sniffer and a security vulnerability scan tool, respectively.  You may not be as familiar with ClamWin.  It’s based on the ClamAV engine, which in its Linux boot-disk incarnation, has saved my bacon more than once!  There are a couple inventory tools in this list I plan on looking more closely at, not to mention the add-on for Nmap they talk about.  Good stuff and worth checking out!

Secondly, from TechRepublic, there’s Five Free Windows Registry Cleaners.  Again, I’ve only used two of these five; CCleaner and Wise Registry Cleaner.  CCleaner does everything I generally need in regards to shoring up old, creaky registries, but I’m always looking for new tools.  The version of Wise Registry Cleaner I used was an older one, but it worked well enough.  And, it does have the nice feature of being able to backup and restore older versions of your registry.  Believe me, that can come in handy sometimes!

Thirdly, also from TechRepublic, Five Microsoft Tools to help with Server Management.  Of these five, again, I’ve only used one; dcdiag.  Naturally, it’s the only command-line tool in the bunch.  Though, I hear Microsoft has been talking about going back to a command-line, terminal interface for their server products.  I’m a little leary of any security utility that is based on a wizard, but I have to admit, at least it’s something that might encourage Windows sysadmins to do some work at securing their servers more.  And, I have to admit, I wish I had known more about the file server migration wizard a few years ago.  It sure would have helped me more than once!

And, finally, the venerable, but ultimately useful, More Sysinternals for Windows Admins.  Now, these I’ve used quite a bit!  At least, some of them.  All the disk usage utilities have been super helpful over the years in determining who has been sucking up all the drive space on my servers!  And I’ve used PsInfo to attempt to gather information in various attempts to inventory my various networks.  And, these days, everyone will need the RootKitRevealer sooner or later.  Sadly, almost everyone has been, or will be, effected by a rootkit virus of some kind.  It seems inevitable.

So, there you go, system administrators.  There’s my gift to you in the form of links to tools to do your jobs, faster, easier and more efficiently.  Enjoy!


The Half-Life of IT Skills

Filed under: Career Archive,Certification,Geek Work — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:44 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a New Moon

There is one, apparently.

So, it seems someone has figured out the answer to an old question which has often plagued IT professionals: How long are your skills good?  According to Eric Bloom, over at IT World, longer than you think.  He claims that the tech skills you have now will be half as marketable in two years.  If you read Slashdot, you’ve seen this article and the comments that followed.  Here are my thoughts, though.

First, I think it depends on the skills involved.
For example, if you’re working on Windows Server, your skills will probably translate fairly well and that two-year half-life is about right.  For Unix, maybe a bit longer than that.  For Novell, well, sadly, I’m not sure who actually uses that old warhorse any more, as much as it makes me sad to write it.  For other, less vendor oriented skills, I think two-years may be a bit short-sighted.  Take routers, for instance.  Now basic routing hasn’t really changed in quite a long time.  Even Cisco routers, the creme-de-la-creme of enterprise routers, haven’t really changed that much on the inside in the last 15 years.  I was in one the other day and I have to admit I was shocked at how quickly the skills came back to me after quite literally years of disuse.  Far more than two years, I might add.
Also, skills that are a little harder to quantify certainly stay “fresh” longer than those hypothetical two years.  Things like troubleshooting and the so-called soft skills involved with user support are something that I think are deeply engrained in someone.  They’re part of a work ethic.  So the customer service skills I learned more than 20 years ago when I worked for Hyatt Hotels are certainly still more than “good”.

Secondly, Mr. Bloom is talking about marketability, not actual utility.
So, the fact that, for instance, I don’t have a Cisco certification, even though I’m clearly capable of configuring a Cisco router, means that quite probably was never what he would have considered a “marketable skill”.  In fact, based on what many recruiters may have felt about the marketability of my skills, I should be farming beets right now, not working as the Lead Tech/IT Manager of a fairly prosperous design and manufacturing company.  Instead, of course, all through my career, I’ve managed to talk my way through the door and then show the people in charge that versatility and adaptability, not to mention mad Google-query-crafting skills, are far more important than any specific past experience or certification.

So, what about you, gentle readers?  What do you think?  How long are tech skills “good”?  And does working on legacy systems harm your future employability?


Ten Server Tools for Over-Worked Admins

Filed under: Geek Work,GUI Center,Linux,MicroSoft — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:54 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Gibbous

Hey, I missed letting everyone know about System Admin Day this year, but, I think this will make up for it.

I’ll be honest, one of the reasons I missed that this year is because I’m so overworked and over-stressed it’s like I was married to the Queen of the Damned again!  Seriously!  I haven’t been this frazzled since my divorce!  In any case, I imagine there are a lot of other server administrators out there with less free time than they’d like, too.  So, I’m sharing a blog post from Tech Republic; 10 Must Have Windows Server Tools.  I don’t know about “must have”, but they are handy for Windows admins, anyway.   I’ll need to scout around and find something similar for Unix admins.  After all, I can’t forget my bearded brethren!

So, hope that helps free up some time for you all, but now I’ve got to get back to work!


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


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.)

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.


New Perl Scripts

Filed under: Deep Thoughts,Fun Work,Geek Work,PERL — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Monkey which is in the late afternoon or 5:59 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a Third Quarter Moon

So, I’ve been writing a bit of Perl again…

It’s kind of a long story that’s really rather boring, I think, but we’re changing e-mail providers at work again. They’ve got a new system to try and reduce spam that involves a challenge-response system and a whitelist.
For those not familiar, it works like this: The first time you send an e-mail to their servers, the anti-spam system fires back a verification e-mail to you. That e-mail verifies that you’re a human and not a spambot by asking you to click on a link. When you click the link, it adds you to the system’s whitelist and lets your e-mail through from then on. Pretty good system, actually. And, about the only way to assure virtually no spam gets through.

Well, to minimize hassle to our customers, we decided to pregenerate a whitelist of known, good e-mails. Naturally, that task fell to yours truly.
So, I turned to my old pal Perl. The mail is mostly stored in a UNIX mail format called “mbox”, which, luckily for me, is basically a flat file. It’s like a giant text file that has a lot of extra junk in it that no one but mail programs care about. So, the first thing I did was dig up code, and modifiy it, to pull all the e-mail addresses out of those mbox files. I called it “emailpull.pl“. That managed to pull all kinds of addresses. In fact, after I culled out the obviously bad address and eliminated the duplicates, I had a little over 4000 addresses.
Well, that was just a little too many for me to just dump into a whitelist without some kind of extra verification. So, I hunted around and found a handy CPAN module called “Mail::CheckUser” which is meant, you guessed it, to help check e-mail users. A little finagling with the code and I put together “emailverify.pl“. That little badboy takes a list of e-mail address, in text file form, and verifies them with the alleged e-mail host. Works like a charm!

Oh, and if you’re a Perl fan/addict/whatever, check the links to the code. They take you to a place called PerlMonks.org. They used to be the place to get code and help and, well, everything Perl related. But, you know, lately? Not so much. When I was there putting these two snippets of code up, there was a whole big bruhaha going on about membership to some internal, super-secret cabal group. And, there’s a lot of focus on getting levels and all sorts of junk like that. Which is ironic, to me, considering that Larry Wall, the guy who wrote Perl, did so in the hopes it would draw people together in harmony and spirit of helpfulness.
Ah, well, at least I got my task accomplished. Well, at least it will be by morning. That second script was still running when I left the office.

Update: That second script, when it was done running, reduced 4060 e-mail addresses down to 3255 validated e-mail addresses. Hopefully, it culled all the potential spam originators!


Some New Tools

Filed under: Career Archive,Certification,Criticism, Marginalia, and Notes,Fun Work,Geek Work,Linux,MicroSoft,Novell,The Dark Side,The Network Geek at Home — 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

If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.
–Abraham Maslow

So, I’ve been doing a lot of strange things at work the past couple of weeks. And, by strange I mean working around problems like trying to get things done without spending money. That always seems to lead me through some interesting back doors and into areas that I’ve not been before.

First, I was asked to do some browser forensics. Basically, it was supposed that a particular employee, no myself, was spending a little too much tiem on the web. I was tasked with finding how much time and where they were going. Simple enough, right? Well, I had to do it on the “down low” and without sitting at their computer. Enter, Webhistorian, by Mandiant. This utility let me grab history files and arrange them into a nice, easy-to-read report that told me where, when and how long my intended target was spending time on the web. That combined with a drive mapped to the administrative share on his computer showed… That he was actually relatively innocent. Yeah, he went to some sports websites, but only first thing in the morning and at lunchtime. Nothing worth firing him over, at any rate.

Next, there was a more, um, general security question. And, okay, it wasn’t actually at work, but it’s good to know for work. A friend thought her computer might have been inadvertantly used in the comission of a crime by a “guest” and asked me to check it out. I can’t go into details because of pending legal action, but I decided to let her take it to the proper authorities first, in case I were to mess up any evidence. Once they’re satisfied, however, I’ll take a look at it. And, thanks to another blog I read, I’ll be using something called Helix.
I have read the aforementioned blog, A Day In The Life Of An Information Security Officer, for, well, years, actually. Mostly, it’s just an interesting diversion, but sometimes, I get good ideas from the posts and case files. This time, the new tool came from the comment section. Helix was suggested by another faithful reader. It’s a bootable, “live cd” Linux distribution. It’s also free, which is one of my main criteria for the tools I use.

I also had to clone a giant Windows XP disk this week. I tried a number of utilities, including Symantec’s Ghost, but it was another Linux distro that saved me. This time, I used Knoppix. Also a bootable, “live cd” distro which is available free from the Internet. I found the command by accident while searching for something else, but I also discovered there are other ways to clone a cd via Knoppix. My Google search turned up several HowTo documents. There was one on Knoppix.net’s forums, another on Linux.com and a third on Just Linux. I used the third method first, which turned out to not work so well at all. Something to do with XP and how finicky it is about hardware and booting, I suspect. So, I finally moved on to the appropriately named NTFSClone. I still had problems making it bootable, but I attribute that to the old disk running Windows XP. I hate XP. Truly. Still, I managed to have some good fun with all the different attempts. I enjoy a good intellectual challenge!

These days no one can afford to be just a “Windows Admin” or just a “Novell Admin” or, even just a “Unix admin”. We have to use the right tools to get the job done, whatever that looks like.
I’m the man behind the curtain who makes the great and powerful Oz go. If I want to outwit the flying monkeys that the Wicked Witch of the West sends after me, I’d better have a whole lot of tools in my toolbox besides my magic ruby hammer.
Even though I’m Linux certified, I don’t work with it enough for my taste, so I’ve finally gotten off my lazy butt and installed Open SuSE on two old laptops I have at the house. Again, it’s free and so were the laptops. One is an old Dell that came from an old job. The other is a Compaq that a friend gave me because he knew I’d get more use out of it than anyone who he might donate it to for the tax write-off. Either that, or I’ve become a charity. Hey, it could happen!
In any case, I’m working on expanding my toolbox, one piece at a time. And, now, you can take advantage of my tinkering to expand your own digital toolbox. Have fun with the new toys!


New Novell Boss

Filed under: Career Archive,Certification,Geek Work,Linux,MicroSoft,News and Current Events,Novell — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Monkey which is in the late afternoon or 5:42 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Crescent

Hey, remember the days when I talked about geek stuff all the time?

Yeah, me neither, but, still, the title of the blog is Diary of a Network Geek and this is news that matters to geeks, so…  I saw this yesterday and again early this morning: Novell Sacks Cheifs. So, it looks like another changing of the guard at Novell.  I find myself wondering how long this company will be able to hold on these days.  I know, people have been saying that for ages about poor, little Novell, but, really, how much longer can they hold on at this point?  A dwindling market share, massive competition from giants like Micro$oft and endless management changes do NOT inspire confidence.  Sure, they’ve revamped their product line to embrace Linux, but I’m starting to think that it’s too little, too late.  And, trust me, I LOVE Novell and their products.  I’ve been a Novell zealot since I started in IT and Novell certified for fourteen years.  I used to live and breathe this stuff.  I’ve seen Novell product do more on fewer resources than, well, than almost anything going.  But, even I have to question the company’s decisions and direction these days.

I guess it’s a good thing I enjoy Linux and got Linux certified not too long ago.  Maybe, with this news, it’s time to focus on my Unix experience and abandon Novell to the market wolves.  I certainly would prefer a Linux or Unix job over a Windows Admin position.  Of course, if the pay is right, I’ll babysit your kids or design web-pages for you.  Heck, if you pay me enough, I’ll even publish trade magazines for the self-storage industry!


Everything Old is New Again

Filed under: Apple,Criticism, Marginalia, and Notes,Deep Thoughts,Fun Work,Geek Work,GUI Center,Life, the Universe, and Everything,Linux,MicroSoft,News and Current Events,Novell,Ooo, shiny... — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Rooster which is in the early evening or 7:55 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Crescent

Looks like I’m going to be a Unix admin!
Yeah, it definately looks like we’ll be using some form of Linux at the new place. If not Novell’s Open Enterprise Server on Linux, then Red Hat Advanced Server. Of course, I’ll end up running SMB as a Windows PDC, for the login scripts, but, hey, at least I can do it! And, it almost sounded like the boss was actually leaning toward Novell’s solution. It actually worked out to be about the same, cost-wise, as Red Hat. Though, the Novell pricing doesn’t include any support if anything went wrong. But, I suppose we could pay by incident. I mean, I hardly ever call Novell anyway these days. Their online knowlegebase has most of the answers I need.
And, of course, there’s all the Mac and OS X stuff, too. That’s BSD, essentially, with a Mac X Windows front end. Funny, it all comes around to that GUI, doesn’t it? All point and click. Oh, for the good, old days when all we had was a command prompt and we were darn lucky when we got that! These kids today don’t have any appreciation for what a good command prompt can do. Why, I remember, back in the “before time”, messing around on an old HP-UX system and figuring out how to read mail from reading the man file! So, here I am, again, back where I started, about to become a Unix admin again.



Generic Certification

Filed under: Certification,Deep Thoughts,Geek Work,Linux,News and Current Events,Novell — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is in the early morning or 7:09 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Gibbous

Not a bad idea.
Here’s something from AustralianIT that makes a lot of sense to me: vendor neutral certification. Okay, yes, I have a Novell certification that I’ve maintained since 1994, but I think the more open or wider certifications are better for the IT industry. Why? Because, in theory, they get us out of the pidgeon-hole thinking that our “pet” OS is the best. Ever heard the phrase, “If the only tool in your toolbox is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail”? Well, that applies to certifications, too. I have to admit that most of my solutions to problems are Novell-centric. I tend to focus on using one of their suite of products because that’s what I know. Lately, I’ve added a reversable screwdriver to my IT toolbox with Linux. And, yes, I have a Linux certification, too. But, that certification is fairly open in regards to what particular version of Linux is being used. Most of what was covered was applicable to virtually any version of Linux, and most versions of Unix.
So, yes, I think this is a good idea. I hope it catches on in Australia well enough that folks here in the States take it seriously. I think it’s the shot in the arm that IT certifications need.

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