Diary of a Network Geek

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

11/15/2008

What a Gas!

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Calamity, Cataclysm, and Catastrophe,Dog and Pony Shows,Fun,Life, the Universe, and Everything,News and Current Events,Personal,The Network Geek at Home — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Pig which is late at night or 11:09 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

My house almost blew up tonight.

No, really.
As I write this, I’m waiting for a serviceman from Centerpoint Energy to come out and turn my gas back on. Apparently, shortly after I left for church this evening a neighbor smelled gas by my house. They called emergency services in Jersey Village, where I live. When the emergency services got out, they could smell gas, so they turned off my power and got Centerpoint out. Centerpoint repaired the leak, or so it seems. Actually, the first thing the serviceman is going to check is to make sure the leak isn’t a leak any more. Then, assuming all is well, he’ll turn the gas on and I can light all my pilots and so on. That’s why the gas was turned off when I got home. Naturally, they couldn’t find me, since I’d gone to church, so they couldn’t turn anything on until they knew I could light all the pilots again. Otherwise, my house would have filled with gas, hit something electric and, well, let’s just say I was irritated with the whole thing until I got the lights back on and figured out what almost happened. Thank God!

I guess my little efforts and building up a little good karma in the short term paid off today.
See, I helped two people with computer things today. This morning, I started reformating and reinstalling my friend J.’s wife, L’s, laptop. She’d been having problems with it and I looked at it several times, but I couldn’t find anything obviously wrong. So, rather than spend any more time on it, I backed up her files and started reinstalling it. Of course, that got interrupted by my power being out, but, still, I’m sure I’ll get it done pretty quick now while I wait for Centerpoint to turn my gas back on.

The other person I did a little mitzvah for was Alison over at Inspired Work of Self-Indulgence.
She was having a little trouble with Comcast and their network. More specifically, it seemed to me she was having a problem with the assigned DNS servers. As any good network geek knows, an Internet connection with out DNS isn’t very useful. She had a connection, sure, but she couldn’t get anywhere. Comcast had been out multiple times trying to fix things. They’d even changed out her cable modem, which seemed to be connected fine when I looked at it. But, her wireless gateway was picking up the normal, default DNS servers from Comcast’s autoconfiguration. I reset the wireless router to the factory default and tweaked the settings a bit. The part that I think mattered the most was adding additional DNS servers from outside Comcast’s network. So now, if the main DNS server goes down or stops working, the backup servers should still find what she’s looking for.
Though, if the problem comes back, it occurred to me on the way home from church that it might be her laptop turning off her wireless connection in a power-save mode, so I might have to check that. (If she’s reading this, that’s a hint!) In any case, it was nice to at long last finally get to meet her. We’ve exchanged e-mail and comments and read each other’s blog posts for quite literally years now. She even sent me cookies when I was in the hospital getting chemotherapy that first time! But today was the first time actually meeting. Hopefully, now that she’s seen I’m completely harmless, it won’t be the last time.
Oh, and I got to meet Piedmont and his new pet human, er, owner. Both were sweet, too. And, of course, I got to meet Cheyenne, Alison’s chocolate lab. She’s as cute in person as in the pictures Alison takes of her and as spoiled, too! She has almost as much tummy as my own Hilda!

So, in spite of almost coming home to a smoking hole in the ground where my house used to be, it turned out to be quite a good day indeed! Stay warm, y’all, and make sure to check your gas!

Update: Apparently, my sins still out-weigh my good deeds, since the guy from Centerpoint Energy never showed up. I stayed up waiting for him until 4:00am, then went to bed, mumbling about liars in the night. I wish it were the first time.
I’m half tempted to turn it on myself and to hell with them. But, better safe than sorry, so I’ll just mumble quiet, Lovecraftian curses on them and try to be on about my day until the next lying serviceman arrives.


Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"People may doubt what you say, but they believe what you do."

5/30/2008

Securing Your WiFi

Filed under: Geek Work,The Dark Side,The Network Geek at Home — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:59 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Crescent

At least, as much as you can secure anything.

Some time back, I pointed you all toward an article about extending your wireless connection. Some of you expressed concern regarding security in relation to wireless connections in general and, specifically, after expanding the range of your wifi router. So, I thought I should get you all some links on how to batten down the hatches, so to speak.
I do think it’s important, though, to say a little something about security in general first.
Nothing is totally secure. If a computer is on a network, it can be compromised eventually, given enough time and money. Security is a matter of degrees, of balancing ease-of-use with peace-of-mind. And, while having wifi makes mobile communication easy, it is, by it’s very nature, insecure. Anything that broadcasts over an unsecured medium can only be so secure, you know? So, I think it’s important as you look at the links below to keep in mind that a determined attacker is going to get into your wifi network, no matter what you do. And, personally, I am more than a little paranoid, so there are just some things I wouldn’t do over a wireless network.

Okay, so, without further ado, here are the links:
First, if you don’t mind the pop-ups on About.com, here are Ten Tips for Securing Your Home WiFi Network. They’re not bad, but, really, some of them aren’t all that secure. Or, rather, they just give a somewhat inflated sense of security. Still, they’re better than nothing.
Better than those tips, though, is the Lifehacker Guide to Setting Up a Wireless Home Network. This takes you through setting up a wifi router and network from scratch and gives you fairly good tips about securing it along the way. (But, make sure to follow the link to their article ToDo – Secure Your Wireless Home Network!) Better still, follow the article at Ars Technica titled The ABCs of Securing Your Wireless Network.
Freakishly, Microsoft, who’s not known for their security practices, has an article about making Windows XP wireless a little more secure. If you run XP, it’s worth a look.
And, finally, for those of you with a little extra time, some spare computer resources, and a high level of paranoia, read the Step-by-Step Guide at SearchWindowsSecurity.com titled How To Create A VPN For Your Wireless Network. (Or, if you’d rather download a printable PDF, check out TechRepublic’s A Secure Wireless LAN Hotspot For Anonymous Users. It’s another way to do the same thing.) Frankly, it doesn’t get much more secure than that!

Hopefully, that gives all those curious minds out there enough to chew on to keep you off the streets at night!

8/22/2007

WiFi Security

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Criticism, Marginalia, and Notes,Fun Work,Geek Work,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 7:45 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Gibbous

Or, the lack thereof.

Okay, so, those of you who know me and my professional career know that security is near and dear to my heart.  Now, I’m no hacker or even a full time security professional, but I’m very, very aware of security and how important it is.  In my last post, I mentioned how much I love having so much wifi connectivity and how nice it was when I was in the hospital to have that easy access.  Well, that’s still true, but I also know how open and insecure that wireless connection is.
This year at DefCon, there was a very popular demo that showed just how easy it was to get information off a wireless connection and exploit it.  In fact, some poor attendee, who should have known better, got his Gmail account hacked, in public, because he didn’t secure his connection properly.  And, earlier this year, some German security experts went on at length about how insecure the WEP protocol is and why that shouldn’t be your only line of defense on wireless networks.

Now, as much as I enjoy my wifi, I’ve also been very vocal about how insecure wifi networks are, by their very nature, for years.  In fact, I got into a rather heated “discussion” with a co-worker and our mutual manager about that at a former job.  Somehow, neither of these gentlemen quite understood how throwing packets out all over, where anyone could snoop them, was an inherently insecure system, even if you used advanced encryption.  Encryption, as the hackers say, is meant to be broken, and sooner or later, it always is.  Again, this is all just logic and reason, but, in a world where anyone who manages a website and a handfull of PCs can call himself a Director of IT, the practical application of logic and reason is a rare thing indeed.
So, enjoy those free wifi connections at your favorite coffee house, but, keep in mind how easy it is for a hacker, or even a script kiddie, to pull vital information off that wide open connection.

(And, if you’re going to DefCon, check out their “Be Prepared” guide, or the DefCon survival guide at the Register.)


Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"If someone keeps having things go wrong, try out the assumption that it's because that someone wants them to go wrong."
   --George Scithers

Guerrilla WiFi

Filed under: Fun Work,News and Current Events — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:12 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Gibbous

Probably not what you think…

I love wifi. Since spending so much time in the hospital with a laptop and relying on the free wifi that MD Anderson has for their patients, I’ve come to truly love that ubiquitous, wireless connection. Only it’s not really all that ubiquitous, unless you want to pay. Often, quite a bit. Some folks are working to change that.
According to this article on ScientificAmerican.com, there’s a little company called Meraki Networks that’s trying to change the way people get access to wireless networks. At least, they’re trying to change part of it. They offer dirt cheap wireless routers that network together to share whatever Internet resources they have, collectively, with whoever connects. It’s not quite free and it’s not quite ubiquitous, but, it is a start.

Anyway, it’s worth clicking the link and reading the article.

8/14/2006

Travel Report

Filed under: Adventures with iPods,Advice from your Uncle Jim,Deep Thoughts,Dog and Pony Shows,Fun,Fun Work,Geek Work,Life, the Universe, and Everything,News and Current Events,On The Road,Personal,The Network Geek at Home — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Pig which is in the late evening or 10:39 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

(Note: This “post” was written over the space of two long waits in airports after gliding through easy and over-hyped security.)

08/11/06

Well, there wasn’t any free wifi at the airport that I could find, even using a cool new tool I found for Linux called Wifi-Radar. Super slick little proggie that scans for available open wifi networks and automagically attaches you to the network of your choice. Pretty cool. Anyway, security was a breeze. As usual, the blood-sucking, bottom-feeders in the alarmist media totally overhyped the delays. I got Hilda checked in, stopped for gas and slipped into the Park-N-Fly by about 10:45 AM. The shuttle got me to the airport no later than 11:15AM and I was checked in and through security in less than 20 minutes. That’s with an eTicket and a driver’s license that still has my last name misspelled with an extra letter. You’d think that would raise a red flag, right? Hell, it doesn’t even raise a damn eyebrow.

Feeling extra secure yet? So, we hear all kinds of stuff about how bad security is going to be, but, as far as I could see, the only thing added to security was that they were restricting fluids on the plane. Yeah, so, no drinks through security, which, of course, means that everyone was buying drinks in the terminal. I didn’t look at how much I was gouged for my bottle of water and masked the whole cost with a couple of magazines. No Maxim, though. Just PopSci, Scientific American, Men’s Health and Real Simple. You know, I may end up getting a subscription to Real Simple instead of Dwell. It’s more my style. Not quite so avant-garde and infinitely less expensive. I was very glad to have gotten my iPod back, though. And, I even managed to sync all of Tristan und Isolde to it before I took off in the morning. Sadly, I didn’t have quite enough time to create a playlist that let me listen to the entire opera in order, but, still, I have it in there. According to iTunes, I have almost three days worth of continuous music on my Nano. Based on the silly media hype, it sounded like I’d need it, so, I was thrilled.

The one interesting thing was that I was almost on the news. No, not because I tried to sneak something dangerous on the plane. Though, God knows, I have done just that so many times it really makes me question the supposed security training they give those TSA agents. Anyway, there was some cute, Hispanic news chic there with her cameraman interviewing passengers about the virtually non-existent security delays and they saw my “Sunguard Secure, Disaster Recovery Experts” shirt. Right away the camera guy is all “So are you a disaster recovery expert?” and I start laughing at them both. I explain that, yes, I am an IT disaster recovery expert, but not the kind they were looking for. Oh, sure, I could have gone on TV and made a credible security expert, but that’s mainly because I’m well read and I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about security for IT, which includes physical security, not because I’m a real anti-terrorist expert. But, why? Why the hell would I want to have my mug all over the TV news? I hate them, the alarmist fear-mongers always whipping the mass of unwashed humanity into a damn frenzy. Idiots. They’re not journalists anymore, just talking heads. It’s all about jumping on that fear-hype bandwagon, not about reporting real information that people can actually learn something from anymore. I don’t know, maybe it’s time to get a subscription to a local paper again. Ha! “A” local paper, that’s funny, isn’t it? It’s either the Chronicle or an out of town paper, like the Chicago Tribune or the Wall Street Journal. Oh, well, it’s almost all bad news anyway….

08/14/06

Well, here I am again, killing time in an airport waiting for my flight after breezing through security. I can’t tell if it’s just the media blowing things so far out of proportion or just people stupid enough to argue with the TSA agents and trying to break the rules. Honestly, I think it’s the TV news media who have to justify their existance by whipping everyone into a frenzy about the terrorists who weren’t even on US soil. Sure, I’ll grant you, getting blown up in a plane would really ruin my travel plans, but we’ve been living with this since 9/11 and, frankly, I think it’s about time we just adjust to higher security than we used to have. I mean, really, compared to most of the world, we’ve been skating along pretty free and easy. They’ve been dealing with terrorists in Europe for years and the British were more relaxed about this last incident than we were, even though it was their countrymen that were going to be blown up! This is just going to be a fact of life from now on. We need to get past the panic and fear and make our adjustments and move on with our lives, otherwise the terrorists have already won. So, in any case, I glided through security, in spite of not shaving, having a scruffy goatee and being loaded down with electronics. I guess it helps to just blank your face and go with the flow. Not like I have a choice, after all, so I might as well just accept the process and go with it. Seems to make things a lot easier. So, crazy security concerns aside, I had a good visit with the family.

Turns out, my parents were wrong and I wasn’t going to be presenting my nephew with his Eagle award, but it really did seem to mean a lot to him that I was there. Actually, it seemed to mean a lot to everyone to see me. I guess I shouldn’t be so surprised, but I never realized how important I was to my family. Of course, I spent some time setting up my parent’s new laptop and transferring settings and files over from the old one. I first thought that I’d be able to do that via a USB thumb drive, but there was just a little too much there to get onto a single one gig drive, so I had to use the network cable and crossover adapter that I’d brought with me. Good thing I have a little bit of experience being an IT consultant on the road and thought to bring some “extra” stuff I probably wouldn’t need, just in case. Sadly, I forgot to bring the copy of Word that I had for Mom and scratched the first CD of the Works install set, so I’ll have to ship them the CD and walk Mom through the install. Oh, the funny thing about her new laptop is the wireless connection. I cranked up that laptop and found five or six networks in the area with at least two that were unsecured, so I used that to piggy-back to the Internet. I think that ease of use just about convinced her to invest in broadband at their new house when the finally move in. They already have digital phone service through their cable, so I’m pretty sure they’d get a discount on the Internet connection, too. That along with a wireless router would really have them in the modern age of computing. And, I think they’d use their laptop more. Well, at least, Mom would. Dad mainly tells her what he wants and sends her off to do it, but he thinks he’s pretty high-tech, which is kind of funny. Actually, if you ever met either of my parents, it’d amuse you think of either of them being all that high-tech.

Though, somehow, they turned out at least two of us that make our living via technology. That’s just one of many things my brother and I have in common, though… It was nice talking with him some, though, I think we both wouldn’t have minded talking more. Eleven years apart and a vast difference in life experience, but we’re still the same in so many ways. Sadly, we both have many of the same things to fight through and over come. Both shy, each in our own way. Soft-spoken, but determined and, often, very single-minded of purpose. I honestly think that my brother has a PhD. because someone told him he couldn’t do it. We’re funny that way. Sometimes, that’s an asset, but not always.
Still, we often have very similar political views and, talking with my sole niece, Rachel, I was surprised to see how well our philosophies about kids meshed. That “little” girl has grown into quite a young woman. Just barely fifteen, but almost as tall as I am and, thankfully, looking more like her mother every day. I sat with her after her brother’s Eagle Ceremony and talked with her a bit, since I realized I didn’t really know her that well these days. The boys all center on me like iron filings on a magnet and that often seems to leave little room for Rachel. The last time I was home, she spent most of the time with Allison, my former step-daughter, and I didn’t get to talk to her. In any case, I took the opportunity to chat with her about a lot of different things, including driving, boys and her future plans. She didn’t have a boyfriend right now, but she’s already had two, which, at fifteen seemed like a good, slow start. She broke up with the last one, she told me, because he’d been smoking marijuana. Smart girl. Already learned that guys who smoke enough dope lose all motivation and ambition. It’s not just a stereotype. So, she was single, but didn’t seem in a big hurry to find the next guy, which I though was a good attitude, too. When I asked her about school and ideas for a career, she told me she wanted to go into nursing. Like I said, smart girl. It’s a good field and she has the right kind of personality for nursing. Even at fifteen, she was worried about her poor, old Uncle Jim standing when everyone else was sitting at the reception. I was glad for the chance to sit and talk with her. I just wish Allison had more of an opportunity to know her former cousin. I think Rachel would have been a good influence on her. Ah, well, maybe they’ll reconnect one day. Stranger things have happened.

Her little brother, Michael, my youngest nephew, is a whole different animal. This poor kid has no small amount of adversity to overcome. As a little guy, he got repeated ear infections and is, as I recall, legally deaf. But, since he was very small, he’s worn a hearing aid in each ear and does quite well. He has a very slight speech impediment, but he seems to make up for that with enthusiasm and volume. He certainly has no trouble making himself understood when he wants to get a point across! But, he also has a fairly rare back and spine condition that will require him to wear an obviously uncomfortable back brace for most of the next three years. He’s a good kid and doesn’t complain much when his parents tell him to get his brace back on, but it can’t be something he likes to do. I don’t know if any of the kids at school give him trouble for it, but I think his mother has already given her permission to pop the little wiseasses if they do sound off. And, if I ever hear about any grief, I tell you, Mike will have a mean uncle from Texas coming up to crack a couple of skulls for him. He’s a good boy and puts up just a tiny fuss at having to deal with all his physical troubles. And, in spite of all his reasons to be unhappy, I’d say he’s the most gregarious and, well, “jolly” of all my nephews. Always smiling and laughing and joking, even when irritation occasionally creases his forehead, it sure doesn’t cloud his world for very long at all. I know quite a few adults that could learn thing or two from this young man.

Then, there was my “redneck nephew”, as I like to call him.
John Dwight is a big kid. He looks slow and ponderous and even sounds a little thick, but he’s not. He’s a smart kid who lives in a town that doesn’t put much stock into “book learnin'” and it shows. Mainly, I think he’s just not very motivated. I think he sees the futility of his situation. He can only go so far in that little town outside of Rockford, Illinois. After that, if he wants more and bigger opportunities, he’ll have to leave. Based on how his mother and father have dealt with that decision, I doubt he’ll leave. Though, he is talking about enlisting in the military. He claims he wants to be a sniper, but with less than perfect vision, I think that’s not going to quite work out for him. He likes to work on cars, though, and seems to think he can bide his time waiting for the sniper program while being a mechanic. I don’t think he understands the military enough to know that once he starts as a mechanic, he’s likely to stay a mechanic, but, at least he’ll have a skill and a way to make a good living after mustering out. It would be a good way for hime to go.
He shadowed me for most of the time I was working on my Mom’s new laptop. I think partly because he wants to get a shiny, new laptop himself, but also because he’s interested. I talked with him about what I was doing and promised to send him one of the super cheap 1 Gig USB thumb-drives I’d found at MicroCenter and was using. He seemed genuinely excited about that. I’ll send that to him after I get back along with a Knoppix CD, so he can learn a little Linux. If he learns Linux and is still interested, I might send him an old Dell laptop with Redhat or Novell’s free OpenSuSE loaded on it. That would be another direction he could go. A little military experience and a couple of professional certifications and he could really go far.

Finally, my oldest nephew and godson, Bill…
As I write this, he’s on his way to his first year of college. He’ll be a Physics Major at Purdue University. Kid’s going to be a genius PhD, like his father. He has a girlfriend, Jenny, who’s nice enough, but tries a little too hard to be liked. When she forgets to work at it and relaxs, though, she’s a nice kid. Bill and I had a little talk on Friday night when his family came over for dinner. (Mom made “creole chicken”, a soulfood recipie that my grandmother picked up on the Southside of Chicago.) He’s so much like his father that it’s almost scary. I was touched Saturday when I figured out that he really just wanted me at the ceremony because he missed his Uncle Jim. I made sure to give him my cell number and told him he could call for anything but bail money. I hope he takes me up on the offer. I gave him the best advice I could for a Freshman going into that big, wide world of college. “Never go into a weekend without twenty bucks and a condom.” I explained that to him, but those stories will have to wait for another time on the blog. My plane is boarding, so I’m shutting down the laptop. Next stop, Houston!

Update:
Made it home safe and sound. Got my poor Hilda from the vet today. Apparently she barely ate, hid from the “keepers” and generally trusted no one. On the upside, she did learn to use the “doggie door” really well! That’s where she ran to get away from the people who were supposed to pamper her. *sigh* She wouldn’t even eat her home-made treats. Apparently, she just didn’t trust the kenel staff enough to take even the yummiest of muffins from them. (In fact, they said they smelled so good they almost ate some themselves!) She was so excited to see me, I could barely get her car harness on her. She wolfed food when we got home. And treats. And attacked a new rawhide chewie bone I’d gotten her. Well, she’s like her old dad, doesn’t trust anyone new and is loyal to a fault. She’s my dog, sure enough.
Glad to be home. And, finally, after all this time and all this trouble, this is home.


Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"The real art of conversation is not only to say the right thing in the right place but to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment."
   --Lady Dorothy Nevill

10/31/2005

10 Things: Securing Wireless Connections

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Geek Work,The Network Geek at Home — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:29 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Crescent

This sort of seems like an oxymoron to me.
But, I suppose in this modern world of ubiquitous, wireless connectivity, we must hold tight to our illusions of security. Toward that end, TechRepublic has an article titled Ten Things You Should Know About Securing Your Wireless Connection. I still can’t, in all good conscience, reccomend that you run anything you want to keep secure over a wireless connection, but, if you must, at least read this very short article about keeping your connection as secure as possible. Certainly, if you’re doing this at home, it’s worth the look. If you’re attempting to keep a secure wireless connection at the office, and haven’t started hitting the “happy sauce” yet, this is a good place to start, though I sure wouldn’t run any important financial data over wireless, either at home or work.
Well, it’s a good article, even if I have my personal, Luddite misgivings about wireless.


Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"Girls are like pianos. When they're not upright, they're grand."


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