Diary of a Network Geek

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

12/12/2019

Yet Another Lap

Filed under: About The Author,Advice from your Uncle Jim — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Rat which is in the wee hours or 12:30 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a Full Moon

So, it seems I’ve survived another year.

Considering that I wasn’t entirely sure I’d live past forty, it’s a pleasant surprise to find that I’ve turned fifty-one. It seems a bit less pressure than turning fifty. I thought things would start speeding up, but it feels like everything has slowed down a bit. I don’t feel like a lot has changed in the past year, really.
Really, I’ve had another pretty good year. In some ways, maybe a bit too good. I was disappointed to see that all the weight I lost at the beginning of this year has somehow returned. I think, as was true last year, this is mostly due to easy living and a wonderfully Southern wife who shows me how much she loves me with food. She really, really loves me, so I’ve eaten very well. After having to finally let Hilda go to the Great Big Yard On The Other Side this year, we got two new rescues. For a bit, that was helping because I was walking Penny, the sixty-pound Pittbull/Dalmatian mix every morning. Sadly, she seems to have torn her ACL and is going to need a surgery, so I haven’t been walking her. I should take her sister, Lily, the fifty-pound Black Lab mix for walks, but I just haven’t quite been able to get my sorry tuckus out of bed in time to make that happen yet. I’ll get on it soon, though. Honest.
Of course, being married to Sharon does make my time here easier and a lot more pleasant. That sounds a little luke-warm, but, honestly, I think we’re both pretty happy about having a quiet, pleasant life together. As we were reminiscing not too long ago, we’ve both led a life of far too much adventure and chaos to think we’re missing out on much. Maybe, one day soon, when the statute of limitations runs out of some of those things, I’ll share them with you. Or, maybe they’ll get saved for a memoir. Sharon keeps telling me that we’ve living very interesting lives, though, of course, I find myself to be a bit dull and boring. Thankfully, she does not. It’s one of her many, many charming and attractive features. Her business, The Organizing Decorator, is poised to do quite well this coming year, and I’m incredibly proud of her and her work. I’ve known people who constantly complain about never having been given a chance, but Sharon really goes out and seems to create opportunities out of thin air. She’s a miracle and I’m truly blessed to be married to her.
It is a bit strange to find myself being so fiscally responsible these days. Again, I suppose age and commitment have their unexpected upsides. I want to make sure that she’s taken care of, at least, even if we don’t expect to leave much after we’re gone.
Otherwise, I wish I’d spent less time complaining this year and more time working for change in all aspects of my life. I still have dreams of writing more and taking more photographs. I’m sure if I really am committed to that this year, I’ll find a way to make the time. Maybe that’s one secret of making it to middle age; I don’t buy as many excuses, not even my own. So, watch this space! Hold me to account, dear readers, if anyone out there is still reading this blog.

In the past, I’ve listed the same group of celebrities who share my birthday. But, this year, I’ll only mention two, because they’re the only ones I currently care about. I’m shocked to realize that I’m a mere two years older than Jennifer Connelly, who was born on this day. She’s lovely and I’d watch her read the phone book. The other celebrity who shares my birthday is Frank “Chairman of the Board” Sinatra. And, just like me, he did it his way.

Also, I think it’s interesting to note that on this day in 1896 Marconi first demoed radio and, again on this day, in 1901 made his first Trans-Atlantic transmission. (Though, of course, all right-thinking people know that Tesla was really responsible for those first advances in radio.)

So, that’s the state of me, as it were, this year. Some things I’m happier about than others, but, all in all, it’s been a pretty good year. I’ve just about given up trying to figure out what the coming year will bring, though I do try to make plans about being more creative and productive, as I do every year. In the end, though, what I choose to do or not do doesn’t matter, so long as Sharon and I do it together. I’m happy that she’s really become the only thing that matters in my life. God knows, I could have worse

All in all, life is going along okay and I’m sure it’ll be good coming year.

This post originally appeared at Use Your Words, my other blog and guilty habit/pleasure.


Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"It is a mistake to look too far ahead. Only one link of the chain of destiny can be handled at a time."
   --Winston Churchill

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:
"While it may be true that the quickest way to a man's heart is through his stomach, sometimes it can be much more satisfying hacking your way through the rib cage."
   --Cara-Beth Lillback

1/4/2019

New Rules for the New Year

Filed under: About The Author,Advice from your Uncle Jim,Better Living Through Technology,Marginalia and Notes from the Editor — 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

Okay, maybe not rules per se, but Friday posts might be different.

Look, I’ve been posting every Friday for something more than ten years. Probably close to sixteen years, actually, though I have to admit I haven’t actually checked. In any case, lately, it’s felt more like a chore than a joy. It’s a lot of work to find something original to share with you from somewhere out on the internet every week. I honestly think it might be easier to actually create my own content sometimes. Except, of course, it’s been a horrifically busy year and the past month or two has been even worse. So, what I’m trying to say in the most long-winded way imaginable, is that I’m probably going to change up what gets posted here every Friday. There’s literally no telling what I might share, from somewhere out in the big, wide world, or from the dark recesses of my own twisted mind.

But, since I haven’t quite gotten out of the habit of being helpful just yet, here’s a tip from your Uncle Jim.
The world being what it is, you probably got one or more gift cards for presents this year. Maybe it was a door prize at an office Christmas party or maybe it was your Christmas bonus or maybe just a lovely gift from a distant relative. No matter how you got it, it’s going to be virtually impossible to use the face value perfectly. Either you spend a bit more than the gift card and pay the rest, or you spend a bit less and have one or more gift cards with just a dollar or two on them. Save those gift cards with just small change left! When a website wants to collect credit card information for their “free trial”, use one of those gift cards! If you forget to cancel the free trial before they start billing you, all they’re going to get is a buck or two that you were probably going to forget about anyway. Or, if you do remember, you can use that couple of dollars for free trials for months and months! It works really, really well, trust me!

So, there you go, something totally from my own, little brain to help you live a little better.
Come back next week to see what I come up with next!

This post originally appeared at my other blog, Use Your Words.


Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"If I'd known I was going to live so long, I would have taken better care of myself!"
   --George Burns

9/15/2017

Productivity

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Criticism, Marginalia, and Notes,Marginalia and Notes from the Editor,The Day Job — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:30 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Crescent

Not just doing more in less time.

Look, I’m going to admit something to you here. I’m lazy. Not only that, but I feel terrible about it.
Yes, that probably will come as a shock to most people who know me in real life, away from this strange digital construct we call blogging, but it’s true. I’m not just lazy and unmotivated, but I’m slow and super unproductive. I waste so much time I cannot even begin to conceive of a metaphor that encapsulates the enormity of my personal, moral failing. And, I promise you, I am not even kidding.
So, you know, happy Friday.

But, here’s the thing; I’m always looking for tools that might make me more productive and more efficient. And, some time back, I found a page of them by James Clear that he called The Productivity Guide: Time Management Strategies That Work. He defines productivity thusly; “Productivity is a measure of efficiency of a person completing a task. We often assume that productivity means getting more things done each day. Wrong. Productivity is getting important things done consistently. And no matter what you are working on, there are only a few things that are truly important. Being productive is about maintaining a steady, average speed on a few things, not maximum speed on everything.” And, the page gets better from there. For instance, he gives you seven relatively easy steps to take that will make you at least a little more productive right away. And, he links to some great articles, both his own and those written by others, that talk about increasing productivity and time management. He even references one of my favorites, Getting Things Done by David Allen. It’s worth a look.

So, big confession aside, I hope that Mr. Clear’s page of links and advice can help you overcome your time management and productivity hurdles.
See you next week!

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words, my other blog, where I hope you’ll leave your comments and experiences about productivity and time management.


Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"Character may be manifested in the great moments, but it is made in the small ones."
   --Phillips Brooks

3/10/2016

Re-Organizing

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Career Archive,Geek Work,Life, the Universe, and Everything,Personal,Red Herrings,Things to Read — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Dragon which is in the early morning or 9:29 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

It’s time to clean up my act.

Seriously.
My wife is a professional organizer and decorator, so those of you who know me well know how she suffered when she first moved in with me.  I hadn’t devolved into a complete hoarder, but I had gotten an unfortunately significant start.  She dug me out.  Honestly, I wish I had her ability to let go of things, but I tend to hold on to too much.  Naturally, when she asked me to read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I just about had a panic attack.  But, I did read it and, once I got past some of the ways the author talks about discarding things, I could see why my blushing bride loved the book.  In spite of whatever reviews you may have read about the extreme method described, it’s really not so terrifying.  The essence of it is to get rid of the things that you don’t use or need or want any more, to make room, both literally and figuratively.
I’m not saying that it’s been easy for me to do, because it hasn’t, but I do find myself thinking about what I really need and use quite a bit.  The reality is, I have too much stuff to really keep track of it all.  So, I’ve been taking some of the time I have, while I wait to get connected to my next work opportunity, to reevaluate and clean out.
I have told myself for a long time that I don’t like change, that I’m not good with it.  But, that’s not really true.  Sure, I like to control change, but in many areas of my life, I’m constantly changing, growing, trying new ideas and methods, keeping what works and discarding the rest.  One area that I haven’t been working at as much lately is my personal organization and scheduling.  I’ve been very reactive and not nearly proactive enough to suit me.

I used to be a “to do list” fanatic.  Every day I’d start my day with a fresh list, carrying over the things I didn’t finish from the previous day, and adding to it.  On Friday, I’d set my list up for Monday before I left the office.  First thing Monday, I’d review the list and see if I thought of anything else to add over the weekend, because my brain just will not shut off and stop thinking about work.  It’s how I’m wired, I guess.
Mainly, though, I loved crossing things off my list.
I know, it’s a strange thing, but the idea of crossing something off my list actually gave me a little thrill.  And, when I’d get to the end of the day, I’d see all the things I’d crossed off and think about how great it was to get all that stuff done.  Somewhere, though, in all the jobs and the “life stuff”, like getting married, divorced, beating cancer and getting married again, I lost that habit.  I tried to “leverage technology” and my smart phone to get a to do list app that would synchronize with my computer, but, frankly, nothing ever worked to my satisfaction.  And, of course, it was a convenient excuse for why I stopped doing it.
Some time back, I read Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen and I sort of made a half-hearted attempt to set some of his system up, but, honestly I never put enough effort into it. At the time, his book didn’t have a lot of technological help for geeks like me that wanted to use the cloud to keep things synched up.  I need to find out what’s changed, because the time is ripe for me to re-read that book and, as my wife and I reorganize our physical space, get my mental space in order and prepared for a new job.  This is the perfect time to get reorganized and have my system in place, ready to go, before I land somewhere and have an endless stream of projects to track.

So tell me, gentle readers, what do you use to stay organized?  If you’re a fan of the GTD method, what tech tools do you use to stay on track?


Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"A great deal of good can be done in the world if one is not too careful who gets the credit."
   --Jesuit Motto

3/8/2016

Unemployment Payment Requested

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Career Archive,Deep Thoughts,Life, the Universe, and Everything,Personal — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Dragon which is in the early morning or 9:41 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a New Moon

For the first time in almost fourteen years, I’ve requested a payment from unemployment.

I’ll be honest, it’s not a great feeling.  I’d really rather be working.  Not that I think I don’t deserve the payment or that I begrudge anyone else their benefits, either.  I paid into that system for more than twenty years, if you include both Illinois and Texas, and I am well within my rights to get my fair share back out of it.
But, I’d really rather be gainfully employed.

I have a friend who shakes his head in dismay at how eager I am to work hard.  I think that’s what he finds so incomprehensible; that I want to not just work, but work hard at what I do.
It’s not that I really enjoy long hours or wrestling with budgets or any of those things, though I have to admit I do love wrestling with technology and bending it to my will. I love getting things done.  Sure, most of what I do professionally can be undone with a couple of keystrokes, but, still crossing things off my to do list or watching the closed ticket count stack up gives me a sense of satisfaction.

I hate being out of work.
The last several times I’ve changed jobs, it’s mostly been under my control.  At least once, in the past fourteen years, I interviewed just before a project failed and I was out on my ear.  I was out of work for all of a week, not even enough time to actually request payment.  And, it could have been less, but I wanted a bit of a break before starting the next thing.
I honestly could barely relax at all that week.

So, here I’ve been out of work for three, full weeks and I’m done.
The Texas Workforce Commission requires that I perform at least three job-search-related activities per week to be eligible for unemployment benefits.
I do that much every week before 8:30AM on Monday.
I know I love work, but that bar seems pretty low to me.  Keep in mind, that doesn’t mean just applying for three jobs per week, but talking to a recruiter, or having a job interview, or going to a job fair, or even searching for new jobs on a job website all, apparently, count toward that requirement.  In my job search log, I only record actual job applications made or email or phone conversations with recruiters or potential employers.  I must seem like a real over-achiever to the Texas Workforce Commission staff.

Yes, I have the benefits coming.  And, yes, I feel perfectly justified in requesting them.  But, honestly, I’d rather be working.


Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"Live truth instead of professing it."
   --Elbert Hubbard

2/26/2016

Interview Questions

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Career Archive,Geek Work,Red Herrings — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Monkey which is in the late afternoon or 5:11 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

I’m prepared to answer these, are you?

So, I’m still looking for work, but at two weeks, I suppose that’s to be expected.
I’ve had a couple phone interviews and I’m waiting to have a couple more.  Generally, if I can get an interview with a technical manager, I can sell myself well enough to get a job I have the experience to actually do.  Often, I can sell myself well enough to land I job I don’t know how to do, yet.
In either case, the only way to do it is preparation.  Know the questions I’ll be asked and know my answers.

U.S. News and World Reports has a great slideshow of the ten most common interview questions, with some advice about answering them.  That’s a great place to start.
Glassdoor expands that list to fifty of the most common interview questions, and while I certainly would recommend reading those, having answers that are prepared without looking memorized is the real key here.
Monster.com takes that list even further, to 100 interview questions, and goes way beyond the common ones.  While it certainly can’t hurt to peruse them, I’d really focus on the short list.
If you need help preparing, check out How to Ace the 50 Most Common Interview Questions on Forbes.com.  There’s a brief video on that page that auto-plays, so be aware.  Frankly, I really respect Forbes and they give some great advice about how to answer questions in an interview.

In the end, it really comes down to preparation and practice.  Sadly, I’ve had a lot of practice on job interviews.  The important thing is to be honest and consider how what you say reflects on you and whether or not your prepared answers will show your true colors.  Also, practice with a friend who can give you honest feedback.  Or, barring that, record yourself so you can see what you look like while interviewing and hear how you sound in giving responses.  It may be enlightening!

If you’re out there looking for work like me, I wish you the best of luck!


Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"I know only that what is moral is what you feel good after and what is immoral is what you feel bad after."
   --Ernest Hemingway

2/5/2016

Tools for Job Searchers

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Geek Work,Life, the Universe, and Everything,Red Herrings — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:36 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Crescent

Not exactly a set of “fun” links, really.

I still work in Oil and Gas, albeit in IT, which means there are a lot of layoffs.  And, there are more coming.  Even though I’m in IT, and they need use like they need electricity, I could go at any minute.  So, in solidarity for those who have already lost their job and those who might still, I’ reposting several links to resources for job seekers.

First, for those who are still employed,…
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Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"I know only that what is moral is what you feel good after and what is immoral is what you feel bad after."
   --Ernest Hemingway

1/1/2016

Starting Your New Year

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Better Living Through Technology,Fun,Fun Work,Red Herrings — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Sheep which is in the early afternoon or 2:00 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a Third Quarter Moon

So, here we are, the first day of a brand, new year!

Honestly, it’s a pretty arbitrary demarcation of time.  I mean, it doesn’t even really sync up with any significant natural phenomena, like a solstice or anything.  So, really, the whole idea of a “new year’s resolution” is pretty random.  What’s so special about the “new year” and why make resolutions about it?  Still, you know most of us do it, to some degree or another, even me.  This year, I’m…
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Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"Failure doesn't mean you are a failure... it just means you haven't succeeded yet."
   --Robert Schuller

12/12/2015

It’s My Birthday

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Criticism, Marginalia, and Notes,Life Goals,News and Current Events,Personal,The Network Geek at Home — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Snake which is just before lunchtime or 11:25 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

Yeah, it’s my birthday again.

I’ve survived another lap around the Sun, mostly in spite of myself and due to the grace of God.  I almost didn’t bother with a birthday post, because I mostly think of my birthday as just another day, but, it’s sort of gotten to be a tradition with me to make this post every year, so, here I am.  Honestly, it seems kind of impossible to me that I’ve survived this long, but, according to the…
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Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"Between saying and doing many a pair of shoes is worn out."
   --Italian Proverb

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