Diary of a Network Geek

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

6/29/2018

Hurricane Season Preparations

Filed under: Calamity, Cataclysm, and Catastrophe,News and Current Events,Personal Care,Red Herrings,The Network Geek at Home — 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 Waning Gibbous

The Gulf Coast is well into Hurricane Season. Are you prepared?

Here in Texas, hurricane season is kind of a big deal. And, with global climate change making tropical storms more frequent and more severe, it’s getting to be a bigger deal all the time. Usually, we have more than enough time to prepare, if you’re paying attention, but it never hurts to get ready well in advance so you’re not fighting for bottled water, bread and canned food with everyone else at the last minute.
So far, since I’ve been in Houston, I’ve been through one horrible tropical storm, and near miss and two actual hurricanes. After that first tropical storm, since my ex-wife and I were looking for a house, I chose one that wasn’t pulling up carpet. That turned out to be a pretty smart decision as not far away the neighborhood has some flooding issues. Thankfully, in the 18 years I’ve lived in my house, that’s never been a problem. But, all that said, I still worry about hurricanes and do try to take some reasonable precautions.

There are a couple of philosophies when it comes to hurricanes. Mostly, it’s either stay or go.
If you stay, you need to think about what you need to get by for an extended period of time. Most emergency preparedness sources suggest that you need to have food, water and other supplies for at least 72 hours. A great resource to help you plan is the Ready.gov site for hurricanes. They go over what to expect and even have really helpful PDF downloads to help you plan and prepare. And, actually, Ready.gov has a lot of resources for other kinds of disasters, too, like Wildfires, Tornadoes, Volcanoes, Floods and more. It’s definitely a resource worth checking out.
If you’re in the Houston area, like me, the city has their own disaster preparedness site, Ready Houston. It’s a good site and they offer a free DVD you can use to help you plan for emergencies with advice specifically for the Houston, TX area. They have videos on the site, too, as well as links to training other places, like FEMA.
One thing to consider if you have pets, for instance, is what to do with them during an emergency. FEMA has a training course for helping you with your animals in an emergency situation, which I found via the Ready Houston website. (They also have a more general, but, apparently, pretty complete course in general emergency preparedness.)

If you decide to make a run for it, you may want to put together what’s alternately called a “go bag” or a “bug out bag”. Personally, I feel the name “go bag” seems less paranoid and crazy-survivalist sounding, but it amounts to the same thing.
The idea is simple, really, it’s just a bag with all the things you need for anywhere from three days to a couple of weeks, ready to go on a moment’s notice. Not unlike a hospital bag for a pregnant woman, the main thing is that it’s packed and ready so when panic hits, you can just grab the bag and, well, go. Personally, I do NOT have a regular go-bag already prepped, because I frankly don’t have anywhere I’d run to in an emergency. And, if I did, I’d be neck deep in other people doing the same thing. But, again, you can take this as far as you’d like, assuming anything from temporarily relocating to another city and staying in a hotel to running off and hiding in the woods for a couple weeks. It’s up to you. But, either way, consider what might go into that bag. For some good examples, check out Scott Kelley’s Bug Out Bag on Kinja, who even provides links to what he bought so you can get it easily, too, and the oddly less woodsy approach to a bug out bag by American Rifleman Magazine, though I’m less convinced that you really need to be overly concerned with being armed. Remember, it ultimately comes down to just being ready for what ever you think might happen wherever you are.

I would also suggest that you have some long shelf-life food on hand, like every good IT guy has in his desk. In the past, I’ve used Millenium Food bars, actually, since they provide a lot of calories and energy with a five-year shelf-life, but really any good protein bar will do in a pinch.
One really good idea is to scan important documents, like a home-owner’s insurance policy and financial information and IDs and put them all on a LaCie USB key Flash Drive, or something similar that you keep on your keys, in case all the original documents get destroyed during a disaster or when you’re not at home.

So, in short, the idea here is to be like the Boy Scouts, prepared.
Have you gotten ready for hurricane season yet? Start now!

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words by J K Hoffman.

9/1/2017

Flood Sensors

Filed under: About The Author,Better Living Through Technology,Calamity, Cataclysm, and Catastrophe,Marginalia and Notes from the Editor,News and Current Events,Red Herrings — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:00 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Gibbous

This is mostly of local interest and probably would have been more help last week.

But, I’m hoping it will serve as a convenient place to find this information next year when the hurricane season starts again. And, yes, this is mostly relevant to the greater Houston area, where, dear readers, you will recall has been home since I moved here from the Chicago area in 1998. Since then, I’ve experienced a severe tropical storm, and the direct or indirect effects of three hurricanes (Katrina, Rita and Ike), before our latest Hurricane Harvey. Tropical Storm Allison was about the worst flooding event I had ever seen. My ex-wife and I were in an apartment with her daughter and woke up to find our part of town cut off from the rest of Houston by flooding. But, that flood didn’t stick around incredibly long and we were able to get out and drive the next day. That drive around my current neighborhood let us see which of the houses we had been looking at flooded. Obviously, we chose the one that didn’t and that’s where I live today with my current blushing bride. I’m pleased to say that we didn’t flood this time, either.
The thing people don’t realize about living down here is that it’s not usually the hurricane itself that causes the most damage. Rather, it’s the flooding caused by the rain that comes before, during and after. Hurricane Harvey dumped more than two feet of water on the greater Houston area. Some places got more than that. What was worse, though, is all the water running down from beyond the Houston area raising the levels of all the water ways that everyone here calls “bayous”. In theory, they should move all the water away from where we live and send it down to the Gulf. In reality, Houston is so over-built that they can’t always manage to do that.
My wife and I got lucky this time. The only water we got in our house was down our chimney and what came in on our dog. Our cars were both safe and dry. I know at least one person who’s parents have probably lost their house and two people who lost cars while trying to evacuate. This is the worst flooding that anyone can remember in Texas, and let me tell you, that’s saying something.
So, my link today is to the Harris County Flood Control District, who is the governmental group in charge of mitigating flooding events in Harris County, where Houston resides. Frankly, it’s not a job I envy, especially this week. But, for those who are concerned, they have a LOT of information about flooding in the area. Most importantly to me this past week or so, they are responsible for creating and maintaining the Harris County Flood Warning System, which has links to water-level sensors in bayous. If you go to their Interactive Mapping Tools, you can put in your address and find the closest sensors to you and what bayou is most likely to effect flooding in your area. I spent a good amount of time this weekend watching several of those sensors very, very closely. It was, to say the least, nerve-wracking, but, if things had gotten bad enough, I would have known right when I should either head to our second story or try to get out of the area if it was still possible.

Over the coming months, after hurricane season officially ends in November and before it starts again next year, I plan to add some resources here for emergency preparedness, starting with putting together a “go bag” in case of evacuation. Because, frankly, it’s never too early to start planning for next year.

And, next week, hopefully, I’ll have something a lot more fun to share with you than the grim reality of climate change, unchecked over-building, and preparing for the inevitable flooding disasters to come.

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words.

6/5/2015

Hurricane Preparedness

Filed under: Calamity, Cataclysm, and Catastrophe,Dog and Pony Shows,News and Current Events,Red Herrings,The Network Geek at Home — 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 Gibbous

Hurricane season started on Monday, June First. Are you ready?

Here in Texas, hurricane season is kind of a big deal.  Or, at least, it is to this kid from the Heartland.  Of course, most of the time, we have plenty of time to prepare because you see these things coming from a long, long way off.  Still, it’s better to be prepared early rather than competing with everyone for bottled water, bread and canned food.

So far, since I’ve been in…
Read More

5/21/2013

Backups and Data Recovery – Home Edition – Part 2

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Calamity, Cataclysm, and Catastrophe,Geek Work,The Network Geek at Home — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Horse which is around lunchtime or 12:07 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Gibbous

So, I’ve finally heard back from DataRetrieval.com!

(Actually, I heard back a couple weeks ago, but I’ve been a little busy and haven’t had a chance to write things up.)

After a couple days of trying to get a response from an actual human being as to what was going on with my drive, I finally got a quote.  Well, actually, two quotes, which was kind of confusing.  The first quote was for about $300 and the second quote was for $1800.  But, I got no explanation of what the two quotes meant!  After a whole lot of back and forth over the course of more than a week with what seemed like an email autoresponder, I finally got in touch with a customer service representative to find out what was going on.
As it turns out, the quote for $300 was the minimum price to just get started.  Let that sink in for a minute.  They wanted $300 up front before they even started working on this drive with no promise whatsoever of actually retrieving data.  The $1800 quote was an estimate of the entire cost for retrieving all my data.

DataRecoveryReturnDrive Obviously, that wasn’t going to work for me and I told the service rep that.  Then, apparently, we started negotiations.
He came back with a counter offer price, which was still way too high and I told him so.
A day later, he came back again with another, lower offer.
In the end, that $1800 got cut down to about $500, which made me wonder just what they were charging me for in that first outrageous quote!

Finally, I convinced them that I wasn’t going to use their service and that I just wanted my drive back.  They charged me $25 for shipping, which I thought was fair enough, and they sent my drive back to me.  And here’s where they really lost me as a customer ever.  To the left, you see the box they sent my drive back to me in.  In case you forgot from the first post about this incident, since it was so long ago, I sent the drive to them in a larger box that was specifically designed to ship drives in, to keep them as safe as possible.

At the right, you see how they packed things inside the box.DataRecoveryReturnDrive-3
After all the strongly worded warnings and disclaimers about making sure you ship your damaged drive to them well padded so they won’t be liable for any additional damage or data loss, they don’t return the drive with anything like that same consideration.  I suppose they don’t feel like they need to since they won’t be making money off the drive, but, damn, that kind of disrespect for potential customers really says something bad about them as a company, at least in my mind.  I mean, there wasn’t *any* padding whatsoever!  It was just wrapped in two plastic shipping bags and shoved into the box!
Thankfully, the drive doesn’t seem to be damaged at all, or any more than it was when it crashed, so I’m probably no worse off than I was before I sent it to them.  Still, it’s the idea that they’d show so little care with my data that makes me question their entire service.  I know that I, personally, won’t ever trust them to attempt a data retrieval again, that’s for sure!

Also, based on what I’ve read, the problem is most likely a bad board on the drive.  A board which I can get off eBay for about $40, replace myself, and quite likely retrieve all my old photos.  I haven’t actually decided if I’m going to try and run down the board that matches the BIOS on my particular drive, but I may.  Kind of a huge difference, though, between $1800 and $40, plus a little of my time, isn’t it?

In any case, if I decide to get the board and fix the drive myself, now that I finally have it in my possession again, I’ll post another follow up with how that went.  And, possibly, even a tutorial on changing out that board.


Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"Everything is funny as long as it is happening to somebody else."

4/4/2013

Backups and Data Recovery – Home Edition – Part 1

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Calamity, Cataclysm, and Catastrophe,Fun Work,Geek Work,Personal,Review — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:24 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Crescent

“Two is one and one is none”.

I’ve quoted that a lot over the years.  I’ve reminded people over and over again that just moving your data to an external drive is NOT a backup.  If you can’t afford to destroy it, then it’s not backed up.  I’ve said all those things.
And, yet, on Tuesday, I lost data because it wasn’t backed up.

As many long-time readers know, I’m an amateur photographer.  In the past five years, I have taken over 18,000 photographs.
On Tuesday evening, the network attached storage device, an , to be exact, died.  Or, more specifically, the drive inside it died.  The sad thing was that I was preparing to copy it all to another device when it bit the dust.  Oh, sure, I still have a little over 4,000 of the best shots uploaded to my Flickr photostream, but, it’s not the same.  (I talked a little bit more about the backup portion and the loss over at my other site, JKHoffman.com)
So, here’s what I’ll be doing; First, I’m investigating the data recovery services of DataRetrieval.com and Second, I’ll be ordering two more large drives for my Pogoplug to store and backup my photos from here forward.

Let’s take these in reverse order.
I plan on adding a new feature to this blog called “Tools for Tuesday” which irregularly reviews various tools, software and hardware and even non-computer, that I’ve used and enjoyed over the years.  One of those early reviews will be of the fantastic Pogoplug.  In a nutshell, for those who aren’t familiar, this little beauty lets me attach up to four USB-based drives at a time to my network.  They can be any kind of USB drives I happen to have available.  Right now, I have two one-terabyte drives in generic enclosures hooked up to it.  They are set up as a master and a mirror drive.  In other words, one drive is where I put all my “stuff” and the Pogoplug automagically mirrors it to the second drive.
It’s really, really nice and when I have the right software installed on my various machines, I can map a drive to that device via the internet and upload to my own personal cloud in my server closet at home.  It’s very nice, albeit a little slow sometimes when I’m away from home.  Still, it’s private and reasonably secure and automatically backing itself up.  I’ve confirmed that two of these devices in separate locations can be used the same way, make a truly redundant mirror, if you really want to do that.  (I do, but I haven’t gotten around to getting the second Pogoplug and setting it up on another network somewhere.)
I really cannot convey how happy I have been with this setup.  I’m super, super impressed with this as a low-rent solution for the small or home business person, or, like me, the hardcore hobbyist.
So, by the time you all are reading this post, I’ll have ordered two three-terabyte USB drives of some kind.  And, clearly, I’ll be setting them up in a similar configuration as the ones I already have, so that one backs up the other.

I’m also sending my drive off to DataRetrieval.com to get an estimate on restoring the data.
I chose them because they had an office in Houston, and I like using local businesses.  Also, they sent me a free shipping label to send the drive to them to get an estimate, which I like.  And, yes, I did try several things to get the data back myself, including the ultimate hard drive “Hail Mary”; the “frozen drive” trick.  I only got as far as seeing the drive, but not being able to access any of the partitions.  And, based on the horrible clicking noise it was making, I’m pretty sure it’s going to take getting the platters out and mounted in their special recovery equipment to get the data off.
I’m choosing slow over expensive, so it may be a couple weeks before I hear back from them with an estimate.  And, depending on how pricey it gets, I may not even decide to follow through and have them recover it.  But, I have to admit, it really hurt to lose five years worth of my photography, even if I don’t really go back to the old stuff all that often.  Now, if I were a professional photographer, or a business owner, I’d pay through the nose to get that data back, but for me, it’s really not hugely important.  Still, I’ll be interested to see, and share, what the quote is and how it’s handled by the service techs at DataRetrieval.com

So, stay tuned!  I don’t know how long it will take, but I promise to do a Part 2 when I get the data recovery quote!


Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"Everyone deserves to be happy, but not if that happiness is dependent on imprisoning or enslaving another human being."
   --Unintentionally ironic comment left on a blog

2/6/2012

Knock it off!

Filed under: Calamity, Cataclysm, and Catastrophe,Criticism, Marginalia, and Notes,Red Herrings — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Horse which is around lunchtime or 1:02 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a Full Moon

Hey, can the folks at 132.3.57.68 , which seems to be an Air Force network operations center, please stop hammering my blog?  Not sure what y’all are looking for or trying to do here, but if you would contact me directly, I’d be happy to help you out.  In the mean time, though, my web host would really appreciate it if you’d stop doing all the aggressive GETs on my site.  It’s playing havoc with their servers.
Thanks!

UPDATE: Hey, it seems like someone in 754th Electronic Systems Group is taking an extreme interest in this blog for some reason.  From public records, someone in either Montgomery, Alabama, or Henderson, Nevada, or Colorado Springs, Colorado.  But, I still have no idea why they’d be interested in this blog.  Anyone have any ideas?

11/10/2011

Hard Drive Prices

Filed under: Calamity, Cataclysm, and Catastrophe,Geek Work,Life, the Universe, and Everything,News and Current Events — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Horse which is around lunchtime or 12:36 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a Full Moon

Looks like they’re about to go up.

And, if what I’m reading in the media is any indication, by quite a lot.
I know I mentioned this a couple weeks ago, but the tech media seems to just be really catching on to this.  The folks over at ExtremeTech, who are really into their hardware, have a great article about what’s going on with drive prices.  And, perhaps more importantly, what they think is going to happen to drive prices.  In short, it’s not good.
Seagate is expecting shortages in their supply chain for “several quarters”, and that, of course, translates to a higher demand.  And, for all of  you who slept through your basic Economics course in school, higher demand on a limited supply results in higher prices.

Of course, this is all due to the terrible flooding in Thailand, where key components are made for a number of electronic systems.  I’d expect that shortly after Christmas, a number of things will go up in price.  Anything that relies on a drive for a key component, like PCs or laptops or network attached storage, will clearly cost more.  But, I expect a lot of different cameras and similar electronics to go up in price, too.
This is the downside of a global economy.  And, it’s also why we should be concerned with the welfare of our fellow humans on the far side of the globe.  We’re all interconnected, now more than ever.  I hate to equate such an enormous disaster with our creature comforts and the price of consumer goods, but, well, it’s the only way some people can get their mind around how important it all is.
The world is so interconnected now, what happens in any one country, no matter how small, has far reaching effects on the entire world.

3/16/2011

Japanese Tragedy

Filed under: Art,Calamity, Cataclysm, and Catastrophe,Deep Thoughts,Life, the Universe, and Everything,News and Current Events,Red Herrings — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Rooster which is in the early evening or 6:03 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Gibbous

Wow, where to even begin…

Readers of my blog may not be aware of what level of Japanophile I really am, but, well, let’s just say I keep track of what’s going on over there better than the average American.  Many of art and movie trends, especially in animation and comics and science-fiction in general, end up being a pretty big influence over here.  Fashion, too, actually, and in ways most of us aren’t even aware of most of the time.
So, with that in mind, when I saw a couple of my contacts over there in Tokyo talking about the earthquake, tsunami and general devastation on Twitter and Facebook this past Friday morning, I was concerned.  As news media started to pick up the stories, detailing just how bad it was, I have to admit, I started to wonder about the damage done to the global economy and what it meant for our entire future.  Think about all the electronics and cars and, well, all kinds of things, that come out of Japan or through Japan and consider what will happen when those things aren’t manufactured for a while during this crisis.  The ripple from that will be felt all over the world for quite some time.

What’s worse, though, is what’s happening with those reactors.
Boing Boing has an article about how regular citizens are tracking the radiation with home-brew Geiger counters, which is cool, but, frankly, a little frightening.  I mean, I was concerned when one of my friends said she was going to spend the night in her office because the trains were out and she had a 20+ mile walk home, but this…  Well, when the government, any government, tells you not to worry about radiation, frankly, I’d worry.  You know it has to be pretty bad when the U.S. Navy moves its fleet because they were concerned about radiation levels 160k out into the ocean.  That just can’t be good.  From the stories, at least one reactor is most likely experiencing a melt down, and probably more than one really is.  They claim it won’t be another Chernobyl, but, somehow, I just don’t believe them.  And, with so many people in such a tight geographical area, I have to wonder what the long-term implications of this will be.  I haven’t heard many clear estimates on how many have already died in this tragedy, but I’m sure it’s going to get worse.
Thank God for the brave workers who stayed, at peril to their own lives, to try to contain the damage as much as possible.  They’re real heroes.

I don’t know how many people are without basic shelter and necessities, but there are a couple ways to help.
First, a company named Shelter Box is sending disaster kits there and needs funding.  They seem legit and their kit is a pretty good selection of things that people would be needing.  Remember, we’re hearing a lot about the reactors, but there are also thousands of people who have been hammered by tsunamis as well.  It’s just like the hurricanes have been here in the States.  They have the same kinds of problems and need the same kind of help.
Another great way to help is to donate to the Red Cross at this link.  They always help and get the maximum amount of your donation directly to the people who need it.  Also, a general donation to them will help the people in Christchurch, New Zealand who were hit with earthquakes recently and the people in Haiti who still need help, too.

And, if you can’t donate, pray for them.
If you don’t pray, then at least send whatever positive energy you can their way.

Finally, for those of you, like me, who live in hurricane country, now is the time to think about putting together a disaster survival kit.  Seriously.  I talk about this almost every year, but, really, we need to do it.  I know I’ve been putting things together for the past several years, just in case, but it never hurts to plan a little more.  Even under the best circumstances, authorities expect us to be able to fend for ourselves for at least 72 hours.
Think about that and ask yourself if you’re prepared.  If not, seriously consider getting prepared before it’s too late.

1/25/2011

Dealing With Death

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Calamity, Cataclysm, and Catastrophe,Deep Thoughts,Life, the Universe, and Everything,News and Current Events,The Network Geek at Home — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Rooster which is in the early evening or 6:14 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

No, not the idea, but the actual event.

Two stories ran recently about dealing with the parts of us left behind after death.
First a story about a “better” coffin that screws into the ground.  Okay, I’ll grant you, this is less serious than morbidly amusing to me.  Still, I do like the idea of having a low-cost disposal method for what I’ll leave behind once I “shuffle off this mortal coil”.  That it screws into the ground, just tickled me.
And, for anyone keeping track, I’d just as soon be cremated and scattered to the Four Winds where the Chicago River meets Lake Michigan just outside the Loop.  Seriously.

The second two were a little more serious.  Two stories about social media applications dealing with the accounts of the dead and, more recently, one from the New York Times Magazine, online, of course.
Back before everyone was on the web all the time, I used to have an envelope that was labeled “Open upon my death or disappearance”.  Seriously!  I used to keep it tucked under my keyboard.  I had one at work, too, for those folks, though that was in a safe.  In each envelope was a series of usernames and passwords for people to use to get access to my accounts should I go missing, or should something happen to me that left me incapacitated or dead.  I’m honestly not sure if anyone knew about the one under my keyboard, but I figured it would have turned up when someone cleaned up after me.  So, basically, I was giving someone who survived me access to my e-mail and other, similar accounts.
I got rid of that sometime shortly before the divorce, for some obvious reasons.

Now, though, there are so many accounts and websites and blogs and such that I’m not sure I could easily list them all.  And, frankly, who would bother to pay for my website?  Who would care enough to maintain an archive of this blog, for instance?  I don’t have a huge readership, though you are a pretty loyal lot, so I don’t expect anyone to really want to preserve what I have here.
How many of you have though about what will happen to your blogs and websites and so on when you die?  What about if you were to die suddenly from, oh, say, cancer?  What then?  If I went missing for a month, would anyone notice here?
Well, for WordPress blogs, there’s a plugin called Next Of Kin that might help, a little.  You can set it to post some message to your blog if you fail to login to your blog for a set amount of time.  And, just to be sure, it will send you a reminder or warning e-mail to check and make sure that you haven’t just forgotten to visit your blog.  It’s far from enough to take care of all of your digital needs after death, but it is a pretty good start!

So, what have you all got setup in case of your untimely death?  Does anyone know your passwords?  Have you given anyone instructions on what to post to Facebook or Twitter after you’ve gone?


Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"Never tell your girlfriend that her diet's not working."

8/20/2010

Dystopian Futures

Filed under: Calamity, Cataclysm, and Catastrophe,Fun,Red Herrings — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:14 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Gibbous

Seems like I’ve been talking about increasingly grim things this month.

Well, I can promise you that I don’t feel as if the world was ending, even though that does seem to occupy my “fun” posts!  So, let’s see if we can lighten things up a bit this week with the Dystopian Future Quiz that helps you choose just which unbearable Dystopian future is for you!
Oh, I know it’s silly, but, what the heck, it’s Friday and you obviously don’t have anything better to do or you wouldn’t be reading this!  So, go ahead and take the quiz.  It’ll only take a few minutes and it really is sort of fun.

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