Diary of a Network Geek

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

7/24/2020

Programming Widgets

Filed under: Better Living Through Technology,Fun,Fun and Games,GUI Center,On Creativity,The Day Job — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:30 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

I’m anything but a professional programmer, but occasionally, I make stuff.

Sometimes, in my day job, I have to solve a particular problem and the only way I can manage that is via some small bit of programming. Usually, it’s just a little script of some kind; PowerShell or Perl, mostly. I taught myself Perl seventeen or eighteen years ago, in an attempt to stay busy at a job that severely underutilized my talents. Demonstrated, I think, by teaching myself Perl in my downtime. A lot of techs I knew would have just scrolled a news site or played solitaire or some other useless thing. I tried to expand my portfolio of skills. I learned a long time ago, though, that I need a project to guide my learning. It almost doesn’t matter what the project is, as long as it gives me problems to solve and obstacles to overcome. Solving those problems, with the new thing I want to learn, is what teaches me. Granted, I don’t always learn the best way to accomplish my task, or at least not the most commonly accepted way, but I still learn the skills involved in a way that embeds them pretty deeply.

Since I’m mostly self-taught in IT, which is my chosen professional field, I’ve had to find ways to keep learning on my own interesting. Having personal projects is one of them. So, projects are how I teach myself new things. As I work toward a larger goal, whatever that may be, I find problems and solutions to those problems and my knowledge extends into new areas. I did that with Perl a number of years ago. First I tried to teach myself Perl for extending MoveableType, the blogging software that I used to use before their licensing debacle. But, that was a bit too arcane and involved a place for me to start. So, several years later, I found some simpler scripts that did some language processing and were useful for another low-key hobby of mine; conlanging. (That’s constructed language making, for the less geeky.) And, so, I had a project to work with that was within my skill level. In the end, I made those scripts something that could run on a webpage and it drove massive traffic to my site. It was sweet! But, it crashed the server because it was so popular and it drove TOO much traffic to that site. Ultimately, I had to take them down. By then, though, not only had I learned Perl pretty well, but I had moved my blog to WordPress and started looking at this fancy new language for the web called “PHP”. That mostly ran in a way that didn’t put a strain on the servers, so it was better for high-traffic sites. The only problem was, I couldn’t move the functions from the Perl scripts to PHP easily. So, I started looking around for projects to teach myself PHP.

The project I found to let me dig into PHP was a random generator. No, not some random piece of electronic equipment, but a little web toy that randomly generated things. It’s pretty simple, really. You have something, like a title or a sentence that has variables, like nouns and adjectives, like Mad Libs. Those variables become, well, variables in the program. So, I just need to list a bunch of whatever that variable is into the program which randomly chooses those and fills them into the sentence or title and then gives me the result. Sounds simple, right? Okay, it kind of is, which is why I started with that. But, then I went about making it complicated. I added more variables and started reading them in from external sources and getting fancy with the output formatting. But, what it did was let me learn, bit by bit, PHP. You can see a bunch of those at my World Building page at Fantasist.net. When I got good enough at it, I dug back into WordPress and started looking at ways to use my new PHP skills to modify WordPress. What I came up with was the Dale Reckoning Calendar Plugin. For its time, it was pretty good. Now, I look at it and, well, I’m not quite embarrassed by it, but I’m not as proud of it as I was. It does work, but it requires the user to modify their theme and, essentially, become a bit of a coder themselves. That never sat well with me. And, I wanted to have something that would randomly, or semi-randomly, conjure up weather conditions for a particular day. Why? Because, if you’re gaming in a big campaign, things like weather start to matter a little. And, it was fun. It let me use old skills and old code and extend them to something new and stretch my learning even more. So, that’s why I kept coming back and eventually came up with the Forgotten Realms Weather Widget. It works better as a widget in the sidebar than as a daily update on posts. Though, I may still revisit the idea and see if I can’t improve my old plugin to not require the end-user to modify their theme to make it work. Again, for no real reason other than it’s fun to me and it would make my brain work more on something technical, which I’m already good at, but not for my day job. Mostly, though, because it would be fun to me. Oddly, it wouldn’t be fun if I had to do it for a paycheck. By the way, in moving some of the code from the old plugin to the new widget, I did find some ways to tighten the code a bit. I’d still be a little embarrassed to have a professional coder look too closely at it, but at least I’m improving.

And, I’ll keep working on it, though I’ll need to set some better boundaries so that I don’t get so obsessed that I miss much more sleep working on it. In any case, you can see the results for yourself at Forgotten Realms Weather Widget.
It’s free and only for WordPress and there may be bugs that I haven’t seen yet, so let me know if you use and find any. I can’t promise when I’ll fix them, but I promise that I’ll work on them.

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words!  And, that’s where you should leave any comments or bugs you might find.

5/15/2020

Escape The Confines Of Your Mind

Filed under: Fun,Fun and Games,Stimulus and Production,The Day Job — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:30 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a Third Quarter Moon

Feeling a little trapped? Me, too.

So, I usually have a theme to these Friday posts, but even I have to admit they’ve gotten pretty thin lately. And, while I’ve started working some days back in the office, I’m still home more than I’m not and I can feel the mental pressure some days. I haven’t gone quite so far as to ask the dogs for advice about IT management. Honestly, I think if they could, they’d have some good ideas. At least, they can’t have any ideas worse than some I’ve heard out in project meetings over the course of my career.
In any case, until those animals start to talk, I’ll have to contend with the rest of the circus animals walking around talking up a storm. It’s enough to make me want to flee the scene. Actually, that’s a pretty common day-dream fantasy of mine; packing my life into a van or boat or something contained and portable and just, well, running away. I know it’s possible, because Brian and Karin Trautman have been living on a sailboat for 10 years, and they love it. I, personally, lean more toward the camper van or tiny house thing, but, hey whatever works. It’s the idea of being portable and light and having fewer attachments. I have a lot of attachments and absolutely recognize that the source of all my real problems come from those attachments. But, hey, knowing is the first step, right?
One other way I escape from my own brain is to lose myself in movies and books. But, weirdly, I need my escapism to feel real. I know, that’s a bit of oxymoron, but, well, as old Walt Whitman said, “Do I contradict myself? Very well, I am large. I contain multitudes.” So, with that in mind, I really enjoyed watching a former FBI agent reviewing mobster movies and, conversely, a former mob boss reviewing gangster films. It’s a nice contrast. It’s funny, because I remarked to an old friend just the other day online that for whatever reason, ultra-violent gangster movies are very calming and soothing to me, especially if they’re about the yakuza. Go figure.
And, since we’re talking about movies and, well, everyone is working from home these days, I thought I’d share this disturbing, but also fascinating mashup of The Office and The Matrix. Watch it!
And, finally, for the word nerds out there, like me, I have This Word Does Not Exist, a site that creates a new word and defines it for you. I think we should all pick one of those generated words and work it into our everyday conversations until we get someone else to adopt it. Because I’m bored with email and video meetings. And, I want to lead you astray.

I’d have had better links and a better post for you, but it’s been the busiest week of the pandemic for me. Seriously. I’ve barely had time to eat lunch most days. On the plus side, I have been getting up earlier and writing Morning Pages. Though, I’ve been doing it via the keyboard, which is verboten by the traditionalists. The average length of a page of a trade paperback is about 500 words, I’m told, so I’ve been doing 1500 words. It may not be the officially sanctioned method, but, hey, it works for me. I’ll try to remember to let you know how it goes.
See you all next week!

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words!

4/10/2020

And, Now, A Distraction

Filed under: Art,Fun,Fun and Games,Movies — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:30 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

I could stand to think about something else for a bit.

For the past several weeks, all we’ve talked about is COVID-19. Not just here on this blog, but, well pretty much everywhere. I mean, every interaction I’ve had with anyone for the past month to six weeks has had something to do with the novel coronavirus. So, if you’re like me, you’re about done talking about it for a bit. Outside of taking some pretty reasonable precautions, like washing your hands more frequently and limiting contact with others as much as possible and wearing a face mask of some kind when you absolutely have to be out with others, there’s really not much that’s in our control here. It’s frustrating, at least for me.
So, to help deal with that frustration, this week, I’m sharing nothing but fun links to amuse and distract. I hope you enjoy them!
Let’s start with Astartes – the Warhammer 40,000 fan film! It’s all fan made, and broken into small parts, but it’s brilliant, lovely work. If you’re a sci-fi fan at all, it’s worth a look.
If you’re looking for something a bit longer, but maybe not a full-length movie, IO9 has five short sci-fi, fantasy, and horror films that will fit the bill. And, yes, they may be a little intense for younger viewers, but they’re basically safe for work from home. And, all have high-production value and are really, really well done. Definitely worth the 12-15 minutes away from your virtual office for a break.
Next up is a somewhat more light-hearted film REBOOTED – a short film about an out of work special effect. It’s cute and, again, amazingly well done. A lovely story told entirely without dialog.
And, speaking of special effects, this next film, BOX, is an art piece about the intersection of video, virtual reality and physical space. Actually, it’s a little hard to explain, but it’s beautiful to watch, so, please, go take a little bit and experience it.
And, to wrap things up, a YouTube channel that gives you things to actually do; PPO Papercraft videos. There are papercraft tutorials here for just about every interest. Everything from paper airplanes to origami flowers and everything in between. As a kid I was given a couple of origami books one time when I was sick and I totally fell in love with paper folding. To this day, I can make a flying crane from memory with nothing more than a gum wrapper. A lot of time inside and away from other people sounds like just the opportunity to learn some new origami forms. I encourage you to try it! It’s fun!

So, there you go, some things to watch and some things to do during the quarantine. I’m not sure how many more weeks of this we’re going to have, but I am sure the longer this goes on the stranger the links are I’ll share.

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words!

3/20/2020

Miscellaneous Fun Links

Filed under: Art,Fun,Fun and Games,News and Current Events,Personal Care — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:30 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Crescent

Look, it’s been a crazy, chaotic week, which means you’re getting a crazy, chaotic post.
So, like all the rest of the IT pros in small shops all over the world this week, I’ve been scrambling to get as many people in my office able to work from home as possible. It’s been a long, frustrating week and basically nothing has gone the way I’d planned. Granted, that does mean that some things are actually better than I planned, but, honestly, most aren’t. Either way, it’s left me precious little time and focus to give you anything coherent. But, it is still a Friday and I feel compelled to share something. So, random fun links it shall be!
A lot of folks are stuck at home with their kids, who are out of school because it’s been closed while the academic year has been delayed. So, to help parents keep kids engaged, I have two links for you. First, there are Free NASA Space Projects via Space.com. I’m in the greater Houston area and we all get a little into NASA, because they’re such a big employer here and we have so much amazing history with the space program. These projects are all things you can do at home and keep learning while the schools figure things out. The second link is to a downloadable Cthulhu coloring book from Chaosium. Yes, it may warp their little minds, but it’s coloring! And, coloring is good, clean fun, as well as a known way to reduce stress and anxiety. Though, I’m not responsible if you all summon an Elder God!
The next two links are for book lovers. Specifically for book lovers who love science fiction and fantasy. First, or third, depending on how you’re counting, there’s the Tor eBook Club, which regularly offers free ebooks from popular authors. Through the end of the day of this posting, you can join and download Redshirts by John Scalzi! Or, you can check out the fourth link, the Baen Books Free Library! Again, ebooks, but free and from some very well known, award-winning authors. Both are just the thing if you’re looking for something new to read without spending a lot of money.
And, finally, a slightly stranger than normal link, specifically for our most current concerns, How Much Toilet Paper!?, a website that will help you calculate just how far your stash of toilet paper will last during this most current, or any future, pandemics! A fun, and hopefully funny, website about an increasingly serious topic. And, I know that first hand as I actually ordered toilet paper for my older parents online and had it sent to them. And, that’s no joke.

So, seriously, take care of yourselves and each other. Don’t go out more than you need to. Wash your hands. Stop panic-buying essentials that we all need. And, stay safe.

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words!  My other blog.

3/6/2020

Occupational Training Failure

Filed under: Fun,Fun and Games — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:30 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Gibbous

For dogs.

It’s been a crazy couple of weeks with threats of global pandemics and the primary elections here in the US, not to mention all the other insanity we all deal with on a daily basis these days. I don’t even want to go into my own work insanity, because; a) they might be reading and b) it’s mostly technical IT geekery that normal readers like yourselves really don’t care about. But, trust me when I tell you, if you’re feeling a little nuts this week, you’re not alone.
So, with that in mind, I bring you an uplifting link directly from Boing Boing; Dog Fails Service Animal Test. And, trust me when I say that not only did he fail, but he epically failed. If you don’t find yourself laughing along with his trainer, who ultimately adopted him, then I can turn your week around for you. You’ll need expert help. Either way, seriously, you have to see the videos to believe it. Not every dog is meant to be a service animal and this video is proof. To be fair, Ryker is a happy dog that clearly wants to please his trainer, but just can’t quite figure out the whole service dog thing no matter how enthusiastically he tries. Watch the videos and you’ll see what I mean.

Enjoy! And, have a good weekend!

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words!

10/18/2019

AI Art Generator

Filed under: Art,Fun,Fun and Games,The Tools — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:30 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

Surrealism at its most tech?

Maybe.
Artificial intelligence is all the rage these days, especially the newish “generative adversarial network” variety. Generative adversarial networks, or “GANs”, really came to public attention, and mine, with the This Person Does Not Exist website that generates uncomfortably believable portraits based on machine learning through observation of other photos. It’s fascinating, but also a little disturbing.
Now, with the same technology, you can make art that is unique and based on computer generated output from a GAN at Artbreeder. Artbreeder makes more than portraits and can generate landscapes, creatures, albums covers and, yes, portraits. It can be totally random, or you can combine things from a list of photos or, for some options, change settings to effect the outcomes. It is free, but you’ll have to make an account that’s connected to an email address. And, you’re restricted to 25 downloads. The landscapes and portraits are the best, though, if you’re wanting to make a kind of abstract monster, that comes out well, too. You can see some of the things I’ve created at my profile page, but I definitely encourage you to set up a free account and play with it yourself.
It’s a fun, if surreal, way to waste a little time on a Friday afternoon.
Enjoy!

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words!

12/28/2018

Random Resolutions for 2019

Filed under: Fun,Fun and Games,Marginalia and Notes from the Editor,News and Current Events — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is in the early morning or 7:20 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

Another new year and another chance to break promises to yourself!

I never bother with New Year’s Resolutions any more, personally. I’ve tried “turning over a new leaf” in January so many times that I’m in danger of becoming a walking cliche. At least I know that I’m no different than most people, which is why gyms and churches are both bursting at the seams in January, but thin out by April. Still it’s traditional, so I’ll share, again, my own little solution to the New Year’s Resolution “problem”.
Back in the day, when I still had delusions that I could make myself into a decent programmer, I whipped up a New Year’s Resolution Generator. I based it, in part, on some ideas from the Worst Case Scenario Survival Handbook: Holidays, but I have to admit, I threw in some of my own warped sense of humor. And, I weighted things a little more toward heavier drinking and looser morals because I figured those were the resolutions that would be easier to keep. Also, I figured they’d be funnier.

In any case, it was apparently funny enough that Comedy Central Insider linked it in their blog back when I first released it. Which is pretty cool, no matter how long ago that was. Besides, can completely random “advice” from a website really be any worse than the suggestions you got from family over the holidays? In today’s world of chaos and unreality, it honestly doesn’t seem as bad an idea as it used to! So, why not give it a shot yourself? You don’t even have to share about it publicly. No one will know but us!

And try to have a good year, no matter what happens. Make time to love your loved ones, do good work and add something positive to the world. Or one of the random resolutions. Whichever seems likelier to produce good results.

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words!

5/11/2018

Collected Freebies

Filed under: Fun,Fun and Games — 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 Crescent

You all know how I love free stuff.

And, those of you poor souls who have been coming to this blog, week after week, also know that I am as lazy as I can possibly manage to be. Toward that end, I do my absolute best to share only the best links stolen from other sites, prettied up and reposted here for your internet browsing pleasure. So, when Lifehacker share the post “Download Free Stuff From Reddit’s Favorite Websites”, you can’t be surprised that I’m sharing it with you this week. These sites are mostly legal, always free, and cover suggestions from free books to music to games to apps and more. Collected by redditor howtoadvanced, and distilled to just the best by the fine folks at Lifehacker, and now, linked to by me.
Enjoy.

 

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words.

2/16/2018

Hacker Games

Filed under: Fun,Fun and Games,The Day Job — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:30 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

Sounds like a good title for a book!

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

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

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

6/16/2017

Government Approved Webcomics

Filed under: Art,Fun,Fun and Games — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:05 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a Third Quarter Moon

I’ve been sick for the past two weeks, so I’m short on thinky-talky-writey energy.

Still, trooper that I am, I’m here with a link to fabulous free things for you, like I have been every Friday for years beyond easy count. Honestly, I’m not even sure why I continue to do it most weeks, but, I suppose the habit is just hard to break. Based on my stats, hardly anyone is even coming to this sad, old site any more. Still, as Yukio Mishima once wrote, I have “[i]ncurable hope, like an obstinate case of scabies, which lodges, damp and reddish, in the infected skin, producing a constant itching, and refusing to yield to any outer force.” Hope that one day, my real and true audience will arrive and worship me as the literary deity I once hoped to be. Yeah, I have a hard time keeping a straight face when I write junk like that, too, so it’s okay to laugh. I’ve given up any literary ambition.
Still, I do like a good turn of phrase, and if it has a nice picture to go with it, all the better. And, that, dear readers, is why I’ve chosen to share with you the Library of Congress Webcomics Archive. That’s right, only the best government approved webcomics for you, dear readers. Also, in spite of that spectre of governmental approval, the collected comics are quite good, including such varied fare as “XKCD” and “Girl Genius Online Comics!” to name two of my personal favorites.

Anyway, I’m on antibiotics, so that’s all I’ve got this week. Like it or leave it.
See you in the funny papers!

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words.

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