Diary of a Network Geek

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

7/19/2019

Free Windows 10 Tools

Filed under: Better Living Through Technology,Fun,Geek Work,MicroSoft — 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

Two free utilities to help tame Windows 10.

Y’all know I love free stuff and share it with you often here, especially on Friday. Actually, I pretty much exclusively post and share anything at all on Fridays, but, still, you get my point. In any case, virtually all consumer laptops and desktops are sold with Windows 10 now, but most of us are still trying to get all the settings and configurations locked down the way we like. Or maybe that’s just the professional geeks like me. Either way, with the goal of taming Windows 10 just a little bit more, I have two utilities from the same company to share with you this week. Both are free for home (ie. non-commercial) users.
First there’s O&O ShutUp10, which lets you get tighter control over what parts of Windows 10 communicates with Microsoft and advertisers. You don’t even need to install it. Just download it and run it. It will give you suggestions and hints on locking down location services and privacy settings so that you aren’t leaking information you don’t want to share.
The other is O&O AppBuster which lets you remove the automatically installed apps that Microsoft includes with Windows 10, whether you want them or not. It also lets you remove the hidden apps that seem like they’re part of the operating system but really aren’t. So, for instance, if you wanted to get rid of all the XBOX 360 cruft on your Windows 10 laptop, since you don’t play games but are writing the great American novel, this app would let you do that. Also, just like the last one, it’s free and doesn’t need to be installed to run and do its magic.

So, not quite as exciting as free games or stories, but maybe more useful.
Enjoy!

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words!

6/7/2019

PowerToys 2019

Filed under: Better Living Through Technology,Geek Work,MicroSoft,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

Some reboots are better than others.

Sometimes, I talk about really geeky things here, mostly because I AM a geek, but also because I am a professional geek. This is one of those times.
Back in the days of Windows 95 and Windows XP, Microsoft made a whole set of little tools that fankly should have been included in the operating system to begin with. Things like TweakUI that let you change almost every aspect of the look and feel of Windows, including where some system folders resided. There were other tools, too, like things thta would let you synchronize folders and autoplay CDs and, one of my favorites, Command Prompt Here that let you open, you guessed it, a command prompt in any folder from the Windows FileManager. Those little tools sort of fell off in popularity after those versions of Windows, but hard-core users and oldsters like me still remember them fondly.
Well, according to Lifehacker, Microsoft is bringing PowerToys back! What’s more, they’re making them open source, so you’ll be able to download the source code and write your own! Of course, they don’t have TweakUI in this batch of goodies, yet, but I’m sure some enterprising, young programmer will dive into the Microsoft GitHub PowerToys repository, and figure out a way to make all our old favorites. In any case, it’s a good space to watch for new utilities that may be useful to you. And, of course, it’s free, which is why I’m sharing it with you on a Friday.
Enjoy!

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words!

5/17/2019

Quick Photoshop Tutorial

Filed under: Art,Fun,GUI Center,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 Waxing Gibbous

Selecting edges is hard!

As a professional computer geek and an amateur photographer, everyone expects me to to know Photoshop like a graphic designer. The truth is, though, I enjoy photography because it gets me out from behind the computer. I really spend more time making the photo in the camera than I do editing it afterwards. Oh, sure, I do pull all my images into Lightroom to clean up the exposure and colors a bit, but I rarely do more than that. Unless it’s a little cropping.
But, a couple of jobs ago, I did find myself doing a significant amount of editing for the company website. Usually, that meant cutting out some one of the company products and putting on a better background or no background at all. I hated it. I hated it because selecting fine edges was incredibly hard for me. It was super tedious and if I ever hit something like hair, well, let’s just say I was glad to be working in a mostly industrial environment.
Of course, the truth is that I wasn’t using all the selection tools to their greatest effect. If only I had been following PetaPixel back then, so that I could have possibly found their 1 minute tutorial on using Photoshop’s refine edge brush! Wow! What a huge help that would have been!
So, in the spirit of helping my fellow geeks, because who else would be reading this blog on a Friday, enjoy!
Seriously, it really is only a minute and it will help you tremendously with your selections in Photoshop. And, if you like that, there’s a whole Definitely worth checking out.

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words!

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:
"They don't hold meetings about rainbows."

2/15/2019

A Change of Scenery

Filed under: Art,Better Living Through Technology,Fun,GUI Center,MicroSoft — 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

This time of year, a change of scenery is a good idea.

Even if you can’t afford to travel, because, let’s face it with rising costs and fewer raises, who can afford to travel much? Still, after being cooped up all Winter long, right about now, as things start to thaw out, I start to think about a different view than the same, grey city. I try to escape in a good book, but even the books I’m reading these days are a little grey and bleak. As a computer geek, that leaves me just a few options. The easiest is just changing my Windows desktop background.
Thankfully, in my old links, I found a desktop background changer that Lifehacker had recommended; Chameleon. You don’t need to install it. Just hit that link, download the 32-bit or 64-bit version and run it. Then, pop open the settings and choose your location and it will change your wallpaper based on your local weather conditions, or your battery life, or time of day or any of several more specific variables. Also, when you hit that link, be sure to grab the “wallpaper pack”. In fact, I recommend doing that no matter what. And, if you plan on using Chameleon, unzip them to a folder before you run the program. Then you can select the appropriate photos in the setup. It’s really pretty straight-forward. And, when you’re tired of it running, just close it. Nothing to uninstall or remove. Just exit the program.
Simple, free and a beautiful change of very local scenery that’s very welcome this time of year.
Enjoy!

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words.

8/31/2018

WiFi Analyzer

Filed under: Better Living Through Technology,Fun,Geek Work,GUI Center,MicroSoft,The Network Geek at Home — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is in the early morning or 7:05 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

Now, available for Windows!

I’ve actually been using this particular program on an Android tablet for quite a long time. Come to think of it, I started out using it on a rooted Barnes and Noble nook tablet close to ten years ago, then when I upgraded, just kept using it. Often, I’d pull out my tablet, especially when on the road, to find the strongest local wifi signal to see if I could join that network. When I was in San Francisco for WonderCon in 2010, I used it to discover that the fastest wireless internet connection I could find was the yoga studio next door to the little, boutique hotel I was staying in. I also used it to tell the hotel staff what to change their wifi channel to for better performance.
More recently, I used it in my own neighborhood to tune my home wifi to the best channel so we got a stronger signal and weren’t sharing the same frequency with all the neighbors. Sure, it may be a small improvement, but I think it’s significant enough to make a few minutes spent with a free app worthwhile.
In any case, I saw recently on Lifehacker, that there’s a free Windows version of WiFi Analyzer available now. You just need to follow the links and download it. I linked to the Lifehacker article, instead of directly, because they go a great job showing you why it’s a good thing to have and use. Also, I’m too lazy to write all that out again. So, go hit their site, give them advertising revenue, and enjoy!

3/12/2018

An OS Inside An OS

Filed under: About The Author,Better Living Through Technology,GUI Center,Linux,Never trust a Network Admin with a screwdriver,The Network Geek at Home,Things to Read — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is in the early morning or 7:55 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Crescent

As you might have guessed from the title of this blog, I’m a geek. In fact, I’m actually a professional geek. Rumor has it, being a geek is cool now. I’ll get back to you on that.
In any case, one of the ways my geek has expressed itself is in early support for Linux.  I’ve used Linux, one way or another, for more than twenty years.  It’s hard to believe, but it’s true.  What’s more, I’ve been Linux certified for more than ten years!  Strange but true!  I don’t use Linux as my main operating system, though, because I live in the real world, not a Techno-Libertarian Utopia.  And, yes, that means, I use Windows.  At home, it’s Windows 10, because that’s what came installed on the laptops I got for my wife and I while I was a highly-paid contractor in 2016 and we were refreshing all our electronics.  But, much to my surprise, there’s a way to run both Windows and Linux, together on the same machine!  Without having a dual-boot system!  Thanks to an article from the Linux Journal, which almost went the way of the dinosaurs last year, I have activated Windows Subsystem for Linux, which is ONLY available on Windows 10, and then installed Ubuntu, which is free, from the Microsoft Store.  The little screen-shot at the top of this post is Ubuntu, running in its own, little window, on my Windows 10 laptop.

This is exciting!
Now, I can brush up my bash scripting by setting up a series of rsync jobs to keep my two Western Digital MyCloud drives in sync, essentially backing one up to the other.  From the literature, I had thought that was built into the models I got, but it wasn’t.  I tried to use SSH to get that setup directly on the MyCloud devices, since they’re running some limited *nix kernel, but something about the way they were configured made connecting one directly to the other and running rsync from working “as expected”.  This, though, should get me around all that.
Now, all I have to do sort out the syntax for properly mounting the Windows shares I’ve set up in the Ubuntu virtual machine app.  So, I’m not 100% there yet, but this is a great start!

 

8/4/2017

Surveillance Self-Defence

Filed under: Fun,Geek Work,News and Current Events,The Dark Side,Truth and Consequences — 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

Also known as “opsec for computer users”.

Though, to be fair, most computer users don’t actually need this kind of operational security. And, they certainly don’t refer to it as “opsec”, like I just did. These days, I pretty much keep my nose clean and my mouth shut, even online. I mean, look, the average troll on a message board really isn’t worth my time, especially at my consulting rates. What’s more, I have never, ever seen anyone convince someone with an argument, no matter how well reasoned, that the listener’s position is, in fact, wrong and the speaker really is the political/cultural/media genius that they both think they are and claim to be. I mean, literally, not a single time. Not even when I’ve been the one making the arguments!

Still, there are those last few idealistic “true believers” out there who continue to throw themselves against the colossus that is the internet comment board, or, worse, the government. (And, let’s face it, no matter who’s government it is, getting them to change is a pretty monumental task!) Those brave souls need to keep themselves safe. It’s for those crusaders that the Electronic Frontier Foundation created their series of tutorials which they’ve grouped together under the heading of Surveillance Self Defence. And, let me tell you what, these are some really smart people who have made some really great tutorials on staying safe, and as anonymous as necessary, on the internet while you protest against or agitate for your cause.
They’ve also been fighting for you, whether you know it or not, for years. Since 1990, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, also known as the EFF, has been fighting to keep your free speech alive, especially on the internet. They’ve fought everyone from the MPAA to the U.S. Federal Government and won often. You can read about their legal victories on their website.

In any case, the EFF is a worth cause, to whom I donated anonymously at DEFCON 20, and opsec is pretty important, too.
So, all in all, not my usual “fun” for a Friday afternoon, but still good to talk about.
Come back next week to see what else I have to share!

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

8/26/2016

Windows 10 Tips

Filed under: Fun,MicroSoft,News and Current Events — 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 a Third Quarter Moon

My wife and I officially upgraded our laptops this month, which means we’re now running Windows 10.

Personally, I like Windows 10. I think it’s got all the best features of Windows 7 with a minimal amount of new junk that Microsoft threw in to justify a new version, and charge for it.  Now, my wife is just happy that it’s brand new, and runs smoothly, while giving her access to her old files, thanks to our Western Digital My Cloud NAS, and is pretty.  Okay, so she may like it mostly because it’s pretty, but also fast.  I like the quick start and the fact that they haven’t made it impossible to find things, like other updates and upgrades have.  But, the thing is, I’m pretty much what you’d call a “power user”, even at home.  I don’t feel comfortable unless I can get down into the guts of the system and make it work the way I want it to work.  To do that takes a little extra effort, but, thanks to the first tip in article linked below, I have most of what I need via “God Mode”.  The rest of the tips cover everything from improving your privacy to controlling the look and feel of everything from your desktop to the menu.
It makes some really interesting reading, if you’re a geek like me, and if you use or are moving to Windows 10 at work, you can actually claim you were studying not goofing off!

Windows 10: The best hidden features, tips, and tricks

8/12/2016

Aerial View

Filed under: Art,Fun,GUI Center,MicroSoft,Photography — 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

One more aerial view thing next week and I’ll have an actual theme for the month.

Once upon a time, I used to watch a lot of the food and restaurant related reality television that seemed to run on the more obscure cable channels. One of my favorites was Bar Rescue. And, one of the coolest things I saw them do was setup a kind of “virtual window” system in this one bar that had really uninspiring night views. Basically, they were huge monitors that looked like windows and would loop these gorgeous displays of apparently live views from around the world. I loved that! And, ever since, I’ve kind of been looking for a way to recreate it.

Well, I still haven’t found a way, really, but I think I do have a very nice substitute. A developer by the name of John Coates whipped up a cool screen saver for Apple TV called, Aerial, which he offered up for free on the open source source code sharing site GitHub. And, that would be spectacular, if I had an Apple TV, which I don’t. Luckily, thanks to Mr. Coates releasing this code under an open source license, another developer, Dmitry Sadakov, reworked the code into the Aerial for Windows screensaver. It’s awesome! Installation is a little hands-on and manual, but the link, which is also to GitHub, has both the download and installation instructions.

So, go, grab it and enjoy your weekend!

This post originally appeared at Use Your Words.

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