Diary of a Network Geek

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

5/7/2021

Mental Health Month

Filed under: About The Author,Advice from your Uncle Jim,Life Goals,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

May is Mental Health Awareness Month.

I’ve talked about mental health on my blogs before, especially in relation to stress and the pandemic. COVID-19 and the attempts to deal with it have added extra stress to all of our lives and stretched our mental health to the limits. And, this past year has been particularly hard for me with the death of my father. I never realized just how close we were until I couldn’t turn to him for advice or just to talk things through. Grief is its own kind of mental health issue, for sure, but layered on top of everything else, it’s just made things harder.
I was surprised to find out after my father’s passing that we have a bit of a family history of depression. Dad’s generation didn’t talk about that sort of thing much. They still, in general, see things like depression as a kind of moral failing or weakness. For years, I’ve known that I have a bit of depression. I’ve fought it since at least high school. It wasn’t crippling by any means, but it absolutely made life more difficult. After getting divorced, I saw a therapist and that helped for a bit, but, if I’m being honest, I’ve had bouts of depression since long before meeting my ex-wife and continued to have them well after I felt the freedom of being released from that tragedy of a marriage. My wife has been on medication for depression for longer than I’ve known her. It keeps her sane and functional and for years she’s tried to convince me to try antidepressants. I’ve always resisted. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely understand the mechanism of neurotransmitters and how they can affect mental states. And, I completely believe that medication can help. But, for years, I also believed that it could help everyone ELSE and that I didn’t really need it.
About six weeks ago, I relented and talked with my doctor about taking a light antidepressant to see if it helped me with my current struggles. I’ve been taking them for about six weeks and I absolutely can tell the difference. So far, it looks like the doctor has picked a winner and I’m not having any side effects, but I can positively see the difference in my mood and my productivity. I had no idea how much what I thought of as mild or reasonable depression was affecting my productivity, but it very clearly was. Things that I would put off indefinitely because they just seemed overwhelming get done in a much more timely fashion because they’ve become “right-sized” in my no longer depressed brain. Don’t get me wrong; it’s not like antidepressants have solved all my problems. They haven’t, I’m sorry to say. However, they do let me be more fully present and capable of dealing with my problems. Most importantly, they haven’t negatively impacted my thinking at all as I have been afraid of them doing. Nor have they reduced my creativity in the slightest. If anything, they’ve freed me a bit more to think MORE clearly and act MORE creatively. I wish I’d tried them sooner.

So, if you’re struggling with depression or any other mental health issue, don’t wait. Go get help. You can find some good resources at MentalHealth.gov – How To Get Mental Health Help And, most importantly, if you feel like you’re going to hurt yourself or others, please, do reach out to someone.

Suicide & Mental Health Hotlines in The United States
Crisis Text Line Text HOME to 741741
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255
SAMHSA Treatment Referral Helpline 1-877-726-4727
Trans Lifeline 1-877-565-8860 (for the transgender community)
TrevorLifeline 1-866-488-7386 (for LGBTQ youth)
Veterans Crisis Line 1-800-273-8255, Press 1

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words!


Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"No matter what goes wrong, there is always someone who knew it would."

4/23/2021

A Sunny Future

Filed under: Art,Fun,News and Current Events,Things to Read — 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

Solar power has come to represent hope in science fiction, and climate change.

My wife and I got solar panels in 2018. It was not a decision we made lightly, but we’re quite glad we did. For one thing, solar power almost completely off-sets our electricity bill. For another thing, we feel that having solar power helps the long-term health of our planet. It’s just a good idea and the technology is finally catching up to the promise solar power first held in the ’70s. We don’t have batteries yet, since where we live there’s a requirement for solar systems to be tied to the power grid. And, too, four years ago, battery technology just wasn’t quite where we wanted it to be to invest in a battery backup solution. It pretty much is there now, or close enough, at least, that it’s worth doing.
When we got the solar panels, I told my wife that it felt like I was living in a science-fictional universe. When I was growing up, solar power was almost exclusively the province of the future or science-fiction. Today, we’re closer than ever to realizing the promise of that future. Sadly, it’s still more fiction than science, but at least there’s hope.
So, to encourage you in that hope for the future, I thought I’d share two free collections about the promise of a solar future from Arizona State University. First, there’s The Weight of Light, which came out in February of 2019. Then there’s Cities of Light, which came out this year in February. Both are described as “…[a] collection of science fiction stories, art, and essays…” that explore how our future may look fueled by solar energy “… with an upbeat, solarpunk twist…” And, of course, for the ebook versions, both are free as well.

Why not download them now for your first “summer read”?

This post first appeared on Use Your Words!

4/2/2021

Password Rules

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Fun,Geek Work,News and Current Events,Truth and Consequences — 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

Do you know those horrible password rules about adding random characters and numbers and stuff?

IT professionals hate them, too. Honest. I can say that because I am, in fact, an IT professional and have been for just shy of thirty years. (You can read more about my qualifications to call myself an IT pro at my other website, which includes Jim Hoffman’s CNE Resume, because, yes, I’ve been doing this so long I’m certified in things that no one really uses anymore.) I remember when the standard for passwords changed, requiring normal people to do things like including special characters or numbers and a mix of upper case and lower case letters. We were told that it would make the resulting passwords exponentially harder to guess. At the time, that may have been true, though I doubt it. It turns out, those rules were written by a government bureaucrat who used an out-of-date white paper to make his recommendations. And, now, even that bureaucrat regrets making those rules that only make your password harder to remember. Also, all that advice about translating a famous quote into a password by changing out words for symbols or letters? Essentially useless. With the computing power of moderns machines, the randomness of a short password really doesn’t matter at all. Length is the real key. So, having a password like “P@SSw0rd” isn’t significantly more secure than “password”, except, of course, that hackers are likely to guess the simple words first and “password” is actually one of the ten most popular passwords. So don’t use that. What’s better is to use a longer password, like an entire sentence without punctuation. And, if you have to include numbers and special characters, just tack them at the end or beginning. In other words, something more like “MyPasswordIsVerySecure@9”, because the length of that password IS exponentially harder to guess than “password”. Don’t believe me? Then just look at this infographic that shows how the length of your password is really the determining factor in how hard it is for hackers to crack.

How Long Would Your Password Last Against An Expert?

Of course, some systems limit the length of a password, unfortunately, but, until everyone else catches up to us, you have to work with what you’re given.
Come back next week to see what uncomfortable truths I have to share with you!

This post first appeared on Use Your Words!


Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"Before you give someone a piece of your mind, make sure you can spare it."

3/26/2021

The Next World War

Filed under: Art,News and Current Events,The Infinite Library — 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

Thankfully, this is just a fictional scenario. But, it’s damn plausible.

Good science fiction is an extrapolation of current technologies and social and economic conditions into a future scenario that allows the reader to see one potential future. As our technology has raced forward at a frightening speed, it’s become increasingly difficult to project scenarios that aren’t hopelessly outdated almost as soon as they’re printed. Some of the best work, though, manages to make us think anyway. I have to admit, I watch news about China closer than most people I know. It’s what let me get a huge stack of computers in stock for my company right before all the supply chains coming out of China got choked closed. That turned out quite well for us, by the way, though I wasn’t quite as good at predicting the need for laptops. In my naiveté, I thought that COVID-19 would get stopped at the Chinese borders before it became what it did. What can I say? You win some, you lose some.
This week I’m sharing a link to some speculation about a possible future conflict between the United States of America and the People’s Republic of China in the not distant enough future. It’s a novel titled 2034:A Novel of the Next World War written by Elliot Ackerman and Admiral James Stavridis, two subject matter experts on both military action and diplomacy, adapted into a six-part serial for the web by the editors of Wired Magazine. Hopefully, this will become very dated, very quickly and something that we look back at and laugh at because things turned out so much better than these two experts speculate in this bit of near-future science fiction. But, a war that starts out with violations of our cybersecurity and escalates into something much worse seems all too plausible. Frankly, I hope that this work serves as a warning to the powers that rule the world and that they learn to get along better and deescalate the tensions that currently plague our world. I doubt they will, but I do hope.
Until then, go read all six parts and consider how this could all be far too real, far too soon.
Next week, I’ll try to find something lighter for you.

This post originally appeared at Use Your Words!

12/25/2020

Christmas Day 2020

Filed under: Deep Thoughts,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 in the early morning or 7:00 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Gibbous

Normally, I’d share a silly link, but not today.

Today, it’s Christmas. The day that Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus, also known as Yeshua ben Yeshua, Lamb of God, and Light of the World. We live in strange times, filled with consumerism and fear of the future. Locked in our homes because of a global pandemic, we haven’t been able to celebrate this season the way we might like. Family has been distant for most of us, one way or another, and our usual gatherings, either at religious services or for holiday meals, have been severely curtailed.
My wife and I often celebrate the season quietly anyway, so it hasn’t been as big a burden on us, really. For that, I am thankful. But, this year, more than ever, I think we all need to consider what people from time immemorial have celebrated at this time of year. The actual birth of Jesus most likely happened in the Spring, closer to when we celebrate Easter. But, the early church leaders were very clever and some of the best marketers that history has ever known. They chose to connect the birth of Christ with the far older and more pagan festival connected with the Winter Solstice. That day, which was actually Monday, December 21st this year, is the longest night, and shortest day, of the year. But, it marked the day that a little more light was about to be let into the world, because, the next day was a little longer and each day after that is a little longer too, until the Summer Solstice when the cycle repeats. What’s important though, I think, is that we all are celebrating that this holiday commemorates the continual rebirth of light, joy, and possibilities into the world.
That hope is something that I think we can all use more of this year. So, go, enjoy your families, and spread that hope and light as far as you can carry it in the coming year. It may not be easy, but I think the results will be worth it!

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words!

12/18/2020

Santa’s Flight Plan

Filed under: Better Living Through Technology,Fun,Fun and Games,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 6:30 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

I’m just not smart enough to calculate Santa’s trajectory.

Seriously, I love science, but I’m just not good enough at math to keep track of Santa Claus on his flight plan around the world on Christmas Eve. Thankfully, I don’t have to figure it out because the US Government will do it for you, so, as I have done more than once in the past at this time of year, I’m sharing some good, clean fun for the whole family, brought to you by your hard-earned tax dollars.
During the Cold War, NORAD stood between us and what we were sure was complete destruction at the hands of the Soviets. What with the recent tensions vis-a-vis Russia and China and North Korea, NORAD may find itself busier than ever in the coming year, but, until then, thankfully, they can fall back on my favorite tradition; tracking Santa. It started with a wrong number and an accidental connection, but a gentle soul in a high-pressure job spread a little Christmas cheer once a long, long time ago. The story got around and before you can say “Who’s violating my air space?”, everyone was misappropriating government resources to make kids happy. Before long, it was fully sanctioned and, if I say so myself, an entirely proper use of my tax dollars. In any case, now, whether you’re young or old, or whether you have children or not, you can have fun tracking Santa with the Official NORAD Santa Tracker!

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words!

10/30/2020

Healthy Skepticism

Filed under: Better Living Through Technology,Fun,News and Current Events — 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

People who call me pessimistic are just not being realistic.

If the past several election cycles and the attendant advertising and attempts to sway voters have shown anything, I think, it’s that having an extra healthy level of skepticism is just a good defense mechanism. For years, I’ve questioned all the quotes that are attributed to famous people, especially famous politicians. I really don’t think Abe Lincoln told people to “vote early and often”, though it’s possible that one or more Chicago mayors may have. A more direct example is this quote “Most of the Evil in This World Is Done by People with Good Intentions” which is often attributed to T. S. Elliot, but, is really a partial quote attributed to an anonymous contributor to a trade journal called “The Creamery and Milk Plant Monthly”, though Elliot said things that were quite similar. And, now, thanks to Quote Investigator you can do your own fact-checking when someone insists that George Washington said Firearms Stand Next in Importance to the Constitution Itself. They Are the American People’s Liberty Teeth and Keystone under Independence. (Spoiler alert! He most likely didn’t say that at all.)
And, while you’re being more actively skeptical, you may want to grab this Chrome extension that Lifehacker mentions, titled NoDiguisedAdsAnymore which does just what the title suggests; it reveals advertising disguised as news by marking it with an “Ad” icon. It may not catch all the sneaky political ads, but it’s not a bad place to start!

And, if you haven’t yet voted, make sure to do that this year. It’s never been more important in living memory to make your wishes known and vote your conscience.

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words!

9/25/2020

Can you Spot The Troll?

Filed under: Fun,Fun and Games,News and Current Events — 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 the next two months, “Don’t feed the troll” should be our mantra.

According to the Urban Dictionary, a “troll” is “…[s]omeone who deliberately pisses people off online to get a reaction.” And, while that’s true, I feel like it’s not a complete description anymore. Since I’ve been on the internet, back in the “Before Time” of the early 90’s, trolls have been around, in one form or another, purposely irritating people for laughs. But, sometime in the last ten years or so, professional trolls with a political agenda, and often backed by a nation-state, have sprung up in attempts to sway elections and disrupt the democratic process. A lot of those trolls aren’t even people at all but are robots. They’re automated scripts that just constantly harass actual people who happen to trigger certain keywords. Being able to spot the trolls is a lot harder than most people realize.
So, in preparation for the upcoming election, I’m sharing a website called “Spot The Troll”. It’s s short quiz that shows you social media profiles and asks the simple question “Troll or Legit”? All you have to do is pick. And, then afterward, either way, there are a series of screens showing the “red flags” that should have tipped you off to the troll. Or, things that might have tricked you into thinking a legit human was actually a troll. I scored 7 out of 8. Not bad, I think, considering how sophisticated the trolls and their programmers have gotten.
Take the quiz and see how you do!

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words! You can leave comments there.

7/3/2020

A Little Less Bang

Filed under: Deep Thoughts,News and Current Events — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is in the early morning or 7:30 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Gibbous

Maybe this is a good year to skip fireworks.

The past couple of years, I’ve posted tips for photographing fireworks around this time of year. They’re popular and taking photos of them is just as popular. But, maybe this year, with tensions running so high and people under so much extra stress, maybe with all that, we could tone down the fireworks. I haven’t heard anything about public fireworks displays this year, but, considering the crowds, I would hope that most of them would be canceled this year. Unfortunately, that probably means that more private “displays” of fireworks will happen instead. Smaller gatherings of neighbors who buy fireworks from the roadside stands and light up the cul-de-sac with barely controlled, hand-lit explosives. In theory, they’re illegal in most good size cities and neighborhoods, but they’re such a tradition that they’re hard to stop entirely. I’ve already read stories that would seem to indicate these neighborhood fireworks have been on the rise since the COVID-19 lockdowns started. And, I’ve read complaints about them on local message boards, especially by dog owners whose dogs get so very worked up by the sudden and random noise. If you don’t care about how it gets the neighborhood dogs worked up, at least consider your neighbors that may have survived a mass shooting or served in the military and seen combat. I know several people who have been down range and had significant experience with high explosives that were definitely not fireworks. They all have post-traumatic stress disorder to some degree.
For many most, it’s not even diagnosed. It’s just something that happened and they have to live with it every day, but the government doesn’t give them much in the way of support. I know one person who qualifies as at least partially disabled due to his PTSD and he was actually given a diagnosis to qualify for aid. But, whether any of our honored veterans were diagnosed with any psychological issues as a result of their service and exposure to combat, I don’t know a single one that looks forward to holidays that include fireworks.
So, maybe, this year, we should consider those neighbors. We’re happy to politicize military service and our patriotism around how much we allegedly support the troops, but this is an actual thing we can do to help them in a real way. I know I’ve shot off my share of those supposedly harmless fireworks, too, but, as I got to know more guys who had served, I came to realize how hard it was on them. The random explosions and shooting lights are very much like small arms fire and the kinds of smaller devices that are used by insurgents in our more recent combat theaters and conflicts. It brings someone with PTSD right back to those battlefields and the incredible danger that they escaped physically, but can never escape mentally.

And, if you know someone who suffers from PTSD, or any other mental health issues, trauma related or not, don’t forget these resources:
MentalHealth.gov – Get Immediate Help

The National Alliance on Mental Health Helpline – 1-800-950-NAMI (6264)

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National Helpline – 1-800-622-HELP (4357)

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-8255

And, specifically for those struggling with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, National Center for PTSD “Get Help in a Crisis” page.

And, as I wrote last week, please, remember, there’s no shame in getting help. In fact, getting help is what strong people actually do.
If you or a loved one needs help with depression or any other mental health issue, please, don’t wait until it’s too late.

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words!

6/26/2020

Facing The Black Dog

Filed under: Deep Thoughts,News and Current Events,Personal Care,Red Herrings — 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

Yeah, I’m talking about depression.

That metaphor, calling depression the “Black Dog”, is usually attributed to Winston Churchill, but I’ve definitely heard it from a lot of sources. We tend to want to show our best faces on social media and on our blogs, but the truth is, most of us aren’t the happy, shiny Instragram people we want the world to see. I know I’ve had my own bouts of depression, on and off, for years. It feels like sitting in the bottom of a pit without light or hope, at best forgotten, but at worst with people shoveling dirt on top of me. There have been various reasons for it and I’m grateful that all my depression has been transitory. It’s always been what I call situational depression. One time, it was because I was getting divorced. Another time it was because my cardiologist had given me betablockers, which killed my motivation and made me want to just lay on the couch all the time. There have been other times, usually around a job loss or some other relationship failure on my part.
Right now, though, all of 2020 so far has been enough to depress anyone. I mean, I’m pretty blessed to have a job that pays well and lets me work from home at least some of the time, but I’m very aware that a lot of people don’t have that. And, even though I count my blessings on a regular basis, I still worry about COVID-19 for my wife and me and the rest of my family. I still worry about the economy and my friends who don’t have stable work. I’m absolutely blessed, but only someone out of touch with reality wouldn’t find some things to be depressed about right now.
And, even in that, I know I’m lucky. My depression has always gone away, so I know the latest bout of it will absolutely fade, too. But, my wife has clinical depression. She spends a good portion of her day dealing with that, whether it’s making sure all the meds she takes are right and that she’s stocked up correctly, or planning healthy meals, or trying to get enough rest, or enough exercise. She works very hard at it all the time. And, I’ve seen her when all that’s NOT working and she does get swallowed up by depression. I know how hard it is to watch, and I can only imagine how hard it is to live through.
So, I’ve got nothing fun or happy or silly for you this week. What I’ve got is a little understanding if the Black Dog has gotten off the leash and you need a little help. If you feel like everything is too much and depression might overwhelm you, try one of the resources here:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-8255

MentalHealth.gov – Get Immediate Help

The National Alliance on Mental Health Helpline – 1-800-950-NAMI (6264)

And, remember, there’s no shame in getting help. In fact, getting help is what strong people actually do.
If you or a loved one needs help with depression or any other mental health issue, please, don’t wait until it’s too late.

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words!

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