Diary of a Network Geek

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

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.

1/18/2019

More Free Alternatives

Filed under: Art,Better Living Through Technology,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

I’m tired and lazy, but it’s Friday, so here’s a post for you.

The brave few who are regular readers here know I dig free software. I also have had aspirations of being a bit of an artist, writer and photographer. Sadly, I was more devoted to eating well and living comfortably than I was any art, so I didn’t get too far. But, as I get older, I also get cheaper and less willing to spend money on hobbies, which often leads me to seek out free software.
Anyone who’s done any serious computer graphics work knows that Adobe has some of the best software available. In fact, I actually subscribe to the Adobe Creative Cloud Photography Plan. I wasn’t a huge fan of the subscription model, but getting the latest version of Lightroom and Photoshop for $9.99 a month is actually a pretty good deal. Still, there’s a lot more that I wouldn’t use as often and therefore I’m not quite as willing to pony up the steep prices to get. For that, I’m back to my old quest for free software. Thankfully, David Murphy at Lifehacker has compiled the super useful 27 Free Alternatives to Adobe’s Expensive App Subscriptions. He’s done all the leg-work for you. I can’t vouch for all his choices, but for years I used GIMP instead of Photoshop, because it was free.

In any case, it’s been a busy week, for reasons I hope I can reveal soon, and I just haven’t had time to give you more than this simple link. Also, this week the link should actually work, unlike last week when Scrivener added some extra characters to the link code making an endless loop. Don’t get me wrong, I still love Scrivener for writing, but blog posts need clean code and text and until I figure out how to make that more seamless, I’ll use a text editor for blog posts before they go up.
Oh, and I did go back and fix those links from last week if you want to check out the incredible animated GIFs.

 

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words.

1/4/2019

New Rules for the New Year

Filed under: About The Author,Advice from your Uncle Jim,Better Living Through Technology,Marginalia and Notes from the Editor — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:00 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Crescent

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

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

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

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

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


Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"I'm always amazed that people take what I say seriously. I don't even take what I am seriously."
   --David Bowie

11/2/2018

Payment Plans for Flying

Filed under: Better Living Through Technology,Fun — 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 Crescent

Plan ahead and pay in installments.

Air travel is expensive. There’s just no way around it. In fact, when I had over $50k of credit card debt a few years ago, a lot of that was related to air travel. Before I moved down to Houston from Chicago in 1998, I spent way too much money flying down to see my now ex-wife. And, yes, I’d still say it was too much money to spend even if she weren’t my ex-wife. That debt was crushing.
But, even though I’m remarried, my family is still mostly in Illinois, which means I still need to fly. So far, I’ve managed to do it without going back into consumer debt, but I’m not sure that I’ll be able to keep that up forever. Maybe, though, with the help of Airfordable, we may be able to swing it. Now, full disclosure, at the time of this post, I haven’t actually used the service yet, so all reports about it are anecdotal. What they do is let you buy a ticket well in advance of your flight and then make regular installments until it’s paid off before you actually fly. Obviously, one advantage of this is that you get your ticket price locked in, because, let’s face it, airfare rarely drops in price. And, yes, there is a service fee for doing this, but it’s considerably less than paying all that interest at 15% or more on a credit card. Also, it lets you be sure you have a flight booked for, say, holiday travel, before you may have the money for the entire ticket.

So, let me know, faithful readers, have you used this service or one like it? How did it work for you?
And come back next week for more travel-related posts!

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words!

10/26/2018

Save Your Work

Filed under: Better Living Through Technology,Geek Work,The Day Job — 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

Have you ever lost form data on the web?

I hate when I’m typing into a form on a website and something happens, then all my data goes poof. Seriously. It’s super frustrating for me, because sometimes, when I’m putting in a support request for work, those forms have a LOT of data in them and losing it can really throw a monkey-wrench in my day.
Or, worse yet, when I’m setting up blog posts, I can really get into a writing groove and then my internet connection might blink and, again, poof, all that hard work is gone. Granted, I should be saving the draft as I go along, but, even though I may seem like a tech god to some, I’m really just a regular human who doesn’t always follow best practices. Sad, but true.
In the past, I’ve used a great Chrome plugin called Lazarus to help me recover lost form data, but that plugin has gone away. Now, though, there’s Typio Form Recovery. Sadly, it’s only available for the Chrome browser, so if you use Firefox or something else, you’ll have to find another alternative. It IS free, though, so there is that. Also? If you know of a similar plugin for Firefox, please, leave a comment with information about it!
And, yeah, I know, not exactly “fun”, but, hey, come back next week and see if I can do better!

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!

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.

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!

 

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.

4/7/2017

Blog Posts

Filed under: Better Living Through Technology,Fun,Geek Work,On Creativity,Stimulus and Production — 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

My creative blog posting well is dry.

So dry.
Seriously, if you count my original blog, I have been doing this blogging nonsense for almost 17 years. My first blog post went live May 4th, 2000. How crazy is that?  Back then, I hand coded every page, making the HTML myself with Microsoft Notepad.  Then, I installed Moveable Type.  That was followed by a definite upgrade to WordPress during the great licensing debacle of 2004.  So, yes, I’ve been using WordPress since version 1.2  A lot has changed since then, but I can tell you one thing that hasn’t; the terrible struggle to create new and interesting content.
My wife, The Organizing Decorator, and I were talking about this very thing recently.  She just finished moving her site to her own hosting and content management system, so that I wasn’t responsible for her site as well as all of mine, and she told me how she need to stop tweaking and tampering with it.  My response was that it was a lot easier to mess with formatting than it was to actually create content.  And, after 17 years, I’m really feeling tapped out.

So, what’s my response?  To share with you two links about generating content!
First, a post from the very brainy and entrepreneurial Growth Lab titled How to find 20+ blog ideas your audience can’t wait to read.  It’s a process, but it’s a process that will help you generate content tailored to your blog, brand, or business.
The other is How To Think Outside The Box with 200+ writing prompts by CoSchedule.  And, it’s just what it sounds like, a list of prompts with blanks to get you started on a blog post.  They’re pretty generic, but they may not all be applicable to your chosen subject matter.

Well, there you have it.  Two links that are free and useful, if not exactly “fun” for non-bloggers or content producers.
Maybe I’ll have something better for you next week.
Maybe not.  Only time will tell.

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words.

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