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.

6/19/2020

Money Management

Filed under: Better Living Through Technology,Life Goals,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 6:30 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Crescent

I always seem to have more expenses than money.

The other day I was working from home and my wife came to get me in a little bit of a panic. There was a considerable amount of standing water in our back yard and right at the edge of our house. Definitely, not a good sign. She was sure we had a leak and I started to hyperventilate. If you’re a homeowner, you know that problems seem to come in roughly $5000 increments and from the size of the puddle in the yard, this was looking like about a $15,000 problem, at least. Like I said, definitely, not a good sign. Luckily, after calming down and checking the neighbor’s yard, it turned out that they’d just left their hose on over night and the water had run from their driveway to yard. It was gone by the end of the day.
But, that really got me thinking about money. I know that most Americans can’t handle a $400 emergency, much less a $15000 emergency. No one really ever taught me to manage money. I’ve had to learn on my own, which is why I carried so much debt for so long. The irony is that along the way, I started keeping track of everything with Quicken. I used to be able to connect to all my various accounts and reconcile everything easily. They’ve made that a paid service now, and I’m not quite willing to pay for that.
I did see Thursday, that you can now “Track Your Spending with Microsoft’s New ‘Money’ Template for Excel“, which sounds great, until you realize that you have to pay a monthly premium for that, too. And, it’s only good if you have a personal or family subscription to Office 365. My corporate license won’t give me access to the template. The good news is there’s a free alternative that does everything but directly link your bank accounts. You can download it from Vertex 42, The Guide to Excel in Everything, at Free Money Management Template. You’ll have to manually enter and reconcile your accounts, but, for most of us, that’s not that many accounts. And, this is free. No monthly fees. They even have a version for LibreOffice, if you scroll down a bit. In fact, they have quite a collection of free templates.

And, when you get a handle on all your money, if you have any left over, you might consider donating to causes that support a United States of America that is truly free and equal for all of her citizens, like the ACLU or the NAACP Legal Defense Fund or some other civil rights cause that scratches your political itch. Not everyone may be willing to risk their life or incarceration to protest injustice, but a monetary donation can help support those people who are fighting that fight.
Or, if you still can’t afford a straight donation, we can support more minority businesses. There’s a great list of resources for Black freelancers at Freelancers Union that include lists of Black businesses we can support.

And, of course, we can continue to educate ourselves, because it is OUR responsibility to educate ourselves as to the condition of our fellow citizens, not theirs. If you’re not sure where to start, this list from the Chicago Public Library can help. We can read books from lists like that and continue to educate ourselves because this is an issue that we can’t ignore any more, no matter who you are or what you do for a living.

Yes, I’ve posted that last bit a couple times already. With everything going on lately, I thought it bore repeating. Next month, I may highlight some other minority causes. I’d say I’d take suggestions, but I’m afraid of some of the suggestions I might get. The internet isn’t the friendly place it was when I started my blogs!

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words!

2/21/2020

Legit Free Airport Wifi

Filed under: Better Living Through Technology,Fun — 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

A little aid for the travellers.

Back in the days that I was one of those “road warriors” who spent countless hours in airports waiting for flights, wifi wasn’t even really a thing. Certainly not free wifi in the airports. Now, of course, not only is free wifi something that has come and, mostly, gone again, but it’s become such a normal part of life that it’s almost an expected amenity. Still for those of us who fly peasant class these days, and have to suffer through the interminable waits at security check-points, only to wait longer at a gate for our flight, having wifi can be a soothing balm. Sadly, all too many places charge for it now. And, that means, that your cheapskate Uncle Jim has brought you a set of free, or nearly free, things to circumvent the wifi misers.
This all comes to us via Lifehacker, naturally, as so many of my best and useful links do. Still, not all of you read Lifehacker, so I feel like I’m still doing a service here. And, of course, it’s easier to search my own site than theirs!
The map with all the info is a Google maps called Wireless Passwords from Airports and Lounges Around the World and it’s just what the name says. The map has airports marked on it with notes that have free wifi passwords and, as needed for clarity, the name of the wifi networks available. The developer, a travel enthusiast named Anil Polat, aka foXnoMad, started this project back in 2016 and updates the map with information from helpful travelers regularly. He’s also got two apps for “off-line” access available on the Apple AppStore and Google Play. The apps are NOT free, but the iOS version is only $1.99 which, I think, more than makes up for getting free wifi in airports.

So, there you have it. It’s a little late for the holiday travel season, but still, a pretty useful set of links, I think, for the regular traveler.

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words!

1/31/2020

Pre-Written Emails

Filed under: Better Living Through Technology,Fun,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 Crescent

I love short-cuts and time-saving templates.

When I was a kid, my mother had a book of example letters for every occasion. I loved that book and the idea behind it. Every page was a pre-written example letter or template that addressed a problem. All you had to do was copy that letter, change the names and specific circumstances for your particular situation, and you were all set. When I skimmed through that book, I felt like I was going to see a huge, exciting world as an adult and these were the keys to unlock all the doors to that adult world.
As a young adult, I actually got an updated copy of that book which came with a CD of templates for those letters. You could open them in your favorite word processor and customize them as required. Now, with the internet, I don’t really need those books, or that CD, because I can find anything I might need out there, somewhere.
One site, Canned Emails, has the very modern equivalent of those template letters. And, you can even choose between the raw text of them, or actually use the website to send the emails via your email client!
The emails are all pretty basic, but they cover a wide range of regular communications and, honestly, sometimes keeping it short and to the point is the best way to go any way.

See you next week with, well, something. Honestly, I haven’t planned that far in advance. So, I’ll be as surprised as you!

This post originally appeared at Use Your Words! But, I keep thinking I should rename it to The Cheerful Nihilist or something else ironic like that.

1/3/2020

Left Over Gift Cards

Filed under: Better Living Through Technology,Fun — 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 First Quarter Moon

By now, I bet you’ve spent most of your “Christmas money”.

And, if you’re like me, that came in the form of a gift card, not actual cash. Honestly, I kind of prefer it to actual cash for the most part. It’s easier to spend online, for one thing, which is almost certainly where I’m going to spend that “free” money. The only problem is, virtually nothing comes to an even dollar amount when you include tax and shipping. So, then you end up with all these gift cards with just a couple bucks on them and no idea how to deal with them.
Well, here’s two ideas.
First, save those cards to use on the “free, no-obiligation” trials that still want to collect credit card information from you. Pop in that gift card, let their website validate it and then, when you use up your free month or whatever, they can’t “accidentally” charge your card. It keeps all sorts of annoying and persistent charges from making their way to your credit card. And, yes, I’ve done it and it absoultely works like a charm.
The other thing is a cool, little website called CheapFiller.com. This beauty finds stuff on Amazon that’s under $25 and has free shipping, usually via Prime. Now that Prime will ship most things that are under a dollar, you can finally use up that last sixty-seven cents on your gift card from Christmas! Honestly, this is awesome. I did it just recently to get two super cheap fresnel lenses that fit in my wallet for about $2, which finished out a gift card for me. It was great! The thing to do is search for items well under your target amount, so you can see all the cheapie, cheap options. The two things I’d warn you about is that; a) grocery items have a minimum dollar requirement and b)items may have changed price slightly between the time the site collected the info and when you go to buy it, so double-check the pricing and shipping. But, again, it worked great for me and there’s no charge to search, though I’m sure they benefit from the link. It’s pretty genius. Give it a try!

And, welcome to the new year of weird, fun links on Use Your Words!  (That’s where this post originally appeared.)

11/29/2019

Security Tags

Filed under: Better Living Through Technology,Fun — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Rat which is in the wee hours or 1:00 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

I sort of hate “Black Friday”.

Yes, I have given into the base consumerism of the so-called holiday, even though it goes against so much of what I believe is important in life, and even though it follows Thanksgiving, a day meant to remind us of all we have for which to be actually thankful. Still, it’s a reality. It’s a thing that’s going to happen. Even I will call up Bell’s Farm to Market and order up my Northern family’s Christmas gifts to have them delivered. I do that mostly out of nostalgia, because I have fond memories of my uncle in Florida who would send fresh fruit for Christmas every year. Back in those days, it was a real treat to get fresh oranges in December. Not just because things like that cost more when I was a kid, but, honestly, in retrospect, because I think money was pretty tight for my parents and having food sent for Christmas was a real help no matter what it was. Of course, not getting rickets was a real bonus, too. So, I send that stuff now, not because anyone I send it to is hurting for it, but because it reminds me of a favorite great uncle and, I hope, reminds my siblings of him, too.

But, of course, you, dear readers, are not here to read my maudlin holiday remembrances. You’re here for your Friday link! And, boy, do I have a doozy for you. Now, before I share it, let me say that I do NOT endorse theft of any kind, least of all from retailers this time of year. However, if you’re out in the mad dash of Black Friday spending and somehow spend your hard-earned cash on clothes that some poor, harried, over-worked and under-paid sales clerk accidentally doesn’t remove the anti-theft dye tag from before hustling you out the door, this link is for you. Brought to you via BoingBoing, here’s the Lockpicking Lawyer, on how to remove an inventory control tag. So, if you somehow bypass the shitty security these tags provide and get out of the store with one still on your new shirt or pants or whatever, now you can most likely remove it without having to face the snarling mob at the store.
But, again, not advocating this as a way to steal anything from the stores on the busiest shopping day of the year, when security and store personnel will be stretched thin. Honestly, if you absolutely must buy things on Black Friday, do it on-line and avoid the crowds.

Most of all, though, enjoy your family this holiday season and focus on what really matters; them.

This post originally appeared at Use Your Words!

9/27/2019

Human Echolocation

Filed under: Better Living Through Technology,Fun,Life Goals — 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

Yes, that’s humans using echolocation to navigate in the world.

It’s like a superpower, only for real.
When I was in college, I minored in Psychology, which meant that I got to mostly take the “fun” classes and skip statistics. Though, of course, I took a different statistics course for my major. And, of course, my idea of “fun” may not match up to normal people’s idea of what makes psychology fun. The last psych course I took, and my favorite, was Physiological Psychology, and included a lot of study on how our senses worked and fed into our intelligence and the evolution of human intelligence. It was absolutely incredible and, for me, a lot of fun. I’ve been told that most Psychology majors hated it.
One of the things we talked about, naturally, was intelligence in other creatures. My professor studied dolphins and their intelligence at one point in his undergrad work, so we talked about how their use of echolocation most likely enhanced their relative intelligence. That, and my fascination with bats, let me to write a final paper that involved a LOT of echolocation and how it all worked. All of which is to say that I’ve read a fair bit about animal echolocation and have always found it interesting. So, you can imagine how excited I was when I saw this article on Boing Boing about human echolocation! Yes! Humans using passive and active echolocation to navigate! It’s incredible! And, the video gives you the basics of learning how to do it yourself!
Just the thing to see and try before the weekend!
Seriously, it’s real and it’s cool and definitely worth checking out!

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words!

8/9/2019

Technochanting and Tinnitus Relief

Filed under: Art,Better Living Through Technology,Fun,Personal Care,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 Gibbous

I am my own white noise generator, thanks to tinnitus from too many years working in server rooms.

Seriously, you have no idea, if you don’t suffer from tinnitus, just how distracting omnipresent sound in your ears can be sometimes. Most of the time, I don’t have a big issue with it, but some days, it can be quite maddening. I’ve tried all kinds of things for it and, so far, all the doctors I’ve talked to about my tinnitus basically have said that it’s just something I’m stuck with forever. But, the other day, while looking at a website for generating semi-random Gregorian chants for background music, which is pretty awesome all by itself, I found something called Neural Symphony, Neuromodulated Tinnitus Relief. They’re both using the same sound generation enging on a site called MyNoise.net. Honestly, I was just going to serve up the Gregorian chant toy for a strange, fun thing on Friday, but then I tried the other one. I can’t say I got the same results that others have talked about, but I can promise I’ll try some more combinations of settings to see if I can improve the results.
It works like this; go to the link and let the sounds play over your headphones. In theory, the sounds, developed by Steve Harrison from the Tinnitus Talk Support Forum work to cancel out the sounds in a tinnitus sufferer’s ears, either while we listen to them or, if we get the right settings and sounds, for some time after we listen to them. So far, I haven’t had a lot of success with the after listening part, but the rest definitely helps. If you have tinnitus, check it out! And, if you don’t, count your blessings and try the Gregorian chant toy, instead.

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words!

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!

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