Saturday, January 22, 2011

Adventures Of A Sysadmin

Hey, y'all.  Yep, I'm still alive.

As much as this is a Linux Blog, we Penguin Lovers must contend with making a living dealing with - the Other Guys.  Yes, this blurb is about my adventures and misadventures in dealing with what Life has tossed into my lap.

A little while ago my case manager at this employment outfit called to see if I could come up with any ideas or fixes that were plaguing their organization.  Being a non-profit outfit, they were seeking the 'cheap, but great' solution.

Seeing as how I was/am still gainfully unemployed, I wandered over to see what the problem was.  It seems that they run a Resource Room consisting of ten computers for their clients to use in their Job Quests.  The access is free and there is really no time limit plus there are printing resources available at no charge.  A real deal in this time and age.

It seems that the 'clients' had taken it a step further in that in addition to Job Searching, they were also using the facilities to enhance their social lives, add to their music and video collections and chat with their buddies online.  Also, some 'clients' were taking the liberty of printing out complete online novels consisting of hundreds of pages - a clear abuse of the privileges granted to them, but what they Hey, it's all free, right?

So, when this was explained to me with the desire to not alienate these clients because the funding came from the number of people they represented, I offered the solution of configuring the Resource Room in the way other notable Public Institutions have done.  I cited our local Public Library which has computer access which they have submitted in a restricted fashion - no downloading and installing of programmes, apps or other gems of Internet Wisdom and Enlightenment; no gaming;  downloading and saving to the client's own media, eg. USB thumb drives, Floppy or USB portable drives only.  Nothing is saved onto the computer's hard drive.  This is what is called a 'Kiosk' mode where an image of the OS is renewed at every reboot and anything that may have been saved on the previous session has been erased with a fresh, vanilla OS.  Simple, yes?

Also, seeing as how the system was more than likely being run by WinServ2003, the Active Directory app - I must admit that this is a sweet utility because it makes administrating a system so much more manageable - is able to restrict printing rights thereby saving a few more trees.  I suggested that the organization contact their System Administration company and ask them if they could implement such a strategy.  This idea was met with a marked degree of enthusiasm and I left feeling that I had contributed something to society.  Still no job, though.

About a week and a half later, I receive another call from my case manager telling me that their System caretakers were not keen to the idea and quoted them an astronomical fee to implement this new strategy.  I was asked to come and meet with the organization's 'Hefe' to discuss some other solution.  Again, I must stress that this is a non-profit outfit which has a set budget. 

Seeing as how I was wasting away and if you don't use it, you lose it, I suggested that maybe I could come in and configure the Resource Room machines so that the abuse could disappear.  So, over a period of a month, I cleaned out these boxes, upgraded five of the older units which were woefully deficient in the memory department and reconfigured the systems so that no one could download, install or change the desktop configurations.  Sheesh, on two of the units I discovered a number of movies that were downloaded via Torrent utilities configured to run in the background and the results stored in hidden directories - actually, ingenious hacking, if I may say so - I was impressed. 

Also, this outfit specializes in obtaining employment for people with disabilities so the clients are not really in the upper, middle or even lower income brackets - these are poor, poor people.  An idea came about that maybe computers could be built from donated sources to provide these folks with machines to enhance their resources - at a nominal fee, of course, just to cover whatever supplies and parts are needed to achieve this end result.

So, I ended up with a nice room in the basement and a pile of really outdated, obsolete and cast aside computers and related equipment.  It is amazing what one can do when you ferret around and cannibalize stuff.  To date, I have built three very serviceable machines, all running Linux, of course, since we cannot obtain the no-charge, charitable institution or Microsoft Authorized Refurbisher licenses to install XP.

I downloaded and installed the various heavily GUI-orientated, easy-peasy Linux distros which were reputed to appeal to Windows brainwashed folks and for the time being have settled on Linux Mint 10 Debian.  I am using a box with a greatly modified Ubuntu 10.10 (Meerkat, I believe) as my personal machine and have tweaked it so that it almost equals my personal, at-home box.  Man, ya gotta luv Linux because you can make it do almost anything you want - try doing that with a 'Doze box!

Anyway, I had built two systems (excluding the personal one) - box, CRT monitor, keyboard and mouse - $100 including tax with a six month warranty.  I had sold one and have not heard from the client these past four months which tells me that things are going well - a seemingly successful convert to the Penguin Way.  This endevor  has also created a repair business for which I charge a $35 flat rate regardless if the job requires on hour, one day or one week.  So far, the jobs have lasted no longer than two days and that is because of the delightful experience of Microsoft's updates to the updates of the updates to the original updates, sigh!

These efforts have, in turn, called upon my abilities and talents to start servicing the Staff machines.  When the first call came that the 'Internet was down', I was ushered into the 'Holy of Holies' - the Server Room.  A quick view of the Events and a restart of the DHCP Server made me a hero!  Whoopie.

Now, I am integrated within the daily workings of the organization.  Even though I am still a Volunteer, I am awarded a gratuity, a monthly bus pass, which is really, really handy and appreciated and I submitted a request for tools and equipment which I used to have but disappeared at my last job training Federal Parolees.  These tools and equipment have now been replaced which makes my job a lot easier and efficient.  Again, even though I am still a Volunteer, I show up every day, just like a regular job.  I feel that this is good training for that wonderful day when some enlightened employer will realize what a gem I am and hire me.  I will be rarin' and fit to go.

Well, that's about it for now, kiddies.  In the next installment, I shall regale you with tales of Microsoft's dotNET horror and how I used Linux to solve some of those problems.

Later  .  .  .


Sunday, August 22, 2010

I'm Still Alive . . .

Whoa, talk about neglect.  I haven't done my thing here in a long time but then conditions haven't been exactly optimal.

First, I've finally moved from the establishment where I resided for almost seven years.  Seven Years!  Wow!  I can't believe that I managed to survive in that sub-standard environment for that long.  In my new apartment, I have my own kitchen and bathroom and after three months they are still a novelty for me.  I can actually brew a pot of coffee, make toast and microwave something all at the same time without tripping a circuit breaker.  And what can I say about the luxury of having one's own bathroom - strolling into that little room, coffee in hand and a book under one's arm without apprehension of someone rattling the door, urging you to "Hurry up, I gotta go, man."

It's so nice to live like a regular person once again instead of a visitor in some cheap hotel for an extended period.  I'm still not able to afford a hi-speed wired connection so I'm communicating via wireless.  At least where I'm living now, the population density isn't so high that the wireless nodes are overwhelmed most of the time.  I'm actually getting quite good speeds, most of the time, from the free Municipal Wireless.  At least it's allowing me to make contact and publish this little blurb.

Exploring some of the more interesting sites, I came across the linuxologist's site where I found this humourous - at least to us linux geeks - article regarding a play on some UNIX/Linux command line commands.  Here's the gist of the article summed up into a picture:

Just click on the image which will take you to the actual article.  There are some other interesting articles and features but it looks like the author is suffering from the same Writer's Block that has resided in my consciousness for a time since the most recent article is from May of this year.  Hopefully, he will return with some more interesting insights.

I guess that's it for now.  I just wanted to pop by with a little something to tell y'all that I'm still around and hopefully will fill these pages with all sorts of interesting, informative and innovative drek.

Later, kiddies . . .


Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Hey, Ahm Bak! Just Some Rambling . . .

Hello all!

Yes, I'm back.  It's been a rough time in regards to getting online.  The wireless thangy seems to have taken off - in Spades!  I can't get a connection for the Life of me!.  It's been like I have to skulk around in the wee hours of the morning in order to grab a bit of bandwidth to at least check my email.  Even then I get knocked off by pirates getting their torrents downloaded!

Yes, I can analyze these streams.  I have the tools and the know-how & have realized that there's a lot of people out there who are gaining more & more knowledge as to how to crack wireless security.  I've followed two characters who are normaloid during the day and then change into pirates at night.  They must have 'caps' on their accounts from their ISPs and go out at night to pirate bandwidth for their torrents.

These folks are actually ingenious in that they have latched onto four or five or even more APs and do a rotating thing while keeping up their download rate -  an astounding technique, actually.  While understanding as to how they do it & even being envious that I don't have the equipment to allow myself to achieve the same ability, I nevertheless, refrain from impinging onto others' privacy.

Yes, I've admitted that I've had to intrude at times to get off an email or to check something, but I've always restricted myself to no more than 5 minutes & then logged off, feeling guilty as hell - desperation will do funny things to a person, y'know.  I had to go out & get drunk to soften the blow, so to speak.

Anyway, these two characters are really interesting in that they have no compunctions as to whom they raid nor as to whatever bandwidth they've stolen.  I have logs that I can use if I ever track these folks down - thankfully, Linux makes logging really easy.

They think that they're smart by changing their MAC addresses when they do their thangy, but there are things called ARP & NAT  & other protocols that can pinpoint who, what & where & regardless of their efforts, I can follow these miscreants - all the while being logged.  These folks have stolen approximately 3 terabytes of bandwidth in the two month period that I have been monitoring them.  I merely set up up a shell script to do this and these persons have been extremely busy, according to the logs.

Thank gawd for Linux, shell scripts & logs!

It's way easier to do this stuff in Linux than in Windows, I think.  Of course, there are those of you WWs who will proclaim that 'doze can do this stuff, also.  Sure, it can.  But would you want to set up the necessary scripting in your XP, Vista or Win7 to do this and then there are the server restrictions inherent in all 'doze systems that will only allow one to do this monitoring at certain times?  Also, 'doze doesn't do monitoring well.  One has to 'tweak' certain settings & utilities in order to allow 'doze to do so & then this will affect the overall connectivity of the system . . . and on & on & on . . .  Sorry, but Linux wins this round.

For the WWs, if you wish to pursue this, then buy the ever so extravangantly  priced WinServ2003  or even the more pricey, WinServ2008 - WoW!  In addition to whatever a normal OS can deliver, all the monitoring tools you could ever wish for are included.  Of course, you'll have to expend $20,000+ for the MCSE course to be able to understand and manipulate it!  But then you'll be a major Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer who has to renew the certification every two years & you will know everything & anything about networking & beating hackers, won'tcha?

Then, there are those of you readers who don't give a shit about any of this; you just want to get online and do so without anything bothering you, right?  Well, get educated in regards to wireless security if you wish to do your thangy without major problems.  Learn about WPA & WPA2, the newer security protocols regarding wireless connectivity - way better than the the standard setup offered by the manufacturers when you buy your new wireless router.

Later kiddies . . .


Friday, January 22, 2010

Bits 'n Pieces: 2010 #1

Judge Tosses NSA Spy Cases

Judge tosses NSA Spy Cases

This is why I have read George Orwell's "1984" about a dozen times and never cease to marvel at that author's observations and how they become more and more relevant as Time marches on and Globalization becomes the curse of Humanity.

YouTube Videos now available in HTML5:  Good Riddance Flash!

YouTube Videos in HTML 5

I am so glad to see some attempts at "good" coding.  Although this is still in the Beta form, it is an attempt to snap Adobe's long time monopoly on various formats.  To those in the 'know', Adobe is now the IE of the NET.  What with the incursions of hacking of PDF's, Adobe Reader and Flash, the constant "security" updates have become Windows-ish in their frequency and ineffectiveness.  And let's face it, Adobe apps usually have a HUGE footprint - as Mr. Rogers used to say, "Can you say 'Bloatware'?"

Whatever happened to programming in Assembly?  Yes Folks, it's still alive and well and only the real serious developers use it anymore only because it's a real pain-in-the-ass to use.  The High End Languages have taken over and removed all the slickness, speed and solidity that an app composed in Assembly can deliver.

It's Laziness, pure and simple.  I have to confess that I had fallen into that condition when I was doing my thing because it was way easier and faster to use a High End Language rather than slave and expend hours, nay, days, over the composition of an app in Assembly.  I even confess to jumping onto the scripting bandwagon of Perl because it was way faster to come up with something that would just work.  No compiling was needed, dubugging wasn't as intensive and annoying and the syntax was so C+-ish without the constant, nagging need for proper structure and protocols of C+ that one could almost call it "Draft Programming" - a tool Programmers use to flesh out a programme without really writing it, just to build ideas and structure.

It's been so long since I've even attempted to use Assembly that I've forgotten it and would have to relearn it again - ahh, gawd!  Even now I can feel those cerebral, cirrhotic cells in my head squirming in apprehensive discomfort at the  mere thought of dueling with the evasive and subliminally syntactical miasma that is Assembly code.

As far as HTML 5 is concerned, it's just another step in the development of HTML as was the step from HTML 1.1 to 2; from 2 to 3; from 3 to 3.5 and currently the running standard is HTML 4.  Time moves on.