This is what I do when I’m not at work.

r0c-n0c Rocks!

Posted: May 24th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: computers, review, technospiel | No Comments »

Some customer service experiences go well above the norm. One I’d like to report is with a network products reseller called r0c-n0c. A few years ago, when asking around for a good place to purchase a simple network switch, multiple folks came forward to recommend r0c-n0c. So, I decided to give them a try and ordered a Mikrotik RouterBoard RB260G. The price was affordable, and the delivery was swift. On experience #1, so far, so good.

Recently, I was looking for a larger switch with more ports and the ability to perform multiple spanning ports. I wanted to go back to www.r0c-n0c.com and see what they had available. This time I had my heart set on the much beefier Mikrotik Cloud Router Switch CRS125-24G-1S-2HnD-IN. This appeared to be exactly what I was looking for, so I ordered it. Along with my order, I put a comment in the note field saying “If this switch cannot do multiple span ports, then please cancel this order.” 

To my amazement, I actually got a follow up phone call and email from Tom at r0c-n0c. He wanted to make sure I knew why my order was declined, and it was for precisely the reason outlined in my note. So, what was so good about this customer service experience? Read on…

First, most companies would have ignored the note and sent the item along, allowing me to discover (after a certain amount of frustration) that the device did not do the function I needed. They would have been interested in shipping another unit and letting the customer figure it out.

Second, Tom took the time to contact me promptly to make sure I understood what was going on.

Third, Tom and I exchanged several emails and phone calls, where he did his best to answer my questions and help me understand why this device didn’t serve my needs.

And fourth, Tom spent a good deal of time contacting the manufacturer and posting to Mikrotik support forums about my query. I wouldn’t even have known where to look for these forums or wanted to wade through the posts and responses. Tom took the time to figure out that the CRS125-24G-1S-2HnD-IN did not do what I needed NOW, but that in a future firmware revision, should likely be able to perform multiple span ports across the same network plane.

I was impressed at one and two. By three and four, I was quite amazed. Tom displayed patience with a confused customer and went beyond that to provide great information. He was not out to sell and ship another unit, but to foster great customer service and maintain a good customer relationship. So, as you can imagine, when I need networking products in the future, I will be returning to the pages of r0c-n0c.com. Thanks, Tom!


10 Years, 5 Cell Phones

Posted: March 29th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: computers, technospiel | 1 Comment »

I was the last person I knew to get a cell phone (way back in 2005). In the ten years since, most folks have had a dozen phones or more. I have maintained my phones long-term and been fairly easy on them.

5 cell phones with boxes

As of early 2014, all of them still worked (or at least powered on) and I’m just now getting around to selling them. I am keeping the new Moto X on the right hand side. The Galaxy Nexus and Deft XT phones are gone, but the iPhone 3G and RAZR are still available! LOL

5 cell phones powered on

Below is a simple breakdown of the phones, features, and average service costs per provider. The cost of owning a cell phone has exponentially grown over the past few years, but thanks to Republic Wireless they have now become affordable. Their average plan runs $25 per month and the service has been quite good.

5 cell phones with features and service costs

AT&T cell phone coverage was fantastic, only dropping 2 or 3 phone calls in 6+ years. However, data speeds were mediocre. Once the iPhone 3G got on in years and software upgrades, it definitely got slower and more glitch-ridden, but the data service was still quite slow at the time. AT&T may be better now with 4G and network upgrades. YMMV

Since Galaxy Nexus from Samsung was to be the hot new thing, I resigned to leave AT&T and join up with Verizon Wireless. My negative premonitions all came true, with Verizon touting the worst customer service reps of all time. “Even worse than Time Warner Cable” Their costs were always over $125 per month with added fees; over $200 per month for 2 phones. Data service was great if you were close to an unobscured 4G tower. In the two years I was on Verizon, I’d say that on average their service dropped half (50%) of my phone calls. I brought this up several times with Customer Service and was told “you have trees in your neighborhood.” Yet I was losing calls all over RTP. I cancelled my 2-year plan in December 2013 and Verizon kept auto-billing me full price for two months until I caught it on my credit card statement and complained. Overall, not recommended.

The first Republic Wireless phone (the Motorola Defy XT) was a beta and more of a “Proof of Concept” for the viability of the new WiFi-based mobile service. The phone was tough, compact and was comfortable to hold. The screen was smaller than most smart phones today and thus felt cramped. The camera was not very good, but coverage for the most part was acceptable. Some glitches with some minor issues, such as duplicate SMS.

Eventually they worked it out and got a top-notch phone (the Motorola Moto X). Similarly, there were a few initial issues, such as call loss with auto-transfer between a WiFi network and the cellular network. All these issues seem to be sorted and the phone and service have been great.

Based on current costs and capabilities of the Moto X, I’ll likely keep this combo for quite a while. I’m hoping that they will continue to roll out new Android OS updates to the phone, so its life can be extended. Overall, saving cash and satisfied. Republic Wireless For The Win.


NCSU FOSS Fair 2012

Posted: February 26th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: events, local, photography, social, technospiel | No Comments »

Jack Neely of NCSU OIT group has put on a Free and Open Source Software fair each year for the past four years. This year I was fortunate enough to join them. It was a fun day and I was happy to meet other folks interested in Linux and such things, while catching up with some old TriLUG’gers that I don’t get to see very often. They even let me give a talk! 🙂

Click the image above, or on the Documents link up top, to get to the presentation materials. I also got to take some photos and put them on Flickr. See y’all next year!


How to clone your Windows 7 hard drive

Posted: December 26th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: computers, technospiel | 1 Comment »

Recently I got a nice, new Dell Vostro laptop and wanted to upgrade the standard 250GB hard drive to a 500GB one. I wanted to take the disk image as it existed and clone it to the larger hard drive. This simple task was a bit harder to execute than one might think.

I went Googling on this topic and found a few software recommendations. The top hits included Paragon Backup & Recovery Free, Macrium Reflect Free, and EaseUS Todo Backup. Based upon positive reviews, I tried them one-by-one.

At first, I tried Backup & Recovery Free, but it wouldn’t install on Windows 7. Then I tried Macrium Reflect Free and it said the clone completed successfully. When the disks were swapped, Windows 7 would not boot. I used the Windows backup image (made by Dell Backup and Recovery Manager software) to repair that cloned image, but when it finally did boot properly, the fingerprint reader software wasn’t working and the OS gave several errors while running.

Getting desperate, I did another build directly from the Windows 7 backup/restore media. This worked, but again the fingerprint reader software was not present. Annoying!

Choose "Disk clone" from the Home menu

So I downloaded EaseUS Todo Backup 3.5 software and ran a Sector by sector clone with the source disk in the laptop and destination disk in an external bay. This completed successfully, but then the disk wouldn’t boot when it was installed into the laptop. The Sector by sector option also did not allow me to expand to the full usage of the newer, larger disk.

Select source & destination disks, uncheck Sector by sector clone

As an absolute last attempt before going to Linux, I left the 500 GB drive in the laptop, and used the EaseUS Todo Backup software to clone from the smaller hard drive in an external drive cage. This time I did not select Sector by sector clone and it allowed me to grow the final partition on the newer drive to use all the disk space. This clone completed successfully and the system booted. It seems this final approach worked the best.

Verify settings, drag slider to use full disk, and click Proceed

After several days of testing, everything appears to be working fine. No Windows OS errors, system updates have been successful and system restore point snapshotting is working properly. So I’m finally happy with this end result. This process took way too long and involved too many mistakes. Hope this write up helps you!

If you have advice on ways to improve this process, such as newer/better software to use or other tips, then please leave a comment.


GIAC Rising

Posted: January 29th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: events, technospiel | 1 Comment »

The certificate granting branch of the SANS Institute, GIAC, just reached two important milestones. The first one was attaining ISO certification, which I’m not sure about, but I think it means that if an airline pilot has a heart attack and they need someone to fill in, then they will let me safely land the plane. The second big deal was that there are now over 20,000 of us. Twenty-thousand elite hacker, plane flying super geniuses who are all out there protecting your data from that evil CATS character.

“What’s a GIAC?” you may be asking. I wasn’t sure so I had to go look it up myself. Just kidding! If I learned one thing from my GSEC class (and I did) it was what GIAC stands for.

GIAC (pronounced Gee-ACK) = Global Information Assurance Certification
GSEC (pronounced Gee-SEC) = GIAC Security Essentials Certification

I guess they would call that second one a recursive acronym. If you have any idea what ‘recursive’ means. Anyway, this is all good news for SANS (Steven Northcutt) and GIAC (Jeff Frisk). It is good news for me, too, because in 100 years, employers in the technology realm will know what GIAC stands for.

You see, there is this other “certification” (if you can call it that) named CISSP. I have no idea what that stands for either, but it has one more letter in it. This obviously means something really really good to hiring managers because everyone I’ve ever known who got a really awesome job has “CISSP” after their name. I’m sure a simple Google search could unearth this mystery, but honestly who has that kind of time?

Anyway, there are a lot of CISSPs out there. Droves. Like a bazillion or so. And they hog all the headlines when it comes to those slick technology magazines that you all want to be seen reading in the coffee shop. So GIAC wants to dethrone CISSP. Or at least give it a huge black eye. But the playing field is, like, way unfair and stuff. So think back to that incredible theatric release of 2006, 300. It is like that! Dramatic, huh? Except we (the GIACs) are like the Spartans. So now envision me (and a bunch of other pot-bellied dudes) waving GSEC certificates over our heads whilst screaming “THIS IS SPARTAAAA!!!!!” and charging a bazillion nerds wielding CISSP certs.

Whoa. That would rock. And much blood would be shed. But it is all for a good cause. We just want to protect your computers, like, man. And thus was the tale of GIAC Rising.


Call Me GSEC 5730

Posted: September 6th, 2006 | Author: | Filed under: computers, technospiel | 1 Comment »

Woo-haa! I keep those packets all in check!
When you go to write some shell code, best not disrespect!
Woo-haa! I gots you all in check!

GSEC Silver

That’s right, people. My week of buckled down studying has paid off and on Monday I took the two big exams. As Mark phrased it, I “gave those tests the smack-down.” Somehow I was able to pull a 96 on the Networking and Internet Security Technologies exam and a 94 on the Secure Communications and Windows/Unix Security exam. Woo-haa!! (You can verify that by going to the GIAC website and searching for my name.)

By Tuesday my name and scores were posted to the website and I had to go back to check it every hour or so just so the gravity of this accomplishment would set in. I am still surprised that I did so well considering how much material is covered. As you can imagine, I am totally on Geek Cloud 9. Many thanks to my excellent local mentor Doug Brown and to all the friends and family who were so supportive of me all Summer while I had my nose in the books. Yay! I can be social again!! 🙂

(Please note that my use of the GSEC Silver logo in no way implies an endorsement from nor a partnership with SANS Institute or GIAC. The logo is used only to indicate that I have passed the GSEC exams and obtained GIAC Silver certification. Proper permission for logo use has been explicitly obtained.)


New Theme, New Tagline, New WordPress

Posted: June 14th, 2006 | Author: | Filed under: technospiel | 3 Comments »

I just upgraded my WP install to WordPress 2.0.3 via the super-easy DreamHost One-Click Upgrade pane. The folks at DreamHost were also kind enough to wrap 25 really nice themes into the install. So, I decided to throw caution to the wind and change a bunch of things all at once.

THIS IS JUST A TEST. IF THIS WERE AN ACTUAL EMERGENCY YOU WOULD HEAR A LONG ANNOYING SUSTAINED TONE AND NOTICE THAT PEOPLE ARE RUNNING AROUND SCREAMING.


Check Out Make

Posted: December 15th, 2005 | Author: | Filed under: technospiel | No Comments »

Make Magazine

Altho Make magazine (from O’Reilly) has been out for a few months now, not many people seem to have heard of it. At least, not many of the people whom I think should have heard of it, or who might enjoy it.

Anyway, I could have checked just about all my categories (computers, automotive, scientifics, etc) in relation to Make because the range of topics they cover is astounding. If it is nerdy, it is in Make. If it can be hacked, it is in Make. If you know something cool that hasn’t been in Make already, then you should get on to writing the article and submitting it. In short, this magazine is amazing.

The folks I know who have subscribed are mostly doing so for “archival purposes.” (i.e. they think “Well, I may not need to know how to make Bio-Diesel now, but I’d like to have a step-by-step guide for future reference.”) This is an excellent idea because the magazine is so packed each month that it might take you the better half of a year to implement all the projects.

Make Magazine: A++ with Two Thumbs Up. Check it out!

PS – from the O’Reilly page I see they are offering a limited time 50% discount on subscriptions.


10.3.9 -> 10.4 Upgrade Successful

Posted: April 30th, 2005 | Author: | Filed under: computers, technospiel | 1 Comment »

Last night I blew off pre-arranged plans and the bar scene to spend a little quality time with my home computer. It had been a while since I set aside special time for just the two of us. But with that inviting OS X Tiger box set sitting on my desk, there was not much else I could think about.

Of course, I immediately went and bought a fresh eBook copy of Joe Kissell’s Take Control of Upgrading to Tiger and spent about 2 hours poring over it before issuing any commands (because doing this has prevented me from suffering major upgrade headaches in the past). By 3:00 AM, I had backed up my data in three different places, cleansed and purged the main drive of excess, and let the upgrade roll. So far, so good.

I wanted to mention here that the OS X Panther-to-Tiger upgrade went smoothly. Every time Apple comes out with a new OS product, I am subjected to oodles of stories from people wanting to complain that “The upgrade trashed my system.” I love how they cannot get more specific than that, instead slandering the software with language of the grossly misinformed. (These are also usually the same people who never perform a backup of critical data and then whine when it disappears).

Partially because of the prevalence of such horror stories and partially because of my neurotic Sys Admin nature, I always wipe my hard drive clean and perform a “Fresh Install.” This has always produced spectacular results in terms of stability and OS integrity. However, this has also come with a tax — a time tax — in returning your system to its normal state of end user customization. This year I reckoned I had paid enough tax to Uncle Sam and I wanted to avoid paying the time tax again. This is why I opted to test out the Upgrade option for Tiger.

Well, the prep time was around three hours, but not everyone moves as slowly as I do. Once I began the installer and selected which software bits I wanted it to install, the upgrade process took less than 20 minutes (dual 1.42Ghz G4 tower with 2GB of RAM). A few seconds later I was rebooted into the new OS X (Tiger or 10.4) and began checking out my files and applications to make sure things went as planned. I have noticed no major problems with the upgrade as of this writing.

Dashboard is a relatively cool new widget thingy meant to save all us busy people a fuckload of time by placing commonly used applets in one viewer screen. While I definitely like the look and feel of Dashboard, I have noticed that it can really put a hurtin’ on CPU performance. And if you remember the system stats from the above paragraph, you might wonder too at just how processor-intensive this tiny little application actually is. In fact, I want to see it operate on a system with a “more normal” amount of RAM. I imagine on the stock systems Apple ships (usually 256MB of memory) that Dashboard would bring everything to a cool-looking grinding halt. Hmmm… Did they test this before shipping?

First impressions? Well, Tiger is exactly like Panther, but with a slight increment in the version number (and it cost me over $70). Over time, I hope to publish more helpful feedback on the product, but for now everything looks status quo — which, if you’re one of the Mac faithful, is a very good thing. I’m primarily interested in ever-increasing stability and speed improvements. The benefit or advantage of all the little changes/applications has yet to be seen. Just don’t charge me 70 bucks for something that slows down my fancy computer, please.


O.B. — Over-Blogged

Posted: March 30th, 2005 | Author: | Filed under: interwebby, music, technospiel | 2 Comments »

Two words. Holy Crap.

The sheer volume of info (good, bad, both combined, whatever) put on the Internet each day is staggering. The link aggregators (such as MetaFilter, Google News, Plastic, bordom .oO!@#;,., del.icio.us and perhaps a zillion others) alone can batter your reality and blunt your sensibilities. Then you get into the whole world of blogs and the links they’re posting and re-posting, well, mind-boggling sounds like a good term for it. Here is a wacky sampling of this info tsunami.

  • First things first. Screw you Sorny Records! Thanks for sitting on a great record for two years while waiting to find a radio single. They are probably trying to artistically stifle Fiona Apple the same way they tried with Mariah Carey years ago. Jump ship, Fiona! Find a better record distributor. I wish there were a combined hit counter on the zillion Extraordinary Machine download sites to show how many fans would have been happy to buy the cd. Lame industry bullshit.
  • Indie labels seem to be figuring this whole fiasco out. It seems that most of them understand that pervasive global exposure for their artists would be a good thing.
  • Glastonbury will turn the headphone rave culture on its ear this year when it debuts their “silent disco” idea. I thought it was cool when the Flaming Lips did it for The Soft Bulletin tour, but many others didn’t like the rather remote karaoke feel of the whole thing. I just wished the headphones they gave out were closed ear headphones. Twas impossible to wear earplugs with the cheapies they were handing out. IMHO, this drastically reduced the effectiveness of having the headphone content enhance the show.
  • The Jr.-Sr. High School in Proctor, Vermont just decided to ban access from school computers to blogging applications and social networking sites like myspace.com. The primary decision cited was that “blogging is not an educational use of school computers.” I would have to disagree on this point. It may not be an educational use now, with zero interaction from teachers. However, this could be an excellent way for teachers to get across important ideas such as not giving out too much personal information on the net or an early introduction to journalism and information science. This could teach kids computer skills, including hardware, software and Internet aspects. One major added bonus for anyone going to college — enhanced keyboarding skills. And it seems strange to me that they would want to discourage kids from reading and writing. Now limiting how much school time can be devoted to such efforts is important, but cutting off this aspect of adolescence and our techno-culture influx won’t do much to help these kids. What is significant about Proctor, Vermont? That is the town where I was raised for nine years (ages 2-11). My brother and sisters went to this High School. C’mon Vermont. I know you’re more liberal than that. 😉
  • My Raleigh-based homie S. Dawg Champeon was at SXSW to talk about the web cruft — namely spam, trolls, stalkers, Oh My! I’m sorry I missed it. As we all know, that is my favorite topic when it comes to bitching about weblogs.
  • There is so much cool stuff on the web. alexking WP 1.5 Theme Browser and ColorWhore. Amazing. Thanks to geeksmakemehot and nothing fancy.

Well, I think thats enough for now. Must… go.. to.. sleeeeeeeppp…