WiFi QR Code

This might be helpful if you let people come over for the holidays this year.

Back in 2014, I wrote a little post about sharing your wifi with holiday guests via something called a QR code. Back then, the technology was exotic and strange and, sadly, pretty limited. But, now, more people are using their cell phones or have picked up a tablet for on-the-go internet access and most of those devices can read a QR code natively. And, with Thanksgiving and Christmas right around the corner, we might finally feel brave enough to invite people over for a socially distant, but in-person, holiday celebration and they’ll be asking for access to your wifi network. But, this year, too, with so many people working from home and all the potential security risks, you may not want to put your sensitive security access information into a strange website. So, I thought it was a great time to share another tool for creating those QR codes that guests can scan to get that access while using more secure programming standards. That site is QiFi. It’s super simple and makes a function QR code that you can either export as a PNG to add to a nicer display or simply print out so that your guests can scan it with their device. The QR code doesn’t show any information in a human-readable format, so the casual user isn’t going to just copy it down. And, of course, this is free. There’s actually not even any advertising on the site as far as I can see. The wifi information you put it isn’t stored on the site and is gone as soon as you close the page. So, for the less computer geeky, that means it’s about as safe as these things get.

No matter what else you do this holiday season, stay safe, try to stay healthy, and let’s all be as kind to one another as we can be.

Unlucky Friday

posted in: Fun, Red Herrings | 0

About once a year, I get lazy and recycle a post about Friday the Thirteenth.

Mostly, because it’s an easy post to put together, since I’ve written the meat of it already and, frankly, the history of the superstition hasn’t really changed. We do get at least one Friday the Thirteenth each year, though most years have two and we occasionally have three in one year. The next time we have three will be in 2026. Besides, when I get stuck for topics, as I sometimes do, this is an easy enough post to whip together again. Honestly, when I can swing it, it’s almost like getting a small, blogging vacation to have a mostly pre-written post.

Back in the old days, before we could whip out our smartphones and use the internet to answer every passing question, I used to assume that Friday the Thirteenth was considered unlucky due to some Biblical association because Judas was effectively the Thirteenth Apostle or some other Apocalypse-related numerology that I hadn’t bothered to research too deeply before. I don’t think it’s a big stretch, really, since so many superstitions seem to tie back to some obscure custom related to religion. But, I’ve since found out that nothing could be further from the truth. Apparently, Friday the Thirteenth is considered unlucky because of its association with the plot to suppress the Knights Templar, according to this article on GlobalPsychics.com. No, seriously! And, I quote:

The modern basis for the Friday the 13th superstition stems from Friday, October the 13th, 1307. On this date, the Pope of the church in Rome in Conjunction with the King of France carried out a secret death warrant against “the Knights Templar”. The Templars were terminated as heretics, never again to hold the power that they had held for so long. There Grand Master, Jacques DeMolay, was arrested and before he was killed, was tortured and crucified. A Black Friday indeed!

So, there you have it, Friday the Thirteenth is a global conspiracy, though, for a nice twist, the Knights Templar or Freemasons aren’t behind it, but, rather, the victims of it! Which I appreciate, incidentally, because I am both a Freemason and, via another Masonic body, a Knight Templar, ironically. Although, to be fair, that same web page I link to there also goes into the fact that 13 is generally considered unlucky due to the number of people at the Last Supper being, you guessed it, thirteen. But, aside from the number, which is considered unlucky in a lot of ways, it’s the association with the suppression of the Templars, which happened on a Friday, that makes the day unlucky historically.

Personally, I usually have better luck on Friday the Thirteenth, but, then, I always have been a little out of step with the world. Besides, I don’t like to think of myself as a very superstitious person, so I generally don’t buy into most of this nonsense.
Oh, and if you’re not buying the Templar story, here’s a link to some alternate ideas why everyone else is afraid of Friday the Thirteenth.

D&D Renaissance and Questing Beast

posted in: Art, Fun, Fun and Games | 0

After 2020 so far, I feel like we all want to retreat to a fantasy world.

I’m writing this before Election Day, and, I’m sure, well before we know the outcome of the election itself. I hope that it’s a very definitive result, but, I think a lot of us are braced for it all to be a long, drawn-out process. Combine that political insanity with the devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions and, well, it’s no surprise that fantasy role-playing games are enjoying a resurgence. And, of course, the great-grand-daddy of role-playing games is Dungeons and Dragons. I haven’t played myself in at least thirty years, but I do own a LOT of the game books. I keep them around for the inspiration they give me and the ways they spark my imagination, though I understand that, somehow, playing D&D has become cool again, with famous actors and Hollywood people playing. In any case, those strange circumstances have brought about a surprising amount of new interest in the game and resources to play. All of that brings me to a post on Boing Boing by Gareth Branwyn about a podcast reviewing FRPG zines. The podcast is on YouTube and is called “Questing Beast” and their channel has all kinds of video podcasts about fantasy role-playing games, but in particular D&D in various forms. Look, like anything, some of these are better than others, but they’re mostly fun if you’re into the game, or if you’re interested in getting back into the game. And, obviously, they’re super into role-playing games, so they’re ultra sincere about the reviews and so on. Oh, and there are a bunch of different “channels” that are part of Questing Beast, each with their own quirks and themes.

Anyway, if you have any interest in this subject at all, I hope this podcast gives you a little bit of distraction from the flaming dumpster fire that has been 2020!

NoNo NaNoWriMo

posted in: Fun, NaNoWriMo | 0

I’m not even kidding myself about trying to participate in National Novel Writing Month this year.
Today, November 1st, kicks off NaNoWriMo, as it has annually for over twenty years now. The idea is simple; write a fifty-thousand-word novel in thirty days or less. Legend has it that Chris Baty, who originated the challenge of writing a new, whole novel in a single month, chose fifty-thousand words as a goal because it was about the length of The Great Gatsby. And, the whole idea was to dare himself to finally write that novel he’d been meaning to write, and get some of his friends motivated to make the same attempt. The idea grew from there.

I have made the attempt twice. One year I wrote several thousand words before I got bogged down and lost my way. I tried another year, but barely got started. I’ve been meaning to try again for several years, but I never seem quite prepared with an idea and the worldbuilding done before everything kicks off. That’s what happened again this year. I actually have several ideas and any of them might be good enough to actually turn into a short novel, but I got too busy this year with work and the pandemic and my father dying and passing a kidney stone to be prepared. Besides, while I have been writing regularly, I have not been writing fiction regularly, so I still feel very under-prepared to write the over fifteen-hundred words per day required to achieve the goal. So, I’m not going to even try this year. I will, however, try to spend the month getting as much of the worldbuilding done for one of the several ideas I have so that I can start writing stories in that world. And, in fact, I have the first story idea already in my pointy, little head. If things go well, I may write that by the end of the month. Or year. In any case, not a full-length novel, but maybe a short story. And, then, I’ll be able to write more stories throughout the year, essentially warming up for a novel next year. Maybe.

If you’re going to make the attempt, dear reader, I wish you well, and good luck!

Healthy Skepticism

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.

Getting Away From It All

posted in: Fun, Personal Care | 2

My favorite daydream is more than a vacation.

I’ve mentioned this before on my blog, but when things get really bad, I’ve had the same recurring fantasy; sell everything, buy a tricked out motorhome-tiny-house and run away. Now, I know I would have a hard time actually doing that because not only do I love stuff that takes up a lot of room, like books, but we’d have a hard time fitting our two sixty-five-plus pound dogs into anything mobile on a permanent basis. But, that doesn’t stop me from dreaming about it. Some people fantasize about running away on a sailboat, but my jam is more of a land yacht. Now, as in intellectual exercise, I’ve considered the various options and their attendant advantages and disadvantages. For instance, if one were to get a towable tiny house, getting a truck large enough to tow it becomes a necessity. On the other hand, that towed tiny house can be parked while the truck is used to run errands without bringing the entire house along. With a full motorhome, everything comes with, which actually could be fine for a lot of things, but, also, one person could theoretically be sleeping in bed while the other drives to another destination. Well, it turns out I’m not the only one who’s been thinking about this lately. I’ve looked into it for quite some time and have some hands-on experience from when I was a kid, but there are apparently a lot of first-time buyers. If you’ve been thinking about jumping on this trend, Lifehacker has an article titled “The Beginner’s Guide to Buying The Right RV”. It doesn’t include the tiny house options, but it does run you through all the other options for running away from your life without jumping on a sailboat. You can also scan through Tumblr’s “van life” or “vanlife” to see some of the nicer, cooler setups that people have. (You can also look at their “tiny house” selection to see some other options, though these aren’t all mobile houses.)
Anyway, it’s been that kind of week and that’s where my head has been at lately. So, show up again next week because you never know what I’ll share next!

Questions for Job Hunters

Or, things I’d want to know before I seriously applied for, or took a new job.

The other day, a recruiter emailed me a super vague job description and we had a brief exchange about it. It was a little interesting, but, mostly, it was a mystery, because they just didn’t have a lot of details. Frankly, it sounded like the client wasn’t quite sure what they really wanted, except that they wanted to move all their IT support in-house instead of continuing to pay a managed service provider to maintain their systems. I made a post on r/ITCareerQuestions asking the question “What do you want to know before considering a job?”. I shared in that post these questions that I’d want answers to before being submitted for an open opportunity:

  • How many users? And how are they distributed at multiple locations? (IE. How many end users in what city and state?)
  • How many people are going to be hired, ultimately, to be in the IT Department? (I generally think one support person per seventy-five or fifty end users is a good ratio, if I can swing it. I always seem to support more than that, but it’s a goal!)
  • What servers are they running? What do they all do?
  • Where do those servers reside? (ie. On-prem or offsite data center or cloud)
  • Are they ALL virtual? On what? If VMware, what version? What OS are the virtual machines running?
  • What kind of physical host or hosts are the virtual machines on? Is it a cluster? Is there shared storage (ie a SAN)?
  • If there is more than one site, how are the sites connected?
  • How is email being handled now? On-prem Exchange? Hosted? Office 365?
  • What is the IT budget currently? How do they expect to see that expand?
  • Where is the main business headquarters? What’s the commute if I’m coming from [part of town where I live]?
  • How have they handled COVID-19?
  • What problem am I being hired to fix? Why are they looking for someone?
  • What does the compensation look like? What are the benefits? Is there a 401k and how much matching is there? What does the health insurance look like? Is there a bonus structure and how is that determined?

Hopefully, I wouldn’t have to ask them all of the recruiter, since the job description would normally include some of this information. Also, these questions assume that I wouldn’t be relocating across the country. So far, one Redditor came up with just one additional question that I’d want to know the answer to; How often are performance reviews done and what does that process look like?

So, dear readers, what about you? Anything you typically want to know about a job before applying?

This post first appeared on Diary of a Network Geek, my mostly more professional blog.

Office 365 Management via PowerShell

Not quite DIY DevOps for Office 365, but a good start.

So, it’s been a while since I posted professional geek content on any of my blogs, so I figure I’m overdue. I’ve had a lot of titles over the years, but, at heart, I’ll always be a system administrator. Back in the olden days before any marketing genius came up with the idea of calling hosted services “the cloud” or calling system administration automated with scripts “DevOps”, guys like me were automating routine tasks. I’ve used everything from batch files to bash scripts to Perl, but, on Windows servers, I’ve learned to use PowerShell. It’s powerful and there are a lot of resources for the neophyte to learn, so I’ve applied myself to it to make my life easier.
For instance, I wrote a script that removes users that are disabled and haven’t logged on in more than 90 days, which I shared in a comment on r/PowerShell. Naturally, I started with someone else’s script and modified it for my own purposes, and added in the email feature from another script. Then, I added that to the scheduled processes to run once a month, just to keep Active Directory cleaner. The other day, I was on r/sysadmin and read about someone having a problem on Office 365 with stolen credentials. I hate to say it, but it’s becoming a more and more frequent issue with everyone working from home. The only way to fix it, really, is to get some kind of multi-factor authentication. But, in that thread, someone referenced a script from Microsoft’s GitHub repository for Office 365 scripts meant to quickly help remediate the breach and close the hole left by the compromised credentials. It’s pretty slick, though I think I’d modify it to accept a command-line variable with the username instead of coding that in, but it’s a pretty slick script that can mean the difference between a few spam emails and hundreds. Also, it automates a lot of the standard stuff we do by hand when a breach occurs.
If you’re a sysadmin, it’s definitely worth a look and the rest of that GitHub repository has scripts to do all kinds of things with Office 365 by way of PowerShell. It’s a great place to start building your own scripts and automating your workflow.

So, that’s my geeky PSA for the professional geeks among us.
Enjoy!

This post originally appeared on my first blog, Diary of a Network Geek.

Kinetic Sculptures

posted in: Art, Fun | 0

Just a quick share this week.

I know I keep hinting that I’ll review that hot shoe splitting flash cable I got the other day, but I’ve been so busy, I have hardly had the chance to use it. So, I do still intend to review it, eventually.
Until then, though, I thought I’d share a fun link. This comes via Boing Boing and is just under ten minutes long. It’s a short video of Ten Kinetic Sculptures by Anne Lilly. It’s not very long and the sculptures are fascinating to watch. If you’re like me, you’ll watch the video several times just to see the beauty of their movement. The artist is quite talented.
(And, yes, there are reasons I’ve been so busy, but I’m not quite ready to share them yet.)

Anyway, have a great week and hopefully, I’ll have more to share next week!

Can you Spot The Troll?

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!

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