Archive for October, 2007

Linux from Scratch: Everything but the flour and butter

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2007

There are so many people out there that hear about Ubuntu, Redhat, or Suse (more for my European friends) and really want get started in it. This blog post is NOT for you. I will have more for you though because I really want to start a video podcast for you.

If you know a little bit about Linux or are a Linux admin then this is a good step for you. I’ve been using Linux for about 13 years now and I still have a lot more to learn. This is the case for all operating systems and computer systems. There is always more to learn. I’ve been a little consumed lately with tinkering for some reason. I’ve been doing a lot of wiring and building things out of old computers I have laying around. I’m doing it for no other reason than “Why not?”

For the Linux tinkerer I have the perfect site for you. Linux from Scratch. It’s a project that I’ve been meaning to do for years. What it is is a online book that will walk you through building a Linux system completely from scratch. Oddly enough I love cookies and buy chocolate chip cookies all the time. Long time when I was in high school I downloaded a cookie recipe off a bulletin board (yes, I’m old in computer years) and made the best cookies ever. Well, I equate this to Linux from Scratch. I may end up doing it just like the cookies. I made a cookie and it was good but later on I decided to tweak the recipe and make a cookie I liked better.

This is not a project for the faint of heart I’ve read but it really connects the dots in the knowledge you have about a Unix system. I’ve actually got to make sure I do a little bit from time to time (all in a virtual machine) because my workload for my business is getting heavier.

I’m going to categorize this for Linux people but I would say it’s not just for Linux/Unix (and Mac since it’s a BSD Unix) people because when you know the history of how computer systems came to being a lot of this is the core of how other systems like Windows, Beos, etc.

Try it and tell me your results or your progress. Maybe we can do it at the same time like jogging partners. You may also get interested in some other projects like “Realtime Linux” and “Embedded Linux” which are other projects that are used for specific things.

I’d say good luck but luck will have nothing to do with it.  You can do anything you set your mind to.

Plate spinning 101 for Admins

Tuesday, October 16th, 2007


The life of a technical administrator of any type can really be a circus act. I usually equate it to the plate spinner. You know the guy. He has all these plates he puts on a sticks and has to keep each plate spinning as he’s putting more plates on other sticks to spin. The coolest part of the act isn’t spinning a plate on a stick. The coolest part is putting more and more plates on sticks and constantly going back to each one every couple seconds in order to keep it spinning.

All other departments need to be honest with themselves. The computer guy is expected to know everything possible. I don’t think it’s just me but at most of the companies I’ve worked at I can do almost everyone’s job in the building. I once worked at a production company where I literally did every person’s job in the company at least once. We have to understand a lot about accounting to help the accountants achieve their goals, HR, specialty areas like video/audio production, sales, engineering and so much more. You name your companies departments and you touch them all. Add all these plates to your performance. As crazy as it gets I’ve got to say I do love it but it comes with it’s setbacks. Today I had one of those setbacks.

It is said that Albert Einstein didn’t even know his own phone number by heart. The reason for this was the fact that it was knowledge that was so easily accessible. He said why would he put that kind of information in his head when he could just grab the white pages or a phone book in his house. This is how you will have to treat some things. That’s why a trusty internet connection and Google should be your best friends. Some answers are just seconds away. I never remember the color configuration for crimping a crossover cable because I can just look it up and I don’t do it often.

The backfire that I faced today was that I realized that I turned my back for a second and some plates fell. In particular I was put on the spot with a test on MySQL and at another time in the same day questions about Cisco. Now I actually went and took some classes on these two things years ago and have used them ever since.

All of a sudden, my whole sense of self-worth went right out the window. Years of learning. All the systems I’d administered or installed in the past out the window. All my value reduced to minutes before I’m considered a rookie.

Here’s the lesson. Of course you will have to let some of your plates just spin. It’s always easy being the one or two trick pony but admins are more than that. Maybe one or two plates will have to fall. You can always get new ones (i.e. pick up the skills again). The method to your madness has to be spinning the plates that are wobbling in the back. Those are the skills that you don’t use on a daily basis but read blogs and get podcasts that may mention things you may want to keep up to date on.

My dad’s solution is a little different and I may really need to adopt it. He said,”At a certain level don’t let anybody ever test you. There’s nothing to be gained only image to be lost.”

White hat or Black hat hacker

Wednesday, October 10th, 2007

I’ve got to admit. As a kid I was pretty mischievous. I’m sure many of us were. Thing is, what I need is internet all the time. I want to be able to get internet for free because I believe it should be as taken for granted as free radio. I’ve found myself asking clients and people I know if they could give me their WEP/WPA keys so I can log onto their internet if I’m near their house. I’m not going to be downloading movies or anything. I may just need to check my email or get directions and don’t want to spend a fortune getting it on my phone.

This is one of those times that makes a “White hat” hacker like myself want to turn into a “Black hat” one. There are more than enough resources to crack WEP out there. I just don’t want to get started using them to get access points. Somebody come up with a free citywide internet for Los Angeles. I’ve heard they’re working on it in Toronto and San Francisco. We definitely need it here.

Wireless software is Linux’s killer application

Tuesday, October 9th, 2007

I’ve been raising all the security in my house and my clients to the highest security on their wireless that I can.  So, in walking around lately with my laptop running linux I have gotten a little disappointed.

It’s just not easy enough.  It’s very sad to say but it just isn’t ready for the desktop user right now.  I’ve ended up going to the repositories and searching for wireless software but none seem to work well.  They are functional but I really have to do some work to get connected.  When I use Windows or a Mac the wireless security and login is a no brainer.  I’m connected before I even think twice about it.  The Mac isn’t as intuitive when it comes to WPA on your initial usage but it’s easy after that.

I’m using a program in Ubuntu’s repositories called “Wifi-radar” right now and that seems to be the best one for me.   “Wireless assistant” is also good but for some reason it just doesn’t like the fact that I’m changing the settings of a wireless access point that I’d already used before.

In the mean time.  Linux people should become very familiar with the iwlist, iwconfig, dhclient, ifconfig commands and anything about wpasupplicant.  Not fun unless you’re a hacker but even now I sometimes just want to pick up my wife’s laptop just to get a quick connection.  I’ll of course have a script written for this by the time you read this in case it ever happens again but I’m sure that the program I’m using should be the one I stick with.

Why doesn’t Revision3 love me?

Monday, October 8th, 2007

Living in Los Angeles and working for media companies in the past I’ve found myself meeting many famous people but forJessica Corbin the most part I tend to meet most of the tech people of some renown at conventions in San Francisco or Las Vegas. Let’s set the stage. I’m at the huge CES convention in Las Vegas (by the way, if you’re going in January drop me a line and we might meet up). I’m looking at a product demo and the presenter is giving the usual “Blah blah blah” presentation of generic presenter talk. Then I realize it’s a character from the former TechTV channel and used to help on shows like the Screen Savers. I soon remember that her name is Jessica Corbin.

Well, a couple of minutes pass and I notice the creator of Digg and also, past employee of TechTV, Kevin Rose and his Diggnation co-host Alex Albrecht. Kevin Rose

Well needless to say. I never got a call. The next week Kevin Rose gets $2.8 million in venture capital and Jessica Corbin gets a show on his Revision3 video podcast network. Two weeks ago a new show is started on his network with another former TechTV guy Patrick Norton called Techzilla.

Where’s my show Kevin?!?! It makes it really hard for me to watch Techzilla. I know you’re here in L. A. with me.

Honestly, they both do seem like very nice people. I do question the choices a little bit though. Alex Albrecht is a cool person (I saw him again last week at the Podcast and Portable Media expo) but not really techy enough. Jessica Corbin is nice too but also not techy enough. I guess she’s just there for techy nerds to have a female to look at.

Batman and Dick Tracy… Here I come

Friday, October 5th, 2007

Why do us techies do it? What are the gadget freaks after? Why do we love it so much? Well, when we were growing up we saw something. Maybe it was Knight Rider’s car Kit. Dick Tracy’s wrist communicator. A space shuttle leave the starship Enterprise. For me it was the computer in the Bat cave on Batman. batman_2_th.jpg

There couldn’t have been a better example of a computer system that I dreamed for at the time. All the information on anything and anyone he needed but he had to use his brain to solve the problem. The live versions of the shows only had blinking lights but the cartoon was a vision of the future. The den of my house as a kid was my bat cave in the making. Now, I hope for the real thing. My office is networked and filled with computers as servers and workstations to do whatever I can.

That’s the goal for all of us techno types. To do whatever we can. Now, I’m too close to Batman. He had a good run but I’ve got to take it to the next level. I’ve got two big projects then I’m on to making my house a starship on the level of the Enterprise.

So, here’s the plan. If you can help that would be great. I’ve got to tame LDAP, Directory services, and maybe voice recognition and talk back capabilities. I’ll let you in on some of the contact data and database components when I know what I’m talking about.

I’m sure all the gadget freaks are onboard with me too. Dick Tracy’s watch isn’t so unbelievable if someone saw it in a magazine today. Still cool but not beyond belief.

The perfect unattended Windows install

Thursday, October 4th, 2007

Let me just start by saying that I don’t read licenses on different things that much so I want you to be forewarned that you should check on the legality of doing this but it’s worked for me.

My issue is that I encounter a lot of computers that I need to reinstall Windows on. The thing is, I have this down to a science (almost) with Linux (read my blog post on PXE) but I end up having a lot of people that need it for Windows. I totally HATE installing Windows. It’s the most boring thing that I ever have to do. I have to wait a long time and have to keep going back to see if it’s asking me a question. I really hate that because I’m a serious multitasker. I want to go through as much configuration as possible before hand and come back and it’s done. Ready to use. Well, here’s my ideas for a Windows computer install.