Archive for November, 2007

Your ultimate USB drive toolkit

Wednesday, November 28th, 2007

Being a computer guy I’m often asked by people to look at their computer and tell them what’s wrong or can I help them figure something out. For that reason, I’m doing this post on some real tech tricks to make you look like a star. All that from a USB drive.

The first thing you have to realize is that being prepared for anything is always your goal. I’m never unarmed. There are a couple things that are always on my person like most men: wallet, keys, watch, cell phone, and most times my PDA (an HP IPAQ) . Turning any of these items into multipurpose tools makes you ready for anything. Women can of course get more mileage out of this because they carry a purse. Now, for the really techy, I will continue with a blog post on the ultimate home support system because there are a lot of times I connect to my systems at home from a client’s site. I put a USB stick on my keyring that has a ton of goodies as well as my IPAQ. Today we’ll focus on the USB stick.

For the quick and easy route I’d suggest a simple USB stick (doesn’t have to be U3) but you want it to 1 gig or bigger. This will work on a drive as small as 128mb but I always like to keep extra space on the drive in case I need to copy a lot of files over to it for backup purposes. The last thing you want to do with a machine that is on it’s last leg is turn it off and hope it comes back on.

For a long time now I’d been downloading applications individually and copying them to the drive. You’re still going to install some extra ones to the drive but first download this handy set of tools: PCRepairsystem.zip . It’s a fabulous set of tools from the site Daily Cup of Tech. It’s a zip file that you just download and extract to your USB drive. Pull out your drive and stick it back in and you’re done! Well, almost done. When you put it in it puts a little coffee bean next to your computer’s clock on the task bar. Right clicking on that clock brings up a list of programs that do everything from drive repair to rootkit revealers to CD burning. These will serve you well. Get to know what each program does and you have most everything you need.

Next make a visit to www.portableapps.com. This site is full of applications that you may already be using all the time except these are made to run straight from a USB drive. Believe me, having access to a computer and not having administrative rights can totally shut you down because you can’t just download and install the applications you wanted until this.

Take a look around and get what you like. These are some of the ones that I put on my stick and the reasons why.

Firefox: Always want a fully capable web browser.
Clamwin: To be able to walk up and scan a computer for virus’ is absolutely essential.
WinSCP: If you have access to another machine with a secure connection you can FTP or SSH to and from it. Openoffice: A full Microsoft Office competitor on a USB stick? You can’t beat that.
VLC: Will view any video or play any audio.
Gimp: A Photoshop like program. You may need to resize or edit photos or something for someone.

Now with all of these you have to save the file to your desktop then install them and give your USB drive letter in the install path. For example, where it says “Install path: \openoffice” put H: (or whatever your drive’s letter is) in front to make it H:\openoffice.

In closing, I’d suggest you open every program you put on your USB drive before leaving home. The last thing you want to do is be surprised while you’re on location. A good example of this is that the first time you run Clamwin it wants to download the virus database. Assuming you’re at a site with dialup or no internet on the machine you’ve just wasted a ton of time or won’t even be able to fix the problem.

Also, the program SIW on the PCRepairkit should be your first stop when looking at a system. It will tell you everything about the machine. Save this to your USB stick. Should anything happen to the computer you know what it had before.

That’s it! Go out there and make the world a better place with safe computing.

Oh, and just for your convenience, keep some music, podcasts, or things to read on your USB stick. You might get stuck somewhere for a long time. No need to be bored while a virus scan or drive repair runs.  I also put my resume on the drive.  As a consultant you have this time as a window of opportunity if someone really likes you and may have a big project coming up.

Spice up your job and love it again

Monday, November 26th, 2007

A couple of weeks ago I was watching an American Dad episode and it made me think a little bit about life and how people see it. Sometimes doing what you love can get to be a bit like a boring marriage. I’ve been with my spouse for a very long time so I can tell you from experience. Sometimes you do need to spice it up a bit.

Well, the same happens with your job. In the American Dad episode the father works for the C.I.A. and he starts to find it a little boring. They open the show with him lazily picking up a bodybag out of his trunk with a live hostage. He then opens the bag near the door to an enemy compound, opens the guy’s eyelid so the retinal scanner on the door opens and green berets flood into the compound shooting. Amongst all the excitement he goes back to his car still bored. Later in the show he sees a meter maid passing out tickets and thinks that must be really exciting.

You may find yourself sometimes being this guy. You loved your job when you started. You really wanted to do what you now do for a living but for some reason you’re so bored.

Here’s a couple tips to spice up your job relationship:

1) Make yourself a new project if you aren’t on one. Make it a project that is challenging but it will make you learn a lot in an area you knew nothing about before. Of course you definitely should make it compliment or enhance your current job.

2) Meet some new people in your field. Networking always makes you run into people that do what you do but have something else to add that you find interesting and/or you can add something that they find interesting.

3) Find the routine things that are making your life boring and find ways to automate, reduce their time consumption, or make a personal time challenge out of. Of course your goal, like typing, isn’t to get done first but done with no errors.
4) If your job is full of routine then totally switch up the order. Commonly mixing up your environment and routine keeps those synapses firing all the time to re-acclimate you to your setting

5) GET AWAY FROM YOUR WORK! I can’t stress this one enough. When I worked in an office, getting away from my desk and most times even the building for lunch re-invigorates you. I’m in California so I love to go outside and get some fresh air (yeah, I know it’s mostly smog or forest fires here but you get my drift).

Trying these and a couple others you come up with can help you shape the direction you’re going in and make it new and exciting again. If you have any idea let me know as well. I run a home based business and need to get away sometimes so I’m constantly thinking of things to inspire myself.

If you have any good ideas that you use feel free to let me know.

Upgradeing to Ubuntu 7.10 Gutsy

Sunday, November 18th, 2007

There have been more than enough articles and podcasts done over the new version of Ubuntu.  I upgraded to the new one right away.  I’m a bit of an early adopter in that sense.  I have rarely encountered broken packages and the such.  This time I did do a fresh install on my laptop and just backed up my home folder and dropped it back on the PC.  Everything worked out perfect for me and continues to do so.

Here’s a blog about cool things to do after you upgrade or install Gutsy.  http://www.ovelha.org/pasteler0/2007/11/10/10-things-to-do-just-after-installing-ubuntu-710/

My problems may come in the form of Fedora 8.  That also just came out and I’m trying to install it in a virtual machine right now.  I actually had a little problem with that but I’ll keep you posted.  I have Fedora servers so I don’t want to accidentally do something wrong there so I try the install in a VM first and for some reason it bombed out twice and that’s using a .iso file and not actual media.

I’ll keep you posted.

Too much choice in Open Source software

Sunday, November 11th, 2007

www.ted.comI watched a fascinating lecture on the Internet today (www.ted.com) The speaker gave a talk on the misconceptions of: choice and happiness. I found this extremely interesting and relative to how open source works. In a capitalistic choice driven society like the United States (my home) it feels almost sacrilegious to say. It is however, true. Let’s delve further into it.

What software can you say people are truly happen with in open source? Without a doubt I would say: Firefox, MySQL, and Apache. Let’s look at why. Of the top of your head, what are your choices? Not many. I’m sure you’re probably thinking “What’s that browser’s name?” for a second referring to Opera or “I heard I can run a lighter webserver” referring to Lighttpd. Fact of the matter is more often than not it’s either Firefox (or a perversion of it like Swiftfox packaged with some Linux distros) or you Operating system default such as Internet Explorer or Safari. PostgresQL is a choice to MySQL but who offers anything else? There are tons more but as long as you don’t think about those you’re happy in your MySQL world.

“Why is this good?” you may ask. My answer is simple but don’t stop reading after I answer, there’s more. It keeps programmers focused in the right directions.

(more…)

Skype can take my money?

Friday, November 9th, 2007

I’ve got to say, I really do love using Skype.  It is Voice over IP made very easy to use.  I’ve even heard about the new Skype phone that’s coming out.  That is very cool although I already have one.  It’s called a PDA with Skype installed on it.  Yes, you can install Skype on mobile devices and take advantage of the built in speaker and microphone using it like a cell phone.

Seeing all this Skypey goodness I decided to pay $30 at the beginning of the year and it gave me unlimited calling for the rest of the year.  I could call from my computer to any phone in the US and some abroad for nothing more than the $30 I paid.

Sounds really good.  However, a small gripe just came to me when I had just not used it in a while.  I got a letter telling me to either use it more or I forfeit my credit.  Who in the world thinks this is actually right?  Of course, it did work because I did end up using my Skype account again but what business is it of theirs?

It’s not really the same thing but can you imagine if clothing companies did this?  Imagine you buy a pair of Levi jeans and if you don’t wear them in a month someone knocks on your door and says, “We’ll be taking those back now because you obviously don’t appreciate them.”   Will satellite TV start cutting off stations because we don’t watch them much?

Oddly, enough, in thinking about this AT&T was doing this with internet access here in California.  They decided to lower everyone’s DSL speeds unless you called in to complain.  If you did they’d act like their fixing something and give it back to you.  Be warned Skype, AT&T did this to me and I called in.  However, they didn’t put my speeds back to where they were.  I’m no longer on DSL now.  I’m on cable internet.

Notice to Skype:  No VOIP is an island.  There are a million companies waiting for you to screw up.

Do you have your flashcards?

Saturday, November 3rd, 2007

I’ve just got a very quick tip. When learning new programming languages, operating systems, applications, or services go back to an old high school trick. I used flash cards bought at any stationary store or most generic discount stores. For about a dollar or so you can get about 200 flash cards. Use these to write a word or phrase on one side and a definition or an explanation on the other side.

Sit and test yourself to success.

Howto cluster like a pro!

Friday, November 2nd, 2007

As a consultant I’ve been really diving deep into an industry hot topic: Clustering. It seems to be the big topic for so many companies. Hi availability need not be an issue for you ever again. Here’s the simple way you can scale like the big boys do it. The long and short of it are simple. You need “Heartbeat.”

No, I don’t mean a biological function I mean Heartbeat from the Linux-HA project. Heartbeat is a service for Linux systems that will make a process highly available. This way if the main machine that is servicing clients goes down then you’ll have another that will take it’s place without anyone noticing.

Oddly enough, there seem to not be enough resources on the internet to help people with this subject. However, to get started there are so few resources to learn with. I actually wanted to go a little deeper in my own knowledge of the subject but couldn’t find many books and even fewer websites. What is this world coming to when I can’t find websites to teach me all the information I needed. The thing is… I looked everywhere but the source. The Linux-HA website. There’s a screencast video link here. It’s about 10 minutes and the program designer shows how to make a basic cluster. You can even go deeper with more examples on the site that teach you how to cluster different programs.

Just as a note from me, if you are truly considering learning all it takes to make your own cluster please consider learning more about high availability. The core to high availability is redundancy. Make sure that you have all of your bases covered. Have no single points of failure. Redundant hard disks (RAID), power, internet, and network links.

By the way, I had started this article a little while ago and noticed a great link on Howtoforge that really pulls this together quickly and in one page.

Hope these are very useful to you.