Archive for the ‘Something to know’ Category

First memories

Monday, November 2nd, 2015

My life has seemingly been around tech since I can remember. My technolust (term coined by the video podcast Hak5) was first started by my curiousity with all things. I mentioned in a previous post about being a tinkerer and that was evident from the start. So, travel down the well with me into the mind of a tinkerer.

I have two memories and I can’t remember which one came first but I was around 2 years old in both so they were somewhat close together. Ok so lets get the slightly embarrassing stuff out of the way with a little background. My mother had our house split into two rooms for the kids. My sister and I in one and my older brother Erick in the other. This arrangement worked for them because the two youngest were very close to their room and my brother who was 5 years older was down the hall. For some reason my mother decided to keep me in a baby bed and get every dollar of usage out of it. I guess you could say I was a bit rambunctious as a kid because I remember figuring out that I could make the whole bed fall down if I jumped on it really hard over and over again. I’m in the autonomous stage and I wanted to get out and run around but was confined to this prison that was up too high for me to climb out easily.

This situation was a lab for me. I had a couple of goals that were all equally important. 1) Escape, 2) annoy my sister because I knew this would always do it, 3) make my mom have to run in the room at which point I’d have escaped further from the bed each time and 4) amaze myself at how much the bed would take before it would collapse. The other goals were great but each time I remember holding out faith that I could break this bed more effeciently each time. I was too young to know about statistics and reports but If my little me would have known about that stuff I would have kept record.

This thinking hasn’t changed. 43 years later I still repeat things that I do over and over to become better and more efficient at them. High five 2 year old Phillip. You were working the scientific process and reaping great results as this is one of my sister’s first memories as well and my mom still holds this against me in conversations. Mission accomplished.

How to be an “Undefinable You” like Keila Banks #undefinableyou

Monday, August 3rd, 2015

Recently my daughter (Keila Banks) did a talk at O’Reilly Media’s OSCON 2015. Hey keynote talk was “Undefinable Me.” In the talk, in short, she talks about how she’s a 13 year old coder and many many other things that make it hard to define her (video here). She ends her talk by saying “Join me in being an undefinable you.” Since then I’ve been flooded with messages, emails, texts and calls about her video asking for help with this concept. I will explain it in detail here.

When my daughter gives talks we brainstorm on an idea and I let her expound on it. She does all her

Me, my dad, Keila, Uncle John and son David.

Me, my dad, Keila, Uncle John and son David.

own writing and video presentation so there’s no speech written. She’s just talking about yourself and who can’t talk about themselves. I presented her with a title idea. To talk about herself. Let me digress for a second to give you a little background.

My dad (Sammie Banks) was an electrical engineer since the 1960’s. My uncle John was a mathematician that worked for the Pentagon back in those decades as well. This was a VERY hard thing in that there were few black people in technology fields. My father aimed us towards whatever we wanted. He’d pay for books if need be but he wouldn’t give out answers he knew to things. If I wanted to know I had to come back with enough information to discuss the question. I wasn’t an exceptional kid at math but I felt computers which had just started to be put in homes to be my new purpose. My dad’s words of advice to us in all things was simple, “In whatever you do you’re going to have to be twice as good as the guy standing right next to you.” Understanding the undertones that the man next to us was probably a white man the message was clear but racism was inexcusable no matter what other people did.

The lessons he gave me were changed a bit by me to come up with idea of perfecting my 3 principles at the core of everything. Mind. Body. Spirit. My children discuss and learn things (Mind), healthy and in good physical condition from exercise (Body) and God fearing and kind (Spirit). My things don’t have to be your things but choose your things. What are your core beliefs? Do they make the world a better place and not just you?

Men of the Banks family

Hunter Banks, David Banks, Sammie Banks, Phillip Banks Jr. and Phillip Banks Sr.

Programming since I was 10 like my sons and daughter I used to find on error message that would always cause you a problem when it hit. “Undefined variable.” This meant somewhere along in your code you were supposed to give something a value but you forgot to. Being undefinable is lacking the ability to be given a simple value. Programmers and geeks might know this as a list or array needed which gives this thing many values. This is the same for you but you’re going to break the program because you want to be undefinable. They’re going to have to come up with a new language for you.

I’m a 6’3″ Christian, black, athletic, geeky, sociable, funny (just roll with on that), inner city Los Angeles native that works on all tech things but mainly free and open source technologies like Linux and Firefox (read into that part a tree hugging/hippie tech geek perception) and always with his kids. I won’t go into the possibly negative connotations associated with who I am that I completely shatter in people’s brains but that’s great. That’s how it starts.

The main focus I wanted her to hit that she hit so well is that she’s not special. Even if you did this we’re smart that only gets you so far. Hard work on yourself is what gets results. So if you’re female change the narrative of what people say about females in tech to one that makes gender sound silly being discussed. If you’re young make the value associated with your age irrelevant. If you’re black, Latin, Asian, etc. defy saying or thinking things like, “I’m this way because I’m [fill in nationality here].” Then and only then are you an undefinable you.

Keila Banks on the Melissa Harris-Perry show on MSNBC

Keila Banks on the Melissa Harris-Perry show on MSNBC

Reference: Keila Banks “Undefinable me” talk at OSCON 2015
Business Inside article: (http://www.businessinsider.com/13-year-old-girl-coder-wows-crowd-2015-7 )
Banks Family Values (FOSS Force): http://fossforce.com/2015/07/banks-family-values-texas-linux-fest/

 

 

Marshmallow Game Engine (Day 15 of 20 days of SCALE)

Friday, February 22nd, 2013

The Marshmallow Game Engine is “an open-source game engine focused on 8-bit and 16-bit era 2D video games. This engine will act as the backbone and toolkit for the Marshmallow Entertainment System” (http://guillermoamaral.com/marshmallow_h/). When I’d first heard of having to review the Marshmallow Game Engine I was assuming there would be something for me to download, so I wandered the site about but came up empty. It’s not like the UI for the site was complicated but I’m known to get lost so if the download link does exist for users to experiment with that’s great, otherwise no problem.

Regardless of that after learning about it I was interested. A quick look at the creators Youtube channel shows the game engine in action. The game works smooth, boots quickly and for those of us who like the nostalgic 8-bit/16-bit consoles it’s something worth looking into.

Guest Post by Hunter Banks

Riot Games (Day 14 of 20 days of SCALE)

Friday, February 22nd, 2013

I’ve never reviewed any subject in any somewhat official manner but for Scale 11x this year I’ll be discussing Riot Games and Marshmallow Game Engine.
First on the agenda is Riot Games, a company I’d become familiar with last time around at Scale 10x. Riot Games is the creator of widely popular MMORPG known as League of Legends. The team responsible for the game that we met at the Scale tour seemed very enthusiastic about their work, some maybe a bit too enthusiastic. One of the presenters was so engulfed in playing the game for two different tours he could barely look away from his screen to demonstrate. Depending on your outlook that could be interpretted as great marketing for a game so amazing and fun you forget your actual duties to play it or as fairly bad press from an unfocused worker. The rest of the presenters for the company were nice and very willing to answer questions about their company so being an optimist I’d say good marketing. (http://www.riotgames.com/)

Guest Post by Hunter Banks

He who has the most tools wins

Thursday, June 21st, 2012

I am told quite often, “You must have a lot of time on your hands.” This is usually following an off the wall rambling on Facebook, Twitter or at a client site. The funny thing about it is I’ve always got things to do I just make sure that I have a LOT of time to enjoy life. Among lots of reading, sports, lots of time with family, church obligations, phone calls, cooking and so many other things the goal is to fit as much into smaller amounts of time as possible.

A while ago I read the book “Getting Things Done” by David Allen and it is a book that has a cult following among efficiency experts. The GTD processes are something you can find a million websites and tools on. The one thing it didn’t mention is what a computer guy loves the most. TOOLS! See the thing my dad taught me by accident is that he who has the most tools AND knows how to use them wins. See my dad knew how to use every tool but didn’t always have them all around. However, a neighbour down the street had the most organized garage ever with tools of every kind. My brother and I would be sent down the street sometimes when we were working on our car, house, plumbing or carpentry. We’d learn how to use everything.

Translate this into modern day I acquire as many mental tools as I can as well as geek tech tools. Earlier today I had to do something and it would have been a project that a group of people would have taken hours doing. However, I know how to use databases well, I’m great with picture editing software and I know the web. The combination of the three had me set a timer for 30 minutes and knock this out in record time with unexpectedly fantastic results. At times in life I’ve actually learned things and immersed myself in them for a short period of time to get really good at them so I can do it faster.

Tools cost a lot right? Well, unlike the days of our neighbour’s garage, you don’t have to spend thousands on tools. Get some books on Amazon, install some apps on your phone, look at useful websites or search for “tip” or “tricks”, download free or open source software, read the table of contents on a book with the subject you want to learn and Google the rest or just pay somebody that knows what they’re doing in that area so you can be more efficient in the others. Get good at what you do and use the right mental, physical and software tools for the job and you’ll be a winner.

Do you know me? 10 random things about me.

Wednesday, October 26th, 2011

Ok, so I was dared to do this so I had to stop and do it. Don’t think a challenge to me will go unheeded. Here’s a list of 10 completely random facts about me.

1) I feel an overwhelming urge to take any dare. When I was a kid there was nothing you couldn’t dare me to do. Once you say the word “dare” I’m sucked it. I’ll do it. I’ve jumped off roofs, ate balls of wasabi, all kinds of crazy things that I can’t even mention if the word dare is involved.

2) I used to absolutely LOVE model trains when I was a kid. I wired up this train set when I was a kid that was 4’x8′ and took up a good portion of my den. My parents bought electronic parts because I kept wiring and building till I pretty much had the space shuttle in the den when I was 12.

3) I fear talking to no one. At present I believe this to be true. I’ve talked to many A list celebrities, people passing by, music celebrities, etc. If I am in the place and they are I’ll talk. However, if they seem like they know they’re important I’ve snubbed just as many people because I don’t want to feed anyone’s ego unnecessarily.

4) When I was in elementary school I prided myself on the weird fact that I knew where every country in the world was (152 at the time) and their flag. Weird but true.

5) I ALWAYS stuck up for the underdog. In elementary or high school I’d always try to make that person that nobody liked or cared about feel a little bit better because I felt like I was straddling the fence between all the groups of people.

6) I absolutely HATE coconut. When I was little kid I’d get on my sister’s shoulders so we could sneak some cookies out of a jar on the shelf. One false move and you’d open the jar with coconut. I grabbed and ate one time and was disgusted with it ever since. P.S.: Yes I have been dared and did eat a whole coconut.

7) I have been told by people I’m the most resourceful person they know. I absolutely loved McGyver when I was a kid. I can grab a gang of pieces and make something. When the last big earthquake hit L.A. I asked some relatives in Texas where they afraid of me getting hurt and they said if anyone would survive it would be me on an Island like Gilligan with all the amenities.

8) I love sports period but contrary to popular beliefs my first love is football. Can tell you why. I just love the sport.

9) I LOVE CHRISTMAS time! I will sing Christmas music out loud in public. In a crowd. Call me crazy but I’ll belt out Chestnuts just to be doing it.

10) I’m not brown because I’m black. I’m brown because I eat so much chocolate. I love the stuff. It’s heaven here on Earth. I’ve been known to do work and get paid in cookies (Family only so don’t ask).

Whew! Ok, that wasn’t too bad. I’m not usually one to talk so much about me. I liked to get people to talk about themselves more than I talk about me.

I’m a computer guy that deserves a spanking

Friday, May 27th, 2011

A long time ago in a neighborhood far far away a computer guy was born… Well, actually it was only 5 minutes from my current house but that’s beside the point. The point is that I’m that guy. A long time ago I was told by my father to do what I love and I’ll never work a day in my life. With that, I learned to find the love in almost everything I’ve had to do (and believe me it My usual Skype posewas hard sometimes). So I’ve never worked. The second thing was, work at a different company every year till you’re 30 then you’ll have a breadth of knowledge that will serve you forever. I did and it is true.

I got to where I am now because my joy is finding solutions to problems and I use various forms of technology. It’s like having a magic wand in my back pocket. My problem though is centered around not believing anybody needs anything I know. Yes, I know it sounds silly seeing as how I’ve had a couple Google top 10 search results from this blog and emails from around the world but I never believe those results and write articles very rarely. That’s all going to change now because talking to my cousin Shyra today I got a good verbal spanking. It started with, “You have information in that head of yours that a million people would love to have!!!  Get to blogging!!!”

Not to say that I haven’t heard the same things from my wife, clients, and a lot of people on Facebook that find the observant craziness in my writing amusing but it just takes one thing sometimes to get you on the ball. All social media outlets watch out. Here I come! Also, if you know more and want to give me a good verbal spanking to get me on the right course go for it!

Empowered by the word “Free”

Tuesday, October 6th, 2009

Other than yelling out the word “fire” there are few words that envoke a response in humans in an economy driven society. The highest of these that can be said in mixed company is the word “free.” As pleasant as this word is to hear when offered a sample at your local store or as anticipated after the words “buy one, get one” this word does bare a negative burden. I must always be proven innocent or assumed to be guilty of a trick. Why else would someone give away something that they could just as easily have gotten paid for it? Where is the catch after I take this deal?  Let’s strip away the stigma attached to the word and show you how this word can help your business and personal life.

Almost everything out there has a free counterpart when computer software is concerned. That’s a pretty big claim but I intend to back it up.  Let me get this out of the way though. There is one string attached. You don’t just get anything that’s free just like you don’t get any car that has the same price that you want to spend. Have a little bit of a critical eye to key terms such as: Freeware and open source. Freeware is a product that is free but may be watered down compared to the pay version or expire after a certain date leaving you like Cinderella’s pumpkin when you need a ride home. Open source if software that is freely available and made by a collaboration of people around the world for the single purpose of freeing you of software licenses.

Ok, I know you’re already wondering where and how? Free! Free! Free! However, let me give it a little credibility first. You and the companies you use are already using open source software right now.  Google runs on Openbsd. Most of the sites on the internet run on Apache server. Firefox might be what you’re reading this with. Tivo, the Amazon Kindle, Sony Playstation 3 and most animated movies are made on Linux run hardware. All are free and open source products that the big companies have realized cut their costs by millions if they hide what’s below. Even your precious Apple computer and iPhone hide the free software below. If they know it. So should you.

As an old commercial used to say, “I’m not just the president, I’m a client.” Whereas I may not be the president I realized back in 1993 that I practice what I preach. Firefox is my web browser of choice. I dumped Microsoft Outlook in favor of Mozilla Thunderbird as my email client. I use Open Office on some of my PC’s instead of the way over priced and bloated Microsoft Office for all of my work. I use the very resourceful Video Lan Client (VLC) for all of my video and audio and I use Pidgin (or Adium on Macs) for all my instant messaging. I even use Ubuntu Linux as my primary desktop (note: It does have a little bit of a learning curve or help to setup than Mac or Windows but you have to remember they come installed when you buy the PC). These only scratch the surface. My internet hosting companies are running products like WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, SugarCRM, PHP and OScommerce and I’m sure yours are or will too.

I’m not going to lead you astray or have you believe that I don’t use Microsoft, Apple, or Adobe products. Dreamweaver is unparalleled at present for designing websites. Microsoft Access is not touched by it’s freeware and open source competitors and video games on the PC just aren’t at the level of the ones you pay for if you’re a serious gamer. However, every serious business or cost conscious individual should pay a little closer attention to their pocketbooks and give serious consideration to some of the FREE software that is out there to help you.

Prices may vary but once you compare the cost of a Mac or Linux computer running the standard application alternatives: Open Office, VLC, Firefox, and Thunderbird, or a Windows computer running the same with the addition of AVG free antivirus as compared to a computer with all the things you need for your computer that have license fees you may be swayed.

Go ye and spread the word of Free to all your friends. Email them sites like Download.com and sourceforge.net to search the thousands and thousands of programs that are free. For now free doesn’t mean being handed the paper cup sample of your favorite drink. Consider yourself handed the whole bottle.

Portable apps make portable hacks

Monday, August 31st, 2009

I recently posted an article about the instant message program Pidgin being insecure. However, I think insecure needs to be defined a little bit more. I was watching a recent episode of the TV show Leverage. In the show they have a hacker named Hardison that has incredible hacking skills that would make you cry. Most of his skills are totally impossible TV hacking but I’m still entertained because it doesn’t insult your intelligence. In watching the show though, I’ve found that many of the hacks that are done on the show can be performed on many computer networks because people have such poor security methods. Today, I’m going to talk about the easiest one. Walking in with a USB stick and using a portable application or by booting the computer with a LiveCD.

You may not be sure what I’m talking about but some programs for a computer can be run strictly from a USB stick. These cheap $10 memory sticks can be purchased almost anywhere these days and you can even get them at conventions from people trying to get you to look at their products. Simply delete their data off of it and I give it to my neices and nephews for school and games. Well, you can do more than that.You can buy a new one or one with a small amount of memory and use it to hack a computer.

The process is simple. I’ll explain the process not for hackers but for the techno savvy to understand how to prevent it from happening. Simply pugging a memory stick into a computer and having the portable versions of Wireshark, SIW, tor, RealVNC and winscp gives you all the tools you need to plug into a Windows machine find all the saved passwords and wireless access codes on that computer and scan for ones being input by other computers on that network and send them to your computer offsite without being tracked. Some processes could be scripted with a little work so the USB stick just has to be stuck into the computer and the rest just runs.

The other security threat is a LiveCD. Anyone could make one of these now days with a Linux distribution of choice. All the person needs to do is boot your computer with this LiveCD or LiveUSB stick. Once booted it can have scripts to find everything it needs to find. Learn everything it needs to learn and send it offsite or save directly to some portable drive (even the LiveUSB stick) everything it learned. It’s scary because when they shut the computer down you’d have no idea that you’d been hacked because there would be no log of the attack and everything would boot up as normal the next time.

This is scary stuff. If I’ve heard it once I’ve heard it a million times, “I don’t have anything important enough on my computer for anyone to hack me.” You’d definitely be surprised. Your computer can sometimes give someone all the information they need to assume your identity or attack someone higher up the food chain and make it look like you. I will never forget being a young IT director and getting a Windows NT box hacked and the hackers using it as a jumping off point to 3M. 3M tracked the IP address of the attack back to my company.Learn from me. Don’t let this happen to you. Lock down everything you don’t use on your firewall and in your permissions.

For more information or help with this please feel free to email me at: phillip@banksnetworking.com .

Pidgin insecure and my stupidity

Friday, August 28th, 2009

pidgin.jpgFor quite some time now I’ve been having a problem with my internet chat program Pidgin. It would work for a while and then all of a sudden I’d notice that the whole computer would come to a screeching halt. Resource usage would go up to 100% on a Linux machine. Not unbelievable but not very common for me. So, I figured out the problem was my instant messaging software Pidgin. Upon further investigation I found out that it probably was due to the Facebook plugin that I installed that let Pidgin log into my Facebook account and show me all the people available on Facebook chat.

Months went by without spending the time to find a solution for this until today I finally decided to really get into it because I love having my clients accessible to me through instant message rather than phone calls or texting. I had switch to using Kopete for the most part till I got around to fixing it but don’t like anything as much as Pidgin.

I completely uninstalled Pidgin and re-installed it and didn’t like when I saw my accounts log back in. There was obviously some information left on my computer after I uninstalled the program. First, I hate that! If you make a package, clean up all your crap when I uninstall it. Second, I found where it was saving its extra information. The folder “./purple” in my home folder. That’s not the shocking part though. I looked into the adium.pngdirectory and noticed my biggest screw up ever. I saved my passwords! I never do that and always advise people to never save a passwords on a computer.Within a file called “accounts.xml” were all my username and passwords for my different instant messaging accounts in clear text for anyone who sat down at my computer to look for and see. I ddin’t check this on a Windows PC or on a Mac (Adium on the Mac) yet but knowing that I do use it on these other operating systems I will be more aware. I also realized I use Pidgin’s portable version on my USB stick that I keep on my keychain. I don’t save passwords or accounts there because I use it so rarely but what if you did and lost your keys or USB stick. Your information is out there for anyone to see.

If for any reason you’ve saved a password on your computer delete them. Go into all your programs and empty out that information. A little bit of extra time logging in will save you many untold hours of grief. Many people use the same passwords over and over again. An experienced hacker knows to start first with the passwords he knows and just figure out the usernames. Don’t be a victim to this possible openning in your security.