Friday, February 27, 2009

At the end of times - and the beginning.

Today is the last edition of the once mighty Rocky Mountain News. I found out about it listening to an internet stream. Guess that tells the story.

I've decided that my yearly tax return present to myself will be an Amazon Kindle this year.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Holy friggin magnets Batman.

I remember reading in the Edmond Scientific catalog that their shipping department refused to handle neodymium magnets and thinking it was a joke...

Maybe not:

PS For the coffee out the nose extra scroll to the bottom of the page and read the comment by "SuperTuna"

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


I've been in exile for 6 weeks as of yesterday. Frankly I'm finding it more and more to my liking - especially with a well loaded toolbox and some really terrific coworkers back at the home office.

Today's roundup is all about tele-presence. Not just the kind where you talk via webcam but the stuff that lets a geek get real work done. Up first Webmin. This open source tool is the monster of remote admin tools. Used mostly in the world of *nix it's also available for Windows and OSX and tons of other systems. Not only can you do things like start and stop services (deamons), add users, and reboot but you can actually edit config files (including search and replace) modify the file system install software, remote control the console and even setup a system that monitors your other systems and pages you when there are problems. All from the convenience of your web browser. Get it at

Next is DimDim a free web meeting tool much like Webex and Goto Meeting. The difference - as far as I can tell is that it's free. It has desktop sharing, white boarding, chat, even pretty darn good audio. Plus if your company is a little freaked about running meetings via an outside server you can download the open source package and run it on your own server.

Need simple remote control and have users that find it a little intimidating to install and run VNC or PCAnywhere - Try With this system you download a small program, setup an account and then all your users have to do is visit the website and request you by name. Simple. Works as advertised. And like the name says - Free.

Another unusual item that requires the help of your aforementioned terrific coworkers back at the office, (and is a definite departure from our free tools) is the Axis 214 PTZ webcam. This is not your run of the mill web cam that you connect to your pc and use with Skype or Netmeeting. This is a high end network camera used mostly for surveillance or really nice traffic cams etc. It has it's own web server - will serve up full motion video and allows, as the PTZ in it's name hints - the end user (allot of them at once) to control the pan, tilt and (25x) zoom. Really, really nice for group meetings. You can even hook up an external Mic and the camera will send you high quality audio. We have started using this for things like department meetings where there are several remote workers that need to attend. One meeting like this (plus the savings on the free stuff above) pays for the camera.

What's nice for the folks back home is that it's a small single unit. Easy to move room to room. Because of it's terrific zoom - can be set towards the back of the room out of the way, and it runs on POE so if your company has POE switches - you just plug it into a network jack and you are live. No complicated setup. It just works.

Stick with me - I have at least one more good tool set to share. All this from just 6 weeks too.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Tools for the remote worker

Working remotely and discovering myself somewhat disconnected from those at my office I've embarked on a quest to fill a toolbox with things that will help me stay connected. I'll try to illiterate some of the best that I've found over the next few posts.

The first category is telephony. Most at home workers already enjoy the benefits of voice over IP. I, for example have the same telephone on my desk 2k miles from the office that I had on my desk before I left. Very nice. The problem enters with what to do when I'm not at my desk.

At the office I'm there for long stints during pretty much the same workday as everyone else. Living two timezones away and being a single father has thrown a hitch or two in the way of being available. For example my kids get home from school at 3:30 so I'm often called upon to help with homework. Then it's time to start dinner around 4:30 and then off to various kid related activities like basketball and guitar lessons etc. Oh, and don't forget walking the dogs while it's still light out...

Because of the time difference my long stints at the desk mostly take place in the morning before anyone is even at the office back home and then a shorter period again in the late evening (for me). All this kid related stuff takes place from about 1:30 to about 6:30 pm for the folks back at the office. If I had to run for the phone every time it rang, I'd go nuts and no one would be able to catch me during those hours.

Luckily my employer has an Avaya telephone switch. The Avaya system has a feature called "Extend to Cellular" or ec500. What this does is treat my cell phone like it was hooked to the same wire as my desk phone. Just like an extension at home.

Someone at the home office dials my 4 digit extension and immediately my desk phone and my cell ring. I answer my cell in the kitchen - get the water on the stove, walk to my office and pick up my desk phone in mid sentence. No codes to enter. Just pick up the handset, and hang up my cell.

It works the other way too - even if I answered on the desk phone. Say I need to go pick up the kids but I need to continue my call too. I press a button on my desk phone that says "extend". My cell rings, I answer and hang up my desk phone. Simple.

All this can be turned on or off at will from either phone. So if I'm "off the clock" I punch one button and calls stop ringing on my cell.

If you work remotely and have an IP phone from your employer chances are good the system you have has similar features. I'd highly recommend talking to the person that manages your phone system about it.

If you are a freelancer (or your office system doesn't have this functionality), I highly recommend Grand Central. You get a local number wherever you choose - it rings the numbers you choose on the schedule you choose and even lets you have custom voice mail and ring back sounds based on your own personal phone book. Very cool.

Political Progress

I've made a decision regarding the direction of my blogging. I find a huge outlet in writing my politically charged rants but I think that it takes something away from what I could be doing here. I've recently entered into the realm of social networking and do some writing there as well. I find that it has a flavor much different that what I would ever think of putting on TG. It's specific. I feel like those posts belong there. Even though some of my posts here are cathartic as hell - I've never felt that I had a direction on this site.

To that end I've setup a new account on a site that is entirely political in its nature. Not only is it political but it's a site where I find many like minds. Much like the specific interest TV channels, The Daily Kos is a site specific to (largely) progressive political discussion. So I have resolved that I will be posting my politically themed stuff there and tainting the guacamole with writing on largely personal experience and technical topics. In short, stuff my friends might actually like to hear from me as we down beers and eat our chips and salsa...

My political leaning stuff will find a new home - where I think it belongs. on The Daily Kos. My page can be found at: Where I've started things off with a virtual reprint of my TG posting - Painful Socialization.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The danger of RFID tags used in identification.

This post on Boing Boing this morning illustrates the problem with our new electronic passports and drivers licenses.

I just love how the idiocy of the US and UK governments totally ignored the warnings and did this anyway.

The Video from the posting:

Monday, February 02, 2009

Amazing fountain

A friend sent me this today. Amazing! Anyone know where this is exactly?

Attention raving conservatives...

Everything that needs to be said about gitmo. Your assignment today: Spend 2:30 before you listen to that fat idiot Rush and watch this. Yes all of it.

Update: I notice that Bruce Schneier beat me to posting this...