How to: Turn a Webpage into an Application Shortcut

If you are a heavy user of any particular webpage or web-based service it may benefit you to simply turn that webpage into a clickable app shortcut. This way you can easily bring up the page directly without having to bring up your browser and going to the URL. It may also just be that you are getting used to launching everything via Apps on your mobile device. Whatever the reason, I find it extremley useful to convert many of the webpages I use often to shortcuts on the desktop. This is especially useful for sites that you may use to monitor social media traffic; Hootsuite, Buffer, Google Analytics etc etc. Chrome offers a great feature that lets you turn any webpage into an application shortcut on your desktop. It presents the page in a much more sleek, address bar-free presentation and is perfect for quick access to frequently used webpages.

Performed on Chrome; current Version 31.0.165

Step 1
At the top right click "Customize and Control Google Chrome Icon"

Step 2
In the drop-down menu click "Tools"

Step 3
From here click the "Create Application Shortcuts..."

Step 4
A box will pop up showing you what you are about to create as a shortcut. You can select where the shortcut will appear on you desktop. I recommend at least keeping "Pin to Task Bar" as it is nice to have the shortcut visible and ready to launch without having to minimize whatever else you might be doing on your desktop. Hit the "Create" button.

It's as simple as that. Now find your Icon and click on it. Don't forget to adjust the height and width of the window to suite your preference. Now that webpage can be easily launched, via application shortcut, anytime you want.


A Raspberry Pi Project the NSA Would Be Proud Of

A few days ago I looked up, from jumble of monitor windows and labs that occupy my desk, at my Raspberry Pi sitting there sulking at me. It had that 'sad microcomputer look' to it, notably from a general lack of usage. I've had the Pi for nearly a year now and I've played with it off and on but nothing ever really started clicking enough that got me serious about any projects with it. This is largely to blame on my lack of Linux knowledge and eventual frustration. Sitting there, in that moment, pondering the nearly thousands of things you can do with a Pi, I looked over and noticed my old Xbox camera. It too has been abandoned by the apathy of technological progression. This spark of inspiration got me digging through one of my "Drawers of Misfit Toys". Basically, it's all the wires, adapters and little odds and ends that I don't use anymore, but am too afraid to throw away for this very reason! Inside I resurrected an old WiFi dongle that I never had any use for. Are you thinking what I'm thinking?

Really what made things start to get interesting is when I got the Wireless adapter working on the Raspberry Pi. This by no means is anything new and, in fact, there are hundreds of tutorials out there to get it to work. What's interesting though is, once you make the Pi wireless, how much more possibilities open up of what you might do with it. I could have it down in the basement helping automate my Curing Chamber processes (see Charcuterie). I could buy a solar powered battery case for it, place it in a weather proof container, and make it a DIY weather station. Really I plan on doing all these things as time goes on, but first things first. Let's use what we have available!

Motion Detection
After making the Pi wireless, I checked out 'Motion' to see if I could turn my webcam into a motion detecting security camera. After a few days of tweaking I got it running very nicely. Motion comes with tons of customization, and you can tweak anything and everything to get it to do what you want. Basically I have the camera set up to watch an area of my house (let's say the backyard) when anything moves in front of the camera it takes a picture and time stamps it.  The picture is then saved onto the Pi.

Web Stream
In the process of setting up Motion I also let the Pi broadcast the stream over the internet (with authentication). From there all I have to do is use a web stream app (VLC player, MJpeg Viewer for Android) and I can check in on my house from practically anywhere in the world on my phone or tablet.

Motion Alert
Not only does the Pi take a picture of a would be trespasser, but I also set it up so that upon the event of a picture taken/motion detected it sends me a custom email (via sendEmail) notifying me that it has seen something! This was by far one of the more fun moments of configuring on the Pi. Having my phone ring because I wave my hand in front of the camera is a neat 'magic trick' to show to my friends.

Off-site Image Storage
In my quest to turn my Pi into the ultimate Motion Detecting, Burglar Catching, Alert System ever conceived,  I thought.. "Why not have the pictures FTP directly to my Dropbox  (or any cloud storage) so that the images don't only reside within the house. With a few tweaks to the motion.conf file that's exactly what it does. Upon saving images, and notifying me of detection, it also FTP's a second set of images over to my Dropbox. So after I get the message I could go check the files from my phone and make sure it wasn't a stray cat or something.

So what's next? One of my friends suggested (jokingly) that I have it upload the images to some sort of Google facial recognition database. Maybe I could rig it up to turn on the porch lite at night, and launch my own 'home defense drones'.  I have no idea where I'll go with this project really, or where it will end up. In all honesty though, it's just really great to have something exciting to do with my Raspberry Pi and actually understand and make progress towards it. As a bonus I'm starting to understand Linux better as well. Be on the lookout for more inspired Pi projects to come!

Sites that helped in this project:

How to Make a DIY Home Alarm System with Raspberry Pi- https://medium.com/p/2d5a2d61da3d

Linux File Access Permission Reference - http://www.penguintutor.com/raspberrypi/file-permissions-reference

Setting Up Motion with FTP & Email - https://raymii.org/s/tutorials/Setting-up-motion-with-ftp-and-email-support.html

Send Email from Command Line - http://danielthat.blogspot.com/2012/10/how-to-send-email-from-command-line.html


How To: No Adapter shown in WiFi Config on Raspberry Pi (fix)

In an attempt to make your Raspberry Pi wireless through command line you may have changed some settings in the interfaces config file. As as a result when attempting to set up your wireless dongle through the WiFi config GUI you may notice that no adapters show up. If this is the case you should follow these steps first to see if it can fix the issue.

Performed with:
HW: Raspberry Pi Model B
OS: 2012-12-16-wheezy-raspian
Wirless Dongle: Belkin N150 (F7D1101)

Step 1
From your Pi's desktop double-click LXTerminal to bring up the command line.

Step 2
In the terminal type sudo nano /etc/network/interfaces

Step 3
Edit your interfaces config file by making sure the text looks like the following...

auto lo
auto wlan0

iface lo inet loopback
iface eth0 inet dhcp

allow-hotplug wlan0
iface wlan0 inet manual
wpa-roam /etc/wpa_supplicant/wpa_supplicant.conf
iface default inet dhcp
Step 4
Save your work by pressing Ctrl X and confirming save. Plug in your WiFi dongle. Now reboot your Pi (sudo reboot).

Step 5
When your Pi restarts type startx to bring up the GUI again. Now double click the WiFi Config icon to bring up the wpa_gui properties box. If all was successful you should now see wlan0 show up in the Adapter section. From here you should scan for you SSID and set up the connection.

If you are still not seeing anything in the Adapter section. You may want to go back and troubleshoot a few issues with your dongle. The command lsusb (that's lowercase L) is good for checking to see if your pi even recognizes your WiFi adapter. There may be issues with your adapter needing to run from a powered USB hub as well, so don't rule out that possibility.

Also be sure that your adapter is at least known to work with the Pi consult the compatible WiFi Adapter List: http://elinux.org/RPi_USB_Wi-Fi_Adapters

Hope this helps.


Sex, Politics, Religion, and Operating Systems

ear ye, hear ye! I decree that there be a fourth taboo when conversing politely in the company of others! Mayhapse you have heard the old adage "Don't discuss sex, politics, and religion  in polite company".Ninety-Nine percent of the time this saying is true one hundred percent of the time, especially in this our modern era, as the conversation will undoubtedly navigate on a vastly different
course away from 'polite'.  To demonstrate my commitment to these aforestated maledictions, I will end all further elaborations on the subject ---> here.

Yet an amendment requires for a new kind of conversation. A conversation turned scathing by the fanboys of our diverse sociotechnical systems. Let us annex the 'Preference for Operating System'  unto the the old axiom for our dinner-table worthy nonpartisan conversation.

Ninety-Nine percent of the time this saying is true one hundred percent of the time... 

No more do I wish to hear of how the iPhone is for the invalid, or Androids are for the ogreish! This war over operational superiority must subside! It is time for  the PC and the Mac users to quell their stalwart fanaticisms and subsist to at least the degree of a friendly acknowledgement.

Brothers, Sisters, there is room enough, in this our digital age, for all our children, and our children's children, to enjoy the fruits or our PCs, Macs, iPhones, Androids, and Blackberrys without cause for quarrel!

So if we must discuss the self-evident truths about which is the superior Operating System I will gladly tell you in earnest...

"The weather is unusually cold for this time of year isn't it, wouldn't you say?"


The Adventures of an IT Student: A Lab Odyssey

While heading into to school, to work on a Frame Relay lab, I thought it might be fun to document the experience. I needed to come in early to get the lab completed before my Cisco 4 class started. So as I headed out to catch the bus, grabbed my phone and filmed the epic quest! I give you 2013: A Lab Odyssey.


The Microcosm of an IT Student

As I sit finishing up a final exam, study for an upcoming certification, or hear about a new technology I should be aware of, I've found myself wondering what I should be really expecting when I've completed my IT program. As I learn from books, and practice lab simulations, one word keeps surfacing in my thoughts:
mi·cro·cosm - noun
a community, place, or situation regarded as encapsulating in miniature the characteristic qualities or features of something much larger.
Information Technology, from the inside looking out, seems vast. Never have I felt the need to see more, learn more, and explore more beyond the boundaries of the microcosm in which I reside. In respects towards an eventual career, I feel the need to be as properly prepared as I can be.  I've come across all different types of students in this field. There are those who are currently in the industry and are returning to get certified or to earn a degree, and there are also those who've only known the IT world through the eyes of their school's IT program. I fall into the latter category, as every exposure to the networking world I've had has come through some extension of my school's IT program. Living within this figurative encapsulation,  provides an interesting perspective on how exactly a dedicated IT student sees the larger world he's heading towards.

This all is suddenly occurring to me in my second year as we are introduced and exposed to many more technologies than in our first year. Most of our first year we spent learning the fundamentals of traditional networking. This, combined with general education classes, and a few other required courses to advance through the program, doesn't afford time to think about one's scheme in the big picture. Everything is brand new, so you are just hanging on for dear life. Soon you feel like you're starting to get the hang of things and you feel comfortable in at least the introductory form of the subject.  As my second year begins, however, I'm beginning to be much more aware of the difference between myself and someone exposed to the 'outside'. Like hearing fantastic recounts from an astronaut returning from space, one can only ever imagine what it's like out there. I take instructors advice to heart because they've been there before. The most valued instructors are the ones that can teach the reality of the industry to someone who has not yet been there.  It does get overwhelming however, hearing the multitude of things you should prepare for yet have not experienced at the enterprise level. I find myself wanting to venture out more and more to better prepare myself for the moment the bubble inevitably pops.
The most valued instructors are the ones that can teach the reality of the industry to someone who has not yet been there.
The times I've been given the opportunity to venture out and see the reality of things has been some of the most valuable experiences a student could hope for. I remember once, early on, we were able to take a field trip to a virtualized data center. The option to attend was purely voluntary, but I wasn't going to miss an opportunity to see such a fabled environment for anything. I went because I was told it was important, and truthfully at the time I didn't understand half of what I was seeing. Over time, though, I'm glad for the opportunity because now that I'm learning about that very technology, I can put a 'face to the name'.We were also fortunate that our instructor cared enough to arrange such exposure outside of the normal curriculum.  I also feel extremely lucky to be allowed to attend and work at Cisco Live this year. This was an experience that really applied 'scale' to just how grandiose this subject I've been studying in my textbooks really is.  It's moments like these that I encourage every serious student to take full advantage of given the opportunity. Equally, I would like to give thanks to all institutions, programs and instructors that afford such events to take place. It's moments like these that put perspective to the road we are traveling. Without them a student, such as myself, may find it hard to see what lays beyond these walls.


Passing VMware's VCA-DCV Certification

This morning I decided to take a shot at a new certification offered by VMware. The VMware Certified Associate - Data Center Virtualization or VCA-DCV. Initially I was informed about this new offering through my instructor and vExpert +Brian Kirsch. I was immediately interested in attempting the exam for a few reasons. One, it wouldn't hurt to get an early introduction to VMware (I begin my IT program's VCP course next semester), and two, it can be taken for free for a limited time (with a promo code that ends September 30th). A new certification under my belt and I don't have to pay for it; I'm in! Oh yeah, and I passed the exam!

To give you an idea of my experience with virtualization, I am very new to VMware; very new! As I stated before I won't even be taking my school's VMware course until next semester. I am a full time student and have never actually worked with vSphere at an enterprise level. I have, however, been encouraged to take an early interest in my spare time via my instructors and plain old common sense. I've been putzing around with installing ESXi and vCenter via VMware Workstation. So I am at least competent in the subject of virtualization. So if you are in the same boat as me, experience-wise, and are interested in taking the exam, here's my thought and advice:

Thought Alpha
There is a 2.5 hour free training course that is offered to get you started. It's great, watch it. I watched it twice. What you really want to do is become comfortable with identifying the various vSphere products and how they apply to business challenges.

Thought Beta 
Take notes. Probably the most important thing you could do. It's easy to get AS or acronym shock  by all the vThis and vThat. Taking notes will help you reference the different tools and what they do.

Thought Gamma 
If you are a true vNoob the 2.5 hour training video WILL NOT teach you enough to pass the course. It may or may not hint at a few subjects that should be explored further. These subjects will come up in the
test. The best way to know some of the "extras" you'll need to know is consult the VCA-DCV Exam Blueprint. There are things you'll notice are on it that weren't covered in the videos. The video will give you maybe 60% of what will be asked on the exam. The other 40%, however, is not covered and if you go into the exam without checking the blueprint for what else will be on it, it will not end well for you.

Thought Delta
Pay very close attention to the wording of the questions. A lot of what this exam tries to gauge is your competency on solving challenges with vSphere in a virtualized data center environment. This will require you to think outside the box. There may be more than one answer that seems correct, but the question may have asked you about something more specific than that at first glance.

Passing score is a 300+ and you are given 75 minutes to complete the test. The real key is to do the extra studying from the blueprint. Those questions will come up and they will be a curve ball if you aren't ready for them. That was my experience on taking and passing the VCA-DCV. Good luck out there!


How to put Vine videos on your Blogger

So you've made a six second masterpiece worthy of an academy award, or maybe you've captured something truly amazing and it must be shared with all your blog readers. Here's a simple tutorial on how to embed those videos on your to your blogger posts.

I am using an Android device and currently there is no embed option on the Android app. If you are using an iOS device these steps still apply, but I believe you can get the URL straight from the iOS Vine app. *click on any images to enlarge.

Step 1
Share you Vine video with either Facebook or Twitter. Once it has posted go to the post and look for a link that will take you directly to the Vine video. What we are looking for here is the full URL.

Step 2
Copy the full URL address (https:// included) Don't close this browser tab just yet. you may need to come back and copy the URL later.

Step 3
Log into Blogger and create or go to the page that you would like to display your masterpiece in. From here click on HTML to enter Blogger's HTML editor.

Step 4
Enter or copy and paste the following into the HTML editor.

<iframe class="vine-embed" frameborder="0" height="400" src="[YOUR VINE URL HERE]/embed/simple" width="400"></iframe> <script async="" charset="utf-8" src="//platform.vine.co/static/scripts/embed.js"></script>
Making sure you replace [YOUR VINE URL HERE] with the URL you copied from step 2. Changing the height and width will increase or decrease the size of your embeded video. (example: height=600 is a fairly good size)

Step 5
Now save your changes and view your page to confirm that the Vine video has been embeded and is displayed on the page.

There you have it. Now you've taken your six seconds of fame and apotheosized it to all it's rightful glory! May your readers, friends and followers praise your Tarantino-like work for all of time.


Remove Community Post from Appearing on Your Google+ Profile

If you've been using Google+, you may have noticed that posted content in your communities shows up in your profile. It may not seem like the biggest of deals, but if you're sharing the same content throughout multiple communities, it can start to clutter up your profile with redundant posts. Also, you may just want to keep your activity within your communities separate from what shows up if those in your circles visit your profile. (hey, I'm not here to judge) Google+ does offer an easy way to remove communities posts from appearing. Here's how...

Step 1

Mouse over to the Home button. This will bring up a drop down menu.

Step 2
From the drop down menu, at the bottom, click Settings.

Step 3
From the settings page scroll all the way down to the Profile section and look for the option that says "Show your Google+ communities posts on the Posts tab of your Google+ profile." and uncheck it.

Step 4
Return to your Google+ profile and confirm that your communities posts no longer appear.

That's it! Your communities posts should no longer appear on your profile. Now only the NSA will know what your doing in there. Cheers!


Confessions of an IT Student.

So what's it actually like to be an Information Technology student? I mean, coming from delivering pizza for a living, to being submerged into the binary world of computer communication is a big step. I am now constantly studying hardware, software, and new technologies that make up our ever increasing globalization.  I have been a digital disciple for close to a year and a half now and I have been asked by a few friends if it's something they should get into. That's never an easy answer to give. Clearly, most people hear 'IT' and know its about connecting, securing, and repairing computers. Being enthusiastic about and proficient in computers is what drew me to IT as a career choice, but I must confess there are a few things no one told me about when I made the choice to go back to school. Here's a few random confessions and bits of advice I've learned along the way.

I thought I was never going to fully grasp the concept of the OSI model in my first few weeks of school. I was convinced there was no way I would be able to have someone say "Layer 3" to me, and know what that meant. Now I look back on that and laugh. Trust me though, you'll hear it so many times you'll never be able to forget it.

If you are not already ensconced in the world of computers you might be in for a rude awakening. Now, I know that may sound harsh and I'm not saying it can't be done, but already having an unhealthy love for computer science will greatly ease the amount of trepidation you are going to experience throughout your semesters. What makes for a good IT student is your comfort level when dealing with an unknown. There are things I learned when I was a kid, breaking a Compaq 386, that came back to make me feel more comfortable installing MS Server Core. Everyone has the right to learn what they want, and everyone should have a fair shot at it. Realistically though, if you didn't already own several computers in your lifetime you may find the going very tough at first.

On that note....get a smart phone. Nothing keeps you out of the loop more than not having a smart phone. It's just really another computer, and you should already own about 5 of them ..right?

I play video games. It comes with the territory really, and everyone I know who is into computers plays some form of computer game. Here's a fun fact: MMORPG's almost destroyed my life twice when I was younger. Once I identified that they were too distracting for me I quit and leveled up in real life. Find out what distracts you most and knock that crap off; your GPA will thank you.

Before you throw your entire life onto your mobile device be aware that there are instructors (almost always general education) who are still living in the Nineties, when phones were simply cell phones and not sophisticated computers capable of being digital organizers. A lot of this is to be blamed on your fellow students who abuse their devices; who text and play games in class. (Yes, I've even heard some people answering their phones during a lecture) This in turn gives some teachers an anti-tech stance in regard to your mobile devices. Some of them are so ingrained in their technophobia that they cannot be reasoned with. I've had instructors tell me to put away my Kindle even after explaining to them that my textbook is electronically located within it. You're going to run into a few Luddites in your classes. Some of them listen, some of them don't. If they don't, just politely put it away....and blog about it later.

I resent the fact that I am required to take the same amount of credits (3) in Microsoft Office as I am in something as important as our Emerging Network Technologies course (VMware). Three credits of Office, really? One can become fairly proficient at office in a few days, or already decent at it from high school. Yet there are classes like our Storage Area Network class that needs to be taken outside of the program or counted as an elective. We could better be using our time learning more Cisco, VMware, or Microsoft technologies.

I choose instructors based on their enthusiasm. I love the IT Network Specialist program at my school and it's directly influenced by the level of enthusiasm my instructors show for their respective specialties. If you aren't sure, ask around or hop on a social network and ask former students about their teacher.

Speaking of which, use social media. Nothing keeps you in the loop about your subject more than successfully utilizing social media to your advantage. We are lucky enough to have a class that helps us with this in our first semester. Not only will it help you as a student, it may just help you get a job after your school is done as well.

The moment I feel like I finally know a lot, I meet people who quickly make me realize I still don't know anything. Industry people have a way of making you realize that you've been living in a microcosm. I think this is great though, aspiring to learn more and more can never be a bad thing and I know, especially in IT, I'll never be able to say that I know it all.

I've learned so much as the semesters go by, that it makes what I knew, when I started this journey, pale in comparison. What does being an IT student mean to me? It means you are fascinated by technology and how it works. It means educating and staying current seemingly forever. So if you're asking yourself if you'd enjoy the Information Technology program, all I can do is tell you what I think of it so far and you'll have to decide for yourself. Years from now I'll have a totally new set of skills and different opinions to throw your way.


3 'Social-Worthy' Mobile Apps You Should Check Out

We all know that mobile apps are one of the fastest growing trends in mobility these days. With their ability to keep you informed, staying simplified, and being cost effective, mobile apps are on the up and up. Just one look at your respective mobile app store and you'll see just how big the market is becoming. Keeping track of the ones worth noting can be rough, so I figured I would share three of them I have been using that are absolutely worth checking out.

If you haven't discovered Feedly's mobile app, you are truly missing out! It's well organized, fairly straight forward to add and remove content, and it's presentation is top of the line. At first use, back when Google Reader (R.I.P) was still around, I was used to scrolling through the headlines of all my favorite blogs. It wasn't long before I realized just how beautifully Feedly organizes your feeds with picturesque themes. It also keeps track of some of the most recent blogs for when you have categories that build up to 300+ blogs a day. The app will show you some of the more recent entries and move on to the next category to keeps things interesting. The app also provides an easy way to share directly to Twitter or Facebook, which is really nothing new, but it does shorten the links of shared blogs to a 'feedly.com' address. With Feedly finally going cloud based, now you can easily follow feeds on your desktop, but the mobile app is definitely worth it when you are on the go.

"Feedly beautifully organizes your feeds with picturesque themes."

I recently discovered Nextdoor and I think it shows true potential. If any social media platform wishes to break into a top network, it's going to need to find it's own niche among the giants. Nextdoor, to it's user, is a small closed social network that only includes people who live in your neighborhood. When you sign up, verification is required (via telephone, cc, or through snail mail) to prove that you live at the address you say you do. From there you are placed into your respective neighborhood. When you're in you can decide if you want your neighbors to see your actual address (example 1234 White Picket Ln.) or you can hide the numbers from your street. You also have the option of being able to 'Listen' to nearby neighborhoods, to see what's happening just outside your borders. Nextdoor aims to give people who physically live together a micro-network of their own. Depending on your neighborhood and how much you trust the people around you, Nextdoor can be used to find dog-sitters, advertise a garage-sale, or invite others to a block party. One of the most notable uses for Nextdoor is the quick reporting of criminal activity in your neighborhood. With push notifications for ' Urgent alerts', Nextdoor can quickly inform you if all is not well in the neighborhood. Since I've discovered the app people have been rapidly joining my neighborhood everyday. The app doesn't score any points for aesthetics but it does serve a great purpose and I would keep an eye out for it to become more and more popular as time goes on.

"Nextdoor can quickly inform you if all is not well in the neighborhood."

Falcon Widget
Falcon is less of a mobile app and more of a widget, but a great functioning widget it is. At it's heart, Falcon puts a Twitter feed right on your mobile devices desktop with full functionality, ad free! At first glance, it saves you from opening the Twitter app. Which doesn't seem like much time saved, but actually after some time you come to appreciate having your Twitter feed right there for you, ready to go. Falcon really shines on some of its improvements to the way a user's feed behaves. For instance, it highlights a thin blue line on all of the tweets you have not read yet, easily letting you know where you left off last and which tweets you need to start with. Also, a great change that Falcon has improved upon is the ability to see URL content from links directly on the Twitter post when clicked on. Not only does the widget save you from loading up Twitter every time (useful if you are a power Twitter user) but it also saves you from needing to load up a web browser to see the links that are included in the Tweet. This is probably the number one useful feature Falcon brings to the table. The app also includes plenty of visual customization and contains every feature that the standard Twitter mobile app has. 

"A great change that Falcon has improved upon is the ability to see URL content from links directly on the Twitter post"

Got a mobile app you prefer or just can't live without? Feel free to share!


How to Survive a College Textbook Assault

At the beginning of every semester my blood pressure reaches explosive levels and it can always be credited to the shell shock that is the "Required Textbook List" for college. Here I was all summer, sipping some cool lemonade, reading a nice novel and enjoying the peace and quiet. Not a care in the world. I've set up a payment plan for my college tuition, bought a few pens (the nice ones with the rubber grip), a notebook to take some notes. All is right with the world and I've got everything under control. When suddenly klaxon sirens wail and the emergency broadcast system, beeping it's impending doom, is informing me that "No, This is not a test!" There is an army of inflated overpriced textbooks heading your way and they are coming to destroy your bank account! Aircraft carriers are poised off the Pacific coast, fighter jets are deployed, God help us all! 

Okay, so maybe it doesn't happen as dramatically as this, but to a college student who has already just forked out multiple thousands of dollars for tuition, getting hit with $600+ in required textbooks feels a lot like an assault on our already drained bank accounts. Particularly disturbing, especially if you are a new college student, is how carelessly the word 'required' is thrown around. You may show up to school with these 'required' books only to be informed in the first 5 minutes of class that there has been a general breakdown in a line of communication. Turns out that book is expendable! Why exactly institutions are so loose with informing students of books they will seriously and honestly need, I have not fully decrypted yet. I feel similar confusion as to why the assigned cost of these textbooks, at your school's bookstore, are so inflated ($180 per book is a hard pill to swallow).  It may be that because so many students are using loans to get through college that there is no great inspiration to attempt to save them any money.  This scenario is especially painful if you are paying for tuition and textbooks out of pocket where every dollar spent comes directly from the money you earn everyday. Buying required textbooks at full price is simply not possible and would cause that student to go broke. Remember though, whether you're borrowing money for school or not....you are still paying for that extortionate textbook in the end. However, there are protocols that we civilians can take in order to lessen the fallout from this financial bombardment. 

"Remember, whether you're borrowing money for school or not....you are still paying for that extortionate textbook in the end."

Rule 1. 
Never buy your textbooks early..ever. Especially in your first semester, you will have the urge to embrace this new horde of educational tomes as your new overlords. Belay that urge! Most instructors/professors are your allies and will inform you on the first day of classes whether or not certain books are required. If they didn't do a good job of convincing you, just ask them again after class. "So we need this book, but we don't need this book?" Most of them are happy to save you from financial ruin. 

Rule 2.
Amazon is your greatest weapon against the occupation. Amazon is your salvation, it will assist you in times of need, in Amazon we trust. First off, if you didn't know, Amazon runs a program in which college students get Amazon Prime for free for 6 months! What does this mean for you? Not only does Amazon sell new and used textbooks at sometimes less than half the price of your school's bookstore, but having Prime means you get them delivered to you in 2 days for free! 90% of the time you will not find your required textbook cheaper anywhere else than Amazon. Obeying Rule 1 and 2 could cost you as as little as $80 the semester as opposed to an egregious $600. Also remember that you can rent books fairly easy from Amazon as a student prime member. Renting from Amazon is a super affordable way to get a textbook. Just remember to mark your calendar so your books don't go AWOL.

Rule 3.
Denounce "Custom Textbook" propaganda. I am not exactly sure why the practice is done, but you will run into classes (especially general education ones) where the 'required' textbook is a custom edition book specifically made for your school and your school alone. Through months of extensive recon, deciphering exactly what the point of this practice is, it's still foggy to me. The conundrum here is these Custom Textbooks are usually going to be required. So let's put two and two together shall we? A Custom Textbook that only your school carries and it will be required...this breaks the laws of rule 1 and 2, which is unacceptable. Oh and by the way, these Custom Textbooks are probably going to be the most costly of the bunch. I've devised an alternative directive for just such an altercation:

Rule 3.a
Research this so called 'Custom Textbook'. It's not foolproof but many times these Custom Textbooks are simply comprised from a normal textbook. If you research what book and edition the custom one was made from, many times you can simply buy the original book for far less money. Case in point; this semester I found the original version of a 'required custom  psychology textbook' for $15 on Amazon. This same 'custom' version cost $150 at my school's bookstore. When I got the original book in the mail I compared its content with the 'custom' one and the only difference was the cover picture! Be advised though, you must do your research, and purchasing a book this way is at your own risk. There may be much more of a difference between the two, so do your research. If this research shows promise proceed back to Rule 2. If your 'custom textbook' is truly a custom book (it is a binder type book that maybe your professor put together himself)...well then diplomacy has failed, proceed to Rule 3.b.

Rule 3.b
Craigslist is your wing-man. When in doubt if you are forced to buy a custom textbook its time to rely on our ally Craigslist. Because custom books typically cannot be found on sites like Amazon (although you still can find them if you search hard enough), the next best thing is to find fellow your students who have been through the gauntlet and are willing to sell you their textbooks. It's pretty easy...just do a craigslist search in your city under books and you should see stockpiles of textbooks being sold. Remember, you're buying from craigslist here, so bring a squadmate.

"90% of the time you will not find your required textbook cheaper anywhere else than Amazon."

Following these commands can end up saving you a lot of money each semester. Heck, now maybe you'll be able to afford food rations for the next few months. The most important thing to remember is be patient and look for the cheapest price you can. Do not be fooled by buyback prices, they fluctuate every semester so make your purchase based on low cost. Never ever buy a textbook at full price if it can be avoided. There you have it. Simple rules to follow to keep you a lean, mean, educationally effective fighting machine. Follow them and you should save yourself from the agony of defeat. So when the hordes of required textbooks come our way, stand firm soldier, and stick to the contingency plan. Dismissed!


Calculating...A Networking Student: Year Two Begins

Mid August has arrived. While outside the cicadas  are merrily singing away to celebrate this hot Milwaukee weather, my phone too adds to the chorus with it's impending notifications. [beep beep]  A class has been added to your schedule on Blackboard. [beep beep] Your tuition payment is due. [beep beep] Ike this is your mother, why haven't you called....

Yes it's that time again. Time to get my act together and start focusing on getting back to college. This semester I've further encumbered my schedule with a 6th class for a total of 18 credits. Looking back at things now, I kind of wish that I had tacked on some of these last general education credits in the beginning semesters. Retrospectively, things were slightly easier back in the first semester, although at the time I would have punched myself for the suggestion.  I probably could have squeezed in an extra science class and avoided having to take 18 credits in my last semester, but oh well; C'est la vie.

Summer school was a big help in making up for lost time though. I'm now finished with all of my English classes, so i shan't be worried about that anymore. Well, enough whining about general ed, let's get to the juicy stuff!

This semester I'll be taking Cisco 3 and Cisco 4 with Instructor Layne Davis. I'm not sure why, but they combine them both into the third semester. I've been doing nothing but self studying Cisco routing and switching since I got back from Cisco Live, so this class is gonna be a blast. As of right now I'm about 80% ready to take my ICND2 exam to try and become CCNA certified. Since we are still given access to +CBT Nuggets  I've basically replaced watching TV with watching Jeremy Cioara and +Keith Barker  to prepare me for all that is Cisco. These videos are still one of the finest (sometimes underutilized) videos that we are given access too. I highly recommend them.

I'm taking Psychology 201, and I'll tell ya....I know I'm just gonna be crazy about this class. Next.

Next up is Microsoft Server Administration 2 with +Brian Kirsch, the newly crowned Master Educator. While there is nothing all too thrilling about any Microsoft class, Brian has a way of making me love the classes he teaches by the end of the semester. Remind me to pick Stockholm Syndrome as the subject of my next Psychology research paper.  This will be the last non-VMware class I have with Brian before he destroys me in his 'Gauntlet of vFire' in my last semester.

I'll also be taking Mathematics with business applications. But I gotta say, I'm kind of divided over...ha ha OK I'll stop. Next!

One interesting class I will be taking as an elective credit, is the new Storage Area Network (SAN) course that's gonna be taught by both Kirsch and Davis. It was between Cloud technology and SAN for what I'd choose for my elective and since Cloud isn't offered in the Fall the choice was simple. SANs sounded interesting and to me it looks like another great opportunity to learn a wider range of industry technology.

So that's a little preview of the upcoming Fall semester. Now I get to do that last minute dance to find the text books I'll need for the courses. And nothing makes me cry happier than doing the 'Amazon Shuffle' to find the best prices so I can afford food for the next few months
.  Overall I'm really looking forward to getting back to it though. It's been nice to have a month or so off, but honestly this summer has been filled with so much awesomeness [see previous 10 posts] that I'm looking forward to the steady flow of school.


Connectivity is My Touchdown

A year and three months into my Networking Specialist program and I've begun to foresee a new challenge. I can no longer easily explain what it is that I'm doing to friends and family to justify why I just jumped up in exuberance from my computer desk. "Yes!" I'll suddenly burst out loud, "Yes, yes, yes!." Maybe a couple fist pumps or a victorious robot dance will make an appearance....by now you've formed the proper mental image. Why is getting two computers to communicate so damn exciting for me!?

What I've found most intriguing is the new methods of explaining these complex network configurations to those around me; those who don't share the same nauseous levels of enthusiasm for networking connectivity that I do. Yesterday I found myself presented with a question I was asked in response to my newly performed robotic dance. "What did you just do?" After four hours of working on a CCNA network lab, setting up protocols, VLANs, and troubleshooting a very tricky NAT problem, I finally got PC A to ping an ISP while using PAT to go from a private IP address to a public one. As one can imagine, I received a blank stare, but sometimes I just get so enthusiastic about teaching it that I just have to try explain it to the layman.

"Well, remember what I told you about everything needing an IP address? Kinda like how everyone needs a unique phone number?"
"Well some of those IP addresses are private, that everyone can use in their own home networks and they don't work when trying to contact other computers beyond this house."
"Why not?"
"Well ..."

This is where it gets tricky. Going into intense details about port address translation and private/public IP addressing just isn't going to cut it. I also think being able to explain something complicated (even when simplifying it down) is a great way to see if I actually know what I'm talking about as well. It's like creating an analogy about networking. Plus it gives my friends and family a chance to see what all this fuss is about.

"Well...imagine in this house your parents are here. You call them Mom and Dad. When you call them those names they respond right?"
"Well if we were in a crowd of people and you needed to call to them and just yelled Mom or Dad more than the two might respond to that name.
"Well think of the internet as the crowd of people. Your parents are the computers. And there are rules set up on the net that don't allow you to yell out "Mom or Dad" in public. You'd have to use something more unique like their first or last name. All 'NAT' does is change their names when they are inside the house from Mom/Dad to their unique names when we leave the house. So nobody gets confused.
"Oh I get it!"

At this point we all jump up and down and everyone gets so intrigued about networking they all run off and set up their own networking labs. Okay, so it doesn't go exactly like that, but it's always fun for me to explain the things that I just spent several hours meticulously calculating over in an easily digestible way. Besides, when it comes down to it one day, I may have to explain it in such a manner to convince an Exec the justification for a shiny new piece of equipment.

"Well, see Sir, this prevents us from losing five million dollars in the event that this doohickey here breaks..."

So in the spirit of analogically speaking, I've been asked why exactly is it so exciting to have one computer 'ping' another. The best way I can explain it is it's like a football game to me. You try and try to get set up and make the right moves. Things go wrong, but you keep trying to figure out how to get passed the other team, and then finally you make it to the other side; Touchdown! Time to show them your new robot dance. I see connecting computers like that. The challenge of figuring out the network and connecting one side to the other. In the end, that glorious moment when it's all configured just right and you get that connection reply from your ping request. In my mind the crowd... goes.... wild and I just can't stop doing that robot dance! So you see...connectivity is my Touchdown.


How to: Used Router Not Saving Configuration Changes

If you've purchased a used router for your home Cisco lab there is a chance that no matter what changes you make to your starting-config (after running the router#copy run start command) when the router is reset it does not seem to save anything you do.  This is most likely due to running of password recovery on the router. Resale companies, in preparation of wiping the routers clean, need reset the router to a factory state and need to run password recovery to get around the pre-existing security settings. While this is great, so that you don't have to, many times they forget to change the configuration register settings back to a mode that will allow the router to boot from your changed config. Just follow these steps and you should be back in action in no time.

1) First things first. Run a router#show version . Press space bar to get to the bottom of the readout. What we are looking for is "Configuration register is 0x2142". Each number has a specific purpose but the key number we are looking to change here is the 4. The 4 in this instance tells the router to 'Ignore the contents of Non-Volatile RAM'. And no NVRM equals no custom configuration.

2) Next we are going to change the 4 to a 0 to allow contents from NVRAM to be loaded when the router is turned on. Simply go to router#configure terminal. Once in configuration mode type (may vary on different routers) Router(config)#config-register 0x2102.

3)To test this we can now run a router#show version again and you should see now at the bottom that configuration 0x2102 will take on the routers next reload. Before doing this go ahead and change the hostname and maybe add a logging synchronous so it's obvious that our new starting config has been loaded. Now save the config by typing router#copy run start.

4) Finally restart the router by entering router#reload.

And that's that. You should now be able to load your saved config file from the NVRAM allowing you to save your work when the router is reset.  


It's Alive! Investing in a CCNA Home Lab

So after coming down from the rush that was attending Cisco Live, and getting my first Cisco certification (CCENT), I decided it was time to invest in a home lab to help me on the next step. I had saved up some of my money for the journey to Florida, and received some from my loving and supporting family. (Thanks Mom!) Well it turned out that most everything was provided for us in Florida so in the end, I came home without really spending much. After being completely inspired by the Cisco Engineers and the sheer scale of equipment at the Rosen Centre, I determined to take my networking proficiency to the next level. I thought to myself, what a better way to reinvest an already amazing Cisco experience than by taking the money I had saved up for Cisco Live and start building a home networking lab. I could have easily spent it on things that may have not posed as a legitimate self investment...like pizza.
Universal 19" tray for adding gear

It's not entirely complete yet. I have a few things still heading this way by mail, but one already obvious plus is just the experience of shopping around for all the equipment I'll need. I started out telling myself that I'll get three routers and three switches, but that quickly turned into "well what kind will I need that will help me pass my CCNA?" This forced me to do research on equipment IOS, CCNA v2, and future usability of the gear that I planned to buy. From here I began to learn some of the advantages of certain routers over others. Just this learning experience alone is amazing. Shopping around for physical equipment, learning what modules you'll need and ordering them, and all while trying to use services like eBay to get the best deals possible, make building this lab a whole other educational process in itself. I love it, down to the WIC-2T modules I ordered, and finding a company that sells custom 1ft 26pin smart serial crossover cables so I can easily connect my routers in a serial connection setup. I'm taking the money that was just meant as spending money while I was out of town and turning it into a valuable educational tool. Just think I could have spent it on pizz.......but where was I?

So what makes up the lab?:

1 x Cisco Catalyst 3548 48 port switch (already owned, oldie but goody)
1 x Cisco Catalyst 2950 24 port switch
1 x Cisco WS- 3550  24 port PoE switch (bought for 'Power over Ethernet' capabilities)

2 x 2611xm routers
1 x 2621xm router (not shown)

3 x Cisco WIC-2T 2-port Serial Card WAN Card
3 x Smart Serial to Smart Serial DCE to DTE Crossover Cables (1ft)

1 x 19" Rack Stand
1 x 19" rack-able power strip
1 x 19" Universal Rack Tray (for attaching Hub and AP)

1 x 4 port Hub (already owned; for packet sniffing)
1 x Wireless Access Point (already owned)

All of this purchased lurking eBay for the best deals possible. It's actually amazing how good of deals you can find if you're patient. Now I'm finding myself becoming obsessed with proper cable management. Like playing a game of Tetris in front of your server rack.

Getting to go to something as awesome as Cisco Live really opened my eyes and made me want to try even harder and to achieve more. I couldn't think of a better way to help me do that then by started my own lab at home. It's nice to have simulators that help us do lab work at home, but actually having my own set of routers and switches to play with in front of me is totally awesome!  I'll always say that learning from multiple sources can never be a bad thing, and I'm glad I am able to take one great experience and invest it into another. Still, I kind of wish I had some pizza though.


Cisco Live - Day Five, The End?

Cisco Live 2013 is officially over. Break down time.
The fifth and final day of Cisco Live was a frenzy of activity. We kicked off the day by breaking down any areas of the conference that weren't in use and started packing everything away in storage. From there all the equipment moves on to the next Cisco Live or elsewhere. The conference is so large that just getting anywhere takes a great deal of walking. I think by the end of today I must have walked or ran close to 16 miles. 
For the closing keynote Cisco had Sir Richard Branson as a guest speaker. We all got a short break (calm before the storm) to go hear him speak. It was actually quite fascinating to hear exactly what makes this man tick. He is truly one of the world's most interesting men. At the exact moment the keynote ended is when things got frenetic. We were broken off into teams and then given assigned floors. From there we were to basically go through the entire conference center and break down all switches, access point, antennae, and VoIP phones through out the entire complex! It was quite a learning experience in Layer 1 due to the fact that I got to see how the entire conference was laid out. This breakdown went well into the night and by the time we were finally done. I was completely exhausted. I don't mean simply tired, I had nothing left. We have been doing so much every day on very little sleep that every day I was operating on less and less sleep hours. By this fifth and final day I was running on 4 hours of sleep and pure caffeine. (I am not exaggerating  To give you a good idea of how big the conference is, I believe it is nearly 1 1/2 to 2 miles across. So going from floor to floor with nearly hundreds of rooms is a huge undertaking. It was a fitting ending, really getting to see the scope of things. Getting to see just how huge of a deal Cisco Live is, was a real eye opener.
Photo with CEO John Chambers
OK so that's it. That's what I did in Florida. This has been one of the greatest experiences of my life. Getting to do this means so much to me. I've learned so much and gotten to do so many things in just a week. My team are great people and in that week I've gotten to be good friends with them. Our team leader Patrick Gargano was seriously one of the best people I've worked with. I'm gonna miss them and hope our paths cross again. Alright, I'm going to go pass out now. Thanks for following along, on what is surely one of my life's most epic experiences.

p.s.- I would sincerely like to thank all my IT professors ( +Layne Davis , +Brian Kirsch , +Anthony Stanislawski ) at Milwaukee Area Technical College for their nominations, recommendations, and guidance in getting me to Cisco Live. I'll never forget it.


Cisco Live - Day Four

Today started off great! I took my CCENT exam in the morning and passed it! So I now have my very first Cisco certification! I had a huge smile on my face all morning as I went around and told everybody the good news. It was just great to get it done and out of the way. After returning to the NOC, and delivering the good news, we all headed out to hear today's keynote speech. Just as we got there Landon (a local intern) and I got diverted back to help break down the registration area. We basically spent a few hours packing up very expensive touch screen monitors and gear. When that was complete, we helped out more at the wireless support desk and then headed off to get some food. 

Adam Burke, CCIE
When lunch was over we got a really great opportunity to talk with some of the CCIE's in the Network Operations Center. They were absolutely great. They would go over what their role was at the conference and talk to us about how they go about their jobs and teach a few tools of the trade. We got a wonderful session with +Adam Burke () It was awesome to see his enthusiasm towards showing us what he does. We of course just soaked it all in. Getting to really converse and ask questions with others who have positions you hoped to be in one day is really inspiring. 

Universal Studios
After we met with the Engineers it was already time for dinner and then we had to rush off to Universal Orlando to head out to the Customer Appreciation Event. It was incredible. Cisco basically rented out Universal Studios just for its Customers to enjoy; Roller coasters and all! We rode as many coasters as we could and rode on a few 3D simulator rides. It's amazing how real those feel now! Closing out the show Journey performed. To put things into perspective the only people at Universal were Cisco people and it was still packed! 

Today was pretty easy going. We did our usual work, learned some things from some great engineers, and got to get away and have fun. Overall, not a bad day at all. In the end though what I'm most proud of is that certification. It's not easy finding time to study right now so it's good to see I still got it upstairs. 


Cisco Live - Day Three

John Chambers, Cisco CEO
Today went as smooth as it could get. We woke up early, as usual, had our breakfast and headed out to the Network Operations Center. From there we split up into our groups and headed out to our stations. Today I was assigned to the NOC support desk. I would take any issues and create tickets for support to come check out our booths. The great thing is that there were very few problems so everything was running tip top.

 After a few hours we were all radioed to meet back up and head towards the Keynote Room to go listen to Cisco CEO John Chambers speak. It was incredible. The room sat thousands, and the demonstrations were stunning. Just getting to attend the keynote was awesome but then afterwards Karen Woodard arranged for us to get our pictures taken with Mr. Chambers which, let me tell you, felt epic!

Jim Grubb, VP Corporate Communications
After the keynote ended we headed back and this time I was assigned to the wireless help desk where I helped get people connected wirelessly as well as connect to the Cisco Live mobile app. Even that itself  was pretty easy going as not many people today were having issues connecting. Again we were radioed in to head back to NOC. This time to meet with Jim Grubb, VP Corporate Communications (and CEO sidekick) and picked his brain a bit.

Keith Barker, CBT Nuggets
At this point we ran a little more support for the World of Solutions and then headed out for our first real break at the Cisco Press Appreciation  event. Here we got to meet and talk with authors of various Cisco Certification Books and had tons of conversations with +Scott Empson , author of the CCNA Portable Command Guide (@scottempson) about the coming changes to the CCENT and CCNA program. I also ran into one of my online heroes +Keith Barker  (@keithbarkerCCIE) of CBTnuggets, who I've watched nearly 40 hours of training videos, and who I consider one of my favorite online trainers. He was great and it was really awesome to bump into him while we were on some R&R.

In the end it was a great day that went completely smoothly. We got to meet a lot of important people for Cisco and learned a lot about how the company operates and what it's plans are for the future. Oh and by the way, in case you were still wondering, the prize for the picture of the day was a pretty sweet social media t-shirt. So...score.