Monday, October 26, 2009

MacGuyver Again

My daughter Amy, is away at college. She got to be a pretty good file-seeker and downloader over the last couple of years. In all honesty, I happen to know that she does the same thing I do. She listens to the music on her MP3 player, and if something is worth buying, she will buy it. She's even learned quite a bit of self-support just by watching me. I watched her kill and relaunch Explorer.exe from the task manager recently to get around a lockup.

Anyway... Her college blocks file sharing (and they're GOOD at it). This precipitated the following setup. This could be used for any number of situations where you don't want to run P2P software (school, work, etc..).

I set up an old PC, with a 300 gig drive, and a stripped-down copy of XP (Tiny XP in this case)

I created a Hamachi network. Hamachi (now from LogMeIn) is a zero-config VPN client that uses a third party server to route your traffic (much like GoToMyPC, or LogMeIn but for networking)
I installed UTorrent, Tight VNC Server, and a neat little Http File Server called HFS. HFS integrates right into the context menus, so once you set up preferences and security, you just right-click the folder you want to share and select "add to HFS".

I set up three links on her computer. One to the VNC remote web page, giving her full remote control using Java in a browser. A second to the HFS file server, to download the completed files. And a third to the remote GUI for UTorrent, so she can check the status without having to open a remote session. All she has to do is turn on the Hamachi service to connect. No opening ports in firewalls, or any other network trickery. Transfer speeds from the server to her are not too bad, but the server is on a residential FIOS connection, which I'm sure helps that a bit.

I had considered creating a shared drive on her computer that the server could write to directly and choose that location as the download directory for the P2P software. Then I got to thinking: What happens if the download speed exceeds the speed of the Hamachi connection? I'll have to try it just to see how windows deals with that, but for now, I just wanted it to work.

I guess the only issue the college may have is with Hamachi. Some IT security folks don't appreciate such things, but so far so good.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

I am not a number... I am a polite (mostly) commuter!

I have spoken many times of the state of mind that employees get to when they may have been at a job for too long. Rule-mongers. When the rules become more important than the clients/customers, it's time to take a break.

In retail years ago, I would pull an employee off the floor after witnessing them argue with a customer over a small item. "But he doesn't have a receipt" they would say. If the customer doesn't back down right away, or approaches you NICELY, and POLITELY, and it was a relatively small request, just go ahead and do it. In the case of the belligerent customer, it's just not worth your time, blood pressure, and stomach lining.

The other night while riding the LIRR, a rider got on with a bike somewhere after Penn Station. Now, I learned two important things about this: 1. You are not allowed to have a bike on a PEAK train, and 2. This makes perfect sense. Especially if you've ever witnessed how crowded these trains get.

The rider was told by the conductor that he needed to get off at the next stop. Then the rider apologized, and said that he didn't realize it was a problem, and only needed to go one more stop to be home. The conductor said "No. You have to get off at the next stop and wait for the next off-peak train." "But, my stop is only a few minutes past this stop." "I'm sorry sir. Those are the R U L E S."

There's that word. Now, I would have cut the conductor some slack if the presence of the bike was causing an issue, but about two-thirds of the train had already emptied out. What difference to the conductor would it have made if he let the rider stay for another few minutes? None, and he would have left an impression on the rider that someone recognizes that he's more than a ticket holder. He's a person.

I voiced this to the conductor, and tried to remind him that we aren't cattle being herded. I found myself getting far more upset than I should have. Oh, well.... I sign of MY AGE I guess. I told the conductor he was being a jerk, and the rider thanked me for trying. I would guess by the conductor's appearance and manner, that he had been doing this for MANY years. Time to take a break my friend. Maybe you can retire on that bogus disability plan that so many LIRR employees take advantage of.

Now get out of my way before I hit you with my umbrella!