The Journey Continues

Categories Personal

Something has been bothering me since yesterday morning, y’all, and I’m not (just) talking about the flu-like symptoms from getting my shot for the year on Friday.  I went to church again yesterday, but this time I went to that one that I felt was calling out to me the other week.  I’m glad I went, but I don’t think I’ll be heading back. It’s just… not quite what I have in mind as my personal approach to the faith.  The music was of a more contemporary nature, which I am told is a once a month thing for them.  Fine, I can deal with sleeping in one week out of four I suppose, but the space just didn’t feel like my idea of a church, really.

I was more moved by the recording of Tallis’ Spem in Alium that played in my car on the way home than the music that was sung at the service.  I’ve always felt a little more traditionalist in my approach to church services – hymns with organ (or a cappella), a quiet, focused, and frankly beautiful space away from reminders of daily life, all of that.  The church I went to yesterday had none of that.  If anything, it was quite the opposite.

More than that, though, the words of someone I met while I was there stuck with me since then and, fairly or unfairly, have cemented this particular church in my mind as one that I do not wish to become a member of.  In the Episcopalian tradition, there is a moment in the service where everyone goes around and greets each other.  I can’t speak to any other denominations, but that’s how we do it; as a side note, I’m not entirely sure I’m Episcopalian, but that’s the nature of every service I’ve been to since leaving the East Coast so it forms my frame of reference these days.

Anyway, as a visitor to the church I stuck out like a sore thumb.  During this moment in the service, I was approached by someone who said they have been attending the church weekly for most of this year, and yet still claimed to be an outsider – a visitor, just like me.  I’m sorry, but what?  You can go to this church for months and still not be a member?  I’m sorry, that just feels wrong to me and against the spirit of “All are welcome” that forms the foundation of the church in my mind.

Now, I don’t know anything about this person other than the brief conversation we had, so it’s possible that this is just a special case.  Nevertheless, it’s all I have to go by.  That and the fact that apparently they have a three course series on joining up – which are spread out over weeks at a time.  They announced as much during the service.

It certainly didn’t feel like much of a welcoming place, no matter how many people the welcoming committee happened to introduce me to.  (This is also in spite of apparently the welcoming committee trying to set me up with an 18 year old member of the congregation sight unseen, which is kind of cringeworthy and creepy in its own right… but then again, when did I ever know about this sort of thing?  Half your age +7 people!)

Contrast this with the church I attended last week.  The pastor himself was giving everyone a hug and said outright that there was a place for me if I wanted it.  There didn’t seem to be any silly distinctions between members and guests as far as I could tell.  Just those of us that were there.

All I know is, more exploration is required before I can decide on something.

End of the Third Week

Categories Gaming Journal, Personal

Timestamp: Sunday, 23rd October at 22:46

How do weeks work?  The Reddit bot tells me I’m at 24 days though, so I’ll take it.  What a week, and where to begin…?  I’m still game-free, thanks grad school!  Seriously, being on campus until 9:30 or 10 every night is probably the number one factor in my success thus far.  The urge to play a game is still there, lurking, waiting for me to lower my guard.  The fact that I’m not near my gaming computer for pretty much every waking hour is sometimes all that’s keeping me from relapse.  That, and the laptop I bought myself as a “be kind to myself and congratulations for finishing an intense internship” present that just so happens to not be able to run games.  That helps too.

I made it through midterms with a solid B across the board.  It could’ve been better, but I’ll take it.  I’ll damn well take it.  I was going to spend today working on a group project, but while I was in church a group member emailed to ask to wait until Tuesday…  Okay, I guess, though I thought we were pushing it already.

That’s something I’m still struggling with: filling the void of things to do.  I just need that spark that I mentioned at the beginning of last week.  If I can get that and get started on things, I’m good.  Just as the words are flowing now – I wrote one blog post tonight, this one’s flowing even easier, and I probably have another in me if it were’s already time for bed.  But up until I started doing things around 1700 today, I had done nothing since church ended at 11:30.  I needed the spark of one of my dear friends talking to me on the phone to actually get up, do some of the cleaning I was going to do, go for a run, and generally actually do things.

Tomorrow’s another day, though, and I have a whiteboard now.  Maybe charting out that post from last week as I’ve been meaning to do will give me the spark I need for a good Monday.  Maybe another 2 mile or so run to wake me up?  On a side note, I did discover that soon I’ll be able to ride my bike from my place to the city’s trail network a couple miles down a busy stretch of road that’s been under construction pretty much since I moved here.  I think my legs are already burning from that hill…

Or perhaps I’ll write that third blog post to start my day.  The words are at my fingertips literally and figuratively, but I have been exhausted all day for whatever reason.  Plus, I think I’m starting to get the hang of the “get up early” part of things.

Can’t stop now.

Won’t stop now.

Lessons Learned from my First Site Move

Categories Projects

Good evening, y’all.  Notice anything different?  Anything at all?  About 90% of the changes this weekend were behind the scenes, but the more savvy of y’all – or those with a good eye – might notice a thing or two.  (NB: those of you who get these posts in a feed reader might need to visit the site itself to find them)

My main project this weekend, other than forensics homework of course, was moving this site to a new web host.  Nothing’s wrong with the other one, they’re good for what they are, and I still like them, but quite simply I was outgrowing what they could give me.  Namely, I have started building some interactive webapps that I’d like to put out there – after all, if I’m going to spend time coding something, might as well use it, right?  Quite simply, I doubt they would have allowed me to upload and run my own code.  Doing so requires a far greater level of access than should be typical for a standard shared web host.

At least, I wouldn’t be comfortable letting random people put arbitrary things on my server for $10/month.  Since practicing what I preach is a thing I’d like to do more of, let’s go with it.  Of course, unless either this blog or one of my little webapps takes off and becomes the Next Big Thing, it’s also cheaper.  That helps too.

The price of this increased freedom?  Well, as Spiderman put it so eloquently, “With great power comes great responsibility”.  And so it is now – unlike before, where the server was run entirely by the company and ultimately shared and parceled out among who knows how many others, this one is mine. Okay, well, technically it’s owned by the company I pay for the privilege and still exists more or less at their whim, I have that far greater degree of control over it that I’ll need going forward.

As far as this particular server goes, I am God.

And I am responsible for whatever happens on it.  For securing it, making sure it keeps running, all that stuff.  That prospect kinda scares me, to be honest.  I’m still very new to this whole profession.  In theory I know what to do…but this is really the first I’m putting it into practice.  Should be fun!

Anyway, I decided on Friday to “freeze” the site as it was and begin the process of moving it to this new server.  Today, after watching it for a full 24 hours, I can say that the process is done.  As done as any of my websites ever are, anyway.  I did notice that Safari on the iPhone might not like the LetsEncrypt certificate quite yet (it’s a new authority that has surged in popularity over the past year, really makes this whole SSL thing easy), but other than that it feels rock solid.  The move operation wasn’t quite so solid…but I did learn some things!

1.  No matter how well you plan, things will happen.  As it turns out, flipping the switch on redirecting DNS queries for and my test domain to the new server when the Internet is on fire isn’t such a good thing.  Yeah, that big Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack that knocked a good portion of the Internet off on Friday affected me too.  That was interesting.  And it pushed the timeline back.  Fortunately, this is probably the easiest project I’ll ever manage.

2.  fail2ban works.  Unrelated: Make sure your SSH keys are where you think they are.  You sysadmin veterans know where I’m going with this…  Yep, locked myself out of my shiny new server just as I was trying to get set up to bring in the content of the site.  Damn it.  Ah well, bonus of this particular solution is that this server is just a virtual machine on a server somewhere in the Bay Area.  As such, it’s super easy to wipe and start again.  It’s also faster than driving to campus to get a fresh IP address to fix it.  So I did.  RIP server 1.

3.  Is it really a backup if you’ve never tried restoring it?  NO!  No it’s not!  Back in July or so (when I finally started caring about this site) I bought a subscription to VaultPress, an awesome service for keeping blogs like this safe and sound.  As it turns out, though, I’ve never had occasion to actually restore it.  Backing up works just fine, but I ended up just doing the manual process of exporting my stuff from the old site and importing it onto this one.  Not much to it, really, though I did have to set up all my plugins again.  That’s annoying, anyway.

4.  Keep It Simple…  I’ve written before about how I use that intermediary service to protect and secure traffic to and from the site.  Just when I thought I was done, that I was out of the woods, loading the site gave me weird HTTP errors.  Specifically, it was error 521.  Lovely.  The 5xx series of HTTP errors generally mean there’s something wrong with the server itself.  The specifics though were new to me.  Google to the rescue!  Apparently, that’s the code given by that intermediary provider when it gets a “forbidden” response.

Hey Cloudflare, why not just pass the 403 status like the rest of the Internet?  I’m sure they have their reasons, but that would have been helpful…  As it turns out, when I flipped the switch on moving the primary URL over, I needed to add a few lines to the Apache web server’s configuration file in order to have things resolve correctly.  First time actually touching Apache2 configuration files, so that was interesting.  Part of the reason I got this server was to learn.

Resolved it…and still error 521.  Again, thank you Cloudflare.  This time, though, the error from CF’s side was actually useful.  Disabling the protection momentarily allowed the site to load as expected.  End result was that the CloudFlare network was expecting SSL to be up on the site’s side, but it wasn’t yet.  For some reason I had put off setting up LetsEncrypt.  Fixed that, re-enabled the protection, and green lights across the board!

My web presence is no longer in the beer leagues.  This will be a hell of a learning experience.


Categories Gaming Journal

It’s only Thursday and I can already tell this’ll be the toughest weekend yet for this whole project.  The hype around Civilization VI is incredible – and I was right there with the rest of everyone on the internet for the last two iterations.  Similarly, this time around it’s proving difficult to not get caught up in the excitement.  I mean, listen to this.

This is my jam.  I get damn near obsessive over this sort of music.  (And yes, Baba Yetu is still on my playlist after all these years).  Thanks internet, I needed a new musical obsession.

But really, just try and not get excited listening to it.  The composer did his job well, to be sure.  And yet, I know that if I give in and get the game that apparently releases tonight at midnight it’s all over.  I won’t be doing a single thing for the rest of the weekend, and even into next week it’ll be tough to drag myself back to work and class…

Yeah, y’all know where I’m going with this.  No matter what, I cannot let that happen.  There’s too much riding on my success to falter now.

But when literally everyone around is talking about it and excited about it?  This is going to be tough.  I’ve got ideas for weekend projects and ways to keep busy, but this just feeds back into what I have been writing about for the past week or so: willpower as inertia versus the spark to actually do things.  This is how Rome fell.  This is the hardest test I’ve yet to face, but face it I must.

Looks like I’ll have to figure out this brain hacking thing faster than I thought.

Picking Back Up: A Troubleshooting Post-Mortem

Categories Projects

Well that was annoying.  Spent my writing time yesterday evening and then today sorting out what I thought was a weird DNS forwarding issue that made it look like the site was down for the count.  After an email to my web host I thought maybe it was something with the settings – technically, I’ve got three potential sources for DNS to be screwy on this site.

I should explain first.  You know how you can type in actual words to go to websites?  That’s really just a label for the actual physical address where the website can be found (well, more properly, the computer hosting the website, but I’m trying to keep this as simple as possible).  Mapped to the physical world, it’s not dissimilar to calling the White House another name for the address 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, DC, etc etc.  DNS is the way these friendly labels are tracked and matched to the Internet Protocol address of the machine hosting whatever can be found at it.  It gets a lot more complicated than that – I’ve had no fewer than two courses on the topic while here at grad school – but that’s the general gist.

Anyway, I’ve got three different places that this matching can get screwed up.  The hosting company I pay for the space to keep this thing up and running has their own addresses.  The company I buy the domain name (that “friendly” label) from has their own as well.  Finally, I use a popular infrastructure service to beef up the security of this site by routing all traffic to it through their network; they have a much better security organization than I could ever run on my own.  All three places have their own addresses, and guess what – they all must correspond.

Again, trying to keep this simple enough to explain how I’ve spent my day.  In short, all this complexity is added because we like to use names for things instead of just sets of numbers.  One could even enter the particular set of numbers corresponding to the web server and get there directly, bypassing the need for DNS entirely (although God help us all if we ever go full IPv6 – remembering and typing those addresses in is a pain I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy).  And so it was that I determined that there wasn’t actually anything wrong with the site itself.  Not really, from a “I’m a system administrator” angle anyway.

Next step was to check those three different places that it could’ve gotten messed up – site was still up, so it had to be a DNS issue…right?  I was mystified to find that, to the best of my knowledge, the settings were correct!  Just as I was about to get on three different support chats at the same time, it hit me that I missed a step.

The whole time, I was using the same browser – Vivaldi on OS X macOS Sierra.  In theory, it’s based on the same engine that Google Chrome and the like use, or so I’ve read.  Something in it though was causing it to believe that it was right and the internet was wrong when it came to the address of my website!  Testing in other browsers revealed this issue.

Huh.  I had always considered the browser to be strictly for layers 5-7 in the OSI model (that is, your user session, how information is presented, and how you actually use it).  DNS and actually getting pages works at a lower level than all of that.  As it turns out, I guess the Chromium engine does some caching anyway.  Why?  You’ll have to ask the devs.

You learn something new every day!

Hack the Brain!

Categories Gaming Journal, Personal

A rare second post on the same day appears!  I just have to get this one out there while the spark of inspiration is there.  In addition to maintaining this space, I keep a journal of sorts on a support group forum for folks trying to get past gaming as I have recommitted myself to doing lately.  It’s not perfect by far, but the resources and community are a great resource.  Anyway, I was updating the journal over there since I had gotten a comment or two since the last time I posted – even though they suggest a “daily” journal, I don’t post there anywhere near the same amount as I write on here.  Just how it is, I guess.

I forget where exactly I read it, but someone wrote that, in short, walking is a series of falling forward and catching yourself every time, without noticing it.  The commenter on my journal thread put it another way.  All it takes is one small step to get started.  One becomes two.  Two becomes four.  Y’all know how it goes.

Does that sound familiar at all?!

I’ve used the same sort of slippery slope idea in talking about how I’ve fallen back into spending way too much time gaming three times over the last 18 months or so.  One brief game is okay, or so my brain tells itself.

Except then…

One becomes two.  Two become four.  And before you know it I’m pulling another godforsaken all-nighter to get done the bare minimum of what I needed to do for class, never mind anything else more fulfilling.  All it took was that one small step and I was royally screwed.

Those of y’all who read my post over the weekend know that it was a bit rough, to put it lightly.  The urge to escape into a game was a strong one, and yet I prevailed.  Somehow, over the past 18 days I’ve built up a degree of inertia by sheer willpower.  A vow that I had slid backward for the last time.

How can I turn this around on itself?  How can I turn this urge to game into the urge to program, or to mix a new song, or write my novel, or make dank memes  Okay, maybe not that last one.  You get the point, though, right?  Instead of treading water via the sheer inertia and desire to not waste my time gaming again, how can I take it in a more positive direction?

How can I hack my brain to where I can draw upon that spark to get out of the default idle state and get in motion toward my dreams, my goals, my vision?  Every now and then I have a dream where in ten years’ time I’ve become so successful that I’ve made Elon Musk look like he’s running a lemonade stand by comparison.  The me in that dream is beyond driven, beyond anything I could possibly imagine myself being today or at any time in my past.  It’s like I’ve got a laser-like focus on what I want to achieve and God help you if you get in my way.  How do I get to that?


Categories Personal

Another week begins. I was far, far too excited about my Texans coming back to beat the Colts last night to actually write anything, so here we go. Just when you count them out they come back and surprise you. They persevere. I mean, take a look at this:

Statistically speaking, we had at best a 1% chance of winning at that point in the game. Makes sense when you’re down two scores going into the final five minutes, after all – I mean, there’s a reason people are calling it, alternatively, the comeback or the collapse of the year, depending on who you root for. And, well, if you follow the NFL at all, you know what happened by now.

I swear, I have some weird amnesiac voodoo … thing going on with football this year. Every UTSA game I’ve forgotten we were playing ended up a win – including Rice deciding to not go for two this weekend. I turned the game off last night at the half, and, well, look what happened.

Continue reading “Perseverance”


Categories Personal

Saturday, 15th October 23:51

Have to use that German sometime, right?

Today was very quiet for a Saturday.  Too quiet.  For some inexplicable reason, I just never felt quite right all day.  Finally got back to playing Pathfinder aka good ol’ Dungeons and Dragons with the usual guys after taking a couple weeks off due to midterms.  I was debuting a new character and all that – again – because mine keep dying for some weird reason, but even so I felt more of an outsider than I have in the two or three years I’ve known most of this group (and even longer for other members – over a decade in one case.  It got to the point where I had to take ten and walk around my apartment complex on my own just to clear my head so I could finish out the session.

I really did just feel as if I was completely adrift once again.  A feeling I had thought I had more or less taken care of as I’ve learned to deal with this depression bullshit over the years.  It’s funny, at the start of every DnD session we go around and do what we call kinks – no, not that kind, get your head out of the gutter.  I don’t know why we call them that, but it’s more or less just a quick snapshot of something that went weird or wrong with your week or since the last time we played.  People being stupid at work, the anxiety over my forensics midterm that I’ve posted about here before, cats being cats, and so on.  It’s a window into four or five other lives all hundreds or thousands of miles apart keeping in touch as friends do.  And yet, if they’re reading this, the weird feelings of today are completely new to them.

I’ve become way too good at disguising when things aren’t quite right with me.  Hell, people have outright told me that I seem like the calmest, most unshakable person in the room when my mind feels like it’s being tossed about in Hurricane Matthew.  For some reason I’m most open in text, so here we are.

Why am I here?  Why was I doing what I was spending my Saturday doing?  What’s the point of it all, anyway?  This and more were kind of just hanging out in my mind all day today until the puck dropped on the Blues game tonight.  Nothing like a good (and I mean really good) hockey game to take your mind off things.  The urge to just play a game and clear my head was almost overwhelming, and yet I muscled through it again.  And then, my anxiety decided to rear its ugly head again.  Of fucking course it did.  As it turns out, the church I have been excited to attend all week is only accessed by a blind driveway on a major road here.  I drove past it around sundown and even with what little traffic there was I felt that characteristic shiver down my spine.  Unless they literally have SAPD out on the road directing traffic, I don’t think I can do it.  There’s another Episcopal church that, by virtue of the highways around here, is just as fast to get to according to Google Maps.  It’s not on as busy of a road.  I can do that one.  And so I will.

And yet, for some reason I felt the church on the major road almost calling to me throughout the week.  Such a weird feeling; it was like  a magnetic attraction of sorts.  Was this a test of faith… and did I just fail?

So it's apparently been two weeks…

Categories Gaming Journal, Personal

Timestamp: Friday 14th October 2016 at 13:01.

Wow, so it has been two weeks since I started on this journey of self-revitalization.  That’s two weeks without launching a video game, two weeks of refocusing on who I am and what it means to be who I am and where I am today…and two weeks of rising to be better than I was.  It’s tempting as hell to sit back and rest on my laurels today.  After all, it’s Friday – the strongest commitment I have is waiting for a weekly phone call that should be coming in any minute as I write this.  Midterms are done, there are a couple finishing touches I need to put on a group project before Monday night, but other than that there’s really not that much I need to do today.

It’s all but idle time.  And what do I typically do with idle time?

I would game.  The urge to do so is literally right before my eyes.  I mean, I’ve got friends I talk to exclusively through Steam, for God’s sake.  I wish I could change that fact, but it’s the reality I must live with.  And yet, I’ve mentioned the slippery slope that caused me to slide all the way back to square goddamned zero two or three times now.

That.  Won’t. Happen. Again.

It simply can’t.  My life literally depends on it.  And yet, my motivation to actually do productive things is still, to put it very lightly, a work in progress.  I must admit that doing away with time wasting sites isn’t going so well.  Sure, I’ve got the blocker in place on my productive laptop that’s almost more of a joy to use (aside from the lovely feeling of this mechanical keyboard at home…) than my full-power desktop, but I’m still not actually doing anything with that time.  I mean, work this week was busy enough to keep me off it without much of a concern, but this morning I just derped around on reddit for four hours instead of doing interesting things (though I have to admit that one dog was adorable as hell).  I’ve got programs and a novel to write!  WHY, BRAIN?  WHY?!  Seriously, this whole motivation thing is starting to annoy me.  How do I get myself to do things, awesome things that will give me that feeling of accomplishment I want?!

On a brighter note, I think I’m figuring out getting up on time.  Turns out the threat of a $250 fine from my landlord if they’re not able to get to check my water meter (wherever it is) at some point between the hours of 9 and 5 today and yesterday is a good motivator.  I just hope that they didn’t try while I was in the shower or something and couldn’t hear them knock…  Side note, come on management – freaking Comcast literally gives a more useful appointment window than that!  Anyway, whether this pattern can turn into a trend and then a habit is still up for debate.  This weekend will be rather telling I think.

Breaking Out

Categories Fun Stuff

Welp, massively overslept again today (even for me it was bad…), but I was able to deconstruct the root cause of it or so I think, hopefully tomorrow will be better.  On a completely unrelated note, are 20 foot lightning cables a thing?  I might need to get one…  As I mentioned yesterday, I did manage to get back into the technical swing of things today even despite the setback.  After who even knows how many months, I finally have my VCSA set up again.  I had it last spring and worked perfectly, but somehow between then and now it stopped working.

What’s a VCSA?

In short, it’s a server that controls other servers at the hardware level.  Except none of the servers it controls are physically there; in fact, they all live on the same actual server I’ve got here and share resources and all that.  Yeah, even the VCSA is virtual.  So I have a virtual machine controlling other virtual machines and the hardware they all run on and now my head is spinning from going in circles.

Weird, isn’t it?

Come to think of it, maybe having the vCenter server as a virtual machine on the same host it’s managing isn’t such a good idea…  Until I can find something with the resources to hold it and only it (and not destroy my power bill) it’s the best I can do though.  Virtualization as a thing is weird, but it’s incredibly useful.  Namely I can now spin up all the test machines I want, be they for hosting a wiki where I document all I’ve done (make it publicly internet-facing?  That’d be an interesting challenge), machines to administer as I become a modern-day master of puppets…or serve as a target range where I can harmlessly hone my hacking abilities whenever I want!

If I’m not breaking something (or trying to break something), I’m not learning.  After all, break things now so I know what not to do when I’m getting paid to do this stuff and people care about uptime.

Speaking of breaking things, I got to do a bit of that tonight as well!  The Computer Security Association here at UTSA decided to host their first CTF of the semester on short notice tonight.  For the uninitiated, a CTF is basically a real-life video game.  You compete against a field of others to solve various challenges, technical or otherwise.  Tonight was the classic version of a CTF where the goal was to claim ownership over a machine that the leaders of the club set up for the purpose.

How do you claim ownership?  By hacking in of course!  And then putting your handle in a designated file somewhere on the machine.  Technically, this wasn’t my first ctf…but it was the first one where I knew even an inkling of what I was doing.

I even managed to completely own two of the servers they had set up, giving myself NT/SYSTEM (the absolute highest level of access you can possibly have on a Windows machine) and grabbing hashes…but I couldn’t find the “flag” file to put my handle in it!

Face, meet palm.

As I was packing up, I was discussing with one of the admins what I had missed.  Turns out I was looking for an IIS web root (because hey, it’s Windows after all), when the machines were running Apache httpd.

On Windows 2000.


Lesson numero uno tonight: you know what they say about assumptions…  Aka nmap does service discovery for a reason.

La deuxième leçon:  (YEAH, FRENCH.  DEAL WITH IT) ms08_067_netapi is a handy exploit… but maybe not when your competitors keep crashing the smb service.  True story.  I’d kinda like to see how many concurrent attempts at that particular exploit there were tonight.  All I know is, my sessions kept dying with the smb service.  There are other ways to get in.  Leave the easy mode for the guys even newer than you.

Die dritte Lektion: (German, too!) always carry a decently-long Cat 5 (6?) cable that you know is good.  They can have all the switches and virtual machines they want, but it doesn’t matter if you keep pulling bad cables from their crate of them.