My fancy pen

This post is follow up. I spent a month trying to determine if this would work, and finally just threw money at the problem. I did get lucky though.

I have a lovely pen, a Muji fountain pen. This ticks all the little things I desire most in a quality writing implement. It’s a cylinder from top to bottom, it has a snap cap rather than screw on, and it takes cartridges, to keep me from spending obscene amounts of time and money dorking with ink.

Once I bought one, I found out this pen ships with a “fine” nib.

In practice, with my handwriting and notebooks, this is not ok. I found a fair number of forum and blog posts where people discuss changing nibs, but there’s very little resolution. So I did some learning, and it looks like a #5 nib should be a drop in replacement.The fine folks at Goulet Pens happen to sell a #5 Edison Extra Fine. More searching blogs and forums say it should work. $20 and a couple days later, I can confirm. My cheap pen ended up costing me around forty bucks, plus ink, but I’m damn happy about the result.


Wow. Just, Wow.

Since Windows 7 announced or demoed their Aero-Snap feature, I’ve wanted it for OS X. I  find it extremely handy to be able to just throw a window towards an edge of a screen and have it conform to a size by default. Two windows side-by-side are incredibly useful for learning things in a terminal or IDE with a browser right next to it. I’ve been wishing for something, particularly since I got my Macbook 11. Better Touch Tool is that thing. And its FREE.

I found it because someone posted some jab at the dev for running out of version numbers on Twitter, which prompted me to check out the reddit thread, and I finally downloaded the tool. AND THE FIRST THING IT ASKED ME ON THE FIRST LAUNCH WAS TO ENABLE WINDOW SNAP. Done. Winner. Over in one round. As long as this tool keeps working it’ll be on my macs.

Update, 06.24.2015 – Doesn’t Apple finally announce this feature for OS X this fall? sumbitch. If you have an *extra* mac, I recommend the betas.

I Built Something – VBox Lab PS

I’ve dabbled in programming of one sort or another since I learned BASIC in 4th grade. Finally I’m starting to envision products I need small enough to get my feet wet. There will be at least one more of these, once I figure out some intricacies of Objective-C.

I learned quite some time ago that you can interact with VirtualBox on the commandline. Which is super handy if you’re in the habit of leaving a shell open. Lately I’ve been trying to spend time learning network enumeration, on the long list of things I need to practice with before attempting PWK/OSCP later this year. At work this means finding VirtualBox on Windows8’s Metro mania, and clicking around. Which gets old. No more.

VBox_Lab.ps1 is a quick PowerShell utility to do what I need most. Launch VMs, headless or not.


I learned a LOT from this. Everything was copy a little bit from a How-To and change it some, test, Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Debugging even something this simple gets complex. Dynamic menus, it turns out, are quite a thing to have to learn how to do. I’m glad I did though, because it makes this portable.

I already have a long feature list to add, but for right now it works without crashing, which is a fantastic place to pause and put it out there.

Good Deals

I’m an Apple guy. This started when my dad was in grad school, the lab had Macs. I got to spend an hour or two when I was super young playing with MacPaint. I thought this was great, but didn’t appreciate the significance until much later. The important part here is that my dad got to like Apple gear, Macs in particular. Quite some time later the first family computer was an old Mac Plus. After that came a Performa. When I went away to college I ordered an iBook.

That iBook. Man, I abused that computer. I learned so very, very much about having and supporting myself with it. I had no support structure, the few people I was close with all had Windows machines. One friend was into Macs, but I only talked to him over AIM. Which meant I had to have a working computer and network connection. This was not often the case, since I was perpetually installing, re-installing, re-installing, un-installing all kinds of things. In addition to the basics of computergeekery that I picked up, there was also the freedom. At the time it was a slow machine, wireless wasn’t really a thing, and it had nearly no storage, but it was portable. It even had a handle. I lived from that machine for almost two years. It went everywhere with me. Across campus to print something, home on the weekends, across country on vacation. Once I decided on a major, I needed to upgrade. Of course I picked another Mac, upgrading to a PowerMac and handing the iBook down. It was a revolution to me to be able to move my entire computing world with me from place to place. In retrospect, it was categorically not a good deal. After taxes it was over $1800. Nevermind the specs, because they’re less than an original iPod touch, but for the time it was expensive. Looking back it was a terrific waste of cash. I don’t regret the purchase, because if nothing else it began teaching me how to support my equipment with only the internet.

There are a lot of things I do not miss about that computer, but from the day I moved on, I missed being able to have my Mac with me. Along the way, I kept trying other things to find a portable machine that was super light, super mobile, and had what I wanted. I tried a few Dells, from the weird and compromised Dell Latitude X300, I briefly had an e4300, and lastly with a frankensteined e4310. They were good enough computers, and for the little bit of money I paid for them, nice. But they were Dells, and only ran Windows or Linux. The X300 was an early “ultrabook” which translated to it was thin because it had no optical drive. The X300 was released in 2003. I bought mine around 2009. I wasn’t able to find a comparable model for the price in the 5 years after that was as small and light. Latitudes as a group are great workhorse computers. They’re easy to fix, there’s tons of parts, meh. They’re boring and have shitty keyboards too.

Where is all this leading? I got a new laptop last year. And, for the first time since 2001, it’s an Apple laptop. That is mine. It was a good deal too; 2 year old MacBook Air 11″. For $350. That’s at the top end of “good deal”, edging towards “great deal”. It’s tiny, has an SSD, so its fast, and it works. Well, it works now. I had barely gotten it up and running, wiped the drive, registered for the Yosemite beta, gotten it installed. Then I opened it, thrilled to have MY laptop running an OS X beta , finally I can help Apple find bugs, and nothing happened. I plugged it in. No lights lit up on the MagSafe adapter. Oh. Goody.

So I did what you’re supposed to do. I made an appointment and took it to the Genius Bar. They did not have good news. They could replace the Logic Board, for something like $500, or they could send it to the depot. The depot has a flat repair charge, $300, they send it back working. I opted for the depot. I spent all my “loose” money buying the damn thing, I can’t afford to trust that its simply the logic board. In no way could I spend five hundred dollars on this. A few days later they called, it was back and working. I picked it up, I paid my fee. For those of you playing the home game, my cheap MacBook has now cost me $650. At the time that was $70 less than a refurbished 2014 model. And if only the story ended there.

The night after I picked it up, I sat down on the couch to finally enjoy the freedom to surf and watch TV. I opened it and the display was dark. Going through common troubleshooting steps I found it was working, charging was fine, external video was fine. So I checked the display with a flashlight. Dead backlight. By shining a bright flashlight near the display I could see it was getting signal, but there was nothing lighting it. Back to the Genius Bar. This time I learned my favorite bit of Genius jargon, “looper”. Since it was a repeat-offender, all the repairs are on Apple. They replaced the entire top half of the laptop for free. I’ve got the receipt, bottom line reads, “amount due: $0.00”. That was a great day. Too bad I was back less than a week later. By this time half the staff of the Genius Bar knew me on site. They tried to help, told me to ask for a replacement because I have, “no confidence”, in that particular machine. Thankfully that wasn’t necessary. They replaced the display assembly(lid) again AND the logic board. This adds up to nearly two computers worth of parts I’ve gotten for my $300 depot repair investment. Which isn’t bad. It’s still not a good deal, but I’ve got my own working laptop, legitimately running OS X.

I’ve returned to the days when I can just grab a bag and go out the door, trusting that I can solve any problem with what I’ve got on me. The bag is a lot lighter now, too.

Headless Kali

Since I am space and RAM limited on my laptop I decided to make a headless Kali virtual machine to keep around for playing with. Since I couldn’t find a reliable tutorial for removing all the GUI stuff from a normal Kali install, I decided to create a Debian-turned-Kali machine. Currently the goal is to only use this for command line tools.

First step, install and update a minimal Debian Wheezy(7.0) machine. Mine has only SSH installed from the start.

Next, add the Kali software repositories, and update. This is where i hit my first snag, as well as my first triumph. I’m doing this to learn, after all.

  • begin by adding the following lines to the /etc/apt/sources.list file

  • deb kali main non-free contrib
    deb kali/updates main contrib non-free

  • run # apt-get update to pull the latest info. Here is where I hit my snag. I got the following warningPubKeyError copy
  • This is a missing public key for the Kali Repos. I can still pull down and install software, but it will be doing so unauthenticated. Thanks to the public-ness of PKI, this is an easy fix, once I learned a little about what I was doing.

  • Pulling this key is simple enough, # gpg --recv-keys ED444FF07D8D0BF6PubKeyFix1 copy
  • Simply getting the key is not enough, you must tell apt to use it. # gpg -a --export ED444F07D8D0BF6 | apt-key add - this will return OK, and allow apt-get update to run without any further warnings.

Now I can install any Kali tool I’d like, and run them remotely through a headless VM. How can I run something headless? EASY, both my favorite Virtual Machine managers, Virtualbox and VMWare Fusion provide LOTS of command line tools for interacting with their software.

  • for VMWare its simply $ /Applications/VMware\ -T fusion start "/path/to/vm.vmx" nogui
  • and for VirtualBox its $ vboxheadless -startvm VMNAME

    Next time I visit this topic it’s likely to be “how to run remote GUI tools from a headless Kali VM”, when I find a need for a GUI tool on this machine.

  • Gear Intro

    “…and I said, that’s good! One less thing.” -Forrest Gump

    This is the start of a new category here, GEAR. Hopefully someone else finds it useful. I will surely be referencing it when necessary.

    Recently I’ve been reading about the idea of “Buy it for Life”, where you find a product, or line, or brand that solves the problems you have. I’m not so sure that there is much I can buy that will satisfy my needs for life, but I do need to track the stuff I buy that’s super high quality or great for what I need. Recently I’ve found two home runs in that department. The first, a new laptop will get it’s own post later, because there is quite a story to match.

    The second is something I’ve been looking for since high school, and that’s a notebook with thin, strong sheets that don’t bleed with most ink-ball or fountain pens. I received a notebook like this as a gift in high school, and I promptly filled it with notes, drawings, scribbles, and even some paintings. It was amazing. Since then I’ve been searching for its replacement, hopefully in bulk. While binge reading the wonderful Cool Tools site, I found a “what’s in your bag” article that listed Muji brand notebooks. There wasn’t any other description of the type or quality, and reading reviews didn’t shed much more light. However, my work notebook was quickly running out of pages, so I took a shot with the MUJI Blank Notebook a Book(Japanese Tankoubon) Size Unruled 184sheets(fair warning, amazon affiliate link).

    Just, WOW. Going in with no expectations, this fit all my needs. It’s small, about 5.25″ x 7.25″, has plain UNRULED sheets, plain covers, and amazing, wonderful, silky smooth paper that didn’t bleed with ANY of the pens I tried with it. Pilot V5? Nope. Uniball Signo? Nope. Fountain Pens? Nope. It might not work for many other people, but for me this is the best notebook I’ve had in a long, long time.