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October 12, 2009 3:37 AM   Subscribe

Help! My job requires IT knowledge I don't have. Two questions.

I'm doing a very open-ended internship in a third world country. After I arrived it was discovered that I knew more about computers than most people in the office. Unfortunately, I've got two problems that I don't have the knowledge to solve.

1) Network regulation. Is there anyway--without using a server--to block certain traffic on a network at certain times? I know about configuring the basic linksys router over here and services like OpenDNS, but nothing I know is time-constrained. I can't change router settings every day at 3pm or so.

Also, is there any way to stop certain kinds of downloads? (Lots of people are using the network to download movies, music, etc and we have limited bandwidth/month.)

2) Thunderbird to Excel. I'm trying to automate a leave (i.e. vacation) system, and my goal is to have it so that when a specially tagged email hits an inbox, it deducts a certain number of vacation days from an excel worksheet. I'm thinking of using Thunderbird (IMAP) to get emails client-side and then have some kind of program import that data into a nicely configured excel worksheet, but I can't seem to find a suitable plugin or program that would help do this--does anyone know if one exists?

(Or, is there a better way to go about this problem? I'm currently planning on using a gmail inbox with a ton on filters to get email from the worker requesting leave, to HR who confirms that there are leave days remaining, to the manager that approves the leave, and then back into HR's files... my trouble is with tabbing leave days without making anyone work.)
posted by Suciu to Computers & Internet (8 answers total)
Best answer: Firstly, I can imagine the situation you're in and I sympathise.

1) I would be blocking the music/movie download sites using the router.

2) this strikes me as extra work! Can't you have a centralised leave system where the worker lodges a request, HR doesn't have to do anything because the system keeps track of how many days you have left, and the manage just has to go through and say 'yes/no' to the open requests. Then the computer would update the database automatically. Of course, no server available, and would require programming/database skills that you might not have.

I spent ages scoping out a network plan for a place I was working/interning for and pricing, cable paths, etc, and they decided that the most effective use of the money they had was to buy some more usb keys. *shrug* taught me a lesson in finding effective solutions to problems! (in hindsight I would have set them up with wifi.)
posted by titanium_geek at 3:50 AM on October 12, 2009

gah, manage should be manager
posted by titanium_geek at 3:51 AM on October 12, 2009

Best answer: For (1), what you need is a filtering proxy, which you can set up using something like squid on a dedicated linux box. You will basically block everyone from connecting directly to the internet at the firewall, and force them to go through the proxy. The proxy can then be configured for any filtering scenario you can come up with, but setting it up may be too much for an inexperienced user.

Request (2) seems pretty hairy - how many users are we talking about here?

Automating something like this needs to be carefully thought through and the hassle and potential mess-up in setting it up froms scratch is usually too much to make it worth it. What I would advise is trying to find some web-based open source solution, such as an issue tracking system, that can be shoehorned into your scenario without much work.
posted by Dr Dracator at 3:52 AM on October 12, 2009

I fail at reading comprehension: I now realize a crucial bit of information (NO SERVERS) slipped by me on first reading.
posted by Dr Dracator at 4:12 AM on October 12, 2009

Best answer: #1: Maybe you could consider flashing your router's firmware to give it more capabilities? There's a group of folks who create their own firmware replacements for routers, and perhaps one of those replacements would give you time-variable constraints?

Here are the results of a quick search I did on router for "linksys flash firmware"; you might find something better suited to what you have on hand.
Article about firmware flashing in general
Firmware project page
posted by jsmith77 at 5:15 AM on October 12, 2009

Oh, and a search on "open source vacation tracking" gave me a bunch of options that might suit your #2 question.
posted by jsmith77 at 5:18 AM on October 12, 2009

i suggest pfsense . Dd-wrt might not work because if its anything bigger then a small business then the routers that dd-wrt go on might not have enough bandwidth to support the organization.

Pfsense goes on any computer and if u need high bandwidth you just put it on a higher speced server. ITs free but you can pay to get support.

we run pfsense here on our 100/100 connection with 60 or more users at once getting full bandwidth.

pfsense has tons of free plugins like snort and the like.

Should do what you need it to do.
posted by majortom1981 at 7:14 AM on October 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Perhaps the easiest approach would be to learn a scripting language that understands how to manipulate the GUIs of the programs you are using. For the router you could make a autohotkey script that opens the browser, clicks on the username box, types in the username, presses tab, types in the password, clicks on confige, and clicks where you disable the internet. Have this run as a scheduled app at 3pm. Run a smiliar script at 8am or whenever. If this is too hard then buy yourself a christmas lights timer and plug your modem or whatever WAN device you have into it and just power it down at the right time.

Or you can upgrade to dd-wrt, if the router supports it, and use the built-in time settings. Or a proxy like others have suggested, although that seems to be a lot more work.

You can use autohotkey to pull those emails too. Open them, copy and paste, save as csv or whatever, then open with excel, etc. I think a week or two playing with AutoHotkey, reading the forums, and looking at example scripts will get you to the point where you can start doing some of this, if not all of this.

Also, its also worth finding out where those emailed reports are coming from. The server that generates them can also save them to a network share, thus cutting thunderbird out of the equation. This will make life easier if it can just save to your network as a .csv or xml or file.

I doubt youre going to find pre-created things that do all of this for you. Learn some scripting or hire/ask someone to help you. Its a lot of effort at first but it will help you in the future.
posted by damn dirty ape at 10:22 AM on October 12, 2009

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