Things I’ve Learnt From Being Burgled

My home was burgled over the weekend and a few thousand dollars of stuff taken.

Thankfully I have home contents insurance – but that still means there’s a lot of legwork to be done before I can get anything replaced, and even then I’ll have to negotiate it all with the insurance people… So that’s something to look forward to.

Asides from the stuff, being robbed sucks mentally. I’ve been alternating between being disappointed (why would you do this to me?) / miffed (that’s a rubbish thing to do) / and angry (if I catch you I will chop your f**king hands off) over the last few days.

During this joyful rollercoaster I’ve learnt a number of things (the hard way) which you might be able to avoid, so I thought I’d do a quick rundown of steps that can be taken to prevent all this nonsense in the first place.

Prior Preparation Prevents Piss-Poor Performance

  1. If you’re renting a property – change the locks – on day 1. All of them. The previous tenant, or a neighbour trusted by the previous tenant may still have one or more keys to what is now your home so they could potentially breeze in and out at will. Say, while you’re at work. Or at night while you’re asleep. Or when you go on holiday. Don’t let this happen. You can potentially “re-key” the locks so that the old keys no longer work, but discuss this with the locksmith. If the locks are rubbish, replace them – it costs marginally more than re-keying, but may well be worth it. You’ll likely be required to provide a set of the new keys to your landlord / estate agent – but that’s okay. Just change the locks. Really. Do it.
  2. If you have sliding windows, get some “dowelling” (i.e. finger-wide lengths of wood) and place it in the runner so that the windows can’t be opened (i.e. you can’t slide them open because the dowelling prevents it). If you want to open the window yourself, you just move it out of the way. Simples.
  3. When you do fit the dowelling, slide each window open a fair bit and have a good look inside the part where the window latch (assuming it’s a pull-to-release-latch) connects to the window frame. I found a couple of ‘strategically placed‘ nails in the bathroom window frame which did allow the windows to click shut, but because of the nails the clip wouldn’t go on fully/strongly so I guess they’d be easier to crank open. Judging by the corrosion and the undisturbed layer of dust on the shelf this wasn’t the entry point in this case.
  4. Fit an alarm system. Once you have all new or re-keyed locks then a simple motion-detecting system will probably top it off. They’re very affordable, stick the battery-powered sensors on the walls around a few rooms, sync them to the main box (larger battery powered), then arm it when you leave the house. If someone walks through the beam the main box makes a fire-alarm-esque racket with flashing lights which should notify your neighbours / scare off burglars. Be sure to tell your neighbours that if they hear the shrieking siren during work hours the chances are that you’re not testing your alarm system – your house is actually being robbed, so call the cops plz!

I’ve Been Robbed – What Happens Next?

Once you call the police they’ll arrange to get the property people around to take photos and perhaps dust for fingerprints. I didn’t realise I’d been robbed for a day or two because nothing was broken – no windows, no locks, no mess – boxes and things were just removed from wardrobes/cupboards that I only occasionally use. If you’ve just discovered you’ve been robbed immediately then stop and call the police to get the property people over to dust for prints ASAP. By the time I knew I’d been done over I’d touched the doorknobs and boxes to the extent that fingerprinting would be a needle in a haystack.

Once you meet up with the police they’ll give you a police report form with your incident number and things and a property form to fill out where you list all the details of what was taken to the best of your knowledge. Don’t fill it in yet, instead…

…call your insurance people to lodge a claim (please have home contents insurance!). Tell them what’s happened and they’ll send you their own form to list all the details of what was taken to the best of your knowledge.

Pick the best template (police/insurance) and fill that bad-boy in. My insurance form was electronic while the police gave me some photocopied sheets of an excel spreadsheet, so I just filled in the insurance version then recreated the police spreadsheet and copied and pasted as necessary. It took me a day to do this because the insurance people want evidence that you owned everything you claim was taken. Claiming there were 5 bricks of gold in the pantry is unlikely to go down well unless you have proof of ownership. Once you have your list of stolen items get happy with copy and paste to get the next list ready so both police and insurance people have all the details they need.

If you’re anything like me you’ll have bought a bunch of stuff through eBay or PayPal – they send you invoices. Locate them in the deepest, darkest depths of your email history and print them to PDF ready to punt across to the insurance people. If you don’t have a receipt for something, then perhaps you have a photo of it? Anything is better than nothing – if you can show that you’re not trying to play the insurance people I think the chances are good that they won’t try to play you too hard either – but we’ll have to wait and see.

I’ll update this post after my insurance person discussion w/ details on how my case worked out.

The Fort Knox Fallacy

There is simply no way to stop a determined burglar from robbing your house if they’re absolutely dead-set on doing so – all the locks in the world are useless when throwing half a brick through a window grants access. So what options are there? (asides from window vibration alarms – but even then you can smash the window, grab the alarm and smash it to silence it in seconds).

Without going full-on with reporting systems I think we can just aim to prevent opportunistic / amateur theft – which to the best of my knowledge is most of it. Unless you have buckets of cash and jewels and things you’re not going to be targeted by a lithe ‘cat-burglar’, you’re just going to have someone in desperate need of money and/or hooked on drugs looking to flash-ransack your gaff while you’re off at work to pay their rent/bookie/dealer.

You could spend a fortune on your home security – have cameras uploading video 24/7, security company monitoring etc. But it won’t stop someone determined to break in. So just:

  • Insure your things, specifically registering any expensive items.
  • Back up your data and keep off-site backups of important things (you could potentially use the cloud, but a USB hard drive you keep at separate premises would do the job)
  • Scan your photos – nobody wants your photos but you, they aren’t worth anything to sell – but an intruder may be malicious or have a personal grudge so better safe than sorry.
  • Have important / expensive items specifically listed on your insurance policy. Otherwise they might fall under the ‘general’ category, which is capped to a low value.

It’s all kinda common sense – but this has been a really useful kick in the backside for me that I need to keep things backed up, ensure everything which can be locked does get locked when I’m away from home, and take a little extra care about keeping things safe and secure against opportunistic scallywags.

Interupt

If you disturb a burglar in your house, do you want to risk taking them on?

This is a tough one. If you just shout “GET OUT OF MY HOUSE!” they’ll likely drop everything and exit as fast as they can because they don’t want to go to jail so they’ll just right-off this particular nights work.

If you try to take them down things might go badly – and if they’re on drugs and/or have a knife, would it be worth it? Without meaning to sound like a coward, I think frightening them off is a better option than taking them on because they are full-tilt desperate and you aren’t. And desperate people take desperate measures.

Saying that, after having this happen to me I’ve placed a few inconspicuous bits and pieces around the house so that should I interrupt a burglar and they become the aggressor, then there are tools at hand.

Even with this there are pros and cons, but I’m looking to find some common-sense / precautionary middle ground. There is always a risk that if you have a weapon then that weapon could be used against you, but I think it’s better to be at least somewhat/potentially prepared than completely blind-sided where it’s their knife vs your mug of luke-warm cuppa-soup. Also, I would only ever use anything beyond stern language and a standard brawl if I thought my life was in danger, so I’m thinking the tools are more to do with worst-case preparation than anything else.

Wrap Up

That’s about it. If you read this I hope it’s before anything’s happened so you can take some steps to avoid it rather than after where you’re in my shoes going “Where did I go wrong?”.

For me I’m pretty sure it was step 1 – I didn’t change the locks straight away.

Always change the locks straight away when you move into a rental property.

Always.

Blithe Field – Bible School

Discovered the floaty/glitchy ambient of Spencer Radcliffe (aka Blithe Field) the other day – so after listening to a bunch (it makes for relaxing coding music) I picked up a few albums over on bandcamp today.

It’s pay-what-you-like, so technically you can enter 0 to get them all for free – but that’s not really in the spirit of supporting artists, is it?

Anyhoo – this is definitely one of my current favourites. Lots of nice samples, fun drums, beautiful warbling melodies – it’s got the lot:

Delightful! =D

How To: Connect to a Linux shared drive from a Windows guest in VMware

I always forget how to do this, so I’m writing it down…

1 – Getting and installing VMware Tools

First, we’ll need the VMware Tools installed. If VMware is being a dick and failing to get the tools ISO automatically then you can power down the VM, then in the main VMware Player window before you’ve opened any VM up, go to File | Player Preferences and click [Download All Components Now].

Once done, the iso files will be in a location such as: /usr/lib/vmware/isoimages. In this case (with a Windows 10 guest) I want the windows.iso image – so launch the VM, mount the ISO (from Virtual Machine | Removable Devices | CD/DVD | Settings…) then go to “This PC”, right-click on the mounted drive and select “Open Autoplay…” and let it install.

Update – 2017-03-03

Sometimes VMware tools is also a dick and needs repairing, so do the above but select the “Repair” option to uninstall/re-install it, then power down the VM.

As I found out today, the repair option is rubbish and doesn’t work – to get mapping of network drives working if it isn’t already you need to completely uninstall VMware tools in your guest OS, then reboot, then reinstall VMware tools, then reboot again. On this final reboot (and assuming you have the ‘Map to network drive’ option ticked in your VM settings – see below) then it should all be sorted and if you go to My PC | Network you should see a vmware-host folder which is mapped to Z: (by default – map it to something else if you want to) – from which you can then use Z:\WHATEVER_SHARE_NAME_YOU_GAVE to access your shared folders.

2 – Enabling Shared Folders

With the VM still off, go to the settings for your virtual machine select the Options tab and then the Shared Folders option, then select the “Always Enabled” radio-button. Now add a folder to share and give it a friendly name, I chose “Linux” and pointed it at my linux user’s home folder (so for me that’d be “/home/r3dux”).

I haven’t been able to get the “Map as a network drive in Windows guests” option working for a while, but it shouldn’t be a massive problem as you can access it via the double-backslash notation in the next step.

3 – Access the shared folder from the guest

Boot up your VM (i.e. Windows guest), and from the search bar or URL entry in windows explorer enter:

So for example, I’d access my shared folder via going to:

This should work, or at least it works fine for me. However, if I try to map the drive – like if I want to map that location to Z:, and I enter the exact same (known working) path to the shared folder… it doesn’t work. And I have absolutely no idea why. If you let the troubleshooter run it just shrugs at you, which to be fair is basically all any Windows troubleshooter has pretty much ever done in my experience.

To access the network shared folder easily without assigning a drive letter you can just go up one level (i.e. to \\vmware-host\Shared Folders) and then right-click on your shared folder and choose to send a shortcut to the windows desktop, from which you can access it easily enough just like any other folder.

Wrap Up

Hope this gets things working for you, even if it won’t map the drive to a letter for some bizarre reason. If you figure out why that might be I’d love to know!.

Cheers!

How To: Fix Eye of Gnome / Cairo crashes when loading large images

If Eye of Gnome is crashing when attempting to load large images (think 10MB and up), you can typically fix it by modifying the kernel SHM (shared memory) settings – in this case upping the max shared memory to 512MB thus:

Try adding the following to /etc/sysctl.conf and run ‘sysctl -p’ or reboot:

Source: https://bugs.launchpad.net/ubuntu/+source/cairo/+bug/1241752/comments/4

This worked for me, so hopefully it’ll work for you also.

Cheers!