Wednesday, June 30, 2004

CTCon5 - Wars, Tournaments, and Fun!

What's this? CTCon, a outgrowth of my time over at Chaos Theory, a great bunch of people, who happen to be LAN gamers.

What's a LAN game? It is where a bunch of people bring their computers to a central location, usually a convention center, hotel, university, sometimes a warehouse, and play different networkable computer games. Quake III Arena, Battlefield 1942, Half-Life's Counter Strike, Unreal Tournament, and others.

NMP Consulting, the company I own, is running CTCon for its 5th year. Head over to the NMP CTCon Website and check it out!

Sunday, June 27, 2004

Hacking from Mac OS X Panther (Installing nmap, Nessus, and others)

In continuation of my previous post about installing Ethereal on OS X using Darwin Ports, I present to you an article on installing some basic tools to perform initial security audits from the Mac using OS X Panther (10.3.x).

You have to have Darwin Ports installed on your system to follow these instructions. Just follow the instructions from the link above. I'll wait until you have it done. Promise.

Back already? Good. Besides, no 'Security Workstation' is any good without Ethereal.

First we're going to install nmap, a command-line based port scanner. This one is easy, from a terminal window:

sudo port install nmap (remember this will ask you for your USER password, not your root password. The 'su' command asks for the root password.)

Wait a little while, and you've got it.

Since you are using a Mac, it would be a shame not to have a graphics front end. Therefore, the next step is to install nmapFE (nmap Front End). Just download and install it from the link I just gave you. It installs like any other 'normal' Mac program

Oh, and as I mentioned in the Ethereal post, you can install MacStumbler as well.

Now for the grand-daddy of Auditing tools, Nessus, a vulnerability scanner that can be pointed at a single host or range of hosts and probe for missing patches, open ports, or other OS and Application weaknesses. It's a bit of a bear to install, but using my favorite, Darwin Ports, it can be done. Here are the step-by-step instructions...

- Nessus normally needs wget and/or lynx to allow it to install the script 'nessus-update-plugins', which downloads the latest lists of vulnerabilities that nessus uses to perform it's tests. So from a terminal session, issue the following commands:

1. sudo port install wget
2. sudo port install lynx
(or you can just 'su' to start, and leave off the sudo on these commands)

lynx is a cool text-based browser, which can come in handy from time to time to check out some not-so-trustable webpages. wget allows you to retrieve files, sort of like ftp, but different.

- Now we're going to install Nessus itself. First, the libraries, then the core, then the plugins. You can do it all by starting with step 3, because Ports will get all the dependent programs/files needed, but I like to be complete:

1. sudo port install nessus-libraries
2. sudo port install nessus-core
3. sudo port install nessus-plugins

- Now you need to add Nesses to your PATH variable:

1. export PATH=$PATH:/opt/local/bin:/opt/local/sbin

This line should be added to .profile from the Terminal, and .bashrc in X11. In fact, I now is the time to switch from Terminal, and to X11's xterm. If you don't want to restart your sessions, issue the command on the xterm line. Be sure you are su'd to root.

- Now we have some other commands needed to finish setting nessus up. You must create a Certificate for nessus clients to run against, and add a user (different from your login), and update your plugins:

1. nessus-update-plugins
2. nessus-adduser
3. nessus-mkcert

You can do these in any order, and follow the instructions (except for nessus-update-plugins, it just loads).

- Now something different. If you don't follow this step, you will get the nasty GTK error similar to the one I saw with Ethereal.

1. With your normal user login issue the command 'xhost +' (without quotes) this will allow anyone to connect to the local display.
2. Change to root, by issuing the 'su' command (without quotes)
3. Now type the following command: export DISPLAY=:0.0

- As root, you can start the nessus server:

1. nessusd -D (This will take a little while to load)

- I would suggest placing these last 4 command into a script. First 'vi' (without quotes) to start the VI editor. Then press 'i' on your keyboard to enter insert mode, and place the following 4 lines in the file:

xhost +
export DISPLAY=:0.0
nessusd -D

press [escape key]:wq to save the file and exit VI.
Now issue this command: chmod 777
Leave in your Users/Username directory, or place it somewhere in your PATH. Now you can start nessus by typing on a line by itself.

-If all goes well, you can now issue the 'nessus' command (without quotes) to start the GUI client interface. Enter your username and password you created in the nessus-adduser step, and click on 'login'. You will be asked to accept a certificate. Select option #2 for accepting the Cert (or like the instructions say, if you are paranoid, choose 1 or 3).

Now wait.

It took a long time for the login process to complete on my system. In fact, the GUI stopped responding, and I thought it was 'locked up'. It just takes a long time to load.

Congratulations, you now have all the basic tools to poke around your network or any network you are authorized to snoop. If you need help in running any of the programs above, check their websites and RTFM, and if you still have questions, stop by my IT Forum at, and I'll help you out if you ask intelligent questions. :)

Thursday, June 24, 2004

How To Install Ethereal Packet Sniffer on OS X with Open Darwin and Ports

If you've been reading Jack's other posts, you will see that Jack has caught a little bit of the OS X bug. (Jack's friends are hoping he gets better soon).

One of my favorite network utilities for Windows and Linux is Ethereal, an Open Source (Freeware) network packet sniffer used for capturing network traffic for analysis. Since OS X is based on a derivation of Darwin, there had to be a version of Ethereal for OS X. I popped over to the Ethereal website and sure enough, there were links to installing Ethereal for OS X using either Fink or Darwin Ports over at the OpenDarwin project.

"Ports" appealed to me over "Fink" because of the closeness to BSD Ports, which is the idea behind the whole Darwin Ports project.

OK - So I need to install Darwin Ports. Jack decides to take his own advice and RTFM (Read the FINE Manual) before installing it.

Hmmmm. What do we need. Jack's Powerbook G4 - 17 is equipped with Panther, but Jack doesn't have the original Panther install disks. That's OK, I'm sure I can find everything online.

First I need to open up a Terminal. Done. (It's in the Applications/Utilities folder)

Now we need to use CVS, which allows you to install a program by downloading the latest code (you 'check it out') and compiling it on your computer.

So I issue the appropriate command and get the "CVS not found" error. Oops. Going to have to install it. Maybe Jack didn't RTFM close enough.

I need to get Xcode, which contains CVS, so I head over to Apple's Developer Website and go through the sign-up process (it's free for the lowest level), head to the download section. Download xCode 1.2 and install it.


OK - Now I follow the instructions (RTFM) at opendarwin and do an install of Darwin Ports by issuing the following commands (in order):

% cd ~/
% cvs -d login
% cvs -d co -P darwinports

OK - Being the Linux Guru (NOT!) I am, I know we aren't done. We just have the code downloaded. Now it's time to compile. (Besides, the FINE MANUAL tells us this in the next step!)

% ./configure
% make
% sudo make install

The last command will ask you for your USER password (not the ROOT password of OS X, which is normally locked). Things will scroll by for a while after each command, so be patient. After you are done, Voila! - Darwin Ports is installed.

OK - Almost.

You need to add /opt/local/bin to your PATH. This is where "Ports" is installed, and unless you want to cd /opt/local/bin before you issue your ports command, you need to add this path to your BASH profile (The Panther Default Shell).

Be sure you are in your /Users/Username directory, in Jack's case this is /Users/jack and issue the following command:

vi .profile

This will open the VI text editor and allow you to edit your hidden (the "." at the beginning of the filename means its a hidden file) BASH profile. Hopefully yours like Jack's is empty.

Press "I" to enter insert mode and type the following on the first line (with the EXACT case here):

export PATH=$PATH:/opt/local/bin

Then press the following keys: [esc-key]:wq

This writes the file (changes) and quits vi.

Unless you want to quit and restart terminal, you'll have to issue the command to add the path to your current path. Just type "export PATH=$PATH:/opt/local/bin" (without the quotes) on the terminal line.

Type: cat $PATH (remember, it is CASE SENSITIVE) to confirm /opt/local/bin is in your path.


OK, now to install Ethereal. YAY!!!!

It's easy, just type: sudo port install ethereal

Now you will have to wait a looooong time, as port will go out to the opendarwin server, and download all the dependent programs as well as Ethereal itself. You can type 'sudo port deps ethereal' (without quotes) before you start to see what other programs have to be installed. Several of those programs have dependencies as well.

After you've had breakfast/lunch/dinner - depending on your internet connection speed and how fast your Mac is, ethereal will be installed. Yeehaw!

Now as long as you have put in the PATH I have indicated, you can type 'ethereal' (without quotes) at the command line, and you will see.....

"Gtk-WARNING **: cannot open display:"

Now this really pisses me off to no end!


WTF? Now what? Time to do some Googling. Jack googles for a while and finds not much information, because Jack is getting to be too impatient to dig 10 pages deep in google's results.

So a few days go by, I try uninstalling and reinstalling ethereal. Still no luck.

I'm surfing around, and find MacOSXHints, a WONDERFUL website for OS X newbies like me!

There's several articles about Ethereal, and all Mention X11. Well, isn't that what OS X already uses???

Of course, Jack finds out the answer is NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!

So, over to Apple's X11 page and download and install X11, which allows for Unix-like (read Darwin) programs to be run. Yay!

After it downloads and I install it, there's a new Icon in my Applications/Utilities Folder. "X11"!!! I add it to the Dock, and click on it, to find that yes, I have a new XTERM window!

Here we go, I carefully check my path (cat $PATH), yup, /opt/local/bin is there. Now type 'ethereal' (without the quotes, of course) and Woo-Hoo! Ethereal is running.

BTW - If you have a Powerbook G4 or other Airport equipped Mac, en0 is the onboard wired ethernet adapter, and en1 is the Airport wireless.

Happy sniffing!

UPDATE: If you want to locate some wireless networks, you can download MacStumbler, but be forewarned, it cannot put the AirPort card into "Monitor" mode on the Mac, so you can't find networks that aren't broadcasting SSID's. This means no AirSnort for OS X either.

UPDATE2: Note that when you start X11's XTerm, to get all the features of Ethereal, you'll have to start it by typing 'sudo ethereal' (without the quotes) and enter your user password. If you want to run it as root by su'ing, you'll have to type 'xhost +' (without the quotes) to allow any user to use X-Windows, then you su, then you can run ethereal if you have the proper pathing.

UPDATE3: Keep your Darwin Ports up to date with the latest available programs. First you must login to CVS as listed above (Just do the first command, not the second.), and issue the following commands:

% cd ~/darwinports/dports

% sudo cvs -q -z3 update -dP

Time To Switch Browsers

In my OS X review a couple of posts below, I go over Apple's reasons to 'switch' from PCs to Macs. Now I give you an argument for another type of change.

Yet another Internet Explorer Vulnerability has been exploited, meaning more spam and other malware to come.

For a while now, I've been using Firefox, a Mozilla-based web browser. It's an alternative to Internet Explorer. While it's not 'pain-free' - it has a few bugs and some other quirks. (But then again, IE doesn't?), it's quite nice. Tabbed browsing is the way to go, and not having to worry about spyware being installed on your computer without you knowing is a big plus.

Especially this new spyware with its keylogger. Yes, all of your keystrokes get sent to someone out there in cyberspace.

Comforting, ain't it?

(I'd also suggest switching e-mail clients from Outlook Express to Thunderbird, also built by the Mozilla team)

UPDATE: There are more comments than listed below. I answered one, and its only showing one comment. Maybe it will fix itself later.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Buying a new Notebook Computer?

In my last post, I spoke about the Netlux-755 notebook (laptop) computer I own. It's original maker is a company called Uniwill. I also own a Netlux 7351 notebook as well, which one of my employees owns. That notebook is made by a company called Mitac, another Original Design Manufacturer (ODM). ODMs produce almost all of the notebooks in the industry, whether for Sony, Dell, or any of the other Tier I Vendors. You can read more about it at this notebook seller's website.

Looks like I found a new place to buy my next one. I think it will be the Sager NP5690 or whatever is the newest version of it. Quite a bit cheaper than an equivalent system from Alienware. I like the 15" normal screens over the 17" 'wide screen' versions, because I like the taller resolution.

You'll save a lot of money buying these 'generic' versions of the notebooks, unless of course you need the hand-holding type support you'd get from the larger companies.

Saturday, June 19, 2004

Jack's OS X Review

One of Jack's clients has way too much money. Which is good for Jack, so no complaints here. I was at the client's site a month ago or so and was setting up a new firewall for a web-based application. I needed a system with a web-browser to configure the hardware-based device, and hadn't brought along my Netlux NX-755 Notebook, which is the main system I use at Client sites and in the office.

I highly recommend Netlux notebook computers for those of you who are technically inclined. You get all of the features you're going to find in a mobile workstation from Dell or Toshiba, and save about $400-$500 in the process. The downside? You don't get the hand-holding Technical Support you might get from the Tier I vendors, and all the software (other than the OS) that a lot of those vendors include. I usually order it with no OS, and load Windows XP Professional (I have a Microsoft Action Pack Subscription) and some Linux distro in a dual-boot mode (currently Fedora Core 2 - Review to come later).

OK - This isn't a Netlux review, back to the matter at hand.

So I ask one of the Client IT Drones (actually, they aren't drones, they are all nice people) for a PC to use. He hands me his Apple PowerBook G4 - 17 which is sitting off to the side on what looks like a junk table, recharging. I had seen him using it many times in the past, in fact he also had a G5 desktop with a 23-inch HDTV Cinematic Display at one time, which has now found its way to the Advertising Department. (Though he kept the display, gee - wonder why.) He was typing away on a new Toshiba 17 Satellite Multimedia Extreme notebook (also with a 17" display, like the Powerbook), which a business partner of mine also owns. Very nice system as well.

I fired up the PowerBook, which booted to a normal OS X desktop. It has a 'Dock' at the bottom of the screen - you roll your pointer over each of the icons on the Dock, which has an smooth animated look and feel, and click on the program you want. I was expecting to see Safari, the often touted web-browser for OS X. Instead, the first icon on the Doc after the 'Finder' was Internet Explorer. IE on the Mac? I clicked on the icon using the single-button touchpad. I'm not thrilled with touchpads, but they are better than the 'eraser' controls on laptops, and to this point I still can't get used to using just one mouse button.

Internet Explorer 5.2 soon shows up in the display, looking somewhat similar as IE on the PC, but having the Mac interface theme (Aqua - everything looks 'liquid', sort of like smooth clear gel-packs). This really intrigues me, as OS X is based on Darwin, a Open Source OS based on one of the BSD versions. BSD is basically Unix for personal computers - so that means the IE is running atop "Unix", which means it wouldn't be hard to port it to Linux. Hmmm. Have to look at this later.

So I put in the IP address of the firewall into IE 5.2 and start configuring. This is where I run into my first problem. You see, I like Linux and its plethora of browsers as well, whether it is Mozilla (and Firefox), Galeon, or any of the other choices you have. Choice is nice. Problem is that 90%+ of the online community uses IE on Windows, and thus many web sites and web interfaces are coded specifically to work with IE on Windows. I'm having a hard time having some of the settings 'stick' after I configure and apply them. So I switch over to Safari and try it. Safari is pretty cool, and has all of the polish, bells, and whistles you find in OS X. However, it gags on other pages. So by switching between Safari and IE, I get the firewall configured. I don't think this is the 'Switch' that Apple had in mind though.

So I finish using it, and the Drone asks me what I thought of the PowerBook (he's a big Apple aficionado now). I say it's neat, very polished and looks good, but I don't know much about OS X. So he says "Take it with you." Now you have to understand, you pay for all that good quality and design that goes into a Mac. This G4 is loaded up with Memory, Hard Drive Space, and the latest version of OS X, Panther. It's a $3500 system. I look at him incredulously, and say "Are you sure?".

"Yup" he says, "I've been sending my boss files from it, and they aren't quite formatted right, so I got this", pointing at the new Toshiba notebook, "you can take that for a few weeks and try it out, I'll call you when I need it back."

"Great" I say, "I've always wanted to learn OS X." I call it 'Oh-Ess-Ten', which I am told is the proper pronunciation. However, I have always pronounced it 'Os-Ess-Ex', as in X-Windows, the GUI for Unix/Linux/BSD on which OS X is based. Hence it should be pronounced with the "X" instead of "Ten". Yes, I know X is the roman numeral for 10, but that isn't the point.

I've had it for longer than a 'few weeks'. I suspect I will have it for quite a while, since I've talked to my Drone friend and he didn't even mention it. Using it right now to type up this review, using Firefox 0.9 - which is best browser I have found for OS X compatibility wise. IE and Safari don't render all the Blogger toolbars (and many other sites) correctly, which is strange, especially in IE's case.

So lets get back to the system itself. Hardware wise, it looks really neat. Laid out nicely. Keyboard characters 'light-up' in dark conditions, the display is awesome, it's thin, but a little on the heavy-side. But heavy to me means well-built. It has a Wireless 802.11g AirPort system built in, so it went right onto my WEP protected Wireless LAN with no problems. The sound from the speakers are the best I've heard on any notebook, comparable to the Toshiba Multimedia Karmon speakers on the notebook I linked to earlier. I don't care for the single-button touch pad, it doesn't quite feel right, not quite responsive enough (especially to clicks) no matter how high I turn the settings up. Maybe my Drone friend has abused it a little, and it's not typical of these systems, but another of my clients has one, and I seem to remember having the same experience. No matter, I plug in a standard Logitech USB two-button optical scroll mouse, and it works just fine.

Getting into the Interface, the 'Dock' is cool. However, having all the menus for each program at the top of the screen instead of the top of each Windows takes a little getting used to, and there's probably a setting somewhere or a way to do it, but I can't get multiple copies of some programs to open. For example, there is Remote Desktop for the Mac, you can use it to remote control your Windows XP, 2000 Server, and 2003 Server systems. However, I can only open one session at a time. I have to be doing something wrong. There has to be an 'Apple' key-combination (the 'Apple' key is like the 'Windows' key on the PC, it does different functions) that allows for mutilple copies to be open. So I'll chalk that up to my novice-ness. That is one thing that is taking longer to get used to, the 'Apple' key. It does many of the things that eliminate mouseclicks on the PC that the 'Control' key does, only the Macs have a Control key as well. So I keep hitting Control-C to Copy, and Control-V to paste instead of Applekey-C and Applekey-V respectively. Also, to do page-up/page-down/home/end, you have to use the 'fn' key with the arrow keys, and it doesn't always work right in some programs. Again, there might be some better combinations, but this is a Mac, it should be all intuitive, right? (OK, you Mac FANactics, sit down - I'm just poking you in your cage a little big).

All in all, a pretty good experience. Lets look at Mac's Switch List and see how I see it:

1. The Mac - It Just Works

OK - True. Since Apple knows all the hardware thats in the systems, there aren't any weird driver issues, or any of the other quirks that sometimes plague PCs. You start a program, and it just works. With hardware you plug in, its pretty much the same thing. Though some people have had problems with dual PC/Mac Hardware (see my Update in this post).

However, it suffers from the same problem that plagues all non IE on Windows systems - web page compatibility. Some just never render or function right. Yes, I know that is much of the time (but not all) the fault of the site designers, who specifically write for IE on Windows, but its something I have experienced.

2. It doesn't crash


I have crashed it three times in the last month. I have only crashed my main PC notebook computer once in the same time period, with using the PC more than the Mac, and that was while playing a very graphically and sound intensive game. The crashes in OS X occurred once in IE, once in iTunes, and once when I was switching to another application. Two of the times I had to follow the 'you must restart you computer' instructions the PowerBook presented to me to recover. The other I was able to recover by logging out and in again. However, my experience is not the norm for the average user. My PCs are all tuned up OS wise, and everything is kept in ship-shape. No spyware or other poorly written garbage programs allowed. I alse keep my systray clean of the million apps that want to run. I'd say however that the ease of installing applications on the Mac will help prevent crashes for the 'normal' user, but its not foolproof. I would however say it is stable.

UPDATE: Right after I finished this post, I wandered over to the 'Around the World in 80 Days" movie official website. I was watching the 'Extra Large' Quicktime trailer, and boom, got the Gray Screen of Death (You have to restart your computer) from OS X. iTunes was minimized, but not playing anything. I'm starting to see a pattern of iTunes/Web-browser in the crashes I am experiencing. All of the software (including iTunes) is up to date.

3. Simple the best in digital music

Subjective, but not too harsh of a claim. iTunes is nice, but WinAmp 5.0 has a lot of the same features and works just as well for me. In fact it does a few things better, and vice-versa. The sound quality on the Mac is excellent for a notebook. I have to add my Sound Blaster Audigy NX to get better sound and features from my notebook, but that isn't comparing Apples to Apples.

4. The missing link in digital photography

Going to skip this one, since I haven't done a thing with it. But a lot of the features it talks about I can get with several software packages for the PC, though again, they aren't 'built-in'. But again, you pay for the extras in the Mac, including the software.

5. Your own digital entertainment center

True. You'd have to add a lot to the PC to get many of the things that are built into the Mac, but again you are paying for all that stuff up front. However, nothing to install, and the SuperDrive sure is very nice. Especially the loading/unloading. No tray comes out that can get bent/broken. You just slip the disc in the front slot.

6. Goes everywhere you go.

I'm going to fisk this one:

"Light. Thin."
No. Yes. The 17" model is not light. Maybe the smaller ones are, but this sure isn't. Very thin, yes.

"Displays so bright and clear, you’d think you’re working on a desktop system."
Same can be said for my Netlux NX-755, albeit with a 15" screen. No advantage there. The 17" display on the Toshiba is just as good.

And they come standard with what some other laptops consider “extras”: capacious hard drives, built-in optical drives, USB, FireWire, Ethernet, modem, video out, audio in, WiFi.

Sorry, those are now standard in most notebook PCs that are the same price or less than the PowerBook. My $1400 Netlux has all that but the wireless, which I preferred to purchase separately as my needs are higher than most for wireless.

Can your PC laptop go coast to coast with just one battery? Can you put the system to sleep just by closing the lid? Does it wake up instantly? Can your PC laptop automatically switch between Ethernet, dial-up and wireless connections on the fly? Without a restart?

No, but neither can this PowerBook, the 17" model seems to suck the power. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Windows XP Professioal handles all those fucntionalities quite well. Even Fedora Core 2 does a lot of those.

Again, you pay a little more for all this. However, I will say that Apple does it all nicely together.

7. It's built for the Internet

Yes and No. Again, the browser compatibility issue. Whether fair or not, it will affect peoples decisions on using OS X and the Mac. Quicktime is good, but so are other formats for general use. You can chat, get e-mail, and get online just as quickly on a PC as on a Mac. Though because Windows is more targeted, its safer for the moment on a Mac. The more user-friendly Linux distros also do many of these things.

8. Office is Office, and then some

Some say Office on the Mac is better than Office on the PC. Haven't used it on the Mac enough, but it seems to have just as many features, no more or less, than Office 2003, which I use on the PC. However, my drone friend had to 'switch' back because some formatting wasn't quite 100% compatible. For the general user however, it would work just fine.

9. Works effortlessly with the PC.

Yes and No. Not effortlessly. You still have to download and configure some stuff on the Mac to use it with some PC networks. I have trouble with it and Windows 2003 Server. Otherwise, it is easy to find networks though the Mac interface. Again, I am new at the Mac and OS X, but I think I'm a little more technically inclined than the average user. It's just not as cut and dried as they say.

10. Its beautiful

Yes it is. I'll go along with that 100%.

All in all, it's a great system. I'm really hoping that my client forgets to ask for it back. I might have to come up with some excuse to delay its return. I would recommend it for a general home user over a PC if: They have the budget for it; They aren't going to need some specialized software that is only avaiable for Windows; They don't want to play the latest and greatest games right when they are released (or some ever); They want a system that is easy to use for Audio/Video/Digital Photography right out of the box; They are concerned about Spyware/Viruses.

I think it has the potential, just like desktop Linux, to gain marketshare if people can be convinced to use it. In fact, if there is any Desktop Unix-like OS that can compete with Windows, OS X can. It's already a polished system, unlike Linux (though Linux is getting there, slowly).

Thursday, June 17, 2004

At 1.45 Million, It's a Steal!

But can you be sure it isn't still a target of some old Soviet Missiles?

It'd be cool to own though.

What's Jack talking about? Well, a Titan Missile Silo Complex, of course. All yours from eBay!

Good Thing All The Denny's are Closed Around Here

Jack is sure glad that all of the Denny's around here are closed. I couldn't eat there again after reading this story.

Since it's a Yahoo News Article, it will disappear, so here's an excerpt:

A former night-shift cook at a Denny's Restaurant in Illinois is in hot water after allegedly getting creative in the kitchen.

Anthony Lindhorst, of Waterloo, is charged with five counts of aggravated battery for allegedly lacing brownies with marijuana and mixing his semen into the restaurant's sauce.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Internet Driver's License?

Just found out that someone is allowing people to "apply" for Internet Driver's Licenses. The 'sponsors' claim that they will send you a diploma "suitable for framing" and it can be used as "references in job applications".

What a hoot. I can't believe it. Will people actually fall for it?

First you have to fill out a "preliminary questionnaire", which you send in to receive the full exam, of which you have 72 hours to complete. Once you complete the exam 'correctly', you are issued your Internet Driver's License.

Here is the complete questionnaire, go check it out.

What a marketer's dream. Everything about the submitters computer systems and an e-mail address to go with it so your mailbox can be stuffed even more with spam than it already is.

That and you get a USELESS piece of paper issued by such professional sounding organizations like "Radsoft" (ok, that isn't so bad sounding), "Bloatbusters", and "HackBusters". Oh yeah, I'd accept those references from people applying to my business. NOT.

If someone has told you about it, do them a favor and tell them to forget about it. Unless that is their penis is too small, they need viagara or cheap prescription drugs, or want to know about the latest hottest MILF they can contact on some dating board, in that case, go for it.

Dual Booting Fedora and Windows?

There's a bunch of reviews out there for Redhat's Lastest 'free' distro, Fedora Core 2. I'll be posting a review of it myself, as well as updated instructions for installing Java and MP3 support. However, if you install it and you can no longer boot windows, you can find the instructions to fix the Fedora Core 2 Hard Disk Geometry Bug.

Interesting Case Mods

While frequenting one of Jack's Hangout's (Choas Theory on the roll on the left), we were talking about case mods.

What's a Case Mod?

Well, its where someone with way too much time on their hands takes a normal computer case and modifies it to something totally different that's either incredible or really just ugly and stupid. I've found one that is also quite an engineering feat, not that I'd get water anywhere near my systems.

Anyone have an other good case mod links?

Saturday, June 05, 2004

God Bless Ronald Reagan

Ronald Reagan has passed away today at the age of 93. As President Bush said, there is a Shining City waiting for him.

What's really sad is I find myself thinking that there are many liberals who will voice their sadness in public, but in private or their thoughts will be glad he's gone, unless that is they think this is bad timing for the Democrats/Kerry because it will create a wave of sympathy for the Republicans, they same way Tony Coelho complained about in 1994 when he announced he had Alzheimer's and the GOP won the House and Senate.

From The Flummery Digest:

"Democratic strategist Tony Coelho explains the 1994 election results in the New Republic, January 2, 1995:

I haven't seen this written anywhere.... I think the Reagan announcement on Friday (that he has Alzheimer's) is basically what did it. We were scoring on Reaganomics. But we were being very careful not to attack Reagan the man. Our polling showed the numbers were moving with us. But when he announced he had Alzheimer's... it was all over the evening news. And the country reacted. All of a sudden, sympathy set in for the guy. I think it really stopped us. I don't know what else could have happened."

I hope I'm wrong.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Protect Your Data

As I have mentioned before, my business has kept me from keeping this blog up to date. However, recent events have given me reason to take time out to issue some advice for those of you who 'live' by the data on your computer. There's a nefarious beast out there that eats important data for lunch.

Hard Drive failure.

I'm sure just about everyone who reads this probably has experienced a hard drive failure at some point in their total computing experience. In fact, all of the major manufacturers of hard drives, Western Digital, Maxtor, Seagate, Hitachi (OEM for IBM), and others have dropped their standard consumer-level hard drive warranties from 3 years to 1 year. In the low-cost computer market, it is extremely rare to find any of the higher level IDE or SCSI drives in systems as after all, margin is king. Not that we as consumers haven't pushed this along. I myself have several 120+ GB drives that only have the 1 year warranty due to their low cost (especially after rebates).

Why the drop in warranty? Is it that the OEMs are producing shoddy equipment? Well, yes and no. Most new IDE hard disks today run at 7200 rpm (and yes, there are more accurate terms for IDE drives, such as ATAPI, ATA, etc. But the average person somewhat knows two types, IDE and SCSI, so I'm going to stick with that terminology, however incorrect). These drives generate a lot of heat and are often placed into cases that only have the minimum internal airflow capabilities. Add a few months in the standard home and a significant amount of dust (which you will find that computers eat up quicker than any ion-based air cleaner, especially the ones with larger fans), and you have a recipe for disaster. After all, there are only a few moving parts left in a computer system: The fans, the DVD/CD-ROM drive, and the Hard Drive. Of all of these the hard drive is the only 'sealed' device. However, that makes it more susceptible to heat damage. Once the dust gets in there and starts slowing down the case and CPU fans, the heat inside the case builds up, and in the summer months a hotter house causes problems. Computers find themselves being placed under desks and near the registers and duct outlets, allowing more dust in, and often being right next to the source of hot air from the furnace in the winter.

You seeing the pattern here?

Electromagnetic fields generated by computers attract dust and Heat + Dust = Hard Drive Failure.

You think the airflow is bad in your desktop system, imagine how bad it is for those faster bigger capacity 2.5" laptop drives that are used in all sorts of not-so-electronics-friendly environments. These little guys are spinning at 4500, 5400, and now even 7200 rpm inside of a very cramped space. Have the data on your laptop backed up? I hope so.

People think there's nothing on their home computer that's worth anything, or figure it wouldn't take much time to recreate everything.

I don't know. My time is money, and a well setup system is like a security blanket or good old comfortable pair of shoes. It would take me quite a while to redo everything from scratch. Whether that be my favorites list, documents and pictures that I have collected from various places would take many hours to recreate. In fact, I am composing this post on a Apple MacIntosh PowerBook G4 17" model that a client 'loaned' me so that I could experience and learn OS X. (I call it OS 'X' as in the letter 'X', not OS 10 as I am told it is "properly" pronounced, but that's another topic) Its taking a bit getting used to, but its definitely not as comfy as my main system of which I know where all my software is located, and all my resources can be found.

So, what to do?

Mirror it and back it up. In that order.

Remember how I said how inexpensive hard drives were? Cheap enough that you could afford a second identical drive to the one currently in the system quite easily. Couple that with a RAID Controller that supports RAID-1 (Mirroring), and you have instant protection from a single hard disk failure. You are NOT protected from accidental deletion, or some bad software corrupting data, as the data will be corrupted or deleted on both drives almost instantaneously. I have not had great experience with some of the on-board RAID controllers that some motherboards are equipped with, so YMMV. I have successfully used the Promise and Highpoint PCI cards in my and my clients' systems.

After you get your system RAIDed, purchase an External USB or Firewire Hard Drive (tapes are too unreliable, too expensive, and too much of a pain IMNSHO). These have come down in price, and Maxtor even makes one they call the OneTouch External Hard Drive. It comes with backup software, and with a push of a button you can backup your critical data. However, to be honest, if you have Windows 2000 or XP, (or are a tech-saavy Linux user), the built in auto-backup tools can be easily configured to copy your critical data to the external drives once a day (or more). If you have a laptop computer, where RAID is not an option, an external drive at 'home base' is a necessity.

You can buy all of the items for RAID and External Backup if you are a smart shopper for $400 or less. Not a large investment if you look at just how much your data is worth. The data if worth far more than the hardware it is on.

Treat it that way.

Update: Looks like Lileks has had some problems with the Maxtor One Touch on his Mac. While I am still learning OS X as compared to Windows or Linux, I can offer the following suggestions as to why he had problems with it:

1. The One Touch is formatted by default with the FAT32 filesystem, which has limited file size and filename length support. First thing you need to do on a Windows system is convert it to NTFS. (From the Command Prompt: convert X: /FS:NTFS where X is the drive letter of the external drive) With OS X, I would assume UFS or HFS, if there is a converstion tool. Once you do that, you won't have the filename/size limitations.

2. USB 2.0 works correctly most of the time. However, on some systems if you plug in a USB 1.1 device to your USB 2.0 Hub or port, it slows everything down on that USB channel to 1.1 speeds, which is much slower (11Mb/s) than USB 2.0 (480Mb/s).

3. Windows (NT, 2000, XP), Linux, and I believe OS X have automated backup tools built in to the OS. These tools allow for unattended monthly/daily/hourly/by-the-minute backups of your system. You really don't even need to 'touch a button'. Just setup the backup schedule and forgedaboudit. You don't even need the "One Touch" software.

I'd have left Lileks a note, but he doesn't have comments. Thanks to James over at Hell In A Handbasket for the link to the original article. He was talking about 'The Box', and I need to make one of those, but it was in the same article on Lileks' site.