Wednesday, August 30, 2006

New CDs On The Horizon

Just in case anyone cares, Weird Al has a new CD coming out soon called Straight Outta Lynwood. He's got two of the new songs on his Myspace page (which you can get to via my Myspace because, yes, I have Weird Al on my Friend's List).

Also, Meatloaf is coming out with Bat Out Of Hell III: The Monster is Loose. You kick ass Meatloaf.

Ubuntu as a Workstation

One thing that has never lasted more than a few weeks for me is using Linux as a main desktop. I've given up hope that I'll be able to run it at home full time until WineX/Cedega is up to snuff to run Sims 2, though my hopes are that it is not far off.

What I have been able to do, in the course of testing evil mechinations out at work, is try to use Linux 100%. At this point I'm counting myself at 99% as there is one set of applications that won't work under Linux as far as I know. Otherwise, everything has been going fairly smoothly.

I install Ubunutu 6.06 (my favorite distro) on my machine after moving my XP machine to a VMWare Virtual Machine on our ESX server using Ultimate P2V (which is free minus having to own Ghost 8). Worse case scenario I could move my machine back to the physical one if I needed, but I really didn't want to.

As expected, the install gave me just about everything I needed, especially after running Automatix. I also got brave since my real machine was safely backed up and working on the ESX server and set up AIGLX and Compiz on the machine for all of those nifty wobbly effects and eye candy that I have wanted for oh-so-long. All in all it took about a day before I got everything all nice and ironed out.

I connected to the shares that I needed to via our file server, I was able to remote desktop into my VM'ed XP machine, I could print, and I could open up all the documents that I needed, and all with the eye-candy that I could only hope for in XP. I've been a big fan of Expose in OS X for quite a while, and with AIGLX I get that. I also find myself using ALT+SCROLLWHEEL to make windows transparent more and more often.

We use Linux for almost all of the servers at work, so I wasn't totally worried about being able to integrate with the network. All I have left to do is get set up in the backup system so that my machine is getting backed up at night.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Bookmark Roundup 1

Since getting I've been bookmarking a lot of stuff lately. Here's some of the more interesting ones:

Grand Theft Auto: National Geographic Firetruck Special
Watch as the fearless firetruck hunt it's prey...

Angry German Kid vs. Numa Numa Guy
Wonderful mashup of the Angry German Kid and various viral clips. (Orignal German kid here and original Numa Numa here)

The Easter Bunny Hates You
This is what the Easter Bunny does during the rest of the year.

Star Trek Inspirational Posters
CAPTAIN JAMES T. KIRK - I'm sorry, I can't hear you over the sound of how awesome I am.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Please Excuse Our Mess

I'm in the process of checking out a bunch of the new blogger features (I've already switched the site over to the new beta version of Blogger), but will be going through and making updates to take advantage of the new things available to me.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Netflix is better than Blockbuster

It's been a few months since we cancelled our Blockbuster Online account, mainly due to the fact that it was taking forever to get our movies. There were also times that we would send back two in a single slip, and they'd only acknowledge one made it back. To make a long story short, I don't think I'll ever use Blockbuster again.

So Friday of last week we signed up for Netflix because we got a free trial slip in the Val-Pak. I figured it wouldn't be much different than Blockbuster, but once I got over that it wasn't Blockbuster, I am actually enjoying it more.

As I first started using Netflix, I couldn't find any movies that I wanted. Blockbuster seemed to always have good movies right on the homepage every few days that I would check, and Netflix had crap that I didn't want to watch. That's when I noticed the 'Recommendations' tab along the top of the page. I never had much luck with the Blockbuster recommendations, but figured I would give it a try.

I was given a few pages worth of movies, and told to rate the movies that I had actually watched. Since my wife and I both use the account we both put in the scores, and afterwards it actually came up with some decent recommendations (in addition to me adding some of the movies I was voting on as I wanted to see them again). As I vote more movies, I get more in the recommendation bin. On Blockbuster I never felt compelled to vote on movies, but I think I will on Netflix.

As for the selection, it just seems better, especially in the non-movie department. There are a lot of TV shows and anime that I enjoy watching and only have a few DVDs for (or in a lot of the TV show cases, none at all). For example, Farscape. My friend Brian bought the DVD set for Season 2 and I watched part of it before our regular D&D game, and I found all of the seasons on Netflix. Blockbuster never seemed to have the TV shows that I wanted to watch, or had incomplete sets of Anime.

Another example was Betterman, which I found way back when when TechTV started showing anime. I've never seen all of the episodes, and I've never found all of the DVDs for purchase. Blockbuster had three of the DVDs to rent, and two I owned. Netflix had all six of them.

The interface overall is much nicer as well. When you add a movie to the queue, you get a nifty hover window of the page you are on with much more recommendations than what Blockbuster gave. I keep finding more and more movies through that screen to watch than I ever do by searching.

I am sure that Netflix will slowly start to throttle me down like Blockbuster did, but I don't think I will feel as bad about it. I went with their 2 DVDs at a time plan which was cheaper than Blockbuster's 3 at a time for $19.95. Netflix was still cheaper at only $17.95 for the same package, but I think I'll keep the extra 5 dollars I'm saving over Blockbuster since I know how quickly I go through movies.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

It's Alive (A Tutorial in Laptop Powercord Repair)

Some Background
I have a wonderful Presario 705us that I got way back when when XP first came out. In fact, it was one of the first Compaq laptops that shipped with XP preinstalled. DVD/CDRW combo drive, 16meg AGP S3 video card, Athlon4 1ghz proc, it was sweet. That was over 4 years ago, and up until about a month-and-a-half ago the only problem I had with it was the powercord (ignoring the dead/almost dead CD-Rom, floppy drive that eats floppies, dead battery, and a design flaw that creates cracks in the bezel). Years of abuse took it's toll on the poor powercord, and it finally ripped apart just above the ferrite choke. I put up with it, twisting and contorting it to the point where all of the wires inside the internal strand ripped apart themselves.

At that point, my laptop died. My wife and I are considering new laptops, but looking online made me miss my laptop. I decided to take action, figuring that it wouldn't be that hard to replace.

I am sorry but there are no pictures. My camera was out of batteries.

The Procedure

  • Radio Shack sells replacement ends for cheap. How cheap? Just a few dollars. I would suggest picking one up, but in a pinch (or if you're a horrible cheap bastard like me), there is a chance you can reuse your existing end. If you use your existing end, you will need to remove the plastic outside around the cord end. This can be very tricky, which is why I suggest just buying a new end. If you cannot, or desperately need the laptop now, a sharp knife is your new best friend.

  • Snip the wire below the rip/damaged part of the cord, and strip off about 1-1.5 inches of the outer sheilding. The wire is four layers deep - the outer shielding, a braided shield, another layer of shielding, and the wire strand in the middle. Now is the time to put the heatstrink of the outer portion of your new end onto the existing cable. If you don't do it now, you're going to repeat this process.

  • Twist the braided shield together into one strand. Strip off part of the inner shielding to expose the inner wire strand.

  • The new tip for the power cord will have a center tab and an outer tab. Solder the inner wire strand to the center tab on the new tip. I'm paranoid about shorts, so I wrap the newly soldered wire in electrical tape, just to be safe. Then solder the braided shielding to the outer tab.

  • Move the outer portion of the new end up and secure it (it will probably just snap into place), or heat the heatshrink around the new end, and you should be all done.

Not terribly hard, especially if the price of a new powercord is large for your laptop. I could get a new one on eBay for about $10-20, but again, I'm a horrible cheap bastard.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Awesome Car Commercial

These cars may be small and ugly, but they sure do handle well. Why can't car commercials these days look as cool?

Friday, August 04, 2006


On Wednesday I attended my first SANS webcast, which showcased OSSEC, a HID (Host-based Intrustion Detection) system. Essentially it helps look at server and machine logs to see if anything is going wrong. It actually came at a good time, as at work we were looking into setting up a central log server and reporting system called 'syslog-ng.' I had already been working on it a few days and was having no real luck.

I was somewhat disappointed in the webcast. The main speaker was speaking from his user's experiance and wasn't formally affiliated with the software, so some of the more technical questions weren't answered. The presentatio was interesting enough to peak out interest in OSSEC and give it a try at work.

I kid you not, I was able to set up an OSSEC server and clients (CentOS, Ubuntu Server, and XP) in under one hour, and was already getting alerts. I then deployed it later that evening out in the work cubicles. So, in less than half of a day, I had a good testbed already set up and working. I also decided to set it up at home since I have three servers, one being an production web server and the other a remote login server.

What does OSSEC do?
OSSEC comes in two parts - server and client. The server sits there collecting alerts that the clients send, logs them in a central log file, and then will determine whether or not the alert is worth an e-mail (which you can set the alert level to e-mail out on).

The client sits on the machine and reads through the logs already set up on the machine. Out of the box OSSEC can read a multitude of logs including HTTP, messages, maillog, and others. It then watches for errors and alerts the server with the information about what is going on (multiple logon failures, passwd file changes, etc).

The server can also do what are called 'active responses' - actions to take when a particular thing happens. For example, if it sees a SSH brute force attack, it shuts the attack out via IP rules.

How well does it work?
By itself, very well. As I said before, it is quick to set up, and lets you know about a lot of things. The first night that I had set it up, I was alerted that one of the POP accounts had multiple failed logins as the sysadmin was trying to set it up and trying to remember the password. At home, a badly coded HTML site caused my connection at work to be blacklisted. As for the blacklisting, it is only temporary, but normally a server that blacklists an attacker causes them to move on to easier targets.

Why should I care?
If anyone ever plans to set up servers (be it file servers, or like in my case a web server), or they have a lot of machines in the home that they want to keep track of problems on but are too lazy to manually check logs, OSSEC is a great alternative, and lets you get on with admining or running your machines without having to waste time digging through logs.

OSSEC Homepage

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The Net Netrality War: "Nobody gets a free ride!"

I love it when people go off on a subject that they have no real understanding about. AT&T's Ted Whitacre spoke with utility regulators in San Francisco yesterday, and one of the issues brought up in the Q&A section was about net netrality.

AT&T, for whatever reason, thinks some of the larger content companies are getting a free ride, as if they are magically on the internet without paying anything (if this is true, I will immediately conglomerate into a company for the bandwidth, e-mail me details if anyone knows!), while AT&T is paying for all the bandwidth. Gah?

Either Whitacre and the other telcos are confused about how the internet actually works, or they have started having an issue with the peering agreements at the really-big-pipe level. On one hand I would say that they can't be that stupid and think that Google and other content providers aren't paying for their internet. I'm sure that Google, Slashdot, Digg, etc have huge upstream bandwidth bills which get paid to their respective ISPs.

Even at that point, they can't be talking about homegrown ISPs and the bandwidth AT&T and others have to give to the smaller ISPs. Ask just about any small ISP sysadmin, and I'm sure that they will tell you that they are paying an arm and a leg for a good backbone to the internet (and most of that is due to upstream).

That leaves one last set of people who may not be paying - the home and business DSL/Cable customers. Whitacre knows they are at least paying as most broadband in this country costs $40+ for crap connections (in comparison to many other countries).

Lets recap:
Google - Paying their ISP
ISPs - Paying their Backbone providers
Customers - Paying their ISP

That leaves the large peering systems in place to move all of the internet's information from one network to the next. While there is no monetary exchange that I know of in this agreement, it's a favorable agreement (I won't charge you if you don't have me) kind of thing. So, in a sense, they are getting paid by not being charged.

Where does that leave consumers like you and me? Probably with larger broadband bills. Yay!

AT&T's Whitacre: 'Nobody Gets a Free Ride' article

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Slashdot vs Digg: The Epic Struggle

Yesterday I finished listening to FLOSS Weekly Episode 10 which had Jeff Bates (better known as Hemos) as a guest. He was one of the original founders of Slashdot. Among the great banter of the show, one of the things that was brought up was Digg and it's impact on Slashdot. Long story short (at least as how I take it) - Digg may have rocked the boat a bit, but they are two different services at their core and therefore room for both.

The biggest difference between Slashdot and Digg is how the sites ultimately function. Slashdot takes the editorial stance where people submit links, a human reviews them, and then if they think there is merit to the story then it is pushed onto the website. What happens is almost all of the stories that reach the front of Slashdot are legitimate stories with a bit of meat to them.

Digg, on the other hand, is completely user driven. The users vote stories to the front page, and all kinds of stories will end up at the front for people to see. Some of the more off-the-beaten-path stories can surface, and with DiggV3, a person can aggregate their news from many different sources than just tech stories.

Both, of course, share the same problems. Duplicate stories are a waste of bandwidth (but sometimes a new, interesting comment will crop up in the dupes), and it seems that as a site gets bigger this happens more and more. Digg, for example, seems to have almost 1-2 dupes a day with the new V3, which beforehand I never noticed many dupes. Slashdot has always had dupes, and always will.

As far as comments go, Slashdot tends to have the better comments. I took the advice of Leo Laporte during the FLOSS episode above, and signed up for a Slashdot account. I set my comment threshold to +3 karma or higher, and you get rid of a lot of the crap that was in the comments (though, it's still a good idea to see what humorous things were posted). Digg doesn't seem to have reached that level of commenting where such things are needed, but the comments are not Digg's main focus.

Jeff Bates said during the interview that Digg's explosion in popularity may or may not have hurt Slashdot (it's hard to tell since summer is slower stastically anyway, and RSS feeds (which are a big way many people read slashdot) are a hard way to gauge actual user numbers), but he said that there are some things that Slashdot will evolve because of, but that is the beauty of Slashdot - the way it is designed it can adapt with time. Digg seems to have been able to hold up as well, but sometimes not as gracefully.

All in all, it boils down to what fits best with you. For me, I check Slashdot every day in the morning during my normal rounds of web-comics and tech sites, and Digg throughout the day. I have them both on my Google homepage so if anything interesting pops up, I read them both. One is sometimes quicker than the other, but both are a great source for the world that is geek and tech.