Wednesday, November 28, 2007

"Nuke it for Morbid"

In working on my Data Destruction presentation, I wanted to use that quote from Aliens. On looking it up, I learned the real dialog is;
"...take off and nuke the site from orbit. It's the only way to be sure."

I liked it better as "Nuke it for Morbid". Much more poetic.

Security Presentations

In an inevitable twist of academic logic, I'm taking Introduction to Network Security and Advanced Network Security in the same semester. Evidently, the school will not be able to offer Advanced Network Security till next year, so they allowed some of us to take both classes. Luckily, Advanced Network Security was only slighty more advanced than the Introductory class. Both classes have presented new material for me, and tickled my interest. I can watch movies like Hackers or Live Free or Die Hard, and know what they're talking about, or being slightly inaccurate about. I now know just how much a problem home users of Windows XP have to deal with, and also how much they unknowingly contribute to the problems.

Next week, I have to do a presentation in both classes. It can't be the same presentation either. I'm keeping my presentations simple, and on things I'm interested in.

In the Introductory class, I'm doing my presentation on Data Destruction. Specifically, I'm presenting Darik's Boot and Nuke -Dban. Organizations like Free Geek have to present their Data Destruction Policy up front, so people can feel safe about turning over their hard drives to us. I've created a Virtual Machine to show the actual program, a slide presentation to present specific information, and I'll probably show this video at the end:

If I don't need to show the video, at least you got to see how Dban works. Dban is also helpful if you want to reinstall an operating system. Simply reformatting your hard drive isn't always good enough. If you had an infection from a virus, or got spyware, or hacked through a vulnerability, your system can no longer be trusted. Dban it, reinstall and rebuild the system. As they said in Aliens, "Nuke it for morbid."

In my Advanced class, I'm presenting Truecrypt - an open source data encryption program. Steve Gibson discussed details about Truecrypt in Episode 41 of Security Now Podcast. I highly recommend Security Now for anyone interested in Network Security. I don't understand about half of what they say at the time, but as I learn more I think to myself, "Oh yeah. I heard that on Security Now." I'm learning how to use Truecrypt, but with my complete openness philosophy, I don't really have a need for it. There is a Truecrypt for Linux, but I'll learn that over the holidays. Maybe you have some files you'd like to keep from prying eyes. My presentation will look something like this:

Through these Security Classes, I've learned the most from listening to podcasts. Here are the main ones I listen to:
  • Network Security Podcast
    • Mostly current events and news. My favorite segment is "C-Level"- used to be called, "Dealing with the Suits" - how to deal with management.
  • Security Now
    • Very detailed explanations of specific security topics. I think the first 50 or so should be mandatory listening for the Intro class.
  • Pauldotcom
    • News and current events with commentary and analysis. Authors of Wireless hacking books. These guys are pretty funny too.
  • Security Round Table
    • Martin McKay from Network Security Podcast host a discussion with people in the business. This is a really good podcast if your interested in working in the Network Security field.
I can't say any one of them is better than the other. I've learned something from each show and each episode I listened to.

Throughout these classes, I've had an occasional thought: I wonder what an Operating System designed by Smith and Wesson would look like.

Friday, November 23, 2007


After all this time working on computers, I have yet to replace a CPU cooling system. I've taken a few CPU's out, and have a few extra laying around, but I'd never replaced a CPU cooling system. Until this week.

We got in a nice 1.8 GHz Intel P4 machine. Each time I tried to wipe the hard drive, it froze. I replaced the memory, still the freeze happened. When I examined the machine again, I notice the CPU heat sink was loose. Not good. The heat couldn't conduct from the CPU to the sink. That was causing the freeze. I got out my thermal paste, and went for my first try at fixing it. I used the instructions from this video:

All went well till I tried to put the fan on the sink. The fan was what locked the sink to the motherboard. The fan and the sink just wouldn't stay seated. I looked again, and found the fan connector attached to the motherboard was broken. Luckily, I had a few of the same model in the Free Geek CPU/Heat sink and fan collection. I replaced the connector, and tried again. This time, it worked perfectly. Booted the computer up, and it was ready to go. Dbaned the hard drive, installed Ubuntu as OEM, and it's ready for it's new home.

Machines that we get in over 1 GHz go to volunteers. Volunteers basically get the best of the equipment. They can use use best of what comes in to upgrade their hardware. Machines under 1 GHz are absolutely free for FreekBox recipients. An 800 MHz machine with 256 mb ram and Xubuntu installed runs just fine. With 512 mb ram installed, it feels like a new machine. As long as the user has no mission-critical Windows applications they need to use, the machine is as good as anything on the shelf today. It might be a bit slower if you try to do any deep level photo work or video editing, but other than that, it's more than fast enough.

As a bonus for my efforts this week: I finally figured out how to network our printers. It was much easier than I though it would be. No more USB thumbdrive to print things.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Another Wireless Booster

I found another site about creating a wireless antenna booster. I'm not sure if it's actually any better than the Windsurfer. It may be, but it looks harder to make. I can knock out a good Windsurfer in 5 minutes, and really boosts the signal strength. This one take a bit longer. Here's the link to the template:

And here's the video of how to actually make the TechAnvil WiFi Booster:

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

My Fully-Installed gOS Review

So I loaded gOS on a test machine:
  • 1.0 GHz AMD
  • 768 ram
  • 20 GB HD
  • 32 mb graphics card
The machine had trouble at first booting. I kept getting "Grub Error 15". I may have finally learned how to fix that issue. I checked the jumpers on the hard drive and sure enough they were set to "slave". After putting the jumper in the right place, it booted right up.

gOS is no faster than Ubuntu, but it's prettier. I found gOS to be about the same speed as Ubuntu, but a bit slower than Xubuntu on the same equipment. If speed is an issue, I'd recommend Xubuntu.

It uses Enlightenment e17 window manager. I'm not sure if I really like Enlightenment just yet. I'd have to use it a bit more. After looking over the Enlightenment home page, and the Download page, I see that Enlightenment has a connection to the Darwin project. Now I see why gOS seems close to Mac OSX.

gOS uses Ubuntu as it's underbelly, so everything was familiar for me. The little leaf in the lower left corner is the applications button - not unlike the Windows Start button on XP, or the Window button on Vista. But, the icons at the bottom of the desktop respond like Mac OSX dock icons. they can be resized to be smaller -which I did. Looked much better. Most of the Ubuntu programs are there, maybe in a few different application menu places. The settings and system menu took some getting use to. The close, minimize, and maximize buttons are in the same place as OSX in the window manager, and program windows., GIMP, and the regularly installed Ubuntu apps are there along with the links to the Web 2.0 apps on the 'dock'.

If I were setting up a box for someone between 16-22, I'd probably use gOS. It's OSX like interface (thanks Darwin) will be familiar for some of them. The Web 2.0 links on the 'dock' are an extra bonus -Google, Blogger, FaceBook, YouTube, Wikipedia, Gmail, Skype, and others are just what most people in that age group uses. The people at gOS looked at 'what do people use' as the factor for what goes in the system. I'd add a link to Flickr myself.

If you're a kid putting together used computers, or putting a used computer together for a kid, gOS is probably the way to go. Personally, I'd wait till gOS 2.0 -If that's how they're going with their numbering scheme.

I really like the green them, though. Good touch.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Wrong Direction?

Wal Mart is now selling an Everex gPC. This computer is made with a mini ITX motherboard, much like what's found in a Mac Mini, but Everex put it in a bigger box. Seems people like big better. And, they use a specific version of Ubuntu called gOS.

I decided to download the gOS LiveCD and give it a try. After rebooting my computer, the "Start or Install gOS" options menu appeared. Same as ED/K/X/Ubuntu, including an OEM installation. I use the OEM installations for Free Geek Central Florida.

If you look close, the desktop seems to be Google-centric, and a bit OSX-like in the interface. The green leaf at the lower left is like a 'start' button on Windows, but the rest of the icons across the bottom work like the OSX doc. Checking out the menus, it seems gOS kept most of the programs that came with Ubuntu, so things like Pidgin and are there.

gOS is a pretty desktop. Simple to use, and has most of the stuff teens and college age kids use. It would be a excellent OS for a one of them.

Even though I was using the LiveCD version, and not installed to the hard drive, gOS seemed slower than Ubuntu on the LiveCD. I'll eventually install it to a hard drive to see what it's like, and I'll report back.

Overall, I like the look and feel of gOS and may even use it in some Free Geek Central Florida installations.

gOS has come to the forefront as it's the installed system on an Everex gPC sold at Wal Mart for under $200. From what I understand, the Everex gPC is only sold on the Wal Mart online store, and not in the Supercenters quite yet. ZaReason sells the Everex gPC too. Looking over the specifications of the gPC, it's not bad for the price.

The major advantage of the gPC is energy use. Supposed the machine averages just 2 watts of power consumption. I'm not sure what they mean by averages. It's possible that if I kept my computer off when I'm not using it, I might average 2 watts.

I'm glad to see another Linux distribution -especially a pretty one- and especially glad it's based on Ubuntu/Debian since I'm use to those. I'm glad they included the OEM installation in the options.

What I'm concerned about is what seems like a step backwards as far as hardware goes. I'm probably wrong on this, if their claims of energy consumption are correct. The VIA processor the gPC uses is a 1.5 GHz C7-D. The processor seems to really focus on performance per watt, and have a max of 20 watts of usage. With Linux, you don't need the latest superfast hardware to get your computer working well. And 512 MB ram is enough for most machines, and most people, so a computer like this is excellent.

What I'm concerned about is why I'm working on Free Geek here:
  • There are thousands of perfectly good computers pushed aside for upgrades.
  • Those computers are often just sitting in a closet, or worse, in a landfill.
  • There are computers that get discarded simply because one part stops working. It's sometimes cheaper to get a new computer, so people don't get repairs done.
  • In Florida alone, there is about 3-5 workable computers available for every man, woman and child living here.
Maybe having a computer like this, along with a restoration program like Free Geek is ideal, but I don't see it just yet. It seems we should focus on getting usable hardware into people's hands first, and use those for their lifecycle.

Everex is suppose to be coming out with a low cost, low power laptop with gOS installed pretty soon. That would be something that might be a good idea.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Flights of Nancy

Nancy's book is AVAILABLE NOW!


In the matter of 4 hours, I switched out Nancy's computer for a recent donation.

The old computer:
  • Compaq Presario 5004US
  • 1.1 GHz AMD Athlon (I think)
  • 1024 mb RAM
  • 16 mb AGP graphics card
The New Computer
  • 1.6 GHz AMD AthlonXP
  • 1034 mb RAM
  • 64 mb AGP Graphics card
I was using the Newer computer for 'access' at the other house, with the super wireless setup I did. The problem was the computer came with only 354 mb DDR memory. I finally got some more DDR memory, and could boost Nancy's computer up.

Now, the thing Linux can do that Windows simply can't is; take the hard drive out of a computer, put it in another computer, and work. With Windows, that just don't happen. At least, I've never seen it happen. When this happens to a hard drive with Windows on it, Window says, "Oh my G-d! What happened? Where am I? I don't know what to do. I'll just freak out now." If this happens to Linux, Linux says, "Oh, how interesting. I'm in a new place. Let's look around a bit. Different processor, we can use that. Different memory, no problem. Different graphics card, we'll get that to work after we've moved in." In the matter of 2 minutes, Ubuntu Linux had moved to another computer with no problem. I was even able to move the hard drive in the New computer to the Older computer with only a minor adjustment.

Yesterday, I helped a friend with his laptop. He had a Toshiba, Intel Celeron, 512 mb RAM, with Microsoft Vista installed. I asked myself, "Why would any company sell a computer with Vista with only 512 mb ram?" The thing ran like a slug. We could barely rescue his data, as Vista wouldn't burn a CD, or recognize the USB jumpdrive he had. After emailing himself the data to his gmail, we installed Ubuntu. Major difference. Much faster. Wireless works, and everything he needed installed automatically. The only problem I have to work on is an issue getting his sound to work.

I've come to the conclusion that Microsoft is paying major money to Adobe and Intuit to NOT produce any prominent Adobe program (Photoshop) or Intuit to produce Quickbooks for Linux. If that happen, Windows would have some serious problems.

If GIMP and GNUCash can get to the level of Photoshop and Quickbooks, small companies might be willing to make the switch.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Not Much

I haven't posted much lately, mostly because I haven't had much worth writing about. You already heard I dropped my HTML class. I have A's in all my other classes though. School is much less stressful now. I'm still learning HTML, though. I use the books I have, and some of the online tutorials I found.

We took the dogs to the Fleet Peeples Dog Park yesterday. They were so glad to get back there. Wore themselves completely out.

My Stepson is going to be a papa soon. Life comes at you fast. No parachute here.

The Free Geek Central Florida team is working hard to get the by-laws, articles of incorporation, and application for 501c3 status going. Lots of work. This is going to be my only volunteer organization I'll be working with for a few years. After all, I started it.

Oh, and Mac OSX 10.5 Leopard? Wait a bit. Some security issues to iron out. Cool functionality and effects, but some vulnerabilities. All systems have vulnerabities; Windows, Mac, Linux, Unix. Doesn't matter. If a hacker really wants in, they'll get in. That is, if there's something worth getting in for. And no, your personal bank account number isn't really worth it. Your banks bank account number? That's worth getting. Your bank's database? Yep. The database where you work? Probably.

Funny thing is; your biggest security problem is not your computer.

It's your garbage.