Posted by Deliverator on 19th April 2007
Today, the latest edition of Ubuntu Linux, codenamed Feisty Fawn, was released into the wild. Ubuntu is self-described as “Linux for Human Beings” and it does an admirable job of meeting than goal. Ubuntu is really the first Linux distribution I feel that a casual, everyday computer user could pick up, install and use without outside help. I have been using Ubuntu through several generations and have been beta testing the latest version. It is a great product and in my mind is a direct competitor to Vista and OS X. You can download an .iso cd image from their international network of mirror servers or get the same .iso file using bittorrent and save them some $ on their bandwidth bills. An absolutely incredible number of people are downloading this right now, so the torrent is likely to be the faster option. Once you have the .iso image downloaded, you will need to burn the .iso to a disk as a cd image (not simply burn the file on the disk). If you are unsure of how to do this, you can always request a free cd . Once you have the cd, simply pop it in the cd drive and reboot (make sure that your computer is set to boot from cds before the hard disk in your systems boot order in the BIOS, usually accessed by hitting F1, F2, delete at system boot). Ubuntu will pop up and give you various install options. Unlike other operating systems, you can “test drive” Ubuntu without ever modifying your hard drive as the Ubuntu install disk is a “Live CD.” You can continue using Ubuntu like this, saving changes to a flash drive or other media, or you can install it on your computer in a dual boot setup, letting you choose between booting Windows and Ubuntu at startup. Give Ubuntu a chance, you might even like it!
Posted in Linux, Operating Systems | No Comments »
Posted by Deliverator on 19th April 2007
I have always been irritated about some of the intellectual dishonesty of various ecological movements. In particular, I am frequently stunned by the hypocrisy of Hollywood stars who seem to love to spout out about the importance of global warming and greenhouse gases and how they just bought a hybrid car…after flying in from Morocco on their Gulfstream V for the latest award show celebrating famous people being famous for being famous. Or how about “Environmentalist” Al Gore whose house uses somewhere between ten and twenty times the US national average (US of course being world leaders in leaving a small environmental footprint)…but its ok, because he bought “carbon offset credits?”
I have always found recycling in general and of plastics in particular to be of negligible benefit and often extreme energy cost.
Posted in Rants and Raves | 2 Comments »
Posted by Deliverator on 18th April 2007
I’ve had a WAP54G sitting around doing nothing for quite some time. I checked to see if Linksys had anything to offer in more recent firmwares, but discovered that the version 3.04 firmware on the device was already the most recent available. Not pleased with the limited functionality in the official firmware, I checked to see if any of the third party firmware projects supported the WAP54G. I found some scant references to it being supported by DD-WRT on the Wiki, but managed to find better documentation elsewhere. In short order, I had DD-WRT v23 SP2 running on the WAP54G. Only the “Micro” build is capable of fitting in the WAP54G’s rather limiting 2MB of flash memory, but even the Micro build offers vastly expanded functionality over the official firmware. I quickly set up the wireless interface as a client to my home’s wireless network with direct bridging to the device’s Ethernet port. Thanks to DD-WRT enhanced functionality, I was able to use the WAP54G to replace the still more versatile Wireless Taco in servicing my Slingbox. I am watching TV over the link it provides while I write this entry.
Posted in Wireless | No Comments »
Posted by Deliverator on 17th April 2007
This tragic slaughter is going to raise a frenzy on many sides of the gun “debate”. My own personal comment is that random bad shit happening seems to be on the rise in this world and that you would be foolish to rely solely on law-enforcement to protect you from it. People need to be individually responsible for their safety, or be prepared to accept the consequences to themselves and the ones around them whom they love. I have not quite gotten to the point where I want to carry around a gun, but I have considered a taser quite seriously. I also sleep with a baseball bat, cell phone and flashlight beside my bed and know where the family shotgun and ammo is kept.
I was really struck by the absolutely inept handling of this incident by campus and local police. The first shooting occurred over two HOURS before the second. The administration attempted to downplay the initial murder of two students in a dorm room and delayed sending out any sort of campus wide warning or notice to staff until just minutes before the second shooting began. After the first incident, they KNEW that a shooter was on the loose, but FELT that he had left campus. Anyone else see a problem with this? They hadn’t captured and positively identified a shooter and just decided to go about the day’s regular activities as if nothing had happened. The school deserves to be sued into non-existence by every family that lost loved one due to the school’s inept and incautious handling of this incident.
There have been a number of school and mall shootings in recent years, but none have reached the scale of Columbine, primarily due to rapid armed response often from private citizens and off duty police. You don’t hear much about these events, because they were stopped quickly before they ever had a chance to reach this scale. The chief factor in keeping the death toll as low as possible in events like this seems to be that an armed response needs to take place quickly and it THEN needs to be followed by a massive response. First responders on the scene cannot afford to wait for massive amounts of backup before storming a building. All that strategy ever seems to do is give the perpetrator more time to put bullets into the heads of innocents. Here is a picture of 5 well armed police officers waiting outside while bullets were still being fired, who chose to wait for the SWAT team to arrive.
If even a few students/staff had been armed, the death toll would likely be ~5 instead of over thirty dead with as many injured due to gunshot wounds and being force to jump from 3rd story windows.
Oh, and to the media who likes to throw around superlatives like “Worst School Massacre in US History,” do your fact checking.
Posted in General, Rants and Raves | 1 Comment »
Posted by Deliverator on 14th April 2007
So, I bought a Slingbox AV at Compusa the other day. The Slingbox is a funky little device that fills a niche that nobody even new existed until a few years ago. It lets one watch YOUR TV (or other video outputting device) where-ever you happen to be. It streams the video to you over whatever network connection (including Internet) you happen to have handy, and is smart enough to adjust the bitrate on the fly to suit your connection. There is viewing software available for Windows, Windows Mobile, Palm OS and Mac (the latter two being long promised/advertised and only recently being delivered). The Slingbox also includes a built in IR blaster to allow you to remotely control the connected audio video equipment. There are tons of supported AV devices which currently work with the Slingbox and include nicely designed on screen controls. In principle, the IR blaster should be able to control just about any audio/video equipment, but there is no facility that I can see to “train” it to use your remote’s control code should your device not be currently supported.
Set up of my device was as painless as could be. I plopped it on top of my TV, positioned the IR blasters in front of my Tivo, hooked up S-Video and RCA audio cables (included), plugged in the Wifi Taco in bridged mode and plugged in the power cable. I then downloaded and installed the latest client software. The software found my device, updated the firmware, helped me adjust some settings for best viewing and a few short minutes later I was viewing and controlling my Tivo from my laptop. Video quality at 640*480 at 1700 kbps average bitrate was quite good. I watched Ronin, a movie with a lot of car chases (some consider it to have the best car chases ever seen in film), gun fights and lots of fast action and I was quite pleased with the video quality and lack of tearing.
I also set up my router to allow for remote viewing/control of the Tivo from the internet. The quality was quite watchable at 320*240 given my limited upstream bandwidth (3/4 mbit).
If you are a TV junky or frequent traveller, a Slingbox is a great way to get access to your media while out of the house, and a simple way to sling your media to whatever device is most convenient while within your home.
Posted in Media, Portable Computing/Gadgets, Tech Stuff, The Boob Tube, Tivo & PVR, Wireless | No Comments »
Posted by Deliverator on 14th April 2007
In case you have been living under a rock, Compusa is in the process of liquidating over half of its stores. All the stores in Western Washington have been in clearance for quite a while. I have poked my head in twice before to create a list of stuff I might like to buy if the price were right. Up until now, despite promises of deep discounts, the actual prices of most items have not even come close to beating online retailers on most items. I took another peak in the door the other day and about half their merchandise is gone, but prices on many items remain uncompetitive, despite 20-30% discounts on most items. Factor in the taxes and the absolutely no returns policy and you are STILL better of buying from online retailers. And one wonder’s why the company is failing in the first place?
There were a few items that struck my eye as bargains, but at prices that I don’t want to pay right now (having just cut a big check for taxes, car repairs and other fun stuff). If you are in the market, here are some deals that struck me as not too shabby:
–Epson R2400 printer for around $600. This is an amazing printer which uses a 9 color ink system. It is one of the first prosumer printers which can do justice to B&W images.
-30″ Apple Cinema display for $1600..can one ever have enough screen real-estate
-750GB Seagate HDD for $300…can one ever have enough… porn.
-Apple and Adobe multimedia software at prices that can’t be beat
I did end up picking up a Slingbox AV and a stack of Compusa mouse pads for inclusion with the computers I donate to underprivileged kids in the Bellevue School District. The mouse pads include the Compusa logo and the of so ironic tagline “We got it. We get it.”
If you are interested in the Slingbox AV, check out this seperate entry.
Posted in Rants and Raves | No Comments »
Posted by Deliverator on 14th April 2007
I went and saw my first movie at the new SIFF Cinema. I saw “The Lady Vanishes,” one of Hitchcock’s last films (1938) from before he “crossed the pond.” I enjoyed the film, which is something I can’t always say about Hitchcock. Hitchcock has proved a bit of a crap shoot for me over the years. I tend to be absolutely captivated by his movies (Rear Window, To Catch a Thief, N by NW, etc.) and watch them over and over…or they fall utterly flat and do nothing for me and I am left wondering how I can get three hours of my life back.
I enjoyed the interplay between Margaret Lockwood and Michael Redgrave, which weakly echoed the wonderful back and forth banter of Myrna Loy and William Powell in “The Thin Man” series. It was probably as much as he could get passed the prudish British film censors of the day. Most of the rest of the cast’s performances seemed to be somewhat forced, ungenuine and a bit too caricaturist. The cartoonish performances by the supporting casts was intentional, but as a artistic device it didn’t really appeal to me. The whole of the movie is really designed as not-so-veiled warning against the appeasement of Hitler, which was the official policy of GB at the time. The movie was released shortly after PM Neville Chamberlain returned from Germany proclaiming “Peace for our time.” This film was an obvious political statement as to what Hitchcock thought about that idea. The film is also noteable as one of Hitchcock’s “intriguing/dubious stuff happening on a train” films, a theme which he would return to time and again in some of his most famous movies.
I was very impressed by the quality of the theater. The opinions on the facility itself in the original reviews of the facility were formed before the place was properly finished, from what I can tell. The hard wooden lecture seats have been replaced with new, modern, padded plastic ones like can be found in most theaters today. While the seats are not of the same quality as those used at the lushly appointed Lincoln Square Cinemas, I wouldn’t hesitate to watch longer length feature. The sound and multiple projection systems all seem to be very modern and the theater features a concession stand, ample parking nearby and everything else you would expect. I look forward to seeing more films at SIFF Cinema in the near future.
Posted in Media, Movies | No Comments »
Posted by Deliverator on 7th April 2007
I recently purchased a wireless taco from Matt W, or rather from his company, Metrix Communications. The device is technically called the Ruckus Metroflex 2211-DZ, but once you see it, it is instantly transmogrified into simply “wireless taco.”
Ok, now that you have seen the taco, we can talk about what it does. At its simplest, the taco enables devices equipped with only Ethernet to communicate with 802.11b/g networks. This is generally known as a “client bridge” and there have been many client bridge products over the year, of which I own several. Few do the job as well or as elegantly as the taco. Most bridges have been rather convoluted to configure, often requiring one to run a windows only setup program to change settings, or to assign oneself a static ip address and then access a configuration web page. On the taco, one simply presses a button on the back and then you open a web browser on a computer hooked up to the taco’s Ethernet port. Regardless of what you have set as your homepage, the taco takes you to its configuration page to configure the bridge. Nothing could be simpler, quicker and more cross operating system compatible than the way the taco does it!
From the configuration webpage, you can scan for networks in range, set security options, change the default password and other typical bridge stuff. The taco does a number of things that other bridges do not. It can act as both a client on a wireless network and an access point (with or without dhcp and nat) at the same time. This lets one connect to a wireless network outside one’s building and extend it inside as well, all without relying on finicky wireless repeating systems like WDS.
Another neat feature of the taco is its advanced antenna array. You pretty much plop the taco down, plug it in and it figures out which set of antenna elements to use for best reception at any given moment. I haven’t taken mine apart yet (although I probably will in the next week), but there is a neat picture of the array (linked from Ruckus’ page) here:
All in all, the taco is everything a bridge should be and more. It is easy to configure, has great range, throughput is excellent and it has proved itself stable through large data transfers over the course of the last several days. The “Dual Zone” feature is unique on any product in its price range. You can get one yourself for $125 from Metrix.
Posted in Tech Stuff, Wireless | No Comments »
Posted by Deliverator on 3rd April 2007
Wired Equivalent Privacy, aka WEP, the traffic encryption method still widely used on many 802.11b/g wireless networks, has been quite broken for at least several years. Easily downloaded tools such as Aircrack have enabled practical, real world breaking of WEP keys in 5-10 minutes. A security paper and associated code describing a much more efficient attack was recently released, which brings the total time necessary to find the WEP password for a wireless network down to as little as 1 minute with a 50% chance of success and about 2 minutes with a 85% chance. This attack doesn’t require special hardware/software to perform. Pretty much any laptop running *nix with two wireless adapters is capable of performing this attack. It used to be that you had to be worried if you saw a geeky guy sitting in a van in front of your house/business for hours on end. With small Linux devices like the Nokia 800, it is possible to run this sort of attack from one’s pockets simply by walking slowly past a target. Of course, it has also been possible to run this sort of attack at extreme distances using high gain antennas. WEP has been broken for a long time…now it is just more so.
Posted in Tech Stuff, Wireless | No Comments »