I got e-mail the other day from Turbotax saying someone had filed my taxes for me. Obviously a cause for concern, right? Here’s how I determined the message was fake in about three minutes.
Some people will tell you not to even open a message like this, but if you’re a computer professional, at some point someone is going to want you to prove the message was fake. I think this is something every e-mail administrator, desktop support professional, security professional, and frankly, every helpdesk professional ought to be able to do.
So here’s how you can get the proof. And generally speaking, Outlook 2010’s default configuration is paranoid enough that this procedure will be safe to do. If you want an extra layer of protection, make sure you have EMET installed and protecting Outlook.
Sometimes you need to capture a web page in PNG or JPG format. And if you need to do that, it probably helps to be able to do it in an automated fashion, like by a script.
That’s IEcapt‘s purpose in life. IEcapt renders web pages using the Internet Explorer engine, then outputs it as a graphics file. Uses include e-mailing a dashboard to someone or capturing steps when technical writing. Sure, you can use a tool like Snagit, but IEcapt is free and can be automated.
I haven’t written a lot yet about Mr. Edward Snowden and the NSA PRISM program. I will in time, but want to be careful not to be spreading misinformation, and not to merely be repeating what everyone else says.
I ran my site through Google Page Speed on Tuesday, and scored a surprising 88 out of 100–higher than I expected. Getting above 90 is going to take some optimizations on files that WordPress updates may change, so I’m hesitant to do that, but one thing it told me to do was to cache more aggressively. That’s pretty easy, as it turns out, and I could definitely feel a difference afterward.
I have a collection of magazine scans that, inconveniently, came as a series of JPG images rather than as PDFs that are more conducive to reading. I wanted PDFs, so I found a way to turn lots of images into an Adobe Acrobat PDF file.
It is less than obvious how to connect a Commodore 64 to a television, especially a modern television, and it’s even more difficult if your C-64 didn’t come with the cables or the manual.
There are, as it turns out, several ways to do it. The C-64 and 128 have an RCA jack on the back that matches the RCA jacks on most televisions, whether LCD or CRT. Confusingly, this isn’t the key.
That RCA port sends out a modulated RF signal, not a standard video signal. Originally that port was intended to connect to a switchbox that connected to a two-wire type of TV antenna connector that was common in the 1980s. Commodore used the same switchbox as Atari, so you may have one laying around or be able to find one in a box of ancient computer and videogame cables.
If your TV has a round antenna connector rather than a two-wire connector–a fairly safe bet–you’re in luck. You need an RCA video cable along with a converter, which you can get from Radio Shack, Amazon or Ebay. Ebay is likely to be the cheapest option, but be careful on Ebay to get something that looks like the picture to the left–it’s easy to accidentally buy the opposite. Incidentally, that same part also works with Atari consoles (Atari 2600, anyone?) and 8-bit computers like the Atari 400 and 800.
Using either the switchbox or the adapter, the Commodore video signal appears on channel 3 or 4 on your TV. There is a sliding switch on the back of the machine to choose which channel.
But that’s not your only option, and today, it’s not even the best option. Near that plug, you’ll find a round DIN-type plug. On most C-64s and the C-128, it has 8 pins. On the very early versions of the C64, it has 5 pins.
Commodore video cables have the proper DIN plug on one end and RCA plugs on the other. If your cable has two plugs, it’ll plug right into the composite video and audio plugs on most recent-ish TVs. The color codes should even match. If the video cable has three plugs, what you have is actually separated composite, an early implementation of S-Video. No problem; get a Y-adapter with a male connector on one end and two female jacks on the other end, plug the red and yellow RCA plugs from the Commodore cable into that, and then plug the adapter into the video plug on your TV. Or, if your TV has an S-video connector, I cover that in more detail here.
What if you can’t find a Commodore video cable? If you’re handy with a soldering iron, you can make your own cable with parts from Radio Shack. You’ll need a 5-pin DIN plug, two male RCA plugs, and two lengths of speaker wire. Shielded cable like RGU-58 would be better, but isn’t totally necessary.
Here’s the pinout on the Commodore video port.
no connection -----8 7-----no connection
audio out -----3 1----- luminance (B & W signal)
audio in -----5 4----- composite video out
Solder one wire from each of your lengths of speaker cable to pin 2 on the DIN plug. Next, solder the other end of each wire to the outside post of each RCA connector. Next, solder the other wire of one cable to pin 4 and to the RCA plug, and label that wire pair “video.” Finally, solder the remaining wire to pin 3 and to the other RCA plug, and label that wire pair “audio.”
If you have a S-Video plug on your TV and you want a higher-quality display, I have instructions for connecting via S-video.
Way back when, a Commodore monitor gave a much nicer picture than a television. This was because the switchbox degraded the signal significantly. A modern-ish TV with standard RCA video connectors gives at least the same quality display that a Commodore monitor did, if not better. Picture tubes improved in quality during the 1990s. Display quality on LCDs varies, because LCD TVs tend to be a bit picky about composite signals and most consumers are more concerned about digital inputs than about the old analog inputs these days. As a general rule, the older the LCD TV, the better it’s likely to work as a Commodore display.
As you can probably guess from the length of time between postings, the Lionel has proven to be quite the distraction. A welcome one, but definitely a distraction.
I’ve picked up a few tricks along the way.
Clean old plastic buildings quickly. My buildings had accumulated a decade or so of dust and grime sitting in a box, and they probably weren’t clean when they were boxed either. The solution? Put a dab of hand soap and a small amount of laundry detergent in a bucket, then fill it with warm water. Just put in enough soap and detergent to make some suds. Disassemble the buildings and drop them in. Let them soak for a few minutes, then scrub with a toothbrush. They’ll look almost new. Note: Don’t do this if they have decals, or if you deliberately weathered the buildings. If you don’t know what weathering means, then go get your bucket.
Cleaning severely rusted track. To clean severely rusted track, give it a thrice-over with a drill’s metal brush attachment. It’ll mark the track up badly, but it’ll clean it up fairly nicely and may allow a dysfunctional train to run again. Don’t worry about ruining a prized collectible; used Lionel track sells for 25-50 cents a section at a hobby shop. This also means you shouldn’t put a lot of time and effort into salvaging rusty track–especially considering the new stuff sells for a dollar.
Lubricate your cars’ wheels for smoother operation. Unlike the engine, WD-40 is fine for this. Put a small quantity of oil into a bottlecap, then use a toothpick to apply it anywhere that the axles come in contact with other parts of the car. After doing this, your train will run more quietly and smoother, and your locomotives will be able to pull approximately 30% more weight, so you can feel free to add another car or two.
Buildings on the cheap for the nether regions of your layout. If you have some kind of structured drawing program (Adobe Illustrator, KDE Kontour, Macromedia Freehand, or even something like Visio) you can draw the basic shapes of buildings, print them out on heavy card stock, and cut them up and glue them together. Get started by taking measurements from an existing building and use that as a guide to help you learn the height of a door, window, and floor. Export the file to some kind of raster format (JPG or PNG) prior to printing and use GIMP or Photoshop to add textures if your drawing program doesn’t support it. For added realism, cut out the windows and glue in pieces of transparent plastic (kitchen plastic wrap is fine but cutouts from clear plastic bags are nicer). It doesn’t take any longer than assembling and painting a plastic model, the results are surprisingly convincing–the only advantage plastic offers is more realistic texture–and you’ll never beat the price. And if something happens to the building, you can always print out and reassemble another one.
Polystyrene sheets for scratchbuilding plastic models on the cheap. Once you’ve built some paper models and want to move up to building plastic buildings from scratch, you can pay $7 for a small sheet of polystyrene at a hobby shop, or you can buy 88-cent Beware of Dog signs from the nearest hardware or discount store. It’s the same stuff, only bigger and printed on one side. Put the printed side on the inside of the model and cover it with paper if you want to keep your secret safe. If you live near a big city, I’ve heard that plastic distributors sell big 4’x8′ sheets of polystyrene for about $7. A square foot of material makes for a good-sized building, so a 4×8 sheet will probably yield more than 30 buildings.
Sometimes you need to transfer files between Linux boxes, or between a Linux box and some other box, and setting up Samba or some other form of network file system may not be practical (maybe you only need to transfer a couple of files, or maybe it’s just a one-time thing) or possible (maybe there’s a firewall involved).
Well, you should already have SSH installed on your Linux boxes so you can remotely log in and administer them. On Debian, apt-get install ssh sshd. If you’re running distro based on Red Hat or UnitedLinux, you may have a little investigative work to do. (I’d help you, but I haven’t run anything but Debian for 2 or 3 years.)
The cool thing about SSH is that it not only does remote login, but it will also do remote file transfer. And unlike FTP, you don’t have to stumble around with a clumsy interface.
If you want to transfer files from a Windows box, just install PuTTY. I just downloaded the 240K PSCP.EXE file and copied it into my Windows directory. That way I don’t have to mess with paths, and it’s always available. Make sure you’re downloading the right version for your CPU. The Windows NT Alpha version won’t run on your Intel/AMD/VIA CPU. Incidentally, Putty.exe is a very good Telnet/SSH client and a must-have if you’re ever connecting remotely to Unix/Linux machines from Windows.
SSH includes a command called SCP. SCP works almost like the standard Unix CP command. All you to do access a remote file is append a username, followed by the @ sign, and the IP address of the remote server. SCP will then prompt you for a password.
Let’s say I want to move a file from my Linux workstation to my webserver:
scp logo.jpg firstname.lastname@example.org:/var/www/images
SCP will prompt me for my password. After I enter it, it’ll copy the file, including a nice progress bar and an ETA.
On a Windows machine with PuTTY installed, simply substitute the command pscp for scp.
I can copy the other way too:
scp email@example.com:/var/www/index.php .
This command will grab a file from my webserver and drop it in the current working directory.
To speed up the transfers, add the -C switch, which turns on compression.
SCP is more secure than any other means of file transfer, it’s probably easier (since you already need SSH anyway), and since it’ll do data compression, it’s probably faster too.
David L. Farquhar, computer security professional, train hobbyist, and landlord