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How abandonware gets abandoned

From time to time on classic computing and/or videogaming forums, the question of how to track down the current copyright holder to a particular given title comes up. Sometimes someone knows the answer. Frequently they don’t.

This week, when George Lucas announced he’d sold Lucasfilm to Disney, illustrated precisely how this kind of thing happens.

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Ways to keep your password from being guessed–today

Articles like Ars Technica’s Why passwords have never been weaker — and crackers have never been stronger are getting more and more common these days.

In a positive development, I don’t think the story had been live more than an hour or two before people started asking me questions. That’s good, because that tells me that people care.
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Entry-level troubleshooting

Ars Technica offers a very good, brief guide to troubleshooting computer hardware. Being two pages long, it doesn’t tell you everything, but includes some good tricks, including one I don’t always remember to tell people. To fully discharge a device, unplug it from the wall, remove the battery if it has one, then press and hold down the power button for 10-15 seconds. This discharges any power that could be lingering in the capacitors inside.Read More »Entry-level troubleshooting

Bombshell: HP pulls out. Of tablets and desktop PCs.

And speaking of duds, it looks like HP has one on their hands in their Web OS-based tablets.

Best Buy has about a quarter-million unsold tablets in their warehouse and has only managed to sell 25,000 of them. And when Woot ran a special on them, selling them for $120 off, they sold a whopping 612 of them.

And now it looks like HP is just going to discontinue Web OS altogether.
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Buy online, manufacture at home

The way we buy things (or don’t buy them) has changed a lot in the last decade or so. We stopped buying CDs. Now that our Internet connections are fast enough, we’ve really slowed down on buying movies, too. And the emergence of practical e-readers means a lot fewer people are buying books now too. All of this is part of the reason why there’s probably a Borders closing near you, and there are suddenly a lot less of what we used to call record stores too.

But there’s something even bigger looming overhead. 3D printing. Ars Technica has a piece about its legal implications.  Rather than rehash that, I’d rather talk about some of its other implications, including why you should care at all.

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SSDs and pricing

Mainstream SSDs cost around $2 per GB to buy right now. I was curious, so I decided to try to relate historical SSD pricing to the historical pricing of conventional hard drives.

It didn’t take long for me to find a correlation.
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Color laser vs. inkjet: The hidden factor

Ars Technica did a quick and dirty study on whether inkjets or lasers are more cost effective for color printing  and came down in favor of the inkjet. The math works in their color laser vs. inkjet battle, but it misses something non-trivial. Ink cartridges dry out. Toner cartridges don’t.

Here’s why I use and recommend laser printers for color printing.
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Weekly roundup: 6 Oct 2010

I used to do a weekly roundup every so often, just doing short takes on stuff that interested me as I found it. I haven’t done that in years; I thought I’d give it a whirl again. I don’t know how often I’ll do it, but it was fun.

Ars Technica says Intel’s neutral stance on Atom in servers is a mistake. Absolutely. A dual-core Atom gives plenty of power for infrastructure servers like Active Directory DCs, print servers, and other similar roles. Atoms could even handle many web server tasks.

Xeons are appropriate for database servers and application servers, but throwing them at everything is severe overkill. A lot of server tasks are more disk-bound or network-bound than CPU-bound.

I worked in a datacenter facility for several years that was literally at half capacity, physically. But they didn’t have enough power or cooling capacity to add much more to it.

The only way anything can be added there is to take something away first. Right-sizing servers is the only way to fix that. If they would yank a Xeon, they’d be able to replace it with several Atom-based servers and get a net gain in functionality per square foot and BTU.

Virtualization, a la VMWare, is an option, but one isn’t necessarily a drop-in replacement for the other.

Or, of course, Intel can sit back and wait for ARM to come in and save the day. ARM provides even more functionality per watt. And even though ARM doesn’t run Windows, it does run Linux, and Samba has reached the point where it can stand in for an Active Directory domain controller.

Is there a market out there for a domain controller that fits in a package the size of a CD/DVD drive and consumes less than 20 watts? I’m sure there is. And if Intel doesn’t want to deliver it, ARM and its partners can.

There may be some resistance to ARM, since some decision makers are nervous of things they haven’t heard of, but it should be possible to overcome that. Maybe you haven’t heard of ARM, but guess what? Do you have a smartphone? It has an ARM CPU in it. That PDA you carried before you had a smartphone? It had an ARM CPU in it. It’s entirely possible that your consumer-grade network switch at home has one in it too. Not your router, though. That’s probably MIPS-based. (MIPS is another one of those scary RISC CPU architectures.)

Put a solid operating system on an ARM CPU, and it can run with anything. I have ARM devices that only reboot when the power goes out. If it weren’t for tornado and thunderstorm season causing the power to hiccup, those devices could run for years without a reboot or power-down.

And speaking of ARM, I have seen the future.

Pogoplug is an ARM-based appliance for sharing files. You plug it in, plug USB drives into it, and share files on your home network and the Internet with it. At least, that’s how it’s marketed. But you can hack it into a general purpose Linux box.

Inside, there’s a 1.2 GHz ARM CPU, 256 MB of RAM, and another 256MB of flash memory. Not a supercomputer, but that’s enough power to be useful. And it’s tiny, silent, and sips power. You can plug it in, stash it somewhere, and it’ll never remind you that it’s there.
I’ve actually considered picking up a Pogoplug or two (they go on sale for $45 occasionally, and the slightly less powerful Seagate Dockstar is available for about $30 when you can find them) to run this web site on. Considering how surprisingly well WordPress runs on a 450 MHz Pentium II with 128 MB of RAM (don’t ask me how I know), I think a Pogoplug could handle the workload.

What stops me? I can build an Atom-based PC for less than $150, depending on what I put in it, and run Turnkey Linux on it. Under a worst-case scenario, Turnkey Linux installs in 15 minutes, and it doesn’t take me any longer than that to drop a motherboard and hard drive into a case. So I can knock together an Atom-based webserver in 30 minutes, which is a lot less time than it would take me to get the LAMP stack running on an ARM system.

But if I had more time than money, I’d be all over this.

A device similar to this with an operating LAMP stack on it ready to go is probably too much to ask for. A ready-to-go image running the LAMP stack, similar in form to the DD-WRT or Tomato packages that people use to soup up their routers, might not be. I think it’s a good idea but it isn’t something I have time to head up.

I don’t think I’ve mentioned Turnkey Linux before. I’ve played with it a little, and I’m dead serious that it installs in 15 minutes or less. Installing off a USB flash drive, it might very well install in five.

And it’ll run pretty happily on any PC manufactured this century. More recent is better, of course, but the base requirements are so modest they aren’t worth mentioning.

I’ve built dozens of Linux servers, but this is fantastic. Spend a few minutes downloading an image, copying it onto installation media, and chances are the installation process will take less time than all of that does.

It’s based on Ubuntu LTS, and comes in literally 38 flavors, with more to come after the next refresh is done.

They haven’t built their collection based on the current version of Ubuntu LTS yet because they’ve been distracted with building a backup service. But that’s OK. Ubuntu 8.04.3 still has a little life left in it, and you can either do a distribution upgrade after the initial install, or build a new appliance when the new version comes out and move the data over.

And if Ubuntu isn’t your thing, or you really want 10.04 and you want it now, or worse yet, Linux isn’t your thing, there’s always Bitnami (bitnami.org).

Linux appliances took a little while to get here, but they’re here now, and they work.