Unchecky is another tool to help with staying out of trouble with malware

I found a mention of a tool called Unchecky as a minor point in a story about something else entirely. Unchecky helps to solve the problem with downloaded programs including a bunch of extra junk you don’t want.

I won’t be running it myself. But the next time I fix a computer, I’ll probably install it on that one.

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Hacker chasing, circa 1987

I’m catching up on reading. Next on my reading list is The Cuckoo’s Egg, (Amazon link), Clifford Stoll’s memoir of chasing down a computer hacker in the late 1980s. In it, he describes a very different world, ruled by mainframes and minicomputers, where Unix was something special, IBM still made PCs, but desktop PCs and Macintoshes only received occasional mention, and academia and the military owned the Internet, almost literally. And, oh, by the way, the Cold War was still raging.

The remarkable thing about this book is that it’s an approachable spy thriller, written in 1989, that explains computer security to an audience that had never seen or heard of the Internet. You don’t have to be a security professional to appreciate it, though it’s a classic in the computer security world–many people read it in the late 1980s and early 1990s and decided to get into the field. Read more

How to make finicky 32-bit applications install and run in 64-bit Windows

Certain older 32-bit applications (notably Adobe Creative Suite CS2 apps, but there are probably others) object to being installed in “C:\Program Files (x86)\”, which is where 64-bit Windows wants to put legacy 32-bit apps.

The solution is easy but non-obvious, as is true so much of the time.

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Our call is very important to us

A coworker got a phone call today, from something resembling a reverse answering machine. He answered the phone and got a recorded message apologizing that there aren’t enough agents available to speak with him, and please leave a name and number and the first available agent will call back.

We discussed the irony, and the evil, of such a thing. Then my coworker said something brilliant.
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The decline and fall of system administration

Infoworld’s Paul Venizia stirred up a controversy, asking what happened to sysadmins who can fix things, as opposed to just rebuilding machines any time something went wrong.

The definition changed, mostly. At least that’s what I think.

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Team of destiny?

The Boston Red Sox just won a World Series.

A lot of people won’t understand the irony of that. But lots of baseball fans are shaking their heads with me.It was a story. Facing their arch-rivals in the playoffs, the New York Scum, the S*censored*had the Sox down three games to none. In all of American sports, only two teams had ever come back from 3-0 to win a championship. Both times, it had been in the NHL. No baseball team had done it. Especially not against a baseball team with a $183 million payroll.

Boston did it, with nothing going for it. One of the sportscasters put it this way, after game 3. He asked whether Boston had ever won 4 straight during the regular season. Still, it looked gloomy, but Boston did it.

Next up: The St. Louis Cardinals. A team with the best record in baseball, and a roster that looked like an All-Star team.

Game 1 was a slugfest. Such is to be expected from two teams with depleted pitching staffs. But Boston outslugged the National League All-Stars, er, Cardinals.

Game 2, the Red Sox pitched Curt Schilling, again. There was little doubt Schilling would win, at least not from me. No pitcher has ever been more determined to win a World Series game than Schilling was on that day.

One telling sign: Boston made 8 errors in those two games. The Cardinals normally eat up teams that play shoddy defense. The Cardinals didn’t.

Game 3 was the turning point. Pedro Martinez is a formidable but moody pitcher. When he’s pitching well, he’s as good as anyone ever was. When he’s not pitching well, it’s like extended batting practice. St. Louis expected batting practice.

For three innings it was. Martinez looked shaky. Leading off the third, Martinez allowed Jeff Suppan, the opposing pitcher, to reach base. Suppan pitched most of his career in the American League, where he got about 12 opportunities a year to swing a bat. Then Edgar Renteria hit a long double. Second and third, nobody out, with the big boppers coming to bat. But then Larry Walker hit a ground ball, and for some reason, Suppan didn’t run home. Why? Beats me. But Suppan doesn’t run the bases much. He got hung up after Walker was thrown out at first. What should have been the tying run turned into a double play.

And that was the turning point of the game. From that play on, Pedro Martinez finally showed up at the ballpark. Batting practice over. Enter the 3-time Cy Young Award winner. Boston cruised to a 4-1 victory.

And Boston not only didn’t make any errors, but both of Boston’s most notorious glove handlers, Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz–two arguments for the DH, to be certain–contributed good defensive plays with their gloves.

Suddenly St. Louis faced the same odds Boston had beaten a week earlier. But did the Cardinals ever win 4 straight during the regular season? And what did Boston have left? Derek Lowe, a pitcher whose sinking pitches are often matched by his attitude, in Game 4. Tim Wakefield, most likely, in Game 5–a knuckleballer who tends to give up runs in bunches. There was question whether Curt Schilling could come back to pitch Game 6–he had to be sewed back together before every outing and there wasn’t much of anything left to sew. More likely, Bronson Arroyo would have to start. Arroyo was the losing pitcher in Boston’s humiliating 19-8 loss. And in Game 7, the unpredictable Pedro Martinez.

I wasn’t ready to write off the Cardinals.

But then Johnny Damon led off Game 4 with a home run. It proved to be the game winner, as St. Louis only managed four hits against Derek Lowe and three relievers. And Boston’s defense held up once again.

Team of destiny? Maybe, maybe not. I think it was more a team of intimidation. The Red Sox weren’t intimidated, and the Cardinals were.

Both teams look likely to have different makeups next year. Perhaps dramatically different.

But for now, Boston has what it hasn’t had for 86 years: A World Series trophy.

But the Cardinals have nothing to be disappointed about. They were supposed to finish fourth. They ended up with the best record in baseball. With their division rivals looking different next year too, the Cardinals can look forward to next year.

Linux gets more attractive on the Xbox

There’s been another milestone in getting Linux running on Microsoft’s Xbox game console. It’s now possible to get it going if you bridge a couple of solder points on the motherboard to enable flashing the unit’s BIOS, then you use the James Bond 007 game and a save game that exploits a buffer overflow, and with a few more tricks, you can unlock the hard drive, put it in a Linux PC, install Linux, then move the drive back to the Xbox and turn it into a cheap Linux box.
It’s still convoluted and not for the faint-hearted, it’ll void your warranty six ways ’til Sunday, but getting Linux to run on certain old Macintoshes was nearly as difficult.

That’s not really my point, because I do expect it to get easier. The main reason I bring it up is because when this appeared, a flood of people started asking why? Why do you want to turn a game machine into something other than a game machine? Why go to the trouble when you can buy a pre-installed Linux PC at Wal-Mart for $199?

Pure spite. The Xbox costs $199, and the general consensus is that it costs Microsoft far more than $199 to make the thing–the money in game consoles is the games and controllers. Companies sell the consoles at a loss. If you buy an Xbox and turn it into a Linux PC, you’re probably not buying Xbox games, so Microsoft loses money.

Quality. The Xbox is built better than the $199 Wal-Mart PCs. And it comes with better hardware. The 733 MHz Intel CPU is a better performer than the 700 MHz VIA CPU in the Wal-Mart special. The graphics hardware in the Xbox is worlds apart. The sound quality is better. And the Xbox gives you a DVD drive, not just an old-fashioned CD-ROM.

Looks. Let’s face it: The Xbox is designed to go in your living room, so the Xbox looks good there. It’s ready to hook up to your TV and your stereo. Slap on Linux and some audio and video playback software, and you’ve got yourself a great media PC. And for an added bonus, you can install emulators for old consoles you had in the past and play Pac-Man and Super Mario Bros. and Sonic the Hedgehog on it. Just because games are old doesn’t make them any less fun. You’ll go to nearly as much hassle trying to modify the $199 special to connect to your TV set, and in the end you’ve still got an ugly, cheap-looking white or beige box.

Price. Even at full price, and even with the trouble, it’s hard to build a PC with the Xbox’s specs for anywhere close to the price. And refurb units are available for $140-$170 (search your favorite price-grabbing site), making it an even better deal.

Irony. Let’s face it, there are people who want a computer running Linux on hardware that says “Microsoft” on the front. I understand. I once ripped the innards of an IBM PC/XT out and replaced them with an IBM 486SLC2 motherboard so someone could run Windows on what looked like an XT.

The downside is that yes, you’ll have to either make or buy a special cable to allow you to connect a standard USB keyboard and mouse to the Xbox so you can use it. But the cables cost $15 and a Google search on Xbox USB keyboard will turn them up, so that’s hardly the worst aspect of this. The rest of the process isn’t as easy as it could be, and that’s the worst part.

But after a couple of hours’ work–and let’s face it, most of the people who are going to think about doing something like this love a challenge, so it’ll actually be pretty fun–and $199 for the console, a $5 game rental, $15 for the USB adapter, $25 for a USB hub, and the cost of your favorite USB keyboard and mouse, you end up with a pretty decent little computer for under $300. It will only get more attractive if the rumors that Microsoft will soon cut the price of the console to $149 are true.

Recovery time.

Taxes. I think I’ve actually filed my taxes on time twice in my adult life. This year isn’t one of them. I filed Form 4868, so Tax Day for me is actually Aug. 15, 2002.
In theory Uncle Sam owes me money this year, so I shouldn’t owe any interest. I’ll have a professional accountant test that theory soon. Make that fairly soon, because it’d be nice to have that money, seeing as I expect to make the biggest purchase of my still-fairly-short life this year.

Some people believe filing a 4868 is advantageous. The thinking is this: Let the IRS meet its quota for audits, then file. That way, the only way you’re going to get audited is if you truly raise red flags, which I shouldn’t because I’m having a professional (and an awfully conservative one at that) figure the forms. That’s good. I’d rather not have to send a big care package off to the IRS to prove I’m not stealing from them.

Adventure. Steve DeLassus and I dove headlong into an adventure on Sunday, an adventure consisting of barbecue and Linux. I think at one point both of us were about ready to put a computer on that barbie.

We’ll talk about the barbecue first. Here’s a trick I learned from Steve: Pound your boneless chicken flat, then throw it in a bag containing 1 quart of water and 1 cup each of sugar and salt. Stick the whole shebang in the fridge while the fire’s getting ready. When the fire’s ready, take the chicken out of the bag and dry thoroughly. Since Steve’s not a Kansas Citian, he doesn’t believe in dousing the chicken in BBQ sauce before throwing it on the grill. But it was good anyway. Really good in fact.

Oh, I forgot. He did spray some olive oil on the chicken first. Whether that helps it brown or locks in moisture or both, I’m not quite sure. But olive oil contains good fats, so it’s not a health concern.

Now, Linux on cantankerous 486s may be a health concern. I replaced the motherboard in Steve’s router Sunday night, because it was a cranky 486SX/20. I was tired of dealing with the lack of a math coprocessor, and the system was just plain slow. I replaced it with a very late model 486DX2/66 board. I know a DX2/66 doesn’t have three times the performance of an SX/20, but the system sure seemed three times faster. Its math coprocessor, L2 cache, faster chipset, and much better BIOS helped. It took the new board slightly longer to boot Linux than it took the old one to finish counting and testing 8 MB of RAM.

But Debian wasn’t too impressed with Steve’s Creative 2X CD-ROM and its proprietary Panasonic interface. So we kludged in Steve’s DVD-ROM drive for the installation, and laughed at the irony. Debian installed, but the lack of memory (I scraped up 8 megs; Steve’s old memory wouldn’t work) slowed down the install considerably. But once Debian was up and running, it was fine, and in text mode, it was surprisingly peppy. We didn’t install XFree86.

It was fine until we tried to get it to act as a dialup router, that is. We never really did figure out how to get it to work reliably. It worked once or twice, then quit entirely.

This machine was once a broadband router based on Red Hat 6.1, but Red Hat installed way too much bloat so it was slow whenever we did have to log into it. And Steve moved into the boonies, where broadband isn’t available yet, so it was back to 56K dialup for him. Now we know that dialup routers seem to be much trickier to set up than dual-NIC routers.

After fighting it for nearly 8 hours, we gave up and booted it back into Freesco, which works reliably. It has the occasional glitch, but it’s certainly livable. Of course we want (or at least Steve wants) more features than Freesco can give you easily. But it looks like he’ll be living with Freesco for a while, since neither of us is looking forward to another marathon Debian session.

Nostalgia. A couple of articles on Slashdot got me thinking about the good old days, so I downloaded VICE, a program that can emulate almost every computer Commodore ever built. Then I played around with a few Commodore disk images. It’s odd what I do and don’t remember. I kind of remember the keyboard layout. I remembered LOAD “*”,8,1 loads most games (and I know why that works too, and why the harder-to-type LOAD “0:*”,8,1 is safer), but I couldn’t remember where the Commodore keyboard layout put the *.

I sure wish I could remember people’s names half as well as I remember this mesozoic computer information.

It stands on shaky legal ground, but you can go to c64.com and grab images for just about any Commodore game ever created. The stuff there is still covered by copyright law, but in many cases the copyright holder has gone out of business and/or been bought out several times over, so there’s a good possibility the true copyright holder doesn’t even realize it anymore. Some copyright holders may care. Others don’t. Others have probably placed the work in the public domain. Of course, if you own the original disks for any of the software there, there’s no problem in downloading it. There’s a good possibility you can’t read your originals anyway.

I downloaded M.U.L.E., one of the greatest games of all time. I have friends who swear I was once an ace M.U.L.E. player, something of an addict. I have absolutely no recollection of that. I started figuring out the controls after I loaded it, but nothing seemed familiar, that’s for sure. I took to it pretty quickly. The strategy is simple to learn, but difficult to master. The user interface isn’t intuitive, but in those days they rarely were. And in those days, not many people cared.

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