Monthly Archives: November 2005

Playing around with Knoppix

Linux penguinMy 7-year-old son Jeremy shows a fascination for computers. He’s a pretty skilled Windows user (it’s what we run at home), and loves using my sister’s Mac laptop when we visit her. So I thought I’d show him Linux, in the easiest way possible: a bootable version.

Knoppix was tried first. The BitTorrent download (yes, there is a legitimate use for BitTorrent) came down the line at a blistering 150kbps. Simplicity itself to burn the ISO to a CD using Nero, and chuck it into the older of my two PCs.

Alas, ’twas not to be. After doing the auto-configuration thing, it stopped dead. This turned out to be my video card, an aging Diamond Viper V-550. Theoretically a good card (well, for five years ago), it’s hampered by a lack of support, not only from Microsoft via DirectX, but also apparently from Linux distributions. (I know they can’t support everything, but it’s particularly galling with DirectX, because earlier versions worked okay with it, and once you’ve got an incompatible later version, it’s impossible to downgrade, unless you’re feeling very brave or feel like re-installing the entire OS.)

It’s a cinch to change the BIOS settings to disable the Viper, and go for the on-board video, of course. Plus plug the monitor into the other socket. Just not quite the seamless experience I was looking for though.

It did boot up then, though the other thing Knoppix didn’t like was my USB mouse, so it was keyboard-only. Somewhere I have a USB to PS2 mouse adapter, which I can use for this.

By contrast, Knoppix booted up flawlessly on my newer PC, which evidently doesn’t have an orphaned graphics card and a weirdo mouse.

(Though when I rebooted into Windows XP, oddly it thought initially it had two monitors. Coincidence? Maybe.)

I could fiddle with Knoppix to get it working on the older PC, but time constraints and laziness may mean I try other bootable distros first. Other contenders include Ubuntu and Damn Small Linux.

Though now I come to think of it, if I want to do a bit more LAMP dabbling, I should look for something more permanent.

RSS isn’t mainstream yet

Scoble argues that RSS’s importance isn’t in how many people are using it, but who those people are.

He’s right, but the other point to make is that RSS isn’t mainstream yet. Email and the web are mainstream, but took years to catch on with the general public, even after being widely available. RSS is widely available, but only used by a minority of the general online population.

That will change, as the tools used by the great unwashed pick up and highlight RSS functionality. That’s not Newsgator or Firefox, but IE and Windows.

It’ll change as the influential early-adopters persuade others.

And it’ll change as the standard is sorted out — not just the XML, but how it’s advertised — that orange button needs to be ubiquituous, just like “www” and “.com” in URLs are now.

So if your site doesn’t support RSS now, it’s important to get it doing so very very soon.

WordPress’s best defence against the dark arts of spam

Scoble writes that has strong comment spam protection, but that it sometimes gets false positives.

I’ve found nothing better for spam protection than WP-Hashcash, which uses Javascript to make sure it’s a human entering the comment, not a robot, but without captchas or other stuff the user has to do. Works like a dream.

The only down side is it doesn’t work with some older WP templates. So while this site is fully spam equipped, my personal blog won’t run it until I upgrade the template (probably a project for Christmas time).

But apart from that, for WPers out there, I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Combined with settings that ensure firsttime posters go straight to moderation (subsequent postings are approved automatically) it ensures that those damn spammers never get their comments published on my site.

I might add that the company I work for (which develops B2B messaging systems) is working on a new site. To encourage them to update it regularly (some might call it blogging, but I’m emphasising “regular updates to existing and potential customers”) I’m building it on WordPress. Given WP’s ability to do a site of static pages and dated entries, it should work very well.

XBox 360 and eBay

The XBox-360 is out in the States. Those of us in AU will have to wait until March to get it. A$499 for the non-HD version, or A$649 with it.

Meanwhile some sneaky people on eBay have been selling what appears at first glance to be an XBox 360, but upon closer examination is actually an email address on Hotmail/Yahoo mail. Pity the poor fools that have bid for them. (via Lex)

Okay, now why does an eBay AU listing have a “Report This Item” link, but the same auction on the US site doesn’t? Ah, turns out it’s being trialled in Australia, with the rest of the world hopefully getting it soon…ish.

Sony, Llamasoft, and stitching

Turns out Sony has a Mac version of DRM, too.

Meanwhile, Texas is suing, possibly for $100K per violation… times 2.1 million CDs sold??? (Thanks Lana)

Jeff “Llamasoft” Minter contributed some of the visualisations in the XBox 360 media player.

Research at the University of British Columbia has come up with stitching software that many say out-performs that provided with digital camera software.

Quick review: Accidental Empires

Cover of Accidental EmpiresAccidental Empires by Robert Cringely: Full of interesting and amusing anecdotes about the start of the modern PC era, with some of Cringely’s wild theories thrown in. The book is about ten years old now, and some of his predictions about the (then) future of computing show he’s probably a better storyteller than he is prophesiser. But it’s certainly got some gems in it. Given some of the stuff he writes about the industry’s major players (Jobs, Gates, Ballmer, etc), I’m almost surprised they agreed to talk to him subsequently for the TV version. A good read.Thumbs up!

Windows Shared Computer Toolkit

Microsoft has available the Shared Computer Toolkit for Windows XP. Mostly designed to protect computers that are used by the public, it provides a higher level of security, such as restricting some users further from fiddling with system settings.

I wonder if it gets around some of the issues of most users not running as Administrator. I still haven’t found a satisfactory way of running MS Train Simulator except as Admin.

It also has something called Windows Disk Protection, which means any changes to the disk are lost on the next reboot. Could be handy. Of course, a less-than-scrupulous person might use it for wiping out expiring Shareware needed only sporadically. But a more legitimate use would be for trying beta software, to ensure your machine was in a pristine state afterwards.

The Age’s new layout problems

The Age and SMH recently launched a new layout, which includes splitting articles across pages. They must have heard the criticism over this, because articles now include a link to view all of the text on a single page.

But there’s still problems with it. Examples:

Age advert problemThis article ended up with no text at all on page 3; just an advert. Evidently a few carriage returns got tacked onto the end of it.

Age advert problemThis article ended up with no visible text at all, and the adverts hiding underneath other story links (at least in Firefox). (via Tom N)

Age advert problemAnd this story, about Australian Nguyen Tuong Van’s impending execution in Singapore has as its advert a Qantas promotion including cheap seats to Singapore. The same ad runs with a similar story on the SMH. (via Tony)

Not good.

Update 10am: This article also features the ad for Qantas cheap fares to Singapore.

How to stop Outlook hiding line breaks

One of my most hated things from recent versions of Outlook is the way it edits plain text messages by chopping out supposedly extra line breaks. Inevitably, they’re not extra — they’re there because the sender doesn’t like hitting enter twice between paragraphs — particularly when writing short lists of things.

Outlook does give you the option of restoring the linebreaks it’s taken away by clicking an option near the top of the message. It’s a right pain to have to keep doing it on every message though.

Outlook hides linebreaks

In Outlook XP, I never found a way to turn this off. Maybe it was there, but very well hidden.

Fortunately in Outlook 2003 it’s possible to turn it off for good, though the online help is no help at all at finding it.

Here’s how you do it: Tools / Options / Preferences tab / E-Mail section / click E-mail options. Then find and turn off the checkbox “Remove extra line breaks in plain text messages”.

(Note that after turning it permanently off, it still happens if you’ve been mucking about in a message beforehand, shown the “extra” linebreaks, then hidden them again and saved the message.)

Sony backs down – a teensy bit

Sony has said they will stop using the XCP copy protection software so derided for its sneaky (but clumsy) cloaking mechanism. But they haven’t said they’ll offer replacement CDs to those who’ve got lumbered with it. Apparently it was only ever applied to CDs sold in the USA, though some of these may have gone to other parts of the world courtesy of Amazon and the like.

As for Sony’s uninstallerEd Felten is about to reveal why that too is flawed.

Meanwhile Microsoft has set XCP in its sights, and (quite rightly) said their Anti-Spyware package will remove it.

As if the rootkit sneakery wasn’t bad enough, the EFF has studied the EULA and notes the protected CDs have a licence precluding copying the music onto business computers (eg computers not owned by you). It also requires you to delete the copied music if your CD is stolen, or if you file for bankcruptcy!

And the chorus of people calling for an all-out Sony boycott continues to grow.

I stand by what I said. Pack of evil bastards.

PS. The flaw in the uninstaller is revealed: Sony uses an ActiveX control (known as “CodeSupport”) as part of the process, which is marked “Safe for scripting” and left on your computer, leaving it wide open to attack from dodgy web sites. What a pack of idiots.

They are, however, recalling the affected CDs.