Monthly Archives: June 2007

iPhone hype

Many iPhone accessory makers weren’t allowed to lay hands on a real iPhone, and resorted to making models and sending their accessory prototypes to Apple for comments, to make things fit and work.

Meanwhile eBay is already featuring sales of iPhone domain names (iphone-discount-sales.com for only US$59.99!), iPhone email addresses (at Yahoo and Gmail — would you believe the.apple.iphone.source@gmail.com has two bids on it? No, I don’t really believe it either). eBay also lists cases and other accessories, though as noted above, there’s no way of really knowing if they’ll actually fit the phone.

And then there’s the sales of information that will allegedly allow you to make lots of money from iPhones or somehow acquire iPhones and other consumer electronics for free. Does anybody really buy this stuff?

Wrestling with CA Internet Security Suite

CA Internet SecurityI’ve used Vet, the old Aussie favourite, for anti-virus on my primary PC for several years. After the initial investment it’s been A$39.95 per year, so it’s (I guess) reasonably cheap. It also meets my primary requirements for security software:

  • Small footprint on CPU, RAM and disk.
  • An interface that shutsthehellup and gets on with the job… especially when the kids are trying to play games. They (quite rightly) grumble when a full-screen game is shutdown just because some applet wants to tell you it’s downloading an update for itself.

Vet got bought by Computer Associates some years ago, morphing into CA Antivirus. My current subscription was about to run out, and they offered me an upgrade to the full CA Internet Security Suite, for 1-3 PCs, for A$69.95, less than double the cost of renewing the single anti-virus licence. Given I’d been having problems with Free AVG on my second computer (it won’t shut up about the updates it’s loading, and sometimes complains that it’s not working, particularly when a non-Admin user is logged on), I’d considered getting a second licence anyway, so it seemed like a good deal.

And I’d be gaining a Spyware detector and a more fully-fledged firewall than the Windows one. Question is, were they any good? I knew the CA Antivirus would do the job, but what about the others?

Installation was straightforward. Licence looked over-long, but was in fact a base licence with extra points for virtually every country in the world. There must be a better way to present this… choose the country first?

Antivirus ran as I expected. Did a full scan, then shut up and sat in the background. No problems.

The firewall? Once it started, it began popping up alerts… it might claim to be pre-configured for some programs, but appeared not to know about very obscure ones such as FIREFOX.EXE and IEXPLORE.EXE. Hmmm. It was fine once it knows about things, but evidently needs to be babied along for a day or two at first. The configuration screen seemed sluggish, and it wasn’t clear if it had picked up the existing rules from the Windows Firewall. So I’m not sure about this. It’s tempting to shut it off and just use the Windows Firewall instead, which wouldn’t catch outbound malware, but then, I’ve never had issues with that.

Anti-spam I’m frankly, not that interested in. The protection provided by my ISP and by Outlook is good enough that I don’t want to complicate things by adding a third barrier into the mix. (I also got stung the other week by over-zealous spam filters — you can read about it here.)

Spyware. I’m generally in favour of anti-spyware applications. While I’m not of the “every cookie is a threat to my privacy” school of paranoia, there are some genuinely malicious applications out there. (See Jeff Attwood’s recent post on this.) But I run a pretty tight ship with regards to downloads, so I’ve never considered it to be a big problem. So Spyware detection I consider a nice-to-have.

CA’s Spyware detector though, I didn’t like. It was probably doing an okay job, but it wouldn’t shut up. Every time a non-admin user logged in, it piped up with the fact that the user wouldn’t be able to change it’s configuration, even if the scanning had been turned off. Listen carefully, CA: I DON’T CARE. Either give me the option of turning off this warning, or don’t give it in the first place.

CA Antispyware error

I don’t want to subject non-admin users to pointless error messages so that a security measure of doubtful use can run. After all, the whole point of security software is to let you use your computer uninterrupted by problems. If the security software itself is going to insist on interrupting you, it kinda defeats the point, doesn’t it.

I’m not going to make every user an admin to avoid the warnings. If the manufacturer of an Internet Security product is telling me to have every user as admin, then they’re idiots.

Web filtering. Apparently the licence includes a free download of some parental web filtering software. I didn’t try it.

I also ran into problems with the licence keys. Evidently because my Vet licence expired, and all the new licences are linked to that one, CA’s system flagged them all as expired. The support web pages (which have an annoying tendency to keep opening new windows) suggested running a licence sync, which didn’t work. Their “24-7 web support” turned out to be an enquiry form. About 48 hours after putting in a request, the problem seemed to have cleared, but as I never got a reply from it, I don’t know if it fixed itself, it was something I did with my tinkering, or if CA’s support fixed it.

In conclusion I’m happy enough with the antivirus component, which is the essential element I really wanted. It’s quite obviously the most refined, mature product in the suite. The other stuff I either didn’t want, or can’t (or won’t) use because it doesn’t run well. If you’re looking for a fully-fledged Internet security suite… keep looking.

On the other hand, I’ve still got about 45 days to get a refund, if I want it. Anybody else care to nominate their favoured anti-virus apps for Windows XP?

Other reviews of CA Internet Security:

Update: A month later I dumped this product.

Home Improvements – Here endeth the lesson

For the story so far see Part 1 and Part 2. If you’re totally bored, then please don’t read on… this is the longest post yet!

So I got my Linksys NSLU2 home. I thought I’d fire it up and make sure it worked. There’d be nothing more frustrating than flashing it with the Linux OS, find it doesn’t work and then wonder whether the issue is with the new Firmware or the actual hardware.

Plugged it in, fired it up, plugged in and formatted a blank external drive I dug out of the cupboard. All good so far! I can’t plug in a disk with anything on it because the LinkSys requires disks to be formatted with EXT3.

Hmmm… what’s this… a firmware upgrade to the NSLU2 that allows it to read NTFS! That’d make the device usable until I get my head around the Linux options!

Loaded up the upgrade, all went smoothly. Plugged in my external hard drive to see if it works. Get “Drive not formatted” message in the NSLU2 admin screen, so it must not support NTFS after all. Oh well. Plugged the external drive back into my desktop PC.

“This disk is not formatted. Do you want to format it now? Yes/No”

My

heart

stopped.

An entire disk’s worth of data… gone. Video from when the kids were little, lots of photos… gone. I know what you’re all thinking… why wasn’t this data backed up? I have two responses to this. 1) It’s not that easy to back up a 14GB video file. 2) Part of the reason I was setting up this solution is to make automated backups more accessible!

Some have said that I shouldn’t have trusted the device with my data, but in my defence, it’s a shrink wrapped consumer device that’s designed to have drives plugged in to it. If I can’t trust this device with my data, I don’t have much use for it!

I kicked off a File Recovery scan and went to bed very sad.

In the morning, the file recovery had found a bunch of deleted files, but none of the files that were not deleted at the time of the corruption! I tried loading the drive up in a couple of EXT3 file viewers, but they couldn’t read the drive either.

I’d pretty much given up hope of getting my data back.

Then my neighbour nonchalantly suggests I try a partition table repair tool. I load one up and run it. It tells me “The partition table on the disk is incorrect. Would you like to fix it?” I click “Yes”. Bang. All my data is back!!!

Yay! Waves of relief! Not to mention proof that the Linksys had screwed up the disk. The partition table was written for an EXT3 disk, even though it was still formatted in NTFS.

Yesterday I took the Linksys back to Harris Technology and threw it at them as hard as I could. Actually I didn’t and they were incredibly helpful, giving me a full refund without any hassle.

So back to the drawing board. Now that I realise how precious that data is to me, I’m going to have to get a proper, RAID based network drive solution. More money :( I’ll probably go for a Thecus N2100.

Lesson the First
Imagine losing all your data that is not backed up. How do you feel about that?

Lesson the Second
No, really. Losing it. Right now. Seriously, how do you feel about that?

Weigh your reaction to the above questions against the cost of getting dedicated backup.

Here endeth the lesson.

Update: I was talking to Josh last night and he said it wasn’t clear that I hadn’t installed the funky open source firmware on the LinkSys box yet. It was running the latest official firmware release. I probably also didn’t emphasize enough that I wouldn’t recommend anyone buying one of these pieces of junk

Snopes Love/Hate

I love Snopes.com. It’s an invaluable resource for urban legends. Every time some idiot forwards me the latest fad email, I can debunk it (or, far more rarely, prove it isn’t true.)

I hate Snopes.com. Because they go out of their way to make their site fiddly to use. There’s popups that beat Firefox’s default blocker. If you click through to another site from their pages, it not only opens in a new window, but they try to hide its URL when you mouse over the link.

And they’ve got code that prevents you clicking or selecting on their page — so for instance if the browser gets focus in the address bar, you can’t click back onto the page to get the up/down keys working again. I guess it’s to stop you copy/pasting text off the site:

if (typeof document.onselectstart!=”undefined”)
   document.onselectstart=new Function (“return false”)
else{
  document.onmousedown=disableselect
  document.onmouseup=reEnable
}

… though right-click / Select All works (at least in Firefox). Right-click also works for getting focus back on the page, thankfully.

Home Improvements – Part 2

I’ve purchased my Linksys NSLU2 :)

Now I want to make some modifications. The issue is that there are a number of different firmware options to choose from.

My requirements:
- Serve files for media (Basic functionality for all firmware)
- Read from FAT32 formatted external drives (isn’t provided by the base firmware!! The device requires all disks to be formatted!)
- Bittorent client
- Subversion server

Based on this comparison of different firmware options I’m going to have to look at a full linux based OS. Unfortunately I’ve never used Linux, so trying to get it to work on a small memory/slow processor device is going to be a steep learning curve.

Stay tuned for the next exciting episode.

YouTube goes international

Google just launched a number of YouTube international sites: “Brazil, France, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Ireland, and the UK.”

Given Australia has its own Google, can we expect a YouTube Australia any time soon? Maybe. But it looks like first they’ll have to kick off the domain squatter that owns youtube.com.au — some guy called Aaron whose contact address is a Hotmail account. Which is interesting, because normally to own a .com.au address you have to have a registered company or business name that is related to the domain.

NZ is more liberal, and similarly youtube.co.nz is owned by someone on an india.com account.

No doubt there will be similar issues in other territories. Which makes you wonder why these companies don’t nab their domains around the world when they get their first million or two in venture capital (like Amazon has; they’ve owned amazon.com.au for years). It’d save heartache later.

Gone phishing

I’ve had many phishing attempts trying to impersonate banks, but this is the first I recall impersonating the Australian Taxation Office.

From: Australian Government <admin @ ato.gov.au>
To: dbowen @ custard.net.au
Date: 15-Jun-2007 16:32
Subject: Australian Taxation Office – Please Read This.

After the last annual calculations of your fiscal activity we have determined that you are eligible to receive a tax refund of $163.80
Please submit the tax refund request and allow us 6-9 days in order to process it.

A refund can be delayed for a variety of reasons. For example submitting invalid records or applying after the deadline.

To access the form for your tax refund, please click here

Regards, Australian Government

© Copyright 2007, Australian Taxation Office – All rights reserved..

The click here link was to: http://bigart.com.tr/ato/updatedb/ (rest snipped)… from the looks of it this domain is commonly used by phishers. Evidently they’ve been at it for a few months now.

Home Improvements

I’ve annexed a room at my house to be my ‘den’. First order of business is getting some entertainment in there.

Requirements:

  • Watch DVDs
  • Watch other media from my computer
  • Reasonably inexpensive

My current solutions contains the following components:

  • Xbox running XBMC as a games/media streaming console (just purchased from Global Consoles)
  • Some sort of network storage so I don’t need to have my PC running constantly.

The network storage decision is narrowing down. I considered solutions such as the Thecus N1200. I dismissed this as being overpriced and probably overkill for my needs.

My current front runner is a Linksys NSLU2. It doesn’t have any internal disks, but has two USB ports to plug in external drives. The real beauty of the device (affectionately known as the ‘slug’ by fanboyz) is that there is an open source Linux based operating system that can be installed to it. This adds lots of extra functionality like all sorts of servers (print, bittorrent, iTunes, media/photos). I was even thinking I could install svn on it and it can be my source control repository.

I’ll let you know how my plans proceed. Any advice/comments would be very welcome!

Introduction to Abject-Oriented Programming – Typical Programmer

Abject-Oriented Programming is a set of practices for encouraging code reuse and making sure programmers are producing code that can be used in production for a long time.

Read more.

Oh, my head.

More on Safari for Windows

Safari logoWired’s benchmarks show Safari is slower than IE7 and Firefox. And within a day of its release, 6 security holes were found in it. ArsTechnica was similarly uncomplimentary.

Does it matter? Perhaps not. Jobs is obviously doing two things here: The first is continuing to get Apple’s applications onto Windows desktops, following the path of iTunes and Quicktime. Mind you, Safari is several zillion times less compelling at present; maybe that will improve… and if not, hey chuck them all together into one big bloated mega-package. “Click here to install iTunes 8 + QuickTime + Safari (a billion Mb download; a zillion Mb hard disk space required)”.

(Seriously, iTunes used to be a 20Mb download. Chucking in QuickTime blew it out to 33Mb.)

The other is making it easier for developers (some of whom don’t particularly want to buy Macs) make their web apps work on both Macs and the iPhone. That’s ultimately good for sales of Apple hardware, since more apps will work better with it, further moving away from the crazy “You must have IE on Windows to run this web page properly” thing that some people seem to think is sensible. (Those people really get my goat up. Yeah, sure, take a universal platform like the web and mangle it.)

From the reaction of some people though (Tony: “Wow, Safari really is a beta. Crashing all over the place.”) it’s got a way to go before it can even be used for that. If and when I try it, I’ll be quarantining it in a virtual machine for sure.

Scott “Lazycoder” sarcastically notes his blog is now iPhone-enabled, as it displays properly in Safari. heh.

Safari for Windows

Apple announces a version of the Safari web browser for Windows. A public beta is already available. Jobs claims it’s twice as fast as IE. Hmm.

A lot of Windows users certainly have and use iTunes, but is that because they’re locked-in by their iPod, or because they actually like it more than Windows Media Player or WinAmp or the many alternatives? My problem with it is it actively breaks some of the Windows interface standards, and tries to pretend you’re using a Mac. Will Safari do the same? Judging from the video demo, yes.

And what syncing software will ship with the iPhone? Will it be something that tries to encroach on the contacts and calendar territory of Outlook/Outlook Express, perhaps?

PS. Perhaps iTunes users will not have a choice but to install Safari, just like they’re forced into installing QuickTime now: Mary Jo Foley notes: “Jobs said that Apple plans to use iTunes as a distribution vehicle for Safari for Windows. He noted that there are a million downloads of iTunes a day, with 500 million of those going to Windows machines.”

PS. Midday. Joel Spolsky rips into it: “…it takes an insane amount of time to launch: 57 seconds… By comparison, Firefox takes about 3 seconds and Internet Explorer takes about 2.”