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2004-08-30

Palmtops - the next computing craze

Here's a quick review of upcoming palmtop PCs; machines which will fit in a coat pocket, and maybe pants pocket, but not a shirt pocket, and run Windows and/or Linux to give you all of your programs while out in the field.

I've actually used two of these, the OQO and the FlipStart, as well as a lot of other mobile computing gear. Since I've just had the touchscreen on my Fujitsu one-kilo notebook fail, with a probable repair cost of 75% of a new unit, I appreciate that the Vulcan folks might have left ouff the touchscreen for ruggedness reasons.

This is the best solution for really portable packet radio, as well as being tremendously useful in general. Palm has got to be sweating over this one, and it explains why Sony retreated from the PDA market.

2004-08-19

Time required for viruses & worms to hack your machine drops 50% in a year

You absolutely, positively, need a firewall, software or otherwise, with Windows PCs, even if you only have dial-up Internet access.

Twenty minutes is an average, but last year it was 40 minutes.

2004-08-18

Computer Security: Getting through Day One without getting hacked

This guide from the non-profit and respected SANS, Windows XP: surviving the first day, shows how to set up a PC and get it ready to connect to the INternet without getting hacked in the process. Highly recommended.

2004-08-17

Neat Windows Safety freeware

If you are using Windows XP, 2000 or NT, this freeware will alow you to make multiple backups of your Registry, and to 'optimize' (reorganize) it for best running. Windows 98 does this automatically, as does ME, and it's easy to do with Windows 95
(and here's a script which does it, using the previously described PKZIP25 program)

: REGBACK.BAT - (C) 2004 John Bartley K7AAY
: Archives five last Registry files
c:
echo off
md \data
: (delete the first line above once run for the first time)
cls
cd \data
if exist back-reg.5 del back-reg.5
if exist back-reg.4 ren back-reg.4 back-reg.5
if exist back-reg.3 ren back-reg.3 back-reg.4
if exist back-reg.2 ren back-reg.2 back-reg.3
if exist back-reg.zip ren back-reg.zip back-reg.2
cd\windows\system
PKZIP25 -a -max c:\data\back-reg.zip SYSTEM.DAT USER.DAT
cls
dir back-reg.*
echo Registry backup successful if you see
echo BACK-REG.ZIP above with today's date
pause
exit


If your Registry is corrupted, your PC will either behave strangely, or will not boot at all. Many of the 'mechanic's shrug' issues with Windows relate to the Registry, a poorly-documented database which defines the interrelationships between programs and Windows, and is an important copy-protection mechanism which protects commercial software from being easily copied from one machine to another (which encourages commercial companies to write for Windows).

2004-08-16

Fear and Loathing in Iraq

Recommended by the esteemed Dr. Pournelle, and now, by Yours Truly.

2004-08-15

Here's how I protect myself from data loss when syncing my Palm

I use PKZIP25.COM from PKWARE, and call it within a script ('batch file'). If I accidentally delete data I don't discover as gone until after the next sync, I can go to an old data archive made with PKZIP 2.5 for DOS and recover it.

BTW, if anyone knows of a freeware archiving utility which can be invoked from within a DOS script, please do let me know at johnbartleyTHREE@yahoo.com (please change THREE to 3 before sending). I obtained my PKZIP25 through purchase, but believe I'd like to try an Open Source or Freeware solution if there's one which works scripted within DOS.


I created this batch file which I place in C:/WINDOWS (or somewhere else in the path) and call it every time Windows reboots by adding COMMAND /C PALMBACK.BAT within C:\AUTOEXEC.BAT on my 98 machines. NT-based machines would place the file in C:/WINNT instead and use CMD instead of COMMAND.

Before use, Palmists must go to C:\Program Files\Palm and find the name of their data subdirectory. Most users name their first Palm with their first and last names, so if your name is FIRST LASTNAME, the subdirectory's normally LASTNAF. It will not always be that, especially for folks who are not still on their first PalmOS PDA, so take a look under C:\Program Files\Palm (or wherever you installed your Palm Desktop software.)

Here's the script which is the same for both:
:PALMBACK.BAT (c) 1999-2004 John Bartley K7AAY
:Place in path, call from autoexec | archives 10 last old Palm backups
echo off
C:
md \archives
:delete line above after 1st time run
cd \archives
if exist palmback.old del palmback.old
if exist palmback.9 ren palmback.9 palmback.old
if exist palmback.8 ren palmback.8 palmback.9
if exist palmback.7 ren palmback.7 palmback.8
if exist palmback.6 ren palmback.6 palmback.7
if exist palmback.5 ren palmback.5 palmback.6
if exist palmback.4 ren palmback.4 palmback.5
if exist palmback.3 ren palmback.3 palmback.4
if exist palmback.2 ren palmback.2 palmback.3
if exist palmback.zip ren palmback.zip palmback.2
cd \Progra~1\Palm\USERNAF
:USERNAF is the data subdirectory unique to your Palm.
PKZIP25 -add -excl=archive\*.* -max -dir=current c:\archives\palmback.zip *.*
exit


2004-08-14

Moport: An independent event-driven mobile blog network

I grew up on the Gulf Coast, and spent some time in Tornado Alley as well. Now, I live on the Ring of Fire. All three have their disasters; hurricanes, twisters and earthquakes.

I also know many volunteer disaster workers who had Ground Zero assignments. They found low-bandwidth texting (often through paging networks, since cell nets were down for many days) their best source of information.

Howard Rheingold's Smart Mobs website led me to this article on Moport, a text blogging net for mobiles, which will make its debut during the Republican National Convention in the Big Apple at the end of this month.

Why not establish a Moport for Hurricane Charlie, and then create protocols for quick deployment of other Moports for other natural disasters?

My motivation is that people deal with disasters better when they have a sense of being informed. Traditional disaster relief organizations, however, have to do that through the commercial media, who are rather cumbersome and have their own interests (i.e., 'what bleeds, leads') which can distort news coverage.

Texting from PDAphones and Moport can overcome that bias, and can allow people a better sense of what's going on.

Rumor Control, of course, must be addressed, as there will always be folks who delight in lying for the sake of sensationalism. This may be accomplished by allowing certified sources (i.e., Red Cross, Salvation Army, other VOADS {Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters} ) plus government agencies (police traffic departments, state highway departments) to have a special rating affixed to their statements. Yes, sometimes authority must be questioned, but through the transparent process of a Moport, we will likely get useful information from the authorities.

Wouldn't you feel better in a disaster if you had an independent channel of information through your mobile phone (that is, for as long as it works.. since ATT, Nextel, and T-Mobile can only support about sixty callers per cell, and Qwest, Sprint and Verizon only about thirty?)

2004-08-13

This is a spoof, this is only a spoof...

A recent analysis of the Emergency Alert System, which replaced the Emergency Broadcast System (itself heir to CONELRAD), shows the hackability of emergency alerts.

The EAS was launched in 1997 to replace the cold-war era Emergency Broadcast System known best for making the phrase "this is only a test" a cultural touchstone. Like that earlier system, the EAS is designed to allow the President to interrupt television and radio programming and speak directly to the American people in the event of an impending nuclear war, or a similarly extreme national emergency. The system has never been activated for that purpose, but state and local officials have found it a valuable channel for warning the public of regional emergencies, including the "Amber Alerts" credited with the recovery of 150 abducted children.

As first reported by SecurityFocus nearly two years ago, the EAS was built without basic authentication mechanisms, and is activated locally by unencrypted low-speed modem transmissions over public airwaves. That places radio and television broadcasters and cable TV companies at risk of being fooled by spoofers with a little technical know-how and some off-the-shelf electronic components. Under FCC regulations, unattended stations must automatically interrupt their broadcasts to forward alerts, making it possible for even blatantly false information to be forwarded without first passing human inspection.

The FCC's review follows a detailed report on the EAS produced by the non-profit Partnership for Public Warning (PPW) in February, which noted that "EAS security is now very much an issue."

"Since attacks involving chemical or biological weapons are likely to require use of the EAS system to provide official alert information to the public, it is possible that an attacker could decide to cripple the EAS or use it to spread damaging disinformation," reads the PPW report.


So, some reasonable alternative to EAS is needed; if the system can be hacked, then a DOS attack or a series of 'cry wolf' false alarm spoofs would render the system useless, as it's been predicted that false alarms would lead people to ignore it. That would be a nice complement to a terrorist action, now, wouldn't it?

An SMS-based system, to address the 2/3 of Portland-area folks with cellphones, would be a nifty idea, and cheap (since it uses existing infrastructure). I've proposed it to the Director of Portland's Emergency Management office. Here's a Washington Post article (free, registration required) describing their system.

2004-08-12

Pentagon Abandons Microsoft for "Commander's Digital Assistant"

Here's a BargainPDA report on how the new ruggedized PDA (whoops, CDA, or "Commander's Digital Assistant" will use Linux, instead of Microsoft's PocketPC. I can see that; I would not want to have my CDA hacked by a virus or stuck in a reboot cycle when out on a mission.

2004-08-11

430 ELE NEAs documented, more on their way; but, wait, there's more....

> http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/3553368.stm

ELE = Extinction Level Event

NEA = Near Earth Asteroid


So: when do we expect that particular doom?


Well, I don't know when it will occur, and neither do the experts, beyond 'soon' (in geological terms). But, then I moved from Collier County, Florida (where the highest point is 17' above mean high tide) a dozen years ago, after I read LUCIFER'S HAMMER, right after I read ON THE SLOPES OF VESUVIUS.

I think Dr. Pournelle and The Admiral both provided a Clue.. and now, I live in cheeful, happy, mountainous Oregon, with in-laws who have a spread at 2,200' on the other side of the Cascades.

> And is there a way to trigger such things?

The article suggested a volcanic eruption would be required, and we don't know how to trigger those any more than we know how to set off an earthquake. There may be some Russians still around who worked on their equivalent of PLOWSHARE, or maybe some Chinese know (shall we send a
Hugh Gregory in to find out?)

However, we can monitor movement on that rockpile with GPS-equipped transponders, as well as monitor the E-layer for seismic strangeness, and listen to extra-long-wave radio; a very good description of the latter, including specifics on receiver construction, was published in the Fall 1990 WHOLE EARTH REVIEW on pp. 101-104.

Add-ons for Gmail

Add-ons for Gmail

2004-08-05

Funny du jour

Here's the yock of the day.

2004-08-04

De-gunking your PC

Here's a very useful summary of how to maintain your Windows PC's software. Of course, you have to clean your desktop machines to remove the dust, lint and hair which accumulate within and block the cooling air flow, but this is a good start for all Windows users.