Operating Systems – TipsFor.us http://tipsfor.us Tech Tips, Reviews, Tutorials, Occasional Rants Fri, 21 Mar 2014 05:03:09 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8 How to Simply Rip DVDs in 64-bit Windows http://tipsfor.us/2012/07/08/how-to-simply-rip-dvds-in-64-bit-windows/ Sun, 08 Jul 2012 22:33:41 +0000 http://www.tipsfor.us/?p=614 Continue reading How to Simply Rip DVDs in 64-bit Windows ]]> Handbrake iconIn the past, we’ve looked at how to easily rip DVDs on the Windows platform. That method still works great, unless you’re on a 64-bit version of Windows. For those of us now running Windows 7 64-bit, we have a problem: DVD43 – a required decrypter used in the previous tutorial, does not get along well with 64-bit versions of Windows.

The Solution – Handbrake with libdvdcss

There’s an easy solution to this problem, and it only requires the installation of one software program. I’ve migrated to the mighty Handbrake for all my DVD rips. First, install the 64-bit version of Handbrake. As of this writing, the latest version is 0.9.6.

With Handbrake installed, make a mental note of its installation location (probably C:\Program Files\Handbrake). Next, download the libdvdcss-2.dll file from Handbrake’s repository. Here’s a zipped copy of my working file (libdvdcss), just in case.

Take your copy of libdvdcss-2.dll and put it inside your Handbrake installation folder, as noted above. Finally, rename the file to libdvdcss.dll.

Handbrake folder with libdvdcss

 

Let’er Rip

You can now launch Handbrake and rip DVDs as usual. The full Handbrake guide is here, but one quick-and-dirty guide is to:

  • Choose your DVD from the Source button
  • Select your Title (you’re probably looking for the one with the longest duration – that’s the full video)
  • Pick a Destination for your ripped video file
  • Choose a Preset on the right side (I tend to stick with Regular – Normal)
  • Hit the big, green Start button, and let’er rip!
Handbrake - Main window
Handbrake – Click to enlarge

That should do it! You should now be able to decrypt and rip DVDs on Windows 7 64-bit. On a personal note, I’m impressed at how little time it takes to rip a full-length movie on modern hardware versus just a few years ago. I’m showing my age, but I fondly recall ripping DVDs using my beloved antique workhorse from 2001: an AMD 1600+ processor with 512 MB of DDR 133. Ripping a single DVD might have taken 8 hours or more! Today, it takes minutes. You kids today have no idea how lucky you are.

Okay, that’s enough nostalgia for this old timer. Get off my lawn, and I’ll get back to ripping my DVD collection. 🙂

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Microsoft takes another hit: NGINX tops IIS http://tipsfor.us/2012/01/10/nginx-tops-iis/ http://tipsfor.us/2012/01/10/nginx-tops-iis/#comments Wed, 11 Jan 2012 05:24:23 +0000 http://tipsfor.us/?p=2811 Some bloggers have suggested that ripping on Microsoft is going out of style… but this week Microsoft’s beleaguered IIS web server got bested by the open source NGINX web server.

Web Server Statistics
Microsoft IIS goes down

My beefs with Microsoft are many, however, I will tip my hat to Bill Gate’s many generous donations to charity. That’s really the most remarkable thing about Microsoft: it gave birth to one of the most magnanimous philanthropists of an entire generation, and no words can express thanks for that.

BUT…. historically, Microsoft’s products have typically been poor knock-offs of existing technology. You get an inferior product AND you have to PAY for it: it’s the worst kind of insidious lose-lose situation imaginable.

Let’s take a quick waltz through history and review products that Microsoft has ripped-off (thank you David A. Wheeler):

  • BASIC: Microsoft’s BASIC was released in 1975, but BASIC itself had been invented back in 1964
  • MS-DOS: 1981 Microsoft released this hastily written knock-off of Unix.
  • Windows: Released in 1985, clearly inspired by Apple’s Macintosh (which, in turn, had been inspired by Xerox PARC).
  • Windows NT/2000: finally provided limited multi-user capability by liberally borrowing ideas from the pre-existing VAX VMS and Unix systems.
  • Word: Microsoft’s 1983 knock-off of a word processor was based on Lexitron and Linolex (1972), and WordStar and WordPerfect (1979)
  • Excel: Microsoft’s product borrowed from the original VisiCalc (1978) and Lotus 1-2-3
  • Access: uses Codd’s models, which were developed in 1970 (before Microsoft even existed)
  • Internet Explorer: an extension of the older NCSA Mosaic web browser.
  • Active Directory: a re-implementation of the Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP), with Microsoft’s proprietary variant of MIT’s Kerberos often being used for identity authentication.

Mr. Wheeler sums it up nicely: All major Microsoft products are essentially re-implementations of previous products; none are fundamentally innovative.

So, who is dumb enough to pay top-dollar for a second-rate product? Simple: CORPORATIONS. Big businesses are Microsoft’s last stronghold. They are inefficient, bloated organizations incapable of rational thought. Instead of getting stuff done, corporations are designed to feed you coffee and harvest your pee. And these legal “people” are demonstrably psychopaths who buy Microsoft products.

The thing that is fundamentally wrong with some of these products is that they waste enormous amounts of time. Take Internet Explorer as an example (ah yes, bring forth the whipping boy): how many hours, days, weeks, months, or YEARS of man-hours has that browser wasted for web designers and developers? I’m reminded of the burning of the library at Alexandria or the destruction of non-canonical texts by early Christians: how many hundreds (or thousands) of years did that set back civilization? What a waste. And I have to wonder, how many years has Internet Explorer set back our technological civilization? A similar comparison could be made for IIS.

So to wrap this up, I salute NGINX: may their momentum snuff out the IIS’s inefficient bloat-ware once and for all.

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Comparison of VPS Providers http://tipsfor.us/2011/04/18/comparison-of-vps-providers/ http://tipsfor.us/2011/04/18/comparison-of-vps-providers/#comments Mon, 18 Apr 2011 16:08:13 +0000 http://tipsfor.us/?p=2631 So you’ve graduated from the world of shared hosting providers and it’s time for you to set up your own big-boy hosting package. You need a Virtual Private Server (VPS) of some sort, but the options are dizzying because these services have become a commodity: it seems that nearly everyone is peddling some variation of them. Well, we feel your pain. And I feel my own pain… I’ve dealt with a number of hosting providers over the past few years, and I’m writing this article to share with you my opinions. I’ve set up accounts for myself or for my clients on all of the following systems, and here is my unbridled opinion of each of them. Keep in mind that these reviews and opinions relate primarily to using the services for web hosting.

These aren’t affiliate links unless otherwise indicated (hey, if you want to throw us a bone for saving you the pain of experiencing these guys yourself, then please, feel free to click the affiliate link: it costs you nothing and it is your way of saying “thanks for saving me the trouble of learning this stuff the hard way”).

LiquidWeb

LiquidWeb has impressed me with its clean integrations and its “heroic support”. That doesn’t mean they’ve been able to fix every problem I’ve had, but to be fair, a lot of the tricky stuff was weird 3rd party installs that *I* struggle with greatly. But they have been very responsive in their tickets and I’ve never felt abandoned or in the dark.

The standard VPS’s offer a good value, but if you need more horsepower, their SmartServers offer a nice combination of virtual/cloud and dedicated qualities, and it’s a good combo for many folks. These come by default with WHM/cPanel, so it’s easy to set up sub-accounts with their own logins. Throw me a Bone (affiliate link)

Media Temple

This is a popular option, although I’m not sure why… their cloud servers go down frequently, they’ve had several pretty severe security issues, and using SSH on their servers is a holy pain in the ass because SSH dumps you in some foreign directory miles away from your home directory, whereas FTP takes you to your home directory. What? Yes, it is obnoxious and confusing, and they disconnect your SSH session after 5 minutes, which is approximately 1 minute less than the time it takes you to RTFM through your notes and emails to find where the hell your home directory is or which command you need to run to escalate yourself to the proper user to be able to do anything useful. MediaTemple uses Plesk to offer control panels to their clients, and Plesk is a nightmare if you ever try to do any sysadmin work on the command line. I’ve had a couple clients on MediaTemple, and it just seems like it’s a rocky road with bumps in the service and difficulties in doing basic tasks. It’s not the worst out there, but I wouldn’t rate MediaTemple as anything better than mediocre.

VPS.net

I do not recommend these guys. They do have a nice looking site and what looks to be a nice product, but my experience with them was wholly negative. “Jeez”, you might be thinking, “don’t flame a brother in writing!”, but sit down around the campfire and let me tell you why I feel completely comfortable doing so….

It all started when I set up a VPS server with VPS.net and I signed up for their paid snapshots knowing that I was liable to screw up my server at some point and I’d want to roll back to a snapshot image. Sure enough, I borked my server by removing the sqlite package, which completely destroyed the functionality of my yum utility (don’t ever do what I did, by the way). “No problem”, I thought, “I’ll just roll back.” Well, the restoration process had a fatal flaw, which completely toasted my server. After using their “restoration” utility, I didn’t just have a server with a broken yum utility, I had a completely fried server (ooo… that’s a bad code taco on that one). The people over at VPS.net were completely unwilling to admit the problem. I wasted about 2 days waiting for them to either fix the problem or to just come clean and say “hey, we’re really sorry, but we had a glitch in our snapshot utility so we only have partial backups of your server.” No. They hemmed and hawed and wasted my time for 2 days until finally one of the techs admitted that there had been a problem. I think he was probably later executed by firing squad for insubordination and refusing to tow the party line. I needed to clock in about 40 hours (all un-billable, by the way) to rebuild the server from scratch, and they acted like the Soviets when Chernobyl blew up: in typical fashion they denied anything happened until European scientists started measuring massive amounts of radiation and said “uh, comrades… did something happen at your reactor?”

While waiting days for a response (all while my server and all of its sites were completely down), my patience got exhausted, so I finally threatened to make a blog post like this one. The CTO jumped in saying “I was approaching this in the wrong way”. I listed the several tickets that I had filed that had gotten no response for 48 hours (even ones that *he* had initially responded to). And then even the CTO stopped responding to my requests for information (read: he must have known how badly they screwed up). His response was literally an advertisement: he blabbed on about how awesome their servers were and what great new offerings were available. I felt like he had just run over my dog, and instead of apologizing for killing my best friend, he was yammering on about awesome his car was with its dual-hemi’s, turbo-charged engine and high-performance tires. The final “kiss my ass” message they sent me was a legalese “F-U” which basically stated that none of their services, including backups, were guaranteed. Seriously, I don’t often say stuff like this this in writing, but VPS.net can go french kiss a donkey’s ass. I gave them every opportunity to respond to my questions or to justify their actions, and they ignored me, so I feel I’m being more than fair.

So dealing with VPS.net cost me several thousand dollars, it almost cost me a client, and their ineptitude set me back on several high priority projects, and their response to a completely legitimate issue was childish and unprofessional, and my requests for just basic professionalism were ignored. So there you have it: my rant against VPS.net. Use their services at your own risk.

VPSlink.com

These guys offer a simple no-frills hosting package, and I’ve used them for several dev projects over the years. Nothing fancy, but they are responsive to the requests, and I’ve only had minimal fuss with their servers and their control panel is easy to navigate. They may not give you as much RAM as some for the price, but they do give you lots of CPUs (like 16!). I like these guys and I give them a good thumbs up. There is no cPanel type dashboard for sub-accounts, so this one is only for command-line sysadmins only.

ServerAxis.com

This is another no-frills VPS system that offers some pretty nice stats for the price: lots of RAM and a good amount of CPU. They offer a few more options than VPSLink (e.g. you can pay extra to get an external backup volume mounted to your server), and they are a bit more scalable, but I didn’t find their admin panels very intuitive, so I’ve lost time fumbling through them. There is no cPanel type dashboard for sub-accounts, so this one is only for command-line sysadmins only, but still a solid thumbs-up with these guys.

GoDaddy

Ah yes, now even GoDaddy is offering VPS services (hey, we said this stuff is becoming a commodity). The prices there look competitive, but my experiences with GoDaddy as a host have been mindbogglingly poor. Their shared hosting is a complete disaster — hands down, it’s the worst I’ve seen… they arbitrarily limit functionality, it takes hours to complete tasks that take only minutes on other hosts, and all for a cost that is higher than their competitors. I even had one of their techs tell me that the MySQL dump was “working perfectly” when the log file showed clearly that there was an error. Blink. Are they blind? Or just stupid? They also had zero understanding of how DNS records worked, so they weren’t able to offer any assistance in configuring a custom zone file. Furthermore, their dashboard is impossibly confusing to navigate. Do you know that weird castille soap by Dr. Bonner? I’m pretty sure the intern that did the layout for that soap is the same person who did the UI for GoDaddy’s control panel because I always have to dial their support # when I have to do anything in there.

Did the same guy do GoDaddy's control panel layout?
Layout designed by GoDaddy: Worst Layout Ever

I mean seriously… can you read that?

So even though these look like competitive prices, I have severe reservations about using GoDaddy as anything more than a registrar. Hey, I want to jump on Danica Patrick as much as the next horny guy, but maybe if they spent some time cleaning up their site and services instead of Super Bowl ads and models, they’d have a product worth recommending, but as it stands, you should pass on GoDaddy as a host.

Amazon cloud EC2

This is a popular option because hey, it’s Amazon… but I’ve found EC2 cloud stuff to be a pain in the ass to use simply because you get lost on the command line. It’s worse than MediaTemple from a command-line standpoint. In my opinion, being on the cloud means your data theoretically is always there (there are outages), but if you’re coming in via SSH, then you can’t find it. Haha. Only sort of kidding there. In general, this isn’t a very nice option for those people doing simple web hosting types of services. It’s more appropriate for companies doing persistent application deployments.

Other Providers

I feel obligated to mention the following 2 providers because so many people I work with recommend them highly:

I don’t have first hand experience with them, so I can’t comment directly.

Conclusion

There are a lot of options out there, but with enough time, patience, and trouble-shooting elbow-grease, you can find a web host that works for you.

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Networx – Free Bandwidth Monitoring Software (Getting the Most Out of It) http://tipsfor.us/2009/08/01/networx-%e2%80%93free-bandwidth-monitoring-software-getting-the-most-out-of-it/ http://tipsfor.us/2009/08/01/networx-%e2%80%93free-bandwidth-monitoring-software-getting-the-most-out-of-it/#comments Sat, 01 Aug 2009 22:02:26 +0000 http://www.tipsfor.us/?p=2389 Continue reading Networx – Free Bandwidth Monitoring Software (Getting the Most Out of It) ]]>

Systems: Windows Only (2000, XP, Vista, 2008 / Both 32 and 64 bit)

Donationware: Technically it’s free, but when you see the level of craftsmanship in this program, you will want to donate.

Website: Softperfect.com

networx-prevI recently changed ISPs to one with much more consistent service, but the trade off is that I now have a rather small bandwidth cap. As much as we hate them, bandwidth caps are probably in all of our futures. The important thing is to have control over and be informed of your usage (before the bill arrives). I needed a reliable way to keep track of my bandwidth, so I tested out several free bandwidth monitoring softwares. My ISP has its own online bandwidth usage calculated, but I wanted a redundant system (one which I could use to make sure they were honest in their tracking).  In my experiments, I found Networx to be the best. Its primary virtue is its ability to be as advanced as you need it to be. For my multiple computer home network, it has every feature I could ask for. Let’s take a closer look.

The software is so unobtrusive; it even lacks a full control window.  Instead, you can access all aspects of the software from the taskbar icon.

Networxscreen1

A left click will give you a quick bandwidth summary/ a right click will show you the menu.

Networxscreen2

Before we get to ridiculous number of features available in the menu, let’s check out my favorite feature.A right click anywhere on the task bar brings up a windows menu that has a “toolbars” option, if you go there you will find a new entry: Networx Desk Band. Activating this toolbar gives you a quick real time read out.

Networxscreen3

I know what you’re thinking: But I don’t like red and white graphs! Well, you can fully customize that little read out; I’ll get to that a little later on.First, lets go back to that right click menu from the Networx taskbar icon.

Your first 3 options all work together:

Show Graph

– This displays a full size visual read out that you can place on your desktop wherever you want.

Networxscreen4

Reset Graph (Only present if “Show Graph” is clicked first) – This option will clear the current data displayed on the graph, not unlike the trip counter reset in your car.

Enable Click Through (Only present if “Show Graph” is clicked first) – Will make the graph act as if it is not really there.You can literally click through the graph to select things. Be careful though, this means you can’t resize or move the graph window without turning off “Click Through” the same way your turned it on.

Networxscreen5

Speed Meter

– This works sort of like a heart monitor for you bandwidth.You hit “Play” and for the duration you allow it to run, it records average, maximum and total transfer.You can then export it directly to a txt file.

Networxscreen5a

Usage Statistics

– You can access this menu from a double click on the icon.This will probably be your most visited window in the battle to keep informed about transfer totals. The first thing you will see is the “General” Tab:

Not much to do here, except see a quick summary of your total usage all in one place.

Networxscreen6

The Daily Report – Here is where you can really begin to see detail present in this program.If you have this set up on the family computer, you can directly see what day of the month the highest transfer happened.If you are not a fan of the spread sheet, they also provide you a visual readout of the past week.

Networxscreen7

Weekly/Monthly Report – The same data as the daily, but handily calculated for you either size increment.

Custom – The most powerful data aggregator in this entire software. You can give it the date-through-date specifics and it will automatically set up the graph in the most appropriate way.

Networxscreen8

Dial-up Sessions – If you have a minute/transfer based dial-up connection, this tab is vital.It records every time you connect to your dial up provider, the date, amount of time spent, transfers, etc.You might think this is outdated, but you would be surprised how many areas still do not have broadband.

Hourly Rates – for you true statistics hounds out there, you can follow your transfer rates on an hourly basis.

Networxscreen9

Export – Oh yeah, you can also export all of these charts to Excel for easy archiving.

Users – If everyone who uses the computer has separate logons, you can track the data per user.You know, easily figure out which roommate is the bandwidth hog.

Networxscreen10

Quota

This is a handy system for letting you set the maximum transfer/duration.For me that is 50 gigs per month.I set it at 45 gigs, however, because it notifies you with a little pop-up window when you have met your quota.

Networxscreen11

Networxscreen12

Settings

All of the settings for the program.Let’s go one tab at a time.

General – This tab has the settings for “Load on Windows Startup, Check for Updates”, And most importantly: Which internet connection is monitored. This is essential if you have multiple connections, or utilize a different connection for intra-network traffic.

Networxscreen13

Graph – Settings to tweak how the graph output functions.This is really for power users who want control over aspect of their graph.

Networxscreen14

Graph Colors – This may seem trivial or nit-picky, but on some monitors you may want to adjust the colors of the graph for optimal resolution.High contrast is an option in every aspect of most operating systems for those who need it for accessibility.Or, you may just want to make it look pretty.

Networxscreen15

Notifications – This tab’s settings tell the software when you notify you of certain things.It can tell you if your connection falls below it’s usual transfer rate, or if it exceeds a predetermined speed.You can also customize how exactly it notifies you, a tone or a pop up, ect.

Advanced – There is one truly important feature in here.In this tab you can set what day your billing cycle begins on. I’m lucky, my bandwidth resets at midnight on the first.For some of you, it might be on the 14th or 21st, etc. DO NOT FORGET TO SET THIS, OR YOUR TOTAL BANDWIDTH USED FOR THE MONTH WILL NOT BE ACCURATE!

If you have multiple computers using the same network, you will need to install Networx on all of them, and tick the box under “Synchronization” or else YOU WILL ONLY BE TRACKING THE DATA TRANSFERRED FROM THIS COMPUTER.That will not be an accurate measure of the total usage.

Networxscreen16

Trace Route

– This is a power user feature.Your average user will never have a need to track a packet from your computer to a source IP.

Ping

– This works the same way as the command line ping.You enter a location to ping, and it will tell you the millisecond duration of the test transfer.

NetStat

– This is pretty useful, it lists every program or service that is accessing the internet, or has rights to do so, and where it’s sending from and to.

Conclusion

So that’s about all you need to know to keep up with your bandwidth use by utilizing Networx. If you have a different favorite Bandwidth tracker, let us know in the comments below.I am on month 2 of using Networx, and have had no problems, if you have, also let us know.At the end of my first month of use, there was a 458 megabyte discrepancy between my Networx report and my ISPs total report.I attribute this to the Xbox360 updates and purchases along with my iPhone app downloads.

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iStat Pro is an Awesome Free System Monitoring Widget http://tipsfor.us/2009/06/26/istat-pro-is-an-awesome-free-system-monitoring-widget/ Fri, 26 Jun 2009 22:12:47 +0000 http://www.tipsfor.us/?p=2338 icon-istatproFor Mac OS 10.4 or higher: iStat pro is a system monitoring widget that has it all.

iStat proMain site

Like any system monitor worth its salt, iStat pro displays vital information about your:

  • CPU
  • Memory
  • Hard disk(s)
  • Network
  • Temps
  • Fan speed
  • Battery (for laptops)
  • Uptime and System load
  • Running Processes

istat-pro-widget

Unlike some other system monitoring tools for Mac OS X, iStat pro runs in the Dashboard instead of in the System Menu or the Dock. To me, this is preferable because I can quickly send it completely out of the way when I don’t need to check any system stats.

Okay, so it displays system stats. Is that all?

Nope. For starters, one cool aspect of iStat pro is that it displays your external IP address under the Network section. Pressing the i key (provided iStat is the active widget) will copy that external IP to your clipboard, which is handy for network admins.

istat-pro-prefsYou can also customize the stew of the widget. Want only certain elements (such as CPU, Temps, and Memory) to display? No problem, just turn off the others in the Preferences.

Want the stats widget to display vertically instead of horizontally? Yep, it can do that.

Want to rearrange the order of the elements? Just drag-and-drop.

Dislike the default color? Just pick from any of the nine included colors. There’s bound to be one you like.

If you’re totally hardcore about system monitoring, you can buy the iStat for iPhone app ($2) and check your Mac’s system stats remotely from your iPhone or iPod touch.

Hotkeys

For you hotkey aficionados, here’s a list of the available hotkeys for iStat pro, taken directly from the manual.

c – Show or hide the CPU section
m – Show or hide the memory section
d – Show or hide the disks section
n – Show or hide the network section
p – Show or hide the processes section
u – Show or hide the uptime section
b – Show or hide the battery section
f – Show or hide the fans section
t – Show or hide the temps section
s – Swap between tall and wide skins
i – Copy external IP to the clipboard
g – Update external IP
1 – 8 – Change skin colour

iStat pro is freeware/donationware from iSlayer.

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WinCDEmu Integrates Disk Image Mounting in Windows Explorer http://tipsfor.us/2009/06/24/wincdemu-integrates-disk-image-mounting-in-windows-explorer/ Thu, 25 Jun 2009 02:15:00 +0000 http://www.tipsfor.us/2009/06/24/wincdemu-integrates-disk-image-mounting-in-windows-explorer/ Continue reading WinCDEmu Integrates Disk Image Mounting in Windows Explorer ]]> WinCDEmu - Right-click We’ve written before about Virtual CloneDrive, software that can mount and run disk images as if they are physical disks. A similar free program is WinCDEmu.

WinCDEmu – Main site

WinCDEmu – SourceForge page

WinCDEmu is free and open-source, and makes mounting a disk image (*.ISO, *.CUE, *.BIN, *.RAW, and *.IMG) as easy as double-clicking.

In case you are not familiar with disk images, here’s what you need to know: an image is the re-creation of the contents of a CD or DVD saved into a single file. That file will have an extension such as *.ISO, the most-common type.

These disk images are typically burned back onto a CD or DVD using disk-burning software such as InfraRecorder (free). For instance, if you want to download and use a Linux distro, you typically download the ISO and then burn it to a CD, thus allowing you to boot and run from that physical disk.

Software such as WinCDEmu allows you to skip the actual burn and instead use the ISO as a virtual disk. When you mount an ISO (or other image) as a virtual disk, your computer treats it just like a physical one with the benefit that virtual drives operate much faster than physical drives.

Installation and Usage

WinCDEmu - Verify Installing WinCDEmu seems almost too easy. There’s no notification that the install was successful, nor will you find anything new in the Start Menu. The only hurdle at all is telling Windows that yes, you want to install an unverified driver.

It will show up as part of Add/Remove Programs, so you can uninstall it from there if necessary.

Using WinCDEmu is brain-dead simple. For any disk image on your system, just double-click it to mount, and it will show up in Windows Explorer just as if you popped a CD/DVD in the drive. Yes, it works just like Mac OS X, which is a good thing.

To un-mount (or eject) the virtual disk, simply double-click that same disk image (such as the original ISO file, not the mounted image in Explorer).

You can also right-click the virtual drive and Eject. Piece of cake.

WinCDEmu supports an unlimited number of simultaneously mounted virtual drives. It also supports SMB network shares, but be sure to look up the workaround for a Windows cache bug.

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Disable the “Install Updates and Shut Down” Option in Windows http://tipsfor.us/2009/06/22/disable-the-install-updates-and-shut-down-option-in-windows/ http://tipsfor.us/2009/06/22/disable-the-install-updates-and-shut-down-option-in-windows/#comments Tue, 23 Jun 2009 02:00:23 +0000 http://www.tipsfor.us/?p=2303 Continue reading Disable the “Install Updates and Shut Down” Option in Windows ]]> install-updates-and-shutdownHave you ever been annoyed at the Install Updates and Shut Down message that displays after Windows Update runs in the background?

It’s easy to avoid this message entirely and force any pending updates to stay associated with the yellow shield in the system tray. This is one setting that I always configure for any machine under my control, mainly to inspect any pending updates before I choose to install them. It’s also handy for avoiding the dreaded WGA notification tool.

On to business: this tip works on XP, Vista, and Windows 7.

First, launch the Group Policy editor by going to Start – Run, and typing:

gpedit.msc

Note: if you don’t see the Start → Run button, just press the Windows key + R.

Once the Group Policy editor opens, expand Computer Configuration, then Administrative Templates, then Windows Components.

group-policy-editor-windows-components

Select the Windows Update component to view a list of settings. Double-click the setting for Do not display ‘Install Updates and Shut Down’ option in Shut Down Windows dialog box.

group-policy-editor-windows-update

In the window that spawns, set it to Enabled and click OK. I agree that this is somewhat unintuitive to enable it, but remember that you are affirming a negative, if that makes sense.

group-policy-editor-windows-update-enable

That’s it! You should no longer see the Install Updates and Shut Down message.

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Securing a Linux Server: SSH and Brute-Force Attacks http://tipsfor.us/2009/06/15/securing-a-linux-server-ssh-and-brute-force-attacks/ http://tipsfor.us/2009/06/15/securing-a-linux-server-ssh-and-brute-force-attacks/#comments Mon, 15 Jun 2009 16:35:51 +0000 http://www.tipsfor.us/?p=2220 Continue reading Securing a Linux Server: SSH and Brute-Force Attacks ]]> If you have a web server, then you are the target of many possible attacks. *ANY* port you have open on that server can be exploited, so you if you value your uptime and your data, you need to secure it. This article focuses on locking down your SSH configuration and user permissions.

If you’ve had your server online for a while without locking down your SSH configuration, have a look at this file: /var/log/secure and see if you’ve got a lot of connection attempts.

This is what a brute-force attack looks like:

[prompt]$ sudo less /var/log/secure
May 31 22:42:12 yourdomain sshd[25711]: Failed password for invalid user alberto from 190.2.35.25
port 32976 ssh2
May 31 22:42:12 yourdomain sshd[25712]: Connection closed by 190.2.35.25
May 31 22:46:11 yourdomain sshd[25714]: Connection closed by 190.2.35.25
May 31 22:56:46 yourdomain sshd[25717]: Invalid user neil from 190.2.35.25
May 31 22:57:10 yourdomain sshd[25717]: reverse mapping checking getaddrinfo for customer-static.someisp.com failed - POSSIBLE BREAK-IN ATTEMPT!

Using Geobytes (or a similar IP address locator), I can see that some hacker-bot in Argentina was guessing both usernames (e.g. alberto, neil) and passwords every few seconds. F*#K!!

The Solution

Here’s what the solution to this problem entails:

  1. Add users for each person accessing the server.
  2. Create a password for those users.
  3. Fly to Argentina and show Sancho I got something for his punk-ass. Just kidding… are you still paying attention?
  4. Add the necessary user(s) to the sudoers file. You don’t want anyone to have direct root access, so this file defines who gets sudo privileges.
  5. Create a public/private ssh key to use in logins.
  6. Install the public key(s) on the server. This will enable the server to recognize the owner of the private key (i.e. you).
  7. Turn off Password Authentication
  8. Disable Root Access

Creating an SSH Key on your Desktop Machine

Keys come in pairs: a public key and a private key. You’ll keep your private key on your machine (in a secure place), the public key you upload to the servers you want to connect to.

You can use different algorithms to generate the key; this shows you how to do it using the DSA algorithm, which is considered more secure (as of this writing).

Open your Terminal and type the following, then just press enter for the default file location. (OS X users can just open their Terminal. Windows users will have to use Cygwin or Putty).

* Do a man ssh-keygen on your machine to see if you require different options to create a dsa key.


[prompt]$ ssh-keygen -t dsa
Generating public/private dsa key pair.
Enter file in which to save the key (/Users/youruser/.ssh/id_dsa):

Type a passphrase (twice).


Enter passphrase (empty for no passphrase):
Enter same passphrase again:

And now you get something like this output:


Your identification has been saved in /Users/youruser/.ssh/test.
Your public key has been saved in /Users/youruser/.ssh/test.pub.
The key fingerprint is:
12:34:56:78:01:23:ab:a7:42:2b:46:5a:3f:fc:4c:ca youruser@ComputerName
The key's randomart image is:


+--[ DSA 1024]----+
| o o++o |
| o+ . oo.. |
|++.o .. |
|*o. + . . |
|+. . * S |
| E o . |
| |
| |
| |
+-----------------+

The ASCII art thing is a new feature, allowing folks to visually identify different keys.

For more information about SSH on OS X, please refer to Dave Dribin’s excellent blog:
ssh-agent on Mac OS X 10.5 (Leopard)

Back on your Web Server

Now that you’ve created your public and private key on your desktop machine, you need to head over to your web server and make some changes.

1. Log into your web server and create users

If you are still logging in as the root user, you need to create other users:

Create a user:
adduser your_username
Create a password for the user:
passwd your_username

Test logging in as this user now. From your desktop machine, try
ssh your_username@your_webserver.com

2. Give One User Sudo Privileges

Now that you have a user other than the root user, you should lock down the root user and push root privileges to the sudo command. The goal here will to disable root logins entirely.

You will need to switch to the root account to perform the following. You can either login as the root account from your desktop machine, or switch to the root account by using the Switch User command (su):
[prompt]$su - root

You grant sudo privileges to your users by editing the sudoers file… but you can’t simply edit that file. You must use the visudo command. This is a very special variant of the VI text editor which is designed for a single purpose: to edit the sudoers file. The security of your entire server can be compromised by this single file, so the visudo command ensures that any editing of this file never allows it to be in a state where its permissions could be compromised.

Other than that, the visudo program works like the VI program — it’s a text editor, but you should familiarize yourself with the editor before messing with your sudoers file.

WARNING: You can lockout ALL users from your machine if your fat fingers or VI ignorance corrupt this file!!! If you are at all unsure of your VI abilities, please review our article: VI Overview.

The goal in editing this file is the addition of a single line of text:
your_poweruser_name ALL=(ALL) ALL

There are a lot of other custom modifications you can make to this file to allow certain users access to individual functions, but that’s a more advanced topic.

Save the file, but DO NOT CLOSE THIS WINDOW. If you made a mistake, you need access to this file in order to fix it. I recommend leaving this window open until you’ve got EVERYTHING locked down and you’ve verified that it works.

Again, go back to your desktop machine and test that you can still login using a password. Once you’re in, try using the sudo command and make sure that you an use it to execute commands.

Add Your Public Key to the Web Server

In a new window, login to your web server from your desktop machine. You should still be prompted for your password.

See if you’ve already got a .ssh directory in your user’s home directory:
[prompt]$ ls -Gal

If you don’t have it, create it:
[prompt]$ mkdir .ssh

Now, move into that directory:
[prompt]$ cd .ssh

If you don’t already have a file named authorized_keys, you need to create it (again, you can use the VI text editor)

You need to paste your entire public key from your desktop machine into this file on the web server. IT MUST FIT ON ONE LINE. SSH expects each key to occupy a single line.

*In VI, you can hit ESC then type :set nu to see line numbers.

Once you’ve pasted in your key, save the file and adjust the permissions:

[prompt]$ chmod 644 ~/.ssh/authorized_keys
[prompt]$ chmod 755 ~/.ssh

Remember:
1. Each public key occupies ONE LINE in the authorized_keys file.
2. The authorized_keys file must be read-only for the group and others: 644.
3. The .ssh directory can’t be group writable: 755

Disable Password Logins

The goal here is to disallow random hackers guessing at passwords by disabling password logins entirely. Logins will be verified via keys, and we change how SSH behaves by editing the /etc/ssh/sshd_config file.

Make the following edits to the /etc/ssh/sshd_confg file e.g. by typing sudo vi /etc/ssh/sshd_config

Uncomment the PasswordAuthentication line to
PasswordAuthentication no

And change the line for PermitRootLogin to:
PermitRootLogin no

Then reload the conf:
[prompt]$ sudo /etc/init.d/sshd condrestart

WARNING: KEEP THAT WINDOW OPEN. Open a new window, then try to login as your user once again. You shouldn’t be prompted for your password… you should be prompted for your passphrase — this is the passphrase you created when you created your key.

Try switching to the root account after logging in:
[prompt]$ su - root

And finally, attempt to login as the root user from your desktop. It should fail.

Summary

Congratulations! If you’ve gotten this far, you’ve taken some big steps in securing your server.

Once you’ve verified that all of this stuff works, you can close the login windows. If something did not work, LEAVE THOSE WINDOWS OPEN and call a friend — find someone who knows Linux system administration to help you out. This is even more important if you don’t have physical access to your server.

Links

Here’s an article I referenced while writing this:
http://www.webmasterworld.com/linux/3285421.htm

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Create a Bootable Linux USB Flash Drive with UNetbootin http://tipsfor.us/2009/06/07/create-a-bootable-linux-flash-drive-with-unetbootin/ Mon, 08 Jun 2009 04:00:00 +0000 http://www.tipsfor.us/2009/06/07/create-a-bootable-linux-flash-drive-with-unetbootin/ Continue reading Create a Bootable Linux USB Flash Drive with UNetbootin ]]> With the rise of the Netbook, optical media (CDs/DVDs) may be marching toward eventual obsolescence. Even if optical media doesn’t disappear anytime soon, certain tasks such as creating a Linux-based boot disc are faster and more convenient when using a USB flash disk rather than a CD.

Let’s work on creating a Linux-based bootable flash disk. To do this, we will use the UNetbootin software.

UNetbootin – Main site

UNetbootin – Download (Windows)

You will also need an empty USB flash drive, preferably 1 GB or larger. I’m using a 1 GB Lexar drive formatted as FAT32.

Boot Disk Creation

UNetbootin is available for Windows and Linux. We’ll use Windows for the purposes of this tutorial. First, you need to download and launch the program (it’s portable – no installation necessary).

UNetbootin - Main

Once it’s launched, you can either provide it with a Linux ISO that you have already downloaded, or pick a distribution from the list and let UNetbootin download the necessary files for you. Most popular distros are supported, including Ubuntu, Fedora, OpenSUSE, and Mandriva. You can also choose various system utilities such as FreeDOS, SystemRescueCD, Parted Magic, and the Dr. Web Antivirus Live CD.

I chose to use an ISO of Ubuntu 9.04 that I had already downloaded. All that’s left to do is make sure your flash disk is plugged in, choose it from the list, and click OK.

UNetbootin - Extracting

Away it goes! UNetbootin will gather the appropriate files, copy them to the flash disk, then automatically install a bootloader. This process may take several minutes to complete depending on the size of the distro. Ubuntu took about 7 minutes or so to complete on my machine, but I’m still using a single-core processor. Hey, it may be slow, but it does everything I need it to do.

When the process finishes, it will prompt you to reboot, which is entirely optional.

UNetbootin - Complete

Hit Reboot Now if you want to go ahead and test your new boot disk on the machine you’re currently using. Otherwise, just exit.

Activate the Partition

Chances are high that your new boot disk will just work, but if you get any strange boot errors, you may need to activate the partition. We can do that with the diskpart utility.

I’m using Server 2008 for this demonstration, but Vista should look and act the same way.

Launch a new Command Prompt (Vista – right-click and choose to Run as Administrator). Type:

diskpart

Now you should have a DISKPART prompt. We need to figure our the drive number for your flash disk. Type:

list disk

If you have several drives, just look at the size to determine which one is the USB flash drive. Mine is obviously Disk 3.

select disk 3

select partition 1

active

That’s it. You’re finished. By typing the active command, you have specified the current disk and partition as active. You can type exit to quit.

Command-Prompt-DISKPART

Booting From the Disk

With the USB flash disk plugged in, go ahead and reboot the computer. This next step is different on many machines, but right as the computer first boots, look for a keystroke to choose a boot device. The key for my motherboard is F8, but it may be F11, F12, or some other key entirely on yours.

Once you find the right key, you should get a menu that allows you to choose a disk or drive from which to boot.

First-Boot-Device

Here I have chosen my Lexar USB flash disk from the boot menu. Provided it boots normally, you should get a UNetbootin bootloader like this:

UNetbootin-Booting

Choose the Default option to start booting, and the rest should function just like a typical live CD. Here’s Ubuntu booting from my USB drive:

Ubuntu-Booting

Once nice part about using flash media as a live environment is that individual programs are far more snappy than when running from a CD. For instance, OpenOffice loads from my flash drive in under 10 seconds. Launching OpenOffice from a live CD might take minutes!

One last thing: remember that the distros that UNetbootin creates are substitutes for CD boot discs, not fully installed Linux operating systems. In other words, they are not persistent – any data that you create or modify will be lost the next time you reboot (just like when working with a normal live CD). Keep that in mind as a limitation. There ARE exceptions, like Puppy Linux, which lets you save your data directly to the USB flash drive.

Happy booting!

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Install Warcraft 3 on Ubuntu Linux – A Visual Guide http://tipsfor.us/2009/06/04/install-warcraft-3-on-ubuntu-linux-a-visual-guide/ http://tipsfor.us/2009/06/04/install-warcraft-3-on-ubuntu-linux-a-visual-guide/#comments Thu, 04 Jun 2009 22:09:23 +0000 http://www.tipsfor.us/?p=2227 Continue reading Install Warcraft 3 on Ubuntu Linux – A Visual Guide ]]> warcraft3-lichWarcraft 3 may be far from the hottest new game out there, but it’s still one of the most fun games I’ve ever played. And thanks to advancements in the WINE project, it’s also easy to install and run on the Linux operating system. Plus, it doesn’t require massive hardware just to run decently.

I remember trying to get my Warcraft 3 Battle Chest running in Linux a few years ago and ran into several problems. Now, it’s practically a point-and-click experience.

While these directions are specific to Ubuntu, most any other Linux variant should be similar. I tested these instructions on both Ubuntu 8.04 LTS and the current version 9.04. All the screenshots are from Ubuntu 9.04 Jaunty,

The main system specifications I used are quite modest ancient indeed, but Warcraft 3 ran fine anyway.

  • Processor – AMD Athlon XP 2400+ (2.0 GHz)
  • RAM – 1 GB PC2100 (266 MHz)
  • Video Card – Nvidia GeForce 7600 GS (512 MB)

1. Video Drivers

ubuntu-hardware-driversIt goes without saying that in order to play most video games, you need video acceleration. Fortunately, the last few releases of Ubuntu have all offered a convenient way to install proprietary video drivers.

To install most common video drivers, go to System → Administration → Hardware Drivers. You can see if you already have a proprietary video driver in use, or if there is one available to install.

Ubuntu found and installed a driver for my Nvidia card just fine. I don’t own any ATI video cards, so I cannot offer any help there. If you run into any trouble, take a look at the Ubuntu Guide.

To see if you have video acceleration enabled, fire up a Terminal and type:

glxinfo | grep direct

If the direct rendering response is Yes, then you’re in business.

2.  Install WINE

WINE is a translation layer with a somewhat-humorous full name of Wine Is Not (an) Emulator. No matter what you call it, WINE provides an easy way to run a growing number of Windows applications on Linux and other POSIX-compatible operating systems.

Installing WINE on Ubuntu is as simple as launching a Terminal and typing:

sudo apt-get install wine

synaptic-wineAlternatively, you can launch the Synaptic Package Manager (System → Administration) and search for wine. Just add a check next to the wine package, then click the Apply button to download and install.

Following these instructions will install the latest stable release of WINE. On Ubuntu 9.04, the current stable WINE release is version 1.01. To find out which version you have installed, launch a Terminal and type:

wine --version

I found that both version 1.0 and 1.0.1 worked well for running Warcraft 3. If you want to install a more-recent Beta version, follow the instructions on the WineHQ site.

wine-configuration-alsaOnce WINE is installed, go ahead and launch it (Applications → Wine → Configure Wine). The default settings should be fine, but I do suggest that you take a look at the Audio settings and ensure that a suitable sound driver is selected.

I suggest sticking with the ALSA driver by default. If the sound is garbled or doesn’t work well, try switching to the older OSS driver.

Click OK to save your settings. Now it’s time to install Warcraft 3.

3. Game Installation

This may come as a shock, but installing Warcraft 3 on Linux is practically no different from installing it on Windows. You will need a copy of the game and valid serial numbers. If you don’t have it, the Battle Chest is pretty cheap.

warcraft3-discPop in the CD for Reign of Chaos. You should see an icon for the disc load on your desktop. Double-click that disc icon to view the contents. Find the file called install.exe and open it. It should open automatically with WINE and start the installation process.

From there, install the game just as you would on a Windows system, including choosing an installation path of C:\Program File\Warcraft III. Yes, WINE handles that for you automatically.

warcraft3-install-directoryAllow the game to install as usual. If you have The Frozen Throne expansion pack, install it as well. Do not play the game yet!

Update Patch

Recent Warcraft 3 game updates have removed the requirement to run with the original disc in the drive. Therefore, unless you’re just a glutton for punishment, I suggest downloading and installing the latest game patch instead of hunting for a No-CD crack.

Here’s a direct link to the patch page. The current game update (as of this writing) is 1.23a. Once it downloads, just double-click to install. It should open with WINE and install just like on a Windows machine.

blizzard-updater

Note: once the Blizzard Updater finishes patching the game, it will try to launch Warcraft III automatically. If the game crashes or freezes, don’t worry. We’ll fix that in the post-installation below.

4. Post-Installation

On my system, the game froze upon first launch. The reason is that it tries (and fails) to play the opening cinematic video. We can easily work around this issue by renaming the Movies folder.

wine-browse-cGo to Applications → Wine → Browse C:\ Drive. Pretend that you’re on Windows now and continue to Program Files → Warcraft III. Rename the Movies folder to something else, such as _Movies.

As you might suspect, this is only a workaround and not a true fix. It prevents any in-game cinematic videos from playing, but does not affect game-play in any way. You can still watch those videos at any time by opening them in something like Totem or VLC.

Try launching the game now. You’ll find it under Applications → Wine → Warcraft III.

Visual Effects

Here’s another minor issue you might run into. When you launch the game, it runs fine, but you still see the horizontal Ubuntu panels across the top and bottom. Annoying, huh?

ubuntu-visual-effectsIt’s easy enough to fix. On my system, I found that they were caused by having some visual effects enabled in Ubuntu. As nice as the eye candy may be, try disabling it before launching Warcraft III.

Navigate to System → Preferences → Appearance and switch to the Visual Effects tab. Set the level to None. When you launch the game again, the panels should be gone.

Create Launcher

Now that the game is installed and working, let’s create a launcher for it.

Right-click on your desktop and Create Launcher. Here are some parameters:

  • Type – Application
  • Name – Whatever you want
  • Command – “/home/your-username/.wine/drive_c/Program Files/Warcraft III/Frozen Throne.exe”

The command is simply the full path to the Warcraft III executable file (in quotes). You can also add some options at the end of the command, after the quotes. For instance, you may get better performance by adding an opengl option, like this:

"/home/your-username/.wine/drive_c/Program Files/Warcraft III/Frozen Throne.exe" -opengl

You can stack the options. For instance, if you want to require opengl AND make the game run in its own window, try this:

"/home/habibbijan/.wine/drive_c/Program Files/Warcraft III/Frozen Throne.exe" -opengl -window

Icons

If you’re looking for a couple of good icons to use with your launcher, feast your eyes on these.

Warcraft 3 icons.zip

Game Screenshots

For your viewing pleasure, here’s are a few screenshots of Warcraft III running on Ubuntu. I ran the game in window mode instead of full-screen to prove that it does work on Linux. Yeah, I enjoy Skibi’s Castle a lot.

Image 1:

[See image gallery at tipsfor.us]

Image 2:

[See image gallery at tipsfor.us]

Image 3:

[See image gallery at tipsfor.us]

Image 4:

[See image gallery at tipsfor.us]

Image 5:

[See image gallery at tipsfor.us]

Have fun! If you have any additional tips for running Warcraft III on Linux, let us know in the comments.

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