Run as the Root Account

Well, some days you need some tips, some days you need some humor. Today is a day when I need to laugh at something, because I just got a phone call from the Dow Jones Industrial average… it said “go F@#% yourself!” So… the article I’m linking to only makes sense if you know something about Linux, but I thought it was pretty hilarious: Run as Root

Running as root will change your life. People will no longer cut you off in the lunch line, and if you tell someone to go screw themselves, don’t be surprised if they actually do it.

People or Things that Ran as Root

  • Chuck Norris
  • Trogdor
  • That guy who took a picture of himself every day for 6 years
  • Hurricane Katrina
  • The 1968 Toronto Maple Leafs
  • Large Hadron Collidor

Sylvania -G Netbook (Hardware Review)

I recently acquired a Sylvania -G Netbook. I would never say that this machine is without flaws, but for the price tag it is a worthy competitor. I picked mine up on sale at Tigerdirect for $299 + Shipping. This price puts it a full bracket beneath Asus’s competition EeePc. Is the EeePc a better machine? In a word, yes. They have released nearly a dozen models and worked out alot of the flaws and challenges of building a machine this tiny. However, their price tag clearly displays their market domination. So I’m going to discuss why, for the right person, the Netbook is a great deal. [And hopefully warn the “wrong person” that this is not the netbook for them]

Tech Specs

  • Price- Recommended $399.00 (I have never seen it priced this high, especially with the Netbook Meso coming soon.)
  • Notebook type Netbook
  • Screen type Wide-screen
  • Display Type 7 in TFT active matrix
  • External Display DVI-out on Left Side (DVI-VGA Dongle Included)
  • Max Resolution 800 x 480 (In Linux) 1000 x 600 (In Windows)
  • Graphics Processor / Vendor UniChrome Pro IGP (Openchrome Linux Driver)
  • Processor VIA C7-M 1.2 GHz (Sub-clocked to 600 mhz for some reason [can be adjusted] )
  • Core voltage technology Ultra Low Voltage (ULV)
  • RAM Installed Size 1 GB
  • RAM Technology DDR SDRAm
  • Hard Drive 30 GB
  • Removable Storage SD Card Reader
  • USBs 2X on Right Side
  • WLAN RT8187 chipset from Realtek
  • WiredLAN 8P8C(Standard)
That is a basic full size Dell Keyboard for Scale.
User's Left Side (DVI port, SD card reader.)
User Right Side (Mic, Sound, 2X USBs, 8P8C Jack, DC-Power)

Hardware Review

LCD – 7 inches. This could be troublesome for some people, especially operating at 800×480, which is the maximum the openchrome driver can support. (At least out of the box, some wizardry in the X.org config could prove otherwise, but Sylvania claims it tops out at 800 x 400.) Under Windows, however, the drivers provided by Sylvania’s website supports a standard 1000×600; this setting is more than sufficient for most tasks.

LCD Hinges/Bezel – Since I have had some awful experiences with the iBook G4 and its amazing gap that grows between the bottom edge of the screen panel and the actually LCD display, I have grown to be wary of such things. No fear with the g-netbook, though, the LCD has its own frame that is inset into the LCD panel in such a way that it is virtually indestructible.

LCD, Webcam to the right, speakers below.

-My second fear is always with hinges. Anyone else own one of those great Dells a couple years back, where, just before the hinge plastic breaks, it severs the LCD power wires for the backlight? Well, these hinges feel solid, even when opened from an edge. They hold the screen tight and are internally beveled to snap the lid closed when it is about 1/4 inch from the keyboard. There is no play in the lid when it is closed.

Keyboard – Chicklet Keys. This is not the keyboard for the ham-fisted. it takes a little while to adjust, but after 2 weeks, full-size keyboards feel expansive. I do hold issue with the single-key-sized Right Shift Key. The Left Shift is double, but the Right Shift is very tiny and located just on the far side of the Up Arrow (you can see the trouble inherent in this, right?) Once you get used to it, though, it is cramped, but not bad.

Touch Pad – .6″ I wish I was joking. It really is. In Linux, the touch pad sensitivity is jacked so high that you just have to place your finger in the middle of the pad and kind of roll it to traverse the entire screen. My main problem with it was when I picked my finger up from the pad, it invariably moved the cursor. Yes, you can install apps to adjust it, but not with updates and installs disabled in gOS BETA. In windows, it becomes more manageable right out of the box, it takes about 3 swipes across the pad to clear the screen from edge to edge. Tap functionality is native, but on the default Linux sensitivity, I wouldn’t recommend it. On the second tap you will invariably move the cursor a good 3 inches across the display.

Yes, that is a quarter. It is that small.

Wireless – Where to begin? It has the Realtek RT8187 chipset built in. This, hardware wise, is not a bad chipset. The support, however, is terrible. If you check your driver blacklist in Linux, you will probably find 3 or 4 drivers for this hardware already blacklisted. The default driver assigned to the interface in gOS is passable. It can connect to networks, even WPA, but the connection is sketchy at best. I found the connection mostly reliable when within 10-15 feet of my router (Keep in mind, I have an external Realtek USB card [similar chipset] on a windows media station over 40 feet away that connects like super glue). Even when connected, it would drop the connection, but still display connectivity. So I tried Ndiswrapper with the windows drivers provided on the Sylvania website. It upped my range by about 5 feet, but lost WPA support. Had to switch Network-Manager for WICD and gained back my WPA, but lost ability to connect to unsecured connections. Dropped connections still displaying connectivity never changed. Needless to say, it will require some serious wizardry if you plan to get the card fully functional in Linux – not for the faint of heart.

It wouldn’t be fair to judge the machine based on poor driver choices in a BETA Linux distro, so I installed Windows on the machine to test the chipset under a supported environment. The provided Sylvania drivers still proved troublesome, so I went to the source. Realtek’s drivers on their support page, however, were out of date. It took some googling, but I eventually found the newest version, which works like a dream. Massive range, solid connection. Three drivers for the same chipset before it functions in Windows, though? Really? This is some poor company support all around.

Bios – Surprisingly adequate bios. When designing a machine without a CD-drive, the need to boot from USB cannot be overstated. The ability to boot from the SD slot is just a gift. A warning: When you first boot a new OS off a CD, the MBR will mess with you. I had to format the drive into FAT before continuing with the install.

Hard drive – 30 gigs isn’t bad. The drive is “easy” to change, if you’re not afraid of screwdrivers and dissecting a 300-dollar piece of hardware. If you do install a new OS (I don’t know why you wouldn’t), I recommend a small one. Slackware and Puppy Linux ran well on it, albeit with the same wireless problems and the openchrome via driver for video. XFCE is a wonderful window manager on this machine, if you are determined to make this a Linux Netbook.

Windows is a massive bloat on this machine. A typical XP install is between 3 and 4.5 gigs. I heartily recommend getting nLite and making your own trimmed-down version of Windows. I used a Lite version designed for the Asus EeePc – full install between 750 MB and 1 gig. Once I installed all of Office 2007, I barely topped 2.7 gigs.

Default Gos
My current system, running XP.

Sound -The two speakers are mounted directly under the LCD, providing sound on par with the EeePC’s speakers mounted to either side. They are stereo, and about the size of 2 postage stamps; the sound is as good as can be expected. I can find no information on who produced the hardware, and short of opening the machine, I probably won’t be able to get you range specs.

The sound card is another matter altogether. It works in Linux with no problems, the ALSA Mixer controls are great. The Fn+F# hotkeys even work to control sound. In Windows, I am yet to get sound configured. If anyone has found a way, let me know. Strangely, the drivers provided by Sylvania do not even allow the computer to register that there is a sound card present in the machine. This is a major downfall for the Windows install.

**Fixed** <All drivers for this computer MUST be installed after service pack 2.  Any beta versions of SP3 will destroy them and render most hardware non-working.  If you only have service pack 1 installed, you will get bizarre errors, also.  > **Fixed**

Battery -battery life is substantial. I tend to average around 3.8 hours with wireless on, 4.7 and some change with it turned off (Of course this is with the system idling). The battery is the only part of this system that does not feel completely solid. It has a little wiggle in it, even when fully locked in place. Not detrimental, but not the best fit either. This is the only piece of the machine does not feel completely bulletproof, and it bothers me enough to show you this picture:

That's how much play is in the battery, but only on one side.

DC Connector – Loose power connections on a laptop are the worst. That is no fear with the G Netbook. Its connector is so tight it is almost frightening. I’m afraid I’m going to just snap the connector off the Motherboard. This hasn’t happened, yet, so I will assume that it is attached on the inside with more than just 2 micro solders. The choice for an “L” shaped connector I find awkward, because if the L bends towards you, it blocks the USB ports. An “In Line” connector would have made a much more functional choice. If you’re an at home modder, though, go ahead and change it.

Summary

The machine is a great set of hardware for the price. The support for it, however, leaves so much to be desired that it is almost ridiculous. If you’re a Linux wizard and want a machine to tinker with that has almost unlimited potential (for the hobbyist) as a netbook, it’s a great buy. Despite my hatred for Windows, I have to recommend it as an alternative to the default Gos. It makes a far superior use of the provided hardware. For the money, I feel it’s the best deal on the market (for a ballpark 300, I wouldn’t pay too much more than that). If you can’t abide the hassle of customizing the system to your own needs, check out an EeePc. [If anyone would like to donate one, I would gladly review it side by side… <wink wink, nudge nudge>]

A better solution to Presentations in Linux

You may have noticed that OpenOffice is great. You also may have noticed that this greatness runs out when you get to Impress. My primary complaint (Oh there are many, most of them “known issues” at the open office site for years) is a lack of anti-aliasing on shapes. In a business situation, a presentation on par with the expectations of 1995 will only get you so far.

A Circle in Impress
Jaggies...a lot of them
A Circle in Powerpoint
Same 200% zoom as Impress.

I in no way endorse the use of PowerPoint, but I haven’t had a [Professional] alternative. I acquired a new Linux-based laptop and just today realized that I wouldn’t be able to give presentations off it without jumping through hoops. Of course there are options (PDF slide viewers, LaTEX, etc.) but I want a straight-forward presentation program that meets my meager demands of Anti-Aliasing and a simple interface. Luckily, I tend to have an active Internet connection at most presentations. This brings me to: 280 Slides.

280 Slides is a WebApp that provides, nearly, full functional slide show creation.

A Circle in 280 Slides
200% Zoom
200% Zoom

It’s still in BETA, but it shows amazing promise. Registration is free, and as far as I can tell so far, it beats Google’s presentation ability by a long shot. I wonder how long before Google acquires them…

The Good:

  • Accessible on any OS from any computer with an active Internet connection.
  • Ability to save sideshow in .pptx, .ppt, .odp, and .pdf
  • Fairly faithful conversion to previously mentioned file types.
  • Ability to Import from uploads of the previously mentioned file types (sans .pdf).
  • Ability to insert Images, Video, Shapes, etc. You can even upload your own shapes.
  • Many themes included, all classier than some of PowerPoint’s ugly templates, or the 2 ridiculous themes that ship with Impress.
  • Ability to add “Notes” to each slide.
  • Straight forward, intuitive interface.
The Interface
The Interface

The Bad:

  • Currently no way to upload your own custom background image. Work Around: Insert it as an image and make it the size of the slide.
  • No transitions. In a serious presentation, however, do you really need objects flying in and spinning with cute sound effects? Only if you want to get laughed at.
  • No way to operate a “Presenter View.”
  • No “Master Slide” for objects and footers that are persistent across all slides.

Overall:

-This will be my new presentation software when I’m bound to my Linux system. If I have access to a Mac, though, I will use Keynote for its powerful elegance. I’m interested to see where this goes when it reaches full release. Hopefully registration will stay free.

-At a later date, I will be comparing 280 Slides to Slide Rocket (http://www.sliderocket.com/).  By “at a later date” I mean when Lan Support Services feels the need to update the flash on my office computer.  Feel free to check it out as another alternative.  [Thanks to Brian for pointing me to Slide Rocket]

When Chrome Crashes – Aw, Snap! Screenshot

Just thought I’d share this – I had a tab get stuck in Google Chrome recently, and when it crashed, this is the error message it displayed:

Aw, Snap, indeed! Hilarious. It’s reminiscent of the infamous “Sad Mac” face from Old World Macintosh computers.

As well as the dreaded “Sad iPod” face that you hope to never see:

Somehow, this touch of humor makes me care a little less that my browser just crashed and burned! 🙂

Install Windows Defender on XP Without WGA Headaches

Disclaimer: This article is for educational and informational uses only. In no way do we condone software piracy. Readers should contact Microsoft if legitimately-licensed OEM software does not properly validate.

In a previous article I mentioned how to bypass WGA while installing Windows Media Player 11 on XP. As I stated before, I detest the abominable filth known as Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA), and I refuse to allow it anywhere near my machine.

With that in mind, it’s also possible to install Windows Defender without messing with WGA. Actually, it’s quite simple.

Step 1 – Download

First of all, download the Defender installation file. Of course, you could download it directly from the Microsoft Download Center, but that requires validation, thereby defeating the purpose. Here are direct links:

Defender 32-bit (English)

Defender 64-bit (English)

Step Two – Install

Be careful: the installation file contains another WGA check, so don’t run it yet. Instead, we’re going to install it silently using the (-qr) switch. Take note of where you downloaded the installation file. In my case, it’s on the desktop.

  1. Launch a command prompt by going to Start → Run, and typing cmd at the prompt.
  2. Navigate to the directory that contains the installation file. Since I put my file on the desktop, I only need to type cd Desktop. Press Enter.
  3. Type the name of the installation file, appending -qr to the end. In my case, it looks like: WindowsDefender.msi -qr. See the screenshot below.
  4. Press Enter and allow the installation to complete.

Voila! That’s it. Windows Defender should now be installed and will try to update its definitions and do an initial scan. Let it go.

And now the update and scan are complete!

That was easy, wasn’t it? Honestly, I don’t care much for Defender, but again, this article is for educational purposes only. One nice feature of Defender is that it provides real-time protection against malware. For an alternative program, I suggest Spyware Terminator. If you can live without the real-time protection, Malwarebytes Anti-Malware is another option.

Good luck, and may your life be free from WGA and other malware forever.

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KeePass – Never Remember a Password Again

I have a confession – I can’t remember ANY of my passwords. In fact, I don’t even know my administrator login for this website! Then again, I don’t need to. The KeePass password manager handles all of it for me.

Accounts Galore

Before I begin extolling the virtues of KeePass, allow me to explain why I think a password manager is worthwhile. I can only speak for myself, but I have a ton of account information to remember. Back when the internet was young, I only had a Hotmail account (oh, and maybe a Geocities account, too). That’s it. Time marches on, and now I have login information for multiple e-mail accounts, a plethora of online storage services, several credit cards and bank accounts, and dozens of random internet services, such as eBay and Facebook.

Sure, I could use the same usernames and passwords for every site, but that’s a terrible idea. You’re literally putting all your eggs in one basket, and if your information is compromised, it could spell disaster for you across the Web.

Using different login information for each site is a much smarter idea, though it also means that you have to remember all of it! While I consider myself a competently-intelligent fellow, I welcome the assistance of a password manager in recalling all my various usernames, passwords, and security questions.

KeePass Rules

I started using KeePass about six months ago, and quite frankly, I’ve fallen headfirst in love with it. First of all, KeePass is completely open-source and FREE. It’s easy to use. It’s secure. It’s portable. Best of all, you can use it interchangeably on Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux. Heck, you can even use it on your Blackberry or Windows Mobile device!

Since I started using KeePass, I’ve changed the way I approach account creation. No longer do I have to think of a new username and password (and then figure out a way to remember it!), nor do I feel that little twinge of guilt as I recycle login information for yet another site! I’ve come to appreciate the power, versatility, and convenience KeePass has given me.

Convinced yet? Let’s talk about basic setup and usage.

Setting up KeePass

To begin using KeePass, you first need to create a new database in which to store your entries. From the File menu, choose New…. A window will spawn, prompting you to create a master password.

The master password is the only password you absolutely MUST remember. Without it, you will not be able to access any of your other passwords. It is truly one password to rule them all, and in the database BIND THEM! Create as strong a password as you can remember.

Once your master password is set, let’s add some individual entries. The main interface of KeePass separates passwords Groups on the left and Entries on the right. Here’s what it looks like on my computer:

To add an entry, go the the Edit menu and choose Add Entry (or just press Crtl + Y). A new window will spawn like this one shown here:

Fill in the necessary information, including the password (press Shift + Home to clear the password field), and then press OK when done. Be sure to add a URL if appropriate. Also note the attachment option near the bottom. If a web site has security questions (most banks do this), I often take a quick screenshot of the questions and answers, then attach the picture to the KeePass entry.

Congratulations, you now have a new entry. But what can we DO with it? Now we’re getting to the good part.

Using KeePass

The sheer amount of features that KeePass offers makes it infinitesimally cooler than typing all your passwords into a text document. Let’s try a few:

Right-click on that entry you just created and feast your eyes on the options. With a simple keystroke, you can open the URL that you provided. Don’t feel like typing the password when logging into an online banking session? No problem. With another keystroke, KeePass will temporarily copy your password to the clipboard, allowing you to paste it into the appropriate web site. Worried that someone will come along behind you and try to paste again to discover your password? Have no fear, KeePass securely shreds that information seconds after the first paste. Cool!

Don’t like keystrokes? No problem! KeePass features excellent drag-and-drop support. From the main interface, you can simply click-and-drag the username and password fields to the appropriate place on the website, and KeePass will fill them in appropriately!

Here’s a little flash video that I made to demonstrate the dragging and dropping capabilities:

Screencast – Dragging in KeePass

In that video, you can see me dragging the username and password field to gain access to myBloop. Slick, huh?

The drag-and-drop options (plus the keystroke ability) provide added security against keyloggers. I spent several weeks in Europe this past summer, and I have an inherent distrust of public Internet cafes. Who knows if someone has surreptitiously installed some software to record every keystroke pressed on the keyboard? Perhaps I’m paranoid, but I solved the problem by running KeePass from a USB flash drive at all Internet cafes, leaving no trace behind me.

Another cool feature of KeePass is the password generator. I use it for almost all new accounts, but especially with certain sites that I do not trust very much (such as eBay).

When I say that I don’t know my current passwords, I mean it! Almost all of them are generated. Don’t worry, you can always use the reveal option in KeePass to see the actual password.

Storing the Database

Since the database KeePass uses to store your account information is completely encrypted, you can simply e-mail the file to yourself for safekeeping. I keep the database stored on my personal computer, plus in a couple different places online. Tip: I keep my database in my Dropbox folder, meaning that it automatically syncs between my computers every time I make an update. Read more about Dropbox here and here.

A bomb could fall on my house while I’m away and I would still have all my critical account information!

For added security, you could always stuff the database into a password-encrypted archive (using something like 7-zip or IZArc) before storing it online.

Good luck, and may you soon forget all your passwords!

More information:

KeePass – First Steps

KeePass – Security

KeePass – Downloads

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Home & End: Key Bindings in OS X

One thing has bothered me about Macs: the key bindings. Specifically, I was annoyed that the home, end, page up, and page down keys don’t work like they “normally” do on a Windows machine. I found myself having to use the awkward “Apple + arrow” combinations to advance to the front or end of a line (home and end normally send the cursor to the beginning or end of the document, not the line). This is awkward at best, and it was made even more awkward when you consider the layout of my Kinesis keyboard (trippy, I know).

Even if you don’t have a tripped out keyboard, it makes a lot of sense to have “normal” functionality for your home and end keys AND have the ctrl key functionality within reach when you’re working in the Terminal; a lot of Unix/Linux/Bash stuff is mapped to the ctrl key (e.g. ctrl + c to exit a bash program).

OS X has full flexibility on how you handle your key bindings (woot). All you have to do is create a file that remaps the desired keys. This is best done on a per-user basis, so you create a new file in the user’s Library. Create the directory and file (if necessary), and add the following:


/* This adds "normal" home, end, page up, page down functionality */
/* ~/Library/KeyBindings/DefaultKeyBinding.dict */
{
"\UF729" = "moveToBeginningOfLine:";
"^\UF729" = "moveToBeginningOfDocument:";
"$\UF729" = "moveToBeginningOfLineAndModifySelection:";
"^$\UF729" = "moveToBeginningOfDocumentAndModifySelection:";
"\UF72B" = "moveToEndOfLine:";
"^\UF72B" = "moveToEndOfDocument:";
"$\UF72B" = "moveToEndOfLineAndModifySelection:";
}

Once you’ve made the changes, log out your user and log back in (you don’t need to reboot). Try opening up a text editor and navigate around a document using the home and end keys. It’s great.

For full details on other key bindings and how to find and map more keys, check out this great post:
http://www.lsmason.com/articles/macosxkeybindings.html

Because of my keyboard layout, I also want to move my command key (i.e. Apple key) functionality over to the ctrl key — this doesn’t make much sense on a standard keyboard (where your pinky reflex starts going carpal tunnel), but it makes a lot of sense on a Kinesis keyboard where the ctrl key is directly next to your thumb but the Apple key is a bit of a reach. That article is a godsend.