30 December 2006

superhero/supervillain quiz

There's a pretty cool quiz at http://www.thesuperheroquiz.com/ which tells you which superhero you most resemble. I turned out to be the Hulk (70% likeness). This puzzled me until I remembered answering "all the way YES" to "do you anger quickly/easily?".

After you take that quiz, there's a link to find out which supervillain you most resemble. Looks like I have an 86% correspondence to Dr. Doom: "Blessed with smarts and power but burdened by vanity." (That latter part might sting if it were less accurate.)

28 December 2006

gmail backup

Today there was a report of some data loss for 60 gmail users. They lost all their mail, their address books, etc. Lame.

This prompted me to look into methods of backing up my gmail account. Looks like it's a simple as changing a gmail setting (enabling POP3) and setting up a POP3 account in your favorite mailer (Thunderbird, Outlook, ...). It's a straightforward procedure. It takes a while to download all your mail the first time, and thereafter it just downloads new messages. It probably wouldn't allow a user to restore a mangled gmail account, but it would at least provide an external backup of all the messages. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like this process preserves message labels.

And it looks like you can export your address book, too: click 'contacts' (left-hand panel) and then click 'export' in the upper-right.

18 December 2006

vmmouse for Linux VMWare guest

I decided to give Ubuntu a try to see what all the fuss is about. But I wasn't ready to install it on my laptop (I'm in the middle of a project in which I rely quite a bit on the laptop), so I decided to try Ubuntu in VMWare server on my desktop. Ubuntu installed OK, but the mouse didn't work well: I had to click in the VMWare window to make the mouse work in Ubuntu, and then I had to press Ctrl-Alt for VMWare to release the mouse (to use it anywhere outside the VMWare window). It was doing this even after I installed VMWare-tools.

That's a real drag, all the more so since that doesn't happen when running Windows XP in VMWare (the mouse 'just works': you can just roll the cursor in and out of the VMWare window and it works as it should).

The trick is to install the 'vmmouse' driver (which comes with VMWare-tools) in X.org in the Linux guest. (This solution comes mostly from a post by 'zaroff' on the Ubuntu Forums.)

After installing Linux in VMWare server, click VM->Install VMWare Tools... on the VMWare menu. This makes Linux think you've just mounted a CD with a couple of files on it (the 'CD' will probably show up on the desktop). Unpack the .tar.gz file, cd into the vmware-tools-distrib directory, and run the vmware-install.pl installer.

When I did this, I found that when the installer re-wrote /etc/X11/xorg.conf, it didn't put in a DefaultDepth directive in the "Screen" section, and I had to add a DefaultDepth 24 line to that section.

Next you need to install the vmmouse driver. A good start is to run the following inside the vmware-tools-distrib directory:
find . -type f -name 'vmmouse*'

You need to copy the correct vmmouse driver (depending on what version of X.org your Linux guest is running) into the X.org input modules directory. For an Ubuntu 6.10 Linux guest, I needed to copy the XOrg/7.0/vmmouse_drv.so to /usr/lib/xorg/modules/input. (A friend was having the same trouble running a CentOS 4.4 guest: he needed to copy XOrg/6.8.x/vmmouse_drv.o to /usr/X11R6/lib/modules/input/.)

Next you need to make 2 changes to /etc/X11/xorg.conf:
  1. add Load "vmmouse" to the "Module" section
  2. change Driver "mouse" to Driver "vmmouse" in the "InputDevice" section
Then restart X (or reboot).

Fedora Legacy Project Closing

I maintain several front-line servers (exposed to the Internet) which have run Fedora Core 3 (FC3) for a couple of years, and I have relied on the Fedora Legacy Project to provide security updates for those servers. The Fedora Legacy Project is a community project providing security updates to versions of Fedora and Red Hat which are no longer supported by Red Hat.

The project has gone above and beyond, and I'm grateful for their efforts.

Last Tuesday (12 December 2006) they quietly announced that they will no longer be providing updates for FC3, FC4, or any other damn thing. I say 'quietly', because I didn't hear about for nearly a week. I don't think it made digg, Slashdot, or any of the other technology-related Web sites that actually have RSS feeds. I'm not upset that they ended support--I'm happy that I was able to run that Linux distribution (especially one as volatile as Fedora) for as long as I did. But for the support to dry up with no warning (at least, I didn't see it coming), and for me to get that news less than a week before the holiday break at my work, really sucks out loud. Now I have to bust my hump to install a operating system with some measure of support on all those servers before Friday.

Thanks for all the advance notice! Happy freakin' holidays!!!!!

17 December 2006

Downloading YouTube ...

Saw this yesterday and thought it was cool. The All-In-One Video Bookmarklet lets you download videos from YouTube, Google Video, and a number of other Web sites. You save the bookmarklet (go to the above link, and then on that page right-click on the All-In-One Video Bookmarklet link and pick the bookmarking option), go to the Web page of a YouTube/Google/whatever video you want to save, and then hit the bookmark. You'll get a page which allows you to download the movie in one or more formats.

If you want to try this out, here's a link to a short and funny video about a cat with depth perception problems (remember that you'll have to go save the bookmarklet first). That video makes me laugh out loud every single time (I think it's the sound that really does it for me).


For months I've been reading about these new passports. And for months I've been meaning to go get a passport, in hopes of getting the old kind. I'm probably already too late.

The new passports have RFID chips in them. RFID stands for radio frequency identifier. An RFID chip is a small device which transmits short-range signals which uniquely identify the transmitter. This sort of thing has been used for years for stuff like electronic toll collection systems. You have an RFID transmitter in your car so that you can roll through the toll booth without stopping to pay. The toll booth electronically records your passage, and you get billed later.

Unfortunately, RFID raises all kinds of security and privacy concerns. RFID tags are useful, because they can be read so easily. No physical connection (like swiping a credit card or ID badge) is required: proximity is sufficient for an information exchange. But this means the information can be collected by someone other than the intended recipient. It's been shown over and over again that information stored in RFID tags can be read surrepticiously with inexpensive, off-the-shelf equipment. A recent example involves RFID chips in sneakers.

And now they're putting these things in passports, and the same kinds of remote information retrieval have been demonstrated. Government agencies implementing these technologies say that it's safe. But what else are they going to say? They've invested a lot of money in these systems, so they're not necessarily objective or fothcoming.

One of the things in my job that really annoys me is the "Ooooh, shiny!" mentality: people see something new, and they want it just because they thing it's cool, not necessarily because it's a good idea. This is the feeling I get about RFID in passports. I think people are jumping on a bandwagon without taking the time and effort to do reasonable risk analysis.

A number of interesting RFID countermeasures have surfaced:
Bruce Schneier has a good write-up about the new passports.

10 December 2006

Maritime movies: eating and crashing

A couple of interesting posts made it to digg.com homepage overnight. One concerns a company which makes tables for boats. These 'capstan' tables are expandable, like a rectangular table which can be enlarged by adding leaves. But these tables are round, and they get bigger or smaller just by rotating them. Check out the movie clips. (Here's the digg post w/ comments.)

The second clip shows an accident in which a boat crashes into a bridge (apparently no one was hurt). This is a moving bridge--I saw one of these at OSCON in Portland. This one isn't a drawbridge, but a 'lift' bridge: the motorway lifts straight up using cables and pulleys, leaving room for the ship to pass underneath. When watching the video, pay close attention to the bridge at the beginning of the clip. (Here's the digg post w/ comments.)

09 December 2006

interesting pictures

I took a couple of weird pictures recently.

The other day I was about to leave my apartment for work, and I saw this just outside my door. The faucet was dripping, and it made a cool-looking ice stalagmite:
ice stalagmite

And the other night I was throwing away a beer bottle (yes, I'm destroying the environment--talk to my state legislature), and it made a funny sound when it landed. When I looked at the trash can, I saw that the bottle had landed on the edge, and the bottle's tip had come to rest on the table. I thought about computing the odds against this, but then decided just to go get another beer.
beer bottle balanced on trash can

I'm in Dilbert

A co-worker referred me to the 22 November 2006 Dilbert cartoon, and I thought it was pretty funny.

03 December 2006

Yahoo TV Completely Ruined

I've used Yahoo TV listings for years. They changed it the other day, and the new version is utter crap. It used to be simple and fast. Here are a few of my more vitriolic gripes:
  1. the page loads a little bit at a time as the user scrolls down the page: so browser searches don't work, and it's very slow
  2. you can only browse in 3-hour increments: if a show starts prior to the current 3-hour block, you can see that something is showing, but you can't see what it is
  3. it doesn't remember that I only want to see my favorite channels: it defaults to showing every channel offered by my cable provider
Two digg posts about this have made it to the front page, and there's a post on Yahoo's blog about the change. The comments on all three of these are overwhelmingly critical:
I'm really hoping they'll change it back (or at least make it suck less). I admit to being generally inflexible: I typically don't like change under the best of circumstances. But this is pretty disappointing. There are several other sites offering online TV listings. Guess I'll switch to whichever one pisses me off the least.