Saturday, April 30, 2005


I gave the Minislack distro a try on my main work machine. It worked quite fast and installation was a breeze. The only problem that I had was that it would not recognize the USB hard drive. As I use the USB drive for my backups I had a problem, I could not restore my files. Looks like I am back with Mandrake as my main distro. Mandrake is great, but, I am always looking for something that is a good but faster and smaller.

I am now using Mandrake 10.1. To keep things simpler I am using KDE as my desktop so that everyone else in the family don't have to learn XFCE (KDE is the default on the other machines).

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Quiet week

Now that the Linux box is back up and running the home network is again quiet and stable. The server is back on Windows98 and sharing the printer.

On the Distro side of things I am now looking at Minislack as a possible replacement for Mandrake. The part I like is that it is on one CD and not three. I will write another post when I convert.

My next project will be a new machine after the boys have finished their last semester of college and I have a few spare dollars. The new machine will be built to handle the requirements of scanning in photos and converting video. With that in mind I figure at least one gig of memory. The hard drive I figure to be around 80-120 gigs internal and I will flip the external 120 gig USB drive to the server.

I noticed that laser prices have been dropping. I see laser printers routinely advertised for under $200 here. For those of you who have ink jets check them out. I have an old HP4 that gets 3,000 to 5,000 pages per cartridge. The cartridge is about $120, that works out to about $0.004 to $0.0024 per page. Ink jets have a higher per page cost. It is something to think about if the majority of your printing is black & white.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Phishing Attempt

Another attempt to get personal information about me again. It failed as I don't use the bank in question.

  • Most companies won't ask you to rekey in personal information.
  • The link when you move your mouse over it won't be the same as what shows up as the text.
  • Never click on the link, go to your browser and either type in the URL (web link) or you have already bookmarked the company home page.
The bank did have a web site and an email address for phishing attempts. The note was forwarded to them and within five minutes I had a reply. This is quite fast and is an indicator that the business community is starting to be more aggressive in fighting this problem.

I have clipped the message, but, the name of the bank has been removed.

Dear client of [redacted] Bank,

Technical services of the [redacted] Bank are carrying out a planned software upgrade. We earnestly ask you to visit the following link to start the procedure of confirmation on customers data.

To get started, please click the link below:

[phony link redacted]

This instruction has been sent to all bank customers and is obligatory to fallow.

Thank you, Customers Support Service.

Update, I now have a second email purporting to be from the same bank asking me to rekey my personal information. The web link is a different one so the bank probably got the first link shut down.

For those who don't know me I work in the IT field as a consultant (16 years life insurance systems and 7 years in telecom data billing systems). When we do upgrades on the software we never ask the clients to update their information, that is part of the conversion plan for the software installation/upgrade.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Server Outage - Part 2

It looks like it may be the server itself that had a problem. I put the 'defective' drive into my Linux box and it loaded up without a problem. I tried rebooting the server using Knoppix and the PS/2 mouse now does not work so I may have a failing box.

Again, not a problem as I have backups of all of my critical data on CD. Upside is the Linux box now has an additional 40GB of disk space and the server will now be strictly a printer server with limited file space.

I also forgot what a pain Window can be. Multiple reboots even for the simplest driver installations. The massive set of updates from Microsoft that needs to reboot. I spent more time rebooting the machine than reloading Windows. I hope the newer versions of Windows don't have this problem, I know I don't have these problems with Linux.

Basic server is running. Boots up nicely and the printer is now shareable only by the machines on my home network. I haven't installed ZoneAlarm as this machine may be given to a family member, instead I am trying the Sygate personal firewall. That way I can legally keep my copy of Zonealarm for the new server (if it is Windows based). Later today I should be re-installing the virus scanner and then the various spyware scanners.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Server Outage - Why you should backup.

For those who wonder why I harp about making backups this blog will explain why.

Today I had the harddrive in the file/printer server fail. The machine has been acting up, but, I put it down to Windows. I tried to install various flavours of Linux, but, it kept locking up or generating weird errors. I finally got into partitioning the drive and told it to do a format and thorough check and it told me it had an unrecoverable error. Fortunately I made a backup last week so I lost nothing.

This is a great object lesson on why I keep telling everyone to do a regular backup. I am lucky in that I had an old 6 gig drive and I am now in the process of putting Windows back on. For some reason the hardware is too old for the latest distros and I am not putting up a huge fight. I will put Windows back on and a basic firewall. I may end up making a present to a family member of the machine. It is still an excellent basic entry level machine.

And for those who are curious, yes it is a legit license. I have a legit registered copy of Windows 98. I also have three copies of Windows 95 for the other machines in the house that are still on Windows. I also have legit licensed copies of Winzip, Zonealarm, McAfee. People, don't pirate software!

Friday, April 08, 2005

Fake Microsoft Security Update

Looks like another email is going around trying to get people to go to a fake site. The timing of this is almost perfect as Microsoft will be doing their updates/patches next week. Remember that when you get an email don't click on the link. Manually type in the address, or if it is a site you visit frequently bookmark it. You can read more about it on the ZDNET link (Click on the title of this blog).

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Linux at Home

This is not as hard you might think. You can keep your existing Windows® setup and still have Linux. There are a number of 'live' CD based distributions. These CDs will allow to try out Linux without installing it on your computer. I keep a number of them in my briefcase as emergency boot CD's. FYI, these CDs helped two people who had virus infections. It allowed me to safely boot their machine and copy their documents to a CD burner. If you want more info:

  • Damn Small Linux - Great mini distribution. This comes with the basics and is an excellent way to see Linux work.

  • DistroWatch - Link to all Linux distributions

  • Knoppix - Excellent overall distro. Comes with all of tools (other than a virus scanner) you will need. Office package, CD Burner software, multimedia (XMMS - MP3 player), file manager. Can read Windows® drives (read only mode for HPFS file systems).

We use Mandrake Linux on two of our machines at home. Jane does not ever want to go back to using Windows®. My work in supporting Jane has also gone down as the machine is not crashing on a regular basis (actually it has never crashed since I converted her in 2003), no need to update our virus scanner or firewall on a regular basis (sometimes daily in our other Windows® machines during a bad virus outbreak). The only thing I need to do is to regularly check for patches and install them (Mandrake 10.1 has a piece of software that sits in my task bar and lets me know when there are patches). I regularly have a browser, email, XMMS (MP3 player) and K3B (CD Burner) running all at the same time without noticably slowing down the machine. Linux also has virtual desktops so we can organize our work on multiple screens (this has to be seen to be understood and appreciated).

You have a number of desktop environments to choose from. Jane prefers KDE. I use XFCE as it is a small and light environment and allows me to run both KDE and Gnome software.

What is on My Linux box:

  • Amarok to play MP3;
  • Doom - Good games are available;
  • Firefox Browser - Built-in pop-up blocker and other great features;
  • Gaim - IM for Hotmail and ICQ;
  • GFTP - File Transfer Protocol program;
  • GIMP - Image manipulation;
  • GQView - Image viewer;
  • GTK-Gnutella - a P2P application;
  • J-Pilot - Interface with my Palm Pilot;
  • K3B - CD Burner software;
  • MC - Midnight commander. Similar to Norton Commander;
  • MPlayer - Plays movies;
  • Open Office;
  • Screem Web development environment;
  • Scribus - DTP;
  • SMB4K - Allows my Linux box to talk to my Windows file server;
  • Thunderbird mail;
  • XSANE - Frontend to my USB scanner;
  • and a large number of other packages!

Is Linux perfect? No, but, it is much more stable and secure right out of the box. It comes with a large number of free software packages. It is almost at the point where a person who is using Windows® can convert themselves over to Linux without any help.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Linux & Recovery

As you may have noticed I have been doing a few updates here. I did get a new monitor last Monday and Linux detected it without any problems. I didn't need a new video card as the temporary monitor didn't play well with the card in the Linux box. Also, no special manual configuration, Linux handled it all for me without a problem.

I didn't have to do anything special for recovery as Linux handled it well. I am quite pleased at how Linux handled a shutdown while running and recovery was as smooth and quick as it would have been in Windows.

Security & Tools

Security is a process and not an absolute. While your machine may be secure today, tomorrow it may be vulnerable.

Your best defence is knowledge and a healthy dose of scepticism. If an email and/or file does not sound/feel right trust your instincts.

What tools are available

A router is a physical device that joins multiple wired or wireless networks together. Most routers now come with a built in firewall. This is an additional level of protection for your home network. The bonus is that you can now easily share your connection (if your ISP allows this). Just remember that if you go the wireless route you need to enable encryption and please change the default password!

We are using a router here at home and it is quite nice and I don't need to keep an extra computer on to share the connection, just the router (uses much less hydro).

At home here we use Zonelabs ZONEALARM PRO® on our server. If you are setting a home network up using ICS (Internet connection sharing) this is an excellent firewall to use. Zonelabs also makes a free version for home use.

Symantec and McAfee® have great resources on the current and past hoaxes.

Spyware Detectors
SPY-BOT S&D and AD-AWARE are what we use at home for the server and the two remaining Windows machines. Lavasoft also has an free online forum

Viruses/Trojans/Worms scanners
Again, Symantec and McAfee® are my two favourite anti-virus packages. They provide quick updates on a regular basis and have an excellent library of current trojans/worms/viruses.

Windows Update
Windows® 98 and higher has a tool called 'Windows Update'. This is a quick way to find out what critical patches needs to be installed. Please note that if you are not using either DSL or cable modem you will be online for many hours as these patches many times are very large.