Archive for January 2007

Before you upgrade to Vista, you should read this


In order to provide HD Video capabilities and to appease content creators, Microsoft went very far in making sure the Vista is not seen as a tool for content piracy. Did they went too far ? What will be the real cost of this contraversial features ?

Listen (or read) the comments of people that understand the DRM topic better than me and make your own opinion:

* How and why Windows Vista has incorporated the most pervasive and invasive system for digital rights management ever created, AACS – as MP3 and PDF

* Interview with Peter Gutmann on Vista DRM – as MP3 and PDF

* Vista DRM Wrap-Up – as MP3 and PDF

* Microsoft’s response to Peter Guttman and Paul Thurrot on the above

Too bad that this huge effort that went into killing the opennes of the PC platform (which was the main and only reason for its market dominance, against technologically superior Apple computers) was not spent on something actually useful – for example on the features that were silently dropped from Longhorn (anybody remembers WinFS ?), or making the CLR inside the SQL Server 2005 useful for real life, non-Hello World applications (try to run larger piece of software that works with XML inside the SQL Server and you’ll see what I mean).

As for my self, I am not keen at all to jump onto Vista train. Yes, it looks nice – but so does OS-X. Yes, WinFX and XAML are interesting – but so is XUL and there is nothing wrong with .NET 2.0. And the XP can run the Framework 3.0 – so what is the big deal ? Eventually, over year or two, Vista will come with new hardware – it is unavoidable. But until that time, I will stay with XP and postpone the upgrade as much as i can. And to be proactive and have Plan B, maybe I’ll start to learn Objective C šŸ™‚

NAS Odyssey: Fedora Core


As the title says, the Ubuntu is out. Not really because of some technical flaw or missing features (as the FreeNAS, NASLite+ and OpenFiler before), but because of lack of experience and patience on my side. Unlike other distribution which come pre-packed on DVD, Ubuntu installs from a single CD. There are 3 CD variations available: Desktop, which most of the people use and which is likely responsible for Ubuntu fame, Server and Alternative. I did not want to go with desktop – for obvious reasons, so I started to install Server. It installed OK, except it did not offered any option to create RAID. Technically, I still had the RAID created from experiments with OpenFiler, but as I was not sure in which state did I left it, I wanted to recreate it.

The server installation, unfortunately does not install any GUI and all operations are performed from command line. I dare to administer Apache and Samba via command line, but meddling with file system operations made me feel really uncomfortable. I tried installed webmin (using apt-get) but it did not succeed at the first attempt and gave up afterwards. Ubuntu seems to cover well two sides of the Linux experience scale: beginers (ex-Windows users) and experienced Linux guys. For somebody who needs more than simple desktop but does not really want to go to deep internals, it does not provide very much. Maybe the alternative install would do – but I gave up, time to move ahead.

I decided to try Fedora first. There seems to be lot of information available (such as books on Safari Online) and I know few people that use Fedora and may be a good source of information if I get stuck.

I’ve encountered few issues during Fedora setup. First – there seems to be a bug in Anaconda installer: as soon as you try to select additional RPM repositories, it crashes and you can start from beginning – as nothing was saved yet. Lesson learned: do not do that. The other problem I’ve seen had nothing to do with Linux: my setup kept freezing and crashing at first. I figured out that there likely was an IRQ conflict between USB and RAID – after I disabled RAID on BIOS, it disappeared. Right now, I have selected the packages and the installer runs …

Put alltogether: it was great lerning experience so far and much more complicated that I have expected, but quite fun. And that is only beginning – I am pretty sure I’ll learn much more cool stuff in the process of managing my new (still not existing) NAS. I have to hurry up, because the all NSLU2 died and the family archive of images and videos is inaccessible on USB drive formatted as ext3 filesystem …

NAS Odyssey: OpenFiler is out, let's try Ubuntu


My love affair with OpenFiler did not last very long. After installation finished, I started browser, pointed to URL I was told by the installer and started to configure. The Web admin was OK, nothing really exciting, but functional. The bad surprise came when I was trying to define users – in order to define volumes later. And here came the screen saying:

Please note that Openfiler needs a central directory service
on the network to function, which it and the client machines can see and use.
You cannot use local users and groups with Openfiler.
Otherwise there is no means to implement authorisation
as one machine’s information about users and groups can differ from another’s.
You can configure the directory service below.

It offered me either use LDAP server or point to Windows domain controller. Well – too bad. I certainly have no intention to install and run LDAP for the four users I have at home, and if I ever will have a Windows server, it will not be an add-on to Linux NAS but a replacement for failed attempt to install Linux NAS (my Plan B). And it certainly will be neither Domain controller nor Active Directory server – as I am not a big fan of either approach. Anyway – I cannot use OpenFiler, the next step is to try out real Linux distributions, in order Ubuntu, Fedora and OpenSuse.

So I started to getting the installation images ready. I have downloaded the DVD ISO for Fedora and OpenSuse and CD ISO for Ubuntu. While doing that I practically tried out Bittorrent for the first time. Stop laughing – I was really not using Torents until now. Somehow the fashion of downloading of MP3’s and movies from peer-2-peer networks avoided by me. The client I used was Azureus – beautiful opensource piece of software written in Java. Maybe, with the current superfast dual-core machines and 1-2 GB RAM as minimum, time has come to re-evaluate the idea of thick client written in Java ?

But back to the installs. First series of downloads did not work. Neither of them. Probably because I have downloaded the x86_64 versions. Each of the systems crashed in various stages of loading Linux kernel – so I assume, there must be some issue with HCL of my configuration. I have read few weeks ago somewhere on the Net that “… trying to go with 64 bits is begging for troubles … ” – but did not know how it is.

So I am back to running torrents – the i386 versions of Ubuntu Server 6.10 CD is already downloaded and the other two DVD’s are coming. It will take few hours. We will see if the problems were indeed caused by the x86_64 versions.

Let’s start with Ubuntu ….

To be continued

Joys of the Opensource NAS – Part 2: OpenFiler


After spending most Saturday and Sunday fixing, coding and logging bugs, I finally got to moving ahead. Very likely it is about time, because the NSLU2 keeps producing strange sounds

The box has now additional IDE 160 GB IDE disk, which will hold Linux installation as well as “temp” share, which will not be RAID-ed. Sort of staging area for the stuff in flux.

After contemplating for a while which distribution to use – and generally, whether to build more generic Linux server with Samba or more appliance-type box, I went on with trying OpenFiler first. The truth is that my old Linux box did 99% of his services as Samba fileserver and very little as Web server / Java application server. Most of the fancy GUI applications were barely used – including pretty loaded Gnome and KDE installation (one can never decide which one is actually better). So why to repeat same mistake twice ?

Nevertheless, I have created a shortlist of distributions and prepared the media. Here is the shortlist:

a) Ubuntu
b) Fedora Core
c) Open Suse

I have no real rational reason why exactly these 3 distros and why this order – decision was partially based on reviews from Net and partially on personal recommendations.

Installation of OpenFile (still running) was very straightforward. Of course, you have to select manual partitioning, not automatic if you want to create RAID. I have created 4 partitions on /dev/hda – /boot, /, swap and /var – occupying the rest of the system – as ext3. The SATA disk got created one large partition each, formated as Software Raid. The actual raid – /dev/md0 – was created right in disk partitioning tool. The only uncertainty was the number after ‘Number of spares’. I was not sure what it means “spare” – but then decided that it should be the number of spare partitions actually not participating in the RAID, just available, in case something would fail. I have left the default value 0 and moved on.

The created RAID was as expected, over 915 GB large (4×305 GB disks in RAID5 = 3×305+parity). After that, the installer requires to set time zone, IP address and hostname and starts formatting the partitions, which will take long, long long time – it is running now for over an hour …

Few good links to the topic: Linux SATA RAID FAQ, explanation Why software RAID,
To be continued

Mac is the way to enlightenment


Even Dalai-lama is using it. See the proof –

Note for Gabo – it looks like Macbook Pro :-).

More on Sony Reader


I have been living with my Sony eReader for almost a month now and managed to read about two full books. If not the time crush in biometric project, I would have probably read much more than just two books – nevertheless, I do have some real life experience with the device.

First – the claimed battery life of 7500 page turns is BS. I have observed real battery life about 15-20 hours, so unless you manage to turn about 500 pages per hour, it just does not add up. I have observed that battery was good for about 1 full book (about 400 letter pages, or about 900 “small” pages on reader), read over 2 weeks period, the battery dropped from full charge to one segment. It is possible that it depends on how reading style – if you are turning pages and reading continuously, it lasts longer. Browsing through books seems to consume considerable energy. I think that 15-20 hours reading time is more than enough – it will keep you busy on flight to Australia :-). Certainly huge improvement against PDA based readers, where the battery life is 4-5 hours max. My 2 years old PocketPC is now down to about 3.5 hrs. I am still using it because a) I have lots of books in PalmDoc and CHM formats and b) I like to read in bed …

I have looked at the content of the SD card as it is in file system. The Reader does not seem to do any conversion for the files involved – the copied PDF and RTF files are binary equal to the original files. The structure of the SD card is:

\Sony Reader\
\Sony Reader\books
\Sony Reader\database

The books folder contains all files copied into SD. The database contains single XML file cache.xml, which holds directory of the books. I do not know yet whether the file indeed a directory or what it says – a cache. Simple experiment to do is to copy few files and test of Reader will find them and updates the cache. The book metadata has following format as:

<text author="AUTHOR NAME" page="0" part="0" scale="0" sourceid="37" id="269">
date="Sat, 30 Dec 2006 22:42:12 GMT" mime="text/plain"
path="Sony Reader/books/FILENAME.txt" size="339623"
title="BOOK TITLE">
<layout part="0" scale="0">

I am not sure how the one or more encoded binary chunks – layouts (for various scales) work. The encoded jpeg -thumbnail is on the hand pretty obvious.

The source of the information appearing in the metadata depends on the source format. For PDF and RTF files, Connect software seems to access the document properties, for TXT files I did not figure it out yet.

So to get good content on the Reader requires

a) get the metadata right and
b) convert the content into best readable format.

Which is, unfortunately the proprietary format BBeB. The readibility of the BBeB is far the best, it offer nicer text, better sizing and overall much better reading experience. The good news is, that it is possible to create content in this format and first few tools are appearing on the net. I will try them out and post the results here as soon as I am done. Until that time, you can download free ebooks (Project Gutenberg and others) on directly in the eReader format.

This site is very good source of information on the eReader and things around it.

FEOTD: Google Notebook


Today’s extension provides easy way how to access and add content to great free service from Google – Google Notebook. I am using it for over 3 months now and find it very useful and easy to use.

As other Google product, Google Notebooks is simple, has clean interface and not too many features. The extension available from Google tools for Firefox make using it even easier. It allows you to create notes – Web clippings, by selecting part of Web page and choosing “Note this (Google Notebook)” from context menu, selection is added to currently active notebook.

The extension also allows to work with your notebooks. It occupies right bottom part of the Firefox status bar:


after opening it by clicking on it, you can either keep the notebook opened in minimalistic one line version:


or mini-window (by using the first of the three buttons on the right in notebook header). Here is is the mini-window view:


The last button closes the notebook and the second button opens (in new tab) full screen view of the notebook:


On the right sight, you can see list of existing notebooks. Every notebook can contain many clippings. Each clip can be either expanded to show full content or collapsed to display two line summary. You can rearrange order of the notes in notebook by drag and drop (which is much easier when they are collapsed). You can organize the notes within the notebook into sections. The action menu on the right allows to create/delete section, add, rename or delete notebook. One of the notebook is always active and all your clips will end up inside it. If you want to keep separate notebooks for different areas, you can use the button next to Notebook title to quickly change active notebook:


Google notebook is providing very similar functionality as the Scrapbook extension – but it keeps all clippings on-line, which is both pro and cons. If you are using single computer, Scrapbook has an advantage of keeping saved pages available even when you are offline. It also gives you more options for managing clips: merge, import/export. GN allows only rearrange content, simple edit and print.

As many other Google tools, Google Notebook does one thing and does it well. Saving Web clip can hardly be easier. If you do not need import/export and want to have access to your clips from any place, give it a try.

Evergreen Security Now!


I have started to listen the Security Now! podcasts from the very beginning – sometimes in summer 2005. Unlike someĀ  news-and-rumours podcasts that sound kind of weird if you listen them month later, this one did not loose a bit of it’s freshness. Even listening the story of Sony Rootkit discovery again was very entertaining. I am now at first “mod-4” Q&A podcast, Number 16.

Every time I listen to Steve Gibson, one of two things happens. Either I learn something new, or I discover new, better way how to explain something I knew about in a very nice, accessible way. Steve’s handling of differences between WEP and WPA, explanation why MAC address filtering gives no security and his VPN coverage was an excellent example of the later.

On the NAS building front: I have decided to go with 4 SATA + 1 IDE configuration and keep all 4 SATA disks fully RAID-5-ed. I have not yet decided which distribution I will put on. Probably will start with OpenFiler, but Ubuntu looks pretty good too and deservers a try. Btw, Peter is trying to convince me to use BIOS RAID and build a Windows 2003 server – but that is still a Plan B. If time permits, will move the yardstick on Saturday night. It may be delayed, because the biometric security project is quickly approaching the release phase and – as usual – time will be a precious resource.

Webbits – 2007-01


Webbit is like timbit – it comes in 12, 20 or 40 pack, contains many small pieces of different taste and color, is generally unhealthy but good, can be addictive and is nice addition to your morning “extra large, double cream” from Tim Hortons. Unlike from timbits, from webbits you will not get fat, only distracted. Enjoy !

The Quizstop allows you to select how fast are you reflexes with the mouse. Something for those with competitive gene among us (I mean you Igor, of course ;-).

Different kind of test is on It plays you two tone sequences and your job is to decide whether they are the same or not. Flash required.

Funny geek quotes. Free ebook on Programming in Ruby. Keyboard shortcuts for Mozilla Firefox.Timeline of Linux distros. 50 beautiful CSS designs. Very interesting blog idea – view from your window. Some views would be good as wallpaper, but if you need more variety, try the list of sites with nice wallpapers. Free ebook on Blender.

Few interesting blogs: on data/text mining, visualization and gis, on future of the books, visual communication, and even blog almost without words. Blog about programming in Cocoa environment on OS-X. Another rumor site on all things Apple. If you like betterĀ  DotNET, look here and here.

Interesting on-line test data generator.

For those of us who have daughters, here is something they (== the girls) may like.

FEOTD: Clippings – GMail's best friend

  • Thanks to Lifehacker I have discovered this extension which add missing piece of GMail functionality:

This very simple extension allows you to enter multiple sets of text (such as e-mail signatures) and paste them into forms simply by right-clicking.

Why is this such a big deal ? I am using GMail for both my personal and work stuff. To make sure my work related email appear as coming from company email address, I set the proper From address when composing an email. GMail can be configured to stay with the recipient address when replying. The only problem is signature. In private emails, I want to have link to the blog, in work emails, to company site. And GMail offers only one signature. With this extension, I do not use any signature from GMail, just simply insert correct one from the Clippings buffer.

There are other solutions Gmail multiple signatures Greasemonkey script but they are quite heavyweight for simple problem (which was main reason I did not try them out).

Get it at usual place.