Friday, November 30, 2007

upgraded blog layout

so I stopped being lazy and upgraded the blog to use the new "layouts" instead of the old "templates" system on looks purty, or something.

Free + open-source software I use

After reading Lifehacker for a while, I started thinking about the software I use every day. I've been trying to better organize my files, downloads and apps, and it'd be handy to have a list of what I actually use and where to download it. I primarily use free or open-source software on Windows XP, both because it works well, and because it's freely available and I can download the apps anywhere, anytime I have Internet access.

I've organized the software by how often I use it - daily, frequently or infrequently. I've also included other standard programs like antivirus/security, office software and runtime libraries (.NET and Java).

Since it can take a lot of time to go through and google for an app, visit the site, find the download section and find the current version to download for thirty-some apps, I've included links to the download pages and the current version of the app, as of today, Friday November 30th 2007.

Linked downloads (second link) are EXE installers for Windows XP in English from North American servers. If that doesn't work for you, click on the download page (first link) and select what you do want.





Office software

Runtime libraries
I've listed older versions as well since some apps (specifically system admin or backup software) require a specific older version. If you're not sure what you need, get the most recent version.

Let me know if you find this useful or have suggestions for the list.

Internet Explorer for OS X

ies4osx is a convenient way to run Internet Explorer natively on Mac OS X, without having to pull up Parallels or reboot into Windows with Boot Camp. Lifehacker (which is now one of my favorite sites) posted it this morning at Run Internet Explorer on Your Mac with ies4osx.

I haven't used this package on the Mac, but it's derived from the latest version of the IEs4Linux package which lets you run Internet Explorer natively on Linux. I've used IEs4Linux on Ubuntu Linux 6.10 and 7.04 and it really works rather well.

It's particularly handy for accessing financial and corporate sites that require IE for their functionality. That's less of a problem now than it was 2 or 3 years ago, thanks to the continued growing popularity of Firefox and Safari.

Thursday, November 29, 2007


"The point is that we are all capable of believing things which we know to be untrue, and then, when we are finally proved wrong, impudently twisting the facts so as to show that we were right. Intellectually, it is possible to carry on this process for an indefinite time: the only check on it is that sooner or later a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield." - George Orwell, ''In Front of Your Nose", 1946

Wikipedia articles on the Congo

Jessica has been reading through The Poisonwood Bible, which touches upon Patrice Lumumba and the Congo Crisis at the end, so I tracked down these Wikipedia articles on the Congo and Leopold II and Congolese independence for her:

Leopold II of Belgium: 1835-1909, son of Leopold I of Belgium, who married Princess Charlotte and arranged then-Princess Victoria's marriage to Prince Albert.

Congo Free State: Leopold II's private state in the Congo, 1885-1908; now the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

King Leopold's Soliloquy: 1905 satirical pamphlet by Mark Twain criticizing Leopold II's actions in the Congo, in which the King supposedly argues that bringing Christianity to the country outweighs a little starvation (text available from American Museum of Natural History).

Force Publique: private army used by Leopold II to govern the Congo Free State and enforce production quotas; evolved into local colonial army after Belgian takeover of the Congo in 1908; nationalized and Africanized by Patrice Lumumba in 1960, deeply involved in the Congo Crisis, which led to Joseph Mobutu seizing power in 1965; Mobuto's overthrow led to the First Congo War from 1996-1997 and the resulting tensions then led to the Second Congo War from 1998-2003.

update 1018h:

King Leopold's Ghost: book published in 1999 (made into a documentary in 2006) which details the history of the Congo Free State, and mentions the roles played by George Washington Williams, who coined the term "crimes against humanity", William Henry Sheppard, E. D. Morel, Sir Roger Casement and Joseph Conrad in reporting, documenting and publicizing the atrocities carried out by Leopold II in the Congo.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

not so zoho

You know the nice things I wrote yesterday about ZoHo? I take most of them back.

Their word processing app is fairly decent, but their wiki and creator products really aren't that good. The wiki support page is full of unanswered questions dating back nearly a year, the database creator is agonizingly frustrating to use if you trying to do anything non-drool-inducing (like add a formula to calculate someone's current age given their birthday), and the docs are double-plus-ungood.

Microsoft's got nothing to worry about there.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

online + offline web apps

Lifehacker has an interesting bit about Zoho Writer adding full offline access with Google Gears. I hadn't looked at Zoho before, but they have an excellent suite of web apps, and if you take the minute or so required to install Gears, then you can take your word processing docs offline, edit them (can't add images offline, but text + formatting works fine) and then sync up the changes once you go back online.

This is really cool, for laptop-using humans, or if you have crappy 'net connectivity and still need to work on stuff.

One really interesting part of Zoho's suite is their Creator app for online databases. Imagine being able to set up MS Access-style database apps, online, in just a few minutes. This is the sort of thing that should make Microsoft really, really worried. You don't need MS Office, Windows Server, IIS, VB or ActiveX controls... just this online app that takes 30 seconds to sign up, and 5 minutes to build a basic address book app. Or a recipe catalog. Or an inventory system.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Fast flux on Wikipedia

I was reading through the October 15 2007 CRYPTO-GRAM
newsletter and saw a mention of "fast flux" DNS used by the Storm worm from earlier this year. Not knowing what it was, I went to Wikipedia and ... nothing! Not a single solitary mention of what it is.

Being a research and security geek meant I could not let this stand. So about an hour later, after some googling and scanning and reading, there is now a stub Fast flux article on Wikipedia that I started. Maybe this can help the next poor uninformed but interested soul who goes looking for enlightenment.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

New job

So I'm leaving the military-industrial complex tomorrow to go work back in the private sector for (BBBB) doing storage engineering. I'll be off for a week on vacation, then start at the new job on Tuesday September 4th.

I lucked into this position thanks to LinkedIn, which I only bothered with because of an invite from a former co-worker. I highly recommend it, it's worked well for me so far.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Best IPv6 post evar

Proposed IPv6 Cutover By 2011-01-01

After hearing folks at work talk about messing around with IPv6 over the past half a year, this made me laugh out loud. Hah!

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

I am

5 US Senate terms
7.5 US Presidential terms
15 US Congresses
20 cycles of Moore's Law
30 years
120 seasons
360 months
1,560 weeks
10,950 days
262,800 hours
15,768,000 minutes
946,080,000 seconds old today

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

NOAA's hurricane satellite politics

Slashdot post + commentary: Say Nothing About the Failing Satellite

Article from the Miami Herald: Candid storm chief gets a lashing

There's some informative discussion on Slashdot between former NOAA folks and JPL folks regarding the design, launch and technical details on the QuikSCAT satellite, in addition to political commentary.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Dell now shipping PCs with Ubuntu

Dell is (finally) shipping PCs, specifically Dimension E520 N + XPS 410 N desktops and Inspiron E1505 N laptops with Ubuntu Linux installed as an alternative to Microsoft Windows. Cool.

While it may be hard to find the links to the Ubuntu systems from their front page, you can go to to order their non-Windows systems.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Blame Xerxes

or Ancient Dead Persians Can Have Enormous Influence on Information Technology

Did somebody order a server wrong?

Blame Xerxes.
Blame Xerxes.

Did somebody fat-finger a config again?

Blame Xerxes.
Blame Xerxes.

Machine room overheat on the weekend?

Blame Xerxes.
Blame Xerxes.

It's just not fair, it's just not right.
We tried so hard and he put up a fight.

He's two thousand years old and covered with dust
but we just can't win, he's got that ancient Persian stuff.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

My own Google Maps mashup

So it's not really a mashup. I'm not using the Google Maps API, but the new My Maps functionality within Google Maps. Very easy to use, even with cut-and-paste data.

The data comes from a BusinessWeek article on The Biggest Metro Areas with the Lowest Rents. Kinda neat, gives a nice at-a-glance representation of the cheaper bigger areas to live in the United States. Minus one outlier (Salt Lake City), it's all in the Midwest and South; and 15 out of the 20 are inland. Only two (Houston and Jacksonville FL) are on the ocean.

I've drawn a polygon encompassing the "central" area of large metro areas with lowest rents, and it's interesting that the polygon is centered on the Mississippi River and Ohio Valley. You've also got Texas + Oklahoma + northern Alabama and Georgia, but half of these metro areas are on or near the big river valleys and the Great Lakes.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Cisco VPN Client and Linux Kernel 2.6.19

Was trying to install the Cisco VPN client for Linux on a Fedora Core 6 (kernel 2.6.19) system and ran into some errors. First it complained about linux/config.h not being present and accounted for. Did some googling, turns out that you should be using linux/autoconf.h instead of ye olde linux/config.h. That's cool. But even after doing a

sed -i 's/\/config\.h/\/autoconf\.h/' *.c

I still got a bunch of build errors from interceptor.c, specifically "CHECKSUM_HW undeclared" and "too many arguments to function skb_checksum_help". Great. More googling. Turns out that CHECKSUM_HW got replaced by CHECKSUM_PARTIAL and CHECKSUM_COMPLETE (see for details), and skb_checksum_help's argument list changed.

So more googling, and I found the terribly helpful page put up by Alexander Griesser on Cisco VPN Client and Linux Kernel 2.6.19, which includes a vpnclient-linux-2.6.19.diff file you can use for easy patching. w00t!

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

What graphics card do I buy?

Got an email from a friend asking about buying a new graphics card for a PC, thought I'd post my reply up here in case other folks get a "what the heck do I buy?" reaction when they look at the universe of PC graphics cards on the market.

a coworker of mine wants to buy a new video card for his PC but is a tad overwhelmed by the array of choices (and price ranges.) He's into Call of Duty and games like that. Can you recommend a good card that won't break the bank (sounds like a game enthusiast as opposed to a diehard GAMER.)

What video card you can use is highly dependent upon your PC's motherboard. Recent PCs (something purchased within the last 12 - 18 months) probably have a PCI Express slot for graphics cards, older PCs (2 years or older) likely have an AGP slot for graphics cards. Don't confuse PCI Express slots with a plain old PCI slot. Check your PC's specs first, or crack the case open and check yourself, before spending actual money. If unsure, find someone who can tell the difference and get them to check.

Having said that, you're really just limited by the amount of money you want to spend and how much power you want to pay for per hour that you have your PC turned on. Modern graphics cards can suck a lot of power and run very hot, necessitating extra cooling, which means more power.

Once you get above $100 (the "budget" range), there's not really any bad choices between ATI-based cards and Nvidia-based cards. You're really just differentiating on price, features (like TV-out support) and performance. I normally don't spend more than $150 on a given graphics card, and for that much, you can typically find a decent enough card for occasional to frequent gaming (5-20 hours/week). You can certainly pay more than that, and depending on what your games need for good performance, you may want to shell out up to $300 if you spend a lot of time in front of your monitor (40+ hours/week). Paying more than $300 is really just silly, in most cases; if your games are still running slow with a $300 graphics card, you need to fix or upgrade other components in your system.

Right now, you'd want to get at least an ATI Radeon x1600-based card or an Nvidia GeForce 7600-based card for gaming, with a minimum of 256MB onboard memory. Higher product numbers typically indicate newer, faster hardware, and for Nvidia chipsets, you also have "trim line" codes (GS, GT) which indicate either lower-end (GS) or higher-end (GT) components on the card. If you want to spend the time geeking out and reading AnandTech or Tom's Hardware or HardOCP or other hardware review sites to see which chipsets and manufacturers give the optimum performance or best bang for the buck, you certainly can; but in general, if you spend more money, you'll get a faster and more capable card.

There are many many many different graphics card "manufacturers" (ASUS, Sapphire, XFX, Diamond, eVGA, MSI, Powercolor), but for the most part, they're producing reference implementations of either ATI or Nvidia chipset designs on their cards. Some folks look for cards that bundle free copies of games or software with the card, others look for faster memory or better cooling on the card, but honestly, there's not a huge amount of difference between them. I've had good luck in the last 5 years with Sapphire (midrange cards), Rosewill (low-end/budget cards) and eVGA (all price levels). Best thing to do with a given card is check user feedback to see if there's multiple complaints about a single issue (drivers, overheating, poor manufacture quality) and if not, it's probably fine. Real lemons do exist, so look for products that lots of other folks have tried out to make sure you don't end up with one.

Try checking on for cards, they have a huge amount of user feedback on their items, plus competitive prices, excellent shipping and wonderful customer service.