How did a lion get riches? … It was the olden days

Before the Internet and the infernal Intraweb there were BBS’s.
Electronic bulletin boards that were hubs of free speech and pirated software and some very cool turn based “door” games like Trade Wars 2002.

This is what we computer nerds used to interface with our brethren all across the globe.

In my time I have known quite a few of the Houston based underground including Chris Goggans aka Erik Bloodaxe of Legion Of Doom fame. I read Phrack and cDc religiously.

In 1991 I was approached by a group of people to participate in an online “zine” called The Worldview (Der Weltanschauung). It was an eclectic group of folks and we had some very good times.

My “Nom De Plume” was The Reverend Scott Free.
We believed we were going to change the world.
Perhaps we did. It’s hard to say. Those were heady times. Reagan had been the prez for 8 years and we were under the stewardship of Bush Sr. and the first Gulf War.

These “zines” were distributed all over the world using very basic modem technology. One BBS would call another and download the issue and then pass it on.

I was pleased to discover that our little enterprise has been archived at a number of web sites like the one linked here: The Worldview (Der Weltanschauung)

It’s really odd to go back and read some my old political rants.

My paranoia and hyperbole are very apparent in my first rant in issue number 2 which came out on May 4 1991. You can read it here:

http://www.textfiles.com/magazines/WORLDVIEW/wview1.2

Yowza!

Googleplex

Picked this up at the Grooveblog

Google Complex

THE DALLES, Ore., June 8 “” On the banks of the windswept Columbia River, Google is working on a secret weapon in its quest to dominate the next generation of Internet computing. But it is hard to keep a secret when it is a computing center as big as two football fields, with twin cooling plants protruding four stories into the sky.

Read more

When I mentioned this to Bill Shirley he asked the question; “Does it show up on Google Earth?” and that got me thinking and we all know that can only lead to trouble.

The article above indicates that the location of the complex is in The Dalles, OR.
I brought that up in Google Maps.

The Dalles

If this is correct, the likely location would seem to be east or north/west of the airport.
I tried to zoom in various areas but was greeted with this:

No zoom for you!

The thought plickens!

Trained professional on a closed course – Do not attempt

As I have mentioned before, I get computer questions in all flavors. Some relatively simple,
others far beyond the scope of the service I provide as a free service in e-mail.

Every now and then I get one that sparks my imagination.

A few weeks back I got an e-mail from one of my readers. His dilemma was that he had 8 floppy diskettes with some important data on them that he could not access. As luck would have it he copied the data to the diskettes using Windows 95 and employed a feature known as DriveSpace which was the Windows 95 version of DoubleSpace.

DriveSpace was a compression utility that would would, in essence, double the capacity of any drive that it was used on. Unlike compression utilities like WinZip which allowed you to compress files into a single archive and recover them, DriveSpace created an archive on the disk with the compressed data and used a virtual disk to view the data and extract it on the fly. Basically a 1.44 MB diskette appeared to be a 2.88 MB diskette.

You could also use it on you hard drive. Imagine the glee of expanding your 100 MB hard drive to 200 MB!

I never trusted DriveSpace and in my early tech days when Windows 95 first came out I saw drives that were “DriveSpaced” go belly up on many an occasion. Microsoft abandoned the technology after Windows ME.

So this guy e-mails me and wants to know if there is a utility that will extract the data from these 8 DriveSpaced diskettes. He had a Windows 98 computer but it won’t let him get at the data on the diskettes. It only reports that the diskettes were created in Windows 95 and the DriveSpace that came with Windows 98 would not work.

After I dug around and exhausted my research options I came to the conclusion that the only way this data was going to be retrieved was to load Windows 95 and get after it.

I negotiated with the guy and said I was open to the challenge and told him to deliver the diskettes to me as well as an install CD for Windows 95. If I was able to retrieve the data he would pay me X number of dollars. If I failed I would charge him nothing. He agreed.

When I got the disks and took them home I had a plan. I use VMWare on my main PC. This is an application that will let you load a guest operating system inside a window of your main system. Loading the operating system is basically like installing an application. When you are done you can remove it and your base system is unchanged.

It took some wrangling. My system has no floppy disk drive nor floppy disk controller and Windows 95 requires a boot disk to install. I had to make a DOS boot CD and start up the virtual machine and then swap CD’s in mid install.

You old timers remember how long it took to install Windows 95 when it came out?
It took about 10 minutes on my modern system once I got it going.

Behold!
Windows 95 running in a window of XP on my 3700+ AMD XP system!

You’ll notice Internet Explorer 3 and Microsoft Internet Mail and News (the precursor to Outlook Express). IE 3 displays Google very well. It blows up on the Java intense sites like Yahoo.

The mail program is barfing on the rich text HTML message from my friend Lenicia.

As cool as this is, there was still the matter of recovering the data from the diskettes. Since I have no diskette drive and no means to hook one up I figure that I’ll just copy the raw data to a CD and then try to extract the information inside my virtual Windows 95 machine.

After meticulously copying the 8 diskettes worth of data to a CD it’s the moment of truth. I load the CD and start the DriveSpace program and….no dice. From what I can gather, DriveSpace will not work on a “read only” disk, even if you are only using it to view and extract the data. This is most unfortunate.

I finally opted to just install Windows 95 on an old system I had been using as a backup. I used a spare drive and loaded it up. I pretty easily extracted the data at this point and copied it to the drive. I then swapped the original XP drive back into the master space and booted it up and was able to access the files using Windows Explorer. I burned them to CD, delivered them to their owner and collected my fee.

I would have liked it if my virtual Windows 95 system would have worked to recover the data.
Curse the death of the floppy disk!

Still, what trip down memory lane and what a trip to see Windows 95 again.

**UPDATE** I just discovered that VMWARE will work with a USB floppy drive.
Too bad I discovered this after I went through all of that.

phliKtid

Last night’s show was pretty good. At least we managed to entertain ourselves and that’s always a plus. My friend Jennifer came out for a bit of an internship on the phones. Groovehouse showed her the ropes and she did a good job during the second hour managing the incoming calls.

As we were all preparing to go home I was stuck by the true geekiness of the crew of the show. We are SUCH nerds.

Take, for example, phliKtid
He’s the man behind, well…behind EVERYTHING. Just click on these images to see what I mean.

phliKtid phliKtid phliKtid
phliKtid phliKtid phliKtid

phliKtid is the brains behind the hilarious promos that run for the show and he’s been running the sound board and has taken on the role of engineer for the program.

phliKtid is the subtle nerd. He’s a systems administrator for a local medical college and he’s a Free BSD user. He doesn’t “toot his own horn” so much but there is one concession he makes to his geekitude.

Check out his vanity plate on his motorcycle.

Aww, yea!

Geek Gathering – 06/02/2006

Another excellent gathering of the geeks!
There were many new toys being oogled by a room full of nerds and nerd onlookers.

Dwight Silverman, self proclaimed Microsoft lackey and friend of Bill, was spotted with a new Macintosh computer. He claims it belongs to his daughter but there was a unmistakable gleam of delight in his his eye as he explored the features.

Barrett was sporting a new 17″ Macbook and Russell Holliman of Mobilepodcast fame was toting a brand new Motorola Q phone.

It was also a pleasure to meet Matt B. of mattsapundit.com.

In terms of gadgetry and attendees this was probably one of the geekiest geek gatherings in a long time. That’s probably for the best since my friend Jennifer decided to pay a visit. She’s expressed an interest in helping Groovehouse out with phone screening duties on show nights and it’s important she fully realize what she’s getting herself into.

A few more photos here.

The weakest link

For all your firewalls, intrusion detection systems, passwords and password policies it just takes one uninformed and well intentioned employee to bring you down.

It’s called social engineering and it is the most effective “hacking” tool available. I had my first experience being on the receiving end of a concerted social engineering hack and emerged victorious.

Yesterday around 3:30 pm I was at my desk when the receptionist put through a call from one of our senior VP’s. I was rather distracted with a few things going on so I was caught a little off guard. The VP in question is someone I know fairly well and have a bit of a rapport with. He asked how my holiday weekend was and we exchanged brief pleasantries. Since I was rather busy I politely moved the conversation to the business at hand and asked him what I could do for him.

He told me he needed a copy of the company Global Address List in Excel format.

[pause]

For the record; this would be the contact information for every single employee in our company. About 800+ contacts. No small thing.

[/pause]

One thing that tends to set me apart from your average IT flunky is I am not afraid to ask blunt questions and I had one for Mr. Senior VP.

What on earth for? This was an odd request and it set off alarm bells immediately. I’m not about to hand off this proprietary information without following some type of protocol even if you ARE a senior VP.

He proceeded to explain to me that he was on the road and his daughter had accidentally taken his laptop to school and he needed employee contact info ASAP. It kind of made sense. We are going through a buy-out/merger. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that a senior VP would need this information as part of maybe planning our ultimate re-organization. Still….

He was on a cell phone so it disguised the voice somewhat. It did sound like the VP.

I suggested he access the corporate e-mail system via our web interface. There he would have access to all the contacts in the GAL. He said this was not acceptable and that he needed it in a form that could be printed out.

I continued asking questions like “what is this for?” “Is there another way?” “Can you come into the office and get this?” and one final question “Is this something you would prefer I stop asking questions about?” to which he replied “yes.”

At this point he tried to pull rank. He told me that in his position he should not have to explain himself to me. This is when I was sure there was a problem. Either the person I know is acting EXTREMELY suspicious and out of character or he was not who he claimed to be.

I generated the Excel spreadsheet by exporting the GAL to a file on my desktop. I had to make a decision quick. I asked him how he wanted this delivered to him and he said “e-mail it to my personal e-mail address” and proceeded to give me an address of files@somethingoranother.com…

My thought was that if he could access his personal e-mail then he could access his corporate e-mail and I told him I would send it there. He asked me to CC the funky e-mail address and I said I would not do that. At this point I told him outright that I wasn’t even sure I was dealing with a company employee and I implored him (just in case I was wrong) to please understand that I am only protecting the company. I basically told him I would e-mail the file to his corporate address and he could then forward it as he pleased.

He was not happy but relented and agreed to my solution. At this point I was a little flustered and after I sent the e-mail I went to my boss to explain what had happened in case I managed to piss off a senior VP. Not something you want to do when they are likely evaluating current and future company positions. I have denied the requests of senior management before, citing company policy. When you do that you are putting your job at risk. I knew I was right but I feared there might be repercussions.

5 minutes later I got an e-mail from the senior VP in question asking what the heck this was that I had sent to him. I explained it and told him he could delete the message.

Turns out whoever was on the phone was impersonating the VP and was totally pulling a scam.

Had I not been alert I could have easily handed off confidential employee information to god knows who.

Let’s be careful out there!

MC Frontalot in the house

To make last night even MORE interesting we were being videotaped by a crew from Vaguely Qualified Productions for the documentary film Nerdcore Rising.

Kimmy Gatewood and Negin Farsad

Nerdcore Rising is about MC Frontalot and the evolotion of Nerdcore Hip Hop.

From the web site:

Nerdcore Rising is a documentary that will uncover the new wave of hip-hop called Nerdcore by following the godfather of the genre, MC Frontalot and his geeksta entourage on their first national tour. They will perform everywhere from gaming conventions to D&D tournaments. And, of course, we’ll get to meet nerdcore fans in all of their Magic-playing, pocket protector-wearing, Mensa-bragging, Jolt Cola drinking, internet-gaming glory.

You can see a trailer for the documentary here.

We were even joined in the studio by MC Frontalot himself where we witnessed some pretty awesome nerd core free-styling.

Barrett Canon, MC Frontalot and Dwight Silverman representin', yo!

Barrett Canon and MC Frontalot

Another successful fundraiser

Last night’s show was the last of three fundraising episodes for this fund drive. We were tasked with raising $1920 per show. To make the goal easier to speak to I just announced it as $2000 as a nice, round number.

During week 1 we raised nearly $2700 which was pretty awesome. Our listeners stepped up in a big way. We were joined by Renee Feltz of the KPFT News Department as the fund raising coordinator during the program. Her energy added greatly to the efforts. We also had the services of Robb Zipp on the phones and taking pledges. Thanks Robb!

During week 2 we fell short of the goal by about $500 so that was a little disappointing. Still, with the overage the first week we has some cushion and in terms of the overall goal we were right where we needed to be. Renee was out of town and Robb was absent as well. Dr. Simotas was our fundraiser coordinator and she did a good job. It was her first time to work with the Technology Bytes crew so it didn’t gel as well as I would have liked.

Last night we were re-joined by Renee Feltz and Robb Zipp in their usual roles and Dr. Simotas joined us in the studio. It was a winning line-up as we blew through the goal with 30 minutes left in the show. I think having a fully qualified ObGyn in the studio and on the air during a computer technology talk show pushed us over the edge. The final tally for last nights show was just over $2600.

Alexandra Simotas in the control room with phliKtid

Overall, we exceeded our goal and it was a successful fund drive for us.

Cult of the Mac – Finding love

So Apple computers has this interesting 24 hour time lapse movie on their site. The camera is in front of the 5th Ave store in New York. You can watch it here.

Pretty fascinating in a commercialized, Koyaanisqatsi sort of way.

There is a bit of an Easter Egg in there if you watch it, though.
If you watch the second 5:00 am segment you will see a young man hijack the cam to offer a marriage proposal. You can skip through and around the movie in 1 hour increments if you don’t want to watch the whole thing.

I love you

Will you marry me?

I didn’t get a frame grab of the card with her name on it…

Glad to be of assistance

As you might imagine, I have answered a LOT of computer questions over the years as a result of my chosen path as demagogy-free radio talk show host and newspaper techno-pundit.

The questions come via e-mail, IM, the phone, in person and via third parties, friends and relatives. Everything from consumer advice to complex network troubleshooting. Sometimes I know the answer and sometimes I am quick with a well executed Google search and on certain occasions I just grunt my displeasure at being used in this manner and go back to what I was doing before I was so rudely interrupted.

Since all my Q&A’s I write for the Chronicle are archived in the Helpline Blog they are turning up in the search engines when people are looking for an answer to a problem. This means that I am answering questions now without actually interacting with the person experiencing the problem.

There’s no way to track this. I simply have no idea how much assistance (or damage) I am perpetrating. I do, however, have an inkling based on the steady stream of replies to one particular posting I made back on Sept. 9, 2005.

My screen is sideways

It was a Q&A I put together based on a real live helpdesk issue that I solved with one of my users in the course of my workday. In terms of publishing it was kind of a “throw down” posting in that I did not see this as something that affected very many people and would possibly be more filler than anything or perhaps just demonstrate a quirky computer factoid.

I was wrong.

This week I have received three comments thanking me for that one single answer and I have received around 28 since it was posted. And since I rarely hear from people I have successfully helped the true number of people this has helped may never be fully known.

I can only imagine how many people have been suffering with a monitor turned on it’s side looking for a solution.

I’m glad I could help.

Code monkey like Fritos

Code Monkey get up get coffee
Code Monkey go to job
Code Monkey have boring meeting
With boring manager Rob
Rob say Code Monkey seem to work a lot
But his output stink
His code not “functional” or “elegant”
What do Code Monkey think?
Code Monkey think maybe manager want to write god damned login page himself
Code Monkey not say it out loud
Code Monkey not crazy, just proud.

Johnathon Coulton is writing, recording and posting a song a week as part of something called A Thing A Week. This offering is “Code Monkey” and it’s a delightful tribute to software programmers.

Also of note is his “Flickr” song. If you have ever browsed Flickr (or any other photo hosting site) you will appreciate this song/video.

Lastly, Chiron Beta Prime reminds me a LOT of They Might Be Giants.

Thing A Week is available as a Podcast if you are so inclined.

Google-spike

I’m enjoying this while it’s still novel.

Today’s Helpline Blog item was a Q&A about Mozilla Firefox and Internet Explorer entitled Trying to eliminate Internet Explorer. Apparently Google News bundled this blog entry with the news release regarding Microsoft’s release of Internet Explorer Beta 7.

This resulted in ginormous spike in the number of page views in less than 20-30 minutes and an explosion of comments that I am slowly but surely reviewing and publishing.

Forgive an old man his dated colloquialism but I have to say one thing….

NEAT!

from border to border and coast to coast and all the ships at sea

Technology Bytes is moving back to it’s old time slot of 8-10 pm. We had been moved to the 7-9 pm slot for awhile but it was just not the same so I lobbied for our old slot and they finally gave it to us. The change takes effect Wednesday April 19th.

This is part of a station-wide programming revamp. Many shows are moving. The new program schedule is online at the KPFT website and can be downloaded in PDF format directly from this link.

In other Tech Bytes house-keeping news; Groovehouse has been doing an awesome job as the new phone screener, following in the footsteps of the original Phone Girl, Leslie the Phone Girl, Phone Boy and David. And beyond that he has become the official photo-chronicler of Tech Bytes at the studio and at our events. You can check out his work in the on-air gallery of geekradio.com.

Some of my favorites:

Jay Lee, Barrett Canon, Lauren Steffy, Dwight Silverman Jay Lee and Barrett Canon Phlikitid in the control room