Tag Archives: Computing

The Engineer Guy on why the Dvorak keyboard failed.

Being a professional computer technician in general, and a blogger in particular, I spend a lot of time with my hands on a keyboard. Specifically a QWERTY keyboard. I taught myself to type quickly using a minimum of fingers long before I had a proper typing class in high school and, to this day, I still tend to type using a mish-mash of proper and improper techniques that looks bizarre to anyone who watches me type.

I have always used QWERTY keyboards and even though I’ve seen a Dvorak keyboard once or twice in my lifetime, I’ve never tried to use one myself. It’s always been a curiosity that you occasionally hear mythical tales about how much better it supposedly is over QWERTY, but seeing as QWERTY works fine for me I’ve never felt the need to try one. Which brings us to this interesting video by The Engineer Guy who talks about the Dvorak keyboard and the myths surrounding it:

I have to say that a 5% improvement in typing speed wouldn’t be enough for me to make the switch. My blogging is probably the most typing I’ll tend to do in a day and my speed is already faster than my thoughts can keep up with most of the time so being 5% faster wouldn’t really benefit my output any. Plus there’s the hassle of learning an entirely new keyboard layout when I am, fundamentally, a lazy person. Still, I found the video interesting and thought I’d share it with you in case you might as well.

Today’s I Feel Old Video: Kids reacting to an Apple II computer.

The Fine Bros. are at it again. Tormenting today’s youth with the technology of yesteryear. This time out they sit a bunch of them down in front of a venerable Apple II computer to see if they can make heads or tails of it:

I can’t blame the kids for not appreciating the Apple II. It was a pain in the ass compared to the Commodore 64, but I admit to having some bias in that regard. I’m pretty sure they’d have had just as hard a time figuring out a C64. Especially if they had to use a tape drive instead of a floppy drive, but at least the games would’ve been a lot better. And in color!

If you’re still running Windows XP you’ve got one year of support left.

roadends_by_Johan_Larsson_flickrIt’s amazing to think that Windows XP has been around since 2001 and there are still a crap load of people using it daily. Microsoft has been supporting it all along with new patches for any vulnerabilities that are found, but unfortunately that support will be coming to an end in just about a year’s time:

Windows XP, Internet Explorer 6, Office 2003 enter their final support year | Ars Technica.

Windows XP drops out of extended support on April 8, 2014. As of April 9, 2014, there will be no more security updates or other fixes made for the ancient operating system.

Joining it are Internet Explorer 6 on Windows XP, Office 2003, and Exchange Server 2003. Exchange Server 2010 Service Pack 2 will also end support on that day, but newer Service Packs will continue to be supported. Naturally, this also includes “Windows XP Mode” in Windows 7 and other virtualized solutions.

If you’re one of the 38% of folks who still run Windows XP then now is the time to start considering moving on to something else. Once support for patches ends the longer your continue to use the OS the more vulnerable you will become. It’s impossible to patch every possible exploit and it’s only a matter of time before new ones are found. The more unpatched vulnerabilities discovered the more likely you are to fall victim to one. Especially if you spend any amount of time on the Internet.

So what should you make your next OS? That depends on you and your needs. Microsoft is, of course, hoping you’ll make your next OS Windows 8, but unless you’re going to buy a new computer with a touch interface of some sort then it’s probably not the ideal choice. Windows 7 would probably be a better option and it’ll continue to be supported for many years to come. If you’re buying a new machine and aren’t interested in Windows 8 then there’s always the Apple Mac as an option, though it would mean learning the ins and outs of an entirely new operating system and putting up with Apple’s annoying attitude of dictating how you use the hardware you spent so much money on. If you have older hardware and don’t want to upgrade or spend any money there’s always several flavors of Linux available to choose from. With a year left of support for XP you’ve got some time to investigate the various options and make a decision.


Google is killing Reader and I’m hating all the possible replacements.

googlereadertombstoneGoogle announced recently that they’re going to close down their RSS aggregator called Reader due to declining usage and their desire to concentrate development resources in other areas. I’ve used Google Reader for years now, pretty much since it was launched in 2005. It’s how I keep up with the couple hundred different blogs and websites without having to visit each and every one of them in turn. Needless to say this announcement was very distressing, but all good things come to an end and it’s not like they’re the only RSS aggregator out there so I started looking into alternatives.

In the past few weeks it became clear that what Google considers a “small” group of users is still huge compared to anyone else as just about every other RSS aggregator I tried was swamped with people checking it out after the announcement. The three most recommended ones I tried were Feedly, Newsblur, and The Old Reader.

Newsblur was almost completely useless at the start because its servers were so overwhelmed by all the folks jumping ship. Things have settled down since then and I’ve had a chance to try it out a bit and it certainly seems to have the most features, but it’s also limited to 64 feeds with 10 stories max unless you subscribe to their service. It’s only $24 a year and it might be worth it, but I’ve not used it enough to make that determination yet. It’s one I’ll definitely be playing with more, but my initial impression is that it’s trying too hard to be everything to everyone and the fact that it requires a subscription to really be useful is a negative. It also doesn’t appear to be able to share items with anyone who isn’t a Newsblur user. I’ve gotten used to sharing items on my Google+ page and Newsblur doesn’t support that.

Feedly also was near useless in the immediate aftermath, but it has since become more stable. It wants to present your feeds in a magazine format that’s quite different from Reader’s layout. Ultimately it suffers from what I call “Apple Computer Syndrome” in that it’s very pretty but it wants you to do things its way instead of the way you’d want to do them.

I have a particular way that I go through my RSS feeds in Reader and getting Feedly to allow me to do the same thing has been a real pain in the ass. Some things can be set as default through the preferences option (full articles as opposed to excerpts with a pic next to it), but other things have to be configured on a per-feed basis (showing only unread vs all articles). Considering that I have 200+ feeds having to tell each and every one of them that I want to see both read and unread articles is damned annoying. How you sort feeds in Feedly is also a mystery to me. I want mine sorted alphabetically, but by default it sorts them by who has the newest content. I seem to have somehow gotten it to sort alphabetically, but I have no idea how I did that.

It’s also slow compared to Reader and it becomes even slower if you have a crappy network (like I do at work). Lastly it seems to have a habit of skipping over some articles in a feed. I’ll get to the end of new articles, but it’ll still show 5 or 6 as still unread and if I click on the feed again it’ll suddenly show new items between the items I’ve already seen as if it had them in its pockets and just forgot to show them the first time around. But it is very pretty and it will let me share items to my Google+ page as well as Twitter and Facebook and a couple of others I don’t recognize so it has that going for it.

The Old Reader is an attempt to clone Google Reader from back when it was more of a self-contained system. When you shared items back then it wasn’t posted to your Google+ steam because Google+ didn’t exist back then. Instead it was only shared with other GReader users that had marked you as a friend or subscribed to your shares. TOR also suffered from the sudden influx of new users, but it didn’t seem to impact the functioning of the application so much as it did it’s ability to import your Google Reader subscription lists. You can export your subscriptions as an OPML file that you can use to import them into another RSS aggregator. I did with this TOR and it was nearly two weeks before it got around to actually processing it because so many other people were trying to do the same thing.

That said, TOR is the closest so far to Reader in terms of how it does things and it’s relatively speedy once it gets your subscriptions imported. The ability to rearrange subfolders has a couple of annoying quirks, but you can work around them. It’s definitely a work in progress and its performance will vary as a result, but the biggest negative against it is the same one Newsblur has. That it will only share with other users of TOR.

So, for the moment, I’m still trying to use GReader until they yank the plug or I find an aggregator that does everything I want. Alas, Google appears to have broken GReader’s ability to share items with Google+. When I try to do so these days it’ll pop up the box and I’ll get halfway through typing in a comment only to have the box suddenly disappear and all my key-presses interpreted as keyboard shortcuts screwing up where I am and losing the share in the process. It’s damned annoying. So I keep hopping back and forth between Feedly and GReader and finding I’m not happy with either one.

Granted, in the grand scheme of things RSS aggregators are pretty low on the list of most import things ever and it’s definitely a First World Problem I’m bitching about, but that won’t stop me from pouting over it.

Click to enlarge (ha!).

Anyone else seeing Viagra spam being inserted into SEB posts?

A user contacted me through ***Dave to let me know he was seeing extra content in SEB entries that didn’t look like it belonged there. He sent along a screenshot and a copy of the HTML source and, yep, there appeared to be extra paragraphs with spam links being inserted among the other text.

Here’s the screenshot:

Click to enlarge (ha!).

Awhile back there was some WP hacks going around (mainly through compromised plugins) that would insert hidden spam into a template that only showed up when you did a Google search for the blog in question, but otherwise didn’t show on the live site itself. This, however, appears to be something totally new.

I’ve checked SEB pretty thoroughly and it doesn’t appear to be anything generated here. The reader who reported the problem has since followed up saying that it only happens on his work laptop and not his personal machines at home. ***Dave also verifies that he doesn’t see it on any of his machines. I check SEB on a number of different PCs and smartphones regularly and I’ve never seen this happen so I’m assuming it must be something on the user’s laptop, but he says it only happens when he views SEB which seems oddly specific.

I can’t find anything on Google that seems to match this odd situation so I’m turning to you guys to see if anyone else has experienced this with SEB or something similar with some other site. Anyone else seeing this happen or know anything about a possible hack or virus that could cause it? Let us know in the comments.

I still hear the song from the commercial every time I see one.

The Commodore 64 is 30 years old.

I still hear the song from the commercial every time I see one.

I owe my career as a tech support wizard to my Dad and his decision to purchase a Commodore 64 way back when I was but a young teenager. He intended it to be used by everyone in the family, but it wasn’t long before I was monopolizing the machine. The love affair started off slowly because in the beginning all we had was the tape drive for loading software and it was an agonizingly slow experience. I’d often start a program loading and then go off and make lunch, watch something on TV, play with some friends, and then come back to find it was only halfway through the process. Things improved dramatically when he brought home a 1541 floppy disk drive and load times went from infinity to mere minutes.

Things opened up even more when someone, I don’t recall if it was my parents or myself, bought the 1660 300 baud modem for the machine and I discovered the world of Dial-Up Bulletin Board Systems (BBS). Long before I ever started SEB I used to run a BBS on my trusty Commodore 64 (later Commodore 128 and eventually Amiga) with just two 1541 Disk Drives (170K each!). Later I added a Buscard II IEEE which allowed me to utilize four Commodore SFD 1001 floppy drives that could hold 1.02 megabytes each! Yes, back in the heady days of 1983 my little C64 BBS could store a massive 4.08 megabytes at once!

Introduced in January of 1982 for $595 (roughly $1,110.26 in today’s dollars) I was reminded of this event by the BBC which did an article about it the other day because it officially hit shelves in August of that year. Go check out their article as it contains a video clip where an old-timer shows his vintage C64 to some kids to get their reaction to it. You’ll note that he’s loading games from a tape drive instead of a 1541 floppy drive. I can recall seeing C64 magazines imported from the UK that often had free games on tapes long after everyone I knew in the U.S. had moved up to floppies. Turns out they came up with all manner of ways to compress the hell out of programs on tape which made loading from a tape drive a little more bearable so they kept using them. While the 1541 floppy was faster it had its own problems that kept it from being as fast as it should have been which led to Epyx games putting out the wildly successful FastLoad Cartridge which pretty much everyone in the States who gamed on a C64 ended up buying.

Turn on captions to see game names. Though two of them are incorrect (e.g. M.U.L.E is listed, but wasn’t the game shown).

Speaking of gaming, the Commodore 64 was a large part of the reason I’ve never owned a Nintendo game console of any kind. When the video game market crashed in 1983 it looked like the end of console gaming until Nintendo’s NES game out in 1985 and revitalized the market. By that time I’d been gaming on the Commodore 64 for a couple of years and there wasn’t a whole lot on the NES that appealed to me. In fact, had the market not crashed I don’t know if I’d have gotten as into the C64 as I did. Games on the Atari 2600 pretty much dried up after the collapse and that moved my attention to the Commodore (we picked up an Atari 5200 just before it all went to hell, but I never owned more than 5 games for it).

By the time I moved to an Amiga in late 1985 I had owned at least three Commodore 64s (one for the BBS, one for general use, and a replacement when one of the two died) and a Commodore 128, which was largely a C64 as very little software was ever made for 128 mode. I shut the BBS down in 1986 until I picked up an Amiga 2000 and started it back up for awhile only to turn it off for the final time in 1996 as the Internet started to come into general usage by the masses, but the C64 was where I cut my teeth on computing and first dabbled in programming.

Yes, the nostalgia is strong with this one. Watching the clip above of old games makes me want to fire up an emulator and see if I can’t track a few of them down. I don’t think I ever finished Impossible Mission. Which means the name was probably correct. Happy Birthday Commodore 64! You not only gave me hours of education and entertainment, but a career.


Religious sites are more dangerous than porn sites for getting malware.

We all have that one friend/relative/client who seems to get infected with some form of virus or malware every week and those of us who take on the task of cleaning up their PCs every time they do always tell the same joke: This wouldn’t happen if you’d stop visiting all those porn sites.

But it turns out that it’s actually religious sites that are the real malware threat. At least according to a report from the folks at Symantec:

The average number of threats found on religious sites was 115 mostly fake antivirus software. By contrast, pornographic sites had less than a quarter, at around 25 threats per site. Of course, the number of pornographic sites is vastly greater than religious sites.

According to Greg Day, Symantec’s security CTO for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, while trojans may seem more serious, “if you have installed fake AV you may think you are protected, when in reality you are open to all sorts of attacks.”

This does make a certain bit of sense when you think about it. A lot of religious websites are set up and maintained by church people with varying degrees of computer skills whereas most successful porn sites are run by people who know what they’re doing and how to secure their platforms. No one thinks the asshats who put malware out on the net are going to bother with some piddly-ass church site so there’s less concern about updating software or locking down server access even if the person running it has a clue how to do those things. From the hacker’s point of view, however, every PC infected is one more PC in the botnet that can send out spam/DDoS attacks/whatever. A lot of attempted hacks are automated with scripts these days so if it’s trivial to hack a site and install your malware it’s worth doing so even if it only nets you a handful of PCs. Not like the hackers themselves even have to think about it.

Which is why you should always wear a condom when you go to religious websites. You know, just to be safe.


ISPs and FBI warning about a nasty rootkit called Alureon.

I got an email from an SEB regular about an email they got to check their PC to see if it’s infected that directed them to DCWG.org. She wanted to know if it was legit or a scam. I checked it out and wrote back and I thought the info would be useful for others so here’s her original email followed by my reply:

Subject: dcwg scam

Not hate mail, but a query:  Is this dcwg.org computer checking site that the FBI is sending us to legit?

You’re the only computer guy I “know” [and not in the biblical sense!]

And my reply:

I hadn’t heard about it before, but it doesn’t appear to be a scam. Their about page (http://www.dcwg.org/aboutcontact/) says it’s a joint effort between the FBI, Georgia Tech, The Internet Systems Consortium, Mandiant, National Cyber Forensics and Training Alliance, Neustar, Spamhaus, Team Cynmru, Trend Micro, and the University of Alabama at Birmingham. That’s a pretty impressive group and many of them have links back to dcwg.org. They also provide several links to the FBI (http://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/2011/november/malware_110911) and other sources for confirmation, plus there’s a good number of news articles about it (http://www.usatoday.com/tech/news/story/2012-04-20/internet-woes-infected-pcs/54446044/1). On top of that there’s a number of articles about it at various ISP such as Comcast (http://forums.comcast.com/t5/Security-and-Anti-Virus/DNS-Changer-Bot-FAQ/td-p/1215341). The fact that it has pretty good prominence on Google’s search is a good indicator it’s legit as well.

If you were sent a notice from your ISP I’d take it seriously and run a couple of the tests to verify. This is a nasty rootkit that modifies what DNS servers you connect to to resolve domain names (it’s how you get from typing in stupidevilbastard.com to an IP address the computer can understand which for SEB would be The rootkit modifies the hosts file on your PC and can, apparently, even modify some home routers as well (especially if you never changed the default password). One clear sign is if your antivirus software has been disabled, but check the links for more info. It appears it’s the Alureon rootkit which you can read more about at Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alureon

Don’t panic too much. Even if you are infected and lose connectivity in July your PCs can be fixed. The reason they’re working now is the FBI has seized the rogue DNS servers and replaced them with non-naughty ones, but they’re not going to keep them running forever. When they shut them done in July your PC won’t be able to resolve domain names. It’s not that you’re not connected to the net, just that you’d be limited to typing in IP addresses like the one I gave you for SEB. That bypasses DNS altogether.