Sunday, January 15, 2006

Stardust in the House!

Stardust has entered the building!

Don't know if you like space stories. But seven years ago, NASA shot "Stardust" to intercept the comet Wild-2 (pronounced Vild-two) and capture material from it's dust-trail in a special ballistic gel. The round-trip journey took seven years and almost 3-billion space miles. Wow. Then it had to safely drop back down into the Earth's atmosphere. The last mission like this didn't turn out so well at re-entry. So lots of eyes were watching this one. Touchdown was successful and the payload was recovered. NASA's Stardust mission flight page has lots of great pictures. And, for the kicker--they are returning the payload probe to NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas for analysis! How cool is that? That's almost in our backyard! Neato! Good work guys!

So, as promised, here are your special deliveries from Claus's flights into the Grand Stream. Fasten your flight-belt. It's going to be a fun ride:

Like Roman history? Like history at all? Drop in and visit rogueclassicism. With a blog tag-line that reads quidquid bene dictum est ab ullo, meum est ~ Seneca you know you're in for some fun! The current post is Romans and Golf Redux. Sweet! China and Rome are duking it out for rights on who invented golf. I really loved my classical history class in college. Only thing I remember now is talking about the concept of hubris. Only thing I really remember from that lecture class. Funny what sticks in our heads...I still think about this concept when I listen to the national news...

Mozilla just released a new beta version of Firefox: v1.5.0.1. Only place I can find it yet is over at FileHippo. I downloaded it and tried it. It seems to snap-open and launch much faster and was very stable, but after an hour of using it I rolled back to v1.5. It broke too many of my extensions and hacking the xpi installer's version numbers still didn't get some of them working again. I am really pleased with their build direction, and they seem to be planning a strong rollout schedule. According to their developers blog, Firefox2 should ship mid-2006 and Firefox3 will follow in early 2007. The current build update looks like they are focusing on security and (hopefully) memory leakage (a long complaint by power Firefox users).

Thunderbird 1.5 (final) is now out. I've snagged it and installed over my last version just fine. I really like the "in-line" spell checking feature. That rocks! Spelling is not one of my finer points. I still have flashbacks to my weekly parochial middle-school year spelling bee years. I was a failure! The invention of spell checking may lead to the eventual linguistical downfall of our nation, but heck, at least future anthropologists will be able to read or records on how we did it!

Gmail power-up! I finally got brave and started to power-use my Gmail account. I had over 90 items built up on my main page but haven't organized them. I use Outlook at work and Thunderbird at home, so I have a highly organized folder-tree for placing emails. I understood Gmail's label concept, but didn't really want to deal with it yet. So once I got Thunderbird updated, I added my Gmail account to the POP3 settings so it would download and store a copy of my Gmail setting locally. Then I set Gmail to move any mail in that account to the Archive file it maintains. Finally I set up some labels in Gmail for those I like to keep handy--tech correspondence, website login information, my Japan Years crew. Sweet. LifeHacker had an article that kinda takes the process in reverse. Drop over there and read their tip on Loading existing e-mail into Gmail. I'm going to work on learning more about power-Gmail usage. I have a couple of gmail invites left, so if you are a faithful reader and would like a Gmail account invitation, drop me a line, I might be kind and share. After all, someone was kind enough to share an invite with me!

Lifehacker had an article this week "Ask Lifehacker Reader: Best blogging webapps?". I am always on the hunt for blogging tools, especially if they will help get me away from the clunky Blogger interface. I went down the comments list and picked out some possible candidates: Zoundry beta, Xinha Here!, SPIP (heavy duty app), and Tangelo. Then I found Brad at 5mok3: Techonology blog recently posted a list of blogging tools. In it he touted my next pick,

Performancing is a Firefox blog editor extension. I dropped the extension in, and have now found a good blogging tool! You can run it as an adjustable window at the bottom of Firefox--so you can see your tab content as you blog, or switch to a full page view. It has a full compliment of HTML and WYSISYG tools. You can also set it up so it uploads your posts directly into Blogger (or one of several other supported blog sites). And it interfaces with the SpellBound Firefox extension so you now have live, in-line spell checking as you type! Helpful! I had to do a little bit of tweaking to get the spell-check to work--basically after you download the SpellBound extension, you then have to download a dictionary set, then you have to go deep into the extension options and set your dictionary from none to the language you want. My blogging speed has really kicked up a notch with this tool and I suggest you try it out if you are a Firefox user. Note: The SpellBound extension alone with a dictionary pack works fine for in-line spelling in the Blogger editor as well.

Retrothing has a iPod for James Bond. Well, it's not really an iPod. But it is cool. I remember as a kid Dad and Mom had a spooled tape machine we would use to record greetings and them snail-mail the roll to our grandparents. It was exciting stuff. Ahh, how technology has changed...

Scout: Like finding neat photographs on the web? This is just fun. Scout randomly pulls up one of the 500 Flickr artists pages chosen each day for the Flickr Explore page--and displays the set as thumbnail images. I spent an hour on this site last night. It is addictive! The photography (mostly) is top notch. This is going to be a popular tool once it hits mainstream. It really leverages the joy of browsing Flickr.

DannyChoo loads the anime title LastExile on his iPod Nano. I have GOT to get me one of these things.

DannyChoo also shows off the versatility of having a USB IDE drive adapter. I really needed to have one of these when I was pulling the old data of Pop's old hard-drive and porting it to his new one. I would have had only one case to open up.

iPodSoft's freeware application Pod Player: The first time I tried hooking up my iPod via USB to my work desktop pc, it drained the battery in less than 30min. I recently tried this software again on my laptop at work (yes, I use a desktop and laptop unit at the same time at work) and not only did it FULLY CHARGE my iPod, but I also listened to it all day long. The file is a standalone exe file so you don't "install" anything on your pc. Just plug in your iPod via USB (or firewire) and launch the app. It unpacks into memory and runs. Kinda like a trimmed down iTunes Nice interface. Only issue I ran into was that when I was doing certain shortcut key-combos (Alt-R) or (Alt-H) in Excel, I think it picked those up as well as it started repeating certain songs or skipping to a new track. Dead useful software. and its free.

When was the last time you verified your HOSTS file (Windows folks here, pay attention) was not compromised? Been a while? See what happens when malware hijacks it. Bad stuff, man. Bad stuff. So here is a quick FAQ on HOSTS file. Here is a longer guide to understanding, finding and checking your HOSTS file as well. I check mine about once a month.Finally, you may remember the whole Sony Rootkit thing? No? Forgot so soon? Ok, read Dwight's Sony Rootkit post to refresh your memory. Done? Great.

Now as more people are using rootkit scanners, they are finding more mainstream applications that use them. Anti-virus software companies Symantec and Kapersky both got caught at it: Symantec outed, Kapersky outed. Now here is my take:

Just because a software company uses "alternative data-streams" (aka rootkits) to hide functions and data, that doesn't mean they are "bad" or "evil" or hacker coded. Many are simply using these to enhance the security and performance of their product. What is evil/bad is when these company's don't clearly disclose this fact up front to customers and users of the products. If I know about it, I can decide to decline to use your product if this concerns me or I can make a note so I don't freak-out when I run a periodic rootkit scan and find something by your company. If you don't tell me you root-kitted a directory folder/process and a hacker/malware writer finds out about it and takes advantage of what you did and failed to tell me, then breaches the security of my system, then we have a BIG problem. That's not too much to ask is it?

Update--Mark Rusinovick over at Sysinternals makes a thoughtful post based on his review of the Norton's "rootkit-like" implemenation of a enhanced recycle-bin. Check it out. "Rootkits in Commercial Software."

Also in startling news (to me), the developers of Spybot Search and Destroy have started a mud-sling fest with Symantec again. "The way Symantec tries to get into anti-spyware" post. I read the article but didn't find a link to the offending Symantec article and this left me confused as I consider myself to be a loyal SB S&D evangelist. So I put my dusty web-searching "bulldog" reporter hat on and went searching the web. Bingo.

The issue appears to be that Symantec says that customers should deinstall Spybot as it would corrupt Norton Ghost images. I had to download the Notron Ghost 10.0 user's guide in PDF and finally found on pages 139-140 a troubleshooting reference error number EA39070A. In it Symantec feels that its recovery point file can appear damaged but use of spyware detection software (naming Pest Control and Spybot) can cause the file to become corrupt or appear corrupt. With the article number now, I found the knowledgebase article (Document ID 2004097934538762) on Symantec's website. While Spybot is clearly named in the User Manual file, it isn't named on the website post. I don't know for certain what Spybot team is looking at, or if they are talking about what I found, but though the issue is not as strong as I would have expected after reading Spybot's post, I do feel they make a valid gripe as Symantic is claiming that Spybot could corrupt their files.

I've used Spybot for years and never found it ever to have corrupted any files. Ever. Well, there is all that malware stuff that get's smacked down when I use it, but that is what I use it for. And I have used Norton's Ghost just fine along side it. We'll keep an eye on this story. I wish Spybot luck. I use AVG-Free myself and have had issues with Symatec's bundled suites on home pc's, though their corporate AV products are really strong for enterprise class users.

Whew! Told you you were in for a ride! Now I have to break-down the Christmas tree and help Lavie put up the seasonal joy scattered around our house like the previous failed comet dust catching mission--Genesis.

And a final thanks for Last Exile World extending permission to me to use their screencaps of Last Exile to illustrate my posts. You rock!

See you in the skies!

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