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The LangaList
Standard Edition

2004-04-19

A Free Email Newsletter from Fred Langa
That Helps You Get More From Your Hardware, 
Software, and Time Online

Please visit our sponsors and help keep the LangaList S.E. free!

Contents:

1) Linux's Achilles' Heel
2) AOL Madness (Warn Your Friends)
3) Many, Many DOS Resources
4) Free "PowerToy" For Auto-Logins
5) Safe Storage For Passwords
6) Don't Make Me Beg! :-)
7) Memory Aid for Hijack Recovery
8) They Just Keep Coming And Coming...
9) FileZilla, BitTorrent... For Large Downloads
10) Just For Grins
11) Plus! Edition Highlights:

Next Issue:
2004-04-22

 

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1) Linux's Achilles' Heel

In the movies, they call it a "backstory," the plot behind the plot; the history and circumstances that led up to the current plot.

Linux was the backstory for my recent coverage of virtual PC technology http://www.informationweek.com/story/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=18600449 . Although that article stands by itself, the story behind the story reveals both how far Linux has come--- and how far it has to go.

I'll name names later (if you've been following along, you may know who it is anyway), but the problem I'm discussing isn't specific to one distribution--- it's far more widespread than that. So, for now, let's just say I was trying distribution "XYZ," a polished commercial Linux that seeks to go toe to toe with Microsoft Windows. This distro "XYZ" even costs roughly as much as a Windows XP upgrade, which suggests to me that it should be judged by the same standards, and not be granted the leniency that Linux sometimes merits when it's distributed for free or at very low cost. Full commercial price means full commercial expectations.

Despite my very positive first impressions, I couldn't get XYZ to work with my sound card at all, even though I was testing XYZ on a brand new PC from a major vendor. The system was based on an utterly mainstream Intel motherboard with an on-board Intel sound system. This is not some weird, off-brand system using unknown components: It's about as mainstream as it gets.

When XYZ's built-in setup routines failed to get the sound working, I reinstalled the whole OS, from scratch--- four times. I poked. I prodded. I tweaked. I FAQed. I How-To-ed. I searched Usenet. I worked through their tech support. Nothing solved the problem.

I broadened my search, and eventually tried eight other Linux distributions; all of which suffered the exact same problem. So, I wondered: Maybe it was my hardware that was to blame.

But then I tried the exact same setup with different versions of Windows, going back roughly a decade. Guess what? Windows 95--- yes, 95!--- easily handled the sound system setup that brand-new versions of Linux could not.

There's lots more to the story, and it's important to know the context (see below for link to full story). But Linux still has major flaws, and general hardware compatibility is among the worst. Even a 10-year-old copy of Windows can still do some things better than a completely current commercial version of Linux. That's kind of silly, especially when more and more Linux vendors are charging Microsoft-level prices for their distributions. You may end up paying Microsoft-type prices, but may not get the level of compatibility that MS offered a decade ago.

Click on over to http://www.informationweek.com/story/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=18901660 for the full scoop, including the results of a survey of 1,000 real-world IT managers who tallied the total costs of converting to Linux. These are neither Linux fanatics nor Windows bigots, but 1,000 people just trying to get their jobs done--- and their results are veeeeery interesting.

See you at
http://www.informationweek.com/story/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=18901660 .

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2) AOL Madness (Warn Your Friends)

AOL is at it again. This time, it's reading *inside* its members' emails, and preemptively blocking any messages that contain links to sites that AOL doesn't want you to see.

Note: I'm *not* talking about simple mail blocks, where a mail is discarded if it originates from a "forbidden" address. No: AOL is parsing the content of its members' emails and blocking them even if they merely *mention* a site that AOL disapproves of.

This happened to my last newsletter issue, when I mentioned a perfectly valid and inoffensive link: http://www.codeproject.com/ . It turns out that last summer, in July, AOL put that site on its naughty list for some unexplained reason, and ever since has blocked all emails that even contain a link to that address.

When my list-host ( http://dundee.net ) noticed huge numbers of AOL emails bouncing back, they preemptively sought to find out why, and the folks at AOL then removed the block--- on that one address.

AOL's mail system is just this side of insane. Not only does it read inside member emails for links that AOL doesn't like, but--- as we've reported before--- if AOL members get a little lazy and block a newsletter like this one, instead of unsubscribing, AOL keeps track of the blocks. Last time I looked, if as few as 10 readers took the lazy way out of stopping a mailing, AOL would assume that the mail in question was spam. In my case, if just 10 AOL users out of 160,000 readers--- that's 0.00006 of my readers--- took the lazy way off the list, all AOL subscribers would have their legitimate issues blocked for some time thereafter.

AOL's user-level mail filters are nearly useless because the master filters discard emails before they ever make it to the users' mailboxes and the local filters there. That means AOL members can white-list senders to their heart's content but it will have no effect at all on the pre-filtering that's done by AOL before their mail ever gets delivered. AOL's user-level mail controls are a little like those fake thermostats you sometimes see in office buildings that are meant to give occupants the illusion of local control, when in reality, a central system is making all the real decisions.

Noted tech writer Brian Livingston also has been struggling with this, as he reported in http://briansbuzz.com/w/040408/ . Just look at the jaw-dropping failure rates he found:

I've written many times that Internet service providers (ISPs) are mishandling the growing menace of spam by imposing crude "junk-mail filters" that delete legitimate messages without notifying the intended recipients of that fact.

...AOL "bounced" about 88% of the newsletters that had been sent to subscribers who use aol.com e-mail addresses. The problem was also severe at subsidiaries owned by AOL, including cs.com (which bounced 88%) and netscape.net (96%).

...[AOL's] filter simply deletes huge quantities of mail without ever delivering it...
(click link above for full article)

If you have friends on AOL, you may wish to tell them about this ( http://www.langa.com/sendit.htm ) so they'll know why their email is so unreliable. Of course, there's no guarantee they'll see your email, just as there's no guarantee that legitimate subscribers to this newsletter on AOL will get this issue....

But there's a glimmer of hope: For the first time ever, AOL's membership has started to shrink significantly. Users are finally realizing they can get better service at lower costs from other ISPs. Perhaps if enough members vote with their dollars, AOL will wake up and meaningfully change its Big Brother-ish ways.

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3) Many, Many DOS Resources

Re DOS files (see http://www.langa.com/newsletters/2004/2004-04-12.htm#1 ) .

There has been a thread running in news:alt.comp.freeware on DOS and the following links from a number of acf posters might be of interest to LangaList readers.

FreeDOS
http://www.freedos.org/

PC DOS 2000) from IBM (USD 67) http://www-306.ibm.com/software/os/dos/
or http://www.ibm.com/software/os/dos/index.html

Caldera Open DOS 
http://esca.atomki.hu/paradise/dos/opendos-en.html
ftp://esca.atomki.hu/pub/pc/dos/opendos/

OpenDOS 7.01 ftp://ftp.fsn.hu/pub/OpenDOS/OpenDOS.701

Patches (LongFileNames etc) for OpenDos 7.01 by http://www.drdosprojects.de/ :
read page and files for info/how-to apply patches, known bugs etc.

See also announcements by Udo Kuhnt, author of latter, in:
http://langa.com/u/4a.htm and http://langa.com/u/4b.htm

Unofficial DR-DOS Resources: http://www.drdos.net/

Club Dr-DOS: http://www.drdos.org/ (which currently points to:
http://langa.com/u/4c.htm )

For questions about (any) DOS try news:comp.os.msdos.misc

Hope these might be of interest. All the best, Gordon Darling

Thanks, Gordon! The series of articles here ( http://www.informationweek.com/story/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=13000138 ) also list a ton of DOS resources. Seek and ye shall find! <g>

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4) Free "PowerToy" For Auto-Logins

Hi Fred! About Bypassing XP's Logon Screen. ( http://www.langa.com/newsletters/2004/2004-04-12.htm#9 ), I use Power Toys for Windows XP to activate autologin. http://www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/pro/downloads/powertoys.asp
 
It's safer than editing the registry, and it's easy to turn autologin on and off. Sincerely, Jan Christoffersen Mosjoen, Norway

Thanks, Jan. We've discussed the free PowerToys collection several times ( http://search.atomz.com/search/?sp-q=powertoys&sp-a=0008002a-sp00000000 ) and I have many of them installed on my systems here. The main caveat is that the PowerToys are unsupported--- if you get into trouble with them, you're on your own. But if you're careful, they're very useful.

And note that auto-login reduces your system security because anyone can access the box. It's safer to keep the passwords in place. To help with that, see next item.

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5) Safe Storage For Passwords

Hi Fred, I have been religiously reading your news letters for several years now, both as a free subscriber and later a Plus subscriber.  Thanks for the great info in each copy you send.

I have a question about password security.  As you know, most people (at least the ones I know) have several locations at work and at home that require you to logon.  I happen to have 142 places that require my login ID/password.  These range from the company ERP database, to my online banking account, to the Pizza Hut online order.  Most of my coworkers try to use the same password for everything.  This way they can remember it.  That is a security disaster.  They use things like birthdays or their pets names as passwords which is also a security risk.  I have been using a Login ID and Password storage/retrieval software for about 3-4 years.  It was previously called Passwords Plus and is now called Passwords Max.  It is great and stores your password database in encrypted format.  It has lots of neat features and works just fine as long as you can work at one PC and do not need portability.

My job has recently changed and I now travel.  Last week I had to print out a hard copy of my passwords to carry in my briefcase while working at a company site in Mexico.  I am guilty of poor security practices too and realize this is also extremely poor security because all my passwords were in plain text.  Had I lost that 8 page booklet of passwords, anyone could have gotten into my checking or retirement accounts and cleaned me out. I do not yet have a laptop PC so I used a visitor PC while in Mexico.

One other thing, the company has turned their head and not yet given me any problems for installing Passwords Max on my work PC, however the hard line company policy is that we are not allowed to install unauthorized software on any company asset.  Can you or any of the other readers tell me if there is a password storage/retrieval tool that I can install on something like a USB pen drive?  I would like to find one that encrypts my password database so no one could access it if I accidentally left it plugged in the USB port.  I am looking for something that does not require software to be installed on the Windows 2000 or Windows XP operating system so I can stay in good graces with the company.  Any ideas? Thanks Sam

All the auto-fill-in password tools I know of (I personally prefer RoboForm http://langa.com/u/4d.htm ) require at least some minimal level of installation so the software can watch for places that require a login or password. I supposed you could put the setup files and data files for the form-filler of your choice on a pen drive, install it at the start of the business day, and uninstall it at the end of the day. This would violate the "no installed software" policy, but at least would make no permanent changes to the company's PC, and thus might be granted an exemption.

And we've actually covered using a pen drive for encrypted storage of Roboform data: http://www.langa.com/newsletters/2003/2003-12-11.htm#3 . But this still requires that at least a little software be installed.

A simpler, no-software solution might be to store your passwords in an encrypted text file on a USB pen drive; or even on a plain old floppy disk. You can use 256-bit AES encryption with WinZip, for example, and there are plenty of 100% free encryption tools out there ( http://www.google.com/search?q=free+encryption ) Cryptomathic's free "File2File" provides nearly effortless 128-bit AES encryption, for example: http://www.cryptomathic.com/file2file/ . An encrypted file would not automatically fill in login/password boxes for you, but would at least serve the same purpose as your paper printout did, but with much less risk and with no software installation required. A floppy version (as opposed to a USB drive version) also has the benefit of being nearly universally supported, as almost all systems have at least a floppy drive.

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6) Don't Make Me Beg! :-)

If you think the LangaList is a worthwhile read, maybe a friend would find it useful too! Just use the following link to recommend the LangaList---your friend may find a new source of useful information and you just may win one of three FREE ONE YEAR SUBSCRIPTIONS to the LangaList Plus! edition given each month. (If your name is drawn and you're already a Plus! subscriber, your current subscription will be extended by a full year.)

Check out the details at http://www.langa.com/recommend.htm . Thanks for recommending the LangaList--- and good luck!

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7) Memory Aid for Hijack Recovery

Hi Fred, Following your article on "Weird URLs," ( http://www.langa.com/newsletters/2004/2004-04-08.htm#5 ) I thought you may wish to check out:

http://www.geekgirls.com/net_hijacked.htm : Rose Vines provides a very helpful aide memoire, which you can keep in the favourites folder for quick reference for when those nasties may hi-jack your browser. If anybody finds Rose's advice helpful they may contribute voluntarily via a link to amazon.com.
 
I've also discovered a very useful little program, which I am using at the moment called Process Guard. It's great. Check it out at: http://www.diamondcs.com.au/
 
Keep up the good work. Regards, Brian Abbott

Thanks, Brian!

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8) They Just Keep Coming And Coming...

Well over 3,000 of your fellow readers have "loaded the code." Have you? Check out http://www.langa.com/code.htm  for the details.

Here's another eclectic sample of reader sites--- some
professional, some very personal:

View A Randomly-Chosen Reader Site
http://www.langa.com/randomlink.htm

Manually Browse All Posted-to-Date Sites Starting At
http://www.langa.com/readersites.htm

4Peeps
http://4peeps.com/index.php

GIF Animations
http://www.simpleandclear.com/zpicstuff/zpic7.html

Media/Educational Services in Asia
http://www.media-edservices.com/

Gary & Barbara Warner
http://www.relivonline.com/bwarner

McCord Web Design
http://www.mccordweb.com/

Hoax Slayer
http://www.hoax-slayer.com/

The Stengl-Lawrence Network
http://www.st-law.net/

SwordaGraphics
http://sworda.netfirms.com/index.htm

AltCtl
http://altctl.150m.com/

Puerto Rico Weather
http://el-tiempo-pr.com/

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 "Dear Fred, first let me say that originally a friend
introduced me to the Langa List. At that time I was a
Standard Edition subscriber, I thought I was being thrifty
by not spending any money. Eventually my friend went to the
Plus and he kept telling me about all the great stuff he was
finding there. So I went for it. If I had known how much
extra information, downloads and other tidbits I was missing
out on I would have subscribed to the Plus a long, long time
ago! The money was well worth it. Keep up the good work!" --
-Mike Styczinski

Just $1 per month!

The LangaList Plus! Edition is ad-free, spam-proof,
and contains even more content--- tips, tricks, advice, downloads....---
than the Standard Edition you're now reading.

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9) FileZilla, BitTorrent, etc., For Large Downloads

Fred, I have been trying to download Knoppix.iso (and other .iso's) for a while. It is about 700 Mb long, but constantly times out after several hours and about 150 Mb transfered, but none of the file is saved. I don't know where to override the timeout settings, or whether it is my ISP timing out, the sending site (I've tried several), Internet Explorer 6.0, or some setting in my Win98SE. I am using high speed cable, but transfer rate appears somewhat low -- about 6 Kbps. The timeout message box would appear to be from Win98 or IE I think. It certainly terminates the transfer when clicked. Any help would be appreciated. Bob Shaw.

You might try a true FTP client instead of using a browser for the download. Browser-based HTTP file transfers add a ton of overhead, and result in lower download speeds. Browser-based FTP is better, but still not as clean as what a true FTP client can do. For example, see the free, open-source "Filezilla" FTP client at http://filezilla.sourceforge.net/ .

For Linux ISO downloads, which are almost always huge 700MB files, more and more distributors are using a specialty file-sharing tool called BitTorrent ( http://bitconjurer.org/BitTorrent/ ). Users who install BitTorrent become part of a peer-to-peer file-sharing network. When you begin a BitTorrent download, you connect to several or many other machines that have the file you want. Each of those remote machines contributes a piece of the target file, which the BitTorrent software assembles in correct order on your system. This way, no one machine gets maxed out, and the bandwidth needs are spread over many machines.

Ideally, you're supposed to stay online and share *your* downloaded file with others, too: In that case, you become a server, sending out parts of your downloads to others seeking the same file.

It's an interesting idea, albeit with some obvious potential security and bandwidth pitfalls. The BitTorrent software also can be fussy to get set up, and may end up fighting with your firewalls and security tools. But it's an alternative to standard file downloads, if you can't get them to work.

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10) Just For Grins

Hi, Fred-- A suggestion for "Just for Grins," which requires a bit of exposition:

When I'm bored or in need of a chuckle to lift my spirits, I frequently visit the Web site of the journal "Annals of Improbable Research" (
 http://www.improbable.com ).  The journal sponsors the annual Ig Nobel Prizes ( http://www.improbable.com/ig/what-are.html ); the award ceremonies are frequently covered in the mainstream media.  The material has somewhat of a scientific bent, but it also ranges far and wide and should be accessible to intelligent laypersons as well.

This year, AIR started a blog ( http://improbable.typepad.com ) with a new improbable entry every day.

AIRhead humor may be an acquired taste for some.  It's understated and utterly deadpan, sometimes obscure, with occasional overtones of the juvenile and just plain silly, but it also often involves quite sophisticated and witty satire; and it delights in highlighting the serendipitously ridiculous aspects of real life.

I guffawed at a recent item from the blog, "Samuel 'Marshmallow' Pepys" ( http://www.improb.com/news/2003/apr/pepys.html ); and I was reduced to gasping whimpers by "Questions from a Chinese Translator" ( http://www.improbable.com/airchives/paperair/volume8/v8i4/chinese.html ), although one should perhaps have a little exposure to the kind of material the translator was working with (an anthology of AIR articles) for the full impact.  A representative example of the type of research published in AIR is "The Groundhog Oscillation: Evidence of Global Change" ( http://www.improb.com/airchives/paperair/volume7/v7i1/groundhog-7-1.html ).

Best, Judy Stein

Thanks, Judy!

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11) Plus! Edition Highlights:

  • Icon Problems In XP, Win98
       (several fixes for corrupted/black icons)
  • What's Beyond "Ultimate?"
       (even better than what was once the "ultimate boot cd")
  • Cheap, Blank DVD +/-Rs
       (4.7 GB for as little as $0.76!)

The Plus! edition is only pennies per issue, and comes with a MONEY BACK
GUARANTEE from Fred. How can you lose? Check out the details:

Plus! Edition info: http://www.langa.com/plus.htm 

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(Give a gift subscription to the LangaList Plus edition!
Click <a href= " http://www.langa.com/plus_gift.htm ">here</a>)

See you next issue, 2004-04-22!

Best,

Fred
( Editor@Langa.Com )

Please recommend the LangaList to a friend! (And maybe win a prize!)

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