I suppose the URL of this blog gives it away, so nobody will be shocked to hear that I’m often slow to adopt technology.

So I only recently moved to Windows 7 from Windows 2000. You see, there’s nothing really wrong with Windows 2000.

What is wrong is that the latest ChromeFoxEra doesn’t run on Windows 2000 any more, and the latest Flash plugins don’t plug into the earlier versions of ChromeFoxEra, and the older Flash plugins won’t play Youtube movies any more because of a completely misguided opinion that one can make it impossible to download movies off the ‘net if you use the latest greatest features of Flash.

Or something like that.

And with both my home PC and my work PC now running Windows 7 (Classic desktop theme, animations and special effects very much “off”) it was time to upgrade the Mini 9 from XP to 7.

Google gives many hits on how to do this. But those websites / blogs don’t exist any more.

Fortunately we have the Wayback Machine, which saved a copy of multimolti‘s blog which is OK and a copy of Rick White’s blog which is excellent.

So I followed that, except that I used the very excellent Rufus to make a bootable USB stick.

Peeve: vlite is a nifty tool, but it needs the Windows Automated Installation Kit (WAIK). Download vlite, 1.4 megabytes. Download WAIK, 1.4 gigabytes. Microsoft needs to take some lessons from Steve Gibson.

 

Vendor 197B, Device 2382 / 2383 : Card Reader from JMicron, download drivers here.

ACPI\CPL0002: Battery meter, install R192569.EXE.

Touchpad driver: From Synaptics. Yes, you have to download the 118 megabyte file for Windows XP, Vista, 7 and 8, 32 and 64 bit. I guess it’s more convenient for them that way. And you then have to go to Device Settings / Settings to turn off tapping (which is the only reason I needed this driver anyway).

(http://www.mydellmini.com/forum/dell-mini-9-guides/2707-drivers-dell-inspiron-mini-9-910-a.html)





4
Sep
'14

In 1961, Frank Drake helped organise the first Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) conference. In preparation for his speech, he came up with the Drake Equation, which effectively multiplies a whole lot of unknown probabilities together to come up with a figure which may or may not tell us how many real live aliens there might be out there trying to communicate with us.

Drake’s Equation is little more than an interesting thought experiment, since every single variable is a SWAG. Still, people use it to come up with a figure that motivates them to aid the search. Nothing wrong with that.

But even if Drake’s Equation convinces you that there are many many civilisations out there, there’s reason to believe that the Earth is unique, or at least very rare, in one way. From where we stand, the sun and the moon both occupy about 30 arc seconds, or to put it differently, the sun is 400 times bigger than the moon and also 400 times further away.

Where the unique becomes sublime is when we have a total eclipse of the sun. If the moon were bigger, we wouldn’t see a halo. If the moon were smaller, it wouldn’t be a total eclipse.

Which is why Iain Banks, in his novel Transition, suggests that instead of watching the great American eclipse of 2017, you should rather be looking around. Many of the spectators might have hitch hiked a number of lightyears to observe the phenomenon.









2
Sep
'14

September marks the start of spring in South Africa. While we sometimes have rain, this year September 1st was an absolutely gorgeous day.

Also, in the other hemisphere, students go to school after summer holidays. Back in the late eighties and early nineties, new students getting access to the university computer networks caused all kinds of chaos on usenet (what we had instead of the world wide web back then) until they acquired some clue.

This changed in September 1993, when AOL came online and flooded the network with clueless lusers. Some nerd types adopted a new calendar — today being September 7672, 1993.

On September 1st 2014, the lusers got to Tam.

The ‘net is just a little bit poorer today.

 








20
Aug
'14

One of the disks that came with my Apple ][ clone contained a little game called Nightmare #6. At the time it completely stumped me, there seemed to be no way to beat the game. I’d worked out that a move consisted of two letters, no more, no less, and that it was possible to lose points quite quickly, and also possible to not lose points, but I never worked out how to actually gain points.

For some reason I thought of this game again the other day, tried to find it. This was not easy, but plenty google later I found it in the Apple Software Bank Volume 1.

Of course my BASIC is better than it was in 1980. I learned that:

  • You get eleven moves
  • Each move consists of two letters
  • Using the same letter twice gives you a “nightmare #6″, which doubles the amount of points you lose on the next wrong move
  • Re-using the first letter of a previous move gives you “super zonk”, which quadruples the amount of points you lose on the next wrong move
  • Any other move gives you no points, except when the value of the two letters (A = 1, Z = 26) add up to a multiple of ten.
  • If the letters add up to a multiple of ten, you score that value, and the score associated with the second letter is set to this same value.

So, NZ (14 + 26 = 40) is a valid move. So is OY, PX, QW, RV and SU. After playing these, you can’t re-use N, O, P, Q, R or S, but U, V, W, X, Y and Z are all set to 40, so UV, WX and YZ are legal moves for 80 points each, and leaves V, X and Z set to 80.  VZ and XZ give you 160 points each, finishing the game with 1880 points out of a (claimed) possible 2080 points.

So I thought about it some more. Realised that while NZ is a good place to start, XZ (24 + 26 = 50) is better. Of course this means that PX is no longer a legal move, you can’t play the first letter again. OY, QW, RV and SU are still good for 40 points each, and YZ, WZ, VZ and UZ give 90, 130, 170 and 210 points (because the point value of Z increases every time). But this is only nine turns, and we need eleven. Fortunately we still have J (= 10) and T (= 20) to play TZ and JZ, for a total score of 2280 points.

I still don’t know how the author got to the “possible 2080″ points.

Screen capture of end of Nightmare #6, with 2280 out of a possible 2080 points.

 

Oh yes, and this is why I’m with Jason Scott — we’re not huge Wikipedia fans because they delete perfectly good information.  Someone took the trouble to write something about Nightmare #6, and noted that it is possible to get more than 2080 points, but the editors decided that “WP is not a videogame guide“.

 

 

 

 





So you have a hard drive encrypted using Truecrypt. A very good solution to keeping data secure, but it does make your data more fragile. When* the drive goes TU, you can’t just run a recovery program on it, because encryption.

And of course so it came to pass. My hard drive developed read errors.

First thing, make a backup copy. For this you need a Linux box and ddrescue. And a large drive to recover to.

# ddrescue /dev/hdb /mnt/large-disk/diskimage /mnt/large-disk/logfile.log

(This takes a while, but when it’s done you can unplug your faulty disk, save it as much trauma as possible)

You now have an image of the whole disk. You want an image of the partition.

# fdisk -lu diskimage

Disk diskimage: 0 MB, 0 bytes
255 heads, 63 sectors/track, 0 cylinders, total 0 sectors
Units = sectors of 1 * 512 = 512 bytes
Disk identifier: 0x2fa13928

Device Boot      Start         End      Blocks   Id  System
diskimage              63   976768064   488384001    7  HPFS/NTFS

Your partition starts at “Start” x “Units”, which would be 63 x 512 = 32256 in this case.

# losetup -o 32256 /dev/loop0 diskimage

You can now attempt to recover /dev/loop0. I found this easier in Windows, so

# dd if=/dev/loop0 of=/mnt/nfs-volume/diskimage.tc

And then back in the Windows world, you can use truecrypt to mount diskimage.tc and if you’re very lucky your files will be there. If you’re unlucky, truecrypt won’t recognise the image as a truecrypt volume, and you’re in more shit than I can help you with today.

In my case, truecrypt mounted the volume but Windows did not recognise it as a drive (i.e. a corrupted file system). There are tools for this. Unfortunately most of them work on physical disks, not virtual ones. Thank Finagle for google, who told me about GetDataBack. Specifically, GetDataBack 4.25. Pointed it at the virtual disk (G:) and it recovered all my files with absolutely no worries.

 

* Not if.

 





6
Aug
'14

There’s a hoary old bit of Internet folklore, that in the mists of time when dinosaurs roamed the computer rooms, there existed a machine which could be upgraded by cutting a single wire.

In other words, the machine shipped with more power than you paid for, with some kind of a silicon handbrake to cripple the hardware until such time as you could afford to pay for an upgrade.

But that’s long ago and we do things differently now some people don’t learn from history.

Because apparently Tektronix sells equipment with built-in capabilities that costs money to enable, except if you can program an EEPROM. And not with some encrypted password or string, no, apparently plain text available straight off of Tektronix’ website will do the trick.

So after Hackaday linked to Oontz’ website, Tektronix got all butthurt and issued a DMCA takedown notice.

Notes to Tektronix:

1. Streisand Effect. I wouldn’t have written this post if you had not got all upset.

2. Wayback Machine. Jason saved it all for us. Including the original post.

3. Once the cat is out of the bag, it becomes trivial to replicate. Even if you DMCA the Wayback Machine, and me, and everyone else… you still lose. See Note 1.

So, learn from this and design better security next time.

 





31
Jul
'14

I remember when this album hit the shops. We loved it. I drove from Cape Town to Johannesburg, via St. Francis Bay, with one tape in the car. It was amazing.

 

 





25
Jul
'14

21 Years ago, one man with a gun made a difference.

Having a gun, even an inexpensive ineffective low-capacity 38 Special snubnosed revolver, is better than not having a gun at all.





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