May 14 2013

Ubuntu Touch

Category: Mobile ComputingTeknovis @ 7:23 pm

I read a nice preview article about Ubuntu Touch today – Exploring Ubuntu Touch, the other Linux OS for your phone. I must admit that I think it look slick!

For more details see Ubuntu for phones and Ubuntu on tablets.

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Nov 27 2011

Windows Protection from Djibouti

Category: Security,SoftwareTeknovis @ 8:40 am

I recently got multiple phone calls on my landline from a support agent working for a “Microsoft Support Company” in Djibouti. The exact phone number used each time was +253 820 308, and the support agent knew my family name (it is available in the telephone directory). The support agent told me that she could see from her system that my computer was infected, and she was going to help me! Great!

Of course this is a scam, and I have heard of it many times. Unfortunately, not everybody knows this, and I know somebody who was conned in this way.

I had never received such a call before, so the mischievous streak in me decided to play along with the support agent :) I must stress that I knew what I was doing, and in general I would not recommend this! I was also curious to know exactly how the scam worked.

I made myself look like the ideal target for the support agent, because I claimed not to know much about how computers work, and I was very eager to pay for the support agent to fix my problem. I was not doing anything that required too much concentration at the time, so I was willing to waste the support agent’s time. In the end our conversations spanned three phone calls, and lasted for about an hour and twenty minutes in total.

The way the scam works is that the support agent firstly tries to get the victim’s confidence. So I was told about the dangers of computer viruses, and how easy it is to become infected. I agreed with this, and we spent several minutes discussing this. I then confirmed that I had been feeling tired and run-down recently, so I suspected that I had indeed got a virus from my computer. This caused another lengthy explanation :D

Next the support agent gets the victim to download some software that allows the support agent to remotely control the victim’s computer. This took more than half an hour to achieve for a variety of reasons. I was given many instructions for trying to start my Internet browser (such as Ctrl + R, Start + All Programs), but none of them appeared to work. The support agent was becoming frustrated at this stage, so I innocently asked her when I should turn on my computer :D

Over the next half hour the support agent got me to download remote access software from the following web sites:

I do not know if these are legitimate sites or not. Regardless, in each I was asked to download an executable file, and then run it. Much to the support agent’s frustration, the files kept producing errors when I tried running them. I offered several times to pay her there and then by credit card (using a test number of course) for her to fix the problem, but she told me that I needed to run the software first. I helpfully suggested that it was probably due to the virus, but the support agent dismissed this idea :o In hindsight, it was probably because I was using Ubuntu :D

At this stage the customer support agent had to consult with a colleague (for the second time). By the time that she phoned me back I was bored of her, so I told her than I had bought a new computer since the last call. The dismay in voice was noticeable!

The moral of the story – if you get one of these calls you are probably best to tell the support agent that you do not have a computer!

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Sep 20 2010

Goodbye Windows 2000 Server

Category: Linux,WindowsTeknovis @ 6:12 pm

I have been happily using Windows 2000 in my home network for many years. My setup was fairly simple – I had a Windows 2000 Server that acted as a domain controller with roaming profiles enabled, and as a file and printer server for approximately six computers and six mobile devices. It also doubled up as a workstation.

All of this worked very well in my home network, although it was starting to show its age and limitations. However, about two weeks ago the server refused to boot properly after it crashed :( Instead of getting the normal login screen, I got the following error message:

Security Accounts Manager initialization failed because of the following error: Directory Service cannot start. Error Status: 0xc00002e1. Please click OK to shutdown this system and reboot into Directory Services Restore Mode, check the event log for more detailed information.

It appears that the reason for this is that my Active Directory became corrupted due to the crash (see Directory Services cannot start” error message when you start your Windows-based or SBS-based domain controller and Err Msg: Security Accounts Manager Initialization Failed Because of the Following Error: Directory Service Cannot Start).

Unfortunately, I do not have a backup of my Active Directory. More importantly, I do have a complete backup of all my data :)

Rather than rebuilding everything in the same way I have decided to use the opportunity to do some upgrading :)

So now I am going to install Ubuntu Desktop on my server. I am then going to install VirtualBox. This will be my host server.

Next I will create two virtual machines to run on my host server:

  • The first virtual machine will be Ubuntu Server, and it will act as my domain controller (using Samba).
  • The second virtual machine will also be Ubuntu Server, and it will act as my file server (again using Samba).

My main motivation in doing this is that it will make backup trivial (just copy the entire virtual machine), and it removes my dependence on hardware!

Now all I need to do is start implementing this great plan :)

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Sep 03 2010

Ikea Based Linux Cluster

Category: Hardware,LinuxTeknovis @ 7:31 pm

I have a friend who is a huge fan of all things coming from the template of Ikea :) (I am slowly trying to get her to become an Ubuntu fan also :) )

Anyway, she knows of my interest in all things computer related, so she sent me a link to an article describing how to convert a piece of Ikea furniture into a Linux cluster: What’s with Helmer, the 24 core Linux cluster?.

Actually, the Ikea Hacker blog is pretty interesting :o

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May 16 2010

VMware Workstation Versus VirtualBox

Category: SoftwareTeknovis @ 5:39 pm

I previously described how I wanted to virtualise my laptop in Virtualising my Laptop. I have made some progress with this, but not as much as I would have liked :(

I heard some great recommendations for VirtualBox recently, so I decided to investigate it a bit further. I found the following articles the most useful:

I think that all of this is enough to convince me that VirtualBox is a real contender! The next step is to download it and try it myself :)

I also did some reading about how the virtual machine software handles multiple cores and Hyper-threading. It appears that it is able to distinguish between them, and it will always allocate cores before a Hyper-threaded unit. I understand this from reading the following two documents:

This weekend I also downloaded Ubuntu 10.04, although I have not had time to try it yet.

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Mar 14 2010

Virtualising my Laptop

Category: Hardware,Linux,WindowsTeknovis @ 2:41 pm

I want to buy a new laptop for myself. I need it! My old one is too big and heavy, the screen is losing its contrast, and the battery lasts for approximately 30 seconds :(

In the past I tended to buy high-end laptops on the basis that they would last for longer. This worked to a certain extent, but this time I want to try a new approach. I am going to buy a relatively low-end laptop, but replace it more frequently. The disadvantage of this approach is that it is very time consuming to setup a new computer.

Last year I started experimenting with using Ubuntu within VMware as my main desktop operating system on and old computer. I was very impressed with its speed and stability. So I have decided that I am going to virtualise my entire desktop on the new laptop. The advantages of this approach are:

  • Moving my computer from one piece of hardware to another becomes trivial. This is useful for when I want to upgrade my laptop in the future. It also means that I can put my computer onto an external hard disk.
  • Backing-up my computer also becomes trivial. I am thinking about backing it up automatically every night!
  • Snapshots can be taken before I install any software on a test basis. I can then roll-back my computer if I do not like the new software.
  • It provides my computer with a lot of extra security from network based attacks.

My overall requirements for my new laptop are that it supports three different virtual machines:

  • I want to start using the Ubuntu based virtual machine as my main computer. I am waiting for Lucid Lynx 10.4 LTS.
  • I am currently using Windows 2000 as main my operating system. I think it is great ;)
  • Unfortunately, I have one program that I need to use regularly, and this program requires Windows XP (or later) :(

I will use NAT to network all three virtual machines most of the time. However, sometimes I will need to use the Windows 2000 virtual machine in bridged mode so that it can be a first class member of my domain.

Therefore, the overall architecture of what I am trying to achieve should look like this:

Laptop Virtual Architecture

Laptop Virtual Architecture

Now that I know what I want to achieve, I just need to find the best way to realise this!

Hardware

I am currently considering buying either a Dell Inspiron 1545Inspiron 15 Intel Core i, or a Studio 15. I am a Dell fan, and a 15″ screen is the best size for me. I will get 4GB of RAM, and either a 350GB or a 500GB hard disk.

I will get one of the cheapest processors available. I am currently considering either the Intel Pentium Dual-Core Processor T4400 or the Intel Core i3-330M. I will probably choose the latter, because it seems to have better support for virtualisation because it supports VT-x according to its specification. In practice I do not know if this will provide a noticeable benefit.

In terms of form-factor, I dislike the idea of a number keypad on a laptop. Therefore, I will probably go for a Studio 15.

I am going to have to buy an external card reader, because none of these laptops support Compact Flash cards :( My cameras all use Compact Flash :o

I wonder how the host operating systems sees the integrated web camera. I hope that it appears as a standard USB device, so that it can easily be shared with the virtual machines.

Host Operating System

My requirements for the host operating system are:

  • It must be very secure, because I will use my laptop in a lot of public networks.
  • It must be easy to connect to file servers. This is important, because I will need to back-up my virtual machines.
  • It must have a software based firewall that is very easy to configure precisely.

I think that the clear winner here is Ubuntu with Firestarter. If my Linux skills were better I would use Debian instead :o

The only question I have is whether I should use the 32bit or the 64bit version of Ubuntu?

Virtual Machine Software

The two options that I am considering for this are VMware Workstation and VirtualBox. My main requirements are that the virtual machine software is secure, and that it supports VT-x. I think that both do!

However, there are still some issues that I have not resolved:

  • Should I use the 32bit version or the 64bit version?
  • Which offers better performance?
  • Will they both support my hardware equally well?
  • Is there a risk of becoming locked into one of these products?
  • How is Hyper-threading supported? Presumably, the virtual machine software would think that it has four cores to distribute to the virtual machines. However, in reality it would only have two. This makes me think that I should disable Hyper-threading.
  • Does the virtual machine file format change with each new release of the virtual machine software?

Cost is not really an issue here.

Guest Operating Systems

As I wrote above, I will use Ubuntu, Windows 2000, and Windows XP on my virtual machines.

My questions relating to the guest operating systems are:

  • Should I choose the 32bit or the 64bit version of Ubuntu?
  • Will the OEM version of Windows XP that I got with a previous Dell computer install into a virtual machine without lots of registration issues?

If anybody has any opinions, experience, advice, or answers relating to any of this then I would love to read them!

Thanks!

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Aug 13 2009

Kellogg’s On-line Promotion

Category: InternetTeknovis @ 8:03 pm

I recently tried to avail of a Kellogg’s promotion. The promotion involved collecting 3 unique numbers from 3 different cereal boxes, entering these number online, and then printing a voucher for the free box of cereal.

It all sounded wonderfully simple, but it turned out to be a disaster! In fairness, it is not all Kellogg’s fault, because it chose two other companies to fulfil the promotion. Coinks was responsible for redeeming the collected numbers, and converting them into rewards. Couponstar was responsible for providing the printable vouchers. It is really this company that I am faulting!

In theory this should be a very simple process. Simply generate a PDF file that the user can download and print. However, Couponstar take a very different approach to this simple task. Its motivation is that it prevents users from printing the same coupon multiple times. It appears that this company has never heard of a photocopier!

Therefore, the complex process that I had to follow was:

  1. I tried to avail of the offer from my house, but I was unsuccessful because Firefox and Ubuntu are not supported :(
  2. I used another computer, and then discovered that virtual printers are not supported (I was trying to print to a PDF file).
  3. I went back to my Ubuntu computer and started a virtual machine in VMware. Virtual machines are not supported either :(
  4. I then tried to avail of the offer from a Windows computer in work. The application downloaded and installed. It then displayed a message saying that my vouchers would be printed shortly. The only problem was that it did not specify on which of the company printers (in separate parts of the building) my vouchers would be printed!
  5. Ultimately, it did not print on any of them. Perhaps this is because the software could not communicate with the server, because it never asked me to specify my proxy settings!

At this stage I gave up!

I have written a letter of complaint to Kellogg’s :o Unfortunately, I had to send it using a form on its Contact Us web page. I wish that the email address was listed there so that I could use my favourite email client instead of having to use a small text area :(

I will update this blog if I get a response from Kellogg’s.

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Aug 09 2009

Ubuntu Netbook Remix Display Resolution on Dell Inspiron 10v

Category: Hardware,LinuxTeknovis @ 9:29 am

I bought a Dell Inspiron 10v last week because I was really impressed with its weight and size. It came with some version of Windows XP, but I removed this and I installed Ubuntu Netbook Remix 9.04 instead. I decided to try this because I liked the user interface, and I thought that it might extend my battery life.

Everything appeared to installed correctly, except the display driver :( The maximum resolution that I can specify is 800×576. However, the 10v has a native resolution of 1024×576!

This is driving me mad! I posted a comment on the Ubuntu form (see Ubuntu Netbook Remix Display Resolution on Dell Inspiron 10v), but I have not got any responses yet :( I would love to know if anybody has got a 10v to work at this resolution! At least then I would know it is possible!

Unfortunately, if I do not find a solution soon I will have to revert to Windows :(

I will keep my blog updated with any progress that I make.

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May 25 2009

OpenOffice First Impressions

Category: Reviews,SoftwareTeknovis @ 11:09 pm

I installed OpenOffice (yes – I know it is officially called OpenOffice.org) on my main computer today. My main reason for wanting to try it is that it offers the potential of providing greater interoperability between my current Windows installation and my future Ubuntu installation. I also prefer the philosophy behind the OpenDocument format compared to the Office Open XML format.

The installation process was very straight-forward. However, there were two minor issues that annoyed me:

  • The default dictionary in my installation was English (Eire). Unfortunately, this did not seem to suggest any corrections for my incorrectly spelt words :( Luckily English (UK) works perfectly :)
  • A quick-launch module is loaded when the system is starting up by default. I hate these quick-launch applications that run permanently! Luckily, it can easily be disabled!

I will update my blog again after I have used it for a while!

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May 11 2009

Linux Articles

Category: LinuxTeknovis @ 12:43 pm

I read two interesting Linux articles this morning. The first article provides a very general introduction and overview of Linux. It is The Complete Beginner’s Guide to Linux, and it contains four parts:

The second article discusses several different Linux distributions in detail. I will still use Ubuntu, but if I had to choose another I would choose Fedora. Regardless, the article is interesting to read. It is There’s Way More to Linux than Ubuntu: 8 Distros Compared.

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