Friday, September 30, 2011

Hacking People - Round 2

I just got off a half-hour-ish long phone call with a ^Representative of Microsoft^ who was kindly ringing me about a problem that my computer had reported to them.

    It's nice to be ready. 
 Referring to Hacking People

So this time I decided to click an imaginary Start Button.

The phone call was pretty much identical to the one mentioned in the previous post.

The charade continues...

"Ok, I clicked Start."

"What do you see?"

Damn, I was afraid of this.  I'm sitting in front of a Mac.  Time to draw on those decades of Windows experience from the time 'of PC'.  "Um, lets see, there's All Programs...and..."

"Okay, click on All Programs."

*whew*

"Yep, okay, I clicked on All Programs."

"Okay, what do you see."

"Um, there's Accessories.. and some of my programs are there..."  It's been a while...

"Okay, now your next menu to click on is ..." I couldn't understand what she was saying so I asked her to repeat herself... twice.  Turns out it was Accessories.  I'm struggling with her accent as much as she's struggling with English - particularly when it comes to S's.  We continued this painful guidance through the Windows Start menu until we opened (on my imaginary Windows PC) the command prompt.

She spelt out what she wanted me to type.  "M is for monkey. S is for Sally. C is for Charlie. O is for Orange. N is for Nelly. F is for fox. I is for indigo. G is for gun.  Did you get that?"

I did.  I had it at MSC, but I got her to repeat it "...just in case I got any letters wrong."

The System Configuration Utility sprang up on the screen my imaginary Windows PC.  I may not have used a Windows machine for a few years, but I know quite well what MSConfig is.

She continued to guide me though to the "Services" tab for another round of lingual issues, and then she asks me to look at the list on that tab.  "What do you see there?"

"Oh, there's a heap of writing there..."

"Do you see some of them are running and some are stopped?"

I squinted at my imaginary Windows PC "Ummm...  hey, yeah.  There's some running and some are stopped!  You're right!" I guessed.

"Yes.  That's the viruses.  They've stopped those programs from running because they've corrupted the files."

"Really?  All those programs are supposed to be running?"

"Yes!  They're what makes your computer work."

"Wow.  And the viruses have broken them huh?"

"Yes, the viruses stop all those programs from running."

Windows has plenty of services and programs that people never run.  They don't run by default and are of no interest to anyone except perhaps the occasional Network Administrator or Power User.  There're all installed, just not turned on.

"How do I fix that?"

"That is what I'm here for.  To help you fix your computer.  I show you where the files are..."

More lingual difficulty followed as she got me to close MSConfig, press and hold the Windows key and press R (I got her to repeat R three times) to open the Run dialoge, type cmd and click OK.  Much better than finding the Command Prompt through the All Programs menu.  ImaginaryPC (iPC?) popped a command prompt up on it's imaginary monitor.

"I have a black window up with a white thing blinking."

"A black window.  Okay, I'll show you where the security code is.  Type in..." and she proceeded to sound out each letter I needed to type in... three times.  I still didn't get it.  It didn't matter.  iPC got it.  I told her I got it and pressed the imaginary Enter key.  "ooohhh...." I said.

"You see all the writing?" she asks.

"Yep."

"See the code at the bottom.  I will just confirm that this code is yours."  She began reading out a code and it was a long one.  It was more than her English skills could handle.  

Mid sentence, she was replaced. The voice spoke better English and had a mountain of confidence.  No-one said anything about putting me through to someone else, or I'll just put you onto my supervisor or anything, just suddenly it was a new voice.  Similar though - as if she'd took a pill that gave her another 5 years experience in doing what she's doing now.  I didn't mention it.  It wasn't important.  

She explained that the command I typed in will show a "'Security code' called a CLSID" She read the code off.

"888DCA60-FC0A-11CF-8F0F-00C04FD7D062"  Making sure she gave a word for each letter to be sure there are no mistakes.  I didn't actually get the entire code.  Language problems again.  She asked me if that was the same code that I had on my screen.

"I think there was one letter wrong.  I think.  I'm not sure.  Can you read it again?"

She did.

The command she asked me to type in was ASSOC which is a windows command to display a list of Windows file associations.  File associations are how your computer can tell which program to open a particular file with, so that Word files open with Word for instance.  Windows computers by default recognise a file extension called ZFSendToTarget and being that it starts with Z it will be on the bottom of the list every time - on every Windows computer.  This file association has what is called a CLSID - that long number, which is also the same on every computer.  She is simply reading me a number that is guaranteed to be there and guaranteed to be the same.
"Yes, it IS the same."

She got me to close the command prompt and now we were getting to the crux of the scam.

"Press Windows and R."  The imaginary 'Run' dialogue opened again and she spelled out the following command.

iexplore www.ammyy.com

I opened Chrome on my Mac and visited the site.

AMMYY - Free Remote Control Software 
For Remote Desktop Sharing.

Yep, that's all they need really.  There's nothing more I need to know.  Now to keep them on the line for as long as possible... someone there must be paying international rates...  besides, my imaginary PC isn't even connected to the Internet yet... and the only option I have to get it online is imaginary dial-up!

"It's opened Internet Explorer.  It wants me to connect to the Internet.  Hang on... it takes a little while... I'm on dial-up."

"That's okay.  Take your time."  For a scammer, she was very nice.

I did take my time.  I remember dial-up.

"Okay, it's online now.  A website came up.  A green one."

"Yes, a green website. That's it!" She was pretty happy about getting me this far. "Do you see the green button?"

"Yes, I see a green button..."

"Okay, click the green button, and when the button comes up, click Run."

I clicked the link.  Chrome for Mac downloaded a Windows exe file a little over a meg in a blink.  The file name: AMMYY_Admin.exe

"Okay.  It's downloading" I said, sticking to my dial-up story.  After a minute I said "It's finished downloading, do I click Run now?"

"Yes, click Run." she replied.

"The screen is all blue with white writing on it."

"The screen is all blue?  White whiting?"

"Oh, my computer just rebooted.  Is it supposed to do that?"  Turns out even imaginary Windows PC's will crash at the worst possible time.

She didn't understand most of what I said, I guess it was a long way off script.  I spoke slowly and explained that my PC (omitting that it was imaginary) had crashed.  "There was a blue screen.  The computer turned off by itself.  It's starting up again now."

"Oh, your computer turned off by itself.  Oh, that is very bad.  Viruses can be very bad.  You must have a lot of viruses on your PC."

"I'm just glad you're able to help me get rid of them.  Thank you for being so patient with me.  These computers can be so confusing sometimes."

"Yes, that is why I call you.  I can help you fix your computer."

"Thanks, you're really helpful.  Okay, the computer is all started again.  I'll just connect to the Internet again.  Hang on."

"Yes, okay, connect to the Internet."

iPC sat there obediently connecting to it's dial-up Internet.

"Okay, it's connected." I told her. "Do you want me to do that Command R thing again?"

"Command?"

Oh damn!  The jig is up!  Being a Mac user has blown my cover!

"Oh, um, that Windows Key and the R key thing we did.  Do you want me to do that again?"

"Windows R, yes, umm... yes," she found her place on the flowchart. "Yes, press Windows and R keys."

^Whew^

"Okay.  It's still got 'iexplore www.ammyy.com' in it."

"Yes, good.  Click OK"

"Okay?"

"Okay."

"Okay, Internet Explorer is opened and there's that green website again."

"Good.  Now click the green button."

"It's downloading."  I waited a while "It's finished, do I click Run?"

"Yes. Click Run."

"Okay." *Click* "I have a blue screen.  It has white writing on it.  My computer is rebooting."

"Ohh, you have very bad problem.  You need to take your computer to a computer doctor.  You have got a very bad virus."

"A computer doctor?  So you can't help me?"

"Yes! Yes, I can help you.  This is why I am here."

"Oh.  Good."  I was enjoying this far too much.  iPC rebooted and the dial-up was reconnected.  For a third time we used the Run dialogue to open Internet Explorer and go directly to the green website.  We continued following her flowchart and clicked the green button, downloaded the exe and arrived at the Run dialogue.

"I have the Run dialogue again."

She's still following the flowchart.  "Yes. Click Run."

"Well, I've done that twice before.  When I click that Run button, my screen goes blue and then my computer turns off all by itself.  Are you sure you want me to click the Run button?"

There was a pause.  It was brief, but there was definitely a pause.

"There is one thing you can do."

"Okay."

"You can go to hell.  You hear me?  You can GO TO HELL!!!"

I couldn't reply.  I was laughing too hard.  She hung up.  What a dear.  I hope she considers a career change.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Dear Telstra,

A fault arose with my phone line in February this year (2011), resulting in my wife and I being without a home phone and cut off from the Internet for about a week. Telstra provided us with a free service that forwarded incoming calls to our mobile phone. We were charged full price for our line rental.

The same fault presented itself in March, this time taking over two weeks to get fixed. Again they promised to provide a free call forwarding service to my mobile phone and, as compensation for both faults, they gave us a twenty dollar discount on our line rental. However, when we received our bill, although we had our $20.00 discount, we had been charged $16.60 for calls that were forwarded to our mobile phone, a service which was supposed to be free.

I spoke with two of the contractors that arrived at my home at different times to check out the problem and they told me that a cable had been accidentally dug up and re-buried by a back-hoe operator in a new estate being constructed nearby. They also told me of a 200 meter length of Telstra cable had been strung across a public park on Kirkwood Rd, on top of the ground. They said that this above-ground length of cable is the source of my problem. I was told by Telstra and one of the contractors that came to my house that the damage done to the cable was too great to be repaired by local contractors and that they would have to send a specialised team to repair it properly.

The fault returned again and I reported it on the 28th of April. Telstra told me that someone would be around to have a look at the fault on the 4th of May. They contacted me again to extend that date to the 6th of May. No-one came and I was still without a home phone. I spoke with Telstra on the 9th of May and they gave me yet another date - the 16th of May - making it three weeks without a home phone or Internet access. On the 14th of May I got a txt from the contractors that were working on it, advising that my phone had been reconnected. My ADSL was still down but after a quick call to my ISP, we managed to get my Internet connection working.

I have registered a couple of complaints to Telstra now, but never directly to their Complaints Department. I’ve had my mobile phone battery run flat while waiting on hold to the Complaints Department. Their Complaints Department does not seem to be interested in returning my calls. I received a text message from them on the 28th of March claiming that their complaints department would contact me within the next 24 hours. That call never came. I have never spoken to anyone from the Telstra complaints department.

Internet access at our house is our primary means of communication. We use Facebook and Skype to keep in touch with family and friends across Australia and around the world. Our bills are now sent by e-mail so they don’t have to be printed on paper and we use online banking to pay them. We get our news and weather online. My wife maintains a YouTube channel and I have this blog. Being cut off from the Internet causes us far more inconvenience than losing access to our telephone service. We pay $69.99 per month to TPG Internet for ADSL which we are unable to access while we have this fault on our Telstra phone line. Because we are not using Telstra’s own Internet company, BigPond, no-one at Telstra wanted to know anything about the money we’ve paid for our Internet access - access that has been cut off to us from by this fault.

I was getting pretty annoyed with Telstra by this time and they must've realised it because they assigned me a case manager. My case manager has been very polite and he's tried to be as helpful as the bureaucracy he works for will allow. It's interesting to note that once Telstra has assigned a case manager to you, no-one else at Telstra can deal with you. It's certainly better than talking to a different person every time you ring them up, but when I rang up one day and he wasn't there, I was told that I would have to wait until he got back to work to discuss my problem. Even when I asked to be put though to "someone who is being payed enough to be yelled at", she told me that the only person I can be transferred to is my case manager, and as he's not at work there's no-one I can talk to. When I did get a hold of him, my case manager was very keen to help out. He fixed the overcharging on my bill and in a bit of a win for us, he even gave us a payment to cover the month of Internet we lost.

I went with a mate to find this cable strung across the park. It didn't take long so we snapped a few photos. I couldn't believe what we found. I had been offline and without a home phone for about a cumulative six weeks this year. I had been told on more than one occasion that a special team from Telstra was going to fix the fault because the job was too big for their local contractors. This last fault took three weeks to get fixed. These photos were taken the day after I got the 'repairs complete' message. While talking with my case manager, I offered to send him the photos so he could see for himself why I'm so unhappy with the results of the repairs. He told me that due to privacy concerns he could not give me an e-mail address to send them to, so I'm posting them online here.

The cable comes out of the ground at the edge of a pond beside a bridge amongst some swampy reeds.

It is strung along the top of the ground through a garden beside a path in the park.


It looks as though someone has pulled it up from a shallow covering in the garden bed.


Example one of damage to the cable.


Example two of damage to the cable.


Example three of damage to the cable.



This shot shows the three damaged sections together. On the right side of the photo you can see the well-used exercise path that runs through the park.


This is probably example four of damage to the cable. It's a black plastic bag held on by a couple of wraps of electrical tape. The cable goes in one side and out the other.


About 200m from where it comes out, it disappears back into the ground.

After taking these photos, I have to wonder... which one of these plastic-bag and sticky-tape repairs took three weeks to complete?

I get the feeling I've been lied to. More than once.

I would really like someone from Telstra to explain to me:- If the repairs are just some plastic bags and electrical tape, why did it take three weeks to get my phone back on? If a specialised team of Telstra technicians was here to do the job - as I was told would be the case - how could they just leave a cable that supplies phone and Internet to me and my neighbours, sitting on top of the ground next to a path in a public park?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Hacking people.

I asked on Facebook if anyone had received a strange phone call from someone claiming to be from a computer security firm saying that your computer has contacted them over the Internet and let them know you have been infected with some kind of virus.

I've had two calls like this. The first one I was pretty abrupt with the guy and told him that my computer most definitely did not contact them and most definitely does not have a virus. All my computers are up-to-date and have antivirus and firewalls installed.

He said in the kind of tone that you might imagine a drug pusher would use "Really? You don't think it's been running a little slow lately?" which in the world of Windows is any computer that hasn't been defragged in a couple of months.

I told him "No, my computers are running fine."

Then I began asking him questions. I first asked him about how much information my computer sent him.

"Can you tell me what Operating System I'm running?"

His reply at this point was a rather weak "... Windows...?".

"Nah mate, all my comptuers are Macs."

"Your computers are Macs??! oh.."

click.

The second call started out very similar. It was a woman this time and sounded like she was reading from cue cards.

"Your computer has contacted us on the Internet to tell us that you have a virus and we'd like to help you fix it now."

I put on my surprised voice. "A virus? Really? On my computer??!! What should I do? Is it bad?! Is my computer going to die?"

Instant confidence on the other end. "Oh yes, very bad virus." She had an accent and had trouble with the 'V's and R's so it was more like 'bedy bad bydis", but I understood well enough. "But we can help you get rid of it. Just go to your computer and I'll tell you how to get rid of the virus."

"Go to my computer. Okay." I said.

There was about a minute of silence.

"Now what?" I asked.

"Are you at your computer?"

"Yes."

"Okay. Is you computer on?"

I couldn't help myself. "You want me to turn it on?"

"Yes. Umm. Please turn your computer on."

"Okay, I'm turning it on now."

I watch the clock on the wall silently for about two minutes... Windows computers can take a while to boot up sometimes.

"Ok, my computer is on."

She's speaking as carefully as her broken Engrish can carry her now, "Your computer is on now? Okay, now click on the Start button and then click 'Run' and you should see a box come up with somewhere you can type in?"

This is where the charade ends.

"I don't have a Start Button." I tell her.

She quickly jumps straight to what I'd imagine is the last of her cue cards. "Unfortunately we are unable to help you with your problem today. Bye."

click.

I have to be happy with the fact that I could cost these scamming bastards at least some time and money.



Modern operating systems are increasingly difficult to hack. Sometimes it's just easier to hack the user directly. I still don't know what the end result of this scam is but if they're starting with a run dialogue it's already looking pretty nefarious. From there they could direct you to type in commands to send your information directly to them over the internet, or to download an install a trojan, disable your firewall and antivirus, or even e-mail them your Internet browser history complete with all your passwords.

This is the kind of hacking that all the McAfee and Norton security suites in the world can not protect you from.

It's interesting to note that it's still only Windows users being targeted so far. Even old computer-illiterate grandma would've survived these two calls provided she wasn't running Windows!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Hung Parliament.

I like the NBN idea. I don't like the proposed mandatory filter. Labour were in favour of both. Libs wanted to scrap both.

*Gazes off into space and imagines the entire Parliament. Hung.

Y'know, this hung parliament might be alright. The balance of power in the minor seats, it seems to me, could force the two sides to work together. Wouldn't that make sure that really good ideas like the NBN gets completed while completely useless things like the filter will be deservedly scrapped in favour of more effective programs like better education and online tools for parents? Wouldn't it allow the entire government to have a say in how projects like the home insulation scheme and school buildings program are run - both of which could have been run better. Could we be in for a term of Government where both sides are in a position of equal responsibility - and blame? Will we see a Government formed that will accurately represent the will of the people of this country?

A hung parliament seems like a pretty good opportunity to make this happen. I'm no expert on politics and government. Am I mistaken in this assumption?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Watered down gaming.

It's something that I've written about a few times here. Adult games that in most other countries that would receive an R18+ rating, get banned here in Australia because there is no such rating for computer games here.

Now I'm not talking about those weird Japanese hentai games that would probably require an X rating. It's blockbuster games like Fallout 3, Grand Theft Auto and Left for Dead 2. None of these are kids games. All of them are designed to be played by adults. Like a lot of adult movies and novels, they may contain violence, coarse language and sexual themes.

Most games that are refused classification get re-released in a watered down and edited version so that it passes the Australian Government Classification Board's guidelines, often resulting in a washed-out game that lacks the very elements that make it great. Recently IGN did a review of the censored Australian version of Left 4 Dead 2. The review did not go well.

Look, I'm no sadist – I don't get off on violence, but I do like decapitating zombies. That's not wrong. I must have been leaking the lizard when the Australian Classifications Board suddenly deemed the undead 'too realistic' to be savaged by virtual machetes and cricket bats. Censorship sucks.-Patch, IGN.
It's clear that every time a game is refused classification, the game makers have to spend quite a bit of time rewriting code, altering artwork and perhaps even re-recording sound so it passes our classification system.

Essentially, it's the same as forcing the makers
of the Saw movies to rewrite and reshoot the gory bits of the movie just in case a five-year old child walks into the room while you're watching it. Would you go to see that?
So it's nice to see UK game maker "Rebellion Developments" taking a stand. They're simply not going to spend the time and money destroying their new game "Alien vs Predator" just so it can pass the Australian Government standards.

"The content of AvP is based on some of the most innovative and iconic horror movies, and as such we wanted to create a title that was true to the source material. It is for adults, and it is bloody and frightening, that was our intent. We will not be releasing a sanitized or cut down version
for territories where adults are not considered by their governments to be able to make their own entertainment choices."
-CEO Jason Kingsley, Rebellion Dev
elopments.

According to the "National Classification Code", "Computer Games" will be refused classification if they "are unsuitable for a minor to see or play;" which doesn't really go along with the first opening principle of the code which states:

"(a) adults should be able to read, hear and see what they want;"
-The Code, Commonwealth of Australian Law.

Hopefully a lot more game makers will make the same stand. The computer game industry is growing faster than both the movie and music industries. For example, Spiderman 3 holds the record for opening day ticket sales for a movie at $59 million. Grand Theft Auto IV clocked up $310 million in sales on it's first day. The result of banning blockbuster games will be a loss in revenue for Australian game distributors.

Some gamers aren't content to simply do without and will order the forbidden games through overseas websites. New Zealand has a R18+ rating for computer games and it's online games stores happen to be on the same Internet as we are! I did a quick Google search. Note the "Sponsored Link"?


The solution is simple. Give games an R18+ rating and don't sell them to children.

Problem solved.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The end of USB?

Intel are developing a fiber-optic connection standard that will replace USB, IEEE-1394 (Firewire) and HDMI to name a few. The standard will support multiple protocols and multiple devices on a single cable meaning that it will be used to connect your printer, camera, monitor, portable storage devices and just about anything else that connects to the computer using the same plug. No more wondering if you've got something plugged in correctly! Cables can be up to 100m long and transfer speeds will start at 10Gb per second. That's ten times faster than Gigabit ethernet - imagine transferring an entire blu-ray movie in under 30 seconds! Just another step in making our computers faster and easier to use. The technology is called Light Peak and we should start seeing this appear on computers and devices some time next year.



USB 3.0 is just around the corner too, and although it doesn't boast the speed and operational distance that Light Peak has, it will be backwards compatible with older USB devices, so it's unlikely that we've seen the end of USB yet.

Friday, September 18, 2009

My two favourite subjects!

I caught a news article today. Gene Roddenberry - creator of Star Trek - was given the first ever Mac Plus to roll off the assembly line. This story made news because that very computer is going up for Auction. In case you are wondering, no, it's not being sold on e-bay, but at an Auction in Hollywood.
The article has a few other interesting tid-bits for the Star Trek/Mac fan too.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Value of Data

I've been going on about ZFS for a while now, trying to "have" it, searching and downloading and researching. Sorry about that. But for anyone who wants to understand why I'm so wrapped up in it, you have to understand the high value I place on my data. At the moment, we have a digital camera that we've taken thousands of photos with, a digital video camera (or two) with tons of footage, an iPod with enough mp3s to fill it over a hundred time. This is my stuff. I want it to be both safe and accessible. ZFS has the tools to do this. For those of you who like comics, the Nexenta have an eight page comic on their website. Check it out.

Linux + ZFS = Nexenta

I stumbled across Nexenta, another OS that runs ZFS but behaves like Linux. I thought OpenSolaris looked and behaved like linux, but hey, what do I know? Hoping it might have a more user friendlier approach to ZFS, I think I might give it a try. The community that supports Nexenta seems to be geared a little more to beginners, something that most Linux users are used to. So I am continuing the epic quest to set up a hassle free network access storage server.

Friday, August 14, 2009

ZFS Fail

So after a reinstall of OpenSolaris and starting from scratch and carefully going through the newly learned steps of setting up my home file server, I finally got it working to the stage when the server had a ZFS pool and could share it over the network and I could read and write to it. I recorded the terminal commands that I used to get it going in a Google Doc if anyone wants to try if for themselves.

However, every time I tried to copy anything big to it, it would disappear off the network until it was rebooted. Not sure what is causing this and the OpenSolaris community aren't newbie friendly. In fact, they're not helpful at all. The problem could be a hardware fault, but I don't know my way around OpenSolaris well enough to determine that and operating systems that require terminal commands to get anything done just seems so... '80's...

I'm not giving up just yet though. Today, Uncle Phil is donating his old PC to the cause. It's a PC that he doesn't use anymore because he now has an iMac, something that's been happening a bit in our circle of friends lately. Phil's old PC isn't shabby at all, with a Core2Duo processor and plenty of RAM so it'll be interesting if this makes a difference.

Here we go again!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

A Win Followed By Another Problem

Yay! I googled and googled and googled and eventually found a few blogs with useful information and guides to get Windows to see OpenSolaris shares, and if Windows can do it, the Mac can.

If you've happened on this page looking for the answer I found, I apologize. It was like 4am when I got it working and I went to sleep pretty much immediately but I'll post a few pages from the history that I think were helpful.... I was pretty tired.

A good place to start if you're just considering using OpenSolaris for NAS (network access storage)
Simons Blog:A Home Fileserver using ZFS
I started following the guide at:
Corner 11:Adventures in Opensolaris - Build a ZFS pool as a network share
but he got a bit vague on a couple of steps but got me most of the way.
This one cleared up the steps I was having problems with.

Anyway, the point is that after yet another fresh install of OpenSolaris and lots of reading and typing terminal commands, I can now access my ZFS File server from my Mac. That's what the "Yay!" was about.

I've only been playing with OpenSolaris for about a week now in it's painfully obvious to me that I still have a lot to learn. A fact that hit home hard when I tried to copy something onto the file server. I couldn't. In fact, I couldn't even copy a file to the ZFS volume from OpenSolaris. So my next challenge is to decipher folder permissions. I think I have a clue... it's starts with chmod.

I'm sure there's a whole lot more reading and probably some lengthy terminal sessions involved... Mick suggested that I visit a OpenSolaris IRC Chat Room, a suggestion I took about a day before I received. OpenSolaris comes with Pidgin - a multi service chat client (like MSN or GoogleTalk but more useful) and checking out the IRC channel (#opensolaris at Freenode.net) was what I was doing while googling.

Is it too soon to say googled with a little 'g'?

I like to scope an IRC channel before I blurt out a question - especially a channel full of techies. I've worked as a computer tech so I know what it's like to be asked stupid questions - often the same questions from different people, and some tech-type channels have rules like "Don't ask questions that are already answered in our FAQ" and "No Noobs". So I said "hi" when I entered and sat back to see if I could understand what everyone was saying, to see if I had learned enough to jump into a conversation.

Considering OpenSolaris is kind of like the 'in-development-bleeding-edge' version of Sun Solaris, it wasn't surprising that these guys were talking like programmers and developers, not a newbie helpline.

Still, I might ask them about chmod... nah!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Foray into ZFS

So, as I was saying, I've installed OpenSolaris onto the old rig, which probably can't be called 'old' anymore because it's got a new motherboard, new RAM and a new CPU. I've discovered some things about OpenSolaris. It's a lot like Linux. It uses the Gnome GUI. Getting ZFS to work requires use of Terminal which is like a DOS box, only more useful, but is easy enough after a few online tutorials.

The PC has four hard drives all of different sizes. The first one accommodates the OpenSolaris install. The other three are all grouped together into a single partition that is both striped and mirrored and is also expandable! In layman's terms, it means this - those of you with large video/music/photo collections will be able to appreciate this: You have a folder shared across your network that any computer can access. It contains all your media. These are quite common now and are usually referred to as a Media Server or Home File Server. Normally when you run out of space on your hard drive you have a couple of options - delete something to make room or add another hard drive, the latter option being the one we're interested in. When you add another hard drive, you format it and share it as another folder on the network meaning you'll end up with folders like MOVIES1, MOVIES2, MUSIC.A-J, MUSIC.K-Z, etc... and that's just annoying. The ZFS feature in OpenSolaris allows you to "join" your hard drives together so that when you add another hard drive it simply creates more space on the partition. The hard drives don't even need to be the same size! On top of that, ZFS can sustain a hard drive failure, so if you have one of your hard disks crash, OpenSolaris will be able to rebuild the data that was stored on that crashed disk when you replace it with a new one!

This is very impressive technology, which is why I used so many exclamation marks. However, while there is a lot of documentation online on how to set up OpenSolaris and ZFS, getting it to play nice with my Macs over the network is insanely difficult and complicated.

OpenSolaris comes from a *nix background so it shares certain traits with UNIX, Linux and even OS X in some ways, but this very same *nix background brings with it a veritable Fort Knox of security features with dozens of User levels and Groups, and the vast majority of configuration options can only be accessed through a Terminal window using long and complicated commands. Needless to say, it's a steep learning curve for someone who hasn't had experience with Linux style operating systems and Joe Average can just forget about it.

It's a shame that getting network shares working on OpenSolaris isn't easier. Everything else was pretty much configured automatically. The network is there and configured, I can access the Internet with Firefox and can ping the other computers on the network. It came bundled with a few applications like Firefox and Thunderbird for e-mail, a package installer to get more software, a media player and everything on OpenSolaris works quite well... until you want to configure something on the system. Then it's that damn Terminal window again...

Although I've had it installed and running with ZFS for three days now, I've still yet to browse a single network share on the new OpenSolaris box, from either Windows or Mac.

Back to the forums I guess...

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Super User!

I just discovered the # su command! All doors have opened!

OpenSolaris

I'm installing OpenSolaris, a free UNIX operating system on my old windows machine today. I'm hoping to turn it into a network file server and try out ZFS. This could be the fate of Blackpearl.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Conroy - Super Villian

Australian Senator Stephen Conroy, Minister for Broadband, Communication and the Digital Economy won the Internet Villian of the Year Award at the 11th Annual Internet Industry Awards by the Internet Service Providers Association in London this week. Check out the story on iTWire.

Congratulations Mr Conroy, the entire world has formally recognized your Internet filtering scheme as the worst thing that's happend to the Internet ever. Well done!