Archive for January, 2011

I found my Newton

Thursday, January 13th, 2011

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Many many years ago I bought an Apple Newton MessagePad 100.  It was a refurbished unit that was already being replaced by the MessagePad 110.  After many moves and storage units, it got a little lost.  It was found today and I thought I’d give it a whirl.

When I’d last put it away, my recollection was that it didn’t work.  I recall it stopped working the day I replaced the backup battery.  Since one of the accessories I’d bought for it was an AC adapter, I plugged it in and turned it on.  It worked.  I was a little shocked and a little elated, and now I’m wondering what to do with the thing.

It was a great little device in its day.  Years ahead of its time with handwriting recognition (even considering the many jokes about how non-accurate it was).  Consider that it was designed for you to train it.  Later, a company would come out with a piece of software for the Newton called Graffiti which trained YOU instead of the device (Graffiti was later the basis of the Palm Pilot which would supplant the Newton as the dominant PDA).

So, I did some digging to see if I can find software for it.  I still have the PC connection cable (if necessary, I think I can find the Mac serial cable), original protective sleeve, fax/modem, and an extra battery holder.  I also have a charger for the NiCd battery packs which were available, but those had long since become useless and I’d discarded them.

You can get some no longer supported software directly from Apple.  I’ve also found the United Network of Newton Archives repository and the My Apple Newton blog.  I’ve not stopped looking, but I do have more things to seek (like software which definitely works with Windows XP or newer if I can find a machine I still own which has a serial port; none of my Macs certainly have one and I’m not sure I want to buy a USB to serial device).  A linear flash drive would be nice, too, if I can find one of those antiquated things.

Do you have any old hardware lying around that was once cool and might still be?

Cheap mobile internet, but unlimited?

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

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As a mobile professional, I’ve been looking into ways of accessing the internet from where ever I am without having to do something unethical like “borrow” an open wireless (which are becoming fewer so the point is nearly moot).  Your choices are generally going to a place which offers open wireless (often at coffee shops, restaurants, and public libraries), using a cellular service, another wireless service such as ClearWire, or doing without.

I’ve been avoiding going with one of the big contract carriers because their prices tend to be high, and they have a cap on usage.  I really shouldn’t be worried about the cap since I’m not going to be downloading Linux distributions on a daily basis, but it still bothers me that one is there.  You know, what if I go over by one byte and they charge me $600 for the privilege?

Thus far, the least expensive service I’ve found is Virgin Mobile’s.  For $40 per month, you get unlimited usage.  It’s a pre-paid service, so no contract is required.  You can get the USB device for about $80.

However, they’ve announced an end to unlimited.  It’s the same 5GB cap that other carriers have, but they’ve done something different.  They could have cut you off.  They could have charged you an additional fee.  They’ve elected to slow down your connection until the next month.  I’d have to say that I prefer this method.  Their offering is less expensive than the big guys and the “stick” on the other side of their “carrot” is less painful if it hits you.

I’m looking at figuring out a way to connect via my phone and I’m planning on getting a smartphone which will allow this feature and not be too expensive in the process.  I want to do this in large part because I don’t see the point in having a phone with internet and paying for an extra device so I can connect my computer to the same internet while I’m on the road.  I’ll keep you posted when I settle on a solution.

WPA encryption may not be safe for much longer

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

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I’ve stated before how important it is to encrypt your wireless network.  I’ve also suggested going with at LEAST WPA (wireless protected access).  Now, it looks like that won’t be enough.  A security researcher has figured out a way to crack a WPA password with a brute-force attack using Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud service.

According to Reuters, the researcher will be releasing the software at the Black Hat conference that’s happening later this month in Washington, D.C.

Amazon says that using their services to hack into an unauthorized network is against their terms of service, but if it can be done in just a few minutes and you don’t run down the street every day doing it, who’s going to know?  Of course, the rub is that you need access to the internet to be able to hack into access to the internet.  Is there a point?  Maybe if you’re using an expensive cellular service and want to connect to someone else’s wireless to save yourself some money.

The same advice I’ve given in the past about the password being only useful to stop the casual user and not the determined hacker still applies.  You should have a password because you don’t want someone getting in.

The big downside to this is that the WPA method that was cracked, PSK (pre-shared key), is the one used on consumer-level equipment.  More robust methods generally require a special server running on your network to handle them and possibly special software on your computer.

I guess we’ll see another encryption method next year (this is a prediction and not based on anything I’ve read or heard).  Computing power is getting so great that we need to greatly expand the size of the keys used to protect our networks.  WPA uses a 256-bit key.  Maybe we need to have 10,000-bit keys (but you’ll need to use a paragraph-long passphrase to create it as it’s only as good as the length of the passphrase).

Netflix difficulties

Monday, January 10th, 2011

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The streaming of movies from the likes of Netflix and other companies is becoming more common.  So much so that my previous cries for true net neutrality are going to be more important.  Without net neutrality, there’s no guarantee that your ISP won’t block or otherwise hinder the content you get from outside of its network.

Paul Venezia at InfoWorld is of the opinion that ISPs probably don’t have to do much in order to be a problem for Netflix.  The ISPs just won’t do anything to make sure your content gets to you without issue.  Basically, as the outside services get more popular, they don’t have to increase the size of the connection to them.  This will make it more difficult to use them as they become more popular.  Mr. Venezia has already seen this happen during peak times since the holidays as everyone has been using their new “gifts” of Netflix.

As I’ve said before, I’m not one for government regulation in general.  Too many times, the intended purpose of the regulation doesn’t quite work as envisioned and the unintended consequences may be worse than before the regulation was implemented.  I prefer the idea of making a stated right that we should have unimpeded access to the content we wish to consume.  Don’t make an explicit prohibition for companies to impede my consumption of content.

Being careful on Facebook

Sunday, January 9th, 2011

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Every time I tune into my Facebook account, I seem to see a new scam going through.  Right now, there’s one claiming to show you the first ever status update you put on Facebook.  Is that the value you give your personal information and access to post as you on your wall?

Other common scams have to do with the games on Facebook (especially those run by Zynga such as FarmVille).  The scam takes the form of telling you that you can get some rare (or actually non-existent) “thing” for the game.  You go to the page for the scam, click on the link, you have now “liked” it, you may have even allowed the application which gives it the ability to access information you have and to post on your wall.  Some of these scams ask for your mobile phone number so that they can send you “premium” text messages (by “premium” I mean they’ll cost you money on top of any fees your carrier charges for texts).

What should you take from this?  Be exceedingly careful of anything you do on Facebook and other social networking sites.  I’ve gone to the extent that if I see a status update from a “friend” and click to check it out, I immediately ignore it if some application wants access to my information.  It’s not worth my time and the potential downside is too great for me.  I may miss out on some fun applications as a result, but I’d rather keep my information safe.