Open wireless access points and the theft analogy

Monday, 20 August 2007

Many homes and small companies are using Wi-Fi access points so that their computers can establish a wireless connection to the internet. It is still not uncommon for such access points, the devices with antennae that can transmit and receive data, to have no measures implemented to prevent undesired connections by other computers.

It has often been asked whether people who log into unprotected access points are stealing. The analogy often used is that it’s like being able to walk onto your neighbour’s house just because his front door isn’t locked, then tapping into his cable TV connection, run the cable back to your house and then watch TV for free.

This analogy, however, is false. An excellent analogy I have read goes as follows: You ring the doorbell of your neighbour’s house, the butler opens the door. Then you ask if it’s OK to watch cable TV, the butler then answers “sure, no problem.” So are you stealing cable television? No, you’re not.

The butler is simply carrying out his masters instructions, or otherwise used his own discretion when the master fails to provide explicit instructions. The open access point device is to internet access, what the friendly butler is to cable TV.

In other words: people with open access points have delegated decisions, regarding who to grant access to the network, to the access point’s software. It can decide for itself who gets permission to access your network, as you have implicitly or explicitly given it permission to do. That means that it is broadcasting its presence to the world, and any computer in the vicinity who kindly asks permission to log on, is indeed given permission to do so. This is not a mistake, this is by design.

Believe it or not, there are quite a few individuals who deliberately want to leave their access points open. It’s a philosophical decision for some, who hope that someday internet access will be open and freely available everywhere on earth, through open access points.

So there is nothing wrong about accessing open access points, and it’s certainly not stealing.


Solaris “Nevada” build 70 also fails to install: I give up

Monday, 20 August 2007

I tried installing Solaris Express Community Edition, code name “Nevada”, build 70. And this time I got a different error, which ended with the following statement:

Error 28: Selected item cannot fit into memory

After a bit of searching, I have discovered that it is likely caused by an incorrect build of GRUB. If I am correct, this will require rebuilding GRUB and creating a new ISO altogether. Translation: I cannot install this build of Solaris Express, at all, no matter how much I stamp my feet. I have to wait for build 71 to be released. But I am not going to.

It is becoming clear to me that older systems, such as mine, are to OpenSolaris developers what bugs are to windshields. They clearly don’t care, or it is so low on their priority list that they don’t even bother testing builds on these kind of systems. It may be worth noting that, yet again, it worked like a charm on my Athlon XP system.

This is ridiculous, are they just making it up as they go along? I know they make no guarantees regarding stability and such, but I am basing my choice on the HCL and the system requirements. That means I do not expect it to fly on my slow laptop, but it should at least install.

Why waste my time with incorrect minimum system requirements and outdated HCL entries? Or are these purely theoretical system requirements, for arm-chair computer enthusiasts to run on imaginary systems?

If this is the future of what SUN is touting as the “world’s most advanced operating system”, then I do not predict a very bright future. At least, it will be quite some time before I even think about trying OpenSolaris again.


OpenSolaris: no Pentium II support?

Sunday, 19 August 2007

As I wrote earlier, I have been thinking about trying OpenSolaris. I checked the hardware compatibility list on SUN’s website, and my Toshiba Tecra 8000 was reported to work fine. The system requirements indicated that my laptop, with 256 MB RAM, 400Mhz Pentium II CPU and 40GB hard disk drive, should be able to run OpenSolaris just fine.

So I downloaded OpenSolaris “Nevada” Build 69 and burned a copy of the first CD image. Tried it on my Athlon XP machine, and it booted just fine. So I took it home and tried it on the laptop, but then I got the following error that repeated itself over and over again:

WARNING: init(1M) exited on fatal signal 9: restarting automatically

I googled the problem, and discovered that it is related to my Pentium II and its lack of SSE support. I also found the following bugreport: “snv boot failure since snv_66, no support for systems without SSE?

So people with pre-pentium III CPUs are out of luck with builds 66-69, inclusive. Fortunately, it seems that a fix is to be implemented in “Nevada” Build 70, which I noticed became available for download yesterday.

I will try the first CD of that build later this evening and see if that works.


No spam for me, thank you

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

I’d just like to mention that wordpress.com has a great spam filter. I’ve been blogging here for just over a year now, and out of 1680 messages identified as spam, only two messages proved to be false positives. We are very pleased ;-)


Re-learning java for alt.binaries.unpack

Monday, 6 August 2007

Ever since I completed an introductory CS course in Imperative and Object Oriented Programming at my university, using mainly the Java programming language and a little C for the imperative programming part, I have been thinking about applying this knowledge to a useful programming project.

Since I did not feel much like reinventing the wheel, and considering the vast number of projects currently being developed this seemed almost inevitable, I have not done much programming these past few years. But I hope that is going to change.

Because one thing that continues to really annoy me, is the lack of decent GUI unpacking tools for Usenet binaries. In essence, something like the integrated unpacking utilities in GrabIt (alas, its unpacking features do not work in Wine), or more specifically something like AutoUnpack.

I have tried, and not without some success, to write a shell script which offers much the same functionality. But it needs to be invoked from the command line, and besides using the inconvenient cron scheduler, I don’t know how to make it run in the background like a daemon process. So instead of improving it I have given up on it.

Command line programs are simply not my cup of tea anyway, I don’t like using them as I constantly forget what options I need to use, or what the command is called, etcetera. Plastering the entire wall behind my desktop with cheat-sheets and man-pages is not my idea of user-friendly computing, thank you very much.

I need to write a program once and be able to run it anywhere, and of course it also needs a proper GUI. Mainly the first argument represents Java’s core strength, but Java will meet the second condition with equal satisfaction.

Yet, so far all I have is a rough idea. I haven’t even the faintest clue how to begin prototyping this project. Years have passed since completing the introductory programming course, and consequently my Java knowledge is dusty.

So first I must reacquaint myself with the language-formerly-known-as-Oak. I still have the original textbook I used: “Introduction to Java Programming”, third edition, by Daniel Y. Liang

Together with the freely downloadable e-book The Java Language Specification and using the Java API, I hope this is enough to regain sufficient knowledge of Java to make a fine beginning with my project.

And for the time being the project will be called “alt.binaries.unpack”. Not the shortest name, I know, but it is the most appropriate one I can think of right now.


Using external drives: ext3

Sunday, 5 August 2007

It is quite often that people who use GNU/Linux together with Windows are confronted with the problem of cross platform file system portability.

Traditionally, many experienced GNU/Linux users have encouraged others facing this problem to dedicate a FAT32 partition to moving files from Windows to Linux, and vice versa. That’s because files stored in FAT32 can be read from and written to by Linux and Windows alike.

While this may be an adequate solution for small drives, it has been increasingly the case in the last few years, that the sizes of files typically used have grown beyond the effectiveness of a FAT32 solution.

This may be attributed to several factors: faster computers, larger data storage devices and faster internet connections. For example, many people download or rip DVD movies, games and music, which even with compression techniques still make rather large files. And video-capture and editing may also easily create file sizes in excess of 4GiB. Whatever the reason, storing and manipulating large files has become very commonplace.

But therein lies the problem: FAT32 is ill equipped for efficiently handling a great multitude of files, or extremely large files for that matter. Particularly when performing a lot of file deletions and writing. It greatly fragments the drive and furthermore it has a 4GiB file size limit, so it would be better to have an alternative.

And that is why I recommend using ext3 instead. It offers full journaling capabilities when working in GNU/Linux, and any system capable of reading and writing ext2 will also be able to have full read/write access as well, although journaling will not be available when the drive is accessed in this manner. Nevertheless, it’s main attraction is that you never need to resort to defragmenting the drive, and it supports file sizes up to 2TiB.

For Windows, there is the excellent ext2 IFS for Windows project. This is what I am using right now, and it works just fine. There are some minor problems (e.g. I’ve had to change the partition type of my USB drive, see also the release notes), but on the whole I’d say it performs quite satisfactory.

And for the Mac, there’s the Mac OS X Ext2 Filesystem project, but to tell the truth I don’t know how well it works, as I do not own a Mac to try it with.


Thinking about trying Solaris …

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

When I was studying at the university, we used Solaris (up to version 8) on old Sun SPARC workstations. Oddly, at the time I thought CDE was quite a pleasant environment to work in. Though, due to the limited processing power -these were rather old systems- I was usually *forced* to use with WindowMaker instead. Since then, Sun have made Solaris available to x86 architectures and has started the OpenSolaris project.

So finally, I can try running Solaris on my own computer at normal speed. But I do have some doubts …

For example, I rely on a wireless interface to connect to the internet. While the OpenSolaris project are now developing some kind of auto-magic network managing daemon, it is still quite experimental and accordingly marked “Volatile”, which means it’s configuration can change drastically from the current version to the next.

And then there is the lack of software. The whole point of running an operating system at all, is that it enables you to use your hardware and software to be productive and watch porn. It is merely a means to an end. But when I search for Solaris x86 binaries for MPlayer, PAN or WINE, I find very little, or only SPARC binaries, or nothing at all. At least, nothing on the official websites.

There are, however, some third-party packages you can download from personal homepages. But frankly speaking, simply downloading unsigned packages from third-party websites is not something I prefer, for security reasons. That means I’ll probably need to compile these programs from source, which means reading all the README and INSTALL documentation provided with the source. It means a lot of work, and I don’t want a lot of work.

So does that mean I won’t try it? I’m still not sure. I admit I am very curious, but the lack of a desktop userbase as large as GNU/Linux’s also means you will not have nearly as much luck finding answers via search-engines. And *that* is a very, very big problem. For example: just enter “solaris ipod” in google, and then “linux ipod”, and compare the number of results. Solaris gets around 2.4 million results, whereas Linux gets over 97 million! (By the way, there is no out-of-the-box support for the ipod on Solaris. It apparently just mounts as an external disk, but software like rythmbox has no access to its database).

I’ll have to think about this…