Since last we met: revive the laptop, copy the floppy

I'm not dead.

The preceding is the obligatory opening for a blog post after a week or two of serene quiet on a personal blog like this one. It soothes the dozen or so folks that actually notice. Bloggers use this opening all the time; the most recent one I recall was the one here at Bibi's Box. The fact that it's a quote from Monty Python and the Holy Grail is an added bonus.

I've been spending my time on restoring a Compaq Presario 1800T laptop to working condition, thanks to a fortuitous purchase of a box of parts on eBay. The project was a success, and I'm using it now for this post. Nothing fancy, just a bit of cleanup, and replacement of the keyboard and hard drive. I switched my "brand" of Linux for this machine, but I want to devote a full post to that.

The other thing that's been keeping me away from blogging is a major purging of clutter from my cellar. I'm a devoted preserver, a term which sounds much better than "packrat". Eventually, though, one simply runs out of room, and some treasures must go. Part of this mission is to finally get rid of any remaining floppy disks, but of course not before saving the contents to DVD-R. I hooked up a 5.25 inch drive for what I hope will be the final time, and spent a lot of time at the command prompt, typing fdflush; dd if=/dev/fd0 of=img bs=1k and then renaming the image. For you Linux-come-lately folks, the fdflush command was required for most old floppy drives back when floppies really were floppy (think David Letterman waggling one at his desk). The OS had no idea that you changed disks, and if you didn't tell it, it would happily present you with data from a disk that was no longer in the drive because it had cached the whole thing in memory. Hilarity, of course, ensued.

The one important thing I learned from that adventure is that only about 75 per cent of 5.25 inch floppies survive readably after being in a cardboard box in the cellar for fifteen years or so. I hope I fare better with the cassette tapes. (Audio from old concerts -- I don't think I'll even try to preserve the VIC-20 data tapes.)

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My first handheld computer game

The current crop of handhelds, like my GP2X, are great. However, it's fun to look back at what we used to have. Donald Melanson, over at Engadget, did a nice look back in his A Brief History of Handheld Video Games. That post seems to be causing waves of nostalgia among the blogs, like this from Wil Wheaton.

Well, I can go them one better, I think. The handheld pictured here, which I believe predates the Mattel one on Engadget, is "Space Invader" (leave off the last "S" for safe-from-a-lawsuit!) from Entex Electronics of Japan. It's hard to tell from the photo, but this thing still works after almost thirty years! See if that PSP still boots up in 2035...

Now plaing on Moosic server:
London Symphony Orchestra / Zappa: Mo 'n Herb's vacation (3rd movement)

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Good crypto from Microsoft! In other news, it's snowing in Hades...

Suddenly, I'm feeling much better about Microsoft.

One of the features in the upcoming Windows Vista operating system is a drive encryption package called BitLocker. Click here for preliminary documentation. Now, I've had quite a bit of experience with Microsoft security features and failures in the past, and didn't really investigate the new system, especially since virtually all of my home systems are now Linux-based except for one trusty old Windows 2000 box I use to drive my Lexmark printer.

It didn't help matters when this BBC report was published, strongly hinting that Microsoft was in cahoots with the British government to make sure that law enforcement agencies could bypass BitLocker via a back door. My crypto experience tells me that when there's a back door, people other than those intended will find it.

My opinion changed sharply when I discovered that Niels Ferguson was working for Microsoft. Perhaps you don't know this name, but security people do. Niels is a brilliant cryptographer whom I worked with briefly during his association with Bruce Schneier's Counterpane. Niels, among other things, was one of the designers of the Twofish block cipher. I am as certain as I can be that any project with which Niels is associated will not have a back door. (That's Niels in the photo. I doubt if he even remembers me, from the technically good but sales-poor LockStar.)

And, as expected, Niels has said so himself on the MSDN blog for the project. A quote: "Back doors are simply not acceptable. Besides, they wouldn't find anybody on this team willing to implement and test the back door."

Maybe the early buzz is right, after all. Maybe Windows Vista won't suck.

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Bill Cosby: Say it ain't so, Cos!

Andy Baio is a rarity -- a blogger willing to take a stand on principle, and stand up to a celebrity with too much money to pay lawyers. The celebrity in question is Bill Cosby, someone I have long enjoyed and respected. I can only hope, with diminishing expectation, that Cosby is unaware of the cease-and-desist orders being promulgated by his legal team.

Here's the story. It seems that it's okay to parody Mr. Cosby if you've got the money to staff your own legal team, but independents like us can't afford the rights we thought we were guaranteed in the Constitution.

In case Mr. Cosby's legal team sees this post in their scans, I only ask that they pass along the following to Bill himself: Sheldon Leonard would be ashamed of you.

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