Archive for category Geek Stuff

More Fun With GMail

GMail LogoMy friend Dan approached me at work today relating a story he had read on someone’s blog regarding some interesting GMail tips. The one he brought up was how you could take your GMail address and ‘append’ additional words to the account name. For example, if you had a GMail account of ‘’, you could give out an email address of ‘’ when buying something from Amazon. Now, if Amazon emailed you, you would get the email like you normally would. You could filter on the appended ‘+amazon’ to automatically move the email into a folder, but more importantly, if you were to receive an email at that ‘address’ from anyone else, you would instantly know that Amazon had given/sold your address and to whom. This would be a quick way to determine who’s selling your information off to spammers…

The GMail Tips website also has lots of other interesting tips/ideas to try out with your GMail account. The tip above was taken from their GMail Tip #5.

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Building a NAS Using Old Hardware

I have a bunch of extra computer equipment just sitting around, including computers, hard-drives, etc. Well, I had a lot more before cleaning out our garage recently, but that’s a different story :-). While listening to one of my many podcasts, I heard the mention of a ‘software-based’ NAS that someone could use with old hardware.
Take a look at NASLite from Server Elements. They offer some streamlined distributions which are free to download, as well as paid versions with more features.
Basically, you grab an old computer, even an old 486, stick some hard-drives in it and boot from the floppy. A couple minutes later, after less than a minute of configuration, you have network attached storage. All your drives are now shares on your network, accessible by any other computers. Instant file-server, low maintenance. Beautiful!

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How iTunes Changed the way I Listen to Podcasts

PodcastingMy good friend Matt introduced me to Podcasts a few months ago, telling me how they had totally changed his listening habits, to the point where he had stopped listening to regular radio except for the occasional traffic report now and then. As is always the case, when Matt starts preaching about something, I start listening, since many times, he’s onto something. So I started looking into this Podcast phenomenon and at first couldn’t really understand what the big deal was.
To me, it just seemed like a bunch of people simply recording shows of specific interest into MP3 files for people to download and listen to. A couple shows piqued my curiosity so I listened to them a couple times on my laptop and thought it was kinda cool. One afternoon, upon entering my car leaving work, I realized that I had left my satellite radio at home. Desperate for something different to listen to on the way home, I realized that I had synced my iPod with my PowerBook and had 3-4 Podcasts sitting on it that could be listened to. So I pulled out my old cassette tape interface, plugged the iPod in, started the first Podcast and drove home. A few minutes later, I realized what this whole phenomenon was all about; it’s not just the fact that you can download these shows and listen to them. The magic is that you can listen to them anywhere and anytime!
At that point, I became what I now call a “Podcast Junkie”; I subscribe to 13 different Podcasts which I listen to religiously. Some of these are released weekly, others are released every other day or even daily. This gives the whole thing a level of variety that makes it a little difficult to listen to the same old thing everyday (unless that what you want!).
With the advent of iTunes 4.9, podcast listeners have been taken to another level in regards to the simplicity of finding, subscribing, listening and syncing their Podcasts. Prior to iTunes 4.9, I used another client which worked, but was clunky and didn’t provide the seamless integration/experience I wanted with iTunes. Now, everything is done from one interface in a clean and simple fashion.
If you’re interested in some of the Podcasts I listen to, take a look at the list on the right of my site.

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Build your Own Safety Signs

Warning SignI was reading through my regular list of blogs this morning when I came across a small image of an hilariously funny safety sign. I happened to move my mouse pointer over the image and noticed it was actually a link somewhere. One click later, I was at this wonderful site with lots of evil potential.

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The Sweet Smell of Battlefield 2

Eric Bazerghi and his copy of Battlefield 2Amy and I decided to head out to Sam’s Club this morning to pick up a few things for the weekend, including some light bulbs and various other sundries. As is always the case, we walk through the DVD and PC software aisles to see if there’s anything that catches our eye and to get some new software for Sara to play with during ‘computer time’. Low and behold, right next to some cool Blue’s Clues game we decide to get for Sara, there’s a stack of Battlefield 2 game boxes. Amy looks at me and tells me how some kid has been posting a bunch of stuff on our community forums about how good this game was, etc. I tell her that I’ve been enjoying the demo and that I’ll probably buy it later in the month, and we continue our morning of shopping in ‘bulk’. While unloading the cart to pay, right there under the Blue’s Clues game is a Battlefield 2 box. I look up at Amy and all she says is “You’re welcome.”, smiles, and continues to unload the cart. Dammit, I love that woman! So, THANKS AMY! Here’s to another few weeks of going to bed late while playing a computer game until the wee hours of the night… Oh, and we forgot to buy the lightbulbs…

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The Digital Picture Frame / Walltop

Folks who know me in person know about my ongoing interest with ripping apart old laptops in order to build a digital picture frame. I’ve already built a prototype a few months ago which enabled me to experiment with a few things and find out what kind of show stoppers I could expect while building such a thing. One of my biggest issues with the old laptop I used in my prototype was that it would not pass POST (hardware boot) without having the built-in keyboard and mouse connected. This caused me some issues because of space considerations and having to work with multiple fragile ribbon cables.
I came across a posting by Christoffer JärnÃ¥ker today while reading through my RSS feeds. He definitely was thinking outside the box when he built his version of a digital picture frame. I took the time to pull apart most pieces of the laptop I used, but when I came across the keyboard/mouse issue I mentioned previously, my solution was to include them as-is in the frame, which took up a lot of space. Well Chris took a different approach that I wish I would have thought of. Realizing he would need to have the original keyboard and mouse connected, he decided to strip the components down to their bare essence. Internally, all a keyboard is made of is a thin sheet of plastic, like a piece of cellophane. Since all the parts will be assembled in a frame and the computer will be accessed through the network, we don’t really care if the keyboard and mouse are usable, we only want the motherboard to be able to detect their presence so that the unit will boot up. So, while I was pre-occupied with ripping apart the laptop itself, I should have thought about ripping apart some of the components, such as the keyboard, in order to furthur realize some space savings, as well as make the mounting of the parts more manageable.
So, thanks to some great ideas from Chris, I’ll be working on Version 2 of my Digital Picture Frame prototype this weekend.

Update: Adrian had exactly the same issues I’m having with the software side of my frame. His posting with his solutions is here.

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Wireless Security and Hacking, Redux

Wi-Foo - More info from Amazon
I was recently given the book Wi-Foo, The Secrets of Wireless Hacking as a present for my birthday, and I have been reading it extensively for the past few days. I have been involved with wireless security for a few years now, giving security talks to members of my community and helping out friends and family stay secure while enjoying the wonderful advantages of wireless computing. Over the past couple of years, I have slowly built up a small reference library of books related to wireless technologies and security. I even got involved in a small antenna building hobby which enabled me to better understand some of the ways RF works.
Upon reading the first few chapters of this book, I realized that this tome was different. The information contained within its pages wasn’t a re-hashed compendium of information that could potentially be gathered across the internet and spoon-fed to the reader. In this case, the author brings us along as the many vulnerabilities of wireless computing are brought forward, how those vulnerabilities are exploited by nefarious individuals, and the ever-expanding variety of tools availble to assist in exploiting these vulnerabilities are described.
Don’t get the wrong idea here; this isn’t the run-of-the-mill Howto put together from various information sources freely available on the internet. The authors take painstaking efforts to explain how the various wireless encryption/security options, such as WEP, WPA, LEAP, TKIP, PSK, etc, work, and how they can be defeated. The tools are not only defined, but described in relation to how they leverage and exploit the vulnerabilities and why they work.
As you can imagine, I’m definitely going to be reading this book from cover to cover. The information within is fresh and very comprehensive. While extensive in its depth, I still believe that this is an ideal book for anyone, from beginner to expert, who has a desire to better understand wireless computing technologies, its advantages and disadvantages, and how to protect oneself from evil-doers, out to take advantage of the stealth that wireless provides.

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Using GMail to backup files

By now, most of us have a Gmail account. Heck, I can’t even give invitations away anymore. So, what can you do with an extra account? Why, use it as a 1Gb online backup repository!

While surfing around, I came across an ingenious PHP script which does just that. Ilia Alshanetsky, the creator of the script, put it in these words:

“a quick utility to make use of at least a small portion of the available space for backup purposes. To accomplish this task I wrote a small PHP script that can be used to backup files to Gmail and then quickly retrieve them back if and when you need them. I trust that Gmail servers are fairly reliable, and this offers an excellent offsite backup that is extremely fast (I can max out my connection on download 300k/sec) and accessible from anywhere internet is available. Given that you do have 1gig of space quite a few things can be backed up”

Take a look at it for yourself,

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Blocking out IP’s from China

Sick and tired of getting spam and ‘open web proxy’ probes from IP’s originating from China? Do you do absolutely no business with anyone in China? Want to block all IP’s orginating from China and rid yourself of this issue? Take a look at
I actually made use of their lists in order to block some large subnet blocks which were sucking about 10-15% of my total bandwidth just through their incessant probes of my network.
And before anyone starts crying about how sad it is that I’m ‘censoring’ people from China, well too bad. I can’t afford to keep paying for an internet connection that is slowly being used up by probes originating from servers which can’t keep up with security patches. Not to mention the crazy amounts of spam originating from these IPs…

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‘Listen’ to your RSS Feeds

While going through my regular series of RSS feed reading, I came across this great application. It basically lets you listen to your RSS feed articles while you work on other things. Great idea and concept. While the voices could use a little more polish, the readings are quite understandable. The application is called News Aloud, by NextUp Technologies, LLC.
More info can be found by going to

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Working from Home

Eric Bazerghi Working from HomeA couple of weeks ago, I had the chance to work from home for the day. I hadn’t worked from home in almost 6 months and it was just the perfect time to do so. Things were a little bit slow at work and everything I needed to do could be done remotely and via telephone. No meetings, no reviews, etc. And then, all hell broke loose. About 5 minutes after this picture was taken, a production server that I manage started acting up. CPU load went from a normal of 0.8 to an unheard of high of 188. That’s 235 times higher than it should be. Of course, this caused the main website to be nearly inaccessible, as well as some email services. All in all, it took me over 9 hours of straight work bringing the server back to its normal state. Oddly, I doubt I would have been able to accomplish this if I had been at work, with all the distractions, network policies and lack of reference material. Being at home on the deck, I was isolated with everything I needed to resolve any issues as they creeped up. By the time I shutdown my laptop, it was dark outside and I had a sunburn on my face and arms. It was all worth it though; it was nice to be able to take a quick break and play with my little daughter or just chat with my wife. Needless to say, if it wasn’t for my wife’s understanding that when I’m working from home, I’m REALLY working, I couldn’t have done this. You need that kind of support and understanding in order to do this.

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Incredible file compression using rzip

While reading through some newsfeeds today, I came across a small comment by someone trying to compress a 700Mb mbox file full of spam emails. He said he was able to compress it down to 70Mb using a small utility called “rzip”. That’s quite a nice compression ratio, even beating out “bzip” which I thought was an awesome compressor. This is from the “rzip” site:

rzip is a compression program, similar in functionality to gzip or bzip2, but able to take advantage long distance redundencies in files, which can sometimes allow rzip to produce much better compression ratios than other programs. The original idea behind rzip is described in my PhD thesis (see, but the implementation in this version is considerably improved from the original implementation. The new version is much faster and also produces a better compression ratio.

The utility can be found at

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