Greg MacLellan

February 28, 2006

Shiny New Laptop

Filed under: General,Technology — groogs @ 12:51 am

I just got a new Dell Inspirion 6000 to replace my older Inspirion 1100. There was a nice promo on the 6000, and I have a Pentium-M 740, 1GB of RAM, and a 60GB hard drive, as well as integrated Wireless b/g, bluetooth, a DVD writer (not that I will ever use this in a laptop..) and a 15.4″ widescreen LCD.

Inspiron 6000The first thing I did was try to install our corporate copy of Windows 2000 Professional, to bring it inline with the rest of the systems at work. I had a few devices not recoginized, so I re-installed with XP Pro on the advice of a friend. I ran into the same problems, but eventually worked my way through them. I’m pretty sure that I could have fixed the problem with Windows 2000 as well, but I didn’t feel like re-installing again.

The bluetooth driver was most problematic. The Dell downloads didn’t even show bluetooth drivers when I selected my machine, or entered my service tag. I actually thought that by entering my service tag they should have only shown me drivers for my exact machine, instead of the 4 different possible wireless options, display options, etc. After looking at my invoice and doing some searching, I found the bluetooth driver.

One big thing for me is the keyboard layout. My old Inspirion 1100 had a strange layout, with home, pgup/down, and end along the right side of the keyboard, with insert and delete to the left of the cursor keys. It took me a while but I eventually got used to it. This keyboard now has a layout closer to a normal 104-key keyboard, with the aforementioned keys grouped together in the top right, in basically the same configuration as a normal keyboard. I still reach for the delete key in the wrong place, but it’s certainly easier to get used to. I’ve yet to understand why nobody puts a full-size keyboard (minus the number pad) on a widescreen laptop. I guess they figure the 1″ of nothing on each side is a better use of space?
I’m more than impressed with the battery life. I got the 8-cell 80-WHr battery, which is the biggest you can get for it, and on a full charge, with bluetooth and WiFi turned on I get 5 hours. I think that’s pretty impressive for a laptop with a large widescreen display. It is definately a refreshing change from the dying battery in my 1100 that would get about an hour.

I’ve had some issues with wireless just “stopping”: the WiFi light goes out, and it loses all connectivity, even though the icon in the task tray still shows a good signal. I have to disable and re-enable WiFi using the keyboard (Fn + F2) to restore the connection. It sometimes also takes a couple of minutes to get an address from the DHCP server. At work, I’ve watched the logs, and the DHCP server sees the requests, and offers an address, but the laptop simply doesn’t take it.

This machine has quickly become my primary computer, both at work and home. I use it for everything from browsing the web and checking email, to programming, to working in photoshop. Though I never thought I’d say this, the 1GB of ram really helps for someone like me, who keeps 7 or 8 applications open at any time (it’s not uncommong for me to have 4 instances of visual studio, or a bunch of firefox tabs and windows, or both).

Overall, I’m quite happy with this laptop, and I would recommend others looking for a decent system at a reasonable price.

February 27, 2006

Captcha This

Filed under: General — groogs @ 9:45 pm

There’s a lot of sites using captchas these days in an effort to prevent spamming and other automated attacks/uses of services. The idea is you have to type in the usually distorted text you see in a picture in order to proceed, and only a human would be able to read the text.

Apparently spammers have found a way to get around this by having people do the work for them. They post the captcha on one of their own sites, usually promising access to porn or warez or something of that nature, then everytime an unsuspecting internet user types in the code on their site, they use that to bypass the check and send their spam. It’s actually pretty clever.

One obvious way to combat this is to expire the captchas after a certain period of time (likely a few minutes). If it’s expired by the time they submit, then present a new one to validate. Even better would be to do it using AJAX right before the submission is made, and expire after just a few seconds. I’m sure there are probably at least some sites doing this now, though I’ve never seen one done with AJAX.

Something else I’ve never seen done before though is putting the name of the site in the captcha. This doesn’t in any way prevent it from being displayed on another site, but at least it makes it a bit less appealing to use this hack. If an effort is made to raise public awareness that you shouldn’t enter information for a captcha with another site’s name on it, then it may even lower or completely get rid of this hack.

At this point, neither of these ideas have been implemented (to my knowledge), but hopefully someone will read this and get inspired.

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February 6, 2006

Weird Spam

Filed under: General,Technology — groogs @ 9:04 pm

I’ve been getting a ton of comment spam today, but it’s very strange spam. All the links go to different places (Forbes, Bloglines, Sciencedaily) that don’t seem like the types to be comment spamming.

Usually the first sentence or two is something like “Found your site very useful”, “Cool site! Be back soon!”, followed by some nonsensical sentences with the links to these weird sites. I got about a dozen of them, all posted around 10-20 minutes apart. I don’t have any captchas to crack, so I’m not sure what the delay is about.All

the posts are from different IPs, using different email addresses, and different home pages (again, pointing at the same sorts of inoccuous sites)

Is anyone else experiencing this, and does anyone have insight onto what would be the purpose?

February 1, 2006

Inventor develops ‘artificial gills’

Filed under: General — groogs @ 11:31 am

Someone came up with a way to “squeeze” oxygen directly from seawater. Though they say that it would be useful for SCUBA divers, I think it will be a long time before this gets adopted, if ever. Replacing a relatively simple device (a compressed air tank) with an electro-mechanical device that relies on batteries to operate is definately not something most divers (including myself) will be keen to do.

That said, it sounds like it could be of great use to submarines and underwater habitats, where it would be pratical to add filters (in the case of polutants in the water) and keep compressed air cylinders as backups. Divers can be a bit fanatical about their life support devices..

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