Sunday, November 30, 2008

ssc #84 Abakt backup

If you've ever lost valuable documents due to a computer crash or virus infection then today's article is for you.  If you've ever been told by friends that you need to back up your files, but never found the time, then today's article is for you.  If you've never had a problem and never saw a need to back up important data, then today's article is DEFINITELY for you.

Crashes happen.  Files get lost every hour of every day due to viral infections, hardware failure, power fluctuations and just plain stupidity.  If you've never lost any important files then either you're really lucky, or you just don't have any files that you consider important.

Today I'd like to share with you a very useful little program I found called Abakt.

Abakt is an open source backup utility.  Essentially, you set up Abakt to copy your important files and folders to a specific location and then you can use the Windows Scheduler to make it back everything up on a regular basis.

Abakt has the ability to compress your files when it backs them up, and also can delete backups when they've become too old, making sure that your storage space isn't filled up with zip archives of out-dated data.

Another thing that Abakt can do is group a bunch of backup profiles into a group and then you can run them all by starting up the group.

Whats even better for those of the geek persuasion is that Abakt can be called by DOS commands.  Essentially you can use a batch file (.bat) with all of your Abakt arguements and then use a command line email utility called Blat ( to email you after the process is complete to let you know if everything went ok.  If you use gmail you will need to use a program called "stunnel" ( which provides a secure ssl tunnel for blat to talk to Gmail.

You can get Abakt at:

Below is an example of a batch file designed to run Abakt and then email me the results of the process.
set BLAT="C:\Program Files\blat\blat.exe"
set ABAKT="C:\Program Files\Abakt\Abakt.exe"
set PROFILE=<the profile name you wish to use>
set GROUP=<the group name you wish to use>
set BODY="<put in the full path to a .txt message you'd like included in your email>"
set HOME=C:\Documents and Settings\<your user name>
set LOGFILE1="%HOME%\Application Data\Abakt\Log\%GROUP%.log"
set LOGFILE2="%HOME%\Application Data\Abakt\Log\%PROFILE%.log"

@rem == This next line prepares Blat with your email server
%BLAT% -install %EMAIL%

@rem == This line actually starts up Abakt
@rem== If you want to use a profile it should be "%PROFILE%".abp
%ABAKT% -b -x -l -m "%GROUP%".abg

goto result%ERRORLEVEL%
     @rem OK (0x00)
    set BACKUPA=FilesCopied_OK
        @goto end

    @rem OK+WARNING (0x02)
    set BACKUPA=Files_Copied_With_errors
    @goto end

    @rem ERROR (0x01)

    @rem ERROR+WARNING (0x03)
    set BACKUPA=File_Copy_FAILED
    @goto end

@rem==this line actually sends the email
%BLAT% %BODY% -s "%BACKUPA%" -to %TOEMAIL% -f %FROMEMAIL% -server -port 25 -u <email_username> -pw <email_password>

I hope thats helpful to some of you.  I've sure found it to be a great program.

If you have a question or comment, feel free to email me at

If you'd like to read my past articles, browse to

If you live in Russell County or the surrounding areas and you need help fixing your computer, give me a call at (606) 219-4088 to set up an appointment.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

SSC #83 Splashtop

There's a new technology on its way and if you blink, you might just miss it.

Splashtop is just one instance of a new quick booting technology that the motherboard manufacturer ASUS is putting on all its new offerings.

The purpose of Splashtop is to provide a fast booting simplified desktop with a few essential aplications.  Its not designed to replace a full operating system, but instead it allows you to turn your machine on and within a few seconds have access to a web browser, Skype webphone, and possibly more. 

Splashtop will run in read-only mode, which means you won't be able to make changes to it or install new applications, but it also means you won't be able to mess it up.

For laptop users on the go, this means you'll be able to boot up very quickly into a low power desktop that you can use to get online, check your mail and shut down before a full operating system would get fully booted up.

For home users, this means that if your desktop suddenly catches the flu and refuses to start up, you have an emergency system that you can use to get online and find out what to do to get it up and running again.

The reason I said if you blink you might miss it is that its likely that this will be an option that you have to select at boot time by pressing a specific key or key combo.  Without selecting it, it won't come up.  And if you never see it, you may not even know that it is there. 

ASUS is leading the pack on this technology, but its doubtful that they'll be the only one to release products featuring it.  Other companies may not call it Splashtop, but it will be very similar.

This technology promises to have lots of potential for future applications.  Assuming just a few more advances in Virtual Machine technology, a Splashtop VM Manager seems not only inevitable, but undoubtedly awesome.  If you're geek enough to understand what this means, you'll no doubt agree to its usefulness.

All in all, Splashtop is definitely a technology to watch, and buy, when it becomes available in the coming months.

Oh, and did I mention that Splashtop is Linux based?   Yeah.  Its that cool.

If you have a question or comment, feel free to email me at

If you'd like to read my past articles, browse to

If you live in Russell County or the surrounding areas and you need help fixing your computer, give me a call at (606) 219-4088 to set up an appointment.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

SSC #82 Net Neutrality

Many of you have probably heard the term "Net Neutrality" bandied about on the news lately.  A lot of people seem to be talking about it, but not many are showing signs that they really understand what it is all about.

Net Neutrality is a concept that the internet should be nothing more than a set of "dumb pipes" that transfer data from one point to another.  They should not give precedence to one transfer over another, and that the internet should not block traffic or deliberately slow traffic going across it. 

This is how the internet works as of right now, and in the past.

At odds with this concept are the companies who collectively provide internet service to all of us.  Complaining of network congestion and an inability to reliably offer promised speeds to their customers, they claim that giving some traffic preferential treatment over other traffic is not only desirable, but necessary.

If Network Neutrality is not upheld, there could be many consequences as a result of its downfall.  ISPs could begin to offer tiered priority schemes to different content providers.  This would, for instance, allow companies offering paid services (such as Netflix's movie streaming service) to gain a higher priority over the video conference you're having with your sister in Oregon.   It wouldn't just stop at legitimate services like Netflix though.  It would be something that would be offered to any company paying the price.  Full motion video advertisements would begin loading faster than the text based web pages on which they resided.

 And as a result, our collective bandwidth would suffer. 

This also means that any new high-bandwidth services starting up that couldn't afford the internet fast lane would hardly be able to compete since their service would appear choppy and slow.

Another possible outcome would be that you wouldn't necessarily be able to do wherever you want to with your internet connection.  You may have to pay one amount for web browsing, and another amount of money for chat or email.  Transferring files or encrypted data may be something else entirely.

Really there's no way of knowing how it would eventually end up.  But one thing is for sure... once Net Neutrality is broken, things will only get worse for the end user.

While I understand that it is a hard task to manage a congested network, the answer lies not in abolishing Net Neutrality.  The answer lies in abolishing spam (which accounts for far too much of internet traffic) and in adopting new faster technologies.

In America we have the privilege of having one of the first country-wide information networks.  And while this might be a mark of pride for some, when you think about it, its one of the things that is holding us back.  Countries that did not build their information networks until recently got to take advantage of newer and better technologies that did not exist when our own was built.

Many technologies have come to light since our nation's network was built.  But either by overbearing regulation or simple ignorance, they never seem to manifest for our use.

One thing that is for sure is that Net Neutrality is something that we should all keep an eye on.  It is the internet equivalent of free speech.  While the corporations may own the networks, they were paid for using our monthly service subscriptions.  And the corporations should keep in mind that if they take away the freedom that makes the internet what it is, they'll find a lot of those subscriptions canceled.  Mine included.

If you have a question or comment, feel free to email me at

If you'd like to read my past articles, browse to

If you live in Russell County or the surrounding areas and you need help fixing your computer, give me a call at (606) 219-4088 to set up an appointment.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

SSC #81 DropBox

   I've been pretty busy lately, and it's been hard to find time to write, but fear not, I'm still here.

   Today I wanna tell you about a new utility I heard about on the LottaLinuxLinks podcast:  DropBox.

   DropBox is a great tool for syncing files between multiple computers.  Essentially it works by setting up a special folder on your machines that will sync to eachother.  First, install DropBox on all of your machines.  Then, if you put a picture or document into the DropBox on one computer, it will show up in the DropBox on all your other computers.  Its a great way to move files between work and home without any disks or thumbdrives to carry around with you... a no-fuss solution to a common problem.

   But it can be used in other ways as well.  Say for instance that you want to share pictures with your relatives.  If you set up a family DropBox, and install it on your relative's computers, then you simply drag and drop files into the DropBox and it will show up in their DropBox shortly thereafter.

   Its not a complicated looking affair, in fact it looks just like a normal folder on your desktop.  It really can't be easier than this!

   DropBox also has a public component that allows you to designate files to be accessible publicly.  Public files can be accessed through a web page from any computer in the world, whether DropBox is installed or not!  Its a great way to make a small cache of highly accessible personal files.  If you'd like something to be accessible globally, but you're worried about someone getting hold of sensitive files, simply compress the files in a password protected archive before making them public.  Then, while anyone will be able to get the archive, they won't be able to open it.

   I am sure you can think of more ways to use something like this... just go to and download it.
Its cross-platform meaning it has versions available for Windows, Macintosh, and Linux.  And they can all sync up with eachother.  

If you have a question or comment, feel free to email me at

If you'd like to read my past articles, browse to

If you live in Russell County or the surrounding areas and you need help fixing your computer, give me a call at (606) 219-4088 to set up an appointment.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

SSC #80 Duo-County Internet Speedup

In a surprising move, Duo-County Telephone has drastically raised their internet speeds.

Customers of Duo-County woke up a few days ago to faster downloads and faster loading web pages.  Originally some thought it was a glitch, but it turns out that Duo-County has indeed increased their broadband speeds across the board.

If you previously had Fastnet DSL Lite or Viewnet Cable Lite, you were accustomed to a download speed cap of 384kbps.  After applying the Windows Math to it (divide by 8), what you ended up seeing was around 48K download speeds in your machine.  The new speed for the service plan is 1.5Mbit, or 1,536kbps... four times what you got before, and twice what you used to get for the next tier up.  Now your top speed (in Windows Math) will be around 192K.

If you had their regular Fastnet DSL or Viewnet Cable you previously had speeds of 768kbps / 96K, but now you're enjoying a whopping 4Mbit service.  Thats 4096kbps aka 512K download speed.  Thats 5 and a third times faster than what you got before!  Apparently a little competition is a good thing.

From what I hear, there's a four dollar cost increase associated with these upgrades, but honestly thats not too bad considering the impressive speed boost.  Now all of those streaming web TV services should work just fine... no more stuttering youtube videos!

I'm not one much for corporations or corporate types, but I do give credit where credit is due.  Duo-County has done their customers a great service here.  Now Russell County speeds are much closer in line with what you'd get in Lexington or Louisville, and thats pretty impressive.

I've heard no word yet from Vortex Wireless on how they plan to react to this new development, but if and when I do I'll be sure to pass it along. 

Residential FastNET DSL Internet

1.5 Mbps download speeds (256 Kbps Upload).
per month.

4 Mbps download speeds (256 Kbps Upload)
per month.

Residential ViewNET Cable Internet

ViewNET 1.5 - 1.5 Mbps Download and 256 Kbps Upload Speed:
$33.95 per month.

ViewNET 4 - 4 Mbps Download and 256 Kbps Upload Speed:
$39.95 per month.

$100 Installation Charge applies to new installations.

Questions/Comments --

Sunday, October 5, 2008

SSC #79 Don't use Antivirus XP 2008

Theres a new spyware/virus combo that is sweeping the unwary net-surfing population of Russell County. 

Several times now people have brought machines to me complaining of strange behavior and unexplained lockups.  The cause of all this is a fake anti-virus program called Antivirus XP 2008.  This is often installed by a trusting individual after reading terror-ridden warning messages in pop-up ads.  Essentially its like Iraq... they claim your computer has weapons of mass destruction so as to scare you to the point of stupidity, and in response you give them the keys to come in and wreck the place.

The advertisements are bogus, the program is bogus.  It does a fake scan and gives lots of scary fraudulent results and then asks you to purchase the program so that it can remove all of the so-called threats.  All the while, behind the scenes, it is installing viruses and possibly even a rootkit.  So, if they've done all of this, do you think these are the kind of people you should give your credit card info to?

Paying for this program would be a mistake of grand proportions!  Buying antivirus software from pop-up ads is like buying antibiotics from a stranger in a dark alley.  Common sense should tell you that its a bad idea.

But being gullible isn't the only way that this program gets in though, in some cases it has seemingly installed itself onto computers that have no protection whatsoever whenever the user browses to less than reputable sites.  So if you're running around the net unprotected, chances are this little bugger will just show up all on its own.

On newly infected machines, often this software can be disabled by running Avast Antivirus boot-time scan (or another good quality antiviral program), but in instances where it is entrenched, there's little choice but to offload important files, and then completely wipe and reinstall the operating system.  Its very hard to tell just how far a system has been infected, so in most cases its safest to wipe and re-install.  Also, any files that are taken off the machine should be scanned by a reliable anti-virus program.

If you've somehow got this software on your machine, you need to do something about it as soon as possible. 

You can find removal instructions here:

And if you don't feel confident that you can remove it yourself, you're welcome to give me a call.

See ya next week!

Jeff Smith

Sunday, September 28, 2008

SSC #78 A great deal!

Sorry I missed writing last week, I was pretty worn out from Software Freedom Day. 

I'd love to tell you all that it went great, but it didn't.  Hardly anyone bothered to show up, despite all my efforts at advertising.  We were ready to go at around 10am, and we stayed til around 4pm.  Most people that came by were just wanting to pay their cellphone bills. 

Now I could rant and rave at everyone for not showing, but I think instead I'll just take it as a sign that Russell County is not interested in silly little things like freedom.  I doubt I'll be doing anything similar next year.  It was too much stress and the results were too depressing.

So instead I'm going to tell you about a good deal.

Right now, you can go to and buy a pre-installed Linux computer for $210, tax included.  They're made by a company called Everex, and they run gOS, a version of Linux.  If you have them ship it to the local Walmart, shipping is free. 

This is a great deal!  $210 buys you a tower with:
1.5GHz VIA C7-D processor
512MB DDR2 memory
80GB Hard Drive
DVD-ROM/CD-RW Combo Drive
2-Button Scroll Mouse
stereo speakers - USB powered

The case has frontside USB ports as well as frontside headphone and mic jacks.

Make no mistake, this is not a powerhouse.  Its not a gaming machine.  This is a cheap machine for basic/average usage.  If all you do online is surf the internet, do email, and chat, this is for you.  It plays DVD movies, and can burn CDs.  It also has some simple games like solitaire and such. 

This is a great machine for a light user, a new user, or as a 2nd computer or student computer.  All you'll need is a monitor since it comes with everything else.

And if you find that you don't like the gOS operating system, you're fully capable of replacing it with Windows XP or Ubuntu or whatever you fancy.

I had some hands-on time with this machine yesterday.  And to be truthful, I wasn't too impressed with the gOS operating system.  If I were to buy one I'd replace it with Ubuntu, but that's just me.  But for the price, you get a complete system (minus a monitor) and thats a deal I just felt I should pass along.  If you want to get a monitor with it, the price goes up to $328.

They do not sell these at the local stores, you can only buy them online.  And if you don't like the $200 model there are others as well, including laptops and mini-laptops.  And all of these models are priced lower than what you find with Vista installed.

Until next week, take care of eachother!

If you have a question or comment, feel free to email me at

If you'd like to read my past articles, browse to

I live in Russell County.  If you do too and you need help fixing your computer, give me a call at (606) 219-4088 to set up an appointment.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Saturday, September 6, 2008

SSC #76 Fair Software Practices

A good portion of the open source community has got their eyes trained on a legal matter in Canada.  FACIL, a Quebec based open-source software group has filed a lawsuit against the Quebec government claiming unfair practices.  In Quebec there are laws on the books that stipulate that the government must take bids and do cost assessment when dealing with contractors.  But apparently, when deciding to spend an estimated $80 million dollars on upgrades to Vista and assorted Microsoft software this year alone, no assessments were made, and no competitive bids were entertained.  While this is the first lawsuit like this that I've heard of, if it is successful, it is doubtful that it will be the last. 

Closer to home, the Russell County Court House (at least the Circuit Court Clerk's office) is preparing to upgrade to Microsoft Vista.  This will likely entail the purchasing of new computer towers, licensed copies of Microsoft Vista, as well as assorted Office software.  At a speculative cost ranging from $800 per desktop to possibly as high as $2500 per desktop, depending on what they're going to buy, you can start to see how the dollars add up really fast. 

But truly I don't suggest that one county out of the whole state should move to Linux.  There is undoubtedly software that is in use state-wide that they would need to be able to interface with.  It is doubtful that Linux equivalents to their criminal database and vehicle licensing software exists under Linux.  And while there's a possibility that these may in fact run under the Windows emulator, WINE, its not guaranteed.

Given that Windows Vista is so bloated that even today's high end hardware runs as sluggishly as what they currently use, as well as the cost of retraining the workers to deal with any differences brought on by the upgrade, the only reason for upgrading is to continue to receive security updates from Microsoft.  Government offices do not typically add loads and loads of new applications in a given year.  The same stuff they're doing today is likely the same stuff they'll be doing five years from now.  If not for the sad state of Windows security and the ever present need for them to fix the holes in it, there would scarcely be a reason to go to Vista.  And if Vista was not such a blatant system resource hog, there'd be no reason to upgrade the hardware. 

Essentially, this upgrade is happening for the plain and simple fact that Microsoft has abandoned Windows XP.  This in and of itself is would not be such a big deal if the replacement they have for it were not so terrible.

Despite the current dismal state of the economy, Microsoft, still one of the richest organizations in the entire world, believes that we should all upgrade immediately and with great haste.  I for one refuse to drink the kool-aid on this one.

Companies contemplating the move to Vista should weigh their options.  There's more to computers than just Microsoft.  There's also Mac, and Linux, and BSD, and Unix, and Solaris and some more options I'm not even aware of.  Checking out the field is common sense.  And in Canada, its the law.  Without competition, innovation is diminished if not extinguished.

The feeling that there is no real choice is something that Microsoft has worked very hard to cultivate.  Why?  Because they plan on STAYING one of the richest organizations in the world.

By the time this comes out in print, it will be one week and two days until Software Freedom Day.  If you want to get away from Microsoft and their bullying, bring your computer tower and/or laptop down to the Sprint store in Russell Springs on September 20th.  Its a non-profit event, staffed completely by volunteers.  It will cost you nothing and could gain you a lot.  I hope to see you there!  You won't need to bring a mouse, monitor or keyboard.  We'll have those on hand.  

Oh, there's been some confusion about where I am located.  My phone number is based in Somerset, but I live in Russell Springs., my phone forwarding service, did not have any local numbers.  Hope that clears up any confusion.

If you have a question or comment, feel free to email me at

If you'd like to read my past articles, browse to

If you live in Russell County or the surrounding areas and you need help fixing your computer, give me a call at (606) 219-4088 to set up an appointment.

Friday, August 29, 2008

SSC #75 They're not teachers, they're pushers!

I am so mad right now I can barely see straight.  So far three people have come up to me asking how to open the new Microsoft Office 2007 file formats on their current machines. 

Apparently, teachers at the local colleges have switched to MS Office 2007 and they've decided that you should to.  Some teachers are distributing assignments in the new format and their unwitting students are now forced to shell out between  $85 and $150 for the new MS Office Home and Student 2007 edition.  But wait, it gets worse.  Some are mistakenly paying more for other versions of the same software (possibly up to around $480 for the MS Office Ultimate 2007 Upgrade) when the Home and Student version isn't available at the store.  We're talking about an suite of office software that has the gall to charge $200 just for language packs. 

Does anyone still have any questions as to why I dislike Microsoft so very very much??

The one talent that Microsoft has demonstrated time and time again is not the ability to make great software, but instead the ability to make bloated locked-down drivel and make everyone pay through the nose for it!

I can understand making students buy this software if the class is called Learning Office 2007, or something like that, but no... these are just general computing classes.  General. Computing. Classes.

I've got it!  I've solved the whole national educational funding dilemma!  Teachers should start earning a commission for sales!  They're obviously doing the work of a massive sales force, they should get compensated for their hard work and treachery.

Teachers.  Listen up.  Stop it.  If you don't have to use proprietary formats, then DON'T DO IT.  OpenOffice is a full suite of software that will read and write to open formats that are not locked down from anyone.  Open office will also read and write to all of the old Microsoft formats.    And OpenOffice is just one of many free and effective solutions. 

After the big fight a little while back that Microsoft put up just to get their Office Open XML format accepted as a 2nd and unnecessary standard, you'd think they'd be a little more forthcoming with their new formats.  But no.  They're laying out the trough and we're all supposed to pony up the dough so we can lap it up.

Are you really happy with your Microsoft Windows?  About 80% of you probably just said "No".    If you're not happy, then why in the world would you want to support them financially?  If you keep feeding the monster, it will still be around next time to bite you where it hurts.

If you only teach someone how to use Microsoft software, then that is all they will ever know how to use.  This creates a mental dependency and allows a certain company to continually and unendingly put out high-priced junk.  Then three or five years later Microsoft decides to do it all over again.

People aren't buying Microsoft Office 2007 because they think it is great software, they're buying it because they have to.  This is the definition of a monopoly.  And its the teachers who are enforcing this monopoly power.

If you teach someone a wide variety of software--even if it is all for the same task--then they learn the fundamental concepts involved, not just the specific locations of options and tasks in one single solitary program.  One single solitary program that they'll just make obsolete in five years anyway for the sole reason of making more money from all of us sheep.

People go to school to learn how to make more money.  When they're going to school, they generally don't have that much of it.  If they had loads of money, they'd probably not be in school, they'd be out having fun spending it.  This practice is bordering on extortion, and its perpetrated against a group of people who are doing all they can do to better themselves.  Teachers engaging in this practice should be ashamed. 

 Teach Microsoft Office.  By all means, teach it.  But don't JUST teach that.  And do NOT expect everyone to buy it.  Do NOT treat it as gospel. Distribute assignments in an open format so that people can use whatever software they like to use at home.  If they're taking a class that is specifically centered around MS Office 2007, then its a completely understandable requirement.  But don't increase the coffers of a malignant company for no good reason other than that you upgraded to the new version because you heard they finally got rid of that stupid talking paperclip.

Stop being a pusher.  Otherwise, teachers, you need to get in touch with Microsoft Corporation at (425) 882-8080 and ask them where your check is.  Its obvious that you're working for them, you're just not getting paid.

Students, I'm not sure about the other formats, but you can use an online converter to convert the 2007 .docx format to the older .doc files.  You can find it at

There may be converters for the other ones, so you don't necessarily have to give in.  Geeks all over the world are working on your behalf, so just be patient.  Alternately, you could simply tell your teacher just how unfair these new formats are.  If enough of you ask, maybe they'll come to their senses.

For ANYONE needing a good FREE office suite, if you're not locked into Office 2007 by boneheaded practices, go to

From their site: " 2 is the leading open-source office software suite for word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, graphics, databases and more. It is available in many languages"--more than 18--"and works on all common computers. It stores all your data in an international open standard format and can also read and write files from other common office software packages. It can be downloaded and used completely free of charge for any purpose."

And if you would like to get away from Microsoft COMPLETELY, come down to the Sprint store in Russell Springs on Saturday, September 20th.  Bring your tower and you can get free installation, configuration, and customization of Ubuntu Linux, as well as free software for Windows, including OpenOffice.  Its all virus free, spyware free, and cost free folks.  Avail yourself of this chance at freedom while you can.

If you have a question or comment, feel free to email me at

If you'd like to read my past articles, browse to

If you live in Russell County or the surrounding areas and you need help fixing your computer, give me a call at (606) 219-4088 to set up an appointment.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

SSC #74 Many different ways to use Linux

What many people at first fail to grasp about Linux is that it is all about choice.

You can choose between more than 400 different Linux distrobutions.  You can choose to create your own.  You can choose to change how your Linux works.... how it looks... how it acts.

You can make one or all of a thousand different choices to customize your Linux to your needs.  But you DON'T have to choose to give up Microsoft Windows to do it.

Linux can be installed in many different ways.  Just like Windows, it can be installed to be the only Operating System in your computer.  But, it can also be installed in a dual boot configuration which allows you to KEEP Windows installed and working just like it is.  

There are two different ways that you can choose from to accomplish this.     The easiest way is to use Wubi.  You can use the new Wubi installer that comes on the Ubuntu 8.04 discs to install Linux into a virtual harddrive, which is basically just a file in your Windows folders.

Wubi works great and its an awesome way to give Ubuntu a try.  You simply start up your computer, boot up Windows, and put in the CD.  A box will pop up giving you some options, one of which will be to install it in Windows.  All you have to put in is your user name and password, and decide how much space to give Ubuntu to use.  The installer handles the rest very easily.  It also uninstalls very easily from the Add/Remove Programs feature found in Windows Control Panel. 

The only problems with the Wubi method are that by installing from within Windows, you have essentially made Linux depend on Windows being able to keep itself working properly.  If your Windows has errors on the disk, then the Wubi Ubuntu installation can't boot up.    Another problem is that with Vista, Microsoft has apparently tried to block the usage of Wubi.  Vista kicks the Ubuntu disk out halfway through the install and messes everything up.  This seems to have been an intentional move by Microsoft since Vista only starts doing that after it receives its updates.   You can get around this by copying the wubi.exe file from the disk to your desktop and running it from there.

So while Wubi is an excellent way of trying out Ubuntu Linux, its not desirable as a permanent installation since it relies on Windows not to mess things up.   Windows is the weak link in the chain... refraining from messing things up is not something that it is known for.    An install that has its own partition doesn't have to rely on Windows.  In a partitioned install, Windows can be infected with viruses and torn to shreds, yet Ubuntu will still boot up just fine and dandy. 

If you just want to try out Linux without actually installing, you can simply put the CD in and reboot your machine.  The CD will boot up into a Live mode.  This Live mode allows you to use Ubuntu without installing anything at all... it doesn't change a single file on your computer.  You can play with the applications, you can browse the net.  You can do all sorts of stuff.  And if you reboot and take out the disk, Windows will boot right up as though nothing ever happened.

Be aware that Live mode needs a decent amount of RAM to run.  I've gotten it to run with around 390 or so MB of RAM, but generally at least 512MB is recommended, and the more you have the faster Live mode will run.  Don't base your opinion on the speed of Ubuntu by how it runs in Live mode.  It will run faster once it is installed.

Also note that changes you make in Live mode are not permanent.  You can mess with stuff and reboot into Live mode again and everything is just like it was originally.  Its a great way to get familiar with things.

If you decide you like Ubuntu enough to install it, there's an "Install" icon on the desktop where you can re-partition and put Ubuntu Linux on your computer permanently.  This installer also has the option of getting rid of Windows completely.  So do be careful to read everything as you go through it. 

Simply put, re-partitioning is re-configuring the way your harddrive is laid out.  By squishing Windows to the side a little bit, you can free up some space to make room for Linux.  Much like using room partitions to make one room into two smaller ones, your harddrive can handle many partitions, but doing so does not increase its overall size.  

Note that if your Windows drive has errors, you won't be able to re-size its partition until you've successfully shut Windows down properly.  Also, if your drive is already full, you won't be able to repartition it until you've freed up some space.

As you can see, there are many ways to use Ubuntu Linux along side Microsoft Windows.  You don't have to give up everything you are familiar with, and you can learn your way around Ubuntu at your own pace and retreat to familiar ground when you feel the need.  You can have your cake, and eat it too.

If you're interested in getting Ubuntu but you're not sure about all this installation stuff, come on down to the Russell County Software Freedom Day event which will be located at the Sprint store next to Papa John's Pizza on September 20th and bring your computer along with you.  Volunteers will be on hand to help you and its free for everyone.

If you live in Russell County or the surrounding areas and you need help fixing your computer, give me a call at (606) 219-4088 to set up an appointment.

If you have a question or comment, feel free to email me at

If you'd like to read my past articles, browse to

Sunday, August 17, 2008

SSC #73 Time to face the change

Change can be a stressful thing.  And fear of change can be a big factor in whether or not a person will embrace something new.  Much in the same way that people can manage hold onto an abusive relationship for years on end, despite myriads of people telling them they should leave, people still continue to use an operating system that abuses their trust.

While Linux hasn't exactly permeated our culture, bashing Microsoft and complaining about Windows seems to be something that is so widespread that its a wonder there isn't an Olympic event.  If there were, I'm sure I'd have more medals than Michael Phelps.  Its commonly agreed upon that Windows is not all it is cracked up to be.  The Blue Screen of Death (BSOD) error screen has been integrated into pop culture to the point where people take snapshots of it in the oddest of places. Just search google images for BSOD and you'll see the most famous error screen of all time on those giant screens at Times Square, even at the Olympics torch lighting ceremony.  

We can all agree, pretty much without reservation, that Microsoft Windows is bad.  Its buggy, its full of security holes that viruses just slip right through, there are hidden "features" that compromise your computer's security and allow outside agencies to snoop on your machine.  There are a lot of problems, but still people refrain from changing.  The bruises still haven't healed from the last time Windows came in drunk, reeking of viruses, emailed all your friends to tell them about some shady stock tips and crashed on the coffee table destroying all your files.  But people just aren't brave enough to put their foot down and kick Windows to the curb.

Life with Linux IS different.  It is a change.  And I'll be honest, for many people its very uncomfortable at first.  The more you know about Windows, the more you'll feel out of place when you get rid of it.  The icons don't look the same, the menus are different, you may not be able to use your favorite programs.  You could be the most knowledgeable Windows geek in fifty miles, and when you boot into Linux for the first time, you'll feel like a complete moron.  This is natural.  This is change.

The less you know about Windows, the easier the transition is.  But if you are a Windows power user, you've likely built up some skills that deal with finding information.  While a switching from being a Windows noobie to a Linux noobie isn't that uncomfortable, they're still noobies when all is said and done.  They have simple needs and so long as these needs are met, they're happy.  And there's nothing wrong with that.  I don't subscribe to the philosophy that everyone needs to be a computer genius.  Not knowing is ok.  But it won't feel okay for a Windows power user.  Transitioning will be slower.  There's much more to relearn.  Many more skills that need to be translated.  But speaking as a Windows power user who has taken the time and effort to make the switch, it is so totally worth it.  There is help in abundance.  The internet is quite actually teeming with support.  From IRC chat channels to online forums to community LUG meetings, the answers to your questions are out there.  And you can use the informational search skills that you've built up in the Windows world to steadily increase your Linux knowlege and slowly wean yourself from Windows one application, one neat hack, one cool trick at a time.

By the time this reaches print there will be less than a month until Software Freedom Day.  On September 20th I invite anyone and everyone to come down and give Linux a try.  Whether you're a power user or not, we will customize Linux to your needs.  We will make sure you know where to get help.  Change IS frightening, but you won't be alone.  You won't have to worry about viruses or BSOD's anymore.  You'll be free from the abusive relationship you've had with Windows in the past and you can start to enjoy your computer without all of the fear and uncertainty that many of you have come to accept as just part of owning a computer.  Its a new day.  Be free and enjoy it.

If you live in Russell County or the surrounding areas and you need help fixing your computer, give me a call at (606) 219-4088 to set up an appointment.

If you have a question or comment, feel free to email me at

If you'd like to read my past articles, browse to

Sunday, August 10, 2008

SSC #72 About last year

Be ready! Its coming back!

No, I'm not talking about the McRib Sandwich (but if you see that THOSE are back, be sure and let me know), I'm talking about Software Freedom Day 2008! Not to be discouraged by last year's lackluster response from the community-at-large, we're signed up again to go out into the world yet again and pass out free software in an attempt to spread software freedom across the globe.

Last year, over 300 teams in over 60 countries participated worldwide in an attempt to help people to escape from the dreary world of proprietary software. No longer must you put up with serial-key codes, trial-versions or annoying "unlock-me! I only cost $199.95" messages. No more electronic guilt-trips imploring you incessantly to upgrade to the "Pro" version.

Software Freedom Day 2008 will be celebrated on Saturday, September 20th and I'll be stepping out of the newspaper pages and into the street to meet with YOU, dear reader. I will be passing out free CD's of Ubuntu 8.04 Hardy Heron as well as The Open Disk project (a disk full of Free Open Source Software or "FOSS" for Windows), Linux Mint 5, and Inferno Linux (an offshoot Fire Hydrant Linux, which is an offshoot of Puppy Linux 2.17). I will also have copies of the very handy BoothCD, aka the Firefox Kiosk disk. And I might possibly even have some copies of the Linux Gamer DVD on hand at request which is a great disk pre-loaded with great Linux compatible games that you can just boot and play.

I will be doing my best to have a computer available for people to see Linux in action so they know that just because something is free, doesn't mean it's worthless. Sometimes you get what you pay for... but this isn't one of those times.

Right now, though, I need your help. In the Open Source community, there is a saying... "Everyone can help in some way." If you are already a Linux user and want to help spread the word by handing out CD's and flyers, drop me a line or give me a call and come and help directly. More hands means more stuff being handed out. And if flagging down passers-by is not your cup of tea, you can help by telling someone else about what we're doing.

Last year, the biggest problem we had was that people are afraid of the word "Free." At least ten different people accused us of trying to sell something. They insisted that there was a catch somewhere, no matter how fervently we assured them that there wasn't. Apparently, people have gotten to the sad state where not only will they not stand up and shout for what they believe in, but apparently they don't think that anyone else will either. When the word "Free" can't be trusted, what does that have to say about "The land of the Free"? Anyway, I digress.

Software Freedom is not about Freedom in the sense that it costs nothing, (it does cost nothing, but that isn't the point) its about Freedom in the sense that it is used to describe "Free Speech". Geeks across the world have banded together to fight what they believe to be an unfairly closed system of political and economic oppression. Microsoft is just one company that partakes of this, but it is not the only one. And if there are any Apple/Mac lovers out there, don't think that Apple is any better. In fact, when it comes to proprietary closed systems, Apple is worse than Microsoft ever thought about being. You can't even get a Mac unless you buy it from Apple. If you try to build one yourself, you're breaking the law.

In the early dawn of computers, the software was always free. It was a means to sell more machines. But somewhere along the line, things went sour. Now we live in a world where software is installed via virus embedded in a pop-up ad, which then relentlessly hounds you to send in money to "Unlock" its full features. Software that lies to you and tells you that your computer has hundreds of errors and/or viruses which conveniently it can fix, if you'll just type in your credit card number. Aren't you sick of not being able to trust your own computer?

It goes beyond freedom and such esoteric ideals. This is also about security. According to Symantec, the makers of Norton Antivirus, there are now over 1 million windows viruses. Thats one million viruses designed to cause havoc with your machine. Thats one million viruses that Linux is not vulnerable to.

If you take a freshly installed Windows XP machine and put it on the net, without installing protections first, the average time before it is compromised is about 18 minutes. Only eighteen minutes before your computer is a spam-slinging member of a botnet. Eighteen minutes until your machine, that you paid good money for, is now working for someone else.

While Vista has made some great inroads to correcting these problems, recent discoveries are putting Microsoft's new operating system under the same light. Viruses are already showing up for Vista and more are undoubtedly on the way as hackers across the world deconstruct it and figure out how it ticks. Every mistake that Microsoft makes is another hole in your security. Every typo or poorly designed function is an opportunity for your machine to be compromised.

With all of the mistakes and hidden agenda's Microsoft has had in the past, are they really the kind of company that you want to support?

Its time to be done with all of that. Its time for something better.

Essentially, Software Freedom is about the belief that all of us together can make better software than what comes from all of us paying a few people to do it. By the people, for the people. That sort of thing.

I'll be covering this topic for the next few weeks, outlining the plans in motion for the event. I've already received a couple of offers from volunteers in Lexington, but as of yet, I don't think it is enough for the job at hand. So if you'd like to help, either by donating your time, money for needed supplies, or by allowing us to set up at your business location, or even if it is just by telling a few friends that there really isn't a catch to this whole Free Software thing, as they say, everyone can help in some way. Take control of your computer. Before someone else does.

For more information, go to
If you'd like to see a map of all of the SFD teams, go to

If you live in Russell County or the surrounding areas and you need help fixing your computer, give me a call at (606) 219-4088 to set up an appointment.

If you have a question or comment, feel free to email me at

If you'd like to read my past articles, browse to

Sunday, July 27, 2008

SSC #71 Its Linux and its Minty Fresh!

This week I'd like to talk to you about Linux Mint.  I think I may have mentioned it a few months ago, but I'd like to give it the proper treatment this week.  So without further ado, I present to you, dear reader, Linux Mint 5, codenamed Elyssa.

One thing you must understand about Linux is that due to its open nature, anyone can use the sourcecode from an entire operating system.  It is sometimes slightly frowned upon, such as in the case of CentOS repackaging and redistrobuting pretty much the entire RedHat operating system.  While there's nothing official and no-one is getting sued, some have questioned if CentOS is hurting RedHat's business.  CentOS is free, RedHat is a commercial distrobution that charges money for its newest edition, as well as for support.  One could argue that CentOS is eating RedHat's lunch, but as CentOS isn't making money from doing this, nor is it providing professional support channels, those who use CentOS would likely have gone for a free distrobution in any case.  Its just something that comes along with being Open Source. 

Based on Ubuntu, Linux Mint is a re-branded and repackaged offshoot with many very nice improvements.  It started out simply as just Ubuntu with audio/video codecs added in, but its grown beyond that by quite a bit. While it started out as just a pet project by one man in his spare time--and really, it still is just a pet project by one man in his spare time--with the help of the communty of users he has gathered, its become quite well rounded and has improved upon Ubuntu in many ways.

Unlike the case of CentOS and RedHat, Ubuntu has not shown any hard feelings at all about the existence of Linux Mint (nor any of the other offshoots).  Ubuntu is free, and Canonical only seeks to make money by providing professional support services.  Being that Ubuntu itself has pretty much the same repackaging/improvement relationship between themselves and their parent distro, Debian, there's not much really they could say.

Anyway, on with the story.

I decided recently that I wanted to wipe my laptop and re-install Ubuntu.  I had been using the same installation for over a year, and while it had started out with 7.04 Feisty Fawn, I had upgraded it to 7.10 Gutsy Gibbon, and then a couple months ago, 8.04 Gutsy Gibbon.  I had upgraded through the automatic upgrade tool, and while it still worked fine for me, I felt that it might run a little better if I were to wipe and start again.  The reason for this is that I tend to do a lot of tinkering around with things in keeping with the learning process and I had tinkered with a few things I should probably had read more about first.  So it was sluggish.  Easy enough to fix.  I backed up my home folder and some other files from around my system that I thought I would need (specifically /lib/firmware where my wireless card drivers resided).  

I was in the process of reaching for my trusty Ubuntu install disk, and suddenly recalled having downloaded the Linux Mint ISO (disk image).  Figuring I would just install it for long enough to give it a test drive for review purposes, I popped it in and installed Linux Mint 5.  At first look, it seemed to be just like Ubuntu with a couple visual upgrades, no big deal.  But then I started to notice little changes... small details and improvements.  

If you have ever driven a luxury car (not that I can afford one, but I've driven one a time or two) you notice that for the most part its just like a regular car.  It has the same controls--gas pedal, brake pedal, steering wheel, shifter--where the "luxury" part comes in is in the small details and little amenities that make you feel like you're in a well-crafted machine.

Linux Mint is like that.  Attention has been paid to the small details to make the user experience just that little cut above the rest.

So I went about setting the desktop up in my own fashion, and installed the software that I have come to rely on.  About a month ago, I set about learning how Ubuntu's software repositories worked and I took all of the .deb software packages that I had downloaded and put them in a relatively small (4 gigabytes) software repository served out across my home network.  This allows me to quickly and efficiently set up a freshly installed machine in about half an hour, much quicker than downloading software and updates for each machine.

I was relieved to learn that Linux Mint was not changed enough to make it incompatible with my Ubuntu packages.  All the software I had downloaded previously worked just fine with it since it was based on Ubuntu 8.04 Hardy Heron, so that was a big plus. So after adding my home repository to the /etc/apt/sources.list file, I simply opened a terminal and typed in "sudo apt-get install vlc ssh audacious audacity virtualbox frostwire wine" and let it do its work.  A short while later, my freshly installed system was decked out in all of the software i know and love.  Going back in I noticed a couple things that were missing from a default Ubuntu installation, most notably games and a VNC (remote desktop) viewer.  The games I can do without, and a moment at the terminal with "sudo apt-get install xvncviewer" set that to rights.  

There are graphical ways to install software as well, such as the handy-dandy Synaptic Package Manager, which is included in the default Linux Mint installation, as well as a new thing called the Linux Mint Software Portal.  The software portal is great for those of you who are new to Linux.  Its entirely web based and works in your web browser.  It shows all the available software in easy to understand webpages with screenshots and descriptions.  Click one link and it will automagically install the software. Presto Chango!  But it was more than I need for my setup, and I already had the packages I needed stored locally on the LAN.  But I do plan on checking out new software via the software portal.  Its just such a beautiful solution to the problem of software installation.

Linux Mint also includes a neat utility to upload files to other people.  This is great for casual computer users.  If you're trying to send a file to a friend that is bigger than 10 megabytes, you quickly find that you can't email it since it is too big to send as an attachment.  There are lots of things to solve this problem, such as Peer2Peer software or web-based file-transfer services like, but few of them are as easy as the Linux Mint file transfer utility.  Just right click the file and click Upload.  Once it is completely uploaded, you get a link to give your friend where they can download it.

See what I mean? Little touches and amenities that make all the difference.  But unlike a luxury automobile which not all of us can afford, Linux Mint is something we can all afford.  Its free to download, free to copy, free to share.  Go and get a copy for yourself at and check it out.

So at the end of all of this, I have decided to stick with Linux Mint.  Its a hard thing to do to get me away from Ubuntu, but with Linux Mint, I get all of the benefits of Ubuntu, plus those elegant little touches that make it just that much more enjoyable.  See you next time!

If you live in Russell County or the surrounding areas and you need help fixing your computer, give me a call at (606) 219-4088 to set up an appointment.

If you have a question or comment, feel free to email me at

If you'd like to read my past articles, browse to

Sunday, July 20, 2008

SSC #70 Prepare for War!

The year was 1999. The new millenium was just around the corner and we all stood around wondering whether or not the world was going to end at the stroke of midnight.  Windows XP was unheard of for two more years.  And one company was releasing one of the first PC games to actually use the then-new technology of 3D acceleration.  
    While you were checking your bank balance yet again to be sure that none of your hard earned dollars were being eaten by the millenium bug, others were sitting down at their 200Mhz Pentium II's firing up Windows 98 and starting to wage war.

These days your computer is considered slow if it doesn't have at least a Gigabyte of ram, yet here was an amazing war game that ran on machines with as low as 32 megabytes.  Many of you know what 32MB of RAM will hold.  Your digital camera probably has 16 times as much memory.

I installed Warzone2100 on a whim.  My wife was asking if I had any interesting games for her to play because she was getting really tired of solitaire.  Although Ubuntu ships with over 50 different variations of solitaire, I can understand how one would get tired of playing cards.  Solitaire just isn't my thing.

So I grab Warzone2100 from the Ubuntu repositories, not really getting my hopes up. Was I surprised? Boy Howdy!
Warzone is the mother of all RTS games.  Literally.  RTS stands for Real Time Strategy.  As in, a game involving strategy that happens in real time.  This game is war.  Pure and simple.  Build a base, drill for oil to power your forces and start churning out tanks to defend and conquer.  

Some of you may be thinking that it sounds like Command and Conquer, and it is similar, but there are subtle differences... such as the fact that you design your own units from the technology you develop.
The tanks you can build depend on the level of technology you have captured from the opposing force.  But at a glance they include machine-guns, missile launchers, mortars, bunker-busters and much much more.  When you get further along in the game you get upgrades like Surface-to-Air missiles, VTOL propulsion and the ability to shoot missiles across the lenght of the playing field.  Playing against the computer on the "normal" difficulty level is challenging and extremely addictive.  Levels can last from 30 minutes to two hours and you'll find yourself replaying levels in order to improve your progress because the units you have when you finish each level is what you start the next one with.  Barely make it through a mission alive? Better do that one again or you'll be starting the next mission with next to nothing.   Also, your troops gain experience from one level to the next.  So it's in your best interest to make sure they're not dying or you'll have an army full of rookies.

Having a good grasp of military strategy is a must.  This is not a game where you can just jump in and start mashing buttons and come out on top.  While the graphics are a little dated, they're not so bad as to diminish the gaming experience.  In fact, if it were flashier, it might just take away from the hard-core strategy of it all.  You can't spend time looking at pretty lights, you have troops dying out there!
If you've been looking for a good game to test your mettle, this one will do the trick nicely.  And playing it won't cost you one red cent.  Originally developed by Pumpkin Studios, and later bought by Eidos Interactive, the game was eventually released as Open Source and you can find it now for free on the Warzone2100 Ressurection website (  Ubuntu users, for you guys, installing it is just as simple as typing in "sudo apt-get install warzone2100" in the terminal window and it will download and install automagically. How's that for easy?

Originally, the minimum requirements for this game are low enough that just about everyone will be able to run it.  In fact they are so low you probably wouldn't believe it, so I'm just going to quote from the manual.

Minimum Requirements:
Pentum 166 MHz Processor
Windows 95 / Windows 98
2MB SVGA card
8X CD-ROM Drive
100% DirectX 6 Compliant Sound Card
DirectX 6.0 or higher (included)
75 MB of Uncompressed Hard Drive Storage
Keyboard and Mouse

Recommended Requirements
Pentium 233 MHz Processor
4 MB Direct3D or 3Dfx compatible 3D Accelerator Card
Multiplayer Game requires one of the following:
IPX or TCP/IP local area network
28.8 Kbps or faster modem
28.8 Kbps or faster internet connection
Serial connection via null modem cable

Now though, the game has been picked up by a community of developers and maintainers that are slowly tweaking and improving the game.  Chances are that the minimum requirements have risen by a small amount, but even still, its a pretty safe bet that if your computer supports 3D graphics at all, you'll likely be able to run this.  If you've bought your computer in the last five years, its probably a done deal.

If your computer can't meet or beat these uber-low system requirements, give me a hollar, I probably have an old hunk of junk video card lying in the corner that will help your machine play it just fine.

See you next week!

If you live in Russell County or the surrounding areas and you need help fixing your computer, give me a call at (606) 219-4088 to set up an appointment.

If you have a question or comment, feel free to email me at

If you'd like to read my past articles, browse to

Sunday, July 13, 2008

SSC #69 Into the Vortex

Hi folk, its been a little while since I've written anything.  Did'ja miss me?  I just needed to take a break and charge the creative batteries a little bit.  I shouldn't be missing any submissions from here on out because... I would like to triumphantly report that I am back on the net!  Woot!

After, what was it?  Three months?  Once again I am able to check my email from my living room.  Now that its over, I consider the whole experience to be quite invigorating.  While I have missed a few article submissions, (and I sincerely apologize to you for that) and I couldn't look things up in Wikipedia the moment I had a burning question, all in all it was a good chance to break some stagnant surfing habits and get some things done.  Rather than hitting the StumbleUpon button and randomly surfing for websites to alleviate boredom, I took the opportunity to really dig in and learn some cool new Linux tricks and skills that are really going to come in handy.

But all that aside, I'm really glad to be connected again.  And for that I have Vortex Wireless to thank.

Yep, thats right, I'm with a new Internet Service Provider.  And I just can't wait to tell you all about them.

Vortex Wireless is a locally-owned, locally operated wireless broadband ISP.  Its not a local annex of a corporate machine, Its just a few local guys who had a great idea and who have made it a reality.  Exactly my kind of operation.  I always root for the underdog.

I went down to talk to them yesterday about signing up and it was about as pain free a process as could ever be.  Tom Holt and David Godby, the owners were actually the people who took care of getting me registered and everything, and I asked them a few questions about how Vortex Wireless started out and how everything works.  What I got back were straightforward answers and a feeling that I wasn't just a number anymore.  After dealing with a decidedly corporate ISP for the last few years, it was like a breath of fresh air.  I also got to speak to the guys who would later be doing my installation and I found that these guys really know their stuff.  After we talked tech til we were blue in the face, I came away feeling like I hadn't just entered into an agreement for net-access, I had made some friends as well.  And because I was able to talk directly to the owners, I put in a good word on your behalf as well.  If you go in and sign up, just mention that you read about them here in my article and they'll give you a $25 discount on your installation.  Can't beat that, can you?  The only stipulation is that you have to be within range to receive the service.  In short, if for some reason it won't work from your house, he'll give your money back.

Having a site survey to see if your location is viable is completely free and very easy.  Just call them up, give them your address and they'll set up a time with you so that they can come out and take a reading to tell them the strength of the wireless signal from your house.  If the reading is good then it's all gravy.  If not, then no harm, no foul. 

Their rates are comparable to the competition, with multi-tiered services to let you get the speed your twitchy little mouse-finger craves, or give you a cheap always-on lifeline to the net, but without needing a phone-line or cable service in order to make it happen.  You can get the net, and JUST the net, in whatever speed fits your budget.  And with things getting as tight as they are lately, being able to ditch a phone bill is a big plus for my wallet.  Instead of answering a phone only to be guilt-tripped by bill-collectors, I'll save some cash that can go toward paying them off.

Whats really great about the fact that this is a local business is that they'll really work with you.  If your bills are tight and you need to go to a cheaper service, they'll downgrade you (down to as low as $16 a month for 2x dialup speed) until YOU are ready to bring the speed back up.  If things get really tight and you need to suspend service temporarily and turn it back on a little later, they understand how things are.  These are real local people.  They'll work with you.  And thats really all a man can ask for.

Vortex Wireless is located in the Nextel store, tucked away next to Papa Johns Pizza in Russell Springs.  They offer multiple services including broadband, email hosting, web hosting, and PC repair (and don't forget they also do Sprint and Nextel cellphone service and accessories).  From what they've told me, their customers enjoy remarkble uptime because their towers all run Linux (big smile here) and the only type of weather that can interrupt the service is heavy fog.  We get fog here, but we don't get really heavy fog.  This is, after all, Central Kentucky, not Cape Cod.

One little tech fact that I thought was interesting was that neighbors who are on the same wireless tower can enjoy speeds between them that are far in excess of the speed cap enforced by your service plan.  In layman's terms, you and your neighbors can play games with eachother across it with ultra-low latency, which means no lag at all.  And as they say, the less lag, the more frags.  They currently utilize two T-1 lines, at 1.5 Megabits per second, piped in from AT&T to provide a solid backbone to their customers, and due to increasing patronage, they'll be adding another T-1 line shortly to ensure that you get the speed that you pay for.

They told me that currently their plans for expansion are contingent on customer demand.  Essentially they can't afford to put up a new tower if they're only going to have one or two customers connecting to it.  In this instance, the way in which our county's homes are spread out stand in the way of technological progress.  With enough service requests in a given area, though, a waiting customer base would ensure that building a new tower would be financially feasible for the company.  In short, if you're interested in signing up with Vortex Wireless, but you know they aren't in your area, be sure and give them a call anyway so that they know you're there.  When enough of your neighbors also express interest, expansion becomes possible.

I've only been using the service for a couple days now, but already I've seen my speeds exceed what I'm paying for.  A little extra "oomph!" is always appreciated, plus its a better deal that I was getting before... and don't forget I'm supporting a locally owned and operated business.  The only problems I've found with the service are the fault of my own equipment.  I'm piping their service through a cheap router that needs to be replaced, and I will be replacing it shortly with a Linksys WRT54GL.  After that, I suspect nothing but smooth sailing.

Be sure and give Tom Holt and the other guys down at Vortex Wireless a call and see if you can join in the fun.  And don't forget to tell them I sent ya!  Vortex Wireless - (270) 866-4451  or on the web at

See you next week folks.  Take care.

If you live in Russell County or the surrounding areas and you need help fixing your computer, give me a call at (606) 219-4088 to set up an appointment.

If you have a question or comment, feel free to email me at

If you'd like to read my past articles, browse to

Sunday, June 15, 2008

SSC #68 Sauerbraten

Ok folks, this one is for the Gamers out there.  I've been hooked on a new game lately and I've not been able to put it down.  Seriously, if you're a fan of Quake, Doom, or Unreal Tournament, then you're really going to like this.

The game is called Sauerbraten.  Its been said that there is nothing new under the sun.  This is true with Sauerbraten.  It has the usual weapons and powerups.  It has nice looking graphics and a lot of levels to run around and blow stuff up.  In short it is your typical First-Person Shooter (FPS).  But Sauerbraten has something that makes it stand out from the pack, at least for me anyway.  In Sauerbraten you can quickly and easily create your own maps and share them with others.  And get this, you edit the game while you are INSIDE the game.  In fact you can edit the game with other people in multi-player cooperative edit mode.  

Ok, so great.  You can edit it in game... whoop dee doo.  Whats so special about that?  Well, it means that there are just tons and tons of awesome user-made levels out there to be played.  Not to mention all new modes of play.  

Have you ever played one of these games and thought to yourself "Hey, I can do better than this!"?  Well, this is your chance.   If you've ever had a desire to get into game design, well this one is wide open.  They take submissions for models, skins, levels, music... the works!  Its a completely open opportunity to jump in and get involved in making a great game even better!

Or not.  You're perfectly capable and welcome to install Sauerbraten and just partake of the great levels and content created by other users.  Its a game that will just keep growing and growing.  

If you're interested in giving it a try, make sure you have a decent 3D accellerated graphics card.  Windows users can download the client at, and Ubuntu users can just download it from within Synaptic Package Manager since it is already in the repositories.  Sorry Mac users, but there's not a client for you yet, though it is on their TODO list.  The game is completely free to download and play, and its open source so the guts of the programming code is available for your perusal and/or improvement.  

Personally I'm working on a pretty fun level myself but I won't be hosting it online until I feel it is ready, so if you download the game, be looking out for a level by yours truely in a few weeks from now.

See you in game.

If you live in Russell County or the surrounding areas and you need help fixing your computer, give me a call at (606) 219-4088 to set up an appointment.

If you have a question or comment, feel free to email me at

If you'd like to read my past articles, browse to

Monday, June 2, 2008

SSC #67 Reader response and virtual machines

I have a letter from a reader I would like to share today before getting into the nitty gritty.

 Hi Jeff,
    What kind of hours do you have there?   I need to bring my metal monster in for a good 'blowing out' (dust and pet hair I'm sure).   The problem is I work on the thing and don't have a back-up, so I can't be without it for any great length of time  :-/.
    It's not doing anything 'wrong', but it is shutting itself off every now and then - which I'm assuming has to do with needing cleaned.   I can hear the fan kick in audibly after it's been running for a little while (at least I'm assuming it's the fan I'm hearing).
    Also wanted to ask you - what is the difference between CDs and DVDs when you're talking about saving text and .jpg files to disc?   CDs are what I need for that, right?   Not DVDs.

Actually I come to you. :)

I don't run a shop in a traditional sense, I do all of my work in the customer's home.  So if you'd like to set up a time for me to come out and clean your machine, just say the word.   And you will only suffer 15 minutes or so of downtime.

And yes, shutting down is usually a sign of overheating. Not always, but usually.  The clicking could be a harddrive.  Those overheat too, which is why good airflow is important in your machine.  Burning a processor is an annoyance and a small bit of cash.  Losing a harddrive, that can really hurt because all your data goes with it and harddrive recovery services are expensive. 

As for your question, the only major difference between DVD's and CD's is the amount of data they can hold (this is due to the color and width of the laser beam they are read with).  A CD can hold about 700MB of data, and a DVD can hold about 4.7GB or 4800MB.  If you are using a specific piece of software for the specific purpose of putting a picture slideshow on a DVD then you're going to probably want DVD instead of CD, or generally whatever the software recommends.  But as far as just plain-jane data discs, it is only a matter of capacity.  Unless you have a boatload of pics and text to burn, CD's will probably do the trick, since JPG's and text is usually small files.

A more cost effective solution to moving these types of files around is to grab yourself a USB thumbdrive.  They have them at the X-mart(s) ranging in sizes from 256MB to 4GB or so.  And you just keep re-using the same little drive.

Now, as promised, I present the nitty gritty.


The tech world is abuzz with the merits of virtualization.  In response to this Canonical has released a new version of Ubuntu called Ubuntu JEOS.  JEOS (pronounced 'Juice') stands for Just Enough Operating System.  The majority of hardware drivers have been removed as well as everything that is not essential to the basic running of the operating system.  In fact, the only thing that is left is what is needed to run within virtualization software like VirtualBox or VMWare.  When you install Jeos into a virtual machine, you are left with nothing but a command prompt.  From this command prompt you can use the APT command line package manager to install any software in the Ubuntu repositories.  Sounds technical, doesn't it?

Needless to say, my curiosity was piqued.  So I downloaded Ubuntu Jeos 8.04 and installed it within a virtual machine running inside VirtualBox.  Setup was quick and simple.

Using Jeos, I was able to install a lightweight graphical environment, a file manager, and a window manager.  At this point I had a very small and swift-running graphical operating system in a virtual machine.  What to do, what to do...  Now I installed Synaptic which is basically a graphical front-end to APT.  From within Synaptic I installed Apache 2 Web Server, Amaya Web Page designing software and Bluefish HTML editor.  Going back to Synaptic I installed Firefox Web Browser. 

Now I had a full website creation studio and web server running within a virtual machine. Using this setup I can create a website and serve it up on my local network or even on the internet.  Using Firefox I can test how it will look to people viewing the site.  And since it was created using Jeos, it is lightweight and doesn't have any software installed that isn't absolutely neccessary to its function.  Now I can create a Snapshot of the virtual machine.  If at any time I mess something up, I can quickly and easily roll back any changes to my last Snapshot.

Whats even better is that this is a virtual machine.  The entire thing exists inside of a file on a real computer.  Whats more, VirtualBox has versions for Windows and Linux.  So I can copy this to a disk and put it on any other machine and run it, just making sure to forward specific ports from the Host operating system to the Guest operating system.  So yes, even a Windows machine can have a web server with industry proven security and stability... when it is running Linux.  And if someone were to somehow get outside control of the web server, there's really nothing that they can do.  They are entirely contained within the Virtual machine.  As soon as it is discovered that the virtual machine is compromised, I can just reset it back to a Snapshot image and undo any changes that the hacker may have made.  Or if the Windows machine were to need to be wiped completely (as they often do) and restored, I would have my entire server setup on a disc that I could quickly put back into action.

As I said when I started out, the tech world is abuzz with the merits of virtualization.  From what I have seen with Ubuntu Jeos, I can truly see why.

If you live in Russell County or the surrounding areas and you need help fixing your computer, give me a call at (606) 219-4088 to set up an appointment.

If you have a question or comment, feel free to email me at

If you'd like to read my past articles, browse to

Monday, May 19, 2008

SSC #66 Russell County WiFi

One of the things that this county routinely depends upon is its tourist trade.  Having a great location near Lake Cumberland has been a big factor in the growth and influence that Russell County has enjoyed.

With the long history of tourism starting with the original sulphur springs that prompted the creation of the town of Russell Springs, long has Russell County received its bread and butter by its ability to draw teeming crowds of summer funseekers and give them a quality vacation spot to get away from the big cities.

Love them or hate them, the tourists are coming.  They are planning their trips, they are making their reservations.  They are currently arguing with their in-laws over who left who's cooler back at the fishing shack when they were here last year.

But some of these tourists are going to be a little different this time around.  They're going to be coming along with a plethora of tiny devices and gadgets.  They'll be looking for available power outlets so they can charge laptops while they shop.  They will be getting frustrated and inconvenienced by the lack of open WiFi hotspots.

These are people who have become accustomed to widespread free wireless internet access.  Malls, gas stations, libraries, coffeeshops, restaurants, hotels...  when driving through St. Louis last week it was simply astonishing how many signs all over the place proclaimed free wireless internet.  Its getting so saturated that you can likely surf Flickr at the dentist's office while you wait for your root canal.  
I actually got the chance to use my laptop "in the wild" at a gas station in Mulberry Grove, Illinois at around 1 AM when we were on the way back from the concert (which was awesome). I simply booted up and connected to their wireless network which had the SSID of "Welcome to CC Food Mart".  Using their WiFi I was able to use Google to find a campground nearby where my wife and I could set a tent and catch some much needed rest.  And when we got there, the campground had free WiFi.  I didn't try to connect to it though, we were pretty worn out.

With more WiFi equipped handheld devices becoming widely used such as Skypephones and Mobile Internet devices a.k.a. "MID's" like the Nokia n810, its getting easier and easier for people to communicate with and through the internet.  With two Skypephones at coffee shops on opposite ends of the planet you can bacially have free Starbucks-to-Starbucks communication indefinately.  Or at least until all the caffeine gives you an anurism. Alexander Graham Bell would be proud.

The younger generation is really poised to capitalize on this sort of connectedness.  With cool phones and MID's becoming the new status symbols of highschools across the nation, these kids are one tech-savvy crowd.  And enterprising business owners in Russell County should take note of this.  Because these are the tourists of the future.  They'll pick a WiFi equipped restaurant over the competition because at that restaurant they can grab some great food AND they can check on their Ebay auctions.  And they'll stick around a little longer as well, grabbing a dessert and another cup of coffee while they grab the latest Doppler radar images from so they know what the weather will be like for the trip back home.

Hotels you better listen up too!  For the future tourist, being able to connect beats out coffee and donuts... er.. *cough* continental breakfast... any day of the week.  Being able to offer your customers free WiFi means you are connecting them to their online lives.  Creullers just cannot compare.

From the tourists perspective they can email the pictures of lil' Billy catching his first fish to Grandma in less time than it used to take to drop off the film.  When on the lake these folk want to feel like they are roughing it.  But when they come back to town for supplies, they want the conforting embrace of civilation.  

If your business already has open WiFi available, be sure and advertise it loud and proud.  It could really be a big boon to your business.  If your business doesn't offer open WiFi, perhaps you should consider whether it is something that your customers would appreciate.  Its cheaper than you think.  If your business already has an internet connection, adding a wireless router can be very inexpensive.  Even as little as $50.  And the possibility of greatly increasing your business's "coolness" factor for as little as $50 is something you can't afford to disregard.

If you live in Russell County or the surrounding areas and you need help fixing your computer, give me a call at (606) 219-4088 to set up an appointment.

If you have a question or comment, feel free to email me at

If you'd like to read my past articles, browse to

Monday, May 12, 2008

SSC #65 internet radio

    A wise man once said you can fool some of the people all of the time, and you can fool all of the people some of the time, but you can't fool all of the people all of the time.  If you replace the word "fool" with the word "please" then you have aptly summed up the problems of a music radio network.  Unless you are Mr. Average, you have 1.5 kids, and your tastes play along the lines of the common denominator of society, chances are that sometimes the music played on the radio just doesn't suit your tastes.  So you switch the channel... and catch the tail end of your favorite song just before the DJ decides that it is time for a 5 minute block of news, weather, and commercials.
    Radio has its problems.  I really don't envy them their job.  They have to do the best they can to please all of their listeners all of the time.  This is why they tend to stick to the Top 40 hits from the last 20 years.  It is just a way for them to play it safe.  But some musical artists don't really get good until you get off of the beaten path and delve into some of the stuff that never saw airtime.  And sometimes you really just want to hear something new. There is a lot of great music out there that just isn't getting heard.  If this describes your feelings toward music you hear on the radio then is for you. is a great new internet radio service that brings a breath of fresh air.  Its kind of like a radiostation that is built on the fly to suit your mood.  With a single artist name, song name, or even just a keyword that describes what you want to hear, it will line up a playlist of similar music that will play commercial free, non-stop until you turn it off.  And controlling it could not possibly be simpler.
    You start off by going to and signing up.  Don't worry, its free and they don't ask for anything personal, just your name and email address.  Once you have an account, you can listen via the flash player on the website or you can download their Windows client.  Ubuntu users, fear not, Rythymbox, Ubuntu's default music player already has support built in, just look for it under plugins.  They also have a stand-alone Linux client availble as well.
    When you start it up, you start off with just a text box, and a little drop down menu to select between a tag or an artist.  More on tags in a minute.  You simply just type in the artist you want to hear and it starts playing.  It may not immediately play the artist you entered, but it will eventually, as well as artists that belong in the same music genre.  If you type in Tammy Wynette it will fill the list with Tanya Tucker, Conway Twitty and George Jones and more like that.  If you put in Megadeth it will put in Pantera, Rob Zombie and more of the same.  Much of it will be stuff you've heard, and some of it will be stuff you never knew existed.  Myself, being a big Radiohead fan of course, I put in Radiohead and I was introduced to a couple new bands (Mogwai, Muse) that I liked immediately.  
    Now what if you want to listen to something but you can't really think of an artist to put in?  Or perhaps you're going for a specific mood?  This is where the "tags" come in.  You could put in "easy listening" and thats what you'd get.  You could put in an emotion such as "melancholy" or "angry" and you'd get music that represents that feeling.  Or you could put in something completely off the wall like "purple" and it would do its best to serve up a playlist of purpley music.  And here's the greatest part.  If you hear a song you don't like, then with one click of the mouse, you can ban it forever.  Alternately you can click the "Love" button and will try to play that song more often.
    The only downside that I found at all to the whole thing was that occasionally it would throw in a song in another language.  But really that is to be expected since it is designed to service the entire planet.  And to be fair, the music sounded like what I was looking for, I just couldn't understand the words.  But no worries, a quick click of the "Ban" button and it was gone, immediately replaced with something else.  
    In testing out the limits of the service I tried really hard to stump it, but it seemed to have all the bases covered.  From Perry Como to Iron Maiden just about everything I typed in came back with some music.  So no matter what your music tastes are, and especially if your music tastes differ from what is served up by the local radio stations, is something you should give a try.
    I must admit, I'm not sure how well works on Dial-up internet access, so if you're a dial-up user and you give it a shot, please do drop me a line and let me know how it works out for you. Enquiring minds want to know.
    Until next week, Rock on!  ...or not.  Its up to you!

If you live in Russell County or the surrounding areas and you need help fixing your computer, give me a call at (606) 219-4088 to set up an appointment.

If you have a question or comment, feel free to email me at

If you'd like to read my past articles, browse to

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Monday, May 5, 2008

SSC #64 Linux Lament

    There's nothing really huge to talk about this week that I'm aware of...  I know that's not really the best way to start out a newspaper column, but I'm not one for sensationalism for the sake of sensationalism.

    I know I have spent a lot of time hyping Ubuntu up and making it sound really good, but I want you to know that you always get the straight story from me even when it is news I would rather not have to be reporting.  

    Case in point, I've been installing Ubuntu 8.04 Hardy Heron around town amongst friends and customers for the last little while, and I'm beginning to see through some of the shine and polish.  I'm finding that it is better installed freshly as opposed to an upgrade from Gutsy Gibbon.  One friend of mine who was using Gutsy has said that his machine has started acting very sluggish and that things that formerly worked very snappy and crisp are now delayed for unknown reasons.  I am thinking some of this is a result of the Beta status of Firefox 3.  They did some heavy tweaking in it to make it lighter on your RAM and as a result it is almost as though it runs with lower system priority and hence runs sluggishly and even freezes at times.  He was also a big fan of XMMS, like myself, and is having trouble making the transition to a replacement music player.  I plan to go over and help him to either work out the bugs or perhaps even switch him back to Gutsy, with which he was very happy.

    Another friend of mine has a fairly new machine from Dell, and I spent 12 hours yesterday trying to get Hardy Heron correctly configured on it.  It installed fine via the Wubi installer, and everything worked great except I couldn't get the wireless network card to work.  Also it seemed that every time I installed the nVidia 3D-acceleration drivers then the monitor would be limited to a low resolution of 640x480.  Oh, the 3D would work, and the windows would wobble and I could do all the cool special effects, but in 640x480 that just isn't enough to satisfy.  In the end I realized that the 3D drivers were working fine, they just didn't properly recognize her flatscreen monitor, and as a result of this failure, they refused to display in resolutions that it could not detect.

    After spending all of this time on it and failing to get these basic hardware components to work, I gave up.  And a little piece of me died inside.  I booted back over to Windows Vista and I removed Ubuntu.  

    After a brief moment of silence, I went and passed out in exhaustion.

    I spend a lot of time in this column touting the benefits of Linux and other Open-Source software.  Its something that is important to me.  And if you're a computer owner, I feel it should be important to you also.  But even I must admit that Linux isn't for everyone.  While Linux works on more hardware than any other operating system (this is verifiably true) it doesn't work on ALL hardware.  My friend could have spent some money and replaced her graphics card and her wireless card with components that are definitely supported.  And if you're really determined to get Linux to work, sometimes parts replacement is the only option.  

    In a perfect world, all of the hardware manufacturers would release their driver specs openly and Linux would work perfectly with every piece of hardware ever made.  But this isn't a perfect world.  Companies go out of business and their specs are lost.  Some companies refuse to release theirs for fear of losing a market edge.  And some companies don't have the choice to open their drivers because contracts signed with other companies for various reasons.  

    If you have recently tried Ubuntu on my advice and you couldn't get it to work.  I apologize and sympathize with the frustrations you felt.  Its a great operating system and I love it dearly, but I admit that it isn't perfect and it doesn't work for every machine.  If you had some frustrating encounters with Linux, I'd love to hear about them.  In some cases I may be able to help.
    On the other hand, if you tried Ubuntu and everything worked out and you decided to stick with it, I'd like to hear from you as well.  After the discouraging times I've had lately with it, it would be nice to hear some success stories.

    I've been thinking a lot lately about starting a LUG.    A LUG or Linux User Group is a local club for Linux users to get together and swap stories, tips, and help eachother.  The Ubuntu Loco group (basically a Loco group is just like a LUG but its just for Ubuntu users) for Kentucky is located in Lexington, and I'm a member, but I'd kinda like to get something started here in Russell County.

    If you'd would be interested in gathering together with other local Linux users, please contact me by the one of the methods outlined below.  If there is enough interest, I believe it would be great to have a local community LUG.  

    Next week we'll be looking at and how it has been revolutionizing internet radio, be sure to check it out!

If you live in Russell County or the surrounding areas and you need help fixing your computer, give me a call at (606) 219-4088 to set up an appointment.

If you have a question or comment, feel free to email me at

If you'd like to read my past articles, browse to

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