Archive for September, 2011

I’ve been trying to get some version of Linux on my Libretto 50CT for quite some time now.  One of my conditions for this is that I wanted it to run off of a compactflash card instead of the clunky old 800MB hard drive that originally came in the Libretto.  There is a problem with this though.  I’ve been running into a wall trying to use a 4GB CF card because of LBA mode or some other layer of translation.  For some reason, fdisk can’t come to grips with this.  Most reasonable Linux distributions need at least a gig of disk space but I searched out one that did not….  Damn Small Linux.

DSL only needs 200mb minimum which is perfect since I happen to have a 256mb CF card laying around.  I popped it into my Pentium 133 desktop system with a CF-IDE adapter.  I went into the BIOS to make sure to auto-detect the card in “NORMAL” mode instead of “LARGE” or “LBA” modes.  Then I used a Redhat Linux 5.0 disk I had laying around to fdisk the partition.  I created one big partition that took all of the space, made it bootable and saved/quit.

After that, I popped in the DSL 4.1.10 ISO-LINUX live CD.  It booted up into the gui and I ran:

sudo /usr/sbin/dsl-hdinstall

I made sure to run that from a black xterm so I could see the text.  At the end, when it said it wanted to reboot to finish the setup, I stopped the computer and popped the CF card into my Libretto and booted it up there.

It booted up just fine but when it got to X it was REALLY ugly and the mouse didn’t work.  I hit “ctrl-alt-del” to pop out of X.  At the prompt I ran:

I made the following choices:

  • Xvesa
  • no USB mouse
  • no mouse wheel
  • ps2 mouse
  • 2 buttons
  • 640×480 pixel
  • 16-bit color depth
  • no “choose own dpi”
  • us keyboard

After all that, I restarted X and it appeared picture perfect with a functioning mouse.

Next priority was network access so I popped in a Xircom card I’ve been toting around forever.

There is a nice control panel in DSL that allowed me to configure it pretty quickly.

Next was wireless access but the problem is that there is no support for WPA in the 2.4 kernel or in any 16-bit PCMCIA cards that will actually work in this laptop.  Luckily there were quite a few 16-bit PCMCIA wireless cards available.  I have a few but I happened to chose an Orinoco Gold Wireless PC Card since it’s a nice robust card and I have a couple laying around.

Being a security-minded individual, the best solution I can think of is implementing a wireless network with the following parameters:

  • a hidden essid
  • MAC filtering
  • WEP
  • 802.11B only
  • attached to my outside DMZ

Beyond that, I’m at a bit of a loss.  It’s still a WEP network afterall and there is only so much that can be done to secure it.  But alas, I snagged on of my extra WRT54G’s and configured it with those parameters in mind and everything is pretty much up and running flawlessly.  Time to rebuild another battery I guess 🙂

Someone on the DC206 mailing list posted about a Seattle Retro Computer Society Meeting which sounds cool on it’s own but what really caught my eye was that it was being hosted at Paul Allen’s new Living Computer Museum in Seattle.  This museum is not yet open to the public so I thought this would be an excellent opportunity to see the place and check out the retro computing meetup.  I showed up and the group was small (12-15 people) but very enthusiastic about what they were doing so that made it worth seeing.  It’s nice to know at least that I’m not the only one interested in old gear.

There was Frank who built a single board computer based on a 6800 in an old AT style chassis.  Very cool stuff.

Then there was someone who had a Tektronix computer that ran BASIC and was based on vector graphics.

Then Dave had an old TRS-80 but had a Catweasel card in his PC that allowed him to produce disks for that system (or nearly any other) from images stored on his system.  But I didn’t snag a picture of it.

Hanging out with and talking to all these guys was awesome but then the bonus came later when the museum guys Bill and Keith showed up and gave us a tour of the upstairs where they are working on the exhibits that will eventually make up the museum.

We made out way up the rickety elevator to the dimly lit 3rd floor and we suddenly transported to nerd-heaven.  First on the tour was a PDP-7 from 1967.  That is their oldest machine.

Next few stops we some other PDP’s that were all extremely cool too but the crashed 200mb hard drive really caught my eye.

Then we moved on to see an Altair and a Xerox Alto which were both quite impressive.

After those, there was an XKL Toad-1 hidden in the back road.  This system stands out in my memories because I actually went to XKL a couple of times when the Toad-1 was being built.  I picked up a bit of trivia today about it.  Toad apparently stands for “ten on a desk” which refers to the PDP-10 it was built to emulate but they didn’t quite get there with the large rack mount form factor.

In the same room as the Toad-1, there was also a couple of DEC System 20’s.  One of which they had interfaced with a modern NAS in order to preserve the life of the system’s hard disks.  Speaking of which, there were a few of those in there as well.

The tour ended with what probably was the newest system there which was a mid to late 80’s DEX VAX 780.  Still pretty old stuff but I would wager that there are a lot of VAX systems out there still in use today.

Can’t wait for the SRCS meeting next month.  Now I have a better idea of how it works and have some cool stuff I can bring to share and hopefully everyone will get a kick out of it.  If you want to see more even better pictures of the types of computers this museum has, check out this book Core Memory.


After 6 months of talking about it, I finally gave my soldering 101 presentation at Black Lodge Research today.  If you were there or not, there are a few points that I was trying to drive home with this presentation.

  • Wash your hands and beware of lead
  • Clean your tip
  • Lead-free solder sucks ass!
  • Secure your work with fun tak

For those who missed it, sorry.  For everyone else, look forward to a couple of future classes on soldering surface mount devices and another one about making your own circuit boards at home.  Here are the slides and notes from the class:

Soldering 101 Open Office Presentation

Soldering 101 Presentation notes

Thanks to the folks who came out and made this talk fun and also thanks to the folks who dropped money in the donation box to help keep our hackerspace running.

I’ve had a thought forming in the back of my head since a recent ISD Podcast we did the other day featuring a breach of a Star Wars fan site.  In the case of a data breach like this, it really doesn’t matter what your password is if the website stores in in clear text.  Obviously you would hope that they wouldn’t do this but if they do, you are screwed.

No matter how much care you put into having that 80 character pass phrase with punctuation, etc, the data thief is sitting there staring at your password plain as day.  Furthermore, you are standing out as the lone wolf who has this crazy password.  From the thief’s perspective, that makes you a more interesting target since you are A) Either just more careful than the average Joe or B) You have something spectacular to hide.

Most people choose a password of 7-8 characters.  This is because this is the minimum required length for most websites.  A password of that length is somewhat trivial to crack these days practically no matter how much capitalization or punctuation you have present.  When you move up to more like a 15 character password, I’ll dare say that you are beyond the practical reach of current capabilities. If you were dumb about it and made it easy to guess then all bets are off.  Putting in spaces can help but even just combining odd words will make a better password.  To illustrate:

“sneakyrubberdogbath” is safer than “P4$$#ui!”

But then if a website gets hacked and the all the user accounts are leaked, having something REALLY long and REALLY crazy is going to make you stand apart from the pack.  Probably far more than you really want to.  If I saw something like…

userbob: St4rz4rr666brown_wag1n4setz_blahblahblah_blahlitmus_vermin

…my interests would personally be peaked and I would wonder what was so damned important that userbob is trying to protect.  My point is that you should keep your password within a range and not get carried away too far in either direction.

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