Saturday, December 27, 2008

Red, White & Blue December at LRGC

Another great practical rifle match at Langhorne Rod & Gun Club today.  The theme today was Kalashnikovs.  Most participants shot one AK variant or another.  I saw a couple Bulgarian Arsenal AKs (including mine), several Yugos (fixed stocks, folders and RPKs), a Norinco underfolder, a custom AK-105 clone, and a Saiga converted into an AK-104 clone, and some Romanian rifles.  There were also a few AR-15s and one Chicom SKS which took AK magazines.  There were a few shooters in the "war horse" class, with Garands, an SVT-40, and one Swiss K-31 Schmidt-Rubin.

The course of fire included:
  1. From about 10 yards, 20 rounds in two double taps.  Then 3 magazines of 3, followed by a transition to pistol with 10 rounds.
  2. From 200 yards, 3 magazines of 10 from prone.
  3. From 100 yards, 3 magazines of 10 from standing, kneeling, and prone.
  4. From 100 yards, one mag with 30 rounds to get 9 hits on 3 steel targets.
Part of the crowd:


The firing line:


Some of the hardware:


As always, the crew at Langhorne put on a fun, safe shoot.

Edit:  I forgot to mention that I met Sebastian of Snowflakes In Hell.  He's posted his impressions of the event here, with some pics, including a couple of yours truly.

Monday, December 22, 2008

MTV on the Holocaust

Coming from MTV, I find this to be remarkable.  Very well done.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Happy Chanukah!

Happy Chanukah!

Time for my now-traditional link to my 2004 post on the subject.  I find it particularly topical, given the level of Jewish support for Obama/Biden in the recent election.

MSI Wind 9 Cell Battery

Since I was dissatisfied with the short battery life of the OEM 3 cell battery which came with my MSI Wind netbook, last week I ordered a 9 cell replacement from, through  The battery arrived on Friday.

The 9 cell battery is physically larger than the OEM 3 cell.  It protrudes from the bottom of the case about an inch and adds about a half pound to the machine's weight.  It's still quite compact and portable, and the increased battery life is worth the increased weight and bulk IMO.

Battery1Inc.'s website states that they are shipped in a discharged state.  However, when I plugged it in XP showed the battery as being 100% charged.  I ran the netbook for about 2.5 hours on battery power, with the remaining life shown by XP fluctuating.  So, I plugged it back in to ensure a full charge, with the intention of testing the battery later.

It's late.  I unplugged the machine and fired it up at 0945 this morning.  XP's battery monitor reported 7:31 remaining.  A few minutes later it reported 5:30 remaining.  A few minutes after that it showed 6:10.  I'm wondering if XP is not able to accurately estimate battery life over a certain period, or it if there's some problem communicating with the battery.

In any event, I'm going to try using the Wind today until I get a low battery warning.  I'll post an update later.

Edit at 1906:  After using the Wind off and on throughout the day, I finally got a low battery warning at 1835. If this kind of performance lasts, I will be very happy, indeed.

Edit:  Here's the battery I purchased:

Replacement Netbook Battery for MSI laptop Wind U100/ BTY-S11, BTY-S12, 3715A-MS6837D1, 14L-MS6837D1, 6317A-RTL8187SE, TX2-RTL8187SE /9-cells Black 7200mAh High Capacity

Saturday, December 20, 2008


Last night I put together a new PC for my MIL.  It's based on an MSI Wind small form factor barebones system.  As usual, NewEgg delivered that parts I ordered very quickly.  It took two days to receive my order, even though I'd selected 3 - 5 business shipping.

The Wind barebones system comes with a 1.6 GHz Intel Atom CPU, an external power supply, and the SATA II data and power cables already attached to the motherboard.  Also included in the box were a Windows driver CD, a short User's Guide booklet, and screws to mount the hard disk and optical disk.

The Wind comes with 6 USB 2.0 ports (2 on the front), audio in/out on front, a speaker jack on the rear, along with jacks for surround sound speakers, and a flash card reader in front.  The card reader can handle compact flash and Sony Memory Sticks.  Dimensions of the SFF system are a scant 11.8" x 9.5" x 2.6".  Here are a couple of pictures of the Wind sitting on my desk next to my 20" widescreen monitor, with a coffee mug and my Black's Law Dictionary, 6th Ed. for scale.  (Click on the thumbnails for full size pics.)



For networking there's an onboard Realtek Gigabit Ethernet adapter.  The Intel GMA950 video adapter is onboard, as is the Realtek ALC858 sound card.

Rounding out the parts of the system are:

1. A Samsung SATA DVD-RAM drive.
2. A Western Digital 160 GB SATA hard disk.
3. A 200 pin SODIMM, 2 GB stick of Kingston DDR2-533 RAM.

The system is cooled by an exhaust fan mounted on the back which draws air in from vents on the right side (if you have it laying flat) of the box.  These vents are on the bottom of the case if you prop the system vertically, so MSI includes a stand which elevates the box off the floor.  (One could put the case on the other side but then the system would not take advantage of the fact that hot air rises.)  One thing that helps system cooling is that the 65W power supply is external.

Assembly of the system was straightforward.  Remove two screws on the back and you can remove the top/side of the case.  You then need to remove the front bezel, take out the filler for where optical drive goes, and mount the disks, using the screw holes on the bottoms of the disk drives.

Inserting the stick of RAM was a bit trickier.  The motherboard has one slot for a 200 pin DDR2-533 SODIMM.  The slot is tight and the latches securing the end of the SODIMM took some persuasion to allow the stick in, but after a few minutes I got it seated.

The motherboard also has two slots which remain unused in this system: a mini PCI-E slot for a wifi or TV tuner card, and a Compact Flash slot.  The latter can be used for building a completely solid state system, installing the operating system on a CF card.  Somewhat annoyingly, even when empty the CF slot shows up as Disk 0 in the system, which results in Windows being installed onto E:.  This caused one post-installation problem, which I'll discuss below.

Windows XP Professional SP3 installed easily after I got the system put together.  Note that the system does not have PS/2 ports for the mouse and keyboard, so you must use USB.  Keep this in mind if installing a pre-SP2 version of Windows or other OSes which don't support USB keyboards and mice during installation.

During installation I partitioned the hard disk, creating a 50 GB system partition with the remained to be used for data.  This will simplify reinstalling Windows if I need to do so down the road.  Post install, I created an account for my MIL and pointed her "My Documents" desktop shortcut to a folder on the second partition, the F: drive.

Once XP was installed I popped in the disc to load the drivers for sound, video and the network.  The sound driver required a reboot but IIRC, the video and NIC drivers did not.  I currently have the box connected to my Acer 20" widescreen LCD monitor, and the Intel GMA950 has no problems running it at 1600x1050 resolution, in 32 bit color.

The applications I installed are:

1. Anti-malware HOSTS file from
2. AVG Antivirus
3. Ad Aware
4. Firefox 3.0.5 with two extensions, Adblock Plus and Linkification
5. Foxit Reader (PDF reader that's much lighter than Adobe's)
6. PDF Creator
7. VLC for viewing videos and listening to audio files
8. MS Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Publisher 2007
9. CPUID Hardware Monitor
10. Nero Burning ROM
11. CCleaner
12. Skype, to be used with a webcam she already has

As mentioned above the system sets up the internal CF reader as Disk 0, and Windows sees this as C: in Disk Manager.  I thus wound up with the DVD burner as D: but the system partition on the hard disk as E:, and the data partition as F:.  Not having XP installed on C: caused the installation of Adobe's Flash Player to fail with an insufficient disk space error.  After hitting Google I found a workaround: connect a USB flash drive to the system.  Then, go into Disk Manager and change the CF reader to an unused drive letter (Z: in my case), change the USB flash drive to C:, then rerun the Flash player installer.  Upon doing so it ran.  My MIL will be happy now that she'll be able to watch videos on Youtube. ;-)

I was a bit concerned about system cooling.  The intake vent is right next to the RAM which partically blocks airflow, since the SODIMM protruded at right angled to the motherboard.  In laptops the RAM would be flat against the board.  I fired up CPUID Hardware Monitor and then watched several Youtube videos, an activity which warms up other systems I've used.  CPU temp stayed around 104* to 106* F.  I followed this up with the first two tracks from Derek and the Dominos Live at the Fillmore, played in the DVD-RAM drive.  CPU temp remained around 103* to 104*, so as long as the vents remain clear cooling should be adequate.  (I haven't tried ripping CDs or DVDs, which might stress the system more, raising temperature.)

The Derek and the Dominos CD played fine using VLC.  When I put in a Star Wars DVD and tried to watch it I got audio and a bunch of pixelated junk, however.  Another DVD player might work better, I'm not sure.  My MIL won't be watching DVDs on this system, in any event.

Since my MIL doesn't know yet that I've built this system for her, it's a bit tempting to throw Ubuntu or OpenSUSE on the box to see how it would handle Linux.  From how it works with XP, I think it should have plenty of power, especially with a lightweight desktop like XFCE.

The Wind is low powered by today's standards.  However, it does have enough processing power to handle light office tasks, web browsing, email, viewing online video, and listening to music.  Compared with a more powerful system, it's green, using less electricity and generating less heat.  The small dimensions make it easy to fit into cramped spaces.  In a sense, it could be viewed as the PC world's equivalent of a Mac Mini, but easier to work on and less expensive.  For users in need of a system which will do the tasks listed above, and who don't need a more powerful system for sophisticated audio/video processing, the MSI Wind barebones PC is a good option.  With disk space being cheaper than ever, the Wind could be the basis for an inexpensive, low power home server.  Finally, the onboard CF slot also offers interesting opportunities, such as building a flash based system for use as a web or X terminal.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

New PC for MIL

Being the resident computer geek in my extended family, end user support naturally winds up being my responsibility.  So, when it comes time for someone in the family to get a new home computer either I put it together or they ask me for a recommendation.

For example, my mother in-law (henceforth “MIL”) currently has a PC I built up for her about 5 or 6 years ago.  It’s an MSI minitower, one of the PCs WalMart was selling sans OS several years ago.  It worked OK for awhile but it’s long in the tooth now and in dire need of replacement.  It has a 900 MHz AMD Duron CPU, 256 MB of RAM, and a 10 GB hard disk.  This afternoon, I ordered the parts from NewEgg to build her a new PC.

Based on the good results with her existing MSI PC and my Wind netbook, I chose an MSI Wind barebones PC as the basis for the new box.  The Wind barebones apparently takes a motherboard very similar to the one in the Wind netbook and puts it into a small form factor desktop/minitower case.  Like the netbook, it comes with a 1.6 GHz Intel Atom CPU and takes a maximum of 2 GB of laptop RAM.  There’s space for a 3.5” hard disk and a 5.25” optical drive.

To complete the machine I also ordered the following hardware:

  • 2 GB stick of Kingston RAM
  • 160 GB Western Digital SATA hard disk
  • Samsung SATA DVD burner
  • Logitech USB keyboard and mouse

This is low end by today’s standards, but her most important applications are Firefox, Skype (for talking to my brother in-law in Okinawa), and Office.  My Wind netbook handles these with aplomb so the desktop should be just fine.

Other reasons for choosing the Wind barebones is that its small form factor will fit into MIL’s cramped bedroom easily and it has low power consumption.   It didn’t hurt that NewEgg had it on sale and there’s a $10 mailin rebate.

The software load with be XP Pro SP3 with IE6 (IE7 sucks up too many system resources even when you’re not using it), MS Office 2003, Firefox, AVG antivirus, and Skype.

So why not a Mac?  Two words: low budget.  This setup is costing less than $300 (we already have the XP and Office licenses).   Even a low end Mac Mini would cost at least $300 more.

And why Windows instead of something like Ubuntu Linux?  If MIL didn’t use MS Office, I’d be perfectly happy to load Ubuntu  on it.  A few years ago I had my parents using SuSE 7.3 at home and it worked fine until they had a few windows programs they really wanted to run. For MIL, Firefox and Skype would work just fine on Linux.  MS Office, not so much.  (No, for her is not good enough.  OO.o does not perfectly translate heavily formatted Office docs, which she sometimes brings home from work.)  I’m able to configure XP so that it needs relatively minimal attention, and the only networking she does is Internet access from behind a router.  She doesn’t live with us so being around to help her learn a new OS isn’t really feasible.  YMMV.

I’m hoping my order will arrive next week so I get to move her to the new machine by the end of the year.  I’ll post a follow up once it’s up and running.  Assuming it works out well, I may wind up getting a second one for use as a home server here.

Monday, December 15, 2008

MSI Wind Netbook Review

I bought an MSI Wind U100-420US netbook at Microcenter just before Thanksgiving. They had it on sale for $299; their regular price is $349. My intended uses for the box include ham radio programming, PSK-31 once I get my General Class license, and portable computing when I don't feel like schlepping around my 15" MacBook Pro. It will also fill a role as a commo and navigation box in the event of an emergency and we need to evacuate.

The Wind hardware is pretty slick. Mine has a black case but it's also available in white, pink, and a "Love Edition" which is white with hearts on it. (Barf.) It weighs 2.6 lbs., came with a 120 GB hard disk, 1 GB of RAM, and a 1.6 GHz Intel Atom CPU. It has 802.11g wifi, a 10/100 Ethernet port, a 56k modem, A/V input/output, VGA out, 3 USB ports, and a card reader. I bumped the RAM to the maximum supported, 2 GB (a Kingston 1 gig stick was $13.99 + free shipping from NewEgg). The keyboard is good for the size of the unit, just a bit cramped. A few months ago I had the chance to play with a 7.5" Asus Eee PC 4G which while handier, is much harder to type on. Also, the 10" 1024x600 screen of the MSI is much better for web browsing. Based on using the Wind I've decided that it's as small as I want to go. To demonstrate how small the Wind is, I've posted some pics of it along with my 12" G4 iBook and my copy of Black's Law Dictionary here .

By pressing Fn-F10 you can put the Wind into "Turbo mode." Contrary to what you might think, this actually underclocks the CPU to 800 MHz, to save battery power. Similarly, you can enable or disable the wifi radio to save power by pressing Fn-F11. In fact, wifi was disabled out of the box and it took me a little while to figure this out, which was annoying. For some reason, I had to reenable wifi after I upgraded the RAM.

The Wind came with XP Home SP3 and was surprisingly free of crapware, unlike most consumer PCs. While I prefer OS X or Linux, I'm leaving XP on it so I can run a few Windows programs. Specifically, the two apps to program my ham radios -- FTB7800 from G4FHQ and ADMS-1E from RT Systems -- require Windows and I had problems getting them working properly in a Pareallels Desktop VM on OS X (mainly due to the need to use a USB-to-RS232 adapter). Aside from those apps I spend the bulk of my time in a web browser, so the OS is just in the background. And like it or not, having a copy of Internet Explorer is sometimes useful when dealing with web sites designed by clueless webmasters who don't abide by Internet standards. I am leaving it at IE6, as I don't want the performance hit incurred when loading IE7.

Another Windows app I'm using is MS MapPoint 2009. Although I have a GPS in my truck, and can take it with me if I have a rental car, MapPoint provides me with more advanced mapping capabilities, including finding nearby restaurants or other businesses while traveling. Since MapPoint includes maps for the entire continental US in its highly compressed database, it's useful even without an Internet connection. (MS Streets and Trips would provide the functionality I need, but I got MapPoint through our MSDN subscription.) However, if I'm in a Verizon area, I can connect the Wind to my Blackberry and get online using Verizon's EVDO network, with DSL-like speeds.

I've been running the Google Chrome web browser on the Wind, with the "phone-home" features disabled. (I confirmed it wasn't sending data back to Google home by running a packet trace using Wireshark.) Chrome is very fast and can be configured with minimal toolbars to make best use of the Wind's small 10" screen.

Upgrading the RAM involved removing 9 screws and pop off the bottom half of the case. Doing so requires you to punch through a sticker warning you that by opening the case you're voiding the warranty. Before I did this I googled and found several references to MSI NOT voiding the warranty if all you're doing is upgrading the RAM, and possible the hard disk. Both the RAM slot and the hard disk are easily accessible with the case open.

A 1.3 megapixel webcam is positioned in the bezel at 12 o'clock. Picture quality is about what I'd expect for such a webcam (not very good), but it'll be good enough for use with Skype if I'm traveling. My kids will be able to recognize Daddy. There's also a microphone for use with messenger programs, and of course a couple of speakers. The mic and speakers worked OK during a test phone call made with Skype. The speakers really aren't adequate for listening to music but the sound when using external headphones is fine, so the sound card is decent.

MSI's standard software load for the Wind includes a Bluetooth manager, even on Winds like mine which ship with no Bluetooth module. With the case open the slot to connect a Bluetooth module is accessible, so I may add one if I can do so cheaply, though I have no pressing need for it. The software load also includes Ulead disc burning software which will come in handy if I connect an external burner. I have an unused Plextor dual layer DVD-RW drive in an old PC which could fill the bill, using a USB-to IDE adapter that I have. (This is OK for home use but would be clumsy for travel.) MSI also installed a full version of WinRAR, which aside from being useful for dealing with compressed archives can also open .ISO disc images.

Out of the box the hard disk was divided into a 40 GB C: drive labelled "OS_Install," a small hidden restore partition, and the remainder as D:. I will be keeping my data on D: so that in the event I need to reinstall the OS, I shouldn't need to restore my data. Among the data I'll keep on the box will be a backup copy of the TrueCrypt volume storing all my important stuff on my MacBook Pro, various USGS topo maps, reference materials including a copy of FM 21-76, a first aid manual, and other documents which would be useful in an emergency. For more on the usefulness of a laptop in an emergency situation, check out Shane S's excellent site, Listening to Katrina  .

Other software I've installed includes MS Word and Excel 2007, 3.0, Wireshark for packet sniffing, VLC, AVG antivirus, Ad Aware,'s anti-malware hosts file, CCleaner, Verizon's connection manager, Firefox 3, Opera 9, Pidgin, Skype, and TrueCrypt. Keeping in mind the travel uses for the box, I've also downloaded some USGS topographical maps for my local area, along with others to which I travel, in PDF format.

The Wind did not come with any kind of a carrying case, so along with it I bought a Case Logic netbook sleeve made of neoprene. This will provide some cushioning when it's carried inside of my pack.

So far the only thing I'm dissatisfied with is battery life. It has a 3 cell battery so it only lasts about 1.5 - 2 hours before needing to be plugged into A/C. This is barely adequate for around the house use, much less while traveling, in the field, or during a disaster. I'm therefore looking at getting a 6 cell or 9 cell battery. (Performance in the battery saving Turbo mode is noticeably slower than when the unit is running at full speed, so I haven't tested it to see how much it will extend battery life.)

Aside from the short battery life the MSI Wind is a great little PC. It makes a nice secondary computer for desktop PC owners or those with large "desktop replacement" laptops looking for a machine that's easier to tote around.

Edit:  Well, this afternoon I hit Amazon and ordered a 9-cell battery for the Wind.  It'll be shipped from an Amazon affiliate, Battery1Inc, and I should get it before Christmas.  I'll post a follow up once it arrives.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Clonezilla for PC Backups

One of the reasons I wanted to get our XRAIDs up and running is to use them as storage space for backup images of our lab PCs. Since we use the lab PCs to test all manner of programs, and since Windows tends to develop bit rot over time, the PCs periodically need to be wiped and rebuilt. Doing this manually is tedious, to put it mildly.

With a big, network accessible storage space, I can build up a PC, get it into good working order, then create an image of the hard drive and save it on the XRAID. Then, the next time I need to rebuild that particular box I just wipe the drive and reapply the image.

Using disk images to backup PCs is of course nothing new. Several commercial products can do this, e.g., Symatec Ghost. However, we only have one license for Ghost even though we have over ten lab PCs. Open source to the rescure.

I recently downloaded Clonezilla , which is based on a live version of Debian Linux. I used Clonezilla to create a compressed hard disk image of one of my lap PCs, a Dell Latitude D600. The image was saved via SCP to a network accessible directory on the XRAID.

To test the restore function, I then reformatted the Dell's hard disk using GParted, running on a System Rescue CD , another bootable Linux distro. Next, I booted the PC using the Clonezilla CD and did a restore.

It appears to have worked perfectly, restoring my XP Pro partition, Debian partition, and the MBR.

Aside from PCs, Clonezilla's web page indicates that it supports Intel Macs.  I plan to test this using our department's MacBook.  Assuming that it works on the Mac platform I'll also create an image of Rohan, my MacBook Pro.

This is going to make my life easier.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008


How I spent last Saturday:

I put up some of my own pics here , and a couple of crappy low-resolution videos taken with my Blackberry here .

Langhorne Rod and Gun Club put on yet another fun and safe shoot.

Remington Responds on H-S Precision

Remington uses a lot of H-S Precision stocks in build some variants of their Model 700 rifle.  Over at The War on Guns, David Codrea has a response from Remington's CEO, Tommy Milner .

Remington did the right thing when faced with Jim Zumbo so I'm optimistic they'll do the right thing regarding H-S Precision.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

HS Precision Gets Endorsement by Lon Horiuchi


This should be enough to make every freedom loving American vomit.  HS Precision, manufacturer of stocks and other parts for precsion rifles, is featuring an endorsement of their products by Lon Horiuchi on the back of their catalog.  Here's a scan (click on the thumbnail for a full size image):

For readers unfamiliar with Horiuchi, he is the FBI sniper who shot Vicki Weaver during the the standoff at Ruby Ridge 1992.  He was also present at the 1993 Waco siege where he was again suspected of misconduct.  He charged with manslaughter for Weaver's death but the charge was eventually dismissed in a Federal court, the basis for which was the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution.  (Note that this ruling doesn't go to the merits of the case.)  In gun owner circles, he is regarded as a murderer.

As pointed out by Arfcommer "dedfella," this is akin to having a fertilizer company get an endorsement by Timothy McVeigh.  Poor taste, putting it mildly.

The owners of HS Precision would have to be living under a rock to not understand the revulsion this would incite among gunnies.  Obviously, they don't give a shit about us and are only concerned with securing .gov contracts.  Screw 'em.

Edit: If you click on the link at the top of this thread, a couple of members have spoken with people at HS Precision and confirmed this.

Edit 11/27/08: Well, this post has certainly attracted a lot more visitors than normal.  Welcome, and please poke around my site.  If you're interested in the subject matter of this post there's a lot more shooting and RKBA content.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Weekend Update

Saturday morning I went over to my MIL's condo to work on her old XP PC.  I built it for her a few years ago using one of the PCs Wal-Mart was selling w/o an OS.  I give it a tuneup about once a year and generally it's been OK for her light use.  However, recently it became unusable.

The box has a 900 MHz Duron CPU and 256 MB of RAM.  Not bad for when I built it but obviously considered slow by current standards.  Anyway, I saw that she'd let Windows Update install IE7.  Even though she uses Firefox, just having IE7 on it caused the machine to slow to a crawl.  I uninstalled it, cleaned up the registry and got rid of a lot of junk with Crap Cleaner, and got it to the point where it's usable.

The other problem she'll have soon is lack of disk space.  The box has a 10 GB drive with only a couple gig free.

At this point I don't feel that it's cost effective to sink any money into the PC.  I'm considering getting her a cheap laptop, possible a refurbished Dell Latitude from somewhere like, and moving her over to that.  One nice thing about a laptop would be that instead of me having to schelp to her condo if it needs attention, she can bring it to me.  We'll see.

Yesterday I was able to get out to the range for a couple of hours.  I ran about 80 rounds of .45 ACP through my Springfield M1911 without a bobble.  I'm confident now that the functioning issues I had a little while ago were magazine-induced.  The last time I had the gun out I identified the bad mag and junked it.  I currently have one 7 round Springfield factory mag, four Chip McCormick 8 round Shooting Star mags, and two 10 round CMC Power-Mags.  (I generally use the latter in my Marlin Camp Carbine because I don't like how the pistol feels with the extra-capacity magazine.)  I need to pick up some more of the 8 round Shooting Stars.

After using up all my .45 ACP I went to the 75 yard range and put about 40 rounds through my 1944 Fazakerly No.4 Mk.I Lee-Enfield.  I bought this rifle back around 1985 or '86 and shot it quite a bit through the early '90s.  I haven't shot it much lately and decided it would be fun to give it a workout.  Watching some videos of Lee-Enfield rapid fire on Youtube whetted my appetite.  E.g., this one .

The .303 I show was a mix of my last 3 rounds of HXP Greek surplus, some Sellier & Bellot, and some 1981 Winchester.  It wasn't a problem to keep all my shots inside the black of an SR-1 target from 75 yards, from the bench, shooting pretty rapidly.  I was able to hold the 10 ring if I shot slow fire.  I used to be able to keep them all in the black from 100 yards offhand, slow fire, but I'm out of practice.  Need to fix that.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Cabela's Trip

This morning we all piled into the Expedition and went to Cabela's in Hamburg, PA.  I figured the girls would really like the various mounted animals and the aquariums, and I wasn't disappointed.

Not surprisingly for this time of year, the store was mobbed.  This in spite of the current down economy.  The crowd in the gun section was especially heavy, stacked two deep in front of the gun counter.  I expected this in light of last week's election results.  I restrained myself and only bought a bulk pack of 525 rounds of Federal .22 LR ammo for $14.99 and a large spray can of RemOil.  (I've come to like RemOil as a cleaner, but IMO it's too light for general lube or anti-corrosion protection.  It's especially handy for hosing out the innards of a dirty AR-15, and the smell isn't bad.)

Aside from the ammo and oil, we got the girls stuffed horses, Judith got some clothes, and I got a new cap to replace one I lost a couple weeks ago.

While there we had lunch.  I can recommend the venison bratwurst.  Yum.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Range Report

Dad and I made it out to the range today for a couple of hours.  Dad had his Colt AR-15A3 while I brought my Savage 93GL in .22 WMR, 1944 Underwood M1 Carbine, and my Marlin 336 in .30-30.

Dad was shooting mostly Wolf 55 grain .223 today in his AR-15 and experienced a couple failures of the action to stay open on the last shot with it.  He also ran some Radway Green SS109 loads through it with no problems.  He probably has less than 500 rounds through the gun so it's not broken in yet.  I suggested that he stick with the hotter milspec ammo for another couple hundred rounds, after which time it should run better with the Wolf ammo, which is not as hot as American .223/5.56mm.

This was the first time shooting the Savage 93GL since I put a Nikon 4x32mm Prostaff rimfire scope on it.  I did my initial zero using some Winchester Dynapoints I picked up over the summer at Wal-Mart.  I've read that they are a bit less destructive on game than most .22 WMR JHPs so I wanted to give them a try.  Accuracy with the Winchesters was good -- well under an inch at 50 yards -- but I had two rounds in one box of 50 which required a second strike on a different part of the rim to go off.  Very dissappointing.

I also shot some CCI Maxi Mag JHPs through the Savage to confirm the zero, since this is my normal .22 WMR load of choice.  I had my first ever dud with CCI rimfire ammo today.  One round failed to fire even after being hit on three different places on the rim.  {grumble}

This was also the first time shooting the Savage after installing a Rifle Basix sear.  My rifle was made before Savage put Accu-Triggers on their rimfire bolt actions.  The factory trigger was heavy and had a lot of creep.  With the Rifle Basix sear most of the creep is gone and it breaks at about 2.5 lbs, greatly improving shootability.

I only put about 30 or 40 rounds of Remington UMC FMJ through the M1, but experienced no malfunctions.  As expected it shot a little high at 50 yards but I kept all shots in about 2 or 3 inches, typical for an M1 Carbine in my experience.  This Carbine was one of the batch imported from Israel last year.  It has a fair amount of surface character but the bore is excellent.  The recoil seemed a just little brisk for an M1 so I think the recoil spring may need to be replaced with one from Wolff Gunsprings.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Debian Linux

One of the projects with which I'm involved at work requires me to determine how much bandwidth a streaming IP video product is consuming.  To do so I wanted to run ntop, a protocol analyzer which can present data in nice pretty graphs (important for showing to PHBs).

I've used ntop off and on in the past but one thing that's always been a PITA is installing it.  I first tried installing it on my CentOS 5.2 box but ran into dependency hell.  Next I tried on my Dell Latituded D600, which was a dual-boot XP Pro and OpenSUSE 11 box.  No dice, YAST couldn't find it or rrdtool (a dependency) in the OpenSUSE repositories.  So, I decided to give Debian a try.

I haven't tried plain Debian in years, though I've used derivatives, such as Knoppix and (K)Ubuntu recently.  I am pretty impressed.

To install Debian I downloaded and burned the netinstall image to a DVD (it'll fit on a CD but I didn't have any handy).  The installer recognized all the hardware in my Dell and didn't screw up my XP installation, either.

To get my Intel Pro2200BG wifi NIC running, I had to download firmware, but basic support was already in the 2.6 kernel I'm running.  I'm on an open network and haven't yet tried it on a network with encryption.

Aside from ntop I installed some other network monitoring tools, including nmap, Wireshar, and airsnort, all from Debian's repositories.

So far, so good.  I wish I had tried Debian years ago.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Post Election Thought

After watching the results last night this is the first thing that came to mind:

THESE are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value.

--Thomas Paine, Crisis In America I.

And then this:

[N]ever give in, never give in, never, never, never, never-in nothing, great or small, large or petty - never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.

--Sir Winston Churchill, October 29, 1941, Harrow School.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Voted This Morning

This morning I arrived at my polling place about 7:10 and had a ten minute wait.  By the time I left the line went out the door.  In the two decades I've been voting at this place, I've never seen such a line.

It's going to be a nail-biter.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Obama Exposed

One last pre-election bump for my other blog, Obama Exposed.  If you haven't checked it out in awhile please take a look.

McCain/Palin '08!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Apple Store Visit

Yesterday I went over to the Apple Store in King of Prussia, PA with a friend, mainly to check out the new MacBooks and MB Pros.  The new machines are nice, though IMHO the deletion of the FireWire 400 port from the MacBooks was a mistake.  I also would like to see two FireWire ports on the MacBook Pros (Rohan, my almost two year-old MBP has FW 800 and FW 400 ports).  The MBs have two USB 2.0 ports but IME, FW400 provides better sustained throughput than the supposedly faster USB 2.0.

The new trackpads are nice and address one problem (IMHO) that Apple needed to.  Namely, the lack of a two button mouse.  The entire trackpad acts like a mouse button, even down to the click.  But if you go into System Preferences > Trackpad, you can configure either the lower left or right corner as a secondary mouse button.  Voila, you now have a two button mouse.  Sweet.

The other reason for taking a trip to the KoP store was to get a new power supply for my wife's G4 iBook.  The iBook was issued to her by the School District of Philadelphia about 2.5 - 3 years ago and it's been great.  A few days ago she noticed it wasn't charging and Friday night, I discovered that this was because the cord was frayed near where it plugs into the iBook.  It was delivering enough juice to slowly charge the machine when it was off, but not nearly enough when the box was powered on.  Worse, it's a fire hazard.

Luckily, I was able to use the power supply from the G4 iBook I used as my primary machine before buying Rohan.  That box gets occasional use by my daughters, and the Apple power supply design could be more robust, so I didn't want to share it between the two iBooks.

Unfortunately, the school district is strapped for cash and the odds of getting a replacement power supply through it are about nil, so I reluctantly coughed up the cash for a new one.  If and when Judith has to return the iBook to the school district, I'll keep the new power supply as a spare.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

OS X Server

I've spent the past couple days at work setting up one of the two Apple XServs that we received last month.  So far, I'm liking the GUI admin tools included with Leopard Server, though I am also doing some tweaking via the command line accessed via ssh.  Also, to add some flexibility, I installed X11 and the XCode Developer Tools.  For one thing, I need gcc.

Specifically, I want to run Cacti on the box to provide SNMP monitoring of devices in our lab network, e.g., routers, switches, and CMTSes.  Cacti is basically a graphical front end to RRDTools, providing a web interface using PHP.  I installed MacPorts to simplify installing Cacti and its dependencies.  Unfortunately, the MacPorts install of net-snmp bombed so I wound up installing it by hand.  (This wasn't a big surprise.  I've had ports fail to install using MacPorts before on other boxes.)  With net-snmp installed I was able to get RRDTool installed, including the MySQL dependency.  Being an MySQL n00b, I'm working my way through getting that configured.

Aside from the Xserv providing network management and monitoring, I'm using it as a web server to provide a portal for our lab management group.  The initial version of the portal is based on a simple, static HTML page with links to forms and informtational documents.

However, OS X.5 Server includes a wiki server to build workgroup intranets.  I've managed to create a pretty decent looking wiki for our group.  I still need to figure out how to enable read-only access for people not in our group, so they can view our procedures and download forms.  The default workgroup wiki settings require users to authenticate before they can view the pages we create.

Future services on the box will also include file sharing, once I get an XRAID connected.

Monday, October 13, 2008

New Blackberry Curve

My employer issues me a Blackberry 8330 Curve since I am one of the floor captains in our building.  We have an unlimited data plan and I've never gotten any complaints about using it to surf the web outside of normal business hours, though I didn't feel comfortable putting my personal email accounts on the device.  It does have a few disadvantages, though:

  1. The camera is disabled for security purposes.  Nevermind the fact that plenty of personally owned camera phones are allowed in the building.
  2. Tethering is disabled, so I can't use it to get my laptop online.  Even if tethering was enabled, T-Mobile just lit up their 3G network in Philly and my device supports only their EDGE network, which is much slower.
  3. Our carrier is T-Mobile.  We used to have Sprint, who has decent service in the Philadelphia area.  T-Mobile's network coverage is much spottier.
Last week I became eligible for Verizon's "New Every 2" promotion on my personal cell phone.  This is a promo wherein they give you $49.99 credit towards a new phone every two years.  Verizon also has the best cell network in this area, IMHO.

So, yesterday I went to the local Verizon store and bought a Blackberry Curve 8330 pretty much the same as the T-Mobile one from work.  Aside from the $49.99 credit, there's also a $79.99 mail-in rebate, so the final cost of the phone, belt case, car charger, and a 2 GB Micro SD card will be only $100.

The T-Mobile phone is configured to use wifi connections when available.  The Verizon Blackberry doesn't have that capability, but it doesn't really need it due to Verizon's better network coverage.

My employer has a deal worked out with Verizon for a 20% discount on cell phone plans, including data plans.  So I got the 5 GB/month data plan and the $15/month tethering plan, with the first month's tethering free.

Since my laptop is a MacBook Pro I specifically asked about Mac support tethering and syncronization.  The Verizonbot told that both are supported but that I'd need to download the PocketMac sync tool from  The tethering software would be included on the CD in the phone box.


After inserting the CD and finding Windows-only tethering software, I hit Google.  I found two ways to tether the Blackberry to Rohan:

  1. Via Bluetooth, which requires no additional software.
  2. Via USB, which required me to download Verizon's connection manager software for one of their EVDO cards.
This was a PITA, to put it mildly.  Although I was able to get tethering up and running pretty quickly, a non-technical Mac user would have been in a real bind.  Is it really that hard for Verizon to include at least the tethering app on the Blackberry CD?

Oh well, bitching aside, I'm able to get about a meg down using the USB connection to Verizon's EVDO network.  Bluetooth speeds are about half that.  Web browsing speeds using Opera Mini are better than the T-Mobile Blackberry.  Accessing my Gmail account, using Google's downloadable app, works much more smoothly.  So far I've made only a couple phone calls but call quality was better than my old Motorola Razr.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Gun Show Loophole

Clayton Cramer comments on the so-called "gun show loophole:"

Most gun owners know that there is no loophole. Federal law does not currently prohibit two private parties transferring a firearm. Some states have laws about this, but the federal government does not. There is no more a gun show "loophole" than there is a newspaper advertisement "loophole" because newspapers accept ads for guns for sale.

As Clayton details, there is no correlation between gun shows and increased crime.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Red Hat Training

The Red Hat Linux training class I took this week wrapped up early on Friday, allowing me to leave and work from home the rest of the day.  I'm currently on the back porch with Rohan, a glass of water (booze will wait for later), and an H. Uppman Vintage Cameroon cigar.  May as well take advantage of a beautiful Fall day, before they're gone.  ;-)

Overall the class -- Guru Labs GL250 Enterprise Linux System Administration was pretty good.  It could have been a bit more organized the first day or two.  E.g., the server in room needed the full Fedora Core 6 repository setup but otherwise it went well.

The exercises in our lab book were geared towards Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5 or Fedora Core 6.  This was my first time working with FC and it seems decent (I am aware that FC9 is the current release).

I'm considering going for RHCT and maybe RHCE certification.  I figure with the current state of the economy the more certs I have the better.  That means I'll need to setup a lab here at the house.  What I may do is rebuild Bagend -- currently sitting sans hard disk -- with additional RAM and a bigger disk than I had in it, loading CentOS 5.2, and installing a couple of different virtual Linux boxes under VirtualBox.  Earlier this week I did setup FC6 in VirtualBox on Rohan but for the purposes of lab exercises more machines would be beneficial.  Since I have limited physical space virtualized servers makes the most sense for me.

Bagend, which I build back in the Fall of 2004, currently has 1 GB of RAM, an AlthonXP at around 2 GHz, and had an 80 GB disk in it.  I have some old IDE disks I could add for additional space but recently, Microcenter advertised a 1 terabyte drive for about $129.  What I'll probably do is put the 80 GB disk back in and leave its XP Pro install alone, then add a large secondary disk and install CentOS on that, so I have a dual boot setup.  Then I'll add another gig or so of RAM and it should be good to go.

Friday, October 03, 2008

The Bailout Mess

So far I haven't commented on the bailout proposed by Bush and is working its way through Congress. Two people who's opinions I respect, Jerry Pournelle and Robert Bruce Thompson, have differing opinions (both are linked in my blogroll if you want to see what they have to say).

Jerry supports a bailout and Robert opposes it. In the end, I have to come down on Robert's side in this debate and oppose the bill in its current form, or in any form for that matter. It is a disaster waiting to happen. At best, a bailout will prop up the house of cards a bit longer, merely delaying the necessary correction. I am concerned that by doing so, the eventual collapse will be made worse.  Much worse.

It is the nature of capitalism for bubbles to happen and then pop. The market needs a serious correction. Now. Actions must have consequence. The proposed bailout seeks to take private errors of judgement and socialize the poor consequnces, shifting the burden of poor decisions by investment bankers onto the backs of taxpayers.

Worse, by intertwining the Federal government even further into the market it lays the ground for fascism* or socialism. Both ideologies flourish in hard econimc times. Whether or not a completely laissez-faire capitalist system is the best can be debated among reasonable people. But fascism and socialism lead to tyranny.

Unfortunately too many useful idiots would welcome total goverment control over the market. Not me. Surely, the same people who brought us the IRS (renowned for customer service, and who couldn't run a profit at the Mustang Ranch when they seized it for back taxes), Amtrak, and No Child Gets Ahead Left Behind, couldn't possibly fuck up the economy beyond repair, could they?

* One of the biggest con jobs of 20th Century was the success of socialists and communists in getting fascism painted as a right-wing ideology. It's not. Fascism is more accurately described as socialism with a nationalist twist. Mussolini started out as a socialist. The formal name of the Nazi party in Germany was the NSDAP - the National Socialist German Workers' Party.

New Security System

Yesterday I got to work from home while an experimental home security and monitoring system got installed.  It's broadband-enabled, so that instead of using a phone line to contact the monitoring service, it uses my cable modem connection, with a cellular backup in case the cable modem connection goes down due to a system outage or tampering.

Included in the system are some door and window sensors, a motion sensor, a couple video cameras capable of streaming live video, a controller which can be used to automatically turn a lamp on or off, and a touch screen control panel.  Everything connects back to the central hub via wireless and the door/window sensors are battery powered with an ~5 year battery life.

Overall it's pretty slick and I look forward to exploring its capabilities.

Some Lab PC Upgrades

Roughly six months ago I submitted a request for various items for our lab.  E.g., some video cables and RAM upgrades for a few PCs and two G5 Power Macs.  The request finally made its way through my employer's bureaucracy and we got the items earlier this week.

Three of the PCs which we use for evaluating software and networking hardware in my lab are boxes that we got a couple years ago from Intel.  They have 2.66 GHz Core 2 Duo CPUs, 120 GB SATA hard disks, and DVD burners.  Graphics and sound aren't anything special, but they are solid, well-built boxes.  Unfortunately, they only had one gig of RAM eachs.  So, I upgraded two of them with an additional 2 GB of RAM, bringing them to a total of 3 gigs.  This is the most that 32 bit XP will recognize, so maxing the boxes out with 8 GB (the maximum supported by the hardware) would be pointless.

I added another 4 GB to the remaining PC, however, for a total of 5 GB.  That box will get a fresh install of 64 bit Vista Enterprise.  I currently have 32 bit Vista Ultimate on it and with only 1 GB, it runs like a dog.  It's currently being used for some browser testing by another groups. Installing Vista x64 will have to wait until their current project is finished, however.

The G5s only had 512 MB of RAM each.  One is running OS 10.4.11 while the other has 10.5.5.  Tiger was OK on 512 MB but Leopard was pretty pokey.  Both boxes are noticeably snappier with 2 GB of RAM.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Updates at Obama Exposed

Just a reminder to check out my other blog Obama Exposed.  Plenty of recent updates.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Philadelphia's Gun Laws Struck Down

A victory for the rule of law:

Commonwealth Court on Friday dismissed a lawsuit against the legislature filed last year by two members of Philadelphia's City Council (related stories).  The court says several gun ordinances the council passed last year include language saying they can't take effect unless the legislature allows municipalities to enact stricter laws. That hasn't happened.
Those measures would have limited gun purchases to one a month and banned assault weapons....

Full story.

Pennsylvania law is clear to anyone who can read on a 6th grade level.  Only the state government is allowed to regulate firearms, localities are not.  I just heard on KYW-1060 AM that the city will probably appeal to the state supreme court.  Thankfully, the last time Philadelphia tried to enact its own assault weapons ban, the state supreme court smacked it down hard.

The law is so clear that Philadelphia should be forced to pay the attorneys' fees and costs of the parties challenging their patently illegal ordinance.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

I Got to Meet Alan Gura Today

This afternoon I had the pleasure of meeting Alan Gura, Dick Anthony Heller's attorney in the Supreme Court's landmark case, District of Columbia vs. Heller.  This was at the Pennsylvania Bar Institute's continuing legal education program, "The Right to Bear Arms."

The program today consisted of a debate between Mr. Gura and Brian Siebel from the Brady Center to Prevent Handgun violence.  The general topic of the debate was over the meaning of the Heller decision.  For example, now that the Supreme Court has declared that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to keep and bear arms, what exactly does this mean?  What arms are protected?  Is the right limited to the home or does it extend to carrying arms in public?  Will the Second Amendment be incorporated against the states?  Assuming that the Second Amendment is incorporated, what state laws might be struck down as unconstitutional?

Based on Heller, Gura believes that some gun control laws will be held constitutional, but that outright bans -- including any "assault weapons bans" -- will be struck down.  It's his opinion that it will eventually lead to a right to carry in some manner, maybe concealed, maybe open carry.  E.g., it might be permissible for a state to bar concealed carry so long as open carry was legal (or the reverse).

Regarding machineguns, Gura does not believe that Heller will lead to getting rid of the NFA, but not because that the Second Amendment doesn't protect machineguns, but rather because he doesn't believe that we can get judges to rule that it protects machineguns.  In other words, regardless of how gun rights activist view the issue, he feels that it's a loosing argument in the courts.  I tend to agree with him.

Gura also feels that laws requiring background checks will probably pass consititutional muster, as long as they are instant.  Waiting periods will likely be struck down.

I asked Gura was whether he thought that Heller could lead to a loosening of restrictions on lesser arms, namely switchblade knives.  He thinks it may, and mentioned that in fact, some state courts have struck down laws banning certain kinds of knives and clubs based on RKBA provisions.  He didn't list any specific cases, however.  Siebel, in contrast, mentioned that this was the first time he'd heard of anyone applying the Second Amendment to knives, and didn't really opine either way.

I thought that Gura did a fine job of explaining the case and its potential implications.  He also said a couple of times that we're in the beginning of this fight (paraphrasing here).  On the other hand, Siebel did little more than rehash old, discredited prohibitionist arguments in favor of gun control, including statistics purporting to show that having a handgun in the home is more dangerous to the occupants than a potential burglar.  He also placed a lot of emphasis on Scalia's wording referring to the Second Amendment protecting the right to bear arms in defense of one's home.  This of course ignores the fact that in the case what was at issue was whether Heller could get a gun permit from D.C. to keep a self defense gun at home.  Carrying a gun outside the home was not at issue in the case, so the court did not rule on that particular question.

As an aside, at one point in the session Siebel asked for a show of hands from the attendees indicating support for background checks as being reasonable.  Of the twenty or thirty attendees, only one or two raised their hands.  Heh.

After the class was over I went up to Gura and thanked him for the job he's done on our behalf.  Kudos to the PBI for hosting this class.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Sony Shipping Rootkits Again

A couple of years ago, Sony BMG got caught shipping music CDs with "rootkits" on them, which installed software onto PCs when the buyer put the CD in to play it.  A rootkit is software which allows a hacker to remotely take over a system.

Sony is AGAIN shipping products with rootkits installed.  This time it's USB drives.  Here's the story at Computer World, an IT industry journal.

It is not specified in the article what systems are vulnerable.  Windows PCs certainly, Macs unlikely but possible based on the limited information that's been publicly released.

Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me.  I regard buying Sony technology products as too risky.

EDIT 9/24/08: I had a brainfart and misread the date on the article to which I linked.  It's from August 2007, not last month as I originally thought.  That said, Sony still won't be getting any of my business.

Monday, September 22, 2008

New Server Is Up

Friday morning I took the old IBM 2 GHz P4 at my desk, added a second disk drive, and installed CentOS 5.  My disk layout is as follows:

/hda - ~18 GB for / and ~2 GB swap
/hdb - ~ 40 GB for /home, with /home/dave shared using Samba

I'd like to have a ginormous hard disk in there and use it as a Time Machine backup destination but I'm using scrounged parts.

My original plan was to use Samba running on the Linux box to share out my home directory and use Cronosync to syncronize them.  After futzing with it for far too long, and hitting Google quite a bit, I've discovered that Leopard's implementation of Samba is broken to the point where I haven't been able to get it to work with Samba running on Linux.  Bah.

Rather than wasting any more time trying to get it working, I decided to sync the Documents folder on Rohan with /home/dave/Documents on the Linux box over SFTP, using Transmit's built-in syncronize function.  Over my 100 Mb network, it took the better part of an hour to transfer 8.79 GB.  Future syncs should be much faster since only those files which have changed will need to be copied over.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Follow up on why we make backups

After I got home I was able to retrieve a backup of the TrueCrypt volume from my Time Machine disk.  Unfortunately, the backup was from 9/11.  Time Machine does its differential backups based on the time a file was last modified.  Strangely, when decrypting a TrueCrypt volume (and this one is accessed at least five days per week), the "Date Modified" for the file is not changed.

So, to ensure that the volume is backed up every time I connect my Time Machine disk, I wrote an AppleScript to run the UNIX "touch" command, then placed that script in my login items.  Thus, everytime I login the volume's Date Modified attribute will be updated.  The AppleScript is one line:

do shell script "touch /Users/davemarkowitz/Documents/"

In my previous post I mentioned that I may implement an online backup system.  Instead of doing that, I think I'll setup a backup routine to copy the volume to a Linux box at my office, saving me a few bucks but still allowing me to have an easily accessed backup at work.

That may be an interim solution, though.  Yesterday I received two Apple XServes, each of which will be connected to an XServe RAID with over a terabyte of disk space.  One of the intended uses for them is to create workgroups storage space and backing up Rohan fits into that perfectly.

And this is why we make backups

I keep confidential data on my MacBook Pro inside of a 4GB TrueCrypt volume.  This morning after getting into the office, I launched TrueCrypt, attempted to open the volume, and got a file not found error.

Thinking that I may have accidentally dragged it into a different folder, using Spotlight I ran a search for the volume's name on the entire hard disk.  It's gone, nowhere to be found.

{Insert sinking feeling here.}

I do have a couple backup copies of the file, the oldest dating to no older than Sunday night.   So, while I've lost some data, I haven't lost much.

My backup regimen includes using Time Machine several times a week when I use Rohan at my desk at home, and a file sync every Thursday night using Cronosync.  Time Machine backs up to a LaCie 320 GB FireWire drive, while Cronosync backs up to a 160 GB portable disk from Otherworld Computing.  Periodically, I also copy the TrueCrypt volume to a flash drive that I always keep in my pocket.

I've been considering a fourth, online backup and this may put me over the edge.  I'm leaning towards Amazon's S3 service using Jungledisk.  Both my external hard disks are located at home, which means (a) I cannot access them from work, and (b) I'm SOL if the house burns down.  Online backup means I'll be able to access my files from the office or anywhere with an Internet connection.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Friday, September 05, 2008

Message from an Iraqi Veteran to Obama

Watch this one all the way through.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

NJ vs. PA Match at LRGC

I shot in the NJ vs. PA practical rifle match yesterday at Langhorne Rod & Gun Club. The course of fire included:

1. From 10 yards, two rifle mags, 3 rounds each, followed by a transition to pistol, 2 mags of 3 rounds each. Timed.
2. From 100 yards, three rifle mags, 5 rounds each, standing, kneeling, prone.
3. From 200 yards, three rifle mags of 5 rounds each, rollover prone, prone, weak side prone.
4. From 200 yards, 10 shots on three gongs, the smallest of which is hardly visible w/o magnification.
5. From 200 yards behind a barricade, two mags of 8 rounds each on gongs, plus 15 rounds at the top half of an IPSC target. First 8 rounds on steel kneeling, then switch to a different position, i.e., sitting or prone. Alternatively, you could shoot at the same half IPSC target at 100 yards, but not from prone. 2 minute time limit.

We had a large turnout and to get everyone through took about 6 hours.

I did OK but need more practice, especially from rollover prone and weak side. When I switched to the right shoulder I had a hard time finding the exit pupil of my scope. I also need to break in my holster. I used a new Don Hume rig for my Springfield M1911 and it is still tight, which killed my time during the first evolution. (At least my raw score on that stage was 58/60.)

The rifle I shot was my Colt AR-15A3 with an IOR-Valdada 3x25mm CQB scope. I used 30 round Magpul P-Mags and Federal American Eagle .223 55 grain FMJ loads. No malfs.

Some pics here.

Kudos to the staff at LRGC for putting on a safe, fun shoot.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Range Report

I'm on vacation this week and got to the range today with my Polish Tokarev pistol, Springfield 1911, and Remington 870.

I got the Remington 870 last month and shot it for the first time today. I patterned it at 12 and 25 yards with Remington 00 buck and Federal Low Recoil 00 buck with Flite Control wads. I also put a box of Federal LR Tru Ball slugs through it. The Remington buck stays on a paper plate at 12 yards, but opens up a bit at 25. Most pellets would hit a torso, though. The Federal Flite Control load is impressive. Patterns at 12 yards were about as big as my hand, while at 25 they opened up to about the size of the plate. Assuming it performs as well in my Mossberg 500 Mariner, it'll become my load of choice. Both buckshot loads shoot right to POA at 12 yards, and a bit high at 25.

The Tru Ball slugs shot well. I was able to keep them on the plate at 25 yards once I found the elevation.

I'm happy with both the shotgun and all the ammo I tested today.

I bought the Tokarev last Fall but every time I took it to the range, something happened so today was the first time I've actually fired it. The Tokarev digested 70 rounds of Yugo surplus 7.62x25 Ball without a hitch. It's more pleasant to shoot than my CZ-52, which has some trigger slap. Shooting the Tok feels like shooting a 9mm, but one that's a bit louder. At 12 yards I kept them on the plate, which is about as good as I can do with the Tok's heavy trigger and small sights. I have 70 more rounds of the Yugo ammo, and then it'll be time for me to crack open the spam can of Romanian Ball that I picked up last year.

I've had the Springfield 1911 for several years. For the first 600 rounds or so through the gun it was extremely reliable. After swapping out the FLGR for a GI type setup I started getting stovepipes. After the last time I had it at the range I detail stripped it, paying special attention to ensuring that the extractor channel was clean. That was awhile ago and I finally shot it again today. In 84 rounds, I had one stovepipe with a Springfield brand magazine, one of the two which came with the gun. The other 83 rounds ran fine through 4 Chip McCormick and one other mag marked "NM 45," which came with the gun. I am pretty certain that the stovepipe was magazine induced (it's happened before with that mag), so I junked it. I plan to run more ammo through the Springer before I regard it as reliable, but I'm confident that I've diagnosed what was wrong.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Powerline Ethernet

802.11 WiFi is still the most common means of creating home networks for sharing an Internet connection or files locally. However, WiFi frequently runs into problems due to interference from other devices using the 2.4 GHz wireless spectrum. Also, due to the low power output of WiFi devices, it sometimes has problems with distance and intervening structures.

An alternative is powerline Ethernet. This uses your home's existing electrical wiring to extend Ethernet connections. Typically, it uses wall wart unit that plug into electrical sockets and which have an Ethernet port, working as Layer 2 devices.

I installed a powerline Ethernet system this morning at a client's home. He has three machines: a G4 Mac Mini, and Intel iMac, and a Dell PC. His Internet connection is a Comcast cable modem. A Linksys WRT-54G router is plugged into the modem to share the connection and secure his network from the Internet. The Mini is connected to the router via Ethernet, while the iMac and PC were connected via WiFi.

Unfortunately, the iMac's wireless connection has seriously degraded recently, probalby due to wireless interference from neighbors. We figured that a hard wired solution would be best.

After looking around online and reading reviews, I recommend a Linksys PLK200 kit. The system requirements specify Windows, but that's only to run a setup utility which isn't really required in a typical home environment. I brought along my old Compaq Presario laptop running XP but wound up leaving the default settings on the Linksys units.

Setup was pretty simple and the devices found each other quickly. They have built-in surge protection and for that reason Linksys recommends not plugging them into a surge protector. They are fairly blocky, so they'd take block more than one outlet on a surge protector anyway.

The Linksys kit includes two Ethernet patch cords but they are only about 3 or 4 feet long. I had a hunch this might be the case so I brought a couple of longer cords with me, one of which I needed to use. The iMac's network connection looks like this:

{Cable modem}-{Router}-{Powerline adapter 1}-{House wiring}-{PL adapter 2}-{iMac}

After installing the Linksys units I ran a couple of Internet speed tests from the iMac and saw that they were comparable with tests run from the G4 Mini connected directly to the router.

Powerline Ethernet isn't as common as WiFi but home and small office users who can't use WiFi, and who can't or don't want to run Ethernet should be aware of it as an option.

Lacie 320 GB Quadra Hard Drive

Earlier this week a co-worker brought to my attention a good deal on Lacie 320 GB Quadra Hard Drives at I had prior, good experience with Lacie drives. He's previously bought from At $54 plus shipping and handling it was too good of a deal to pass up. I ordered the drive on Tuesday and received it Thursday via DHL Ground.

The Quadra series of external drives are fanless and have four interfaces for connecting to a PC or Mac:
  1. USB 2.0
  2. eSATA
  3. FireWire 400 (IEEE-1394a)
  4. FireWire 800 (IEEE-1394b)
The case is substantial with the aluminum acting as a heat sink. Cables for all four types of connections were included. The drive can be rack mounted in a little desktop rack sold by Lacie, or it can use the included stand to stand vertically on your desk, which is how mine is setup.

The power switch has three positions:
  1. On
  2. Off
  3. Auto, which automatically turns it on or off when the drive is connected or disconnected to a host, respectively. I left it on auto.
Also included in the box was an AC power adapter. Unlike 2.5" external FireWire drives, typically the 3.5" drives are not bus powered.

I connected the Quadra to Rohan, my MacBook Pro last night using the FireWire 800 port. Heretofore, that port has been unused, since my older backup drive has only USB and FW 400 ports. With 320 GB to work with, I decided to use the Quadra as a Time Machine backup disk.

As soon as I connected the Quadra to Rohan a box popped up, asking me if I want to use it as a Time Machine backup disk. After I clicked yes, it took about an hour or so to backup everything on Rohan's drive, except for my Entourage profile. (I've read that using Time Machine to back up Entourage profiles can lead to corruption, if it's attempted when the program is running. I therefore excluded it from Time Machine.) For the time being I will continue to backup the Entourage database using Chronosync.

FireWire 800 is fast. In my experience, FireWire 400 typically offers better sustained througput than USB 2.0, although the latter has a higher theoretical peak throughput (480 vs. 400 Mbps). FireWire 800 is noticeably fast than 400, but unfortunately never became as popular. It will be interesting to see how USB 3.0 does in the marketplace once it's released.

I haven't used eSATA. To do so would, Rohan would need an ExpressCard adapter. For machines which do support it, eSATA looks like it will be the connection of choice for external disks, with a raw throughput of 3000 Mbps.

As for Time Machine itself, it may be the best consumer level backup application I've seen. On Mac running Leopard, new disks are automatically recognized and the machine offers to setup Time Machine for you. It then performs a full backup, and automatically sets up hourly backups. Accessing your backed up files is virtually the same as accessing your working data in the Finder. By making it so simple Apple really encourages people to backup their data.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Dealt With a Real Life Mac Trojan Horse Tonight

We all know that Macs are more secure than Windows PCs by virtue of the design of the operating system. That said, the only computer that cannot be compromised is the one that's powered off, disconnected from any networks, and locked away in a box. Case in point: tonight I helped a colleague with a Mac that was infected with the OSX.RSPlug.A Trojan Horse.

A Trojan Horse is different from a virus. Unlike viruses, Trojans aren't self-replicating, and require some user intervention to install. They frequently are designed so that they trick and unsuspecting user into installing them. For example, going to a website and being prompted to download a video codec from the site to play content.

It started off with this email:

"My brothers DNS on his mac keeps going to for his DNS setting regardless of what is his his DHCP server."

Googling that IP address didn't turn up anything. However, Googling for "mac dns trojan" came up with this gem, which described the symptoms perfectly. Doing a little more searching, this time for "remove mac dns trojan" led me to this.

Lessons to be learned:

  1. Macs are generally very secure. That doesn't mean they are perfectly secure.
  2. Only install software from trusted sites. If you're surfing the web and a site prompts you to install something, take a moment to seriously consider whether you really need to do so, especially if it prompts you for your administrative password.

Firefox for Mac PDF Plugin

I just learned about this plugin for Firefox on Mac OS X, hosted by Google:

It uses OS X's native PDFkit to display PDFs inside of a Firefox tab, much like Safari does. Note that if you have the PDF Download Firefox extension, you'll need to disable or uninstall it for the Google PDF plugin to work.

New Wireless Network at the House

For the past few years I've been using a Netgear 802.11g WAP to provide the wireless portion of my home LAN. Up until recently it had been rock solid, However, it's been acting a bit flaky lately (e.g., dropped connections), requiring reboots to get it to work.

I've been evaluating WiFi routers at work and last week received two SMCWBR14-N2 v2 Draft-N Barricade boxes. So far I've like what I've seen and in doing some tests this morning with one connected to a DOCSIS 3.0 modem, I was seeing good throughput on both the wired and wireless connections. Since I got two units in from SMC, I decided that I'll put one of them to a real world test. IOW, I'll be installing one at home to use for awhile. Currently, my LAN looks like this:

[Internet]--[SMC8014 gateway]--[Netgear switch]--[Netgear WAP]

My Brother HL-2070N is connected to the switch, as is my MacBook Pro when I'm working at my desk.

The new version will look like:

[Internet]--[SMC8014 gateway]--[Barricade]

Note that I needed the switch because it and the WAP are in a different room than the gateway, and I ran only one piece of CAT5e between the two, so the switch built into the gateway doesn't do me a lot of good. The Barricade has four LAN ports, so I'll be able to take out the switch.

One feature the SMC has is to put the WAN port in bridge mode. It will be connected to an SMC8014 cable modem gateway, so I do not need the wireless box to act as a router. (The 8014 has been extremely reliable, BTW. It just sits behind my TV, tossing packets back and forth.)

Unfortunately, I will have to keep the Barricade in 802.11g mode, since Judith's iBook doesn't have an 802.11n adapter, and I'm not sure about her iPod Touch, either. Still, the bulk of data transferred on my LAN is going through my Internet connection, from one local host to another. So, the 802.11g speeds won't be a bottleneck.

I'll post an update once I've pounded on the Barricade some more.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Signed up for Red Hat Training

I haven't taken any professional development training in a little while. I'd tried to get into my employer's Intro to Solaris course a couple time last year, but wasn't successful. In going through the training calendar on our intranet, I saw that we're having RHCT training in October. With my manager's approval, I signed up.

The course is scheduled to run in two sessions, a 5-day and a 3-day. I figure it'll fill in some holes in my personal Linux knowledge base, after which I should be ready to take the certification exam. I haven't picked up any new certs since 2001, so this will be a good thing.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Update to The Shooters' Bar

A couple of updates to The Shooters' Bar(SM):

  1. David Weinberg of Virginia is now also admitted in Maryland.
  2. I fixed Marc Berris of Minnesota's email address.

Friday, August 01, 2008

NRA-ILA on the Bill to Restore 2A Rights in DC

Full press release here.

Fairfax, VA -- Today, in a bi-partisan effort, Congressmen Travis Childers, John Dingell, John Tanner, Mike Ross and Mark Souder, along with 47 of their colleagues, introduced the Second Amendment Enforcement Act (H.R. 6691). This critical legislation overturns D.C.'s recently enacted emergency laws that continue to defy the recent Supreme Court ruling by continuing to restrict District of Columbia residents' right to self-defense. This National Rifle Association-backed bill is needed to enforce the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in District of Columbia v. Heller.

{H/T Sebastian.}


Both this site and my Survival and Emergency Preparedness blog got caught up in the Blogger fake spam blog fiasco. Google unlocked this one sometime tonight, Survial Preps is still locked.


Sunday, July 27, 2008

Blogging to be light for the next few days

Blogging will be light this week. I am heading off to Daleystan for a conference, and won't have Internet access during the day.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

More on the CNSF

Over on Obama Exposed, I've previously posted about Obama's proposed "Civilian National Security Force." There's more on it over at the Volokh Conspiracy.

Voluntary national service? That's great. But mandatory "volunteerism" does more than play havoc with the English language. The mere fact that a member of Congress is proposing the creation of a our own Red Guard/Obamajugend should scare the piss out of any American who loves freedom and has any historical knowledge.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

More updates at Obama Exposed

Several more updates at Obama Exposed. Check it out.

D.C.: Still Not Getting It After Heller

So the District of Corruption introduced a new gun law in response to the spanking it got from the Supreme Court in D.C. vs. Heller. The new law isn't a ban, but is still oppressive.

City leaders say the legislation goes as far as it can on gun regulations while respecting the high court's ruling. Weapons must be unloaded, disassembled or trigger-locked, except when there is a "threat of immediate harm to a person" in the home.

FAIL. The Court specifically addressed this.

"Oh, excuse me Mr. Burglar. Can you wait over there while I get my gun out of the safe and load it?"

I look forward to seeing this struck down, and hopefully, these clowns will be held personally liable under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

D.C. vs. Heller - What's Next?

Robert Levy, the man behind the D.C. vs. Heller case which reinvigorated the Second Amendment, has a piece at Cato Unbound on what's next.

Check it out.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Post-Heller Congressional Action On "Second Amendment Enforcement Act"

Friday, July 11, 2008

As mentioned in last week's edition of our Grassroots Alert, following the Supreme Court's favorable Heller decision, city officials in Washington, D.C. have been planning to obstruct D.C. citizens from exercising their right to keep and bear arms, despite the Supreme Court's clear statements. And some in Congress are planning to do something about it.

On Thursday, Representative Mark Souder (R-Ind.) introduced H. Res. 1331, a rule to govern House consideration of a modified version of H.R. 1399--the "District of Columbia Personal Protection Act."

H.R. 1399 was introduced in March of 2007 and has 247 cosponsors. (For more information on H.R. 1399 and on its Senate companion bill, S. 1001 by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), please go to This rule (H. Res. 1331) would force House consideration of H.R. 1399 if activated by a discharge petition, which will require 218 congressional signatures. It would provide for speedy consideration of legislation to enforce the Supreme Court's decision in District of Columbia v. Heller by repealing the provisions of the D.C. Code that were at issue in that case, and by preventing the District from enacting new and burdensome restrictions on its residents' Right to Keep and Bear Arms.

Among other things, H. Res. 1331 includes provisions that would repeal D.C.'s ban on many semi-automatic firearms, and repeal the District's firearm registration system, as in H.R. 1399. It would also reduce the District's burdensome restrictions on ammunition, and repeal the District's unique law that allows manufacturers of certain types of guns to "be held strictly liable in tort, without regard to fault or proof of defect," for injuries caused with those guns. D.C. has used this law to bring suits against the firearms industry, but those suits have now been blocked by the "Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act."

NRA-ILA is fully committed to restoring the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding residents of Washington, D.C., and will fight this critically important battle until victory is in hand.
We will be sure to keep you informed of new developments as we move forward. In the meantime, please be sure to contact your U.S. Representative at (202) 225-3121, and urge him or her to press Congressional leadership to bring H.R. 1399 to the House floor.


Friday, July 11, 2008

More updates at Obama Exposed

I've posted several updates over at Obama Exposed.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

New Blog: Obama Exposed

I started a new blog with the intention of trying to answer the question, "Just who is Barack Hussein Obama?"

Check it out here.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Crossover Mac Bug

There's a bug in Crossover Mac v7.0.0, the latest version. For some reason, MS Visio 2003 will not run if it is installed into a bottle in which other MS Office programs are installed. Visio will install, but when launched a box will pop up stating "IOPL Not Found."

The workaround is to create a new bottle and install Visio into that. Once you do that Visio will run normally.

ESR on Obama

Eric Scott Steven Raymond mirrors some of my thoughts:

No, what really put me off Barack Obama was the increasingly creepy and pathological tenor of the relationship between him and his fans. I think it was in mid-February, a bit before the Jeremiah Wright story got really ugly, that I started to notice my “Never Again!” nerves tingling.

I’m not Jewish. But I read The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich at an impressionable age. Years later, what I learned in that book made me into an anarchist. What it did much sooner than that was to instill in me the same sense of the Holocaust as the central moral disaster of the 20th century that the Jews feel. It left me with the same burning determination: Never again! Ever since, I have studied carefully the forms of political pathology behind that horror and attended even more carefully for any signs that they might be taking root in the West once again.

Read the whole thing.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Poison Ivy, Again

It's Monday and I'm sitting at home today after a nice weekend away with SWMBO, waiting for my 11:45 AM doctor's appointment.

It seems that sometime last week I either got too near some poison ivy, or brushed against something that was contaminated. I've got a patch of contact dermatitis on the back of my left hand. Since I'm left handed this especially sucks. It's gotten a bit worse each day since Thursday, even though I've been scrubbing the heck out of it with Zanfel. The Zanfel and hydrocortisone ointment is keeping the itching under control but I don't want the rash to spread any further. Time to go get a prednisone shot, and maybe oral prednisone. The last time I had this I put on 13 pounds (~5.9 Kg) from the steroids.


More Post-Heller Action

Apparently, Hawaii's A.G.Mark Bennett will review the state's gun laws in light of the Supreme Court's decision in Heller. Considering that Hawaii's state constitutional RKBA provision is a word-for-word copy of the Second Amendment, this is a good thing for Hawaiians.

Hawaii's gun laws are already onerous. E.g., you need permits to keep and acquire firearms. Both concealed and open carry are felonies. (See the link for more details.) It's likely that Heller will foreclose further infringements.

{H/T mrreynolds on THR.)

Obama's Accomplishments

No thanks, keep the change.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Crossover Mac

Earlier this month I downloaded an evaluation version of Crossover Mac from Codeweavers. This is a commercially supported version of WINE for Intel Macs. WINE is a reverse engineered implementation of the Win32 APIs, which allows you to run some Windows applications on a Mac or other *NIX box without having a copy of Windows installed.

Although I have Parallels Desktop, the idea of being able to run a few Windows apps on Rohan without having to actually fire up XP was attractive. For example, I sometimes need to access web sites which require Internet Explorer for full functionality. Starting XP just to do that is clunky.

Crossover for Mac installs easily and the software installation wizard allows you to download and install IE6 SP1 with two or three mouse clicks. AAMOF, I am actually posting this using IE6 on Rohan. One thing I can do in Crossover that I cannot do in Parallels Desktop 2.5 (not the most current version, but the version I have) is paste text from an OS X application into a Windows application. E.g., a URL from TextWrangler into IE's address bar, or a URL from Firefox into the hyperlink box of Blogger's composer.

Crossover isn't perfect. It doesn't let me run any and all Windows applications. For example, I was able to install Sprint's Blackberry connection manager in Crossover but it does not detect my Blackberry when I connect it. Codeweavers maintains compatibility lists, which are worth consulting to see if it's worthwhile for you to try.

I currently have IE6, MS Project 2003, and Visio 2003 installed under Crossover. So far, so good. For someone with minimal Windows software needs it's worth a look. Codeweavers gives you a 30 day free trial, and if you decide that it does what you need, the cost is $39.95. Of note, any improvements the Codeweavers team makes to WINE make it back to the open source project, so by purchasing Crossover, you help WINE development.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Update to The Shooter's Bar

This morning I added Lawrence D. Burroughs II to The Shooters' Bar(SM).

Friday, June 27, 2008

Chicago Gun Case

The SAF has launched a new website covering the suit filed against Chicago, seeking to overturn the city's handgun ban, in light of yesterday's SCOTUS decision in Heller.


Thursday, June 26, 2008

First Post-Heller Suit Already Filed

The Illinois State Rifle Association has already filed suit, seeking to overturn Chicago's decades-old handgun ban, based on the Supreme Court's ruling in Heller v. D.C.

Way to go, ISRA!

Thoughts on the Heller Decision

Now that I've done a quick read-through of the Heller decision, I offer some observations:

1. The Court held that the 2A protects an individual right, one not dependent upon membership in an organized militia. The right exists for otherwise lawful purposes, specifically noting that self defense is one of the bases for the right. The Court recognized the pre-existing nature of the right, as well.

2. Some restrictions of the RKBA are permissible. E.g., licensing is not forbidden by the 2A, but only when imposed in a manner that is not arbitrary or capricious. That would seem to disallow much of the discretion typically exercised by issuing officials in places like New York.

3. Outright bans of classes of arms in common use by the people are forbidden. This is a key point because it disposes of the frivolous argument that even if the 2A protects an individual right, it only protects the right to keep and bear arms of a type common in use during the 18th Century. In particular, the Court notes that handguns are in common use and overwhelmingly chosen by Americans for self defense. In dicta, the Court noted that machineguns could possibly be banned. However, it left open the argument that the reason machineguns are not in common use is because they have been so heavily regulated since 1934.

4. The Court declined to specify a standard for review in 2A-based challenges to gun control laws. For example, it will leave the matter of whether gun control laws must pass rational basis or strict scrutiny to later challenges. This wasn't unexpected.

5. The Court did not explicitly incorporate the Second Amendment against the states. However, it did cite several state cases in its decision supporting the idea that the 2A protects an individual right. This leads me to believe that the Court would be open to incorporation in a future case where a state law is challenged, e.g., Chicago's handgun ban. Again, this isn't totally unexpected, since the D.C. law which was struck down was a Federal matter, not a state law. The Court tries to craft most decisions narrowly.

More comments later as I think of them.


We won in Heller. In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court of the United States has affirmed the lower court's decision that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to keep and bear arms.

The decision, by Justice Scalia, is available HERE. (PDF format).

More later after I've read the opinion.