Tag Archives: Imported Post

It Pours

My desktop computer has been a bit flaky for a few months now. Well, more than that. There’s the problem where it won’t display anything in plain-text mode, but that’s not really a big deal. It was when it stopped running anything higher than 1024×768 that I started getting annoyed.

That turned out, oddly enough, to not be the video card. And not the monitor, since I could display higher resolution from the Windows box perfectly fine. And not my OS, since running a live CD had the same problem.

So I figured it was a motherboard issue. Fine, I’ll upgrade. Eventually. Wait ~4 months, and I’m starting to notice data errors on the hard drive. Great.

You know that old saying about how any project requires at least 3 trips to the hardware store? It applies to computers, too.

I finally got around to looking for a decent mobo/CPU/RAM combo, and a new hard drive. Ordered online. Arrived yesterday. Ran backup last night.

Today I dismantled everything, hampered by the fact that I could not find the box that has all the case components (faceplates so I could remove the ZIP drive which I haven’t used in 3 years, etc.), though I did eventually find the screws. After I installed the motherboard, I started plugging in connectors… only to discover that the power supply didn’t have the right kind of connector.

Off to Fry’s to get a new power supply, after stopping at storage to see if I could find that box with faceplates and stuff. No luck, and power supplies are astonishingly expensive, though I found one that fit my specs and was on sale and had a rebate, so that worked out. (Some of them are 1000-watt monstrosities that cost as much as a cheap computer, and in the words of another customer, “look like they should be in a Chevy.”)

Came back, hooked everything up, moved it back into the bedroom to hook everything up…and couldn’t go into the BIOS to set the boot device. After messing around a bit, determined that the text-mode problem, at least, actually was the monitor. So I’m borrowing Katie’s monitor while I install an actual 64-bit OS. Once it’s at the point where I can let it sit for a while, I’m going to run out to Best Buy for a new monitor. I suspect the resolution problem is different, but at this point I’m no longer inclined to suffer through it.

Still, it’s worth the upgrade (assuming, of course, that everything continues to work once I close up the case), since the old system was single-core, 32-bit, and ran on an IDE drive, and the new system is dual-core, 64-bit, will have more memory, a faster bus, a SATA drive, etc. This should be much faster.

Once it’s done, anyway.

Originally posted at LiveJournal.

Current Mood: 😡frustrated

PayPal Asks: What Makes a Safe Browser?

Last month, eWeek reported that PayPal intends to block unsafe browsersfrom accessing their site. They’ve focused on phishing detection and support for Extended Validation SSL Certificates. So what are these features, and why does PayPal think they’re critical? And just which browsers are they likely to block?

Phishing protection has an obvious appeal for a site whose accounts are one of the biggest phishing targets on the web.  Opera 9.1 and up, Firefox 2, and Internet Explorer 7 check the websites they visit against lists of known fraudulent sites. These browsers will warn the users before they accidentally type their credentials into a bogus log-in form. While this makes no difference when a user is already on PayPal’s site, it does mean the user is less likely to get his or her password stolen, and thieves are less likely to carry out fraudulent transactions with the account.

Extended Validation or EV certificates are like normal SSL certificates: they encrypt your web activity to prevent eavesdropping. What makes them different is that EV certificates require the issuer to verify the site owner more thoroughly. Browsers with EV support will display an indication that the site has been verified, usually by turning part or all of the address bar green. This is intended to give the user greater confidence that the site is legit. EV certificates are currently supported by IE7 and development versions of Opera 9.50 and Firefox 3. (You can preview a version of Opera with EV support by downloading Opera 9.50 beta 2.)

(It’s worth noting that Opera 9.50 beta 2 is stricter about verifying EV certificates, and will not show PayPal with a green bar because it loads images and scripts from another site. More recent preview releases will, like IE7 and Firefox 3, be satisfied if the main page is EV and the resources are all protected by regular SSL.)

So which browsers might get turned away at the gate?

In a follow-up story, PayPal clarified that they have absolutely no intention of blocking current versions of any browsers, and that they would only block obsolete browsers on outdated or unsupported operating systems. So an Opera 9 user on Windows XP isn’t likely to get shut out of PayPal anytime soon. But a Windows 98 user might have cause for concern.

Browser detection is extremely tricky to get right, requiring frequent adjustments. It looks like PayPal intends to take the minimalist approach: Assume most browsers are capable of handling what you send them, and only block the problematic ones.

(Originally posted at Opera Watch as a follow-up to Blocking IE6)

Comic-Con: Hotel Anxiety

Spent a good chunk of last night looking at travel websites. Accomplished 2 things:

  • Arranged for a hotel to stay in San Francisco next month.
  • Arranged for a back-up hotel for San Diego Comic Con, just in case we can’t get a room through the convention desk.

Hotel rooms during Comic-Con have become a scarce commodity over the last few years, as attendance has shot up by thousands (it actually sold out before the doors opened last year!) but only a few hundred new hotel rooms have been added to Downtown San Diego. Rooms in the convention blocks have been selling out in a matter of hours. The con website has crumbled under the stress, and the phone lines have caved. Last year it took me over an hour just to get through. This year, they haven’t even published a list of which hotels are involved, and it looks like they’ve dropped fax from their options. And booking downtown hotels directly isn’t an option: either they’re sold out, or they want $350/night-plus.

So, just in case I can’t get a room downtown when they go on sale next week, we can at least stay someplace near a trolley station. And if I can get a closer room, even if they charge me $25 to cancel the first reservation, it’s worth the peace of mind.

(Originally posted at LiveJournal. Brought over here to fit with the rest of my convention posts, and as a snapshot of the days when you could get a backup hotel. Not downtown, but in…it might’ve been Old Town? In any case, I cancelled the room once we got our confirmation from the convention block hotel sale.)

WGA False Positive Experience

Back in July(?) 2006 when Microsoft issued an update to the Windows Genuine Advantage tool, I figured I may as well install it (I’d be forced to eventually) on my one Windows box. So I installed it, and rebooted, and the login screen proclaimed loudly that Windows was not genuine. (Well, not literally loudly, it didn’t shout over the speakers or anything — which would be an interesting deterrent, now that I think about it.)

This came as something of a surprise, given that:

  • This was a Dell, not some no-name computer.
  • It still had the original OS install, and no hardware had been changed.
  • The previous version of WGA had reported no problems.

I logged in, did some searching on Microsoft’s knowledge base, and found a link that said something like “Validate here.” I clicked on it.

To my surprise, it told me my copy was perfectly valid.

I eventually concluded that Norton Internet Security had blocked the initial validation attempt. Because there was no desktop shell, there was no opportunity for it to pop up a notice and ask me if I wanted it to let the data through.

After that experience, I can’t say I’m surprised that Microsoft found many of their false positives to be the result of security software. Admittedly, they were looking at registry changes, crypto problems and McAfee, rather than a transient error with Norton.

(Reposted from this comment at Slashdot, mainly so I can find it again easily without searching.)