general computer stuff

And on this page... some articles about various general computer stuff,
that I thought might be interesting.




CD-R's can last over 10 years

Thu Dec 26 14:40:24 EST 2013

I have a stack of old CD-R I made around 2002-2006, now, I didn't take much care of them
(they didn't have sleeves, so they're pretty scratched, and they have some weird dirt and stuff
on them).

This is a picture of one of them:


Anyway I decided to try to see if I could recover their contents. Several of these (about 1/3 or so of them)
simply failed to read altogether, although I suppose one of these special re-laminating machines or some other kind of
physical intervention could have fixed that. When CD-R's can't be read, I get weird message boxes like this:


All the other ones read perfectly. Some of them were as old as 2002 (11 years ago as of writing)
and still read perfectly, which was pretty cool. For example, below is a screenshot of reading
an old CD-R from 2002 that had some crappy picture of a boat I drew when I was a kid.


So, these fuckers can be pretty resilient. Probably if one takes good care of them and stores
them well and uses high-quality media they can last more than the 11 years that some of mine
have lasted so far. Especially considering that I have an 11 year-old CD-R that wasn't even
stored in a sleeve, that was all scracthed and dirty and shit, and I still read.

Often the problem with old media is not the actual media, but it's the fact that the files
are in some shitty ancient proprietary format for which no decoding software can be
readily found anywhere, anymore. This is probably the best reason to not use proprietary software.
Of course, if you're really "down" to read some old proprietary-encoded files, sometimes something
can be worked out involving old software and/or old computers and/or emulators.



Opening ancient (as old as 1989) Microsoft Word .doc files
Thu Dec 26 14:54:14 EST 2013

I have a backup of an old .doc file for a school project that I made in 2006 (where I tried to explain
how 3D glasses work, you know the kind you wear for movies, at least the old-fashioned crappy kind
with blue and red filters that give you a head-ache, as used and seen in "Spy Kids 3D"), using Microsoft Word 4.0,
a piece of software which was released in 1989. Below is a screenshot taken on the actual hardware
that ran the program (an old macintosh):




Amazingly enough, with some begging, Microsoft Word 2010 was able to open the file.
At the first try, it gave some weird error message:


So I did as followed, and opened up the strangely-named "Trust Center" dialog box:


And I unchecked the "Word 2 and earlier Binary documents blablabla" "Open" check box.

Then it allowed me to open the file.
Amazingly enough it seemed to render properly, and it even managed to draw one of the illustrations:



Nice job, Microsoft. For all the criticism of Microsoft, at least it is very very very very good at
backwards compatibility. (It's pretty much that way with Windows too, although unfortunately
it appears the 64-bit version of Windows 8 won't run some old 16-bit Windows games).

update: there's a reddit comments thread



My experiences with upgrading Windows
Sat Jan 25 14:57:22 EST 2014

Recently I upgraded a computer from Windows XP to Windows Vista.

I did this because according to all the computer press and Microsoft themselves, XP will be "unsupported"
in April of this year 2014 and will become increasingly vulrenable to security attacks / exploits.

On 4chan's technology board someone said to "expect a massive flood of zero day attacks that
people have already been hoarding, starting April 9" if I didn't upgrade from XP.

In 2012 I had read an idiotic piece of journalism saying XP would become "increasingly unstable"
after April 2014, whatever that means.


Right now there is a massive slew of blogs and other sites constantly repeating this message
that XP will be vulnerable. And lots people you ask in forums or IRC will also repeat the message.

Below are some pictures of these kinds of sites, for historical interest. (They might stop spewing this
message after April).






Of course whenever I mentioned that this computer ran XP I got loads of bullshit proselytism.
On IRC they told me I was "living in the past" and I couldn't ever aspire to being a "geek".
All that fucking bullshit. They don't understand that my computer just happened to be a few years old,
and oh, importantly, it fucking worked. I also tried the Linux channel which just spent hours telling
me to install Linux instead, which I already do fulltime since April 2012. I don't even use XP, my
brother does. It would have been stupid "upgrading" a computer from Windows XP to Linux and
then trying to make all the programs work through WINE or something. It would have been a massive
clusterfuck.



Anyway the main problem was that I wanted to keep the settings and programs intact and avoid
the Windows XP April virus paranoia. The only way to not spend hours reinstalling and recovering
everything was to do an inplace upgrade to Windows Vista. Of course, this led to lots of more
annoying proselytism about Windows 7, because Windows Vista has a bad reputation.

I made a full system image backup (using Paragon Free Backup) of the XP drive in case shit went
wrong, as recommended. This produced a bunch of archive files which I stored on another hard drive.

Anyway, the Vista upgrade installation went fairly smoothly. It took about 5 hours. Lots of percentages
slowly moving. It looked like this (picture from computrogeek):



The problem was once the upgrade was done networking didn't work anymore. The XP drivers weren't
compatible, apparently. Same for video acceleration. So I used another computer to download the
networking drivers for Vista. When I first tried to install them, it told me a driver was already installed
(the incompatible XP one). So I used the "remove program" dialog to try to remove the old driver.
It told me I could not do an install/uninstall operations because it the driver was meant for XP.
Well, that was pretty stupid. Finally uninstalling it through the "devices manager" worked.

Finding the graphics drivers was weird. I went to NVIDIA's site and they welcomed we with
some stupid automated script that incorrectly detected my system as 64-bit Linux and insisting
on finding (non-existant) drivers for that. Finally I got my hand on the precious drivers through
CNET, which tried to make install several toolbars and other garbage.

At this point, networking and graphics were working, and all the old programs, settings, etc.
were working fine.

The last thing to do was to install a metric shit-ton of updates: service pack 1, service pack 2,
DirectX 11, platform update, .NET, whatever. And also a first round of installing
the precious security updates which are the whole reason I bothered to upgrade that system.
The system automatically set itself up to install these at 3 AM every day, which is nice.

The system complained about not having an antivirus so I installed Microsoft Security Essentials.

It was kind of running slow, so I furiously uninstalled many of the useless programs that I had
accreted over the years. HP toolbars that did fuck all, shitty DVD players, etc. All that crap
was bundled with the PC and/or driver installers for various devices years ago. Now it's much
faster.

All this for fucking virus paranoia. Not sure how to feel about it all. I won't be any kind of
raving zealot. The good point is that they supported XP for 13 years. The bad point is they
create this whole virus paranoia and try to sell new computers and antiviruses and shit this way.

And I'll probably go through all this in 2017 when Vista is unsupported. Or I could upgrade to
something newer before that.



The fascinating universe of toolbar installers and other spam
Sun Feb  2 19:16:04 EST 2014

If you go to a Windows freeware software downloads site, you will get these vicious little installer
programs that try to install useless toolbars and other crapware.

Some have taken the audacity to having the installer you download do nothing other than try
to install crapware, then actually download the real installer from some obscure concealed
server and the run that.

Anyway, below is my collection of pictures of toolbar spam
(and also other stuff like shareware that annoys you about paying for deluxe versions).

Some I took myself, some are from 4chan.













Update (1 March 2014): I've come across an amusing new spam:





Windows XP end-of-life memorabilia
Fri Apr 18 20:55:03 EDT 2014

In April 2014, Microsoft declared the "end of support" for Windows XP.

The original XP release, which occured in 2001, was a big deal. They had a big-ass "launch event"
in Time Square, with Bill Gates himself demoing the program and autographing boxes, etc.
Good video coverage of this event can be seen on the Internet archive and on Microsoft's "Channel9" website.

I've pasted some framegrabs below:





The "end of life" was also a big deal on the Internet and around the world.

I have gathered amusing pictures from various websites relating to this.

In Japan, the following magazine was seen in February and posted to 4chan:


Apparently, the cover translates to:

"How to securely and comfortably continue using Windows XP!"
"Official Microsoft support ends April 8th"
"Let's cover the aspect of the OS causing uneasiness and continue using Windows XP at a peace of mind!"


In Germany, a message about the XP end of life was seen on a large advertisement screen:
(click the picture to see it full-size)



Microsoft also created a bunch of special websites, such as this one with a countdown to the retirement date:



And this one which was supposed to tell people whether they were still running Windows XP:



Microsoft also created an online video game called "Escape from XP" where you have to kill Windows XP:



There was also loads of stupid blogspam repeating this over and over as has become usual in 2014,
some of which I have shown in an earlier article. A great moment for the sheep of the fabled internet
hivemind to repeat a message ("you must upgrade") over and over. A great moment for them bloggers
to say "lol just upgrade" so they can fill up their websites with ads without thinking about the
issues that may arise in regards to upgrades.

People made also pictures like this one:







A look at "Derivator", an abandonware derivative calculator from 2004 that contains lots of rookie programming errors
Thu Apr 24 20:50:50 EDT 2014

"Derivator" is a Windows program that was available as registration-ware until about 2005.

It was available at a small site called ai-intel.com.

It was a one-man hobby job.

It can still be downloaded from various software catalog sites like e.g. Softpedia.

It is a program that calculates derivatives and shows you the steps.

I decided to have a look at it, because I have been programming a program with similar aims myself.

I am generally interested in computer algebra systems, and I was quite interested in the mystique
of a program abandoned for 11 years.


The program only supports functions like sin, cos, etc. once you pay its author a few dollars "register" it.
Well, the registration site shut down around 2005, so I had no choice but to break this.

Amazingly it turns out the registration was set up in the absolutely stupidest way. A strcmp password check.

If you run strings on the .exe file, you get a bunch of stuff:
$ strings Derivator.exe  | tail -15
Would you like to register the software?
This is a Shareware software.
liberty
Password
Privado
http://ai-intel.com/
Courier New
The entered password is incorrect.
The entered password is correct.
http://www.ai-intel.com
CMainFrame
DDDD@
DDDDD@
wwwww
333333

The registration password is one of these plain text lines. Can you guess which one ?

Rookie mistake #1: ultra-naive obfuscation method. (Plain strings and strcmp are not obfuscation).

Anyway, the real interesting thing about the program is that it doesn't work, and by "doesn't work"
I mean "produces blatantly incorrect outputs".

Let's have a try at differentiating x^x :


The program produces x*x^(x-1), a completely wrong result, even if you "register" it with the incredible secret password.

Ask any sane derivative calculation program and it'll tell you the result is x^x * (log(x) + 1).

(That's a natural log, because natural logs are the best logs).

Bad rookie mistake #2 right there: variables are not the same as numbers. If the power had been a number
this behaviour would have been correct, since the standard "power rule" is that d/dx [ x^n ] = n * x^(n-1)
where n is a number.

Another interesting thing about the program is that it apparently operates by substituting strings.
It doesn't seem to actually use parsing and trees. If you take a look at the strings-dump as earlier,
you'll see a bunch of lines like:
])/(
)*D[
*ln (
arg cotgh
1/(f*(1-f^2))^(1/2)
arg sech
1/(f*(f^2+1))^(1/2)
arg cosech
1/(1-f^2)

There's your rookie mistake #3 right there: a poor choice of data structure and associated algorithms.
Using string substitutions instead of tree manipulations.
 
Ah sure, it might seem like a not too unreasonable approach, but now have a look at the fun things
that happen when you play with parentheses:


If there was an actual parser in there, it would have halted as soon as it saw these extra three parentheses.

Anyway, sometimes programs unfortunately fail (and become abandonware) because competitors
have prettier user interfaces without necessarily being technically superior.


But in this case the failure can be clearly attributed to sloppy programming.




In Windows 8, zero is considered equal to various other numbers which aren't zero
Sat Apr 26 22:35:38 EDT 2014

"You're living in the past", I was told.
"It's a pity you're a CS student and you don't run the latest Windows", I was told.

Well, after the several reboots it took, I have finally installed Windows 8.
(My university gives me legit keys through DreamSpark).

Windows is very big and important. Ain't no 0-reboot installs like Linux. 3-reboot installs.

Surely there must be some incredible new feature in it worth discovering ?

I have finally stumbled upon it.

Windows 8 features a new number system.

According to Windows 8, a 10 GB directory I have is "0 bytes" big and copying it should take "over 1 day".

Similarly, 1.5GB of updates weigh "0 kilobytes".





So, Windows 8's real invention is not the incredible new UI, it is the inclusion of a new number system where 10 billion, 400 billion and 0 are all equal.
This is almost as smart as when negative or complex numbers were invented.

I just hope there aren't any inconsistencies in this scheme?
Hopefully this incredible new number system will obey some familiar axioms.

This incredible breakthrough can be practically related to the new infinite storage offered by the cloud.
1000000000000 terabytes = some number * 400 billion bytes = some number * 0 = 0 bytes.
Everything is zero.

I just hope they're not using this (admittedly, still experimental) number system for their ever-precious bank accounts.

If you use the same arithmetic as people have been using for the past 5000 ? or so years, you're living in the past.

Upgrade to the new arithmetic.



Mac OS X crash logs are used as decorations in the film "Donnie Darko"
Thu May  1 11:45:25 EDT 2014

"Donnie Darko" could be described as a science-fiction movie.

Anyway, at several points Mac OS X crash logs are used as decorations in special effects sequences.

At least in the "Director's Cut" version.

Below are some framegrabs.

Note that in the second one you can see the word "XNU" which makes it pretty clear it's a Mac OS X thing.

For comparison, here is a Mac OS X crash log from a random site.