DAT Stuff

Random thoughts and observations from DAT

Archive for the category “Tech”


One thing I love about blogs are sites like Technorati that make it easy for others to find blog entries. For example, John Dowdell found my post on Flex. He found my post using Technorati, and I found his the same way. I’m betting we used different search terms to find them, but the fact that one service connected us is pretty cool.

But what I really wanted to write about is Flex itself. I’ve always been intrigued by Flash, but could never justify the cost of the Flash development tools. I’ve looked at OpenLaszlo, which is great for the price (free) but lacks a good graphical development tool. If your idea of an IDE is Notepad, OpenLaszlo may be just what you need. They go one step further with their Eclipse plugin, but all it really provides is coding assistance, not graphical design tools.

I downloaded FlexBuilder 1.5, but haven’t had much time to work with it. With the little bit I have done, I’ve been impressed with the tools. What scares me is the price. What does it cost? Actually I have no idea. If you go to the Flex page and click on “Purchase Information“, you get a page that I interpret as “if you have to ask, you can’t afford it”.

I did see information about a non-commercial license, but it was confusing. It’s actually a non-commercial deployment license, implying that you don’t need it until you are ready to deploy your application. However, the copy of FlexBuilder I downloaded requires a license after an initial trial period, so it may expire before I can build anything.

Maybe I should skip version 1.5 and check out Flex 2 at their Labs site.

Rescue me!

I continue to be impressed with the Windows tools in Helix, but have decided that it is really geared more toward criminal forensics than data recovery (it’s even got a chain of custody PDF).

I went back to DistroWatch.com and discovered a different category in the distribution search that appears more appropriate: Rescue. See my wiki for more details.

Helix & Knoppix

Well, I’m not sure where I got the previous information, but Helix is based on Knoppix. What really surprised me, however, is its windows support. After burning the CD, I stuck it back into my computer running Win XP, and it launched an application that could be used to research (and hopefully fix) a problem. I did have a problem shutting down the application — it repeatedly asked me whether I wanted to write a log file, but it finally quit after I said no 5-10 times.

I also booted from the CD, but didn’t do much there. I browsed around and saw that the forensics tools were very prominent; I launched Autopsy, but quickly discovered that I needed to RTFM before I went much further.

Linux Forensics

I stumbled on Knoppix STD, and since I had used Knoppix (Linux that will run from CD), I was curious what the STD stood for. Don’t worry, it’s not contagious. It is a variation of Knoppix designed for security & forensics. I searched DistroWatch and discovered a few more distributions designed for forensics:

All but Helix are derived from Knoppix, but they’re all live CDs, so they can be used without installing anything on the computer, and they include tools to analyze (and hopefully fix) an ailing system.

Macromedia Flex

Macromedia has a Flash tool designed to work with web services and other Java technologies, called Flex. As it turns out, it’s been out a while, but I just became aware of it with the public alpha of Flex 2. Here are a few (probably old) reviews:

  • Infoworld
  • Java Boutique
  • The Open Sourcery
  • And if I’m reading the FAQ correctly, they have a non-commercial license with a free copy of the IDE. This warrants further investigation…

    Linux Distributions

    I never realized how many Linux distributions there were until I saw DistroWatch.com. Recently I found a Distribution Chooser — it only includes 14 distributions right now, but most of the top 10 are in there.

    Debian Observations

    Ok, so I’ve had it installed for less than a day, and I’ve got very little actually installed on it, but I’ve noticed a few things:

  • Grub is very cool. Not something the average consumer would want to mess with, but a great geek tool for controlling startup.
  • I may not have noticed this if not for Grub, but the brand new stable release of Debian, named sarge, uses a Linux kernel that’s a year old instead of a newer stable kernel. I’m sure they’ve got their reasons; I know that just because the 2.6 kernel is considered stable doesn’t mean it won’t cause problems in the Debian distribution. Or it could be just fine; true stability takes time to discover. I was just surprised…
  • Knoppix seemed much better at identifying hardware and installing appropriate drivers. I never had to tell it what type of video card I had or when I was attaching my external firewire drive. When I booted, it just recognized them and got them running. (I haven’t tried the firewire drive yet, but on my first installation I was asked what video chipset I had. I took a guess but based on the fact that XWindow support couldn’t start, I guess I got it wrong).
  • Installing Debian

    Well, Debian 3.1 (sarge) is up and running, with a dual boot to Windows XP Professional. This post is pretty long and detailed, so read more only if you want that kind of detail.
    Read more…

    For my next trick…

    The hard drive on my Dell died (which is a whole separate story that I had hoped to tell, but may never get around to it). For the past few weeks, I’ve been running Knoppix on that computer. I started using Knoppix in an attempt to recover some of the data from the hard drive, but last week I even disconnected the drive and have been using the computer without a hard drive (the last time I did that was before Windows 3.1, I think).

    Today I bought a new drive (an 80 GB Seagate for $36 after rebates) and just finished installing it. It went rather well, considering it was only the second time I’ve attempted such a feat. The first time (many years ago) ended with calling in a professional to do the job, but this time seemed much easier; technology must have improved dramatically since that failed attempt.

    One thing I hope to do this time around is set up a Linux server. I chose Debian, partly because that’s what I have at Dreamhost, partly because it’s free and has tons of packages available. I’m going to start with a dual boot configuration, because I have some tools that I need to run on Windows (until I find a Linux equivalent). Once I get things set up, I hope to run Linux almost exclusively. I’m also planning to implement Xen virtualization. I’m mostly doing it just to learn it, but I hope to have one virtual “production” server visible on the internet and another as a playground. More details will follow…

    My goal: device independence

    The recent failure of my home computer has gotten me thinking about the way I use technology. I love computers, and would probably have more if I didn’t have a wife that hates clutter and only appreciates technology when it provides benefit that far outweighs the cost with little or no work involved.

    I have a few gadgets, but I don’t use any of them effectively. The main reason is that they don’t work together, and I’ve been too lazy to do anything about it.

    For example, my main PDA is a Sharp Zaurus SL-5500, which runs Linux and has a good UI and applications, even if you don’t delve down into the Linux underneath. If you choose to get into the Linux aspect of it, you can do some amazing things — I even got apache and PHP running on it recently. But I still carry around my HandSpring Visor, because I can’t easily export the passwords from an application on that device into the password safe I use on the Zaurus. I would write a program myself, but Java support on the Zaurus is outdated, and setting up a C++ development environment on my computer to support the Zaurus seems to be more trouble than it’s worth.

    Then there’s the matter of synchronizing between the devices. I’ve got my contact list and calendar on the Zaurus; I’ve got the same information in Outlook on my PC (though I can’t get at it right now); I’ve got a subset of contacts in my webmail program; I’ve got some of my contacts on my mobile phone; and I’ve got a whole different calendar and set of contacts on my work PC. Some of these don’t support synchronization, and I’m sceptical of the ones that do — my experience with synchronizing data has been troublesome, often deleting or duplicating items. And achieving a combined view through synchronization (home PC – PDA – work PC) seems impossible.

    To boost my productivity, I need persistent access to a centralized data store. I need to keep my data on a server that is accessible through the internet, and manage it with application(s)

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