Main Line Computer Users Group


March 2005 Issue 274

VILLANOVA UNIVERSITY, ST. AUGUSTINE CENTER, ROOM 110 MEETING STARTS - 09:30 - MARCH 12 th
THIS MONTH'S CONTENTS
UPCOMING MEETING: For our March meeting, we are planning to return to the subject of using the Linux OS. You'll recall that we had 2-3 meetings on it last year that were piloted by Pete Whinnery.

Now, Pete returns to the fray! As a more-or-less dyed in the wool Linux user (as should have been evident these last few years), he brings some real fervor to the subject.

Last year, we made available a bootable CD of the Linux distribution called: "Knoppix v3.3". This format allows you to get experience with Linux without having to use some of your hard drive to fully install it. Pete will pick up on that note - tho with v3.7 of Knoppix - and review what he did before to help folks get back into the trial phase. That will be followed by concen-trating on what folks do with Windows and how they might get the same jobs done with Linux.

Before the meeting, please take a look at the outline on p.4, where Pete lists the subjects planned for coverage on this go-round. Then come to the March meeting prepared!


On My Soapbox Once More!!

Last month, we published an article to make the case for considering a switch away from Windows, in that one to Mac (mostly). But, one more time, give a real read to this article that's a look specifically at the Windows --> Linux option - much easier for a current Windows user. You don't have to get new hardware, like you do for the Mac conversion; so why not try? [cont'd.]

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ANNOUNCEMENTS & COMMENTS
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OUR WEBSITE - just a reminder that our faithful webmaster, Pete Whinnery, will be most appreciative of ideas to improve the usability and value of this website; so don't hesitate to suggest (he says he's still learning!).

REGULAR REMINDERS:

1) our email mailing list is run for the member's benefit; so please do not hesitate to post notices or problems to it. If we can't solve the problem remotely, we can be alerted to it ahead of a meeting where hands-on may do the job.

2) attendees know that we have a very fast internet connection from the VU meeting room (we have hit 800+ KBps, that's really moving - tho past performance is no guarantee of the future!). If you have a BIG download, you can bring along a zip disk (or a CD-R/RW) and get it done before or after the main meeting.

3) a half dozen or so of the regular attendees usually partake of lunch at the Villanova Diner after the meeting. Why not join us? It is a good time to get a little more help (or give it) and just to have fun talking about our common interests. The food is quite good, too!

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LAST MONTH'S MEETING

The meeting was attended by 18 folks, all members, who had an apparently interesting and educational experience. But, before summarizing the session, a couple of notes:- if you did not get a copy of the MLCUG OpenCD V2.0M at the December meeting, send an email to Emil; so a copy can be prepared for you for either pickup at a meeting or mailing if you can not get to a meeting. In addition to the software used at the January meeting, we will be using some of the other items included on the disk.

- several folks had newsletters fail to make an appearance. If that happens, again, please let me know. You can go to the website and check the issue (which is usually, we hope, on line at least a few days before the meeting!).

TIDBITS: Several that came up are worth passing on to all the members:

- if you have Comcast cable high speed internet service, you should power cycle your modem (unplug the power cord for at least 10 seconds, plug it back and let the modem reacquire the internet signal). Comcast is increasingly the speed cap from 3 Mbps to 4 Mbps - with no announcement - but you won't see it without the power cycling. BTW, if you do see a speed increase, let us know. We're curious as to where it has happened.

- Google has started a new map service to compete with Mapquest and Yahoo Maps. If you try it, let us know what you like (or dislike).

- a Win 98 user has reported problems of crashing with the AVG anti-virus program - anyone else have that problem?

SECURITY: On this front, Microsoft had a large patch/update packet with 13 items (updates/patches) in it. Depending on your operating system, you will see some or all of it. All Windows XP systems (including the club's BTO PC), that I have access to, got nine (9) of them. We downloaded and installed them at today's meeting, with no immediate problem.

Also, in that same vein, the media have reported that up to 95% of all email messages are spam!! And, about 25% of those are for Viagra!! Sheesh, guys, is it really that bad......???

After covering these and some other items, we turned the meeting over to member, Layton Fireng, who gave the program presentation on recovering old photos. Here's a summary of that presentation:

RECOVERING PHOTOGRAPHS

Layton first reviewed some of the aspects of photography, such as; what makes a good photograph (not just a pretty girl or a grand seascape, but digitally what are some of the parameters that determine if your masterpiece can be seen as you intended); how do you make a good photograph? One key element is that a good photo has at least a tiny amount of detail in both the darkest shadow and brightest highlight. Since we are working in a framework that has an 8-bit range on three primary colors, or values from 0 to 255, we want to be not less than about 5, nor more than about 250.

When we bring color into the picture, we want to try to identify a spot in it where there is a gray, then make sure that digitally it really is gray (or you get the same value for the red, green and blue signals). If you can get this, then you can be confident that the rest of the colors will come out correctly. If you can't, then you have to wing it!

To illustrate these points with some hands-on, Layton had a couple of ancient prints, dating back to the 1880s (yes, about 120 years old!). They were almost without visible signs of a picture on the yellowed paper. To get them back, he:

1. did a very careful, high resolution scan of the prints (around 1200-1600 dpi), which were done in color - even tho the prints were nominally B&W originals. He emphasized the importance of always scanning in color and doing the best possible scan that you can.

2. once the scanned image file was available, it was loaded into Photoshop. He showed how the color parameters could be viewed and adjusted, mainly with histograms of the R, G and B signals. As the process proceeded, the old image appeared from the muddy yellow mess with an amazing amount of detail (those old lenses that essentially worked only with blue-sensitive emulsions could do a very high quality job!).

3. he also illustrated the differences between manipulating RGB color and the CMYK color that Photoshop allows (most other imaging programs don't let you use the latter; but it makes this kind of problem much easier to handle).

Note: most of us see the R(ed)G(reen)B(lue) color system with our computer monitors and TV sets, which use this so-called additive color system, with light emitted by the screen. We directly experience the CMYK, the so-called subtractive color system, in our inkjet printers - the better ones using at least 4 inks (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and blacK or CMYK).

4. his discussion also covered aspects of the images that you get from digital cameras. Layton noted that if you plan to do any image manipulation, you should use your camera's highest resolution, non-compressed mode (which is likely to be a TIFF image file). The newer cameras offer the possibility of getting so-called RAW image files. He spoke glowingly of this type of image and the potential it has for allowing you to get the best images that your camera can possibly deliver. Look for that feature if you get in the mood for a new camera. Of course, using the high-res image formats means that you'll have BIG files; so don't spare the memory cards - get a big one (and a spare)!

5. he briefly compared Photoshop (which is a high-end product with a high-end price) to lower cost programs, primarily Photoshop Elements 3.0, which is offered by the Photoshop folks. For the purposes of this demonstration, PE's lack of CMYK support, and of "channels", makes the difference. But, PE is an excellent way to get started and can let you determine if you really need to fork out the big bucks for Photoshop!

Note: the West Chester Senior Center has just started a class in Photoshop Elements 3.0, in case you may be looking for instruction.

6. Layton brought a CD with a raft of pdf files covering a broad range of topics in this arena. Interested members can get a copy of the files, just bring a CD-R next time.

WANTED! - at the end of the presentation, I asked folks to think over questions and what they might like to see at a future meeting on using scanners, digicams, photo programs, etc. Do not hesitate to let us hear of your interests or needs. An excellent vehicle is the listserv, open to all members (see each issue of the newsletter for instructions), as a way to pose questions or make suggestions.

Our thanks to Layton for some illuminating demos... [Emil Volcheck]

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UPCOMING PROGRAMS

To provide a preview of upcoming meeting programs, your Steering Committee continues to keep a bit ahead. Here's what it looks like for:

Your input is always sought; so let us hear from you this meeting. [Emil Volcheck]

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MARCH MEETING OUTLINE

Here's a rough outline of the ground I plan to cover on this revisit to using Linux. I hope to get thru most of the subjects this time - plus allow time for YOUR questions. If we don't finish, I'll pick up there next time. Pete Whinnery

I.  Why Consider Linux?

        A.  Free of Spyware, Adware, Malware
        B.  Much better virus protection
        C.  Designed to work on a network
        D.  Applications, applications, applications
        E.  Cost
        F.  System transparency
        G.  Works with your current hardware

II.  Knoppix Live CD

        A.  Persistent Data file installed on HD
        B.  Network, Printers, etc
        C.  Accessing the Windows drive(s)

III.  Partitioning Your HD

       A.  Hard Drive Considerations

IV.  Installing Knoppix to your HD

        A.  Dual Boot Issues
        B.  Create Boot Floppy
        C.  Network, Printers, etc
        D.  Installing Applications

V.  Applications (Getting stuff done!)

        A.  E-Mail
        B.  Web Browsing
        C.  Office
        D.  Others
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"TRUE IMAGE 8.0" BACKUP

I have mentioned on a couple of occasions that the program "True Image 8.0" from Acronis software has replaced Powerquest's Drive Image in my affections! At a future meeting, I expect to show it off, but if anyone would like to give the software a try, it can be had at a user group discount from "User Group Relations".

The program lists for $63, but can be had thru UGR for $38, retail package. I will have order forms at the meeting next Saturday. You can either use the form and mail in a check, or use their web ordering via the directions given on the form. [Emil Volcheck]

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A Bit of Relief From Computers!

[Courtesy of Joe Pizzirusso]

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On the Soapbox Once More!

[cont'd from p.1] This article did not have a by-line, but you can look it up on the website given at the end. It actually accompanies a Linux distribution called: "Simply MEPIS". So, there is some PR about it towards the end. I'll bring a copy of its book and distro. [Emil Volcheck]

"After yet another year of severe security flaws followed by relentless upgrades, critical security patches, and data destroying viruses, many folks have simply had enough of Microsoft Windows. Oh sure there are several products out there to help you combat the endless onslaught of spamware, adware, malware, spyware, trojans, viruses, and worms that plague the Windows operating system. But at some point you just have to ask yourself, "Isn't there some way that I could just use my computer without having to constantly worry about this crap?". Happily, there is.

This opinionated guide will show you the simplest path to ridding yourself of the Microsoft Windows operating system and all of its associated headaches once and for all.

"Okay, hang on there, Cowboy -- get rid of Windows completely? isn't that a bit drastic?"

Not really, considering the severity of the threats currently aimed at your PC. If you've ever had your hard drive "cleansed" by a virus -- or perhaps worse, if you've ever received an email from a friend or associate whose data has been wiped clean by a worm that came from YOUR PC, then you can appreciate first-hand just how serious the problem really is.

"It's getting better though, right? Isn't Microsoft fixing these problems?"

According to anti-virus experts at Symantec, almost 5,000 new Windows viruses and worms were documented in the first half of 2004 -- that's a 400% increase over last year for the same period! And according to researchers at SANS Institute, a brand new Windows PC connected to the internet will last for only about 20 minutes before it's compromised by malware, on average -- that's twice as fast as last year. For years, Microsoft has given assurances that it is serious about improving Windows' security. But the fact is, it's getting worse -- not better.

"But don't other operating systems have the same kind of problems?"

No. Do you know anyone who uses Macintosh or Linux? Go ahead and ask them how many viruses they've been infected by this year. Then ask them about what methods they employ to fight spyware, trojans, and other nasties. You'll probably just get a blank stare. These concepts are largely foreign to Mac and Linux users because:

1. With more than 90% market-share, Windows is a much more attractive target for crackers (hackers with bad intentions) to wreak as much havoc as possible. This is one of the ill effects of having an industry which is monopolized by a single entity.

2. Windows is a much easier target for crackers. It's generally accepted (though some will disagree) that the Windows operating system is less secure by default. Insecure ports are left open, programs are allowed to execute without user prompting from within Internet Explorer, Outlook Express is able to execute programs, and the list goes on.

So the end result is, the overwhelming majority of digital nastiness in the world is created exclusively for people who use Microsoft Windows. Don't you feel lucky?

"Okay, but what about software and compatibility? We live in a Windows world right?"

These days, Macs and Linux PCs are very compatible with the Windows dominated world. The main issues here are network connectivity and file formats. I'm happy to tell you that both Mac and Linux can happily co-exist on a network with Windows PCs and can easily share files and network printers too. Some file formats are slightly more of an issue because Microsoft has a nasty habit of creating proprietary formats even for simple document types such as Microsoft Word (.doc) files and then refusing to publish the standard. So this means that programmers who want compatibility with MS Word must reverse engineer the file format which is insanely difficult to do. Incredibly though, the intrepid programmers of OpenOffice.org have done just that. So MS Office compatibility is no longer a problem on Linux. Of course, on a Mac, you can just run Microsoft Office for Macintosh. Most other file formats are standard. For example MP3s, JPEGs, TXT, etc. So basically your Mac or Linux PC can do just about anything your Windows PC can do these days.

"How about software? I thought all of the good software was for Windows. "

What do you do with your computer? Surf the net? Send email? Compose letters, spreadsheets, slide-show type presentations? Edit photos? Listen to music? Watch movies? Play games? Okay, you might have a point with the games. If you're a hardcore gamer, I can tell you right now -- you won't be happy with the selection currently on offer for Mac or Linux. But for most users, you'll find plenty of software to meet your computing needs. Most major software titles from developers such as Adobe, Macromedia, and even Microsoft are available for Macintosh as well. And for Linux there are equivalent (and in many cases, better) software packages such as the outstanding (and totally free!) OpenOffice.org office suite and the vastly superior Mozilla FireFox web browser. If you rely on a specific application which is only available for Windows then you may not be a candidate for switching. But for most folks, software availability won't be an issue.

"Okay, I think I want to get rid of Windows. Should I go Mac or Linux?"

How much money do you have? Seriously, if your motivation for switching is simply to rid yourself of the headaches of Windows, and if you have an extra couple thousand dollars burning a hole in your pocket, go buy a G5 with Mac OS X and you'll never look back. It is absolutely the most direct route to trouble-free computing you could ask for. But if you want to switch on the cheap or if you're just interested in exploring the Open Source phenomenon, then Linux may be your ticket. If you think Mac is the way forward for you, head on over to Apple's site for lots more information on how to do that. If you want to take the Linux route, keep reading.

"Is Linux really free?"

Yep. Free as in no charge and free as in liberty. Unlike proprietary software vendors who keep their source code a closely guarded secret, Linux source code is completely open for you to use, study, improve, scrutinize for security flaws, etc. Over the years, this freedom (as in liberty) has allowed Linux to evolve into quite a mature and secure operating system. But who's going to gather up all this source code and package it into a cohesive operating system that detects your hardware and self installs? That's where the concept of Linux "distributions" comes in.

"Distributions? Ya mean like Red Hat?"

Yes, Red Hat Linux is the most well known distribution of Linux. However, there are many others such as Fedora, SuSE, TurboLinux, Xandros, Mandrake, Debian, Knoppix, Mepis, Gentoo -- the list goes on and on. Some of these vendors charge money for their distribution, others do not. Remember the underlying source code is totally free, but that doesn't mean you can't charge a fee for packaging and delivering it. On the other hand, many distributions are also available for no charge.

"Oh great, more decisions. How am I supposed to choose a distribution?"

Choosing a distribution is like choosing a religion. There's no way I or anyone else could possibly presume to tell you which distribution you should use. Having said that, use Mepis.

"Why Mepis? Shouldn't I start with a more mainstream distribution?"

Mepis is one of the fastest growing Linux distributions out there; and it's based on one of the most popular distributions of all time, Debian. Debian is a totally free distribution which is exceptionally solid, secure and easy to maintain. But Debian has one little problem; it's not very easy to install compared to the other guys. Enter Mepis, which has quite possibly the easiest installation of any operating system in history -- including Windows and even Macintosh. You simply download and burn the Mepis CD, put it in your computer and reboot. That's it, now you're running Mepis Linux directly from the CD!

"Hey that's a neat trick! But how do I actually install Mepis to my hard drive?"

If after taking Mepis for a test drive you decide to actually install it permanently, you can do so by simply selecting "MEPIS Installation Center" from the menu. Here's a step-by-step guide with screenshots. IMPORTANT: Please be sure you back-up all of your data before installing Mepis to your hard drive.

"Wow, I'm running Linux! What now?"

Now get plugged into the community and learn as much as you can about your new operating system. Here are some useful starting places:

Remember, Linux isn't Windows! There are many similarities but there are also some fundamental differences. If something doesn't work as you expect it to, it may just be a case of learning the "Linux way" after years of doing it the "Microsoft way". Think back to when you got your first computer and had to go through the sometimes frustrating ordeals of learning how to use your new machine. Try to be patient and you'll be rewarded with the ability to take back control of your computer from all the petty crackers in the world and also from the biggest cracker of them all, Microsoft. From: http:// www.datafly.net/en/articles/quitwindows.php

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Spammers have adapted and Spam is going to get worse

In the next few months, E-mail spam is going to get a lot worse, at least, that's the prediction of The SpamHaus project, a global anti-spam group that point the finger to a new spamming technique that consist of sending spam via the ISPs (Internet Service Providers) directly, instead of using individual machines.

It makes it impossible to block E-mails coming from the ISP's internet address without also blocking millions of legitimate E-mails.

And that comes right after AOL claimed that spam was going down, and that everybody was saying that spammers had given up! It seems that spammers have adapted. How can they use the ISP's infrastructure and why can't the ISPs prevent them from doing it?

DIRECTIONS FOR ST. AUGUSTINE CENTER MEETING ROOM

Meetings are in the St. Augustine Center at Villanova University. The regular monthly sessions meet in Room 110.

Map here

Enter from the ITHAN AVENUE main gate, then proceed to the upper level of the 2-level parking building adjacent to the St. Augustine Center, on the Ithan Avenue side of the building.

NOTE: maps on our webpage - http://mlcug.org/


PC/128/64 Meetings  2005  Steering Committee Meetings

			March 12 			March 16 **
			April 2				April 13 *
			May 14 			        May 18 **

	* = SECOND Wednesday	** = THIRD Wednesday at Tom Johnson's home
*********************************************************************************EDITOR:  Emil J. Volcheck, Jr.   1046 General Allen Lane    West Chester, PA 19382-8030
(Produced on a Powerspec PC: Athlon 2000+, 512 MB RAM, 80 GB hard drive, Brother HL-5170DN laser printer, HP Scanjet 6300C, CD-RW, DVD-RW and 250 MB Zip drives, using Appleworks 5.0.3)

          MLCUG LISTSERV: for members only...
                     WWW: http://www.mlcug.org/
               PUBLICITY: Position OPEN!
       VILLANOVA SPONSOR: Prof. Frank Maloney, Dept. of Astronomy

MLCUG STEERING COMMITTEE:

PRESIDENT: Emil Volcheck    610-388-1581  SECRETARY: Charles Curran 610-446-5239
TREASURER: Dewitt Stewart   610-623-5145  AMIGASIG: John Deker      610-828-7897
WEBMASTER: Peter Whinnery   610-284-5234  DATABASE: Layton Fireng   610-688-2080
AT LARGE:  Tom Johnson      610-525-3440  AT LARGE: John Murphy     610-935-4398