Main Line Computer Users Group


April 2005 Issue 275

VILLANOVA UNIVERSITY, ST. AUGUSTINE CENTER, ROOM 110 MEETING STARTS - 09:30 - APRIL 9th
THIS MONTH'S CONTENTS
UPCOMING MEETING: For our April meeting, we are planning to con-tinue the subject of using the Linux OS. Our last two meetings, piloted by Pete Whinnery, have gone well, as introductions to using Linux.

In February, Pete devoted the bulk of the meeting to considering some of the whys of thinking about your using Linux. In March, he demoed the bootable "Live CD", that lets you use it without installing it. Or, use the same CD for installing, if you decide to do so.

For the April meeting, he'll revisit the Knoppix 3.7 Live CD, and show how to make it more useful, again with no install to your hard drive. It uses a "persistent" directory, a small bit of space, which adds "memory" to the Live CD!

Then, he'll turn to the subject of what you can do with Linux - in place of Windows. On p.3 of this issue you'll find an extensive outline of all the material to be covered.

BUUUT, what about an application, that Linux doesn't provide? Come prepared to raise that issue, let's see what can be done!


Here's Another One To Mull Over!!

Recently, I was asked if I could assist in retrieving some old files on floppy disk. But, unlike many previous such requests for help, this was not for old Commodore files, but old Apple files on ProDOS formatted floppies! And, the floppies were some 10 years old and had not been used in about that many years. I can report that I was successful in that recovery and the files were sent to their owner, in PC format, to Japan, where the owner was now living!! Well, that [cont'd.]

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ANNOUNCEMENTS & COMMENTS
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WELCOME!! - it is with some pleasure that I get the chance to welcome new members to our club. Those who've joined in the last few months have made up for the few who did not renew their memberships for 2005.

So, the Welcome Mat is out to: Don Byerly from West Chester Kevin Dixon from Pottstown Al Gottlieb from Ambler Joan Stanford from Elverson Jack Zufelt from Wilmington I hope these new folks will be able to make our meetings. It's a good place to both help and get help. If that doesn't happen, then their participation in the listerv will be appreciated!

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

Apparently, Linux is not a totally daunting subject, as we had 22 members show for the March meeting. Before moving to the next round on Linux, a few salient points came up:

- Microsoft announced that it is changing how it handles the product activation. They will not accept the ID code that is normally on a label stuck to the outside of the computer case. They claim that too many of these IDs are being stolen and used to activate pirated copies of Windows and Office. It remains to be seen exactly what they end up with. But, if you find a need to reinstall Windows, and you elect to use the case label ID, you may have a problem.

- TIP - you should be sure that you know the ID of your installed copy of XP - it usually differs from what is on that case label. When you reinstall, use the same ID that you now have in actual use!

- you can use Acronis True Image to backup a Linux OS, just as easily as for Windows. So, you may want to get a copy of this powerful app, even if you decide to switch to Linux!

- FTTP and FIOS (Fiber To The Premises and FIber Optic System), Verizon is moving very aggressively to install fiber optic cabling tofolks all over the Delaware Valley. Their announced intentions are to compete with Comcast on all fronts. And, Comcast, in its turn, is adding phone service over the internet! So, both companies will be offering phone, internet and TV services. Soon, some of us may have the chance to make the choice. if it happens in your area, please tell us about it, as it happens.

After these discussions, the reins were again turned over to Pete Whinnery for the next chapter in our current exploration of the Linux OS and how we might be able to use it, vice Windows (or to supplement Windows). [Emil Volcheck]

WHY AND HOW TO USE LINUX?

The bulk of Pete's story for this month was taken by a well prepared Powerpoint story. The original, we understand, was prepared in the Linux counterpart to Powerpoint, called: "Impress". It was then saved in a couple of formats, including Powerpoint; so it could be presented to and viewed by a wide variety of audiences.

The presentation had been further modified by Pete to make it more useful to MLCUG folks.

Rather than try to summarize what Pete covered, you can get the story yourself - from the MLCUG web page. Fire up your browser and jump to mlcug.org, scroll down the page a bit to "PC Interests", then click the first link, labelled "Moving to Linux....". You can read it, print it, or save it to your hard drive for local use. Oh yes, it's in yet another format: a pdf file!

Thanks to Pete for posting that to the webpage for folks to grab directly!

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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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APRIL MEETING OUTLINE

As a preview for the April meeting (and probably the May one, too), presenter (and Linux devotee) Pete Whinnery has provided the info below. Look it over carefully to see if he is expecting to address questions you might have. If not, make sure you mention them!!!

I.  Assumptions:
   A. You have a home computer running Windows using an Intel processor.
   B. You use your computer mainly for writing simple documents, email,
browsing the web, listening to the radio over the Internet, balancing
your checkbook and a few simple games like Solitaire.
   C. You are willing to invest some time and effort to make the
transition to Linux, but you want to continue doing the things you do
today.

II. Persistent Home directory (for Live CD)
   A. K-> Knoppix-> Configure-> 
III. Multi-Platform Applications (those that run on both Linux and Windows):
   A. Word Processing
      1. Open Office
      2  Abiword
   B. Email
      1. ThunderBird
   C. Browser
      1. Mozilla
      2. Firefox
      3. Opera
   D. Streaming
      1. Real Player
      2. Xmms
   E. Checkbook
      1. Money Dance

IV.  Configuration
   A. Screen
      1. Key combinations under KDE
      2. KDE Control Center
      3. Cheatcodes at boot time
      4. Making changes in the files: 
          /etc/X11/XF86Config and XF86Config-4
   B. Printer
      1. K-> Knoppix -> Configure Printer
   C. Sound card      
      1. K-> Knoppix -> Configure Sound
   D. Internet access via (A)DSL/ISDN/Modem
      1. K-> Knoppix -> Internet
   E. Network card
      1. See above
   F. Saving the Knoppix Configuration on a floppy disk/flash drive
      1. K-> Knoppix -> Save
   G. Enabling writing to the hard disk of the PC
      1.The basic philosophy of Knoppix is to use the hard disk of the PC in
a READ-ONLY way as much as possible, to prevent changes in the data
and the main operating system (e.g. Windows) on this hard disk.
      2. Writing onto NTFS-Partitions means data loss! So keep your hands
off NTFS partitions
      3. USB-Flashcard-readers, USB-Memorysticks, external USB- and
Firewire-disk, some through USB connected Digital cameras etc. are
treated as (internal) SCSI-disks.
     4. Mount disk partition, right click icon, choose "Change Read/Write Mode"

V.  Internet Access
   A. Browsers - Mozilla, Konqueror 
   B. Email setup - Kmail 

VI. Terminals - Accessing the command line
   A.  Basic Commands
      1. ls
      2. cd
      3. rm
      4. more/less
      5. ?
   B. Text Editors
      1. Kate
      2. NEdit
      3. Nano
      4. Emacs
      5. Vim

VII. Word Processing  
   A. K-Write (K-office) 
   B. Kate, Nedit
   C. Open Office Writer
 
VIII.Spreadsheets  
   A. Open Office 

IX. CDROM / DVD ROM burner setup & use
   A. K3B
   B. XcdRoast
      1. Setup as root (k-> System-> Root console, run from cmd. line)

X. Others (Discuss only, no demo)
   A. Quicken or Money - Money Dance 
        http://www.moneydance.com/, GnuCash
   B. Tax prep software - Open Tax Solver 
   C. Photoshop Elements - Gimp, Image Magic, Kview, KuickShow 
   D. Audacity - runs on Linux

XI. To Do:

   Any unique issues with using USB or Firewire & software for common devices 

   installing & removing software 

   networking - file & printer sharing setup, FTP server setup

   Linux backup utilities or a recommendation to use other utilities like True Image, etc. 

   FAX & modem setup & use including scanner selection

   PDF creation & viewing, Postscript printing & viewing

XII. Resources
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KNOPPIX 3.7 CD-ROMS

Do you want/need a copy of the Knoppix 3.7 CD? If so, please give Emil a buzz and he'll bring a copy next time for you. This Live CD can be used to boot directly or install to a hard drive.

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A Bit of Relief From Computers!

[Courtesy of Joe Pizzirusso]

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Here's Another One To Mull Over!

[cont'd from p.1] brought again to my mind the growing problem of being able to retrieve and reuse old computer files on all kinds of unusual or very uncommon, and even common, formats.

Back in 1985, it was already there, as the brand new Commodore 128 had the capability to read and write to some dozen or more, by then, obsolete CP/M disk formats (on 5.25" floppies)!

The next item addresses the current situation and what outcomes may be expected. The problem is only going to get worse. Give it a read!!!

EVEN DIGITAL MEMORIES CAN FADE

The nation's 115 million home computers are brimming over with personal treasures - millions of photographs, music of every genre, college papers, the great American novel and, of course, mountains of e-mail messages.

Yet no one has figured out how to preserve these electronic materials for the next decade, much less for the ages. Like junk e-mail, the problem of digital archiving, which seems straightforward, confounds even the experts.

"To save a digital file for, let's say, a hundred years is going to take a lot of work," said Peter Hite, president of Media Management Services, a consulting firm in Houston. "Whereas to take a traditional photograph and just put it in a shoe box doesn't take any work." Already, half of all photographs are taken by digital cameras, with most of the shots never leaving a personal computer's hard drive.

So dire and complex is the challenge of digital preservation in general that the Library of Congress has spent the last several years forming committees and issuing reports on the state of the nation's preparedness for digital preservation.

Jim Gallagher, director for information technology services at the Library of Congress, said the library, faced with "a deluge of digital information," had embarked on a multiyear, multimillion-dollar project, with an eye toward creating uniform standards for preserving digital material so that it can be read in the future regardless of the hardware or software being used. The assumption is that machines and software formats in use now will become obsolete sooner rather than later.

"It is a global problem for the biggest governments and the biggest corporations all the way down to individuals," said Ken Thibodeau, director for the electronic records archives program at the National Archives and Records Administration.

In the meantime, individual PC owners struggle in private. Desk drawers and den closets are filled with obsolete computers, stacks of Zip disks and 3 1/2-inch diskettes, even the larger 5 1/4-inch floppy disks from the 1980's. Short of a clear solution, experts recommend that people copy their materials, which were once on vinyl, film and paper, to CD's and other backup formats.

But backup mechanisms can also lose their integrity. Magnetic tape, CD's and hard drives are far from robust. The life span of data on a CD recorded with a CD burner, for instance, could be as little as five years if it is exposed to extremes in humidity or temperature.

And if a CD is scratched, Mr. Hite said, it can become unusable. Unlike, say, faded but readable ink on paper, the instant a digital file becomes corrupted, or starts to degrade, it is indecipherable.

"We're accumulating digital information faster than we can handle, and moving into new platforms faster than we can handle," said Jeffrey Rutenbeck, director for the Media Studies Program at the University of Denver.

Professional archivists and librarians have the resources to duplicate materials in other formats and the expertise to retrieve materials trapped in obsolete computers. But consumers are seldom so well equipped. So they are forced to devise their own stop-gap measures, most of them unwieldy, inconvenient and decidedly low-tech.

Philip Cohen, the communications officer at a nonprofit foundation in San Francisco, is what archivists call a classic "migrator." Since he was in elementary school, Mr. Cohen, 33, has been using a computer for his school work, and nearly all of his correspondence has been in e-mail since college.

Now Mr. Cohen's three home computers are filled with tens of thousands of photos, songs, video clips and correspondence.

Over the years, Mr. Cohen, who moonlights as a computer fix-it man, has continually transferred important files to ever newer computers and storage formats like CD's and DVD's. "I'll just keep moving forward with the stuff I'm sentimental about," he said.

Yet Mr. Cohen said he had noticed that some of his CD's, especially the rewritable variety, are already beginning to degrade. "About a year and a half ago they started to deteriorate, and become unreadable," he said.

And of course, migration works only if the data can be found, and with ever more capacious hard drives, even that can be a problem.

"Some people are saying digital data will disappear not by being destroyed but by being lost," Dr. Rutenbeck said. "It's one thing to find the photo album of your trip to Hawaii 20 years ago. But what if those photos are all sitting in a subdirectory in your computer?"

For some PC users, old machines have become the equivalent of the bin under the bed. This solution, which experts call the museum approach to archiving, means keeping obsolete equipment around the house.

Simon Yates, an analyst at Forrester Research , for example, keeps his old PC in the back of a closet underneath a box. The machine contains everything in his life from the day he married in 1997 to the day he bought his new computer in 2002. If he wanted to retrieve anything from the old PC, Mr. Yates said, it would require a great deal of wiring and rewiring. "I'd have to reconfigure my entire office just to get it to boot up," he said.

Peter Schwartz, chairman of the Global Business Network, which specializes in long-range planning, says that a decade or two from now, the museum approach might be the most feasible answer.

"As long as you keep your data files somewhat readable you'll be able to go to the equivalent of Kinko's where they'll have every ancient computer available," said Mr. Schwartz, whose company has worked with the Library of Congress on its preservation efforts.

"It'll be like Ye Olde Antique Computer Shoppe," Mr. Schwartz said. "There's going to be a whole industry of people who will have shops of old machines, like the original Mac Plus."

Until that approach becomes commercially viable, though, there is the printout method.

Melanie Ho, 25, a graduate student at the University of California, Los Angeles, has been using computers since elementary school. She creates her own Web sites and she spends much of her day online.

Yet she prints important documents and stores a backup set at her parents' house 100 miles away.

"As much as a lot of people think print will be dead because of computers," she said, "I actually think there's something about the tangibility of paper that feels more comforting."

Proponents of paper archiving grow especially vocal when it comes to preserving photographs. If stored properly, conventional color photographs printed from negatives can last as long as 75 years without fading. Newer photographic papers can last up to 200 years.

There is no such certainty for digital photos saved on a hard drive.

Today's formats are likely to become obsolete and future software "probably will not recognize some aspects of that format," Mr. Thibodeau said. "It may still be a picture, but there might be things in it where, for instance, the colors are different."

The experts at the National Archives, like those at the Library of Congress, are working to develop uniformity among digital computer files to eliminate dependence on specific hardware or software.

One format that has uniformity, Mr. Thibodeau pointed out, is the Web, where it often makes no difference which browser is being used.

Indeed, for many consumers, the Web has become a popular archiving method, especially when it comes to photos. Shutterfly.com and Ofoto .com have hundreds of millions of photographs on their computers. Shutterfly keeps a backup set of each photo sent to the site.

The backups are stored somewhere in California "off the fault line," said David Bagshaw, chief executive of Shutterfly.

But suppose a Web-based business like Shutterfly goes out of business?

Mr. Bagshaw said he preferred to look on the bright side, but offered this bit of comfort: "No matter what the business circumstances, we'll always make people's images available to them."

Constant mobility can be another issue.

Stephen Quinn, who teaches journalism at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., moves frequently because of his work. He prefers to keep the amount of paper in his life to a minimum, and rarely makes printouts.

Dr. Quinn has a box in the bottom drawer of his desk that contains an eclectic set of storage disks dating back to the early 1980's, when he started out on an Amstrad computer.

All of Dr. Quinn's poetry ("unpublished and unpublishable" he says) and other writings are on those various digital devices, along with his daily diaries.

At some point, he wants to gather the material as a keepsake for his children, but he has no way to read the files he put on the Amstrad disks more than 20 years ago. He has searched unsuccessfully for an Amstrad computer.

"I have a drawer filled with disks and no machinery to read it with," Dr. Quinn said.

That is becoming a basic problem of digital life. Whatever solution people might use, it is sure to be temporary.

"We will always be playing catch up," said Dr. Rutenbeck, who is working at pruning his own digital past, discarding old hard drives and stacks of old Zip disks.

"It feels really good to do," he said, "just like I didn't keep a box of everything I did in first grade."

By Katie Hafner, Nov 10, 2004 Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company