Sunday, 27 November 2005

Over at VoIPSpeak, there's an article describing how to set up Asterisk@Home, a distribution of the Asterisk open source PBX software for Linux, in a virtual machine on a Windows box. It uses the recently-released (and free) VMWare Player for virtualization.

Note that Asterisk@Home is actually a bit of a misnomer - it's more like "Asterisk-Plus" - a package of the Asterisk PBX with many of the more common and popular add-ons and enhancements packaged up. Installation is simplified and the heavy lifting is mostly done for you. Running in a no-cost VM environment, it's really easy to mess with and learn from. Set up a couple soft-phones and you'll be able to try it out all you like.

(via Digg)



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Sunday, 27 November 2005 14:38:53 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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Ask-encarta-im1This one is perfect for students, who (we all know) spend way too much time on IM anyhow. So in the if-you-can't-beat-'em-join-'em department, have them add encarta@conversagent.com as a contact on their MSN IM people lists. Chris Sells pointed out this service - which ties into the Encarta online encyclopedia - the other day, and so I tried it out.

If you ever have to research things for classes or work and want a more accessible way to do so, you'll find it cool and useful.

Just open a conversation with the "Encarta Instant Answers" contact in your list and start asking questions. You'll get results right in the IM window. If there's information available from Encarta online (did you know you can use pretty much everything from Encarta online???), the agent will offer to share it with you in an expanded window (see below).

It works quite well, and has already tied up a bunch of my time. I'll be keeping this one in my IM contact list for sure.

Ask-encarta-im3
(click above for a larger view)



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Sunday, 27 November 2005 06:45:20 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Saturday, 26 November 2005
Microsoft's Major Nelson, XBOX Live Director of Programming grand poobah, says they're cranking out new consoles and shipping XBOX 360s to stores weekly, so there' still a chance.

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Saturday, 26 November 2005 19:38:15 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Tuesday, 22 November 2005

Microsoft yesterday announced a zero-day exploit that affects Internet Explorer. The Zero Day Security weblog describes it well:

"A UK group known as 'Computer Terrorism' has released a proof of concept zero day exploit for fully patched Windows systems running Internet Explorer 5.5 & 6.x that takes advantage of a previously known JavaScript vulnerability. Microsoft Security Advisory 911302 covers the essentials. The only Windows systems seeming not affected are Windows Server 2003 and Windows Server 2003 with SP1.

"Of course, to be compromised the user must first browse to a malicious web site. According to Computer Terrorism: Contrary to popular beliefs, the aforementioned security issue is susceptible to remote, arbitrary code execution, yielding full system access with the privileges of the underlying user.

"Several informative sites include Microsoft, FrSIRT, MITRE, US-CERT, InfoWorld, eWeek and SANS (which suggests disabling Java or using another browser and has a BleedingSnort Rule on their site).

"Get ready for a patch blast from Microsoft on this one."

Microsoft's comments have been updated with the latest information. From their Security Advisory 911302 information page:

"...We have also been made aware of proof of concept code targeting the reported vulnerability but are not aware of any customer impact at this time. We will continue to investigate these public reports.

"Upon completion of this investigation, Microsoft will take the appropriate action to help protect our customers. This may include providing a security update through our monthly release process or providing an out-of-cycle security update, depending on customer needs.

"This issue was originally publicly reported in May as being a stability issue that caused the browser to close. Since then, new information has been posted that indicates remote code execution could be possible. Microsoft is concerned that this new report of a vulnerability in Internet Explorer was not disclosed responsibly, potentially putting computer users at risk. We continue to encourage responsible disclosure of vulnerabilities. We believe the commonly accepted practice of reporting vulnerabilities directly to a vendor serves everyone's best interests..."



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IT Security | Tech
Tuesday, 22 November 2005 22:32:52 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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I was on the phone with a professional contact today, a guy who happens to do cybercrime and anti-fraud work in his job as a special agent for the FBI. That's a part of what I do in my day job, by the way - help chase down bad guys on the 'net and interact with law enforcement to shut them down. It's a fairly effective way to keep one foot in the door of my previous career (police work) and at the same time be firmly planted in the computer technology world. I also get to working with some really smart people who build great software that is used to prevent fraudsters from reaching victims.

Anyhow... So I was on the phone with my anti-fraud cohort, and he had that "FBI-agent-having-a-rough-day" sound in his voice. He's one of these guys who's always very positive, but it was clear quite a bit of work had been cut out for him and his coworkers over the past day or two.

It turns out there's a new set of fake emails running around that try to look like they came from the FBI or the CIA, and which have an attachment that is actually a virus.

Now, let's get one thing completely clear: If you ever get an unsolicited email that has a file attached, DO NOT OPEN THE ATTACHMENT. It doesn't matter if it's from the President of the United States or the Creator of of the Universe... Email is inherently insecure, and if it looks out of place, it probably is. You can read the FBI's press release about the situation here, which describes the fake emails in some detail.

This is just another example of social engineering and the fact that given the opportunity, people will fall for almost anything. Oh - and if you don't have antivirus protection at your email service provider, change providers now. Seriously. Get a GMail or Hotmail account or something.

I'll tell ya one thing... Whoever had cohones enough to construct that virus variety to send email pretending to be from the FBI is in for a rude awakening. Seriously, seriously stupid move. Heh.



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Tuesday, 22 November 2005 22:16:50 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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Last night I contemplated waking up earlier than usual, getting in the car and going down to the local Wal Mart (well, as local as can be when you live in the sticks) to get in line to buy a XBOX 360 console. After doing some rough calculations in my head last night, I realized that between travel and work, I'll hardly be home between now and the end of the year, so maybe right now isn't the best time for me to buy one anyhow. Oh, but I will be buying one, no worries there.

Still, Wal Mart is on my drive to work, and so I decided to grab my standard morning coffee from the little store at the bottom of the hill, drive into town, and do some people watching. After all, I realized, it's more the excitement and the weirdness of the hype around the event than the console itself. An XBOX 360 today is the same box and hardware as you can buy later. But the launch fans? That only happens once.

So I headed out for the big ol' St. Helens, Oregon Wal Mart. I listened to the radio on the way there, and heard stories of gamers in places like Manhattan, NY, where apparently people had been lined up forever (like lots of places around the country) and Bellevue, Washington, where Bill Gates went to the local Best Buy and picked up his own console. Somehow I don't think he needed to do that, but hey - it was cool. 

Honestly, I was more interested in watching the people when they opened the store than I was in buying a console on Day One. I'm more interested, too, in how much they'll be selling for on eBay later today, and about when the day will be that they start dropping them off the backs of trucks at stores in huge numbers. One friend says he thinks it will be on Thursday night. Another person I know tells me the store he pre-ordered from called and let him know his delivery would be delayed, and that they were not sure if he would get his before Christmas. People are lining up everywhere. Clearly, the demand is high and the supply (either artificially or in actuality) is short.

Anyhow, back to the local Wal Mart. I wasn't sure what to expect in the Big Town of St Helens. I pulled into the parking lot and saw a small crowd of about 15-20 shivering people huddled right next to the front door of the store. A couple of people were (smartly) waiting in their vehicles with the heat on. I pulled up and deduced that the Wal Mart store has probably handed out numbers to the first people to show up, but that's where things got more interesting. Every employee that came anywhere near the front door was the target of sly, mean-sounding questioning. "Are they coming to open the door? Hurry up, it's f***n' cold out here! What?!? No?!?!? G*d d*mnit!"

When it came time to open the door and head for the counter - and keep in mind, everyone had a number - the race walk through the door turned into a jog, and then quickly into a sprint for the back of the store, where ten boxes sat stacked neatly behind a counter. I followed (at a walking pace, of course) to observe. A couple of people commented on the foot race and we all laughed a little. Mostly the people (at least those who didn't have a number) noticed how strange the whole thing was. All this for a video game console? Hey, for some it's what life is all about, I guess.

So, I started to think about the gamer personality. Some of the people were needlessly quiet and cagey, not really letting on as to who had what number, and some were not even providing information about whether numbers were even given out. It was amusing, really. There was this competitive hype attitude. The need to be first, to sneak around that metaphoric corner on the battle map and shoot your opponent in the back of the head.

It's really kinda interesting.

Fist fights, secrecy, celebration, celebrity, short supply, bright green boxes, launch hype, auction hype and even more random hype. Some will be upset they can't get one, others will be upset they pre-ordered and the kid down the street was first, and others will be holed up in their rooms for the next five days with lots of Mountain Dew, Red Bull, Doritos and Little Betty Snack Cakes turning a whole new shade of pasty white with a day-glow green tint brought on by the magical glow of the XBOX 360, only to emerge into a world where the colors are not quite as bright, the definition is not quite as high, and the people with guns in their hands are the ones you want to avoid. Ahhh, the life...

Merry Christmas and all that. Earlier and more bizarre every year. 

But hey, dude, it's a sweet console.



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Tuesday, 22 November 2005 09:44:25 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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