DreamHost 
Note to self: DreamHost looks like a good option for cheap web hosting. I'll have to look into it more, but I like the idea of having MYSQL.

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Open Source Data Security Tools 
This is just a list of a few of my favorite security tools (generally for Windows), along with descriptions.

Password Database

Keepass is a good option for an encrypted database of all your passwords. It's an open source project. There is official support for Windows and PocketPC. There are unofficial ports to OSX and Linux. In addition to password authentication, Keepass optionally supports keyfiles for unlocking the database. You can put the keyfile on a USB keychain to create a two-factor authentication system.


Encrypted Volumes

Truecrypt is an excellent open source tool for creating encrypted volumes on Win2k (and up) machines. It also works with Linux. Once mounted, an encrypted volume appears as another (virtual) hard drive on your machine. Authentication methods include password and/or keyfile (for two-factor auth). The actual encrypted volume can be stored as a file, an unformatted hard drive partition, or even an unallocated portion of a hard drive. A Truecrypt volume file can be on pretty much anything including hard drive, USB thumb drive, or network path. A thumb drive can be configured so that all the executables/dlls needed for encryption/decryption are on the drive unencrypted (so you can mount it anywhere). However, I believe you need admin privledges to run the executables and mount the volume.


Secure Erase

Eraser is a good open source tool for erasing files so that they cannot be recovered by any means. It includes a scheduler and can wipe "empty space" as well as files. Eraser is primarly useful to me at work for it's ability to make a "nuke" floppy disk for wiping a machine before surplussing an old computer. The nuke disk is an image of a tiny Linux OS with menu options for wiping the hard drives after you boot the disk.


Data Integrity

wxChecksums is a pretty good checksum calculator for Windows. It can compute MD5 and SFV checksums, which isn't really a security process exactly but is often associated with the topic. The wxChecksums software includes a shell extension that can be installed optionally. Security/encryption software often provides MD5 checksums on their project webpages for a crude form of authentication of the source of the file, as well as data integrity of the download. PGP signatures are better, but MD5 is better than nothing.

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Backing up Music CDs 
Iíve recently become interested in backing up my CD collection. A lot of my favorite CDs have suffered from repeated loading into my car CD player with its damaging feed mechanism. Some will need to be replaced, but hopefully I can back most of them up before they are completely ruined. Iíve ripped all of them at one point or another in various formats, compression rates, and with various ripper software packages, but I never put much thought into making accurate back-ups.

Lossless Storage with FLAC

One thing I knew going into this project is that I would need to find a lossless data storage format in order to have a perfect back-up. FLAC appears to be the ideal solution. It is lossless (meaning that FLAC-compressed data can be decompressed back to the exact original) and it has a respectable compression ratio for this type of compression. Also, FLAC is pretty well supported by both desktop music software and portable media players. Finally, FLAC is open source. Therefore, I have little worry that the file format will become obsolete and unusable years down the line. Now FLAC isnít supported on everything, and it takes up a lot of space. However, the idea is that from your perfect back-up you can transcode to another format such as MP3 for storage on an ipod, for instance. If newer formats come into existence down the line, you can again transcode to the newer format (so long as you maintain the original FLAC back-ups). You never have to worry about re-ripping your CDs with this approach.

Best CD Ripping Software?

The next order of business is the actual ripping of the CDs. Unfortunately, getting the music off of a CD accurately is not as simple as just copying a file from the disc to your hard drive. CDROMs can literally get off track while reading, misread due to dirt and grime, or encounter other kinds of problems. The ideal CD ripping software should be able to recognize problems and reread the CD or apply corrections to the data stream as needed.

Exact Audio Copy (EAC) does this, and is generally the favorite tool of audiophiles (at least according to my research). Unfortunately, EAC is closed source and only runs under Windows. The open source CD Paranoia (CDP) is available for Linux but doesnít have all the features of EAC. CDP is command-line only; however there is an excellent Gnome-based GUI app that uses CDP called Grip. Even if you are using Linux, EAC can be run successfully via WINE.

If you want the most accurate rips possible, you should also use Accuraterip with EAC. Accuraterip can run as a plug-in for EAC and works by comparing a fingerprint (CRC check) against a remote database of fingerprints that many other users got when ripping the same CD. This approach lets you determine with a high level of certainty whether you have a perfect rip of your CD.

Most Accurate Back-up

Another issue regarding ripping is whether you rip a CD as individual tracks on the disc or as a continuous image of all the audio on the disc. Itís not as much of an issue as it used to be, but some MP3 players will have noticeable pauses or other audio anomalies between tracks while playing several songs in a row. (Many recent players can handle this situation with unnoticeable or barely noticeable transitions.) One solution is to rip the entire CD as one big file. There is also the fairly rare issue of ďhiddenĒ tracks on CDs. If you want to make sure to capture all the data on the disc, youíre often better off ripping as one big file.

The problem with this single big file approach is that individual tracks are no longer denoted. However, a solution is available with the use of CUE sheets. This is a secondary file that provides a table of contents for the position of the beginning and end of each track. All in all the issues necessitating single file backup plus CUE sheets probably arenít that big a deal but it appears many audiophiles do this for perfect CD back-ups.

While ripping as a single FLAC file with an accompanying CUE sheet (Iíll just call this FLAC-CUE from now on) is a great way to back up a CD, it is unfortunately less than ideal for playback. Very few software or hardware media players can handle CUE sheets coupled with any type of audio file. The popular Linux player, Amarok, can handle CUE sheets, but it only uses them to show you the name of the current song within a single large FLAC file. You cannot jump straight to any particular track, nor can you shuffle the songs. Fubar2000 for Windows is apparently one of the few players that have full support for CUE sheets.

The only real practical solution is to transcode from FLAC-CUE to single tracks of another format. The obvious disadvantage is that if the back-ups of your CDs are already on network attached storage then transcoding will significantly increase the amount of disc space used and will be largely redundant. Additionally, you wonít be using the high quality available to you unless you transcode to individual tracks of FLAC thus doubling the the already lofty storage requirements for your library. This problem isnít really a big issue if you only use a portable media player for listening since youíll have to copy the songs over to the player anyways, but it is an issue if you like to use a software player. I am hopeful that Amarok will eventually add full support for FLAC-CUE! If you donít consider yourself a hardcore audiophile, you may want to simply back up to individually encoded FLAC files. That way, youíll avoid all these playback issues encountered with the FLAC-CUE approach.

Copy Protection Issues

Lastly, I want to point out Iím not really sure what solutions there are for copy protected CDs. It may be that EAC already has workarounds for any copy protection. I have read anecdotes about certain CDROMs (such as one manufactured by Sony) detecting that they are being used for CD ripping and triggering a machine panic to halt your computer.


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Pictures from Temple, GA 
A few weeks ago, I took a bunch of pictures at my wife's grandparents' home in Temple, GA. I used my wife's camera, which is a fairly limited point-and-shoot (Canon Elph), but some of them turned out pretty nice.

One day I'd like to redo the photos with a digital SLR camera and get multiple shots across the different seasons in the garden.

hinges cabbage fuel


Temple, GA Complete Picture Set on flickr

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Website Upgraded 
My home page was due for a much needed overhaul, so I took the opportunity to search around for a blogging solution. Being a bit dubious of free blog hosting services, I began searching for php-based blogging solutions. I get free web hosting for a personal web page with my current ISP (Speakeasy) and I discovered it does have PHP support, but no MySQL. The lack of a database appears to really limit your options when it comes to cost-effectively hosting a blog, especially when you don't have full control of your hosting machine.

Luckily however I discovered simplePHPblog, which does not need a database as it stores data in flat text files. So far I have been pleasantly surprised by the experience of using sphpblog.

I am patiently waiting to see just how much of a problem spamming and hacking will be...

As for actually blogging, this is my first try and most likely updates will be pretty sparse after the novelty wears off. At least sphpblog significantly lowers the time cost of committing an update to the site.

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